Thursday, November 10, 2005

First Impressions of India

After thirty hours of travel, my plane landed in Bombay (Mumbai) India. Nothing in my personal, missionary, television watching experience had prepared me for what I would see there. The only word that I know that comes close is squalor.

The way the Bombay airport is designed, I had to actually exit the airport in order to rendez-vous with the other two men that I would travel with. We had to come on seperate planes because of a price issue with the airline. Fortunately, they only arrived 15 minutes after me. Unfortunately, I had to take my first steps in India virtually unguided.

The first thing that you notice in Bombay is the smell. I caught the fragrance before I ever exited the terminal. It smells like sewage. I was told that of the 19 million people who live in Bombay, 10 million of them live in slums. I believe it. I could see what looked like miles of slums from the plane. The people use the street as their bathroom. Some places literally smell like a latrine.

The second thing that you notice in Bombay is the mass of people. People are everywhere. They are crowded together like stacked wood. I can't imagine how they live in such conditions. Many of the people that you see beg for their food. From the time that I left the terminal, to the time that I found my friends, to the time that I got into the car, I was thronged by hungry little boys. They touch your hand and pull your shirt. They bring there hands to their mouths and they grunt. They are begging for money for food. Their "beggar pimps" watch them like a hawk. Give any one of them a dime, and it will promptly be confiscated.

I was relived to find my traveling companions. They were men who had been to India multiple times. They knew how to negotiate the city. When I found them I also found our guide for the day. His name is Matthew. Matthew is a pastor just outside of Bombay. He pastors a small church and takes care of around 11 orphans. He takes care of these children with his wife. They do the cooking, the cleaning, the wash, and everything. Of course, the children help, but the adults do most of the work, and they shoulder the financial burden. Matthew works with Emmanuel Ministries.

Another thing that shocks you about India is the traffic. It is bumper to bumper and fender to fender. You see camels, cows, pigs, bicycles, scooters by the thousands, and just about anything else you can imagine wondering the nearly laneless roads. And they drive like maniacs. The horn is the only law on the street. When you hear it, you move or you get hit.

Matthew took us to our hotel. It was right across the street from a very large slum. I should take a little time to describe what a slum is. Mostly, these shanties are just three walls and a tin roof. They have dirt floors and no sewage. Everywhere you look there is garbage piled high. It looks like New Orleans after the hurricane. Yet people live there day after day.

The hotel that we had arrainged was a five star hotel. The contrast was incredible. It was, by far, the most luxurious hotel I have ever stayed in. The floors were all white marble. The decorations were exquisite. The beds were fabulous, and the view was...of a slum. Lavish living across from absolute poverty. This is the Inida I saw. It is a country of contrasts. By the way, the hotel cost me $80 a night. Not bad for five star accomadations. As I looked out the hotel window, I felt the guilt of privilege.

These are my first impressions of India. I do not know if they are fair, but this is how I felt. The poverty that I have seen in the USA, Brazil, and Portugal did not touch what I saw in India. It was overwhelming. What is worse is that I firmly believe that much of this physical poverty is due to the spiritual absurdity of the caste system. The caste system enslaves people to squalor. It is a part of the Hindu religion, and I hate it.


Elizabeth said...

I don't know HOW you could stand to be there, and not have enough money to make a difference! I have heard that it is their absurd religion that makes for such a situation! People so hate to follow the true God yet HIS ways are never like this!!

We are SO blessed indeed to have been born here!


brother terry said...

Thanks Sojourner!

This was a great post: Raw and honest.

I hope you can get more stories like this out before you process them too much.

I means so much to have your unfiltered perspective!


Daniel said...

I too am glad to hear a first hand account of the poverty. Spending $80 a night across from people who don't beg $80 a year - that sort of thing brings home the privilege in which we live in a way that all the sad little crying faces on television cannot - because one cannot simply change the channel or ignore the reality that one these are real people.

I hope this turns into a series.

Anonymous said...


so true. its scary. but $80 for a five star? what hotel?

Sojourner said...

There are a few reasons why we got the hotel for so little. For one, there were three of us in one room, which brings it to $240 a night. The ministry also got a group rate because they bring a good number of people to that hotel. Finally, I was only told that it was 5 star. I wouldn't know a 3 from a 5 star, to be honest. I only know that it was the nicest hotel I've stayed in, which isn't saying much. I can't remember the name of it; we were only there for a night and checked out in the morning.

sage said...

Wow--that's intense. I've always thought I would like to go to India, it's an intriguing place, but I too much value time alone. I've been listening to Sarah Macdonald's book, "HOLY COW: AN INDIAN ADVENTURE" when I exercise. Although somewhat irreverant, and very funny, it also explains the poverty and smells in graphic terms.