It is one thing to intellectually understand what life in a third world country must be like. It is completely another to experience it and raise that understanding to the organic level. While the USA is not perfect – far from it – we are still afforded things here that people in other places only dream of.
I am privileged to offer you an excerpt from the blog of a remarkable person, my daughter, Leigh Evans. I invite you to dwell for a moment in the experiences she shares with you, and ponder the dichotomy, diversity and challenges of the world we live in. – Gilda Evans
The death of a young boy.
In the third week of our program one of my students died. Because of the language barrier his name has been spelled multiple ways, but I will write it here phonetically. Such a curious and arbitrary thing, language.
Shravan was pure, good, and bright.
His death was very difficult in different ways. We were told at the start of class on Monday by our translator/co-teacher, Haley, who was told by the local teacher, Anju. I remember feeling a sense of panic. One second the news was dropped on us, the next second Haley was giving me the nod to start class. I was toying with the idea of excusing myself to regain composure for a minute, as I felt the burn of pre-tears commencing, but then I saw Shravan’s best friend, Vickas. There was a visible sadness in his eyes and slowness to his speech, but he was participating, smiling, and helping his younger peers. At that second I sucked the moisture back into my core and marched forward with the lesson.
I thought about this for the rest of the day. Was the one-second transition due to a cultural difference? And was that cultural difference attributable to India, or more specifically the slums in India? Do Indian people grieve so differently than people in America? Or does the harsh struggle of living in the slums cause people to pause less for death? There is a statistic that thirty children die per month in the particular slum where I volunteer. That number evokes sadness, helplessness, and frustration.
Shravan was in the class directly prior to falling ill, and he was noticeably struggling. His usual 10-foot smile was condensed into a pained pucker and he sat in the corner with his head in his hands. We decided to send him home not knowing that would be the last time we’d see him.
He died from a fever that went untreated and that is the only information we have.
During the first week of class we asked our students to draw what they wanted to be. Shravan drew himself as a physician treating a sick person, pictured below. He was bright in both the intelligent sense, as well as the feelings he inspired in others. Honestly, he had such wonderful things ahead of him.
To experience Shravan’s death after the recent shootings at my school was surreal. Six UCSB students were killed, the community was shaken, and thousands of people memorialized them. They were honored and remembered in a way that thirty Kalva children a month will never be.
The only picture I have of Shravan, is his school ID below. You can’t see it here, but his smile was beautiful.
On Life in Mumbai
I spoke about Mumbai in my first blog post with the excitement of traveling to a new place. After spending five weeks here I can say that, in some ways, it is the antithesis of what I love. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the things I encounter on a daily basis have been very difficult.
1. Restrictions on self-expression.
As a woman I am restricted in everything I present: skin, speech, opinions, friendliness, affection, assertiveness, independence.
2. Racial barriers.
White skin turns neon in India. Staring takes on a whole new meaning. There is no opportunity to feel at home.
3. Abusing the environment.
I’m so sorry, lungs. Apparently, living in Mumbai is equivalent to smoking two packs a day because of it’s polluted air. There is no trash collection system. Looking for the trash bin? A local will point to the street.
Trash heaps that line the Kalva slums
Poverty and hardship are part of the scenery. Dying people and animals line the streets without inspiring a second glance. Not only that, but daily encounters with beggars make it extremely difficult to not become apathetic yourself. Beggars in Mumbai are mostly connected with mafia. Women with starving infants send every rupee they receive back to those who can give them the security of daily meals, even if it’s just enough to survive. Therefore, it is unwise to give money to these people as it will then support a system of violence and abuse. There are 12 million people in Mumbai, and a tiny percentage works to make it a better place.
All this being said, I also took a trip to the Mumbai National Park a few weeks ago and it was definitely one of the highlights of my experience. The Buddhist caves and surrounding scenery were breathtaking, or more accurately, a breath of fresh air. Although I did encounter a rather infuriating trash heap hidden in some brush.
Mumbai is not homogenous and don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a wonderful experience. It’s just very difficult to walk into Phoenix Mall and realize that selling all the purses in Michael Kors could take everyone out of the slums and put them in a nice apartment in the city, or to spend a local teacher’s monthly salary on one meal. I just wish more people wanted to make the world better.
I hope I have helped some of my students see more beauty in the world.
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