Saturday, June 21, 2008
I simply cannot believe that we are already nearing the end of our first week in Mumbai. During reflection a couple of days ago, Alana Rush, one of the faculty advisors for the trip, challenged all of the Niswarth participants to sum up their experience thus far into one word. Amongst myriad other words, "changed" best defined my experience so far. Everything I see, taste, experience infinitely exceeds my expectations, both positively and negatively, and my emotions are exploding from a place so deep in my heart--they're extreme and strong and can't be harnessed.
I would have to say that the most pivotal moment for me thus far was our visit to one of the Pratham shelters in Mumbai. After slithering our way through a crammed market, the group made it to the steps of an old mosque. After climbing five stories, gaining entrance into a hidden, more beautiful and rich India at every level, we reached the doors to Pratham. Pratham is an non-government orginazation that plucks young boys out of factories where they worked as child laborers, normally in tedious fields such as embroidering, and works to ensure them an education and future. After a brief presentation on the history and mission of the organization, we were lead into a giant, grey room where 48 boys with curious eyes and brightly colored t-shirts sat quietly in perfect rows. The director asked one of the boys with an especially wonderful voice to sing for us and he made his way to the front of the room. As he wrapped his velvet voice around a beautiful hindi melody and the music blossomed throughout the room, I couldn't help but think where this boy of maybe ten or twelve years had been. As I had been informed earlier, it was likely that his parents basically sold him to a factory owner, under whom he would work so tirelessly and under such atrocious conditions that he would use his thirty-minute lunch break to rest. Or maybe things were so terrible at home, maybe he was so neglected, that he voluntarily left his home, surrendering everything to an owner who would trade him like a baseball card. I wasn't sure which saddened me more, the thought of the horrors this child had endured or our utter inability to fathom, despite our sincerest attempts, the flames through which he had walked.
Three other boys joined him for the next song which they crooned so passionately I saw the veins bulging out of their necks. As it was another Hindi song, I didn't understand the meaning of it until one of our Indian roommates from the Udayachal school in Vikhroli informed me later. "You would have really been crying," Aditya remarked,"if you had known what they were singing about." He then told me that the song was about a child begging his mother not to sell him, reminding her that he is worth more than 2000 rupees (approximately five US dollars), pleading to remain in the arms of his mother and no where else. It was haunting realizing that this song was the war cry of these children, that most of them had been nothing but a price.
Just when I begin to believe that hope was just a four-letter word in this country, one of the boys popped up like a jack-in-the-box from his spot in line and introduced himself. In broken English, he announced his name, his grade, and, with a huge smile, proclaimed, "And.. and I want to be doctor." 47 boys eagerly followed, jumping up and declaring their dreams for the future, from becoming a computer engineer to a pilot to a social worker. I had never been so moved. I couldn't believe any of it--that boys with their background could have enough hope to build a future upon, that an organization could make their dreams tangible, that we were there watching all of it unfold.
It has been experiences like my visit to Pratham, all of which have been equally impacting and amazing, that I can say that I have been changed. I have travelled almost 24 hours to get here. I have eaten more Indian food than I ever anticipated (trust me, I'm not complaining). I have seen cockroaches bigger than I thought existed. I have taken freezing showers every morning and brushed my teeth using bottled water. I have worked with disabled children from the slums of India so incredible they brought tears to my eyes. I have had a conversation with a girl who, with the help of Save the Children India, is no longer a child prostitute but an artist or jewelry maker. I have learned, amongst many other phrases which drift from my memory just seconds after learning them, how to say "goodnight" and "my name is" in Hindi. I have made 6 friends from a high school half-way around the world and become even better friends with those who originally embarked on this journey with me. I have felt the warm salty water of the Arabian sea between my toes. I have been indefinitely changed and there's just no other way to say it.
To my friends and family, I can't wait to tell you all of my adventures in Mumbai. I am sorry I cannot be at the birthday party tonight, don't let my dad spend all my birthday money! If you don't get my wishes in time, Happy Birthday, Jenni, and Staci, I'm so sorry I couldn't get a card to you in time. I hope you had the most wonderful 20th birthday and we will surely celebrate once I get home. I love you and all I promise to keep you updated!