Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Little India

There are a number of beggars who come to Nepal to work the Buddhist pilgrimage sites, the area where I live, Boudha, being one of them. This morning I was recognized by one such girl I first met in March who used to ask for money every time I saw her until she realized I was living in the area, after which she became my acquaintance with whom I would swap greetings whenever we passed on the street. She asked me this morning if I'd like to see her house, which is just nearby. I live in a tent, she said with a touch of pride which seemed a bit out of place.

Down a side street, through an alley, and down a gentle slope we went to see a small shanty town, one of the most amazing things I've seen in my life. According to her the “town” used to be a field, but is now divided up into small plots on which stand rickety homes built of bamboo frames, canvas and plastic sheeting. Large plywood beds built above the dirt floor serve also as work spaces, for those that have it. When it rains hard, the water runs through. There are no walls and thus no hindrances to insects, cats, or anything else that wants to walk or fly through. Little India has about 30-40 tents populated almost entirely by Indians, many of whom appear to live otherwise ordinary lives. I saw a boy with a nice cell phone. I saw a tent with a TV and DVD player. Many tents have electricity; no doubt, the service has been hijacked. There are two communal pumps for water, a communal shower, and a nice set of toilets built on concrete foundations supplied, apparently, by generous western donors. Which is why I suspect my acquaintance was somewhat eager to let me know she lived in a tent. It might pique my interest – and my stimulate generosity, which is what the visit was all about.

After we left I offered her a tip for her “tour,” about US$3.00, pretty good when monthly rent on the tent is $10.00. She said she didn't want any money, she said - quite a change from her previous occupation - but if I liked I could buy her some food. So off we went, not to the local market, but to the supermarket where the tourists shop, where she asked me to buy her a large bag of imported Indian rice. Not only is this rice at least twice as costly as what you find in the local market, it was also more than I wanted to “tip” her. She said, ok, buy me this can of powdered milk, which was only slightly less expensive than the rice. I instead left the 200 rupees on the milk can, which in the end she was happy to take, despite her earlier protestation.

At the time I was too stunned with the poverty of my surroundings to take any photos, but I hope to pay visit again soon and do just that. Maybe I'll bring a little of the local rice with me.



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