Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Home Visit

So yesterday, the head teacher of the center I teach at in the morning took me to my kids' neighborhood. They live down in the very very south part of Bombay in a place called Cuffe Parade (Cuff'rade for those who are in the know). Where they live is definitely considered a slum, but the houses are made of actual concrete rather than some of the flimsier materials I've seen slum-and pavement-dwellers using for their homes. It seems that ten years ago the Cuff'raders did live in more makeshift houses but there was a huge fire that destroyed everything and they got these new houses.

Cuff'rade is a maze of very narrow paths flanked by houses and little shops. The fathers of all the children I interviewed yesterday work as what I guess is called ragpickers, though they do not actually collect rags. They collect used bottles and newspapers and sell them to people who then sell them to somebody else. I'm a little unclear on how it works. At any rate, they make around 50 rupees a day, which is slightly over a dollar. And most of them are the sole breadwinners for their households; the mothers' work is primarily in their homes. It is quite dizzying to me to think of raising a family on that little money. And it makes me so honored that even with such a paucity of worldly goods, they were so generous to me last night, so hospitable.

I went to the neighborhood to talk to some of the parents to tell them about my project with the kids. Basically I will be interviewing the kids about their lives and then giving them single-use cameras so they can document whatever they want to of their surroundings. So first I went to R's house. R is probably the best student in my class. He's very smart, he communicates well in English, and he's more well-behaved than almost any other child. And when I saw him in his natural habitat, I saw that he is definitely the ring-leader among his peers. He may have just been showing off for me...remember how weird you would get when you spent time with teachers after hours when you were a kid?

Anyway, I talked to R's mom, K's sister, G's aunt, and N's grandma about their lives. These women were so beautiful and the grandmother especially very eager to talk. They are the ones who told me about Cuff'rade's history. They told me about how little schooling they'd had in their childhoods...some had none and some made it only to about the 4th grade.

After I'd talked to the women, I interviewed five of the students from my class and two from the class that we share a classroom with. I will have to interview some of them again with an interpreter, but a few of my students speak English well enough that they could give me sufficient answers. I also took photographs of everybody, which they loved.

R's mom invited me to stay for dinner, which was so divine. It was just rice, chapati (bread), and some very spicy, flavorful pea dish. Oh, it was so good...almost too spicy even for me (I can take a lot of spice), but just bearable enough that it definitely ranks among the best meals I've ever had.

Anyway, after I'd eaten, everybody else's parents wanted me to come to their houses too. So I had to make the rounds and sit in everybody's house for a few minutes. At each place I went, they wanted to give me a Coke. So I drank I think four Cokes. I felt really bad when I found out they were going out and buying these Cokes especially for me, but I really couldn't refuse. The best part of this story of course is that I had already had to to go to the bathroom for three hours when I got to Cuff'rade, and I ended up staying there for more than 4 hours. For those of you acquainted with my bladder, you know what a feat this was. Four Cokes and 7 hours!

Anyway, enough about bodily functions. Actually, no... As you may have inferred from my having to hold it for ever and ever yesterday, there don't seem to be any real bathrooms around the neighborhood. When R's mother had to go to the bathroom, she sent all of the boy children out and she took care of business there in the house in the little tiled area that has a drain in the middle of it. That was also where she threw any waste water from cooking. There is no running water in the houses; she had to fetch water probably from a common tap.

The houses are all one room, all around the same size, which is very small. R's house seemed more spacious than most other houses I went to, mainly because I can tell his mother runs a very very tight ship. Everything was very organized and clean (and she didn't even know I'd be coming over). I can see where R gets his exactness and perfectionism. I don't want to diminish the difficulty of these people's lives, but I have a different perspective now of very small dwelling places. When we from America think of living in such a small area with so many in a family, we think it would be absolutely unbearable. But we in America are also very much fond of our private property and boundaries, and we spend a lot of time in our houses. These people live in such a tight community that though they may be proprietors of only one room, they seem to always be in and out of everybody else's houses, and the streets and other common areas really do act as extensions of the livingspace. They have access to much more than just their little room. Again, all this is based just on my experience of one day, so take it with a grain of salt. But if these people lived in their houses the way Americans do, I can imagine it would be unbearable. But they make it work by forming communities of trust with their neighbors.

Oh, not only was I showered in Coke, I was also given stickers, a headband, and nail polish. Such generous people! Man. I don't even know what to say about it. Except I guess that I wish I were more generous like that.

At any rate, it was a fabulous evening, and I'm sure I'll be going a few more times over the coming weeks. I will keep you posted.

Oh! Another interesting thing. I interacted almost exclusively with women while I was in Cuff'rade; the men were for the most part not home from work yet. But a couple of men did come by, and whenever they did, the women covered their heads with their saris. And whenever I took photos of them, they covered their heads too.

Okay. This is becoming a disjointed, jumpy post, so I shall end it now.


At July 14, 2006 11:11 PM, Blogger lily said...

Wow Lolly- that is such a cool experience to get to visit with so many amazing people--they really do have such a tight community I bet. What a completely different world. They sound so hospitable, and I am glad to here they are treating you well.

Love you!

At July 18, 2006 6:26 PM, Anonymous criz said...

Hello Lu - just returned from Toronto (Chrondo, as they pronounce it) where I had a wonderful time despite my excessive waa waa-ing before leaving. Nice city, really really nice people. Me eat a lot to chrondo. I had a very bad time of it until I heard that you were safe from the bombs - SUCK! It makes me so sad! MEEEEE NOOOOO LIIIIKEEEE. Glad you're all right and that you didn't pee your pants.

kiss kiss

At July 21, 2006 10:35 PM, Blogger Terri said...

Laudder*** SO GLAD YOU ARE SAFE!!!
-What generosity. I believe I'd have been overwhelmed as well. You are such a beautiful girl, Laudder. What a gigantic heart you are sharing with such an open-armed community. I can only imagine how completely gratifying that was for you to be there speaking to them in their homes and being treated like family was most definately such an incredibly humbling, lovely experience.
Can't wait to see you, Laud!
You're doing swimmingly!!!!!!!
Love, Tedder***


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