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Luci Travels My first time traveling and I go halfway across the world-One newbie's experiences in urban India


INDIA | Monday, 9 February 2015 | Views [182]

We walked to the top of the hill and overlooked two man-made bodies of water and the green expanse beyond. I had my red and blue patterned scarf pressed against my nose so the smell wouldn’t cause my already queasy stomach to cough up my breakfast. There were burrs in my sandals but I didn’t feel like bending down to pick them out. The ground beneath me was one layer of dirt over 80 feet of garbage.

For my study abroad, the U of M has partnered with the Environmental Support Group, or ESG, based in Bangalore. Their platform is to aid in making India’s various institutions sustainable and ecologically responsible. I can honestly say that I had no idea we were working with ESG before I got here. I thought I would be learning about Indian art and culture and India’s education system pretty much the whole time. Close reading is one of the skills I have learned since my arrival.

I always thought I had an eco-conscious mind. I recycle, buy organic, etc. etc. When I found out that we were partnered with a company like ESG, I was so excited. ESG had composting bins, wouldn’t waste food, talked about all of the changes they had made and all of the changes they hoped will eventually come. They’re teaching us about Indian art and culture, and I’m learning about their education system, but sustainability and eco-friendliness is the base of everything we do.

They told us one of our first field trips would be to a landfill. The landfill has a long, complicated, sinister history, but long story short-it was killing anyone within a two-mile radius because the garbage was poisoning the water. Before visiting the site, we took a short trip to an Ayurvedic hospital and walked around the garden of medicinal plants. The plants were grown for curing small ailments and we got to smell, eat, and learn about which plants helped what. India is on to something, I thought. I left the hospital feeling hopeful.

Fast-forward to standing on the garbage pile. On one side, we could see a space about half of an acre down the hill that housed the organic, biodegradable waste. The waste was in piles of six feet by six feet and smelled so rotten I couldn’t breathe. But that waste was okay. It was going to go away eventually, even if it was piling up too high for the workers to really take care of it. In front of the waste piles, there were little tents pitched. A mini-slum where the workers lived. Next to the smell, next to the pile of plastic, and surrounded by water that would kill them if they drank it. We were looking down on these little blue tents, standing on an 80-foot mountain of waste that would take more than a few lifetimes to disintegrate. The other side was a village shrouded in trees where people were getting skin diseases and cancer because of their water and food supply. The animals they were eating and the plants they were growing needed that water.

I had never been to a landfill before and I know there are similar ones in the US. There are superfund sites and toxic waters because of them all over the planet. I use plastic every day and don’t think about it…until now.

This isn’t necessarily a call to action. I didn’t even know this issue would arise when I came to this country. But all I know is that it only took 10 minutes standing in a pile of what I use every day to make me reconsider my entire lifestyle. Maybe it was the smell, or the wild dogs nose-deep in whatever edible garbage they could find. Or, maybe it was looking at the garbage pile underneath my feet and knowing it wouldn’t go away. For the first time, it was real.

Tags: environment, india, landfill, plastic, sustainability

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