So what is the “slum” anyway? Let me tell you about it. I was curious before I went (I was also afraid...a little bit). The word slum tends to carry with it an ominous reputation and frightening unknown. But I wanted to know who was under the blanket of tin roofs and feel their sense of community, even though I couldn’t fully participate. When we walk in, the paths are made of bricks and usually have some garbage or water residue over part. If you’re really curious to what it smells like, go stick your head in your garbage can (really, go do it). The smell sometimes makes me want to choke, but if we keep walking we can also smell some food cooking in turmeric, ginger, or masala spice. People pass time on their front steps talking or playing a game on the ground or picking head lice out of each other and wave as we pass, or just watch. I don’t expect everyone to be friendly. Sewage ditches run under the brick and open into troughs that wind their way in between the houses. Women do laundry outside their doors by rinsing clothes in a bucket and fiercely rubbing them on a rock or clean piece of ground. Goats, dogs, chickens, and cats dart through the streets and when one dog had a new litter of puppies it seemed like every home had a new pet. The babies don't wear diapers because they are too expensive, so when they need to go, they just...go (wherever that may be). We walk all the way to the bottom to get to the ministry place, and arrive with a child or two holding our hands, kids that know us. Once as we walked down we heard the children singing “Rejoice in the Lord Always” (a song we taught them several days before) with each other, unprompted. That was the best sound to welcome us.
Sometimes I still feel unsure and nervous from “what are you doing here” stares from adults, but something changed a few weeks ago. We spent time with fourteen women and their children making photos together and connecting on the, “you’re beautiful, and do you know what? I think what you have here is beautiful” level. It’s amazing to see people open up when they feel valued. I entered their homes, most of them the size of my bedroom, where I noticed none of them had a single photograph on the wall or bed to sleep on (some just have mattress pads). But we connected there in the place they live. A home is always special, regardless of size or wealth inside. Now there’s a different level of familiarity where they smile and wave like friends, give me a hug, or place a hand on my back when I greet them. We laugh together and say through smiles, “I like you.” We have built trust and I don’t feel a bit uncomfortable around them because I know they would take care of me and we have friendship where words are secondary.
100% of the kids below don't have toilets in their homes. They walk into the fields above their house to use the bathroom and have to go with a partner, because rape is common in these scenarios. They don't understand manners or personal space, because the slum community is one of walking into each other's homes without permission and children being taken care of by whoever is around. They play roughly with each other. Once I glanced outside and one of the girls was choking a small boy against a wall until I told her to stop, and then she laughed. They learn this from the way their parents treat them. Some of them spend their mornings at the stitching center location because of child molesters who prey on children left unsupervised for hours while their parents work. Five girls have disappeared just this year. I know a girl who is just thirteen, raped by her uncle four months ago, but they never reported the crime because it will make arranging a marriage for her too difficult. We teach a bible lesson each week for a group of children where it seems any child who is at least six years old is taking care of a baby (even if a one of the girl's arms is broken and in a cast, and she winces each time she picks up the infant she is responsible for). In America we barely leave children with a friend from church but this is normalcy in other cultures.
It's easy for people to become objects of bewilderment or pity, and it's easy to feel sympathy and sadness. Our hearts will break. That's okay. What's more important is to remain aware of the differences and THANKFUL for our circumstances. Even better -- give. I even don't mean financially, although that would be great too, but learn to be a servant in the ways you can in the life you live now. Almost every time I walk into a home here they offer me chai or a piece of fruit and immediately find a chair for us to sit on. Even with a ditch of raw sewage running outside their door I feel taken care of. I feel honored and worthwhile. Can you imagine the lives we could impact if we used our resources in the same way? Take a glimpse into their life, not even as far away from ours as we think. Circumstances are the only separation.