Newbies in Delhi
Just before we left our guest house in Kathmandu the owner warned us that Delhi is crazy, a lot worse than Kathmandu, I giggled and he looked me straight in the eyes and said 'no I am serious, be very careful'. What a way to be introduced to a city we will be working in for just over a month!
We had booked our hostel from Nepal and were supposed to get a free airport pick up. Surprisingly enough our driver wasn't there so after an expensive phone call we were finally informed that he was on his way and not standing outside gate four waiting where we were the only people. As we drove away from the airport I was pleasantly surprised to see clean streets, proper roads and something that resemble organisation of driving laws.
However, this didn't last for long. Poverty began to creep its way into our eye line, the roads became less like roads as we know it and there were the famous cows wandering the streets. Our driver became more aggressive on the road and for good reason, there was so much traffic it was a small miracle that we could go anywhere at all. Not only that but he had to avoid the above mentioned cows, tuk tuks, rickshaws, buses and pedestrians. Our hostel is in Paharganj a very 'real' area of New Delhi but where the largest concentration of budget accommodation is so a lot of other backpackers. The knowledge that there are other non-Indian people so close is not particularly reassuring and in no way has it made this area touristy! Chandi Wali, is a small alleyway off the Main Bazaar where you have to walk past two stinking urinals, avoid motorbikes driving in both directions, watch every step so you do not step on faeces, rubbish or mud on the floor just to get to our hostel. Now it sounds as though I am being negative and moaning about our location, I am not. Paharganj is a cheap area with some good eateries, friendly people and when you aren't walking past the wee hot spots it has that sweet s***ty smell that will always remind me of India!
We had two days of adjustment before we were due on our Salaam Baalak City tour and in this short time we had planned to renew our passports. The day we arrived was India Independance day and so we had to postpone the passport renewal and try to enjoy the days festivities. We were disappointed to realise that in Delhi they didn't actually do anything, no paint throwing or crazy street parties. We asked the guys from our hostel if there was any exciting things happening later and they said 'no, it is just a day off!' We were delighted when we heard music playing and cheering and realised it was coming from the roofs. We crept upstairs and saw the most magnificent sight. Kites, everywhere, as far as the eye could see. It was as if the birds had turned into small homemade kites! The guy from our hostel saw how impressed we were and let us have a try with his kite. We were not as good as him but got better after some practice. We felt privileged to be apart of such a nice tradition and something that only happens once a year.
Back to the passport debacle... It is a pain really but we have almost run out of pages in our passport, too much travelling I suppose! After attempting to walk to Connaught Place, the more 'western' area to get a tuk tuk and being told by numerous 'helpful' people we were going the wrong way or Connaught place is too big we eventually persuaded a tuk tuk from near our hostel to take us to the British High Commission. After our little visit our passports have not been sent off for renewal, we will have to do it when we return from Nepal and know we are even more confused as to where we post it and how much it costs. I am not going to moan about the passport service yet as I am still waiting for an email response and it will hopefully be quick and easy renewal but so far, they seem disorganised and slow, not good when dealing with passports!
Putting the passport issue to one side we had an encouraging walk with some of the graduates at Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT). We got to ask lots of questions and saw some boys at each stage of SBT care. The way the organisation works is they have people in the main train stations of Delhi where the trains arrive from all around the country and where most of the boys find themselves when they first arrive. Most of the boys have run away from home due to poverty, abuse or occasionally they have got lost from their families. The workers find the boys sleeping in the train station and encourage them to visit the SBT day centre where they can relax, play games, get some medical care and have food and drink. From there they attempt to get the boys to the head office where the boys will also sleep and play games but can leave if they wish. The hope is to reunite the boys with their family but if this is not possible they want all the boys to make the decision to join the Boys Shelter where we will be volunteering. It is a place where the boys sleep, eat, play, have informal education and are under the jurisdiction of SBT so if they do run away again the police will take them back to SBT. Those boys with a high IQ also attend local schools. It is a great cause and well needed cause with over 200 children arriving in Delhi every day. The girls that are found are automatically sent to homes as it is barely safe for boys on the street, but it is not safe at all for young girls. It was so sad to hear these stories of such poverty and desperation but the boys are brave, they have realised they want something better from their lives and some have travelled, by themselves for twelve hours or more to start a new life in Delhi. The boys leading the city walk are success stories from SBT, they are studying at university; some have got scholarships to schools in USA and all have a winning smile and so much pride for SBT. We got taken to DMRC (boy's shelter home) to meet with Poonam the volunteer coordinator, by Presant one of the graduates who had just left the DMRC as he turned 18 and is now renting a flat, with some financial support from SBT, with friends. We took the metro and it was good having Presant to follow as the metro is pretty intense and we were able to ask him lots of questions about the organisation. When we arrived we were greeted by lots of boys aged between about 6-17. Not many of them spoke English and all of their clothes clearly weren't bought to fit them but they all had one wonderful thing in common, the widest, brightest smiles and an immediate reaction to introduce themselves to us with a loving hand shake. We were given a tour of the building and when Poonam finished her meeting we were told what was to be expected of us for the next month. We were both more excited to start teaching the boys now we knew how welcoming and warm they were even with the hardship they've gone through in their short lives.