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“Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need.” - Proverbs 21:13
Absolutely nothing I write, and no pictures you will see can accurately or adequately depict Dharavi. One can only truly experience Dharavi by visiting in person. We were fortunate to experience a tour given by Reality Tours and Travel and were told that 80% of their profits go back to the community.
Dharavi is the largest slum in Asia by population - 1,000,000 people live on about 760 acres. That’s about a third of the population of the state of CT that live in a space slightly smaller than New York’s Central Park.
Dharavi touched each and every one of my senses. Initially, our Professor was hesitant to bring us here because he wasn’t sure we could handle it and truthfully about 45 minutes into our two hour tour, I was an emotional wreck. The mood on our bus after the tour was somber, we were all silent (very unusual for my cohort) and when we returned to the hotel, I immediately went to my bible app and read bible verse after bible verse about the poor and alternated between Til Shiloh - Buju Banton’s CD and my Bob Marley playlist. It took me two days to process my emotions and to be honest, I’m still not done.
When our tour guides greeted us at our bus, I took everything in, the children who ran up to me with wide smiles and asked for chocolates, the garbage in the streets and all the people. We weren’t even in Dharavi yet and my senses were already overloaded. Our tour guide requested we not take pictures, this wasn’t the zoo after all (I detest zoos), but I managed to take these before we entered the slum.
We started our tour on the commercial side of Dharvi. Yes, the commercial side. On one hand there are the businesses that cater to the residents of the slum. So many that you don’t have to leave Dharavi if you don’t want to. As a matter of fact, there is even a natural healing doctor that has more non-Dharavi residents as patients as opposed to vice versa! On the other hand, there are over 5,000+ businesses that are run from these 10 - 25 sq meter rooms. These are definitely not apartments. Imagine a small, single room factory if you can. On the tour I saw baked goods being produced, numerous recycling facilities, pottery being made, leather goods - jackets, belts, wallets, and other businesses that still blow my mind.
Wherever you are from, picture the poorest area with the smallest rooms and separate, legitimate, functional businesses being operated from those spaces. I honestly think this component of commerce is one of the reasons I didn’t see anyone begging or looking downtrodden, Dharavi is vibrant with a high energy and a spirit of hope in these slums that at first sight, one would consider to be hopeless.
Although I was intrigued to see the businesses, I wondered who was behind some of these operations because these people were in no doubt working in unsafe working conditions and in my opinion, were being exploited. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think what my home country Jamaica, could learn from Dharavi. Even the US. I kept asking myself the same question over and over again, how can a sense of hope be instilled among low income residents of a community through job creation in the very communities in which they live - like Dharavi?
There is no drainage system to speak of so there is a lot of standing sludge (it hadn’t been water in a long time). The rooms in which people reside are too small for toilets so there are shared, public toilets and our tour guides said about 73% use these public toilets while the rest simply defecate in the open - mostly in the garbage piles. There is no garbage collection because there are no roads between the homes large enough for two people to walk side by side let alone a garbage truck. Combine these factors with some of the single room factories that are processing toxic chemicals and throughout Dharvi you experience smells that are varying degrees of pungent. In some places, unbearable. Our tour guide prepared us for the especially difficult areas by warning us to avoid facial reactions in order to be sensitive to the residents.
I heard squeals from games of cricket or other means the children found to entertain themselves. I heard girls counting backwards from 20 in English in the community center that our tour company built, operated and offered classes to teach girls of the community to be teachers in the community to combat truancy. I heard a lot of “hi’s, hello’s” and “chocolate?” - pleasant and polite requests from smiling children. I heard machinery being operated and people speaking in various languages about the tasks at hand. I heard laughter and of course I heard honking horns. I didn’t hear any arguing, no “pssssssst”, no begging, no wails of despair. Everything sounded… normal?
When I read Proverbs 21:13, I wondered what it meant if I heard no cries? However, I wasn’t sure if they weren’t crying because they didn’t know that they should be or if they simply had nothing to cry about.
My biggest disappointment about our tour was that we could not interact with the residents. Anyone who knows me, knows I adore children and would have loved to play with them, hug them or spend some time talking to them. I go to a church where we hug as a sign of affection and to wish someone God’s speed until we meet again. Every fiber of my being wanted to hug the women and the children I saw, selfishly to make myself feel better because what would my hug do for them?
When we passed one of the bakeries that was making puff pastry, our tour guide asked if we wanted to taste it. I emphatically said no. Workers weren’t wearing gloves and I already described conditions and the smell. Actually, this area smelled good thanks to the baking of the pastry. I honestly couldn’t imagine eating anywhere in Dharavi. If that makes me shallow or insensitive then so be it but that was my natural reaction.
My emotions ranged from shock and awe to outrage to anger to sorrow to helplessness in very short successions. Interestingly, I never felt guilty. At the end of the day, I was thankful that I wasn’t born into those conditions and I was deeply respectful of those who were yet still managed to wake up and face the world with a positive attitude and a smile.
I tweeted I hope I never forget Dharavi and I never have the audacity to complain. As life changing as this experience was, the truth is I will complain and on some days I may forget, but my greatest hope is that I take the invaluable lessons I learned in Dharavi and somehow use those lessons to benefit the lives of the poor elsewhere.
When I decided to leave the workforce to obtain my MBA, I opted to do it full time because I wanted “the experience.” I never in a million years imagined this would be a part of the experience. The International MBA Program at the Fox School of Business at Temple University has done an exceptional job in designing this India Immersion trip in a way that I have learned so much about business and more importantly myself that I could have never learned from a case study or in a classroom lecture. I hope I am a better person for this experience and I know that my class-mates and I, who I already consider family, are that much closer as a result.
You can read more about our tour company here http://www.realitytoursandtravel.com/ and I strongly encourage you to google images of Dharavi.
My initial reaction to the city of Mumbai was this is like Jamaica but about 7X worse. More traffic, more people, more chaos, more dirt, more garbage, more poverty, much, much more industry, and more honking. I’m convinced the horns are some kind or morse code that only Indian drivers understand. Long beeps, short beeps, one beep, two beeps, a rapid succession of beeps. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeep.
Despite the traffic, the people, the chaos, the garbage and the honking, I strangely feel a sense of peace here. I find this ironic because we’re staying at The Trident Hotel which was the Oberoi Trident Hotel, one of the sites of the terror attacks of 2008. Despite the attacks, since I arrived, I’ve never felt afraid or unsafe and it’s not just because security here is very tight. I’m not sure if it’s because we are being shuttled around the city in a coach bus or if it’s because India reminds me of Jamaica in many ways or if it’s because my paternal great grand father is Indian but I feel a connection to this country that I can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s Gandhi?
On our first full day in Mumbai, we took a tour of the city and since it is Monsoon season, it was raining which prevented me from taking many pics but here are a few I’ve taken since I’ve been here.
From my vantage point, there was nowhere for this cyclist to go, but somehow he found a way.
This was a sign I noticed in a rickshaw and I loved it. Love transcends race, color, creed, social status and poverty lines. We all need it.
This very much reminded me of Kingston… minus the skyscrapers
The skyline from a distance
The most expensive home in Mumbai, 27 floors and an overall grandiose display of opulence. It is not currently occupied. Allegedly the owner was told by a fortune teller of sorts that if he moves in, his business would experience a downturn. *blank stare*
You can read more about it here
The bay… Was told by our tour guide that Indians don’t go to the beach to tan or to swim because they don’t need to be any darker (much more on this later) and the water is dirty. Instead they go to the beach to take a walk, spend time with a family, get ice-cream, or just enjoy the day.
I loved this man cleaning his car. It’s old but it’s his and he’s taking care of it and doing a better job than I’ve ever done cleaning my car by hand.
I was surprised to learn that Mumbai had a very efficient public transportation system. The trains and busses are reliable and run on schedule. Not at all like the Jamaica I know.
I liked this green truck
More green in the middle of the city
Traffic, which actually wasn’t terrible
Best $10 I’ve ever spent. Thanks Aldo Outlet! Rain boots are essential for a visit to India during monsoon season.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end which means it’s time to transition from vacation mode back to school mode. The whole reason for my summer in Asia is to finish the last portion of my International MBA program at Temple University in Philadelphia. Since it’s a 1-year program, we also spend a summer semester in school but in our case, we have our semester in Asia - India, China and Japan. On August 9th, I will complete my MBA in Tokyo, spend a couple of weeks exploring Southeast Asia and then return to the states for graduation and the real world in early September.
Our first stop in India was Mumbai and while I’d heard mixed reviews about Mumbai and India as a whole, and I wasn’t thrilled to leave Dubai, I was open to absorbing everything and ready for a learning experience. I knew Mumbai would be nothing close to Dubai so I tried my best to keep an open mind.
Thankfully, the flight on Emirates was much better than the JFK - DXB leg. No Missa Swaaty first of all and secondly, it’s a quick 3 hour flight. Upon arrival in Mumbai, I was greeted by an extremely long line at Immigration and more chaos at Baggage Claim. I found myself irritated because I was already spoiled by the DXB’s airport efficiency. Why all airports can’t adopt their best practices (US airports included), I have no idea. I suppose the long line at Immigration was a blessing because my bags came off pretty quickly, I quickly exited the airport, spotted Britt (she had a different itinerary) who was already with our driver and we were off to The Trident Hotel.
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and although we never made a reservation to the top for what we’ve heard is a great view of the city, we did manage to make it to the 122nd floor on our last night in Dubai.
We took our hotel shuttle to the Dubai Mall and were dropped off here which provided a great view of the Burj.
To the right is the “Souk Mall”, a modern version of a traditional souk where you can find anything you could imagine - tapestry, carpets, rugs, gold, spices, etc.
Get your shot Britt Miller!
Britt discovered there was a club inside the Burj on one of the higher floors so we decided that’s where we wanted to spend our final evening. However, before we headed out, we had to take pictures with the glittery camel outside of our hotel.
When we first arrived at the Burj, we were directed to Club Armani Prive (or something like that). Either you were on the list or the extremely skinny woman at the door gave you the once over to determine whether or not you were worthy of entry. After no issues at the door, we made our way in and were greeted by this wall. Photo op!
However, that’s where what we liked about the club ended. It was downstairs and everyone was dressed very well but it felt very Jersey Shore-ish - lots of hair gel and extremely loud house music. While I love house music, it wasn’t really the scene we were looking for so Britt, in her infinite wisdom, simply asked about the other club at the Burj and was told it’s called Atmosphere, that we needed a reservation and there may be a minimum spend required.
We had no reservation but we tried our luck nonetheless. Entry is through the Burj residences and at the door, the doorman asked if we had a reservation for Atmosphere. Without skipping a beat, I responded emphatically, “yes” and proceeded to walk in although I had no clue where I was going (hey, I figure, act like you belong and well, you’ll belong). The doorman quickly escorted us to the first of 2 elevators that required badge access.
The first elevator took us down a few levels and then we were greeted by another doorman who took us to the designated elevator for the lounge. Once he badged us in, we were off to the 123rd floor.
At the 123rd floor, we had to take a flight of stairs down one level and then we were there.
We were such tourists… oh well.
Typically reservations are required but it was a very quiet evening so we had no issues. A waitress showed us to a table and took our orders. As the sign below depicts, there is a minimum spend for gentlemen but not for ladies (I love this city!).
There weren’t many people out but it was exactly what we were looking for. The views of the city were gorgeous and after some time, we called it a night and made our way back to our hotel to get ready to leave Dubai in the morning.
Elevator ride down…
Peace out Dubai… it’s been real
The thing about having a chef as a friend is you eat VERY well. Enroute to Jamaica (literally, they were on their way to the airport), my friend’s Kari and Lij stopped by our hotel for dinner at The RIb Room - Lij’s old restaurant. Time Out Dubai actually awarded it “Highly Commended” as one of the Best Steakhouses in Dubai.
Dinner actually took place on our first full day in Dubai - after the expansive lunch at Al Muntaha. However, I figured I’d break up the food posts and put this one closer to the end.
Dinner was pretty good and service was about the same. As much as I love steak, the overall meal was not on par with Al Muntaha but nothing to dare complain about.
All the breads were yummy
Rib Eye… Medium!
This Wagyu Steak was AMAZING.
Sides… Truffled mashed potatoes were DELICIOUS!!!
Mac and cheese was also good, different from mac and cheese traditionally found in the states, much creamier
Britt & I CRUSHED this cake a day later. Was so good!
Kari (Steward) and I… such a beauty, inside and out! Love her!
Kari, Lij, Britt & I
My sister in fabulosity
As a self-appointed mall connoisseur, I can safely say, I’ve never seen anything like either of the malls I visited in Dubai. All the luxury stores under one roof notwithstanding, the amenities available at the mall, coupled with the decor make it an experience. I completely understand why so much time is spent here by both locals and visitors.
The Dubai Mall
Yep, that would be a waterfall
A really big waterfall
And a skating rink
Still at the mall
And there’s an Aquarium which holds the Guinness book of world records for largest single acrylic panel in the world
There’s also the world’s largest candy store… which features Chicago’s Garret’s popcorn (of course I got the Cheddar/Caramel mix).
And then there’s Bloomies… *sigh* (must return when I’m not a student)
I love that it’s not just sale, but “part sale”
Ends on my birthday… hmmm.
Agreed… I need to visit again when this contemporary district opens…
Not a great pic, but this was beautiful in person
Not even a fraction of the designer stores…
They all wear cuff links with their kandura’s
These are 2 of the ugliest colors I’ve ever seen on automobiles. Interestingly enough, about 5 women exited the pink SUV.
Mall of the Emirates
I think the most unique thing about this mall was the indoor ski slope (where you can actually go skiing) complete with snow, and penguins… For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I preferred the Dubai Mall.
If you look at the bottom right of this picture, you see it says Philly Cheese Steak. I thought that was funny because I’m sure 95% of people in Dubai couldn’t find Philly on a map AND, the picture looked more like a burger as opposed to a cheese steak. Either way, Philly is being represented in Dubai so that made me smile.
Before we left the mall, Britt and I decided to find the high end stores just to compare both malls and unbeknownst to us, we photo crashed this photo shoot. They were all very nice and didn’t say a thing to us and laughed with us when we realized what we did.
I managed to leave the mall unscathed and made only a single purchase - perfume that smelled like heaven that after many online searches when I returned to the hotel, I couldn’t find in the states so I am satisfied with my purchase.
We decided to take the metro back to the hotel and like everything else, it’s extremely clean, very efficient and thankfully, connected to the mall and the stations are air conditioned so we never had to go outside.
I think a women and children only car has to be the best invention ever.
There are basically only 2 lines. Red and green. Impossible to get lost.
Emirates Towers Train Station