Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Begging Dilemma

One of the most difficult things for us to see and be around in New Delhi is the poverty that is everywhere.  It is very hard to escape it and is something that really pulls at one’s heart.  I have asked myself almost every day, “what if that were me?”. When Tyler and I visited last May before committing to the job here, we were instructed very strongly that although it would be difficult, the way to help the beggars is not to hand them money.  That may seem callous, however when you understand how these children are really being used, you certainly do not want to continue their exploitation.  On the other hand, when your 11 year old daughter says, “But I don’t want to have a hard heart,” one really has to question how are we going to handle the poverty here and what is best for our family to do.  I want to share a little about what we have discovered so far and how we have decided to deal with the constant, daily, begging that is around us.

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It is children, even at a very young age, carrying other children, that are walking through the lanes of cars on the street and tapping on windows begging for money.

Before moving here as a family, we tried to explain to our children that when we would be stopped at intersections and traffic lights, women holding babies and small children would approach our car and knock on the windows wanting money.  As much as we tried to prepare our family for this part, it didn’t take very long for them realize that this was a reality that they were going to face day after day and it has been hard for them to experience.  Let me explain the different types of begging one can encounter here.

  • At the market:  When going to a market to grab your groceries, or stop at the bank, the fact that we are “white” makes us immediate targets for the little children walking around begging.  Sometimes it will be 2 or 3 young children together approaching you, sometimes it will be a teenager leading an older blind woman around holding a cup asking for you to contribute something to help her, or sometimes it is just the man with one leg or one arm sitting on the corner looking for someone to give him a few rupees.

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This is at a market.

  • On the street:  At nearly every street corner where there can be a long line of cars found when the traffic light is stopping traffic, one will be lucky NOT to be approached by someone.  When an individual approaches your car they will just come right up to your window very close and start tapping on the window, or worse, scratching along the car, asking for money.  If it is a woman holding a baby she will always use some type of hand language showing that she needs to feed her baby.  (I would like to add here that most of the women carrying the babies are “renting” the babies for the day, they do not belong to them.)  If they knock on your side of the car and there is no response, sometimes they move around to the other side and work the other window.  There are also those individuals that are trying to sell bouquets of flowers and books or magazines as you are waiting for the traffic to take off.

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Notice the small girl standing next to the auto begging for money.  They move from car to car being very persistent.

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This is another little girl begging at a car in front of ours.

  • Tourist areas:  Any area that has many tourists visit, is a spot where beggars will be found.  At some religious sites that are visited by many tourists seeking to visit a famous temple or mosque, beggars will line the streets.

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This is at a shrine of a Sufi saint that people from all over the world come to visit.

A few things we have discovered from our experience living here and other’s wisdom include:

  • Begging is illegal.  Although it is against the law to beg on the street corners, it is not enforced by the policemen and often the policemen will tolerate it as long as they get a piece of the profit.
  • It is a business.  There are individuals and groups that run these groups of children that are begging.  Some of these children fall into this life through their parents selling them off, some are introduced to it because they have run away and are searching for a better life, some are enticed by promises that are given to them such as food, and others are just kidnapped and forced into the life.  When I did the slum walk, we talked with our guide about those living in the slum versus those living on the street.  He told us of one gentlemen that he got to know through conversation on the street and found out that he runs the group of children begging on a certain intersection and that is what funds his own two children that are attending universities in America.
  • Children receive almost nothing.  The little money that the children do bring in from their begging is handed over to the persons in charge.  They are fed by these people and might get a little extra $1 for themselves in they are lucky.  They are watched closely to make sure that they do not spend any of the money.  They are often beaten if they are found guilty.  These children on the street are getting zero education in their life because they are kept from school to go and beg for someone else.
  • From personal experience, if you purchase flowers from one person on the road, or give one woman a few rupees to buy the flour she says she needs, once that money has been handed out, there will be many more beggars suddenly appearing wanting their share.  The harassment does not end by helping just one person, it is the beginning.

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The children take breaks in the dirt at the intersections.  Some even sleep right there with their little food being cooked right over a small fire made right in the dirt.

So knowing all of this and seeing it daily, how does one deal with it?  Seeing the poverty and how these children in particular are living, is definitely difficult to know how to handle it and not let “your heart get hard.”.  As a family we have decided that the best thing to do is to hand out some type of “child” treat to the children so that they will be able to enjoy it themselves.  One day when Tyler was walking through a market, the children were following him around and asked him for even a “Kinder Joy” that he could buy at the market for them.  It is a chocolate egg with a small toy inside it.  So, when he came out of the market and gave them to the children, they were so happy.  So, Kinder joys have become something we like to leave the house with or have a few in the car to hand out.  Small packages of crackers are another thing that my driver will keep in the car and occasionally hand out.  We can only hand it out if we have enough for the group of children begging, and it is best to hand it out when leaving the place because if not, you will be approached by fellow comrades of the beggar that received the Kinder egg.  Not all recipients are pleased with the “food” donation.  We have had some go away with a very large frown, pleading for money.  My driver will say, it’s not food they want, just money.”. I believe that is a result of them needing to show up with their proceeds for the day for the man in charge.

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We have also chosen as a family to increase donations that we make to our church for humanitarian purposes as well as several non profit organizations here in India.  We have particularly focused on those that are using their resources wisely in furthering the education of children.  For a child out begging, they have absolutely no other future ahead of them.  But, if that same child is given the opportunity to obtain an education, the opportunities for the future are many as India develops.

Everyone that comes to live here from around the world has to make their own decision on the best way to care for the poor and to respond to begging.  I am sure that our own perspectives will evolve over the years we live here, but for now we feel we have found an approach that is right for us.

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The Battle For Bandwidth

It’s finally Friday night, school finished for the week, and everyone is anxious to spend the night doing something they enjoy and relaxing at home.  Someone comes bursting out of their bedroom, “Who is downloading something?  Is someone streaming videos?  Can everyone get off the internet!”.  This scene occurs often at the Bryson home in New Delhi.  The internet has been more of a lifeline to us since leaving the United States than ever before yet has brought some of the most frustrating moments and reminders of where we now live — a land much different than we once knew.

In order to help Hailey feel a little of home we set up a slingbox at one of Tyler’s siblings home.  Friday night and Saturday are Hailey’s moments of feeling like she can get a taste of home by viewing a little American TV.  For Thomas and Conner, their free time activities are definitely limited here (they would say that is an understatement!).  As a result, they find the ability to spend leisure time playing video games, Xbox or just trying to download a show a necessity to feel a little normal here.  Well, someone coming from the United States, never having lived in a place like India, might have a difficult time comprehending why the frustration?!  Well let me explain why the frustration coming from Thomas as he storms out of his room on Friday night.

The world’s average MBPS (megabits per second) is 15.  Our San Clemente home’s MBPS was about 25.  Well, our home in New Delhi has a whopping 1.8 MBPS!  Yes, you read that right… a big 1.8.  That rating is a grade “D” for India and an “F-” for the world.  We have spent quite a bit of time and energy with our internet provider, Airtel trying to improve our situation.  When we first moved in we had one router installed as well as one booster.  Well, we have found that it is hard to go anywhere in our home except the one room where the router is located and where the booster is plugged in to get internet access.  So, after spending much time with the landlord’s electrician (who by the way did the installation of the wiring when the building was built but doesn’t even know how to check the internet on a computer to see if it is wired properly), and the Airtel people, the only solution we have come up with is adding a second router and a second booster.  I wish I could say it has vastly improved our situation here but I just remind myself that it is what it is going to be here in India.

MBPS (2)

To order a second router and booster and have it installed through Airtel, you have one of their employees come to your home.  They ask for copies of nearly everything — passport, visa, proof of your contract with the landlord, your proof of employment, and several passport sized pictures along with the cash for the installation.  Then the order goes into the company’s queue and one gets 8-10 different contractors knocking on your door wanting to do the installation so they can get their piece of the pie.  Through all of this Airtel interaction we learned that there is one block in Vasant Vihar (another expat neighborhood near ours) that Airtel has wired to receive 6 MBPS.  Looking backwards, that would have seriously been a place we would have pursued further had we known.  So there is no wonder why sometimes our boys are heading into the School’s library on a Saturday to spend a few hours because they have 20 MBPS — a huge improvement.  Many parents during the week also hang out there for the same reason.

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These serve 2 Xboxes, 5 Surfaces, and 3 computers.

When it comes to phone speed, there is no 4G here, only 3G is available and we get 4.8 MBPS on our smartphones.  In India, a smartphone is the most common tool used to access the internet.  This year 60 million smartphones will be purchased but only 10 million PCs.  In India, most smart phones cost under $120 whereas in the US it costs over $300.  One of the things we really prefer here is that you purchase the phone and then pick your provider with absolutely no service contracts involved.  Many of the more average and poorer Indians will purchase a smartphone but have no data plan, they just access the internet through WiFi.

So patience is required here in the Bryson household — the internet is not the same yet it has become more precious to us than ever.  Let’s just say that every country we’ve traveled to this past year and when we do return this summer to the United States, that faster bandwidth is truly treasured and appreciated more than ever.

A Walking Tour To Remember

The “slum” neighborhoods are something that many individuals are curious about when it comes to India.  One can read many articles from newspapers to magazines and books about this living, but today I had the opportunity to go on a walking tour of the largest slum in New Delhi and see firsthand what it really is like living here.

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An overview picture of part of it before we entered the community.

My friend, Hiromi, from Japan had told me about a non-profit organization that she had heard about from another Japanese friend that did this “slum walking tour”. I am grateful to her for the invitation to join her because it is one of those experiences that will leave an impression on me for the rest of my life.  No pictures are allowed to be taken inside the slum so I was only able to take a few on the outside.  The pictures could speak much better words than I can write, but I am going to try to give you just a few things that I learned from the experience.

  • There are many slum areas throughout Delhi as well as India, one can see them in many neighborhoods while traveling around Delhi.  The largest Indian slum is located in Mumbai but this one we walked through is the largest in Delhi.  It has 25,000+ people living inside it.
  • This particular slum continues to grow yearly as more and more people migrate to Delhi to find a better life.  According to our guide, the people from this slum came from the northern part of India.  One of the most interesting thoughts that I took from the tour is that living in that slum in Delhi is a better life from which they came.  It is hard to wrap the mind around that thought but an important one in understanding the community.

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Across the street from the slum, residents of the area will just hang their trash on the fence waiting for the government trash truck to drive through and gather it once a week.  Most of the trash, though was scattered throughout the community.

  • To live in a slum means no rent is paid.  The land belongs to the government and there is no electricity, water supply or sewer availability meaning NO form of a toilet besides nature.  So how do they live?  Well, the majority of people are very creative in stringing electrical wires out of the slum and connecting it to someone else’s electricity, illegally, but it is not enforced.  They have a small gas tank that they use for cooking.  A government water truck shows up weekly for them to fill their water jugs for their drinking water, water to wash clothes (saw a couple of different women hand washing clothing in a bucket), cook with and clean their dishes.  It costs them 15 rupees for each jug and they will lock up their jugs with a chain and lock to keep anyone from stealing it.  If they have excess they will sell it for an additional 5 rupees to someone in need before the week is out.  If the government decides to take the land back to build a large shopping mall (which is happening to another slum nearby), the government tries to relocate them to a different plot of land.

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Someone’s water jugs waiting to be refilled.

  • What is a typical dwelling like?  Each one is unique but also the same in some ways.  Most had a concrete floor and some had concrete walls while others had tarps or tin as their walls.  Roofs were mostly covered in tin with large rocks sitting on top to keep it in place during windy and monsoon seasons.  I saw many women sweeping their small room homes, but the dirt just goes as far as outside the door.  Nobody is cleaning the exterior part so you can imagine there was trash scattered throughout.  Most of the doors were merely a piece of cloth about the size of a sheet.  New dwellings are just squeezed in any available spot but dwellings are linked right next to each other so they share walls.
  • The outdoor area had some pigs, goats, monkeys and dogs that belonged to someone or maybe the community as a whole — hard to tell.  There were several different areas of water that would be about the size of a small pond which is where the water run off was collected.  These areas are extremely hazardous, especially with the mosquitos that can breed in that stagnant water. It was not just a flat piece of land — there were many steep inclines that we went up and down that are just rocks or bricks that make up very hodgepodge steps.  I have absolutely no idea during monsoon season how they would travel in some of the areas.

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Where we entered the slum neighborhood.

  • Over 60% of the children living in this slum are malnourished.  Most of these families have anywhere from 8-10 children, whereas in most of Delhi, families have only 2 children from my observation.  Some of the parents will find out the gender of their baby and if it is a girl, they will abort it.  Girls bring the cost of a dowry to the family economy and are not valued as boys are in a family.
  •  Nearly all marriages in the slum are arranged marriages and most marry at the age of 18 years.  The guide specifically told us that the slum residents would never consider marrying someone from “the city”.
  • Multiple religions live within the slum but mostly Hindus.  There are several small temples within the slum.
  • What do these people do to earn a living and how much?  I asked that question and the guide told me they make about 100 rupees a day (60 rupees equals $1), and the jobs consist of selling food as a street vendor, as well as factory work that is nearby and I also witnessed several women cutting excess around plastic molds that are a part of some item being made in India.  The guide also took us in a small workshop (let me emphasize small — about the size of a bathroom in America), where 3 men were pouring plastic pieces into a machine that melted it and then was poured into a mold and created the plastic heel of shoes.  The guide said that was a very desirable job in the slum and they work 10-12 hours a day but make better wages than most.
  • Many of the children were at school during our tour but for it being a school day there were still plenty around.  Entertainment I observed was a very few boys playing with marbles, most just walking around the place and the young children were watching the very young children.  One girl I stopped and asked how old she was.  She answered 10 years old and she was the one carrying around a small baby about 6-8 months old taking care of it.
  • The non-profit organization that does these tours are allowed in because they have a very small school where the children of the slum are invited to come and get help.  The guide allowed me to take a snapshot of the entrance to the two small rooms they use.  They are open from 3-5 p.m. in the afternoon.  The children that attend school can get help with their homework.  They teach some English classes and they also have a group of 12-14 year olds that come there literally knowing nothing — they have not been allowed to go to school so they are learning the basics the guide said, like the “ABCs and 123s”.

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The 2 small classrooms inside the slum that the non-profit organization uses to help the children learn.

  • Crime is very high in this area especially rape.  If there is something that happens within the slum, the police will not come and investigate in the slums to enforce the laws.  Our guide told us that after 7:00 p.m. us being expats would be in a very dangerous situation if we were found within the slum.  Rape is often done by someone that the victim knows and can be a trade off from just receiving a small candy or some food.  Some parents will even sell off their children because they are so desperate for money.
  • Three impressions that I did not anticipate going into the tour were: 1.  The people were very friendly and happy.  They seemed content with their life — which goes back to the beginning discovery that this life is better than what they came from.  I knew the children would wave and want to say hello, but was happily surprised to see so many of the women just as friendly to us.  2.  Not one person asked us for anything which really surprised me.  They may be very poor but they were not like the children or women begging on the streets following us around asking for money the entire time we were there.  That told me a lot about then as a community. And 3. There is a real sense of community within the slum.  They do not venture out of the slum much because they are looked down upon according to our guide but from what I could see, there seemed to be a sense of community there.

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My friend, Hiromi, with our walking guide.  He just graduated from the university with his bachelors and is working on his masters currently.  He said he has walked by this slum area many times but until he started studying the economic issues in college he never paid attention to it — now he volunteers at the school and has established relationships with people that live there.

 

The Indian Broom

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While joining my children this morning on the drive to school to go to a parent meeting, I must have passed at least 15 different sweepers on the way.  Eight months after arriving here, the Indian broom is still fascinating to me.  It was something that I noticed right away when we moved here.  I thought that maybe there was no other type of broom sold here in India but when we moved into our home and I went to go buy some cleaning supplies with a broom being on the list, a broom familiar to me was easily found in a market — okay so it was a market that is shopped by more expats than just the local market, but nonetheless I purchased it for our home.  When showing the maid the purchases for her to use, she explained, “That’s a western broom — too stiff.”  So I gave her money to go and buy the broom that she liked to use along with some other things that she needed.

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The broom of her choice is a very short handled broom composed of some type of grass or natural fiber.  This western broom I purchased just collects dust on our back porch where the Indian broom is used daily as our maid stoops over and sweeps instead of using a long handle.  That is her preference though.

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There is no “street sweeper” as we know it in the United States where a vehicle driven by someone drives down the streets spraying a little water and using the brushes on the vehicle to sweep up the dust and waste.  Instead, each street here has an individual that sweeps their “job” every morning.  Each building then pays the sweeper on a monthly basis — which is not much.  We are one of 4 families living in this building and whomever is sweeping our tiny section of the street in front of the building gates receives 200 rupees each month from our family — roughly $3.50 dollars.  I give the money to the maid each month and she knows where to find him and pay him.

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Most of the big outdoor jobs I see the sweepers using a long-handled broom with a straw like brush.  In the large central park and grass areas, they do not use rakes as we would to collect leaves, instead they use these same “Indian-type” broom to sweep up the leaves.  The heat is starting to set in here and is getting warmer so the leaves from the trees are starting to drop.  I am starting to see many piles of leaves that have been swept.  It is still a mystery to me who then collects these piles as I never see a sweeper with any type of a dustpan or bin, only their broom.  One American who has lived here for four years claims that the Indian’s still use their broom style instead of a western broom because it ensures job security by leaving something for them to do the next day for their work.  Either that or the debris swept into a pile is scattered by the next day, waiting to be reassembled.