Saturday, June 09, 2007
But I digress. Before going to bed I need to put together my "supplies" for tomorrow and make sure my camera batteries are charged. My checklist:
Sunscreen - check
lip balm with sunblock - check
Purell hand sanitizer - check
Charmin on-the-go wipes - check
Stickers to hand out to kids - check
notepad and pen - check
camera with both lens and fully charged battery - check
controlled-release insect repellent with 20 percent DEET - check
OK. I think I have everything and it's time for some shut-eye. Nightie-night!
Friday, June 08, 2007
- There are 1 billion, 100 million people in India.
- Delhi's population alone is 15 million. It takes three hours by car to drive from Delhi's south city limit to north city limit.
- Only 3 million people live in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. (Practically a small town, eh?)
- In an attempt to improve air quality, Delhi has banned all industry from setting up shop within the city limits. Consequently, a "factory row" has developed just outside city limits. This is also where you'll find the majority of call centers owned by foreign companies. I kept my eye out for Dell Computers but couldn't find it.
- In India there are three kinds of schools -- federally funded ones for the children of federal government workers; state-funded schools for the public majority; and private schools (mostly populated by children of diplomats and India's wealthier families.)
- According to our guide, all good office jobs require a university degree, so the federal govt offers highly subsidized tuition assistance to those who meet financial and academic qualifications.
- It largely depends on the city, but the average monthly salary for factory workers is $250 (and that often includes some meals on site). Teachers get about $500 to $800 a month.
- Rent in Delhi for a decent apartment ranges between $100 to $200 a month.
- The major religions in India are Hindu (about 80 percent); Muslim (about 20 percent); and then Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhist, Sikhs and Jains (Orthodox Hindus).
- There are three kinds of health care in India: federally funded hospitals, state-funded hospitals and private hospitals. The federal and state hospitals provide free medical care to the general population but you have to buy your meds. At private hospitals, the patient pays for everything. Read: It's also where you'll get the most advanced, qualified care. I, fortunately, did not visit any of these facilities.
- ABOUT THE DOT: Many of you wanted me to find out about the dot on an Indian woman's forehead, so I did some diligent research.
Me doing diligent research: "Excuse me, Amit? About those dots on foreheads of Indian women... What's up with that?"
Amit: "If it's a red dot, higher up on her forehead, that means she is married. Any other dot -- whether it's a jewel or another color -- is just a feminine touch. It's merely for decorative purposes."
- India is agriculturally self-sufficient. It doesn't have to import any produce, though it does export some produce. To keep the farmers happy, the government excludes them from income taxes, and there's lots of subsidizing of utilities and major farming equipment purchases.
- The signs you see along the street in India that say "STD" with an arrow pointing to a nearby door does not indicate that a man with gonorrhea lives there. STD stands for "Subscriber Trunk Dialing" -- India's public telephone system.
- Likewise, the UTI Bank (one of the first private banks in India beginning in 1994) is not a business that caters only to women with urinary tract infections. Although it does offer a free liter of cranberry juice when you open a checking account. (Kidding!)
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
"Taxes?" she asked.
Anyway, I asked if they were siblings, and she said yes. Then I asked if I could take their picture and they kindly obliged. After snapping their photo, I asked if they'd like some stickers. I pulled
the sheets from my camera bag and showed them the selection. These kids bypassed the Disney girls with fluffy expressions like "Marvelous! Lovely! Simply Amazing! Beautiful!" in favor of the punchier praises from The Incredibles family: "Way to Go! Incredible Stuff! Good Thinking! Great Work!"
When one of the younger sisters reached out for her sticker, I immediately noticed the intricate henna designs on her arms and hands. Amit later told me that a close relative (perhaps an aunt) likely just got married, and she was in the wedding party. I asked her if I could photograph her hands and she gave me that curious Indian nod (not a shake, not a nod -- sort of a head wobble.) It took me a while to get used to this gesture meaning "YES." Her sisters eagerly rolled up the girl's shirt sleeves so I could get a better view of the detail; you could tell they were proud -- an impromptu session of Show-n-Tell right there at Agra Fort.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Quick sidebar: I can hear some wheels turning in certain cerebrums out there, so let me address your thoughts. For those of you who think that these children are pulling one over on the tourists and I should never mind my heart strings and closely watch my purse strings, go ahead and think that. To a degree, you're right. Some of these children have slippery hands. But who do you think has taught them to do these things, and do you think they were given a CHOICE? Do you think that after a long, hot day of begging on the streets and being shooed, ignored and cursed at by adults, these children return to a well-balanced, loving home to count their rupees over a nourishing meal? Of course not. They are victims of a merciless cycle in India. If they're not answering to their parents who have sentenced them to a hard life of begging in the streets, then they're likely answering to a "street boss" who exploits their vulnerability in ways you'd rather not know. According to a 2007 study on child abuse in India by the Ministry of Women and Child Development http://wcd.nic.in/childabuse.pdf, which interviewed almost 17,000 children, young adults and stakeholders in 13 Indian states (the largest study of its kind in the world to date):
- Two out of three children are being physically abused.
- 50 percent of the abusers are persons known to the child and are in a position of trust or responsibility.
- 50 percent of the children are put to work seven days a week to supplement household income.
- 53 percent have experienced sexual abuse or have been sexually assaulted.
- Street children, child laborers and those in institutional care reported the highest incidence of sexual abuse.
So, when I tell you that I give these children money because my heart hurts for them, don't smugly tell me that "that's exactly what they're counting on." I WANT them to have my rupees. Nobody's conning anybody here. Now back to my story about the girl in red...
When our eyes met, I subtly motioned for her to break from the crowd and follow me; I didn't want to dig in my purse in front of the masses. She quickly responded and came right to my side -- her four quick steps to each of my two longer strides. Together, we walked away from all the fuss. I slipped the bills into her tiny fingers and then, without really thinking, I ran my hand over her dusty black hair -- a gesture that suddenly made me think of Mom. She looked up at me and smiled, and then it was over. I moved toward our awaiting bus and she fell back into the crowd of beggars and hawkers.
As the bus engine revved up, everyone took their seats. I found a seat by the window. She and the other children were still standing outside on the sidewalk, calling to us with outstretched arms. I watched her eyes scan the contents of each window until she reached my window. Again, that beaming smile. I waved and blew her a kiss. She did the same. As the bus wheels pulled away from the curb, she suddenly broke into a run, laughing and waving to me, her little legs pumping to keep up with the bus. I raised my camera and snapped a couple photos, then stopped to blow her another kiss. As the bus merged into traffic she stopped and waved one last time. I turned to face forward in my seat, tears in my eyes.
That evening I took out my camera to review the photos I'd taken that day. When I got to the photos of her, something cool and uncomfortable ran through my body. A lump grew in my throat, and then everything I had been feeling that afternoon came rushing to the surface. I cried because she looked so grateful, so innocent, and I didn't do anything but give her enough rupees for a soda or a bag of chips. I should have given her more. But then what? I wish I could have held her or spent more time with her. But then what?
I thought about these things and more - that image of her running so clear in my mind. I don't know how long I cried, but after a while my thoughts replaced the tears, and then dreams replaced the thoughts.
Me with a sheepish grin: "Uh...hey y'all..."
Indian Entourage: [Insert multiple commands and questions in Hindi here.]
Me to the young boy: "What do they want?"
Young boy who speaks a bit of English: "They want the photo."
Indian Entourage: "Copy. [Insert lots of Hindi.] Copy."
Me a bit panicked to the boy: "Ummm... My camera isn't a Polaroid. But I can show you the image on the screen."
I pull up the image of the little boy and turn the screen toward the Entourage. Gratuitous head wobbling and more comments in Hindi ensues.
Me to the boy: "Now what are they saying?"
The boy, clearly frustrated: "They want a copy."
I look at the Entourage and weakly smile. "I can't. I mean, I want to, but ... It's not a Polaroid."
The Entourage frowns. Their disappointment pokes me in the chest. I crack under the pressure and toss out what seems a ridiculous question: "Does anyone have email??"
The Entourage perks up. "Email?"
One of the older boys steps forward, gesturing for a pen and paper. I gladly hand over my notepad and he scribbles something down. With a smile, he hands the pocket spiral back to me.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Friday, June 01, 2007