When we got downstairs for breakfast, the woman behind the counter asked us how many people were having buffet breakfast, i.e. we would have looked silly refusing and having a la carte! It made it feel a bit more of a normal Christmas as I piled my plate high with (and stuffed in to loo roll wraps) pannetone and smoked salmon on bread, alongside cheddar cheese, bagels, oat and bran cinnamon muffins, chocolate and banana pastries, stuffed paratha, idli and yoghurt, washed down with coffee and watermelon juice. There were chefs in the kitchen on hand to cook us whatever we wanted, although eggs benedict you had to pay extra for.
We got the train to Makim station where we were met by our guide for the slum tour, who lived there also. There were 2 South Africans from Australia and 2 Belgians also on the tour. We walked to the slum, which was the biggest in Asia, and I felt like a right swot when I answered the question of why it was different to all the others (because it has factories and a work industry). We first visited the recycling department where countries from all over the world send plastics to sort and shred. Paint tins are sent there to be washed and then hammered into shape to be sent back to the factories, where they are relabelled and refilled.
We saw a place where they were shaping metal, and he said that they worked 10 hours for 250 rupees, and then slept in there. They went back to their original homes (some of them were not from Dhavari) in monsoon season as it was too wet to work. The government still tax them which I think is a bit unfair!
We then went to a rooftop where he showed us some flats that the government had built, because they wanted to put them in tall buildings to save room, but the scheme was stopped because in the slums some people have paid more for bigger houses than others and in these buildings they would all be the same size which they didn't think was fair. Plus about 70% of people wouldn't be eligible to live in them anyway.
The next factory was the leather factory where they were running the (buffalo, not cow) skins through rollers to get them the same thickness. We saw some men sewing leather jackets for a western brand, although he refused to tell us which.
We had to walk through really narrow gaps that seemed to form a maze to outsiders to get to the residential area. When we walked through an open space, so many children wanted to shake our hands, that I had about 5 on both my left and right! It was also the best feeling for Christmas spirit as everywhere we went, people of all religions were wishing us a happy Christmas. We saw a show home (the tour couldn't show us anywhere inhabited) which was less than 10 square feet which about 40% of the population live in. It was a room with shelves, a shower and mats to lie on the floor at night.
Unfortunately the community centre was closed for Christmas, but it's a place where 16-24 year olds can go and get lessons in social skills, English, computer skills, etc. particularly the Muslim girls who aren't allowed to go to school. An English cricketer visited and has started a cricket club, sending the equipment over.
There was also an arts centre where a photographer had given photography lessons and you could buy the kids photos. Some of them were pretty good!
We saw a Christmas dinner celebration with Vegetable Pilau, although I'm not unsure how traditional this is, and they share cake in the morning and evening.
The last place was the potters area, and then the tour ended in a centre where you could give your feedback, buy items (of which 100% of the profits go to help the community centre, etc.) and make donations. I would love to come back and volunteer at the community centre, but Alice and I have decided instead to fundraise instead when we get back.
On the way out we saw a party of women, celebrating the pregnancy of one of them. She could only walk on scarves, the back one passed forward, and they placed little pebbles of plastic or something for her to step on.
This was definitely the most interesting place we've been to, and now after seeing it I've seen slums in a completely new light. They all seem so happy and qualified doctors and engineers have not moved out because of the strong sense of community spirit. I liked how the toilets are shared, and everyone chips in with the cleaning. They probably don't get paid as much as they should since they work so hard and what they do is a huge benefit to the world. They still have phones (their 4 GB memory cards are full of music to listen to throughout the day), play street fighter and have better power and internet supply than some of the rest of India. You can buy pretty much anything from within the slum, apart from petrol, and it is called a city in a city. The supermarkets don't differentiate to those outside the slum.
We got a shared taxi to the train station which was a bit of a squash, but was a bargain ride back, so that we could go to the hotel to have a Christmas sunbathe/swim/Jacuzzi. The buffet lunch was out and we couldn't help go for yet another look. There were more additions than last night like the gingerbread house, macaroon tree and strawberry tree for the chocolate fountain.
We had seen some nice looking red coloured dosas by the station, but when we got there, they told us they were spicy so had a Christmas McDonalds instead. I caved into anti-vegetarianism by having a chicken Maharaja. Before checking out we swiped every single shampoo/sewing kit/ pad of paper/ cookie from the room. I asked whether they would just charge my card at a later date, but he said nothing had come up and said that it was a Christmas gift when we told him we had had breakfast.
The flight to Bangkok was too short so didn't get any sleep. It didn't help that they gave us food at a funny time!