Today was our last day in Mumbai, so we decided to brave the crowds once more so we could buy some souvenirs. We walked along the street behind the hotel, and it didn't take long before we attracted a crowd of beggars. It was interesting to watch them try out a few English phrases to gain our friendship. I'm not sure how much English they actually understood, but they certainly knew how to ask your name, where you are from, if this is your first time in Bombay, and please give me money. Two little boys, about ten or eleven, began following us around as kept pointing to their mouths and saying, "rice, eat". They would also point to some of the food in some of the food stands along the street, and then repeat the same thing. It tood me a while before I realized that they wanted us to buy them some food. I wish I had brought some granola bars with me from the hotel that I could have given to them.
I stopped at a little booth on the sidewalk that had a large collection of cheap bangles. The owner was a nice man who wasn't overly pushy, which I appreciated. I purchased 5 bracelets for 700 rupees, which I think was an okay price. Then we decided to start walking back to the hotel. By this time we were being followed by the same 2 boys, a guy in traditional Indian clothing trying to give me some little round balls (?) for Diwali that were supposed to bring me good luck, a lady with a small child and a baby in her arms and a teenage girl who told me she was pregnant and tried to give me a "free" flower bracelet. We were doing our best to ignore them all when we came upon a very disturbing sight. On the corner sat a boy who was extremely disfigured. It is hard to describe, but it almost looked as though the boys legs had been broken, and were now bent upwards and hanging behind his head. I had to wonder if he had been maimed or something so that he would be able to bring in more money, as I had heard that this is quite common, and it sure didn't look like something you'd be born with. Anyway, he had his hand out and Gary couldn't resist any longer and gave the boy some money. Immediately, the others who were following us became more aggressive and started begging again. Gary then tried to give the woman with the baby some money when one of the young boys quickly grabbed it out of his hand, ripping it in two. Gary had to wrestle the boy to get it back from him so he could give it to the woman. After that the beggars got even more aggressive and vocal, so we decided we had better get back to the hotel as quickly as possible. We walked the remaining 3 or 4 blocks back to the hotel with the whole group in tow, and were finally rescued by a security guard who chased them away. Another exhausting excursion!
Back at the hotel, we were able to see our new friend Liz one more time before taking a taxi to the airport, on our way to Hyderabad. At the airport we were grateful for the wonderful service we received from a luggage handler who helped us find the right desk to check in at. It's a good thing Gary still had a pocket full of rupees for the tip.
As we taxied out to the runway to get ready for takeoff, I looked out the airplane window and saw the infamous Dharavi slum. Here is an excerpt from a recent article in the Globe and Mail newspaper describing Dharavi. "Welcome to Dharavi, a squalid patch of land near Mumbai's international airport that has laid claim to an unenviable distinction: Asia's biggest slum. An estimated one million people are crammed into less than two square kilometres, and almost unimaginable density, considering most of these ramshackle buildings are just two storeys high. The stench is often as appalling as the living conditions and residents are plagued by a chronic shortage of safe drinking water, proper sanitation and medicine."
Needless to say, it is quite a life-changing experience to see this kind of poverty. We are still trying to process it all.
In Hyderabad, we were met at the airport by Jayme Hommer from Unitus, the organization that we are travelling with over the next few days. She is responsible for organizing the trip from here on out. We met one of the other people from our group at the airport, then took a van back to the Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel. We had a few hours to rest and clean up, then we attended a dinner reception where we met all the people who would be travelling in our group. There are 28 in all, and they have come from all over the world (London, US, Canada, Germany) For those of you who would like to know more about Unitus and the work that they are doing to help alleviate poverty throughout the world, visit http://www.unitus.com/