Monday, November 2, 2009

Full Overwhelm

Late last evening it really hit me that I am not adjusting very well at all to being here. All the constant stares, even if it is simply curiosity on the locals' part, make me super uncomfortable.
No one smiles, no one looks the least bit friendly. I feel like any minute someone is going to do something bad to me..."bad" being a vague sense that I am not welcome nor entirely safe.
Instead of feeling more comfortable here as days pass, I am feeling more afraid.

Of course, having a bad case of PMS is not helping. So far today I have done more crying than anything else.
Plus, I have caught some kind of sinus/throat infection or cold...coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and in the mornings it hurts so bad I can hardly swallow.

Yesterday my host took me to the Kalbadevi district, a bazaar area of Old Mumbai. If you follow the link you will see a not-very-descriptive overview of the area on wikipedia including a photo from the 1890s.
If you visit my flickr Mumbai set you will see the area as it is today (sample image below).

Besides the oppressive heat (looking for another word which can convey this), the area is virtually incomprehensible to the western mind which has never traveled outside western
People are everywhere and it seems like everyone is in a hurry. If you stop to try to take a photo you literally need to hide behind a car or door to avoid getting run into or pushed aside.
It's difficult to tell what is what, as most signs are in Hindi and many shop keepers (again, even when speaking Hin-glish) were (to me) incomprehensible.

And the smells.
How can I convey this experience to someone sitting in a safe clean quiet room on the other side of the planet?
Humans and animals alike are urinating and, in some corners, defecating on the street. Litter is tossed without a thought onto road/sidewalk...there simply are no trash bins, no dumpsters, no sanitation provisions of ANY sort (and this is true not just for the old town but for the upscale area where I'm staying, as well).
And open air restaurants are located directly on the street amidst it all.

I have lived in poverty trashy one room apartments above bars, in insect infested buildings, etc. None of them even equates to the depths of filth here.

Part of what I am trying to express is a lack of privacy and self-respect...or perhaps, lack of shame. Mumbai takes "you gotta do what you gotta do" to a level I never dreamed possible.
What's worse is seeing the rich sit in their gated guarded buildings bemoaning the plight of the country's poor (right outside their doors) while their servants do even the most menial tasks and go home hungry.
I am not a professional on knowing what the rich can do to help the poor. In my country I AM the poor (I've used every penny to my name for this trip, and even every penny would not have kept a roof over my head in the US w/no guarantee of finding another job). But I do know it is WRONG to sit in your air conditioned safety and say you feel sorry for the man on the street when you do nothing to help.

I am not here to judge or preach and do not want to take that route in my writings, but I do want to provide an accurate observation of the way it is, of the things I am seeing.

There is so much more I wish I could write about accurately.
The day we took the "house boy" (cleaning servant) to the hospital...the conditions there...again, lack of privacy in examination room, the rooms being open to the outdoors, dingy mismatched curtains and antiquated file systems (yellowed notebooks as charts).
It reminded me of a 1940s war type scenario.

Also I know a big part of my issue is that I feel really pressured to adapt faster, better. My host does not seem to understand my inability to simply "get over it" and get out and about on my own. It's like to him, emotional/mental health issues cannot possibly exist. I'm a mature physically healthy what's the problem?

I'm not really sure what to DO. I don't want to be stuck in my room for the next 9 days til I leave for Udaipur.
Maybe once the PMS passes...and once the weather cools a wee bit (even a few degrees will be a welcome change!)...I'll be more capable of facing this challenge.

I'm hoping to be brave enough to go out walking sometime mid-afternoon, today. Hanging Gardens (in reality just a terraced park) is in the neighborhood and I've been told it's a must-see for tourists.

Please continue praying for me, leaving kind encouraging comments, and connecting with me on twitter. Vibes and prayers from afar actually do help!

Edited to add: Important wiki/info on sanitation and water supply in India...this may be urban India's most urgent issue.
What is being done to improve facilities for the common citizen who may not even have a home?

Urgent issues:
*health regulations (if there are any, they surely don't seem to be enforced).
*trash/rubbish/refuse disposal facilities, pick up services, street clean up initiatives are all desperately needed

Pondering if there is any way at all I can get people interested in DOING something about these issues.
Might have to come from volunteer workers sourced from far I have not met any locals who are concerned!


  1. Hi! Great blog. Hang in there. I have never been to India, but have been told that it can take some adjusting. I have traveled so much over the years. All I can say is use your common sense, and you will be safe. Try and swallow your fear, and don't miss anything :)

  2. I can't imagine what you're going through. Be safe!

  3. This is a trip you will never forget for sure! Hang in there and enjoy what you can but also know it's o.k. to be upset and disturbed by what you see. It makes you all the more human!

  4. It may help once you get out of the city and see some of the beautiful countryside. I remember some of this same feeling traveling in Brazil some years ago, especially all the littering and in places filth, a different sense of personal space, plus a different approach to shall we say manners in public. But to some degree it is just a case of culture shock, and you haven't really been there very long. It could well get easier, at least I hope it does.

    If you weren't a cute blonde it might be easier! How about a head scarf and trying to blend in a little?

    Good luck--I'm loving your blog!


  5. I can't wait to read your blog once you leave the City and I'm hoping the north will be more to your liking. Taj Mahal should be wonderful and if time allowed, a visit to the Ellora Caves would be a real treat. Travel safe, travel smart.
    Debra (Georgia)

  6. thinking of you.. sending prayers.. and hugs and calming thoughts your way.

    Your posts makes me feel.. a lot... I have a fear of too many people in one space.. so I am sure being there would be scary to me.. I also have issues with things not being clean.. so that would be hard for me.. I have looked at some of your photos and love them.. but wonder how/why people there live with the garbage.

    I am so proud of you.. being there and doing your best.. I see you learning and exploring and sharing... gathering memories that you will always have... and in someway there will be changes made because you are there and I believe they will be good.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. I just got back from a three week vacation and wondered how you were doing. I'm so sorry that you are having a hard time adjusting, but I suppose it is it be expected. It's a lot to adjust to! I'll continue to keep you in my thoughts, and will check back on you soon. I look forward to hearing more about your big adventure!

  9. removed the comment from John which was misinformed at best and rude at worst...

    posting a link to a WIKI is sharing info which I did not create (it is content found on wikipedia if anyone else is wondering)
    I have written nothing other than this blog and the photo descriptions