Now that we are settled in Mumbai, it feels weird to say this adventure has only just begun – as if traveling almost 30 hours with a 2 year old doesn’t qualify as an adventure in itself. We stepped off the plane and were greeted by India’s humidity and chaos. The memories of my first trip to Calcutta are still so vivid and fresh that even though it was 5 years ago they have driven me to bring my wife and daughter back with me. Yet after only a few days of being here, I can already see this trip being decidedly different from the first. So far Mumbai feels less humid, less chaotic, and more Westernized (though that will change very quickly). In only two days of being here I have already seen a billboard advertising the new movie about Michael Jackson, heard a Justin Timberlake song playing in one bazaar, about 5 other Michael Jackson songs in another electronic store, and our next door neighbor take his best shot at “Enter Sandman” and “Voodoo Chile” on his horribly out of tune electric guitar – though I really appreciate the effort! I even saw one young boy wearing a Manchester United jersey with a large “AIG” advertisement on the front. I asked him how he felt about the AIG execs using bailout money for vacation. Indifferent and annoyed with my question, he didn’t bother to answer. Gia tried to let him off the hook and changed the subject – asking some ridiculous question about what his name is – but not quick enough as I managed to mutter a parting shot under my breath (something about thinking twice before willfully advertising for and serving the interests of capitalist fat-cats).
A big difference is we are mostly away from the chaos of the city. Mumbai has grown to the North and, though it certainly cannot be considered a suburb, the area of town we are staying has much more space and much less noise. Immediately to the East is even a National Park of sorts. I can actually see nice trees on a small mountain (though the local will warn of entering the Park after sunset since “Bagheera” has been known to make appearances). This will all change tomorrow when we move into a slum for a few days. Our hosts have arranged for us to stay in somewhat of a “project” – the government has relocated many of the residents of a nearby slum to a housing community. So we will go there for a bit. We figure it’s wise to visit while we are relatively healthy since we won’t have our own bathroom. Should be fun. Care to join us? We’ll settle for prayers.
But, undoubtedly, the biggest difference between my first trip and this one is simply that I now have a family – a wife and daughter that are with me. It’s not at all surprising that having a wife and daughter changes things. As a single dude, I conquered Calcutta with reckless abandon – and by “reckless abandon” I mean almost being killed by a commuter train and returning with giardia. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that for the last (almost) 4 years (and 2 with a child) I have given myself completely to my family. When I give, when I’m selfless, it is for Gia and Bella. As we talked about in my prophets class this summer, the word translated as “justice” a lot in the OT (tsedaqah) really just means, (Goldingay’s rough translation) “doing what’s right in your own context” (rather than “doing justice for the whole world” – though that doesn’t mean we should strive for that…). “Doing what’s right” for me means, most importantly, taking care of my family – something that gives me more joy than anything in the world (and just doing what’s right in my every day dealings). So, how that translates to my context here is, I’m in a place with a ton of poverty and despair, yet I’m finding difficulty at times to give myself wholly to their cause. Please pray for me as continue to struggle with this.
Lastly, while our hosts have done an incredible job welcoming us and making their home ours, we already miss home. That might change if one of you would gift wrap our bed and send it our way. The typical bed in India is best described as a plywood box of sorts – and someone got the idea that a ½ inch of cotton on top would provide all the cushion your hips would need. What it interesting is we can come down stairs and sit on a nice cushiony sofa, so, as Gia says, the “technology” (i.e. springs) is there but somehow isn’t translated to a bed. I guess China has the same problem with their utensils, right? A farmer will dig a hole with a shovel (i.e. a large spoon), yet they still opt for chopsticks when eating soup. You don’t see a farmer plowing the ground with a couple of pool cues do you? I have a feeling that after a few days in the slum sleeping on tile will make me long for that ½ inch of cotton.
Anyway, keep us in mind and in prayer as we are here. Lord knows we need it…