Why, yes. Mumbai is really hot. I'm currently sweltering through my T-Shirt, and trying not to sweat onto my laptop. However, I will soon escape to a 65-degree air-conditioned room.
Anyways, the juxtaposition of life here in Mumbai and India can seem like (using a cliché here) a box of chocolates: having a milk chocolate shell with a sweet, velvety smooth caramel center next to a bitter, solid dark chocolate. For example:
Crossing the streets here is like playing a game of Frogger. Except if you get hit, you don't get any extra lives. And the cars here usually do not travel in a straight direction, because there are often no lanes. However, just past a street with no lanes and constant chaos, is a bridge with marked lanes, and a shallow concrete barrier between directions of traffic. Also, a driving school here is entitled "Good Luck." Sounds accurate.
Riding the trains here can be quite a self-liberating (and self-crushing) experience. On the one hand, there are no doors on the trains, which makes it possible for you to hang onto one pole inside a moving car, with almost your whole body hanging outside of the coach. When the train reaches speeds around 60 miles per hour, this can be quite fun. I have done this for only a few minutes. I'll provide a picture later to clarify this. On the other hand, when you ride the trains during rush hour, it is common for you to see men and women both fighting, by mostly shoving each other, to enter and exit the trains. On a few occasions I have been squished by perspiring men from all directions, which I guess isn't the worst thing that could happen on these trains.
Breathing the air in Mumbai for a day is like smoking two-and-one-half packs of cigarettes per day. This is according to the World Health Organization. (WHO) Drive a few hours away to the Konkan coast, where we were on Sunday, and you can breathe clean, warm salt air.
In one area there are hundreds of thousands of people who basically live in a landfill. (The Slums) And just a few miles away there is a newly built luxury shopping mall with a store selling fine writing instruments.
Anyways, last week our cohort completed its first week volunteering in the slums. This past week, I also received a haircut and shave for the price of about four mangoes, and had a dinner for one dollar. The haircut and straight-shave costs one dollar and thirty-three cents.
Let me now clarify part of a typical day volunteering. We take a train to get to the Kalwa slums each morning around 8am. When we arrive to the Kalwa stop, we are met with the sights and smells, of what unfortunately is like in many respects, a massive landfill. Endless piles of plastic, paper, and waste of various species surround places in which people live. There does not seem to be any proper method there for waste treatment of any kind there. Many pigs roam in the waste infested lots in the area. In the streets that line the various shops there, are goats, chickens, and cows. We walk thirty minutes, mostly though mud, and these aforementioned conditions, to reach the classrooms in which we volunteer. This past week we have only volunteered in one classroom. The classroom resembles that of a storage shed. It is a relatively bare room with a few chairs, no desks, and no air-conditioning. There are about twenty kids in the classroom who sit against the walls of the classroom. But when we finally arrive at the classroom each morning, it is all worth it, when we are greeted with the students' enthusiastic calls of "Good morning teacher!" Friday was the highlight of our week volunteering which included us leading our students in creating paper airplanes with their names and goals that they hope to acheive in part through their time spent with us. Some goals were to learn more English, and to become a doctor. It's refreshing that at least a couple of our students aspire to live a life outside of the Slums.
On Sunday, our cohort traveled to the Konkan Coast, where we had the pleasure of seeing some of the descendants of the Bene Israel Jews there. According to tradition, the Jews' presence in India dates back to over two thousand years ago. At one location, we saw a family's oil press and factory, where among other things, they produce coconut and soybean oil. (Pictures from the Konkan Coast will be posted on this blog)
Today we began our second week volunteering, where we taught basic anatomy through call and response exercises, and the classic song, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." Since there is no air conditioning in the classrooms maybe Nelly's "Hot in Herre" would have been more appropriate. One line being, "I am getting so hot, I wanna take my clothes off." Okay, so probably not fitting for the classrooms.
Lastly, tomorrow, after volunteering, I will help lead a Torah class at the local J.C.C., in which members of the class have requested we explore human beings' purpose on earth, and what G-d wants from our existence. This is right up my deep-thinking personality. And Wednesday, I will help teach a Hebrew class at a synagogue in Thane, with my fellow volunteer Leigh, where we hope to lead the class in animated conversations. Thus we can all practice speaking Hebrew and the liveliness in which it is spoken.
Alvida from this hot and literally smoky land,