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Sea Diaries: Eye-opening love found in India

By Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Shanelle Belvin | | April 16, 2016

I fell in love with India two years ago when I spent a few days in Chennai. This time around, I was about 700 miles away from Chennai, on the complete opposite side of India — in Mumbai & Goa. It gave me the same exact feeling.  

Not sure if it’s the hospitality, the delicious food, the vibrant colors, the extreme chaos, the distinct smells, or the beautiful temples. It’s impossible to pinpoint a single reason why!  

When I would lock eyes with someone, for even a tenth of a second, it gave them the ok to come and try to sell me something. “My friend, come come.” They can be very aggressive.  

Aside from the stares, there was a lot to love. The West Indies won the  T20 World Cup for the second time on our first day in Mumbai. The locals got very excited when they saw us, our dark skin had them thinking we were West Indians. We took lots of pictures as we walked down the streets and said “hey” about a hundred different times. It was cool!  

The next day, we went on a couple of tours. In the first one, we got up close and personal in Fisherman Village. The tour guide explained to us how in 2008 the terrorists got into Mumbai on a boat through that village and launched a deadly siege against the city — changing the city forever.  

We then went to Mahatma, Ghandi’s old home, referred to as “Mani Bhavan.” This place was a focal point of Gandhi’s political activities in Mumbai between 1917 and 1934. It’s now a museum dedicated to telling his life story. It was amazing. I learned so much about him, encouraging me to do further research on my own. We also stopped to see the world’s largest outdoor laundromat in Dhobi Ghat. Every day hundreds of Dhobis (laundrymen) beat the dirt out of approximately 2000lbs of clothing. They soak, scrub, slap, drape, dry & deliver everything back to its owners before the day ends. It was a sight to see.    

Then we went on a completely different tour. We went to the slums. We walked all through the heart of Asia’s largest slum, and saw some unexpected and interesting sights, which I’m sure aren’t normally seen by tourists. The people there were so different from what I’ve seen everywhere else in India. These people were living in extreme conditions. I mean... their homes were as small — two shower stalls put together. They had absolutely nothing from the typical American point of view. They were living in filth and yet, seemingly happy.  

We took pictures & no one asked us for a dime. Nobody was looking for a handout or aggressively pursuing us to buy something from them. Everybody was working or talking amongst their neighbors, kids were swinging on handmade swings, teenagers were playing cricket in an open dirt field, everyone was laughing and conversing.  

I was walking through what I thought was going to be an area of poverty, but I left feeling like it was a community of love. It was an amazing sight to see and an incredible feeling to feel. After that, we stopped by several places where they shot scenes from “Slumdog Millionaire.” Touring the slums was a really touching experience, one that I will be thinking about for many years to come.  

India is by far, one of the most fascinating and eye-opening countries I’ve ever been to.