Wednesday 16 March 2011

Guest Post: Welcome to Mumbai!

As many of you will know, my gorgeous hubbie went to India for 10 days about a month ago.  He went with 6 other Christians from our Church to offer his love and support to a community in the rural area of Latur.

I have managed to convince him that it would be fantastic to feature a short series of posts from him giving us his first hand experience of the situation he encountered in India.  Today he talks about arriving in Mumbai.

After a long 9 hour flight it was good to be able to stretch my legs and get off the plane. Entering the airport you could be forgiven for thinking you might be at any airport in the world. It is a modern building and I can see signs of international brands as I look through windows to the departures area as we walk down the corridor leading to customs. But as we leave the building the realization that we are in India begins to dawn on me. The first experience is the taxi ride to our accommodation at the YMCA in Mumbai Central. Our luggage is strapped to the top of the black and yellow cab and we all squeeze inside. The driving is on the left but that is the only similarity to the UK. It is 3 in the morning as we drive off. The taxi has to sign out of the airport. Whilst we wait for the driver to do this, numerous ladies with babies come up to the window begging for money. We have to wind up the windows to stop them reaching in. As we leave the airport the vast poverty in Mumbai is quickly seen with people sleeping along the sides of the road, under the arches of bridges and in the rows of corrugated steel slum dwellings that line the streets. The roads are dusty and bumpy and the air has an unpleasant pungent smell.

At the YMCA we get a very warm welcome. Security at the gate and porters help get our luggage into the building and we check in. The accommodation is better than I was expecting, the rooms are basic but have AC and satellite TV, but no time to enjoy this as bed it awaiting.

We are all up at 9am and go down for breakfast. A self service buffet with a variety of Indian and ‘English style’ breakfast items. Afterwards a couple of us go for a walk to experience the local area.

With the overwhelming change of culture and the hustle and bustle of the city, there is an element of culture shock. The roads are awry with cars, taxis and motorbikes. There is a constant buzzing of horns, and the vehicles are unpredictably weaving the streets like dodgems. We are only in Mumbai for the day before heading out to rural India so we are not so much sight seeing but orientating ourselves to our newfound surroundings.

Such a powerful picture, look at those stunning tower blocks in the
background and then the rather different building closest!

This area was used for everything! That is people's homes ajoining the
railway line, this area was used as their bathroom

You could be easily forgiven for anesthetising yourself to the scale of the poverty that is evident. Sadly regardless of your view or intentions there is very little you can do that would have any immediate impact to this situation. Like any large city there is another side, with great affluence sitting side by side with the other extreme, highlighting the problems of social inequality. So is there anything we can do to help?  Yes, by supporting international development charities such as Oxfam  or Save the Children they can be the agent to change the social situation and by purchasing Fairtrade products we can make a real difference to this world. Don't forget that a collective of small actions can make a very big impact. It is easy to look at the pictures above but you need to remember that behind them are real lives. Real lives that they need our support to change for the better.
So there is a question for you - Do you always buy fairtrade?
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