My program took me and the other American students to Mumbai for a few days where we had field visits and attended various lectures. The most memorable place which we were taken to was Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in the world. We were able to walk through it and see how organizations were working there. We went to a recycling facility which took old cardboard from the area and made new boxes which were sold to companies. We were able to attend a lecture where a Mumbai politician spoke about women empowerment. We were also taken to a man’s home who makes pottery, and we were all able to try our hand at the craft.
Seeing the slums was an interesting experience for me. It was exactly as most would imagine it. It was very dirty, had open sewage and drainage systems in the streets, was over populated beyond belief, the houses were smashed together, trash was everywhere, and the smell that permeated the air was very unpleasant. I felt like an intruder. I felt like by being there or attempting pictures I was saying to them, “Wow! You have a really crappy life. Let me take a pictures and show everyone back home how fortunate we are.” It felt heartless. I did not want pictures, but what I really wanted was to help! There were other white tourists who were walking the area, clicking pictures, and shaking their heads. I felt so ashamed. These are people’s lives! Not your entertainment. Yes, it is important for people around the world to understand conditions of slums and that they even exist. But it should be done only for the sake of trying to eradicate these sorts of places and help the people of the slums to raise their standard of living.
My group also had a run in with a funeral while there. They are very public events in India, which is much different from back in the United States. People filled the streets, loudly mourning the passing of the beloved family member, friend, or neighbor. I had another run in with another funeral in Mumbai that same weekend. A dead body with no covering was being carried through the street to the back of a hearse. It was interesting, not in a bad way though, to see just how openly displayed such things were. There is not much privacy in India in general. It is a very public culture.
My group also visited St. Xavier’s College, which was one of the most beautiful colleges I have ever seen! They have a good sized population of blind students and very cool resources for these students to use. Their center had such accommodations as computers which spoke out what was on the screen and scanners that read documents. We were able to meet some of the blind students and faculty and were also taken through a perception changing simulation. Me and my group were put in a room with desks, blindfolded, and were asked to do various activities. We had to walk around and find people, move our desks around, identify flavors of food and drink through taste and smell only, feel the number of dots in brail letters, and identify images on paper through raised paper which we had to remember and draw. The exercises were meant to show us how capable blind people are and how much of a stigma they can often get because of their disability. It gave me a better understanding of what they overcome on a daily basis.
Mumbai was also full of site seeing. I saw the bay and walked marine drive, I visited the Gateway of India, saw the Taj Mahal Hotel where one of the 26/11 terrorist attacks took place, and visited some islands that had monkeys and caves. Pictures are below!