I’d apologise for the pun in the title but I’d be lying. It has now been four weeks abroad, and safe to say that as much as I love Mumbai, I miss home. But thank goodness for the others I’m on this trip with, because we have managed to create a sense of home here, even amongst the chaos and unfamiliarity.
Every day, we check in – how are you, how was your sleep, do you need anything? When we have difficult days, there is always someone to turn to find support. We talk through problems and play cards until the early hours. Collectively, we could open a chemist as well stocked as the 24-hour ones all around Mumbai. Anything you need – medication, plasters, toilet paper, lozenges, washing lines, sard soap, snacks. You name it, we have it. It is that ease and familiarity with each other which has made tackling the work we are doing that much easier.
So what exactly have I been working on while I have been here? I work for a community-based organisation called GAURAV (Greater Action of Unity, Rights, Advocacy and Visibility), which focuses on Trans-Women and MSM (male having sex with male) sex workers. The job is confronting, but the work is vital. The mission of this company is to promote positive health-seeking behaviours and reduce HIV and STI prevalance in this community, as well as building a supportive network that helps these sex workers be self sustaining, autonomous and build employable skills. They run testing camps at railway stations, support LGBT business and provide free condoms, testing and counselling to the community. GAURAV also holds specific events through the year that offer testing to the general population – over four days in 2022 they tested 20,000 people.
My work has been more behind the scenes. I spent the first couple weeks researching the company, its initiatives and supporters, and the laws surrounding sex work in Mumbai until I knew the inner workings inside and out. I realise now that while this seemed unimportant at the time, it has left me well equipped to start crowdfunding initiatives for new businesses that GAURAV supports, as well as write their annual reports for the last two fiscal years – something I’ve never done before, but hey, I didn’t come here to stay in my comfort zone.
The work itself isn’t taxing, but the topic is heavy, and the daily commute of an hour and 20 minutes both ways leaves me exhausted at the end of every day. Even so, it is satisfying to feel like I am helping no matter what work I’m given. I’m not out here saving the world, but maybe I’m doing my small part to make it a little bit better.
Being in a foreign country is scary. It’s challenging, tiring, and overwhelming. And yet I have watched the interns around me rise above these feelings and transform in front of my eyes. They’re more assertive, more confident, more comfortable. They work hard and commit themselves fully to their work. They stand up for themselves, they cross the roads without fear, and they move through the city with the assurance of someone who has lived there for years. Above all, this amazing group of people have faced this trip with kindness, curiosity and love for each moment. These 14 strangers have quickly become family, and I couldn’t imagine experiencing Mumbai without them.