: Sarah Wiltgen
Upon our arrival at the airport in Mumbai, we were greeted with a crowd full of different fashions, cultures, religions, and languages. The immigration queues filled the entire rotunda, and the scent of curry lingered in the building. The air was thick and warm as we made our way outside to the car for our trip to the hotel around 2:00am for a short sleep.
The next day was New Year’s Eve. Kimberly’s friend Karan took us out to a delicious (and early!) breakfast, a Hindu temple (complete with a history lesson about Hindu mythology :)) and we began our ride up to Khandala for a wonderful party at his family’s hilltop bungalow. The sights were beautiful. They call Khandala the “escape from Bombay” and I could see why. There were large hills covered with greenery and we saw our first roaming cows!! Luckily, because our jetlag was taxing us so heavily, Kimberly and I were able to sleep the day away with a 6 hour nap so that we would have the energy to bring in the new year.
The party was filled with music, dancing, lights, and many young professionals in the fashion and marketing industry. The night ended with the cops coming and being bribed away: the typical (yet slightly corrupt) Indian way. Everyone loves a good party, no matter where you’re from. It was funny, however, that the fact that Kim and I didn’t drink was taken as an insult to the host! We kept mock tails in our hands as not to offend the host and hostess, and danced the night away :). What a perfect beginning to our two week, dance filled exchange. The next day we made our way back to the hotel and met up with Nisha and Mei-Ling who are the leaders of the India Exchange.
On the 3rd, we had a great breakfast with Anna, met up with Hannah to see the Hajiali mosque, Queen’s Necklace shoreline, Mani Bhavan – Ghandi’s home, and ended the day with a home cooked meal complete with many stories and great conversation from Hannah’s host family.
The wealth disparity in Mumbai is unfathomable. There are families on the street begging for small amounts of money for food, and families living in mansions with paid servants, while the general population doesn’t flinch. I’m not sure what steps need to be made to close this gap, but I believe it all starts with having a “one humanity” spirit: loving each other as if they were a part of yourself, because they are.
On the other hand, there is such a “unity within diversity” as Kimberly so eloquently loves to say. There are so many unique religions here, and citizens are free to express and practice their religions openly and without violence or intolerance. The peace that flows through the veins of the city creates a very calming energy, even amongst the loud and bustling city streets.
I haven’t stopped to reflect much since I’ve arrived in Mumbai, as there has been one stimulating experience after another, but I feel an overwhelming gratitude for the opportunity to interpret this experience in the current context of my life. I believe that everything happens in the right place, the right time, and with the right people; and with more reflection, I look forward to understanding the reason that this experience was opened up to me, and how I may best utilize the lessons learned in order to enrich my own life.
: Sarah Wiltgen