Making it in Mumbai

Right now I am at an expat/bourgeois café near my apartment, aptly named “The Bagel Shop”. I feel a little guilty when I come here. They have free wifi. They have bagels with cream cheese that are more expensive than a $1.50 shmear you get in NYC and not as good. They have black coffee with cream on the side, which I am grateful for. This is one part Mumbai.

I work at an educational NGO that runs 7 elementary/secondary schools and a teacher training center. They work with underprivileged children and families who live in the neighborhoods around the schools. The teacher training center works with preservice teachers who are also from the community. They learn English, basic child development, and pedagogy within a year’s time before entering the classroom as teachers. The training staff is passionate and very purposeful about the way they think and deliver what they want teachers to know. The trainers are Indian teachers, child development specialists and social workers who are on the whole, well educated and well traveled Mumbaikers. They struggle with the vast gap between their trainees’ educational background and what they need them to know in order to give students the kind of education they deserve. This is one part Mumbai.

To get to work I rickshaw through blaring honks, people, exhaust, dogs, cows-it becomes a blur within the first few minutes. I board a train.  Sometimes its quite spacious-I have gotten on early enough to beat the rush hour traffic. I’ll stand with a relaxed gait at the door, seeing how many 1 second stories I can spy on;  a woman hanging a bright blue sari out to dry, a child on the tracks trying to touch a butterfly. Sometimes I get on too late and I am pushed into the train by faceless bodies of women. I smell raw sewage and body odor. I stand in one place without moving for the 25 minute ride and push my way through the door without making eye contact, spilling onto the pavement below. I walk another mile to work in heavy traffic. I have begun to notice that many people here have a hacking cough. I am starting to get one too.  This is one part Mumbai.

Everyday I am meeting new parts. Adding to my schema of this place. Being pushed and pulled-both physically, intellectually and emotionally. I’m learning that this isn’t what it means to be an American in Mumbai-it is actually what most Indians who live here are confronting-the juxtaposition of rich and poor, private and public, stability and ambiguity. Everyone here struggles, and it is within this struggle that NGOs, and the individuals who dreamed them, have to strive. The most amazing thing is-they are doing it. Everyone comes in each day with these struggles in their heart. They are tired. Yet they are still filled with hope and vigor-which is truly inspirational. I feel lucky to be stimulated like this-hacking cough and all.

My bill comes for the salad and coffee. It is 350 rupees. I will be eating deliciously economical street fried potatoes all day tomorrow until my black market gas canister comes and I can cook. One more part Mumbai.

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