Our walk began around 8:45 p.m. and I had decided that I wanted to just take in the scenes and different atmosphere so I left my camera in my bag and let my eyes, ears and mind soak in as much as possible.
Immediately along the way a child came up to the group and held out his hand, asking for money in Gujarati. His family stood about five paces from our last member in line on the sidewalk. The family encouraged the son to keep asking each of us for money. I put my hands together in prayer position and said, “Namaste,” (Welcome) he moved along to the others.
We continued our walk up across a street vendor and building while the air filled with ear piercing horns and local chatter. Before we crossed the street another family approached us and the parents motioned their children towards the six of us and they began to ask for money. Again, we all said hello and kept walking – something the Jesuits told us to do incase that happened.
After walking down the street past a closed local market, we began to distance ourselves from one another a little more. I headed to the front and began to reflect on my day and the prospect of a new year with a fresh start, Carole and Dr. Byers and Jim walked in the back gabbing, while Jen and Chris took pictures of the closed stalls that kept big statues out for the night. We rounded a bend and decided to circle around to head back after deciding we were all fairly tired and entered a world I never imagined seeing and even being right in front of me.
Children and adults flocked towards the six of us as we were pushed to the left side of the road by cars and towards the untouchables arms and hands. They say, “Americans, Americans,” with smiles and gleaming eyes. We all had a look of shock, or at least I did, as we realized there were people three blocks from where we are sleeping who are living in ten feet by ten feet, deteriorating cement homes, with broken beds and sand mixed with gravel as their front yard – merely feet from the side road. The smell of urine and sewage is overwhelming.
With raggedy clothes that fall off the shoulders of boys and girls, and babies who are wrapped in woven blankets and cradled in their mother’s arms around a small fire you can’t help but recognize the stark differences in economic class in India and between the U.S. and India. The children with their oversized clothes come up to me and ask to hold my hand or shake it. I reach out and they smile running back to their mother and father who wave and they scream, “American girl” or “American, American,” while waving the hand that I just shook. This continuous for a few more blocks and down a corner until we reach the street where the street vendor and second family approached us before hand. The picture taking ceased long ago and the conversation had dwindled to a minimum until someone said, “Celebrity status all day today, huh?” I had no response.
This celebrity status was not one I welcomed, I know I had money in my pocket that I wanted to offer, but if you offer to one you have to offer to all. The people living in the slums are called the untouchables because they are the lowest on the totem poll in India, they get excited when anyone pays them mind and offers their hand because in their eyes you took time out of your busy schedule to interact with them, something their own fellow citizens don’t do.
Before I came to India Janet, a co-worker of my mothers, and her husband came to my home and explained their experience in Ahmedabad a year ago at this same time. They were doing medical missionary work in villages where untouchables lived. The two said that the people were so happy to have their blood pressure taken because the nurses and aides were physically touching them instead of shying away, the citizens would ask for another test just to be given extra attention and be touched, Janet said.
If I made someone happy and gave them joy on their New Years Eve by a simple brush of two skin tones then I am glad to be a celebrity in their eyes, but because I can’t help them in any other way I’m thankful to end my celebrity status with this post and begin working with the students I know I can help at the current moment on Monday and only hope that I can help in a more tangible way with the untouchables or people alike in the near future.