Kia ata haere mā te wā
“Let time guide you on your journey, be careful of your time, and be watchful and aware. Let time help you be aware of your surroundings.”
Kia ora whānau! Welcome to my first blog post. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to read what I have to say. I hope that this will be an enjoyable and insightful read, however, I can tell you right now I have no idea what is to come. So get ready for it all, surprises, laughs, cries, confusion, reflection, amazing people, Dehli belly, covid, delicious food and who knows what else!
I am delighted to take you on this journey with me. Seatbelts on, hold on tight and get ready for a bumpy ride.
Where do I even begin?
At this moment in time, I am sitting on the ground using my bed as a desk, opposite my amazing roommate Tash who is doing the same. Outside the balcony at the far end of our room the sounds of multiple car horns, chatter, and even singing (as if we are being serenaded) by a local Hindi artist playing a concert in neighbouring community field. So much has happened in the past week, so I’ll start with some themes that have been popping up throughout the week!
Privilege, inequity and a moment in time are 3 themes that have continued to circle my mind for the past week.
Privilege. Every day I continue to be grounded by the fact that I have been fortunate enough to get the chance to travel outside of my country and experience another culture and way of life. Quickly understanding this is not a common reality for most people around us.
Inequity. The clear disparities in the population in Mumbai, with the absolute excess of wealth and the gruelling living conditions that the less fortunate in Mumbai have to survive in. It is clear that we are part of that wealth and privilege, seeing but never truly understanding the daily struggle.
A moment in time. This one really hit me. Coming into a country and observing a snippet of the struggle people experience daily was a confusing idea for me to comprehend. Who was I to come to these people’s country, observe their struggle, do my internship and get credit for a small contribution to the community? I can come and go. I gain valuable ‘life experience’ by bearing witness to a moment in time of these people’s life-long (generational) suffering and struggle. Not to give the impression that the people of Mumbai are helpless by any means. Determination and hard work radiate from their constant hustle to make ends meet despite all odds. (And this is only focusing on the less fortunate population of Mumbai.)
However, I changed my perspective once I had let myself feel through this unsettled feeling. Yes, coming here to observe is not directly beneficial; however, observing to understand is the point. Understanding combined with taking action is why we are here. We need to understand how our experience of the world differs, understand how challenges are overcome in adversity and understand the immense privilege we have in Aotearoa.
It has been an absolute journey so far! And we are only 1 week in!
16 Monday: From a slight 9-hour delay with our first flight to Kuala Lumpur, we got to thoroughly enjoy an extended stopover of 24 hours in Malaysia. Feeling empowered after watching the movie ‘Whina’ on the flight over, such an incredible woman, whose strength and determination I aspire to embody throughout this journey.
Compliments of Malaysian airlines we got to spend the night in the most lavish hotel I have ever seen in my life. Lucky to have Sara (a lovely staff member of Malaysian airlines) help us sort out our transport and accommodation. Feeling spoilt with vouchers for free transport, free food, and free accommodation. A bittersweet luxury, a clear contrast between the harsh reality of housing conditions for the majority of the people in Mumbai, which we were yet to see.
Exploring KL as a group was the beginning of our many group adventures together. I need to make a point of saying how immensely blessed I am to be surrounded by such an astounding group of people, from the get-go we kept an eye out for each other. Especially using our hilarious numbering-off system throughout transit to make sure nobody gets lost along the way! It was a special moment getting to see the extravagant Petrona twin towers and pavilion mall. Better not forget our driver Ravi!! What a legend; he was such a kind soul and a hilarious character making our introduction to KL even more enjoyable. After our big day out in the city, we had a dip in the humongous pool at the hotel and headed to the airport. Made sure to eat some iconic lasi nemak before saying ka kite to KL and continue to Mumbai!
Genuinely speechless coming into Mumbai, hopping into a cab and heading to our accommodation while quickly realising, that similar to KL, road rules are more like suggestions. According to our first driver, everyone in Mumbai thinks they are the best drivers ever. Weaving through the Mumbai stampede of traffic I could well believe that to be true, but once they drive in another country, it is not quite the case apparently. The cab ride through the night through the lit up city and a ‘free for all’ on the highway was a experience I will definitely remember.
17 Tuesday: First day in YWCA! Waking up with my roommate Tash, we headed to breakfast in anticipation of what a delicious array of food was awaiting. Vada, coconut chutney, saba, porriage, toast, egg, chai tea (igniting my obsession with chai tea) and fruit…just the beginning of our insane food journey in India. As we will come to learn, YWCA always pulls through with the food! They will definitely make sure nobody leaves the dining room hungry.
We had the first orientation session with our exceptional coordinators Naveen and Mala! They both have worked incredibly hard to organise our trip, cannot thank them enough for all they have done for us. It was such a pleasure to meet them in person, as well as get more clarity on the upcoming weeks. The excitement for the internship continues to grow as we are finally here, something we have been talking about for so long!
Achchha! (great!) For the majority of the group we got our first experience of thali!! Such rich flavours, an array of mouth-watering curries, various breads and desserts. The staff of this restaurant will not only show you the perfect combination of curry, sauce and bread, but constantly top your plate up as soon as your spoon has left the plate! Hats off to Naveen for taking us to experience such an incredible lunch.
18 Wednesday: 2nd part of orientation! The collective nervousness we had about individually travelling to our workplaces was put at ease thanks to Naveen and Mala. Sorting out all of our routes to work, as well as, briefing us on a multitude of historical, social and political topics really prepared us to understand the world we were stepping into. Our group trip on the train was an eye-opening occasion, it was heartbreaking to see multiple make-shift houses along the train line, people forced to live in such a dangerous and unstable environment.
Naveen guided us to Bandra, where we were able to get the traditional clothing to wear to our workplaces. In awe of the vibrant colours and beautifully intricate designs on all of the fabrics. Learning how to barter is an essential skill that some of the group seemed to master quicker than others…check out Chris’s blog for an entertaining story of an Egyptian cotton shirt… let’s just say whatever the price was, it was worth it for Naveen’s reaction (most intense head shaking I have seen). Sugarcane juice! Cheers to Naveen for shouting us all the beautifully sweet sugarcane drink, one of the few vendor foods our stomachs can currently handle.
Thursday 19: First day of internship at Aastha Parivaar! So fortunate to be welcomed into such an incredible team!! I cannot put into words how dedicated, hard-working and passionate the team is. I happened to start on the same day the team was doing a presentation for doctors and members of the US Embassy! It was extremely valuable to witness Seema (one of the leaders and my supervisor) describe what they do and getting to connect with the US ambassadors wanting to learn from Aastha Parivaar. I felt honoured to be shown such manaakitanga while being welcomed by the organisation and getting to meet the sex workers. I felt immense respect for these women and sadness for the position they were in, in order to support themselves and their families.
Friday 20: Even after only day one of the internship, I already feel immense gratitude for the opportunities I have as a woman in Aotearoa, never even having to consider turning to sex work to support myself financially or having to deal with the dangers that come with it.
Today I got the opportunity to visit one of the brothels to do HIV testing. A sense of overwhelm continued to compound in my mind, but I remained still, observant and open-minded to trying to understand what was in front of me. It was gut-wrenching to see the environment where the girls have to work. It was extremely confronting to see gates on some of their doors, used often to lock in newcomers that want to essentially escape but who later realise they have to stay. This is an extremely horrific reality to come to terms with just as an observation, yet alone for the girls to experience. There’s a lot I could/want to expand on here, but all I can really think of saying is how much these girls or anyone in this situation deserves better… This is why Aastha Parivaar’s work is so important, whether is it the HIV testing, free healthcare, health education or getting them into alternative work. Seeing the interaction between the organisation and sex workers highlights the importance of supporting each other and the strength you can get from the people around you.
After this experience, it was great to have a beautiful dinner with the UOA whanau. I felt really supported and heard when we all shared our rose and thorn at dinner. Despite some heavy feelings lingering from seeing the realities for the sex workers, sharing thoughts with the group uplifted my spirits. Being open with others helped me shift my focus on how can best prepare to contribute to the outstanding work Aastha Parivaar is doing for the community.
21 Saturday: Felt energised being involved in a beach clean up in the morning. Enacting kaitiakitanga for our natural environment was very rewarding, especially as you can visibly see that your effort has made a difference. Not to mention a free breakfast for helping out!
A beautiful sunset on Marine drive in the evening while getting to know a local man who happens to be an online maths tutor for American students! So lovely to connect with people from Mumbai and for them to be so excited to share their insight with us. Also, everytime we go out people want to take photos with us, as they might not get to see that many foreigners in the areas we visit, it is incredibly sweet and we have a good laugh with the locals. Great dinner, tried another insanely delicious tholi. Oh yeah! A manually operated ferris wheel on the street, let’s go!
22 Sunday: Another awesome day! A once in a lifetime experience visiting the Elephanta caves, about a 45min ferry ride to an island just outside of Mumbai, docking from the Gateway of India.
Some of the UOA whanau felt under the weather so stayed home to rest, however, we anticipated either Dehli belly or covid would have reached us by now so we are just waiting to see what it is… don’t know which one I’d prefer at this point… The boat ride out felt like home, being on the ocean and away from the loudness of the city. What a privilege it was to see such ancient structures while learning about the meaning and history of the caves and sculptures. Hearing it took 120 years to make really made you appreciate the time and energy it must’ve required to create the exquisite sculptures around us. Also, monkeys. Yes. Monkeys. All around the island. Do not be fooled by their cuteness though, they are hungry and they will steal your food… or your iPhone… do your best to keep it out of their sight.
Arriving home. The UOA whanau is dropping like flies; now about half are ill…we are trying to decide whether diarrhea medication, yoghurt, panadol, or a covid test is the next step…maybe all of the above?
Wrapping up week 1! These are only a few documented moments of time throughout the week. So much has happened! To close off blog one I’d like to link back to the quote at the top of the blog. A major lesson I have learnt this week is to accept things take time, to stay aware and use every moment wisely. Reminding ourselves of the finite time we have here and doing our best to make the most of this opportunity. This is something that we reflect with each other about.
Whoever is reading this I hope you too can relate this to what in going on in your life too. Trust that time will guide you and be patient with yourself! Thank you for making it to the end of blog one. Please comment and I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Mā te wā!