Open your front door & look beyond it

227The world doesn´t end at your front door. Your ´indoors` isn´t better than the world that is beyond that front door. It seems to me that many people believe ´our way` is better than ´their way`. I say step out your front door & open your eyes. Leave your comfort zone & step into another world.

I have always had a fascination with the east. I´ve visited several eastern countries. During those visits I´ve met many people who come from different backgrounds to mine. These people practice different religions & have different cultures with different histories. Their ways of life are as far different from mine as you could imagine.

I always love to share my experiences. Many people I know who haven´t travelled to such foreign countries don´t seem to understand the differences. The tendency is to dismiss foreign lifestyles, simply saying ´it´s their way`. Why can´t people go beyond ´our way`& ´their way`? I believe there are good traits in every way of life. If we could mix the good traits from each way of life then we´d have nirvana. Wouldn´t that be wonderful?

On a recent trip to India (March 2017) our guide told us that young Hindu women are kept away from their family when they have their period. They are kept in the sanctuary of their own rooms whilst the bleeding lasts. How abhorrent I hear many people say. There are many people like me whose periods are so heavy that they flood. Every month whilst I bled I had to carry a bag around with my full of sanitary protection, spare knickers & at least two change of clothes. How I would have loved to retreat into the sanctuary of my bedroom & stay there until the bleeding stopped.

The same guide told us that if a woman is widowed young with a young kid then she isn´t allowed to re-marry. The reason being that the child must continue to know it´s father & not have a substitute. There are so many broken families in the western world where the mother remarries & the new husband tries to replace the father. How many times do you hear the phrase ´you aren´t my father` used? I have got to know quite a few homeless people & the reason they are homeless often boils down to the fact that the new husband has made life so unpleasant they have been forced to leave home. It is said that kids need a male role model. In India many families are extended so there are uncles, older male cousins & grandfathers. So in the western world why don´t we live under the umbrella of the extended family. If people don´t have family support them or live too far away then there are things such as the Scouts or Boys & Girls Brigades. In India when a widow is older & the children have flown the nest they can consider remarrying if they so desire.

Another guide told us how he´d fallen victim to the Indian caste system. His parents sent him to university in Paris to perfect his French & get a degree in the language. There he´d fallen in love with an Indian girl who was of a lower caste & Christian. His father disinherited him & he eloped. The father then left his fortune to the younger brother. Once the father died & the younger brother inherited the money he ran off with his Christian girlfriend he´d been seeing in secret for some time behind his father´s back. The old family home is now a nursing home. The guide said that maybe in the future when he is old & sick he may legally be able to live back in the old family home as a resident!! He wanted to write his story & met someone who said they would be interested in publishing it. Word got around & one day he was approached by a man in the street who said if he went ahead with publishing his story then harm would come to his family. Compromise could have been practiced on both sides. In the western world fathers often disapprove of their offspring´s choice of partner. As a consequence relationships can become very strained with family members often not speaking. There are similarities here.

In much of India boy children are preferred. If you have a girl then she costs the family money as when she marries they have to pay a dowry. Much better to have a son as you receive that dowry! Isn’t that similar to the western world where, traditionally, the bride’s parents pay for the wedding when the daughter marries? Modern day weddings run into thousands of pounds. So in both societies the daughter´s parents pay out! In both societies the parents of a male child benefit!

On a previous trip to India we spent time in Mumbai. We visited the Dharavi slum which is the largest slum in Asia & home to around a million people who live in hardship & poverty. People live in shocking conditions – narrow dirty lanes, open sewers & cramped housing. The narrow lanes really are constricted, often just wide enough for one person to pass through. Steps leading to upper floors mean you have to watch your head as well as your feet. Broken slabs provide the path where there is a floor covering. Mud overlaps these slabs – often sewage too & is a haven for vermin. Showers & toilets are communal. I didn´t notice any really bad smells, surprisingly. Goats & sheep are kept for their milk, meat & leather. The slum has developed as a town; its main industries are recycling, pottery, soap making, embroidery & leather tanning. There are several market areas with various vegetable stalls; the vegetables looked fabulous. We saw a meat stall. The chickens were live & when you buy one it’s slaughtered for you there & then. It´s also plucked & filleted for the customer. The whole procedure is done in front of you. We noted there was an open bin by the side of the stall containing all the discarded bits. How fresh is that? There were all sorts of workshops. In one there were several kiddies sorting used biros. There are different plastics in just one old biro so they need to be separated so the various plastics are in their separate piles – money is earned for so much weight of the same plastic. They recycle literally everything for it´s worth in weight. Lots of recycling is a health hazard but they don´t wear protective clothing of any sorts as this slows them down & they are paid for what they produce. Their attitude is that they lay food on the table for their families today. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Much of what we put out for recycling in the UK ends up in the Dharavi slum for sorting. Rubbish isn´t collected from the slum as the authorities say the alleys are too narrow. So the majority of refuse is placed in a central area. Every so often the residents are told to clear it & so they burn it.

On one occasion our driver was Nepalese. He came from a small village near Katmandu. There was no work in the area he came to Mumbai to find work. He lived in the slum area. Having met a girl in the city they married. At the time we met him they had a two year old daughter. He felt that he had ´made it` as he had a home & food on the table for his family. He told us that there was a community spirit in the slum. For example – if his daughter was sick & his wife couldn´t get out going to the market then she´d go next door to their neighbour who´d give them what she´d asked for, knowing they´d get it back when she could get to the market again.

Dharavi isn´t a bad area full of poor people who were a burden on society. It´s an area where people work hard to care for their families & those around them – a real community. Many western communities could learn so much from Dharavi.

People from the east & west have different backgrounds religions & cultures. When you allow yourself to open your eyes to those differences you can similarities & the good things that we can learn & benefit from. Wouldn´t it be a wonderful thing if we could live in a melting pot of east & west?

Leave your front door behind you……….

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