A Free Buddhist Festival
We happened to be in Bombay during the Mumbai Festival and read about a free Buddha Festival with teachings on Buddha, live music, local food and more. After an hour long taxi ride in which our driver drove in circles to get the meter up (we didn’t pay the whole price because of it), we arrived and were immediately swarmed by nearly 50 children and locals, as we were probably the first white people to ever visit the festival. The music and festivities didn’t begin for another few hours, but the girls were all lined up for a series of carnival games with prizes at the end.
Our new friend, Smita
Smita, a local 17 year old girl, adopted Carrie and took her by the hand to the front of all lines as she breezed through the games and to the prize stand. You’re only supposed to get one item, but of course they gave Carrie the sampler pack with henna ink, makeup, jewelry and more. Even funnier was after the games they gave Carrie a microphone and she had to talk to the whole crowd!
After fun time ended, Carrie was escorted around the festival and played with some kids while I spoke to the organizer about Buddha and the history of the event. We were invited to stick around and have front row VIP seats for the evening’s activities, but Carrie’s new friend wanted us to visit her home first.
With more than a dozen children in tow, Carrie and I left the festival grounds and headed to Smita’s house in a local neighborhood nearby. The house itself was barely bigger than a studio apartment with a wooden second level added for sleeping the 6 people who lived there. Fortunately, the family spoke various degrees of English and the 9 year old son was very proud of his fluent use of the language and acted as a translator for much of the day.
While I chatted with the family and both asked and answered a never-ending slew of questions, Carrie was treated like a queen. Every effort was made to ensure that she was comfortable, at the expense of the comfort of the rest of the family.
Despite our claims of it not being necessary, this is the culture of poor families in developing countries, as we have found. A family may go starving one night so that their guests can have everything the could possibly want. Smita’s sister spent nearly four hours applying a henna to Carrie’s hand and arm as well as doing her eyebrows and pampering her.
While this pampering was taking place, nearly every local child came by to see what was going on with the white people. Some stayed for a while, some just wanted to practice their English for a few minutes and some were too shy to get past the front door. I was invited to another house by a local boy who wanted me to meet his father, who was an important man in the community. No other reason…just to show off his new friend.
Later, Smita was pumping water from the well outside into buckets and I went out to help/join in the fun. Within seconds, a crowd of dozens came out of nowhere to watch the foreigner pump water and they all had a good laugh at the improbably sight in front of them. As the crowd grew, Smita’s father suggested that I return into the house…I agreed.
As day became night, the conversations continued to flow, although the constant feeling of being on display got quite tiring. We were they fed a delicious chow mein dish (the father owns a Chinese food stall) hours before their simple rice meal was ready. Finally, at nearly 11pm, we had to start the journey home and were escorted all the way to the train station and they actually watched as we got on our local train home to ensure our safety.
This is how it goes in our traveling life. Sure it gets tiring sometimes and being on constant display gets old, but we take the good with the bad and are privileged to have experiences such as these. The family never asked for money and went out of their way to buy us little snacks and paid for our train ticket home ($0.20, but still…). We obviously have money but it didn’t matter, they wouldn’t let us pay for anything. It was all out of the kindness of their heart, and they probably learned just as much from us as we did from them.