as we walked around, we noticed a lot of people selling this stuff called paan. i guess it’s this weird mix of beetelnut seeds with some other sweet stuff. it’s wrapped in a leaf and according to the paan-wallah, you are supposed to put the whole thing in your mouth in one bite and then chew it and swallow it. i really couldnt figure out how it could be possible to eat the whole thing at once… and swallowing it worried me a bit cause the book said that you are actualy just supposed to chew it and spit it out. so who to believe? the book or the paan-wallah? i decided to believe the book, but didnt want to upset the paan wallah by spitting out the remains, so i had to try and pretend that i didnt have a mouth completely full of seeds as i walked away. the stuff actually tasted pretty good…
after wandering a bout town for a while, we decided to go down to chowpatti beach, a huge stretch of sand where lots of locals like to spend their evenings. there’s this little area on the beach that has a bunch of food stalls selling ridiculously cheap indian snacks. unfortunately, we really couldnt identify anything on our menus, and the people who worked there couldnt really speak any english. we ended up just ordering a couple things at random, both of which turnede out to be really good. there was an indian family sitting next to us kind of watching us eat, and they ended up asking us what we thought of india etc.
i thought to myself that maybe these people could help us order some stuff and decipher the menu, and when i started asking them questions, they invited us to come sit with them while we ate. they were really really nice, and it was really cool talking w/ them. it turned out that they weren’t really from mumbai, but from another part of india and were just visiting mumbai for a few days to shop.
when we told them that we had been to europe in the beginning of our trip, the mom told us that her son was really really interested in travel and hoped to someday see europe. but unfortunately… “there is very little chance of us seeing europe. it is too expensive. it is like a dream land to us indians…”. so sad! yet another reason to really appreciate how well off we are and where we are from. i can’t even count how many times on this trip i’ve had conversations w/ locals who said that they would really love to travel but can’t because either they are too poor or they just cant get visas. as we chatted, the family finished up their drinks (cokes) and then asked us if i’ve tried them and if we had these things in america. so funny. they actually also asked us if we had pizza in america as well. but i guess, how would they know if we did? before they left, they asked if they could have a photo with us to show their grandparents, heh.
on the way back from chowpatti, we took a taxi as usual. taking a taxi around town here is really something. first off, the taxis do actually have meters, but the meters are completely incorrect. they’re set to some random setting from years and years ago, so each taxi has to have a conversions chart thta you look at to see what the actual price should be (the actual price is roughly 13 times the meter reading). to make things a bit more confusing, the taxi drivers will often try to not turn on the meter and instead just ask you to pay a price that usually is almost twice as much as it should be. of course, even if they use the meter, you cant really be sure you got a fair price cause the taxis take insane routes through the city that may or not be the fastest/most direct way.
plus, the taxi drivers ere are insane. absolutely nuts. their one goal is to get to their destination while driving as fast as they possibly can. whether they get there in one piece or not apparantly doesnt matter. lanes dont exist here. the roads are a constant barrage of cars, trucks, buses, scooters, cows, and people who are trying to dodge all of the above. in the last few days, we’ve had soooo many near miss accidents. at least once per taxi ride, they’ll have to skid to a halt to avoid a crash. also, this is the one place where instead of avoiding pedestrians, i’ve actually seen a taxi aim *at* the pedestrians so they woud run across the street faster. there’s a constant blaring of horns, and the right of way here is only dependant on which vehicle is larger. on top of this, i’m really not sure why they bother to have traffic lights, cause every cab driver here runs about 80% of the red lights. it’s sheer madness.
the taxis are constantly on the go, and there’s a thrill and surprise around every corner… but the worst parts of the ride are the times when you stop due to traffic. it’s when you’re stuck in a non-moving vehicle, that you become a target for the beggars. honestly, i’d have to say that out of absoultely anything i’ve witnessed while traveling… any hardship, any inconvenience, *anyhting*… nothing is as absolutely painful as this. you’ll have achild walk up to the cab window. he’s only like 5 years old. absolutely tiny, and dirty and wearing the grubbiest clothing you can imagine. but that’s not the end of it… he’s carrying a baby that can’t be more than one year old. the child stands there begging for money, waving the empty baby bottle in front of your window with a sad look on his face. what can you do when you see something like that?
if this was the one sad sight you saw that day, maybe that would be one thing… but it’s not. you see tons of people like this all day long. who needs more help? the 5 year old child? or the handless amputee who puts his stump into the cab window? you cant help everyone in this town. it’s just not possible. so then what? all you can do is say no. but the cab is stuck in traffic and it isn’t moving, and you sit for possibly 30 or more excruciating seconds, wondering about this person’s life. trying not to look at them. trying not to feel horrible for them… and trying not to feel horrible for yourself having to experience a mere 30 seconds of their sad lives.
in the end, like i said earlier, you cant help everyone.. and honestly, giving a few rupees here and there to a few people really isn’t going to change much. the only way to actually make a difference, would be to either donate money to an organization who can allocated the funds well, or to donate time. i know that i definitely need to do one or the other… although i still need to figure out which..