“All our knowledge has its origins in our perception”

21 05 2011

-Title from Leonardo da Vinci

By Joy Ogunmuyiwa

May 21, 2011
2:50 am
Mumbai, India

The view from one of the rest stops on the Pune to Mumbai highway through the mountains

We were told, before we left for our fieldwork projects, to always factor in surprises because things rarely go according to schedule. Never has anything been so true.

When I arrived here, I had to file a lost baggage claim in Pune because AirIndia could not locate my bag at any of the layover cities I had stayed in. We got a call yesterday that it had been found, but because it contained electronics and medications I would have to go there to show identification and physically pick it up.

Great! My bag had been found! Not so great? It’s in Mumbai! Mumbai is a solid four hours from where I am staying, and a good seven in Friday evening traffic. 

Abbas called, and it was agreed that I would take a public bus there to pick it up. However, by the time things were arranged, it was already 4:30 pm and it would not have been safe for me to go alone. So he called a prepaid Pune-Mumbai taxi and asked one of the Sahara workers (he will remain nameless for the sake of this blog) to accompany me on what was turning out to be a very complicated Friday afternoon.

 We ended up having what I can confidently call the most interesting conversation I had ever had with anyone. When we first got into the car, he quickly told the driver what our plans were and I noticed that his accent was slightly different from the various people I had met in the past three days. I asked about it, and he explained that he was not actually Indian and had learned Hindi in the past ten months to work at Sahara Care House (easily dwarfing my lifetime struggle to learn Spanish!) He was 26 years old and as of September 2010, a refugee of Iran. His family was staying in Canada since the beginning of this year but he was in the process of trying to get a visa into the US. We spent the next seven hours talking about his life story and my feeble attempts to explain American culture to him (which for some reason kept coming back to Arnold Schwarzenegger, SUVs, and pirates).  

We ended up talking about his time in Sahara (which I explained previously was a 24 hour care house for HIV/AIDS positive men, women, and children, and drug users). He is in charge of the technology department and when I told him what my intended project was, he related a previous experience he had with a French university student not too long ago.

 Last year, they had intended to do a photo documentary project on the HIV positive  youth of Pune and had found a 17-year-old boy they wanted to write about. The photo documentary project would follow him around, with no interaction on their part, and just chronicle the day-to-day life of this young boy. The boy had previously been kicked out of his parent’s house because he had become addicted to drugs. So, the boy’s day consisted of finding work where he could: selling small things, being a travel guide, etc. After they approached him of their intended project, he more than happily agreed and planned to meet them on the street that he lived the next day.

 Morning came, and they could not find the boy. After two, three hours of searching, they came to a commotion on the street of local police men surrounding the body of the boy that they had only just spoken to the previous night. They came to know that the boy had died of drug induced attack. The sad reality is however, that cases like this are not one in a million and happen too frequently in Pune. His work now is to collect and publish case studies like this for the Sahara Care House and projects like mine.

On our way to Mumbai, I asked of this statue and he told the story of when he was a tour guide in northern India the first time he came (and didn't know what anything was).


 Now, it takes a lot to make me speechless, and the road that night from Pune to Mumbai did just that. It was as if they found the most imposing mountain range in India and cut out a long chunk for a highway. It was a sight that I couldn’t even believe as I was seeing it. I swear, you couldn’t tell the mountains from the clouds. It was incredible. I’ve spent a good ten minutes looking through this thesaurus to find an adjective to describe what I saw and I still can’t find it. He told me that it was completed five years ago and it cut the traveling time by half. It is literally a four lane highway, two in each direction, surrounded by mountains, under the mountains, and at one point winding up the mountain.

 What I thought was going to be a long trip (well, it was still a long trip) turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences I have had in my life. What I write here, cannot even begin to cover what I learned and all the things we talked about for the 10+ trip, but, it was worth a try.




2 responses

23 05 2011
Lysa MacKeen

Quite an adventure, Joy. I’m glad that everything worked out. Can’t wait to hear more about your travels.

26 05 2011

Joy, I loved reading this post. So glad you shared this moving experience with us! Keep the blog posts coming!

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