Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Behrampada

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

2 comments:

Tracy said...

Holy Shit!

Wow Miekes! Has anyone told you what an amazing person you are today?

I hope so, because you really are an incredible person!

We love you,
T & C

lifeinasack said...

Meeks! I was hoping to see you stateside but it looks like you are back in India.

I'm sure you've already read it, but if by some small chance you haven't, read "Shantaram". Sounds exactly like where you are these days.

I'll be following your blog so hopefully you update it! Hoping to backpack India for a few months one of these days.

-Paul