...Having forgotten to set my alarm this morning, I was awakened by a call from my family to remind me about their holiday party back in the States. I quickly got dressed and left the house with my computer and 3G USB stick so as not to wake up any of the other seven people living here. I opened up Skype and was video chatting with nearly my entire close family 8049 miles away only seconds later. Realizing I was not tethered to Wi-Fi, I figured I'd take them on a walking tour. Then I decided we would just head straight to the nearest slum. While being passed around from one family member to another to say hello and Merry Christmas, I was able to show each a little live glimpse of the culture surrounding me. As they always do, dozens of children ran up to say hello and followed me wherever I went. I showed them my family back home and they waved to say hello, namaste, and Merry Christmas. I think it was very special and amazing for everyone. For some of my family and certainly the locals, it was their first time to video chat. To my family back home, it was so great to see you. Thanks for remembering me. Merry Christmas!
I returned home to have breakfast and then went back to the slum school to play games and celebrate. Few, if any, of the children know what Christmas is celebrated for here, but they love the attention nonetheless. We played many games and drew pictures for the kids to color in. Their favorite game was trying to pop balloons we brought by squeezing them between two people or sitting on them which, for some of the tiny kids in particular, was hilarious and adorable to watch. Some kids were not in school (it is, after all, Saturday) but they all looked in enviously wanting to join in the games. However, we made sure they got some candy and treats as well.
--The students holding up their drawings of Christmas trees, which they have never seen--
After spending a few hours at the school, the other volunteers and I walked along the canal and through the tiny walkways of the slum. Kids and young adults from all around came to welcome us. We were told by some that we were the first white people they had seen in person. We said hello to, shook hands with, and took photographs of hundreds of people. The interactions were some of the most special I have ever had.
The people here stare at us with the most inquisitive and gently warm glare that does not break for as long as we are in sight. Even people whom we had passed minutes earlier continued to stare at us and wave once we looked back.
The kids in the slum will melt your heart. Compared to kids back home, they have close to nothing. Most do not have shoes or toys or even a steady diet. But if happiness were a quantifiable state, I would be willing to bet they are just as happy as any back home.
Just to have their picture taken brings the biggest possible smiles to many of the children here. I sincerely wonder what they thought this morning to see people waving at and talking to them from America.
After about an hour of wandering throughout, we met a wonderful group of people who invited us into their home in the midst of the slum. They offered us chai and, although slightly nervous about cleanliness, we politely accepted. We were given a tour of their simple, dark home and while Neetu, one of the young ladies, heated the chai tea. Her friend, a twenty-year-old male mechanical engineering student, translated for us and officiated the tremendous hospitality. These were 20 minutes on a Christmas Eve I certainly will not forget. Here we were, receiving wonderful generosity with no expectations for anything in return from a group of young adults living in the middle of an Indian slum.
--Two of the ladies who generously welcomed us into their home for chai--
I usually won't post this many photos, but today was exceptional.
Gifts like today cannot be given. I thank God for all of the wonderful things I have been blessed with and especially for my family and friends. Thank you all for following and Merry Christmas!