Monday, Oct. 23, 1967
DWAYNE HUNN, a CGS student in the school of government, returned from India only two weeks ago. In this article he discusses issues which became clearer to him after his experiences there as a Peace Corps teacher.
By DWAYNE HUNN
Two years ago I started on a trip into a different world. It was a different wor1d because it was often so repulsive. But it was a meaningful trip.
I returned to a mainland from which during the last two years stories on “God is dead,” the “hippies” and the “riots” have originated. Of the many abroad who have wondered what these happenings meant I have been one. Presently I am pursuing graduate studies on a beautiful campus – typical of thousands of students across the nation.
In this renewed setting I have noticed how easily I can forget the recently left world of the difficult life. I have noticed how soft, pliant and attracted my mind can become to the beckoning good life, good times, playtime world of home.
Then – sometimes -- I remember back to my trip. I remember all those times without the normal comforts and opportunities of home. I remember how then I hoped and prayed that I would appreciate and treat them more righteously on return than I had in the past. This then makes me wonder. Is the cushy, good life we as youth live, part of the reason for the so-called moral decline, for the young claiming to be lost and disenchanted with America, for the smug attitude of Americans to Americans, for the explosions from the deprived?
Do we appreciate all our frontier forefathers, depression-bound grandparents and war-bound parents worked to give us? Are we appreciative enough to conquer more frontiers? Are we perceptive enough to realize that the frontiers now left to conquer are those of communication and working with the less fortunate people?
Two years ago preparation for my trip into that different world started with the Peace Corps’ Urban Community Development training in the slums of New York. This was our practical training for the slums of Bombay, India. Yet little could have properly prepared us for the next 21 months.
On arrival many of us were placed in the chawls. Chawls is the term applied to India’s tenement slums. There, to you or I, the experience of walking down one of its busy streets is unforgettable. The air of its street is filled with dirt, vehicle exhaust and the stench
of dirty humans, garbage and excrement.
But that is merely the air. Breathing this, you proceed down the street. You proceed slowly, being jostled and stepping between all the little people on the sidewalk. You become impatient with the overflow crowd of the sidewalk and move to the street. There part of the overflow crowd, vehicles and yourself compete for movement.
On the curb of the sidewalk you have just left are little, weary Indian women commonly called “vegetable wallahs.” They sit on little hemp sacks with their income for the day, or week, beside them. That income may consist of 40—50 small potatoes stacked, ready for sale, in piles of four.
Moving in the street through the foul air and crowd, your ears soon become attuned to the honks and screeches of passing vehicles, the call of the vegetable wallahs, the chatter—clatter of the crowd, the wails of children and the blare of Hindi music. Looking through the crowd you can see into a room of a dirty grey, four-storied building. This is one of the surrounding hundreds of chawls.
Through the barred windows you see that pots, rags, pictures of holy men and very often a picture of President Kennedy adorn the meager wall space. The room you have looked into has that one barred window, one door and no fan. It is 15’ ´ 12’ and is home for usually 6-12 joint family members.
Outside that barred window
lies a 20’ separation before the next partition begins. That space is adorned
with dirt, rocks, glass, red Indian spittle, excrement and garbage. Around the
large piles of garbage, dining cows and/or pigeons will be found at any time of the day. At night rats in large numbers will be found doing the same. (rats in Bombay are estimated at between 5-12 per person). Occasionally during the day a person will be seen scavenging a similar pile of garbage. Hard to believe, but very true. No Diners Card needed for this club.
Returning to the curb one’s view focuses in on a ten—month—old child of one of the vegetable wallahs. The mother keeps the child with her since the rest of her family is out trying to earn a few paise (pennies). The child adjusts to the environment, she must. She crawls off the hemp mat and as she does so you notice the large sores around the pelvic area. Medicare? No, not even Johnson’s Baby Powder is available.
A Vicious Circle
For most, one observant walk down such a street is unforgettable. Many walks and living there brings home the vicious circle of meager life, education and experience these people are forced through. The crowded and dirty living conditions put health, privacy and enjoyment at a bare minimum, their food staples, rice and dahl, are severely rationed and spreading it to a joint family keeps that family frail and weak.
During the school year the children get out of this environment six times a week--to be educated. They go to half day classes which average between 35—50. Teachers are not well paid or well trained, and the environmental background speaks for itself. In this classroom setting students learn by rote memory--as a result independent thought and analysis are non-existent.
At birth these children were as cute as, and their eyes sparkled as much as any American counterpart. But soon enough their eyes assumed a hollow, weak look. Middle class American baby gets, and soon enough learns to expect, much different treatment.
Incidentally, the above description is how the upper lower class lives, the class which borders on the middle class. The 11/2 – 3 million who live in clusters of disgusting hutments, and on the streets, are lower.
That was part of my experience with that different world which started almost two years ago. During it I vacationed through Southeast Asia and noted how much better the life, the people and the countryside looked. Nine months later, returning through the cast as a tourist, things continued to seem generally better than in India. Japan, its freeways, new cars, bullet trains, subways, neatly dressed businessmen and students made the rest of Asia seem very different in comparison. Hawaii with its prettily tanned and scantily clad girls, wider roads, bigger cars, and beach tourist industry inaugurated me to the States.
Back on the mainland, as when I left, there are no mountains, warring nations or masses of domestic poverty to conquer. Instead, underdeveloped nations, illiterate and uneducated people and the cities have become our challenges.
By working on them we may restore the character values which our own media seems to show that we have misplaced. It may also make us more appreciative of what we have, and appreciative of just the little things which we take for granted.
I can remember the innumerable times in Bombay when I wished I could just drink a glass of sanitary water. One which would not add to my case of dysentery --yet could not find one. I can remember the times I desired to merely be alone, away from the crowds, the smell -- yet could not find such a place.
How different at home where water coolers dot most public areas. How different here where
you can stroll quietly down a street shaded with trees, landscaped with flowers and grass and hear the chippering of crickets or the droning of a TV set. I was not different than most of our group in that India made me begin to really appreciate some very basic gifts of home. Two years ago I was
not very different than many Americans who have had so much that they have never learned, or have forgotten what it means to have so little.
Many contemporary politicians speak of reinvolving the individual with the problems of the nation. They criticize the Federal Government for bungling the cities, the poverty program, etc. They say, let the people clear these problems up themselves.
Fine, if our largely middle class society is ready and/or tough enough to leave their suburban comforts, TV sets and social commitments to plug into the social, problems of America. Are they
interested enough, when a woman can be raped and beaten in New York city while 30 casual observers continue to march by? Are they interested enough when the problems of races must explode in their faces before they decide to do more than just talk of its existence? Albert Schweitzer once said:
And for those who have more,
those who need not struggle for
It is for them to set the example.
Are our middle classes doing this, or are their sons and daughters doing it enough? When is
the last time you plugged in to something other than a good time?