Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Reality break

Manju Nimbkar (the principal of KNB and all-around amazing person) took me to see the exceedingly poor Mahar neighborhood where Maxine started her first school back in the '70s. The Mahars are the local caste that was formerly considered untouchable. We developed a small following of children as we walked through the streets of huts. They and their parents were delighted to host us for even a few minutes and one young woman who works at KNB showed us over to her home. It was a cement house, smaller than any dorm room, which housed and fed a full three generations of her family at one time.

You might have noticed that I haven't spoken much about poverty or hunger on this blog. That was a choice I made early on, partially because that wasn't the tone I wanted to create and partially because I didn't know how to begin. Poverty is everywhere here. The slums of Phaltan are not hidden, and even more importantly, are not a huge step down from the rest of the housing and amenities in town. Five-year old girls carry bundles bigger than themselves, and their only response to a smile is to stick out their hands for money. It's ingrained into their muscles because they need it to survive. I see the same two girls pass the house every day, but I'm not ready to speak for them.

After I have some time to think I might have the words to describe what I have seen here. Perhaps then I can let myself feel the full impact of their shacks and the overwhelming smell, but I'm not there yet.

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