Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Taking a bicycle rickshaw is an amazing experience in Delhi. Typically two people fit on the back of the rickshaw and let’s say that’s a total of 300 or so pounds. Add that to the weight of the bike and the weight of the driver and maybe we have about 500 pounds. Now, the driver is usually small and is driving in traffic with other bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, buses, cows, dogs and the occasional monkeys. It’s not the same thing that one sees in New York with their own kind of bicycle rickshaw.

The roads have numerous bumps and are dusty, the buses are spewing pure pollutants into the environment, the smells at times somewhat overpowering. Due to the constant traffic stoppages, the drivers often get off of the bikes and have to push them to build up momentum to move forward. Maybe you get the picture, but perhaps you don’t. Maybe the Indian traffic patterns, which can be disputed work.

The fact that millions of people live here and more continually move to the urban centers gives me pause about how the spreading megalopolis will ever stop, will truly provide a decent living for all. Going back to the bicycle rickshaw driver I wonder how he can make a living by providing Rp$30 drives. Obviously he has no medical insurance and if he gets hurt, which must happen frequently does he resort to begging, something that one becomes immune to rather quickly?

The bottom line is that it is not fair and will never be. The so called developing world, from my perspective will never be able to totally get out of poverty. People resort to whatever they need to do to earn a few rupees, the kindness of others, the so-called overpaying the auto rickshaw drivers 20 more rupees (40 cents) because one is a Westerner. But yet we argue about this as we become part of the game.

India again makes me realize how I would like a partner in life, someone to share this all with. A friend recently wrote to me and said that she felt lonely and didn’t want to die alone. I wrote back and stated that this was valid but that in fact she had friends and family and that she wouldn’t die alone. In the end is it really about that though?

I think that it is more about life and how we live it. Two of the volunteers are a couple who have been doing development work together for many years. Seeing them brought a lot of joy and happiness to me. It made me realize how possible it was to find another adventurous soul, who wouldn’t settle for the usual kind of thing. Not that this is negative in any sense, but maybe all it does is provide a false sense of security. I don’t think either that it’s about being bored easily, but it seems to be more about an unquenchable curiosity about life. Yes, it can be a hassle because it’s not the way that it is at home. But on the other side it is about a love of diversity, about making a home for oneself in what might seem to be a foreign place, about eating foods that upset your stomach. But it also is about becoming part of something that one didn’t know existed, that even though one moves half way around the world, one can still find a roommate from Los Angeles even though one wasn’t looking, it means finding people who also speak English but don’t really seem to be.

I read a quote from Gandhi in the Delhi Times today, “Immature love is saying to someone I love you because I need you and mature love is saying I need you because I love you.” Isn’t this so very true, subtle, but a difference and do we really think about this in our love relationships?

No matter where I look though we all seem to cherish and want similar things, although this does take on very different meanings. There are so many people that I see sleeping on the pavement with a dirty blanket over their heads, no place to have any privacy, nothing really to call their own in the western sense of things. Are they happy? I really don’t know.

The injustice of it all really makes one feel somewhat hopeless.

April 5, 2009
Today I clearly experienced both advantage and disadvantage. I went to a wonderful brunch with Onkar’s family who have really adopted me as one of their own. I feel so very comfortable with everyone and was invited to a cousin’s 5th birthday on April 26. I can’t wait to attend as there will be over 30 children. We went to a 5 star hotel for brunch and had southern Indian food, dosas. I didn’t see the bill but there were at least 16 or so of us. Mohan, Onky’s dad was there with his two brothers and their families.

On the other side of the coin, I made a mala or garland with the women outside of the Indian Social Institute. I get so much joy from just hanging out with all of these people. I’m not sure of their caste, but they appear to be as happy as can be, no matter what their conditions seem to me as a Westerner. I held a three month old baby, which I had referred to previously and she peed all over me. I joked, later in the day with the Indian women, saying that I would one day attend the baby’s wedding and remind her that she had peed on me.

I gave the mala to Onky’s Chachi and she loved it. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I was connecting two very different worlds. Do they ever see each other? I’m not entirely sure of this, but I certainly do. I’m so aware of the differences in just about everything and I can somehow straddle both which I will need to do to be successful in my position with the National Trust. It’s not just about empathy but it’s truly experiencing the life of others, which I am so fortunate to be able to do.

If I had my choice which world would I want to be in? Could I actually always be in a very public place, take bucket showers, work seven days/week and all hours in order just to survive? India has made me wonder, to start to question, which I was hoping that it would do. Again, when someone tells me that they’ve made Rs$100 for the day, about $2 US and then asks me what my camera costs, about $300 US it makes me question, how can it not. Whenever I’m stopped in an auto rickshaw people come up asking for money, especially women with young children. How can this not make one question? Wherever I go I see people living and sleeping on the sidewalk. What really can be done to help all of these people?

April 9, 2009
There are so many vignettes from my fellow volunteers-
Two of my friends, Joe and Mark are just incredible musicians. They wrote a song about our Hindi teacher and then we all performed it for our teacher and at a VSO party. I played the drums and added the Hindi lines. I’ve captured it on video and can show you when you come to India.

My good friend Noel from the Philipines bought a pair of shoes at Jamma Masjid. They were very inexpensive and were “knock-offs”. The next day when he tried them on he discovered that the left shoe was larger than the right. Interestingly enough these shoes fit Noel perfectly as his left foot is larger than his right.

Naomi, a woman from the UK was telling me about how she is “anal” when it comes to cutting boards, yes back home she has one for every different kind of food and would never mix them.

There was the trip to Jamma Masjid, a Muslim area in Old Delhi where we were supposed to meet up with an organization that works with homeless, but somehow we didn’t connect. We ended up driving to an area and all of these children were suddenly around us. I picked up and held a little blind girl, who I felt seemed to be so happy at just the touch, letting other children just hold my hand and spinning them around. I then walked over to this gigantic tent and found many men preparing a huge feast for a wedding. Gigantic copper pots, earthen stoves for preparing rotti, mounds of chicken.

Everywhere one looks, there is magic. You don’t have to look very hard, just have to be open-all of your senses and you have to possess an attitude of wonder. It’s about a curiosity, a wanting to see others for who they are. It’s about connection with others and appreciating the similarities and differences. But, most of all it is about appreciating all of the gifts that everyone has to offer, no matter who they are, no matter what caste they might be in. It is about listening and hearing. It is about being aware that we are all very complicated and if one takes the time one can hear the life stories that we all have.

Magic is everywhere, it is however up to each of us to sense it in our lives.

1 comment:

Dennis Santiago said...

I am truly amazed when I read your postings. You immerse your soul into the very fabric of the people you have chosen to do good for. When I read them I think to myself how many of those people live their lives not having the time to put voice to their plight. That you do for them and you are doing it admirably.