Saturday, April 4, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Isaac and I just finished Slumdog Millionaire. Of course you're probably like me and everyone and their mother has told you it's an incredible movie, and you know that it swept the Academy's and won 8 of the top awards this year.

So, it's really not surprising at all to say that it rocked.

I watched it with a deeper interest, though. I watched and thought about the words and observations of my friend Barry, who spent last year in India. He walked through the slums of Mumbai, and he said watching the movie was surreal because of how realistic it was, it just transported him back. Barry wrote a lot about the human rights issues over, and the movie showed some of it in flashes and pieces of the larger story. That's really what made the movie great - it had a lighthearted story set in a very dark place. That's what made it watchable.

It was all familiar to me too. I spent Christmas near this area with my family, and they took us around to see the beautiful things - the beach, the mountains, buzzing marketplaces and beautiful restaurants with a view. The most sobering moments came when we were just driving around. One day we were stuck in traffic in the late evening and ended up driving by the largest slum in the city my parents live in. It was hazy, and in the last light of the day shack after shack after mud shack stretched as far as we could see. I could see the clothes strung out to dry, the donkey carts, people sitting out having tea... and it just went on and on and on.

All of us sat in the car with our faces pressed against the windows, the sobered silence punctured only by our "wow".... "wow".... there wasn't anything we could really say. I was struck by the immensity of it all. I am used to poverty because I grew up in a third-world country, but I'm not used to seeing the massive, sprawling slums of south Asia, where humanity is packed into mud walls and tin roofs, with no water, electricity, or heating. How do they eat? Where do they work? How do they bathe? Unlike Slumdog's story, most of the people in this slum were refugees, unable to go home, and often unable to work legally.


My mom cautioned us against talking too much about the poverty over there, because it isn't necessarily helpful to these countries or their people to emphasize their difficulties... it's sort of like telling a teenager everything that's wrong with their lives.

That is what I thought of when I watched Slumdog - I thought of how REAL that life is to millions. I looked on the internet and found that the slum referenced in the movie used to be the largest in Asia, with approximately 1 million people in it. It's now been surpassed by a slum in Karachi and is rivaled by several other slums within Mumbai itself.


Just today I was talking a friend from my small group, and we talked about money and expectations and the pressure to keep making more, to buy a house, to move up in the world. We are supposed to give our families a good life - to guarantee that our children live well.

I find it all so frustrating. Your children will not necessarily be any happier in a nice house with a paid-for education at a great school then the kids in the slums of Karachi are. That's the irony of it. So many wealthy, comfortable people are miserable. So many dirt poor people are people filled with joy. That doesn't mean there isn't a deep tragedy to their story, or to the existence of such chocking poverty. It's quite clear that God's heart is there in the slums of Mumbai, the shanty towns of Manila, and the migrant camps of Shanghai.

I kept thinking as I watched the movie - I have got to get out of here. We've got to go. The thing about living in the West is that while we make a lot of money, it is all demanded back. The cost of living is so high that your wallet is empty even when you make exponentially more then anyone in the third-world does.

watching the bride being painted with henna

During one scene in the movie, children are turned out in the streets to beg, and then brought back to live together and turn over their money to the masters. I told Isaac as I watched the little girl that plays Latika (who really was pulled out of a slum during movie casting) that I still see clearly the face of the little girl that hung at Isaac's knees when we waited for taxis in a little village at Christmas.

We were surrounded by beggars, but this little girl just haunted Isaac and I. She looked very much like Latika, with matted hair, big brown eyes, smooth skin, and a ragged dress. She would tug on your clothes and murmur pleadingly, holding out her hands. Isaac gave her more money than is culturally appropriate, and she gave him such a beautiful quiet smile before he was surrounded by beggars wanting more.

beautiful girl

What do you do? How do you help? I don't know. I do know, though, that I watched a young Mexican lady with a beautiful little girl check out at the grocery store this morning with food stamps. I know that there are thousands of refugees living about 10 minutes away from me, some of whom have only been out of the slums for months, and the adjustment is very confusing and discouraging at times. They've been given a chance at a different life but don't have the tools to grasp it. There are places HERE to help. I have to remember that.

1 comment:

  1. OH boy, this is so hard! Growing up in Ecuador, there were slums. In fact my parents now have started a church and work with people in slums. I know there are slums in other parts of Indonesia, but although there is poverty here in Papua, I don't think it's the type of poverty you see other places in Indonesia or in other parts of the world. It's still SO hard, though, to have street kids coming up and asking for money, or beggars outside the store where I am coming out with $50 worth of groceries. It's a question I am sure I will wrestle with the rest of my life - what do I do? How do I decide who to help?

    Last night Dan and I were watching a program on TV (I think it was Discovery Travel or some channel like that - we were just channel surfing) about the best Cruises. Now, neither of us has ever really wanted to travel on a cruise although we've had friends sing their praises to us. As I got engrossed in the show, I thought that maybe it would change my mind and make me want to go on a cruise. But as they described these cruise lines where they cater to your every whim, and as people described the services they received... it just seemed all so shallow to me. I thought - I cannot imagine getting on a cruise ship and being surrounded by people who have this... entitlement mentality! It's all this extravagance... for what?! I know what you mean about wanting to "get out." BUT, even though I am not living in the US, the whole "consumerism" mentality is still very hard for me to fight. Especially when we go back to the States, and I want to just BUY BUY BUY, just because I CAN!

    Okay, enough rambling for now...