Oh, if I was a better blogger, perhaps I would regale you with images and words that would make you swoon, paint a picture of the chaotic smorgasborg of saris, incense and auto rickshaws that is Bombay...but I'm tired.
Bombay is in many ways less overwhelming than I expected it to be. We've spent some time exploring Dharavi, the "biggest slum in Bombay" in order to gain a deeper understanding of informal settlements.
It does not look anything like what the word "slum" implies. There are no tar-paper shacks, it is no slumping shantytown precariously perched on a mountainside littered with filth. No. It is nothing like that. It is, in fact, a really ingenius town, complete with running water, paved roads, and every sort of service and good you could imagine anyone wanting or needing.
Sure, there are goats and chickens wandering around, but that is normal for S.E. Asia. If anything, (as one of my colleagues noted) it is a perfect example of urban people living a rural lifestyle.
Unlike the rest of Bombay, Dharavi is not dusty, and it is cool and quiet compared to the craziness of the streets in the city proper. Yes, there is a creek running through it that is choked with shit and trash. But there is an incredible plastic recycling industry, a tanning and leather manufacturing industry, a food industry and a ceramic industry all INSIDE the "slum."
Their biggest problem is that their land is very valuable, and developers are planning a "slum rehabilitation" program that will destroy their way of life while moving them into high-rise apartments. This is supposed to magically make them middle class. Apparently these people have never seen "the projects" in America that have miserably failed to accomplish these goals.
A couple of my colleagues and I have made friends with a family in Dharavi, and are going to have dinner with them tonight (not for the first time).
My ideas about poverty have been deeply challenged by my experiences here.
In other news--you would all be horrified to know that between Sri Lanka and India I have broken all of the travel rules (drinking tap water, eating fresh vegetables, eating street food, drinking street drinks with ice) and yet I seem to be healthier than ever.
Life is beautiful, and exhausting.
And I love you all very much.
If you want to see some amazing images of Bombay, you should visit my new friend's blog here:
Akshay says it beter in pictures than I possibly could in words...