Dharavi and me - two very different visits

Earlier this week (after our first visit to Dharavi) we were asked by Mr. Housioux 1) How do you feel? and 2) Why do you feel that way? I had a hard time trying to sift through my thoughts and emotions, but eventually I wrote this: Honestly, I can't even begin to explain how I feel about Dharavi. I have such tangled, jumbled, and convoluted thoughts about Dharavi that I don't know how to sort through them. I am first struck with pity and disgust. I am overwhelmed with disgust for slum dwellers living conditions, but then also disgust at myself. I know that I would never what to be patronized or looked at with pity by an outsider who had no understanding of my life. Therefor I felt disgust with my emotions and my patronizing attitude. Then, looking at my life, I feel blessed. I feel lucky to have a house, a family and an education. But I also feel undeserving. Around me in Dharavi are people who work so hard and get nothing in return, whereas I was handed a life with all sorts of benefits that I never worked for at all. I feel humbled for that reason and also respectful and awed by how hard the people of Dharavi work. So how can I feel respectful and also disgusted at the same time? My mind and heart are filled with confusion for what I see and how I feel. I also feel the need to blame someone for this squalor and poverty. But who? My mind immediately jumps to the government and corporations; how could they let this happen? How can they sit in their cushy apartments and offices while others waste away in filth covered streets?!?

.... But, isn't that what I'm doing?


However, today we returned to Dharavi and I felt completely differently. I was shocked at how un-shocked I was today.  The overwhelming emotions that crashed through my door on the first trip merely knocked politely this time. I was not hopeless and dejected nor was I filled with pity or disgust. I could feel those and other emotions in the back of my mind, but they were not all-consuming. I am certainly still conflicted about Dharavi, but returning there did not overwhelm me in a way that created an internal struggle. I am absolutely awe struck at how quickly I became accustomed to Dharavi. On this trip I did not spend my time staring at the ground or avoiding the eyes of locals in a way that I certainly did on my first trip. I engaged with the people I met and I even made a friend today who gave me a candy bar. Perhaps it was because of this human quality that I felt so much more comfortable today. Perhaps it was because I was not merely looking in from the outside, but I actually got to meet school children and visit their houses. Perhaps it was because I was almost brought to tears by my friend with the candy bar-  someone with so little offering me what was so much to her. Or perhaps it was because of her inspiring father who created a bicycle rental store on the spot where his house was bulldozed over to make a street. Perhaps I was feeling better because he had turned a negative into a positive by using said street for children to ride bikes on. However I doubt that.

I was comfortable even before meeting these school children. I was feeling confident even before meeting the generous girl and her father. For some reason I was completely under-whelmed from the moment I stepped off the bus. I had somehow "normalized" Dharavi by not thinking about how it was my responsibility to enact change there. I think that because I had no conversation about my role in Dharavi directly prior to the visit, then it was out of my mind. By taking myself out of the equation, it also took the pressure off my shoulders that somehow made me feel personally responsible for every offense that took place in Dharavi. I must work on finding the balance in myself between taking on responsibility for enacting change, but also allowing me to see Dharavi without a monsoon of emotions. It is a balancing act that I still have much to work on.

-Hannah B