Today I caught the Kerala express to Agra after another night of only three hours of sleep. The train looked like a concentration camp on tracks, but it wasn’t as bad as the countless children we passed picking through huge garbage piles–the same exact images you see on TV on those “Children’s Christian Network” commercials. There was also a distinct smell of raw sewage the whole way to Agra.
Upon arrival, I opted for a pre-paid rickshaw, and ended up with a Nepalese man named Shabbu. He was undoubtedly paid a commission from the restaurant where I had lunch (which ultimately means the customer pays more), but the food was still inexpensive and delicious. He took me around the city for the entire day for an equivalent of $5 USD, and he even let me drive the rickshaw! At the exquisite Taj Majal, a “teardrop on the face of eternity”, people came up to me and wanted to shake my hand, take my picture, or be in a picture with me just because I am white.
So I buy him a bag of cookies
I had an overall good day, but when I was waiting for the return train to Delhi, I decided to buy a bag of chips. Out of the shadows, an emaciated, tiny child tugs on my pant leg, looks at me with his cute brown eyes and motions that he is hungry, so I buy him a bag of cookies. Then I am bombarded by no less than 15 other equally hungry-looking kids and buy some more food for them. In no time at all, I am out of money, and there are still children coming up to me. An older child with a whip seemed to be in charge of the rest and threatened the other children.
As cynical as the past two days have made me, I think it could have been for show for the tourists so we feel sorry for the kids; regardless, they were clearly starving. I get this huge knot in my throat, and apparently these three Kiwis (people from New Zealand–love them!) have been watching me and one offers me his seat and asks, “are you okay?” When I open my mouth to speak, I just start balling–like convulsive, hyperventilating crying. Actually, it was pretty funny because I think they were so completely shocked that I couldn’t handle a few street urchins and had no idea how to react to me. “It’s my second day here. I guess I’m not calloused to it yet,” I barely sputter out between sobs.
Poverty like I’ve never seen before
I have traveled through some extremely poor places in Central and South America, but nothing compares to India–nor is any other place so “in your face” and aggressive. The Kiwis were so nice and assured me that Delhi and Agra were the worst two places in India, and I’d have a completely different and much better experience in the south, where I am going tomorrow. I am glad to leave Delhi/Agra and move on to the next place!