Sunday, December 21, 2008

Photos - Day One - India

World's Greatest Dad - Honey, I'll wear the helmet. Apparently it has only just become law for motorbike riders to have to wear a helmet.

Two proud Mumbai mums, who found me first then brought the family along.

We awoke to the smell of acrid burning something, and cat pee, which was not pleasant, and headed outside for a look. I was busting to get out into the streets and inhale the sights, sounds, smells and all that the corner of Mumbai we had landed in had to offer. I also had my new digital SLR camera that I wanted to try out (on auto as I am not the best photographer in the world.). So while Bob had his breakfast in the hotel's Sapphire Room, I headed out the front gate of the hotel to see what I could see.

Proud grandma ... she actually refused 200 rupiah ... I guess everyone has their pride.

This ungrateful, snobbish spoiled Westerner, was thrilled by the chaos, the traffic, the auto-rickshaws, the motorcycles and taxis and private cars making six lanes of traffic out of two, including the sidewalk. It was just amazing to see pedestrians dodge traffic, stray dogs cross chaotic roads and families, four to a motorcycle, weaving in and out of the mayhem manage to stay alive. I really don't know how they do it, there appears to be few road rules, yet somehow it works. The entire time we were there we saw only one accident. In Australia you get booked for not wearing a seat belt. If your passengers are not wearing seat belts, the driver gets booked, you get booked for not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle, and the driver and passenger gets booked for the passenger not wearing a helmet. As for having more than two on a motorbike, including mum riding side-saddle and two children between the parents, in Australia the children would be taken in by social services and the parents forced to attend parenting lessons before they got their kids back. It is such a different world and I became all too aware of how lovely our lives in our safe little town of Perth are. And boy did I start appreciating all I have, while at the same time feeling guilty that the camera around my neck could feed an Indian family of 10 for a year.

Like any mum anywhere in the world, this mum was so proud of her baby.

Yes, I knew I would see these things, I just didn't know much of it I would see. I had naively thought I could ignore the poverty, ignore the homeless, ignore the child beggars, ignore the people sleeping on the streets, under a tarpaulin, if they were lucky. How can one not see these things and think it is okay to go to a developing third-world country, use the services of its people, and do nothing to help solve the problems, or pretend it is all hunky dory. Of course, none us can solve all the problems of Mumbai, and ultimately it is up to the Indian people to help each other, but there are a few things I personally can do from Australia to be a part of the solution.

Daughter and grand-daughter. The dot on the baby's forehead is for spiritual protection, the eyeliner just to make the baby's eyes stand out ... or so I was told by an English-speaking cabbie who helped translate.

Within two minutes of stepping onto the streets, camera in hand, I was surrounded by homeless women and children, asking me for help. What was I to do? I had no lollies to hand out - not that I would offer lollies to further rot already rotting little uncared for teeth. And I noticed those little teeth, and felt guilty that my own step-son had $3000 worth of fillings at age four, to save his baby teeth. We could have just ripped them out, ensured his mother took better care of this teeth, and sent the $3000 to India.

Who could possibly not fall in love with this little on, much less not notice that her world is not all that nice.

I had only a few dollars in rupiah, and I had been told not to give out money. But I just couldn't ignore these people. I refused to behave like an ignorant white Westerner with a cushy life - a term I found myself calling both Bob and I from the moment we stepped foot on Indian soil - and continued to do so until Bob reminded me I could not save the world. The disparity between their lives and my life hit me deeply and I vowed to do something real on my return to Australia to help these people. No, I cannot save the world, but I can do something small and practical to the lives of a few people - even if we just sponsor another World Vision child.

Or this trio ...

I couldn't get a smile out of this little fellow, but he happily took 10 rupiah. Homeless kids in Mumbai learn how to survive at a very early age.

I managed to walk to the corner (about 15 steps) before Bob came running out looking for me, sure I was getting myself into some trouble or other. He found me excitedly snapping pics, yet feeling like a voyeur, as thought I was intruding on real people's lives as though they were animals on show at a zoo. It didn't sit well with me, but i desperately wanted those pics so I can perhaps have them published alongside an article about our adventures in Mumbai. I asked Bob for some rupee so I could at least pay the women and children pooling around my feet, for the photos I was taking. At that moment, all I cared about was helping just a bit, even if the children ran away and gave the money to an organised crime gang, at least I could save them from a beating for not collecting their daily quota. If they had such a thing. 100 rupee to me is $3, to these people, food for a family for a day or more. (In the end I gave away quite a bit of money, and I think it was my feelings of guilt and despair over their living conditions, as well as a genuine need to help, that prompted me to do so.) Let's just say that the homeless outside the The Emerald had a very profitable day that day.

Nor a smile from this little boy, who also broke my heart.

This fellow was so out-there and so cheeky. He also had the quickest draw and pinched rupiah from the other kids. Grandma put him in line and made him share.

This mum was just sweetest, most lovely little thing. She was so proud of her children, though I don't know how many of the milling crowd at my ankles were hers.

I think this is an older sister with a younger brother, not a mum. My heart leaped into my mouth several times as I saw her cross through crazy Mumbai traffic.

Family shot. I'm going to frame this pic so I can never get too caught up in my own world and forget how bad their lives are, and how good mine is.

I fell in love with this family of homeless beggars. Their smiles were just so gorgeous, the feel of them so despairing, yet were so grateful for the little I could give to them .. and they were so happy to have their photos taken. The mothers proudly showed off their babies to me, and grandma got in on the action proudly showing me her daughter, and her grand-daughter, and in very broken English, managed to communicate to me, her pride. I just wanted to pick them up, give them a bath, a good feed, and find a home and some income for them. But what could I do? I would have taken in those children, plus their mothers, and their grandmothers, brought them all to Australia, ... and given up surrogacy in a heart-beat ... but Indian and Australian adoption laws will not allow this. At that moment, I made a promise to myself to not just use the Indian system that allows us to have our children, and not give in return. I have a few ideas about how to do this ... I'm just not sure how I will go about it, though I have made moves with a local businessman to start an import business of which profits will go to the people of India. We each have our own conscience and will do what best suits us, my conscience will never let me forget these people.

At least I am comforted by the fact that any of us travelling to India for surrogacy are making a huge difference in the lives of our surrogates, and also contributing to the livelihoods of our doctors, lawyers, our personal drivers, and everyone who is employed in the tourism game in India, from the waiters to the cab drivers, rick-shaw drivers, shop keepers ... the list goes on.


Bob said...

Lovely story! We will make a photo journalist out of you yet!

Bob said...

All journeys begin with a single step. In your case you left the aircraft flying. Love you to bits baby.

Amani said...

Oh my bubby - whom our surro family all call Cheryl (though at home he is known as the Big Spunky Superhunky Manly Man Called Cheryl).

I do love you so much, even though you didn't mow the lawn today.


jojo said...

get a room, u two.



Anonymous said...

wow...I love your take on things. I'm loving your writing and your viewpoints. I stumbled on your blog from another...and I thoroughly enjoy reading it. I wish you all the best and I cannot wait until the day I read you have gone to get your baby and you are home safely. Keep your faith and hope up. I know you will be blessed. Looking forward to day 2 and more!!!

MaryJane in Canada

Amani said...

Thanks Mary Jane. I can't wait til we can blog about our baby or babies either, though I suspect my time will be limited as it will be the first time I have ever cared fro an infant full time. This is a long process, but we get a step closer every day.

Amani said...

Jo Jo - we're going to get a room in Mumbai. You wanna come too? We can all schwing with the tigerlilycats and Dr S.

Tigerlilycat said...

Schwing baby, schwing (from Nik). So much for saving money and staying at a cheaper hotel - I give up! How can we not stay at the same hotel as you guys in Feb...