Glendora Press — Sunday, September 28, 1969
Teacher Tells Peace Corps Experiences
Stark Reality of Life In India Told by Hunn
(Editor’s Note: For two years prior to joining the faculty of Glendora High School, Dwayne Hunn served the US. Government as a member of the Peace Corps. For the next several issues the Glendora Press will carry articles by Mr. Hunn in which he vividly describes the stark reality of life in teeming India and some of his experiences there during his Peace Corps duty.)
By DWAYNE HUNN
Rich escape the raw guts of life
To wine, dine, and be nice.
Poor survive on raw guts in life
Perpetuate a crime
And await divine’s sublime?
I don’t know if they can convey
Only in silence
Is the naked strength of poverty retained.
But in remaining silent
Will those tragic and beautiful chains
always remain? ….
Should they be ripped away?
(This year I am trying to be a teacher in mud-riddled California. When I started teaching, I felt I should, felt I’d like to convey some of the feelings and thoughts some of the following experiences ignited. Perhaps I wanted to do so because they might make me stand out. I hope it is not for this reason, but rather because it is my little experience with a reality of life, a reality different, and not necessarily holier, than experiences many go through. It was a reality which was enriching for me, and which, even if only vicariously, I hope can be enriching to, or appreciated by others.)
It took about forty hours. To Beirut it had been all right, but from there I began to feel more and more like a sardine-in-can.
On the ride from the airport to the hotel, I yelled to the bus driver to watch out for the car he was about to force into the middle ditch. Ira Kaye, our director, said, “Dwayne, if you can’t get used to that, you won’t be here long.”
I shut-up. With the rest of the group, I just stared from the windows at the hutments, pools of water, and masses of skinny brown people.
We settled into our rooms and then went down for lunch. Lunch was to the music of a rock group In the Beatle tradition. Not one of the band members spoke anything but English.
I slept for awhile and then went out for a walk. The sidewalk was filled with flitting sandals, white shirts, and little brown people. I towered above most of the crowd.
When a hand tugged at mine, I was aware of the presence of children. I looked down and quickly turned away.
I felt—not embarrassed—bit that I shouldn’t look, I shouldn’t gawk, though I wanted to. I looked enough to know that the hole in the side of his mouth was the size of a half dollar. I saw the blackened gums, the rotted teeth—those that were, the ugliness of the hole.
He didn’t stay long. I don’t think I gave him any money; I had decided that I wouldn’t give to beggars. His friends stayed with me for about an hour and on later trips through that part of the city I would see them again.
Two days later, I hoarded a municipal bus for my work site. I served as a parade for the small brown people, for as I walked to the rear they all turned to stare.
Hadn’t they ever seen a white person ride a bus? Probably not, I answered myself. The British had chauffeurs for the buses were too dirty, noisy, and crowded.
I had difficulty adjusting to their constant and intent observance so I started staring back at them to while away the uncomfortable minutes. I did this for many months. Until, it seems, the city’s millions became accustomed to seeing young Americans on crowded buses, crowded trains, and bicycles—transportation that bad always been their domain.
I got off at Worli Chawis. It was a tenement area, but other than a feeling of the city’s ugliness that had been with me since deplaning, I noticed little more than some strewn garbage and many dirty, gray buildings with bars on the windows. Only later would I learn that each of the ten rooms (13’x l0’) on each of the four floors of each tenement housed between five and twelve people, that water ran for slightly more than an hour each day, that neighbor wouldn’t talk to neighbor because of class or religion. That was later.
Now I wanted to see where I was to live. I found the Maharashtra Labor Welfare Center, and on its second floor I found two or three Indians gesticulating in a bright, yellow painted, chair, new bed, table and sink. They were proud of what they had done to this once-tile closet. They had a spout bucket sitting on a shelf above it. They explained that a bucket of water would be brought to me each morning by the night watchman. Then they showed me my washroom.
It was down the stairs, around the front of the building, through an open passageway along the side of the building, and into the back of a small building which housed the public urinal, the stench from which was stifling. It was a 40-yard dash that I would sprint often in the next nine months. They had even bought a few piece of furniture for the washroom.
The sweeper and his family, who used the stall adjacent to mine, would squat for their relief. I had a throne to sit upon. They showed me the throne with a special zest, glee, pride, or something. They entered and beckoned me to follow for a close-hand look at the two toilets and one erratic functioning shower stall, all of which filled a space of less than 40 square feet. I didn’t immediately move in. I was trying to bolster myself.
Over the walls hundreds of large, healthy, brownish-red cockroaches were twitching their feelers and scampering around. My guides didn’t seem to notice them. Humans, I was quickly learning, didn’t constitute this nation’s only population problem.
During the next nine months, after much use of my sandals, the cockroaches, with their twitching feelers, would still rule the roost. As with people, cows, rats, flies, mosquitoes, and bed bugs, I’d painfully accustom myself to crowds, even in my most private minutes.
During the first six months, there were many days and nights that I’d average 15-20 trips to my throne. Due to the distance, and the crucial seconds it would take to unlock the door, I sometimes was not in time.
Working at an orphanage, trying to establish a chawl library, a kitchen garden, a milk feeding program, teaching at a school for the elite, establishing a work camp for those students. playing and popularizing basketball, and trying to see and learn, kept me moving around the city. More than any period of my life, I was looking, listening, and trying to learn and understand.
I’d see the blind trodding through crowded trains singing their religious songs and asking for alms. I’d see the blind with their gouged eyes, the blind and the seeing with their pock-marked faces; I’d hear their wail, and I’d try to think.
I’d get of at a train station and move with the crowd through the exit. I’d pass under the bridge and see the beggar in his familiar spot. He could see, and so could I. I could see that all the fingers on his left hand were chopped off at the first knuckle. His right hand had three fingers. His right foot had a dirty, perhaps at one time, white, wrap around it. It had a big toe and a little toe. His other foot had only a big toe. Lacerations covered his shins and forearms. His tin cup lay at his side.
Others, like the woman with her two children, sometimes took advantage of the shade of the bridge. She was relatively healthy. Her children, probably both under 2 years, were even clothed, even had a few sheets to lie on. Many babies in Worli, and throughout the city, had no sheets to lie on. They crawled on the pavement as their mothers sold vegetables from burlap sacks to the throngs of passersby. Instead of clothes, their babies had their legs, pelvic areas, and bloated stomachs covered with sores.
Even now, as I write, I question the validity of what I put down. I question the validity when I pass the stories on to interested listeners. Did I really see those things? I have some pictures to remind me. Yet, pictures don’t make it what it was; people respond to them with a “They’re great.”
Pictures can’t tell it like it was, or express how it felt; nor, when I slow down long enough to remember, do I really recall all it was, or how it felt.