Wednesday, 3pm… Good-bye NYC.

Friday, 11am… Hello Mumbai!

What transpired between these two thoughts can best be summarized as one of those dreams that you vaguely remember but can’t quite recall specific details. I know that I watched Iron Man 2 on the overnight flight to London, partly because I kind of wanted to see the movie but mostly as a ceremonial farewell to Western culture.

A 13 hour layover at Heathrow Airport in London began with a lofty goal of finding our way into one of the many 1st class airline lounges. Despite our best efforts and strategic targeting of motherly looking check-in employees, we had no luck and eventually settled for a cozy spot near the Kingfisher check in desk. Luck was on our side however, as we somehow made it onto a full flight to Mumbai with standby tickets. Thank you Kingfisher. By the way – US and European airlines could stand to take class in customer service from Kingfisher; the on-flight service really was outstanding (I am not required to say that by the way).

Lady Luck shined again in Mumbai, as we made it for the biggest and seemingly happiest celebration of the year, Diwali, which is the biggest and most celebrated Hindu holidays and brings in the new year, but by my account it felt like the 4th of July on steroids. I’ll post a video this weekend to give a glimpse of what our neighborhood sounded like for the past 2 days.

In light of Diwali, the non-profit that we will be working with organized a community celebration on Friday night that included music, dancing, and a short play written and performed by children that live and work in Dharavi. The feeling of being a stranger didn’t last long, as people of all ages made it a point to welcome us into their community. The evening culminated with a large group meal in a dinner hall, which also proved to be the first gastronomic test for Alex and me. I’m happy to report that we both are feeling well and continue to have smiles after bathroom trips; vast documentation predicts that it’s only a matter of time until I will need to update that status.

With the Honeymoon phase nearing an end, Alex and I are beginning to settle in to our new home in a vibrant neighborhood known as Mahim, which feels rich with history and families that have been here for generations. We are about a 5-minute walk to Dharavi, and a world unlike any other I’ve come across. Half of my friends and family back home will be pleased to know that we do have a flush toilet, and perfectly working electricity. For the other half that was looking forward to seeing how I’d fare without such amenities… stay tuned as we may end up renting a space in the heart of Dharavi for a workshop and deeper immersion. It is true that there is only 1 toilet for every 1,500 people in Dharavi.

As far as the project goes, it seems that our preparations and concepts are in line with reality here. Indeed, it does seem that there is a strong sense of community and vitality amidst a sea of hardships. Beautiful and charming characters have already emerged that will help us to tell the story of this place, and inspire our work. Simultaneously, it’s apparent that we have a lot of work ahead of us to really connect with the people here and come away with meaningful documentation of the realities in Dharavi.

More soon!

Photos from our jounrey here and our first 2 days in Mumbai:

  • At Home In Heathrow Part 1
    At Home In Heathrow Part 1

    Casey could have been mistaken for a corpse at the airport in London. A 13 hour layover after no sleep on a red-eye flight took it’s toll.

  • At Home In Heathrow Part 2
    At Home In Heathrow Part 2

    Alex at least was able to find a “bed” for the afternoon.

  • Yellow  Yellow
    Yellow Yellow

    Could the theme found here in yellow foreshaddow what’s to come? How will “Iowalla” (Iowa Boy in Hindi) handle this change of lifestyle?

  • First Sights In Mumbai
    First Sights In Mumbai

    Special thanks to Kingfisher & Sky Travel for getting us to Mumbai. Within minutes of landing one will see the first signs of the housing situation in Mumbai.

  • Meet The Rag-Pickers
    Meet The Rag-Pickers

    On our first night in Dharavi we celebrated Diwali with members of The Dharavi Project - which is made up of rag-pickers (recyclers) in Dharavi and is our host for the project.

  • Diwali: When Apartments Come Alive
    Diwali: When Apartments Come Alive

    During Diwali virtually every apartment complex came to life with lights and sounds - countless microcosims of togetherness that is hard to conceptualize.

  • Tulsi Pipe Road
    Tulsi Pipe Road

    Wall art thrives in Mumbai, especially on the lengthy wall that runs along Dharavi. Special thanks to The Wall Project for organizing the many artists that decorated this wall.

  • Tulsi Pipes
    Tulsi Pipes

    These water pipes pump water from lakes into the city. They are iconic in Dharavi, as the pipes run directly through the community. Many people have built shelters on top of the pipes.

  • Powerline Webs
    Powerline Webs

    Dharavi and many of the surrounding informal settlements tap into powerlines and splice off lines to bring electricity to the thousands of homes. Webs like the one seen here can be seen all over Dharavi.

  • Alleys... Alleys... Alleys...
    Alleys... Alleys... Alleys...

    It’s easy to get lost in the maze of alleys that make up Dharavi.

  • Alleyways Galore
    Alleyways Galore

    Dharavi has an intense network of narrow alleys and stairs that connect countless homes and neighborhoods.

  • Hitching Post
    Hitching Post

    This defunct fire-hydrant in our neighborhood is now being used to tie up someone’s cow. 2 hours after taking this photo I saw the exact same cow/fire-hydrant picture featured in the Time Out Mumbai magazine.

  • Mothership

    This bridge connecting apartments in our neighborhood made me think of an alien ship.

  • Corrugated Steel Reuse
    Corrugated Steel Reuse

    This was my favorite structure I saw during the first few days in Mumbai. The reuse of materials here is mind-blowing.

  • Fish & Candy Wrappers
    Fish & Candy Wrappers

    A local fisherman’s catch. The waters around Mumbai are heavily polluted with trash.

  • Fishing Boat
    Fishing Boat
  • Adaptive Reuse
    Adaptive Reuse

    These beached submarines have been repurposed as playground equipment in a local fishing village. These two boys were flying kites from the submarines.

  • "Village"

    Each neighborhood comes together and feels like a vibrant village - especially during the Diwali festival.

  • Marine Drive
    Marine Drive

    The beaces in Mumbai are littered with trash, providing a constant stream of recyclable materials for the rag-pickers.