“This is Delhi!” It’s a phrase that seems to soften the autowalas when I’m arguing our fare to get to work, or go to dinner . . . basically anywhere you have to take an auto, you’ll be forced to bargain.
This is my fourth time in New Delhi, India. Each trip is different, but all have plunged me into times of unknown adventure and deep despair. First, Jordan and I have seen some of the pictures from Africa and we are mind blown! It is so naturally beautiful and clean! The contrast could not be greater for the Pepperdine team in Delhi. But, we are making lemonade with the mangoes here.
As far as the adventure goes, I have already electrocuted myself doing wash, fixed our kitchen sink with two buckets and a left-over pizza box, crammed six people into an auto (a small three-wheel vehicle, roughly the size of a child’s Barbie jeep), come home to a flooded room, and watched two armed men stand in our living room and tell me in streaming Hindi that they are just there to clean the apartment, among many other experiences. Everyday brings some new story of laughter and disbelief that just leaves me shrugging my shoulders and thinking, “well . . . this is Delhi!” I have enjoyed the frequent visits to the press wala and chip wala who work down the street from our flat. They have come to know me for my pathetic attempts at speaking Hindi and the helpless look on my face when no one moves after I thought I clearly asked for some biscuits and four pressed kurtas. Overall, this city is full of the unknown and I LOVE it. It’s impossible to know when you will get places, if the food place will actually deliver, and if they do, will they quadruple my order like last time? Again, I blame the Hindi. It may be pouring rain or overwhelmingly hot, the people walking in the street may smile and seem friendly, or stare and make me reach for my lipstick shaped pepper spray. Regardless of the heat, exhaustion, and stomach issues, at the end of the day I have a new story and a new reason to smile, but that is always matched with the growing weight in my soul that gets heavier each time I visit this city.
As far as the despair, the poverty and injustice here are crushing to see, sometimes to the point of disbelief. The children begging at every intersection risk being clipped by cars, motorcycles, and autos just to get an extra coin and some spare food. They come up to the open autos and pull at my kurta, “cana, cana,” they say, moving their tiny, empty hands up to their mouths. These kids are as young as three and most are bonded to an owner. I’ve even had a baby boy who could barely walk run up with older sister, herself no more than four. Both were elated just to have my empty water bottle. Then, there are the numerous cases of child rape and sexual abuse that we are exposed to each day at work. We have been reading cases and conducting research reports on child sexual abuse here, and no words are adequate to sum up the barrage of feelings that batter at Jordan and I each day, and we aren’t even the social workers or lawyers that work intimately with these traumatized children. I am in awe of our co-workers that do this work for months and years.
In his work, Manfred, Lord Gordon Byron wrote, “those who know the most must mourn the deepest.” There is much to be seen beyond the hills of Malibu, many beautiful and adventurous things, but there are also many people, many children, that have much less than we do and a lot more to fight for. I have five weeks left in Delhi. That leaves me many moments to learn, to know, to mourn, and in the end, to rejoice that I have been given another glimpse of another world and a cause beyond myself. We will be given much power and privilege through our future professions as lawyers. This trip as forced me to ask how I will be a wise and selfless steward of this vocation.