Friday, June 22, 2007

The Problems They Face

After my initial epiphany described in a previous blog entry, I've had time to delve deeper into these issues. Priya and Minu, two of the Indian students that we are working with, explained to me that these community members are so happy not because they do not realize what condition they are in, but rather because they realize it, know they can't do anything about it, and so just make the best of it. Discussing this with fellow MIT students later on, there was an intense discussion about the American way of always striving for something better but never seeming to be content with what they have, and the way we're seeing in these communities where they're so happy with what they do have, but do not strive to get out of it. My view is that ideally, yes, you would have both. You would both be content with what you have and strive for what you don't have. However, is this possible? If you are content with what you have, why would you strive for something you don't have? And if you are striving for something... that means you want it but don't have it... and then can you be truly happy?

I want to clarify that I did not mean that the camp inhabitants did not need help. From our point of view, of course they need help. The stench of the camps is bearable, but very unpleasent, especially in the heat, and the flies that are attracted to all the garbage and the filthy water surround us and use us as their restroom every second. The flies are literally everywhere. We need to be careful that they don't fly into our eyes or our mouths... Can you imagine living in a place like that? On top of that, it is already a scorching 105-115 degrees F, the air is humid and stuffy, pollution and dust are dense in the air all around you, there are no bathrooms... could you even stay in a place like that for 1 full day? After several hours of photographing with a towel around my neck to wipe away the dripping sweat, I am exhausted. In today's heat, I had no energy left, my entire body felt limp, and my clothes were drenched in sweat.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to one of the camps with only 2 Indian students and 2 community mobilizers from Deepalaya. With only one foreigner in their midst, the community members acted much more naturally and seemed to feel more comfortable. There was one 22.5 year old girl who i connected with (she spoke some english) and she pulled me away from my group to her favorite spot on a ledge (with a group of children trailing along with us) and we joked around and talked about our different cultures and she translated other people's questions for me. We teased a boy that was taking a shower right behind us and I took some pictures as the little crowd that had formed started to laugh as the boy started posing with a wide grin on his facae. It just really felt comfortable and I felt so welcome; I fit right in.

Sadly, I also saw a lot more sadness yesterday. It was mostly in the children. I saw more sick children which partially explains it, but even the ones that weren't visibly sick just didn't have that sparkle in their eye. They seemed to realize and not like the flies covering them and the raggedy hand-me-downs hanging off of their shoulders. Their eyes showed experience and understanding beyond their years and the sorrow was heavy in their eyes... I wished there was something i could do. Sitting on the ledge, I told them about my goals to become a nonprofit physician working in developing countries, and that I would come back to see them again. They were delighted and told me they would look forward to that day.

I was surprised to find out later that this particular camp is one of the better-off camps financially. Perhaps this is why they had so much sorrow.. they had a taste of what money could get them... some of them had an old digital camera, one of them had a motorcycle... but little else.

Later on in the day, I also saw a family with 4 little children, probably ages 1-4, and a young mother (she looked no older than me). They were playing on a ramp of a construction site with dust covering their skin and torn up clothes. Their faces showed such anguish that I couldn't even muster up the courage to go up to them to get a close shot. It was worse because they were right outside a Mcdonalds where I was eating dinner... and I wanted to just buy all the kids meals, but i didn't want the mother to be offended so i just let it be. In retrospect, i wish i had bought even just one thing of fries to share. I think it might have been alright since i took a photograph... an exchange rather than an act of charity.

Today, we went to an area where the children seemed extra rowdy. They started to fight, physically, to get the photo taken, and it became dangerous so we stopped taking photographs. Julie had her point and shoot camera so she took pictures and then showed the kids the photographs (I decided that wasn't a good idea in this area, so I didn't let them know that mine was also digital). She was surrounded by kids in an instant and was overpowered by them. It was faintingly hot and everything seemed to go by like a blur... it almost seems like a dream versus a memory...

1 comment:

michelle said...

Cousin!
I am extremely proud of you for planning such an amazing trip. Be safe and make sure to drink lots of water since the weather is so hot! The photographs are looking wonderful.

miss and love you lots!

with tons of hugs,
your fave cousin ;)