Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I cannot believe that I have been in Mumbai for almost 2 weeks!! I have been incredibly busy which has made time fly by. It’s not uncommon to pull a 16-hour workday – spending 8 to 10 hours in the field and having project meetings until 2am. It’s mentally and physically exhausting, but I love it!

I’ve been working primarily in a slum in Bandra called Behrampada (“Behram” for short). It’s on 7 acres of land just east of the train station. There are approximately 10,000 shanties/ structures with a low estimate of 70,000 residents. As soon as you walk into Behram, the air changes. It smells like rotting meat and sewage. Most houses are about 10ft by 12ft. and are 4 to 5 stories high. There are usually a couple families living in each shanty building. The shanties are separated by small lanes about 3 feet across. So if someone is walking towards you, you have to stand flat against one of the houses to let them pass. Because the shanties are built up so high, there is very little sunlight, making the lanes dark and damp. The structures are built unevenly and electrical lines hang down from them so you often have to duck when walking through the lanes. All of the sewage is open – there are a series of gutters running down the lanes, in between the houses. It’s so dirty that it blends in with the wet ground/ mud. The other day, as I was walking down a particularly dark lane just after it had rained, I stepped right into one! So so soooo disgusting! I walked around with human shit on my foot all day long!

In order to get to a family at the second floor of a structure, you have to climb up a steep ladder and through a hole in the ceiling of the first floor. To get to the fourth floor you have to climb up three separate stepladders and often crawl up holes in the roofs of four other families. Behram is a pretty intimidating place to walk into as an outsider, but the more we are there, the more people seem to recognize us. For the most part, people are kind and very very curious. Once again I am learning that smiles are a universal language.

After a particularly long day of recruiting families to participate in our research study, we walked past a big plot of dirt/ field where about 30 to 40 kids were playing a game of cricket. Lost in our thoughts and conversations we walked right onto the field and into their game. They stopped playing and gathered around us with understandable curiosity. I’ve wondered about cricket since my first trip to India. The men in the Tata Chemicals compound would play at night sometimes. I always wanted to try it, but there were never any other women playing. Without thinking I asked one of the boys if I could try hitting the ball. He quickly handed me the bat and eagerly waited for me to get into position.

I was really nervous I was going to completely whiff it!! The boy that was pitching got close and threw the ball to me really softly - kind of like a father would pitch a baseball to a son who was just learning to bat. Expecting to miss, I totally hit the ball!! All of the boys were jumping up and down. I was jumping up and down. Everyone was cheering. They were all giving me high fives and wanting me to try again. Some of the families in the slum houses around the field looked out their windows. I even caught a couple people smiling at the ridiculous tall white girl playing cricket with the little boys. It almost made up for walking around with shit on my foot the day before… almost. Smile

Monday, June 7, 2010

Here we go again! India: Round 3

It's about 4am in Amsterdam and I can't sleep. I'm trying to remember the sounds, the heat, and the overwhelming smells of bombay. It's been a year since I've been back to India and I am filled with nervous anticipation. It's as if i am waiting to meet with an old friend i haven't seen for some time - wondering if we will pick up just where we left off, with old stories to discuss and new memories to make.

I hope to do a better job this summer of documenting my experiences. It's difficult to describe what goes on in the city that never sleeps. It's even more difficult to paint an accurate depiction of the people I meet and the slum areas where I work. But I will do my best. Please remember however, that the images i describe and the insights i may offer are but one view of a complex, multidimensional, and ever changing society. My experiences are just a single story of a nation with a library of tales to share.

With that said, I am very excited to see what kind of mischief I will get myself into this time around.

As anxious as I am about arriving in Mumbai late tonight, I have no doubt that with a slight wiggle of the head, India will again welcome me with open arms. And with my first cup of piping hot chai, I will feel right back at home.

Love from Amsterdam