At the Mumbai arts festival with Jason, Will, and Anna
I arrived in Mumbai for a five-day orientation last Saturday night. The airport seemed not radically different from home… until I got outside. Swarms of people behind a metal barrier. Thankfully
the AJWS arranged for a driver to pick me up (sweet!), and I spotted
him holding a sign with my name on it right away. Then I had to get my luggage cart through the crowd and shouting policemen on the sidewalk. My
first impressions of Mumbai on the drive to the hotel -- albeit
through a sleep-deprived haze and what I now know to be the relative
quiet of Mumbai at 1am -- was of people everywhere, ramshackle
buildings, dirt. I wondered, would the most cosmopolitan of Indian cities look shinier in the daylight?
Alas, it did not, at least not the parts I saw.
Corrugated metal shacks covering every free square inch, people living in them with no running water. Mangy dogs everywhere. Chaotic traffic, moving by a set of rules I can’t determine. And forget crosswalks and seatbelts.
Wacky mosquito sculpture at the Mumbai arts festival
Strewn in with the chaos are some modern buildings -- shops, restaurants, movie theatres. I went to a lovely arts festival with some of the other volunteers, which reminded me of the booths in (New York's) Union Square in December.
I had an amazing dinner, sitting in a garden outside, talking for
hours, the sounds of the city seeming far away. (Though in
retrospect, I honestly didn't think about the money I spent on the meal
probably being more than what many people earn in a month.) Taking in a Bollywood movie was another highlight.
Nearly being mowed down by a bus on the way there was not. Note to self: Pedestrians do not have right of way in India.
A lesson in Indian history at orientation, a la the lovely Sunita, our Indian mama
I’ve become fast friends with the other volunteers and AJWS staff. This was a gentle introduction to India, and I’m nervous about leaving the safety net of having companions. I haven’t had to negotiate cab fare yet (yes, it's negotiable) or even buy my own food. Though it’s still hard to articulate why I came to India, I can say for sure that it wasn’t to spend the whole time with other Americans and have meals in a hotel. So it’s off to Bhubaneswar and my volunteer assignment.