Friday, March 13th 2009 – 8.57pm
As soon as I walked out of the international terminal in Delhi, my westernised senses are pounded by a normal Indian way of life. Where are the air conditioners? Where are the traffic lights? Where is the order on the roads? Where are the toilets? The answers are hidden in the wonderful and amazingly different country called India.
I’ve been to New York, Sydney, Hawaii, Tokyo, Dubai, LA… Nothing has prepared me for Delhi. The first thing that you realize is it is completely and utterly organised chaos. The taxi stand at the airport was just a little hut the opposite side from the taxi’s, dust filled the air and the noise of horns and cars that I have no idea how they are running and road worthy! The rubbish and filth everywhere driving out from the airport is hard not to notice as they have just bulldozed the rubbish from the road to the side of the road. Every second glance outside of my cab window looks like you are driving towards a tip site. People toileting by the roadside every 100 metres, the hwy’s have no lanes, just as many cars that fit…. And get this…. Many cars do not have rear vision mirrors, they do not use indicators, they honk just to let the car in front of them know you are there. Having a horn is a necessity in traffic life in Delhi, no shoes, no belts, no windows but a horn is a must!
When driving on the hwy I saw a motorbike with a man driving and a woman sitting side on behind him with 1 arm around him and the other hanging on to a 1 year old baby which the baby was crying and hanging on for life to his mother. They were going about 80km an hour! Past a truck that had a large trailer behind it with about 50 people in the trailer hanging on to the side and the back only just!
Taking a train from Delhito Chandigai was an eye opener as we drove past the wost poverty I have ever seen. You see things on TV, you hear about it on the news… NOTHING can prepare you for seeing it first hand. Slumdog Millionaire I think does not come close… Seeing thousands upon thousands of people living in conditions that are worse then the worst tip site you could imagine… playing cricket, searching through filthy rubbish and ruins, families, kids, old people, children, babies… you heart is forever changed and life in it’s true form challenges me to the core!!!
Building, cars, roads, everything it worn-out and old like it is from a world war two aftermath. Rubble is everywhere, rubbish is everywhere and it seems like every building and every road is just half finished and left…
Monday, March 16th 2009 – 5.12am
Even though my skin colour says that I ought to blend in, everything underneath says a different story. It challenges me on my perception of what the human body can handle as people take it to the most extreme imaginable. They wash and bathe in water that would not even be suitable for our toilets, and eat very spicy foods all with a kick, breakfast lunch & dinner. The food can be brilliant as flavours capture your tastes and take you to the toilet time after time after time.
I’m staying with people I have never met. They are middle class and live just 4hrs train journey north from Delhi, a place called Chandigarh. I feel ignorant as many people know English yet I know no dialect here including the main language, Hindi. They live in an average home with no running hot water and no showers. I’m told that this home is rare as it has a westernised toilet; the Indian toilet you just squat. I am in awe of the happiness and the hospitality they show, and the highly educated they can be especially middle class. I am speechless as I speak to one young 24yo man who explained that he works as an engineer in a manufacturing plant and does 14-16hours per day 6 days per week with a 1 hour break for lunch.
We take a motorised rickshaw after seeing a Bollywood blockbuster Hindi movie. We drive through Indian streets at dusk still with much traffic and action in the streets. I see one side of the road middle class houses with large gates and fences and the other side I see old filthy blankets used as tents and whole families prepare to sleep on grounds, rubble, rubbish and dirt.
I am torn to the core of the diversity of both poverty and the wealthy. Recently I saw that India had 7 people in the top 20 as the most richest people in the world. Also reading recently that India has the most number of people in the world living in poverty. WHY was I so fortunate and did not get the short straw. Why was I so blessed as to be born in a first world country??? Why wasn’t it someone else? Why did it have to be me?
The students were in their late teens and early 20s. Their clothing was very westernised and they spoke their language Hindi very articulately. They are from the villages of India; I teach them about great men such as Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney and Nelson Mandela which is the first time they have ever heard of these people. Tonight I had tickets to see Coldplay in Sydney but chose to be here instead yet no one could understand my pain as no one has heard of them… What is this place???
Just 4 days being in India my emotions suddenly collapsed. I have been traveling by myself and even though I have had conversations with English speaking people here, no one could understand how I was really feeling deep inside. I can not stop crying… My heart and compassion for people tore at my emotions as I saw kids the same age as mine living in extreme poverty. Seeing poverty first hand for the first time everywhere you look, no one here with me to understand how I am really feeling living in a first world my entire life now experiencing third world for the first time… help. I can not understand… I can not comprehend… I have so many questions to ask God!!! Is this real? This is as real as it gets? Is this really real? What can I do??? I don’t know what to do??? What can I really do??? What could I do…..
What is the solution to India, is it the massive population growth or is it the corrupt government that is blinded by riches. I don’t think it is money as we have seen that India has more millionaires than most 1st world countries??? What is the solution???
Wednesday, March 18th 2009 – 9.25pm
This morning after cleaning my teeth with only bottled water we had another blackout. Blackouts are very frequent in India, and that is not just in the villages, Delhi, Mumbai regularly gets blackouts but they usually only last for seconds. Even sitting here at Gandhi international airport in Delhi we have had 5 blackouts in the last hour.
Now if you are a duster and live in India you will have a nervous breakdown. Dust fills the air and settles on everything; your shoes, your clothes, your vehicle and in the homes… Dirt and dust fills the air everywhere in the villages, in the suburbs and definitely in the city. This is mainly from the dirt roads, the worn down sides of the roads and the constant hustle and bustle that is Indian life…
Holding hands and physical touch is very common in India especially between the same sex. It is not unusual to see two male friends walking down the road hugging or just holding hands, it’s a normal way of life, it does not mean they are gay but just a sign of friendship. And the attitudes and personalities are just magnificent! Every person I have met has the most wonderful engaging personality. They are so inviting to westerners and will always do anything for you; the first to offer their seat, the first to see if you need water or something to eat, the first to carry bags, the first to do anything for you. It has been so amazing for me and an overwhelming experience to see the hospitality that has been shown to me by everyone I have met. You may think that they do this to try to get a tip or some $$$ from you… I have not seen this at all! There was that one instant that I needed internet, wireless internet. I searched around in the suburbs for a wireless connection. After finding a wireless connection, it was a story in itself just to find the owner of the connection, a little mobile phone shop tucked away behind the market place. I went in to ask for password; I said ‘I’ll pay, I’ll pay’… He entered the password into my phone and after 30min+ of using his internet I thrust $200Rs in his face ($6AUS) he refused to taker it saying ‘no no, tis fine, fine’..…
Interesting though… I never see the average Indian sitting down doing nothing… they are always either talking or arguing standing up or busy physically… but some are so uncoordinated… I see this morning a man sweeping dirt from one side of the road to the other, it made no difference but maybe he just needed to be busy with his hands… it makes me think about us going in circles in our world, not thinking or acting strategically… it so true here anyway, even though they are busy walking around begging for money or just busy working to just to do something I have not seen many people at all do things strategically…
I also found out today that over 80% (82% to be exact) of Indians, that’s over 800 Million people, earn LESS THEN $0.50cents per day…. WOW
I have been told not to give to much money to beggars as some (not all) but some do it as a con. If a beggar came up to me and asked for money I would probably not give any as you do not know exactly what they may do with it… If a beggar came up to me asking for food I would probably give some… BUT if a beggar came up to me and asked me for a book or self learning resources I would do anything I could to help. Is it just me that thinks strategically long term? Do beggars only live for the here and now, Is it because they have not been educated in order to not know the importance of education? (education is in most cases not necessarily schooling) Maybe I might just go out and get some books and when beggars ask me for money give them a book… hmmm, maybe that may not work as they probably can not read??? Ahhhh help me!!! How can I help them???? I know that giving them food and money IS NOT the answer… education is.
I speak with many middle class about India and what they believe is the solution… I have then asked what would you do if you were Prime Minister of India??? Some say population growth, some say education outside of main populated areas (villages) some say fix the corrupt government which I thought was the true answer… But after speaking with a successful and generous businessman he said the only way that India can be repaired is if their was freedom of religion… I said please explain?
Friday, March 20th 2009 – 12.34am
My contacts in India introduced me to a highly successful businessman. Businessmen in India are quite powerful as money speaks politics. I hear from a friend of mine that his wife was held in custody by the authorities, one call to this businessman and he calls his political contacts and waaala… She is released!
This businessman and me (lets call him Ben, just for certain reasons), hit it off and we travel around Delhi talking and India in it’s current form. We travel sitting in the back of his car with a full time driver. Our driver knows the streets of Delhi very well and when we stop he stays in the car, carries our bags etc. He is very well dressed and a quiet spoken young man (about 23yo). And talking a little with him I found out he recently got married; I was frowned upon in India as no one gets married under the age of 20yo, it is considered improper. Ben and I discuss India’s social economy and talk about solutions to the poverty and un-education especially the villages. But mostly we discussed religion.
Religion in India is an integral way of life for hundreds of years. The majority of Indians are Hindu which is a religion that worships hundreds and thousands of gods. I am told of a temple where they worship rats. That’s right I wrote that correctly, they worship and feed the rats. When just outside of the temple there are people dying of starvation and scrounging around rubbish bins, (and I tell you rubbish bins in a third world country are quite different), and here they are feeding rats and worshiping them! I tell you something right now, religion or not… THAT IS NOT RIGHT!!!
So I am told by ‘Ben’ that the number one problem that India faces is the religion and non-religious freedom. I am still trying to get my head around all this but basically if religion was not forced upon the people and they had an understanding that all men/women are equal would revolutionise the entire country. Even though the ‘caste’ system as been abolished, the people of India still have this system in ground into their culture. (If you want to find out more about humanity’s worst form of inequality in the form of the ‘caste system’ let me know and I’ll write a paper on it) It’s a sytem that tells more millions and millions of Indians that if you were not born in a certain line, you are unworthy to wear shoes, unworthy to be educated, unworthy to have luxuries or do certain jobs. It is a disgusting form of traditional devaluation of human life, and according to Ben has hindered India’s social inclusion and equality for hundreds of years. If we can overcome this, India will be the strongest economy and will be one of the most advanced societies in the world. (I hope that is politically correct!)
Today I spoke to a guy which was such a breath of fresh air. He was an Indian that had done his studies in Melbourne. I could so relate to him brilliantly and we chatted for hours. He done his universities studies in Sports science and was a key figure in the Melbourne Commonwealth games. Now, India will be hosting the Commonwealth games in Delhi, so everywhere you look Delhiis trying desperately to get organised for it. Massive infrastructure in roads and transport, a new metro system, new highways and freeways and the most enormous upgrade to an airport I have ever seen. This guy is telling me about how far behind India is and that there is a near impossibility that they are going to be ready in time. He tells me that when the Commonwealth games official and committee fly’s to Delhi to hear about the progress, the Indian officials tell them exactly what they want to hear and have literally lied about their progress and that they are on top of everything. This guy has offered his support and willing to assist where he can in the organisation of the games as he has all the experience from the Melbourne games but the Indian officials have not replies, he talks about the frustration that highly educated people can get with the Indians in authority as they can be so one minded and seeks little advice when they obviously need it.
One such can was an article I read in this morning paper writing about a newly constructed flyway (a bypass or toll road). It read that their was this one corner in the flyway that had a total of 9 deaths in the last 7 days. The police have been blaming it on driver error but the journalist covering the story said that it was a design fault and the it was engineered wrong or the construction was not done correctly, and no one wants to take the blame for it!
I also read in the same paper that 10 people die every day just in Delhi alone with no name. People in the slums, people that are the ‘untouchable caste’, people that are not worthy to be part of normal society…. How could you NOT be impacted by that!
Sunday, March 22nd 2009 – 7.38pm
It’s time to say goodbye to my first trip to my mother’s country, India. It’s been a life changing week and a week that I will NEVER forget. The beautiful people, the wonderful warmness, the uniqueness of diversity yet the chaos and madness of it’s way of life. India is changing, there are masses and masses of western influence penetrating the cities and bringing with it cultural and religious change. Yet the rich are getting richer and the poor are lagging behind the fastest growing economy in the world. Yet I hear today of such a remote and isolated village that they wear no clothes at all… I jump on a full plane from Delhi to Dubai yet is was so full that they could not find a seat for me that would cater for my disability. So unfortunately I was given a ‘First Class’ seat, what a way to finish a trip to India – I feel so blessed.
I’m in Dubai now and just finished a long meeting with a businessman their that builds massive Shopping malls. Dubai is on a desert and there is nothing to do but just go to massive shopping malls. We drove past a 7 star hotel where Kylie Minogue sang recently on our way to the biggest shopping mall I have ever seen, and get this….. It has a ski field and snow falling in the middle of it! Wealth is everywhere you look in Dubai and such a contrast for me in India just the week before. On the way back to my hotel room we drove past the worlds tallest building at 800meters straight up. Dubai is a happening city with the tallest most newest designed buildings in the world… and speaking of the world, they made there own world in the ocean by transporting millions and millions of dirt and sand to the ocean to make islands in the shape of the world. Where do these guys get their money from???
- the long dresses everyone wears
- the turbans on their head
The entire time I was in India I had an Indian English speaking guide that did not leave my side. He was excellent and bargained, negotiated, carried my things and organised everything for me. If you would like to know more about who connected me with in India please let me know; also if you are interested in coming along to India for a short trip with me or even by yourself, with a friend or a large school group, I can help. They are a Christian based organisation called Empart (Empowering and Partnering) they are known as CFI in India (Compassion for India). They regularly organise trips for westerners and charge less to nothing. I would not have traveled and experienced India without them!!! Shoot me a message or leave a blog comment and let me know your thoughts… I would love to hear from you!!