Elowyn Volunteering in Delhi

Elowyn is currently in Delhi volunteering with street children. She also volunteered with Cosmic last year in Ghana. Here is one of her recent blog posts:

Yesterday was my first day of work [in Delhi]…I’m working in a PCI shelter for street boys between the ages of 5 and 18. Until the 28th, there will be two other volunteers working with me: Druvahl and Kavi, Londoners of Kenyan descent.

One of the things we did yesterday, after teaching in the morning, was an outreach trip to the local bus center. There we saw and talked to (those of us that spoke Hindi talked to) about 20 street children aged between 8 and 12ish, most of whom we weren’t allowed to take into the shelter since they were drug addicts. As we spoke to a group of them, they passed around a cloth which they took turns sniffing. We found some perspective children, but since they looked like foreigners (they were runaways from Nepal) they were prime targets for the pimps that were also looking for children, and wouldn’t trust us. This is apparently normal, and we’ll go back almost every day to build up a reputation with them.

Around 3:00, we took the kids out to play soccer in a nearby field. There were 15 of us from the shelter, and more neighborhood children joined in part way through, so we ended up with a game of over twenty. I, as the only woman and obvious foreigner, drew looks as I whooped and yelled and got covered in mud. It was clear, after, that the boys respected me for it, as well as for jumping up and down and waving my arms as I taught, and systematically beating them all at arm wrestling.

The monsoon season started early this year, with the first storms coming on the Sunday before I arrived. This is the earliest they’ve begun in 108 years, which makes the weather a legitimate topic of conversation.

There’s so much to write about: my host family, the kids, the language, the roads, all the oxymorons of life here, the buses, the heat, the humidity, the other volunteers, I don’t know that I could ever do it all justice. Ask me about it in seven weeks. I won’t be able to describe life here. If I start really trying, I won’t be able to stop. Everything here is such an amalgamation… without touching on the whole, each point I make, however true it may be, is looking at close surroundings through a telescope: distorted, inflated, and by omission, nothing like the real world. I’m happy, if that’s the most important point. I feel genuine, genuinely liked, and strong. I care enormously about the individual people here, much more than I anticipated I would. There are major imperfections, but the workarounds are part of what I love most about being here. There is a constant flood of activity, the result of which, for many of the people I see daily and work with, is survival.

In the slums it is impossible to doubt life. Not only are there constant reminders of our own physicality–the sweat literally dripping off of us, the heat, the dirt, and, as the day passes, a mounting exhaustion–but no one shelters any doubts as to what the lack of life, however transient death may be here, looks like. The flies swarm dead rats and dogs in the streets, and although the closest I’ve personally come to seeing human death so far is the occasional procession of men carrying a body covered in flowers on a stretcher, other volunteers have talked of seeing dead children in bags on the side of the street.

Of course it bears mentioning that there are areas and aspects of Delhi to which none of this applies. There is a strong upper class which is intellectually unparalleled by most of what I’ve seen at home or while traveling. There are beautiful bookstores and small cafes, gleaming parks and breathtaking temples and monuments, tombs and gardens.

I, working in Old Delhi, simply don’t see affluence as much as I do its counterpart. I’m trying to describe again. There’s no hope for narration, as I explained earlier, but I can give you facts. In response to a comment on my last post (and I’m sorry I can’t remember all your questions, who ever you are), the children, with one exception, speak only a few words of English each. We communicate by facial expressions and body language. They’re teaching me Hindi, but I’m painfully slow.

At the moment, I’m working with a British man named Alex. He’s a great guy, very easy to get along with. This is his first stop on a round the world trip he decided to take after quitting his job. I’m living in South Delhi, and working in Old Delhi. I take the bus most days, but it took a bit of getting used to; on one of my first days of work, I was lifted about six inches off the floor by the pressure of bodies around me, and almost lost a shoe to the crush as I got out.

When Alex and I don’t want to deal with the bus, we take an auto rickshaw. Cycle rickshaws are also widely available. Udit (a brilliant poet my own age, who also happens to be a wonderful person) and I walked in the first Delhi Pride Parade last weekend. Homosexuality is illegal here, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In surrounding countries, it is met with the death penalty. There have been minor pride parades in India before, with 20-30 people, but ours, expected to bring in about 200, was closer to 1,000. The next day, there was a front page article on it in The Times of India, the photo for which featured, among others, a very cheerful me.