Blog,  India

From ragpicker to tour guide

Kids on Delhi’s streets – I have seen many. On Monday morning, we are going to meet one who has lived that life and escaped it.

Jai, our “CEO”, and the multinational group (Canadians, Australians, Britons, Americans, Swiss) climb in the bus and head to Old Delhi to meet Junaid.

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The 19-year-old nowadays works for the streetkids’ project Salaam Baalak Trust. He shows us “his” quarter. We walk through a dusty road with a lot of garbage. In a backyard, a cow is nibbling at a plastic bag, rats are running around. We pass through narrow alleys with puddles. A smell of urine and incentive sticks hangs in the air. In some passages, there are pictures of saints on the wall – to prevent people from peeing everywhere (because then they would feel “observed” by gods).

Junaid works part-time for Salaam Baalak to finance his own flat and his further education. He dreams of being a tour guide, like Jai, Junaid told us his story – how he ran away from home to be a ragpicker and finally becoming a student.

Yes, many people in Delhi are poor. But somehow the poverty has an organized notion about it. The people who seem to live on the streets are mostly occupied with something. Aren’t they homeless after all? Jai tells us, not to give food or money to the beggars. According to him,  everybody has access to shelters or food. One example is the humanity of the Sikhs. They not only have a beautiful temple ⇒ get some audio impressions from the inside here:

They also run a charity kitchen next door. Everybody can get food for free: three times a day. They have massive bowls and pots for curries and vegetables.

The funds come from devotees of the Sikh community and other donations. Furthermore, the health system in India – Jai says – does not leave anybody behind. Health care is free. So nobody has to die or starve on the streets or in the slums. But, of course, the gap between rich and poor, the social injustice, is a whole lot larger than in many other countries.

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20171120_120757We pass the busy market in Old Delhi and there are so many tiny situations happening as if in a fast cut TV advertisement. Men counting money, negotiating, handing out figs and dates, others cook in heated trays and throw dough into oil, fruits and vegetables are everywhere, a boy cuts cucumber into slices and marinates it with spices – “fast food“ the Indian way. Some other vendors sell carpets, pullovers, linen, wool, some carry hay. And through all this you have scooters, took tucks and cycle rickshaws speeding through – with friendly but consistent honking but no shouting or cursing. There seems to be a secret flow to all this, a harmony, a script. Of course life seem stop be hard on many people. Some are asleep on their wooden cart, many wear torn or dirty clothes.

On our way to Jama Masjid Mosque we drive through a roundabout. In the middle of it people are digging in the dirt with pickaxes to remove garbage and make it a clean place, someday. They get paid by the government. Pigeons and crows are flying all over the place and one child sits on a pile of rocks and waste, playing with a toy elephant. What a scene. I am too petrified to take a photo.

We arrive at the mosque and this time – my third try, you might remember – I am in.

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I rest a while at the water basin in the middle. A man is washing his face with the dark and used water, he even brushes his teeth with it. Others wash feet in it to get ready for muslim prayer. My thoughts wander. „Is that your key?“, the young man next to me asks. I need a second to understand. Between my feet lies a tiny little key, very rusty. I pick it up. „No“, I say, „but it is beautiful. I think I’ll keep it“. He smiles. „Yes, do that. Then you have a souvenir from India“. Younis comes from Kashmir and works in software. “Be cautious”, he says, “not everybody is nice to you. There are black sheep everywhere”. I do not know why he stresses that right away but we have a nice little talk before I have to get back to our meeting point and put on my shoes again.

We arrive at Connaught Place  in the early afternoon to have a late lunch at a South Indian restaurant. An almost hollow “something” with chutneys, a sort of dhal soup and a potato filling.

We hop back into our bus and start our long journey to Agra. It is a five hour ride. Sex kilometers from Agra the V-belt in our engine ruptures. We are standing in the middle of the highway and see ourselves spending the night “on the road”. But Jai has it sorted out quickly and calls an alternative bus that brings us to the hotel. What a perfect and boring solution to such an adventurous problem. But ok, I am also happy to get into bed after this long day which brought two other small insights. The first: The camel is a love symbol for Indians because they say: “If you can love a camel, you can love anybody”. And the second small thing to take away, is this:

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© Salaam Baalak Trust

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