There were eleven of us in a tiny 10x7 room. The only source of air came from a small window in the upper right-hand corner. Three of us sat on the bed. Five stood in the corner. An old woman sat on the floor. I perched on a chair. And when the last of us walked up the rickety ladder to get to the small room, a woman frantically pulled up another chair and wiped it down with a rag so that he could have a clean place to sit.
That really struck me. Seeing an woman who lived so simply cleaning off a chair (that wasn’t even dirty in the first place) so that we could sit made me think of how much this trip has taught me what it means to be a good person, what it means to be generous, what it means to truly live non sibi. I still don’t have the full answers, but I’m definitely closer to knowing now than I was before.
I need to explain a little bit of backstory. We’re working with an amazing NGO called Akanksha, which provides schooling, creative outlets, and leadership workshops for children and teens all over Mumbai. We met some kids our age, Akash, Akash, Nikita, and Shanu, who work with the program when they’re not busy going to their college classes. We’ve bonded with them a lot over the past few days, and yesterday they took us to their community so we could see how they live.
Theirs was the fourth slum I had visited on the trip. Something felt very different this time, though. I was with people who lived there. Not a tour guide. Not the head of an NGO who wanted to show us the community center. I met friends and relatives of the people I had gotten to know a little bit over the past few days. I could put faces to the poverty before me. I had worked with these kids, and eaten with them, and laughed with them. Earlier that very day we were having a discussion about music. They’re just like us, really. Except when my day with Akanksha is over, I go to a cricket club, and when their day is over, they return to their slum. It doesn’t make me feel good to know this, as you can imagine.
Our last stop in the community was Akash’s house. It was there that we all sat in the room, with his mother wiping down the chair so that another one of us could sit. We met his two sisters, his mother, and his grandmother. I asked who slept on the bed, and he answered “All of us.” They take turns using it, because all six family members sleep in the same 10x7 room. It’s not fair. I can’t justify any of it. I tried to ask Akash’s mother if she wanted to sit instead of me, but she smiled and shook her head no.
I should be more like these people.