Corporate Runaway Turns Mother Theresa in India

“Taking off your shoes means the gods are smiling on you, “ said Prakesh.

I had trouble with that.  Not the god part, the shoes.

The infamous shoes

It’s customary to remove your shoes when entering a home or shop in Maharashtra.  It’s customary to do the equivalent when entering someone’s abode in Canada, so the fact that I struggled to part with my flip-flops was illogical.

Spock would have a field day with me.  What was I afraid of?

Western comfort, which I assumed was a flimsy concept roared in my head.  You’re afraid of lice, pieces of glass, fleas from the dog, disease!

Despite the queasy stirrings of my belly, I slipped them off to step inside Child Haven’s office where Kavita waited.

I attempted to blame my irrational repulsion on jet lag.  Having escaped it during my Copenhagen and London jaunts, I napped most of the way from Mumbai airport  to the location of my home for the next 3 months.   Prakesh interrupted me mid-snort to announce our arrival.

Already?

‘Where’ is a parcel of land off the highway.

Child Haven gates

Our arrival felt rushed and surreal, how I imagine a gaudy, Vegas wedding might play out.  Two inebriated people in club wear loudly demanding to be reunited in matrimony when they only met 5 hours ago.  The chubby, sequined Elvis and pre-recorded chapel music oblige them.

The Child Haven office certainly wasn’t a chapel.  Kavita and Prakesh were far from inebriated, but manageress and assistant manager of the home, married a lot longer than 5

Wooing or Expulsion, the India Version

My first impressions of Mumbai were the smells.

Pools of urine.  Dung.  Rotting fruit.  Enticing sandalwood clinging heavily to a sari as its owner swept past me, her slim hips swaying timidly against gold threading and pomegranate fabric.

Even dust had a scent.  Choking and harsh, clinging to the throat for hours on end.

Flora and fauna caught my eye next.  Most definitely tropical. Palm trees or vibrant flowers bursting with colors.  Everything that you do not find in cold, dead places up North.

The third was the dilapidated state of the buildings, or maybe it was just the disarray of them.

Some are built to code and perfection, beacons of Indian engineering, while others are crumbled, rebar exposed and accusatory.  You didn’t finish me.

What might be the most interesting is the staggering amount of rubble along the side of the roads.  Large chunks of concrete, dropped to the earth by Shiva’s wrath.  Lord Shiva, the destroyer of worlds, clearly leaves his mark.

Besides concrete, garbage, debris, objects you wouldn’t imagine belong there, somehow do.

Burning garbage may not be sanctioned by law or environmental groups, but it’s a practice still done on a regular basis.

And the driving.  I exaggerated in my last post about driving rules.  There are some.

The common way to drive is pass other vehicles, no matter what they are.  Large trucks, motorcycles, scooters, autorickshaw, economy cars…

By |November 22nd, 2010 |Categories: Mumbai |61 Comments

Mumbai Says Hi

My perilous journey from Mumbai to the site of my volunteer work, Savarsai. The rules of the road?  There are none.

And scenes of Mumbai.  Mind blowing to say the least.

A wonder I survived, but here I am with more tidbits to come!

By |November 16th, 2010 |Categories: Mumbai |19 Comments

Passports With Purpose & Win a Pair of Keen Shoes!

You might ask –  why care?

Why should it matter what happens to a group of people halfway across the world from you?  When it’s more vital to concentrate on your own family’s needs.  To keep afloat after the 2008 economic crash.

It matters because what happens in an unseen, far away land affects us all.

The world is no longer defined by the boundaries of your neighborhood.  Borders have tumbled down across continents.  When earthquakes level homes and kill hundreds in Haiti, that impacts us all.  When contaminated water floods the Danube and surrounding area, rendering farmland useless, it’s something we can’t ignore.

Those were my exact thoughts when I heard Passports With Purpose were seeking bloggers to fund raise this year.  Rather than use my passport for tourist pleasure, it occurred to me that it could be used for so much more.  That’s what triggered my escape from the corporate world.  My time and contribution felt cheap, utterly wasted.

Anyway, this post isn’t about my redemption, but someone else’s.

Passports With Purpose 2010

This year we are proud to lend our blog voice to helping LAFTI raise $50,000 to build a village for Dalit women and their families in Kathur, Tamil Nadu, India.

LAFTI (Land for Tillers Freedom) mission is to empower Dalits, a lower caste dubbed the “untouchables”.   This caste has suffered for several years under severe social, economic and physical abuse.  Dalit women are targeted viciously, as women’s rights begins to take shape in India.

LAFTI works with varying levels of government and financial institutions to purchase land for Dalit families.  They also assist with land distribution and cultivation, housing construction, adult training and youth housing and

TBEX – Romantic Backdrops and the Cirkus

Networking.

Every industry does it.

Hobnobbing was far from my mind when brisk cold seeped through my sweater.  Central Station in Copenhagen deposited me in its arteries at 9 am.  A Wednesday — hump day — as North Americans fondly refer to it.  There were far from humps here though.

First off, the Copenhagen airport dazzled me.  Forget about those Ikea decorating jokes.  How a shabby student injects his entire space with Scandinavian child’s glitter.  Sleek, geometric lines and rich colors instilled comfort.  Like a character in a Susanne Bier comedy.  The airport lounge didn’t scorch the aesthetic eye.

Back to Central Station.  A literal hub of Danish or international travelers.  I felt slotted into a turn of the century film where the only means of transport is the train.  Anything else is a mad inventor haunted by visions of horseless carriages.  There were suitcases or packs attached to old, young, the cool.  There were restaurants, even the tried and true MacDonald’s.  McD’s seems to be the beacon for foreigners.  Meet here.  You can’t miss the red and yellow.

Copenhagen is ridiculously walkable and apparently designed more for bicycles than cars.  The city is 34.1 square miles.  There are wide dedicated bike lanes and has been for years, while Canada — particularly Vancouver — are starting that experiment now.  What caught my eye were the amount of bikes parked.

It was a treasure to see instead of football field sized parking lots and 10 SUV’s neatly lined and primed for gas guzzling.  An insider told me

By |November 11th, 2010 |Categories: Copenhagen |25 Comments

Internet Killed the Travel Star

Today’s guest post is by Shawn Stafford of rerunaround.  Shawn fondly remembers the unblemished, frontier days of exploration — before Internet or Facebook existed.  He challenges us to ask if ‘journey’ in the post-technology world is only confirmation or actual discovery.

looking at the map

You kids listen up while I ramble on about what it was like traveling back in the olden timey days. Speaking from personal experience, there is a world of difference between “pre” and “post” Internet travel.  You know, night and day, cats and dogs, all that sort of thing.  Technology has performed a nearly complete overhaul on our lives. I’m not talking about sex with robots or anything like that.  I’m referring more to the ocean of information and instant communication that we’re all doggy paddling in.  The classic travel experience we romanticize in our imaginations doesn’t exist like that anymore.  We all have visions of unraveling the mysteries of exotic, distant lands while somehow simultaneously unraveling ourselves.  Unfortunately, you’re just going to have to unravel yourself in the privacy of your own bathroom, because the rest has already been done for you.These days we travel to confirm what we already know.  Not to genuinely discover the unknown. By the time we arrive in a new place we’ve already seen so many pictures online, or read so many descriptions, that all we’re doing is confirming it all.  Checking it off a list with a few pictures, a healthy nod, and maybe a few minutes of whimsical self reflection.

Gone are the days where you could walk