Sunday 13 March

Today I was up at 7:45…or so I thought. Due to a lack of wifi, I had manually set my phone to Mumbai time, which normally would have been fine. This past night, though, was daylight’s savings time and as a result when I came down for breakfast, the man at the front desk of the YMCA politely informed me that breakfast didn’t start until 8am. “I know” I said, pointing to the clock on the wall….only to realize that it was only 7am because my cell phone clock had automatically “sprung forward.”

I was now wide-awake, though, so I decided to do some exploring around the area. I walked down the road where the YMCA is and eventually wandered into a church. I also walked around a convent school and saw some other beautiful buildings. Soon it was 8am and time for breakfast. I had a delicious egg omelet with some toast and tea. I was eating breakfast by myself, however, since Niamh had gone to Starbucks to use their wifi and no one else was up yet.

I actually found breakfast to be wonderful. Like many Harvard students, I feel as though I have not been able to catch my breath this semester (I was in Seattle about a week ago for an interview, have been having Ghungroo and/or Expressions rehearsals anywhere between 3 and 8 hours per week, am still actively trying to find a job/fellowship, etc.) I realized that this was the first time since January break that I had really been able to take a step back, breathe, and enjoy being alone for a bit.

Eventually the other Harvard delegates did come to breakfast and I decided to go to Starbucks with Niamh and Shao. One thing I’m simultaneously loving and hating about Mumbai is the lack of wifi. On the one hand, it sometimes sucks when you can’t reach your friends/family members, but on the other hand, it’s so liberating to not be constantly checking my cellphone (and I feel very popular when I have a bunch of snapchats, whatsapp messages and emails buzzing on my phone when I turn on wifi after not having used wifi for two days!)

After breakfast, we headed to the train station for a 20-minute train ride to the edge of the second largest slum in Asia – the Dharavi slum. Before going into the Dharavi slum, I thought I knew what I’d be seeing – absolutely terrible conditions, miserable people and lots of disease and unsanitary conditions. I’m a global health secondary and I’ve read case study after case study regarding the slums of India and how healthcare is such a dire issue there.

But here’s where the “magic” of HCAP happens. Instead of reading about another case of malnutrition or malaria in an Indian slum, we were able to take a guided tour through this slum and really see all that goes on inside. It turns out that Dharavi is like a city-within-a-city. There are hospitals, schools, houses, places of worship and work places. People live and work inside the slum, and yes it’s true that the conditions are not ideal, but there is running water and electricity. It’s also ideally located between many train lines and major roads.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos, but it was an incredible experience getting to see workers sort plastic and recycle old plastic materials in the industrial quarters and then literally travel single-file through the incredibly narrow passageways in the residential quarter. We were also able to go onto the roof of one of the buildings and see out over the entire slum. It felt good to have some of my misconceptions about slums absolutely shattered as a result of going on this tour.

After the slum tour, we took the train back to Ashuli’s house. We were all pretty exhausted, and it was so nice to just relax with air conditioning (and this amazing view of the sea!) We had a delicious (homemade) lunch and then lounged around some more, listening to music and telling stories.

Once lunch was done, we headed back into cabs to go to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) museum. Many of us Harvard delegates were asking what “type” of museum this was, and the Mumbai delegates were having a tough time answering that question, but after exploring the museum, I can see why. (As SNL’s Stefan would say), this museum has everything – there was an exhibit about prehistoric people living in India, paintings from the colonial period, a room dedicated to glass vases and everything in-between. My two favorite rooms were the history of Indian clothing and the history of medicine in India.

While I was enjoying the history of Indian medicine room, a man approached me with his cellphone. Because he was with his wife and child, I assumed he wanted me to take a photo of the three of them. “No, no, no, you!” he said, pointing at me. And sure enough, he held up the camera and we took a selfie together. Then, for some reason, all three of them had sunglasses on their heads and I just so happened to have my bright yellow sunglasses on my head, so when they put their sunglasses on for selfie #2, I did the same and we all laughed.

After the museum, we went on a guided walking tour of the surrounding area with the Mumbai delegates. The sun was setting and even though it was still pretty humid, the weather was perfect. We walked past the high court of Mumbai, around a central park area and also saw a fountain, library and schools.

After a quick shower, we were off to dinner, this time within walking distance from the YMCA. It was so nice, just sitting, talking and laughing with the Harvard and Mumbai delegates. I was also pleasantly surprised by my ability to eat the food. Some of the sandwiches we ordered were pretty spicy (to me, at least) and Poorva suggested that I try it with ketchup, to ameliorate the spiciness (which, if you know me, worked pretty damn well!) We then headed back to the Y, ready to get some sleep. I cannot remember the last time I was able to get more than 10 hours of sleep!

TGT: 1) Slum tour 2) delicious and beautiful lunch at Ashuli’s place 3) wandering through the museum

Until next time,
JK

Saturday 12 March

Today (and by today, I mean today in Mumbai-time. Although that itself is a bit bizarre since it’s 10.5 hours ahead of America, but as we speak America is ending daylights savings time, so I suppose it’s just 9.5 hours ahead now). Anyway, today, as I stated in the last blog post, we landed in Mumbai and were greeted at the airport by some of our HCAP Mumbai delegates. We then headed in taxis towards Ashuli’s apartment.

I realized that there are few things I enjoy more than just sitting in an (air-conditioned) car and watching the city pass by in front of me. Rohan (an HCAP Mumbai delegate) was in the car with us and narrated a bit about what we were passing and answering any questions we had.

After about 30 minutes of driving we arrived at Ashuli’s place, which was absolutely breathtaking. Her family’s apartment had white marble floors, crystal and glass vases on the shelves and best of all, the whole apartment looked out from large windows over the sea (that had a rising sun behind it as we were arriving, since by now it was about 7:30am!)

We (the Harvard and Mumbai delegations) ended up chilling in Ashuli’s apartment for a bit, which was the perfect way to start the day. We were all exhausted, but so happy to see everyone after being apart for six weeks. We spent a lot of the morning chatting, listening to music and having a delicious breakfast complete with freshly-squeezed mango juice.

After a bit we decided to go on a walk (even though by now it was about 90oF outside!) Yes, the traffic and driving is crazy here, but our delegates gracefully led us around and between cars, busses, motorcycles and cows on the roadway. Eventually we ended up at this incredibly beautiful park that was right on the water. We explored the park for a bit (particularly savoring the shade that the trees provided and the breeze from the water).

We then walked the thirty minutes back to Ashuli’s house. After hanging out for a bit more, we headed to St. Xavier’s college (the college of the HCAP Mumbai delegates). While at the college, we were able to eat lunch in the dining hall, with some of the younger students. Kavin explained that they usually go to school from Monday-Saturday, but on this particular Saturday there were only younger students present.

After a delicious lunch, we exchanged our money into Rupees and headed to the YMCA, which is where we’ll be staying for the week. I’m staying with Niahm (who is the only other senior on the trip!) in a double room that has its own bathroom and shower. Niamh actually arrived the day before, so she went to Starbucks when we got back to the YMCA and I was able to shower and take a much-needed 3.5-hour nap.

Around 7pm, we headed to dinner at a great restaurant called Leopolds. I had delicious chicken kabobs and naan (a type of Indian bread). Because it was a Saturday night, after dinner we came home and (barely) rallied to go out.

We ended up going to a club that was having a Bollywood dance night! We had to enter the club around 10:30 (but Ashuli arranged VIP access for us!) The music started off OK – it was a weird mix of old(ish) American songs from our Middle School days.

Around midnight, however, they finally switched to Bollywood songs and we were all having SO much fun. Dance has been a big part of my life more or less since day one, and I’ve taken a particular affinity to Indian dance after performing in three Ghungroo shows. When Gulaabo (one of my Ghungroo songs from this year) came on, I freaked out, and then when “Hello, hello” (the song we danced to with the HCAP Mumbai delegates at the Harvard HCAP talent show) came on, we all just went crazy doing our dance. It was the perfect way to end an amazing, yet exhausting, day.

TGT: 1) Bollywood dance night 2) Hanging out in Ashuli’s house 3) delicious dinner at Leopold’s.

Until next time,
JK

Thursday 10 March and Friday 11 March

As I was walking through Boston’s Logan International Airport Terminal E (the one from which all international flights leave) I was suddenly struck with a sense of nostalgia and sadness. As a local Massachusetts girl, I’ve left from this terminal for some of the best events of my life – spending a summer in Botswana, a semester in Sevilla, and HCAP trips to Istanbul and Dubai. I now realized that this was my last time coming through this terminal as a college student.

After checking in and going through security, we boarded our first flight to Istanbul. I sat next to a Harvard Quincy house alum from 2013 who was also a psychology concentrator. To my left was a woman from UNH who was visiting friends in Madrid and Sevilla (which, of course, prompted me to freak out in the middle of the plane pull out my laptop to show her my “Universidad de Sevilla” sticker that’s on my laptop cover, etc.)

Nothing too crazy to report about the flights, but because of an inability to get wifi in Istanbul, I had to submit my global health research paper rough draft as soon as we landed in Mumbai.

We touched down in Mumbai around 5:30am on Saturday morning. The airport itself is beautiful (and actually looks a lot like the “mushroom building” in the center of Sevilla!)

TGT: At the end of each day, I like to briefly recap Three Good Things (TGT) that have happened, both to remind me of my blessings, and also to serve as a TL;DR for people who don’t want to read all of my musings. So the TGT for these past two (ish) days would be: 1) delicious food (including Turkish delight) on both of our flights 2) having an empty seat next to me on the first flight and 3) not losing our luggage!

Until next time,
JK