Saturday, April 26, 2008


(by Mia)

Joe and I are still in Delhi and still absolutely LOVING it. It's crowded and dirty and hot and colorful and chaotic and crazy and I think the most all-around fascinating place we've been so far. There are just people doing things everywhere you look. A barber shop that is just a chair by the side of the road and a mirror nailed to a wall, and a guy standing there shaving another guy- right alongside the 4-lane highway!! Or the Indian equivalent; they don't really do "lanes" here. And inches from this barber shop is a juice stand, one guy with about a thousand pieces of fruit and a blender, potential customers trying to push through the herd of passing holy cattle that has decided to graze on discarded mango peels right in front of the stand. Every business here has a sign that looks like it was constructed from discarded scrap metal and painted by a kindergarten class, and then shot with a few dozen times with a bebe gun. Next to the juice shop are a couple teenagers stirring a huge vat of boiling milk over some hot coals and burning garbage. Women are lining up with their pots and pails and pans in which they'll take their milk home and boil it again, just to be safe. Weaving through the cars and rickshaws and motorbikes and pedestrians is an old man on a bicycle pulling a wooden cart of various rubbish, calling out what sounds like "BARAAAYA!" in a kind of sing-songy chant. He buys and sells anything and everything people no longer want, and goes through the crying out this same appeal, a kind of super-convenient traveling garage-sale.

The slums are wild, picturesque in a kind of fascinatingly horrible way. All the ramshackle houses are painted different colors, vibrant teals and yellows and deep deep reds. Once you enter the slums the passageways are barely wide enough for two people to pass each other, yet residents of course have their goats and chickens and everything in there, crowding the lanes narrow lanes, already flowing with human waste and garbage. Yet it's oddly beautiful too. Even in the slums, women dress in ornately decorated saris, covered in tiny mirrors and rhinestones and jewels, layers of flowing pants under skirts under shawls and silky decorative scarves. We pass shrines everywhere we go, little pockets of sanctity carved out of walls or tucked into corners. Miniature images of deities and portraits of saints, where businessmen will put down their briefcases and pause to pour yogurt over the head of a goddess and light a candle in prayer. And there's so much more. I could go on and on.

We're living with the founder of a nonprofit that does outreach to kids in the slums, providing them with classes and tutoring and food and clothes and sometimes scholarships too. Joe and I are teaching a conversational English class to the teachers and math/English/speech class (depending on the student) to a group of disabled girls. From what we've gathered, the public schools here basically have no infrastructure to accommodate students with disabilities, so they're either not permitted to attend, or they're allowed into class but aren't given any special help, so they quickly fall way way behind. Our students have a huge range of problems and are at all different levels in their formal education, so we have to create different lesson plans for each student every day. Today I was teaching very basic addition to a deaf 10 year old and learning disabled 19 year old, while Joe worked on multiplication with 2 deaf teenagers and an 11 year old girl who's lost the use of her legs as a result of polio. Joe's also working on a mural in one of the schools with a very talented deaf girl who's dubbed herself his apprentice, as well as starting up general art classes with another volunteer.

P-WHY runs a women's center as well, a home for women who have had to leave their families (usually because of spousal abuse) as well as a vocational school for women in the slums. I had the girls in the beauty class do my eyebrows the other day. They use a piece of string, twisted in the middle around a finger and held with one end in the hand and the other between the teeth of the beautician. She then uses her thumb to gouge the eye of her client (in this case, me) to keep the skin taut, while quickly tightening the twists in the string and in one quick motion -- ripping out the eyebrow hair by the root. It's painful but very effective.

The house we're staying in is amazing. The founder of the organization and her husband have spent a lot of their lives abroad, as have their kids. Anou is beautiful and well-traveled and politically active and spiritual in a new age, yoga, businesswoman/advocate kind of way. And her husband Ranjin is the quintessential Indian Colonial British gentleman, with his scotch and cigars and love of Elvis Presley music. He'll gather us all into the "drawing room" or whatever after dinner and play old rock and roll and quiz us on who sings this and who sings that, and then scold Joe and me for not knowing our own cultural heritage. And they have servants. I know Joe wrote about this is the last blog, but WOW! It's just so, well... foreign to us. Even now I can hear a faint voice in a far away hallway calling out, "Deepak?! Chanda?!" Joe just bought a used motorcycle, and he and Deepak spent yesterday afternoon cleaning and polishing it (Deepak's idea), two very excited boys with new toy. They're making big plans for when Joe's good enough to carry passenger's- how they'll go down to the milk shop together and back. Watch out Delhi!

No comments: