The city is growing on us. Barefoot rickshaw drivers; green parrots; the grandmother-made, sesame-seed-laden sweets Benson’s co-workers deliver to his desk wrapped in tissue. Despite these charms, this place won’t be easy. We’re learning that it will take work to actually live here. Work to purify the air indoors so we don’t breathe in too much of the pollution, work to dehumidify the apartment in monsoon season to keep our clothes from molding. The traffic is constant. Benson’s commute could take twenty-five minutes or an hour.
I’m still struggling with communication. Even the English here is so sopping full of accent that it takes a sentence four times to hit my brain. “Would you like a delivery bag?” What’s that? “Bag for delivery?” I’m sorry? “She doesn’t need a bag.” Sometimes I see it as a blessing that the men don’t speak to me here, only greeting “Sir,” and giving Benson a nod.
A new friend told me, “If you can get one thing done a day here, that’s a success.” She showed me the four different places to buy groceries: the Cheap and Best for dish soap, the vegetable stand on the corner for carrots and bananas, Haiko Market for butter and cereal, Nature’s Basket for rare canned goods. We purchased a month’s worth of Claritin from the chemist for the equivalent of $4, and three days later I handed over $5 for one avocado. We will learn where to splurge. This week, it was the avocado.
God is taking away my familiar and replacing it with new. On one of my lowest days last week, I asked the man at breakfast (a meal included in our stay while at the executive apartments) for oatmeal. They’d been accommodating in the days prior, though what I received when I ordered oatmeal varied. But on this day, the man motioned toward a pot, “We have porridge.” I dejectedly walked over to the kettle and filled my bowl.
I tasted the soupy, tangy oats and my tongue immediately rejected them. Tears graced my eyes throughout breakfast, and I tried to repeat what Job said when God allowed a lot more than his oatmeal to be taken from him: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.”
I realized that night that I needed to give up on my oatmeal and prayed that God would help me eat, because even that I cannot do on my own. I entered breakfast the next day with open hands. I watched the other eaters and eventually followed the lead of an Indian guest, placing a steaming rice cake on my plate and topping it with what I found in another pot labeled paneer bhurgji.
It was different. The rice cut the spice. It was good. And now I see that God couldn’t give me new things to love if He didn’t rip away the old.
From my window I can see slums; the croc-filled Lake Powai; air so thick with smoke that many days I can’t make out the buildings across said lake; a Hindu temple; dozens of sari-clad women; one of the scant well-fed dogs of Mumbai sniffing every vehicle that enters the property; palm trees. In a city of cement and trash and dirt, my view is expensive, luxurious, and I know once we move to a permanent apartment, I’ll miss it. I try to balance that with the thought of the people actually living in that garbage. I land nowhere.
I finally threw away those mung beans, deciding that I have enough uncharted territory on my metaphorical and literal plates. For now, I’ll trust in God’s sovereignty in this land of old and new.
Categories: This and That