"Down to Earth" Event

December 28th, with help from family/friends, we're  putting on a fundraiser night at the Media Club in Vancouver to benefit an amazing organization in Bombay called Down to Earth.  They work directly in the slum neighbourhoods of Cuffe Parade, S. Bombay, instituting education, sports and performing arts programs. I was lucky enough to get to teach some guitar while i was there.

The night will feature shot acoustic performances from: little ol' me, Adaline, Ashleigh of Hey Ocean!, Benny Schutze, Bodhi Jones, Cory Woodward, JP of Maurice, Nat Jay, Zach of The Zolas, and then some mayhem from Topless Gay Love Tekno Party DJ Set!!

Go here for all the info:  http://www.facebook.com/editevent.php?eid=209479577395&step=2

Here's some writing i did about my experience with DTE in Bombay last year (below) and here's a video...Talking to the kids at Down to Earth, Bombay

The Neighbourhood

Dear diary; it’s been a while since I called you that. It’s hot in this city, I feel like I need to shower three times a day. I can’t keep up with the shirts. White’s turning gray. I sit in these stuffy cabs, little hot pods trawling through the swarming madness and noise of this traffic. I turn the driver’s meters on myself now, though, to avoid arguments. Click that little flag down outside the car. Tip 10 rupees. That’s water for nearly a week if you live in the slum.

I been down there a few times these last couple days. I didn’t want to sit around, this city needs so much help. This country. I found Dev through some googling and emailing. He runs Down to Earth- a charity organization for slum kids. It’s not big, it’s not old. Dev got a hut built on stilts in the middle of the huge slum beside the World Trade Center, South Bombay. It’s beside a vacant lot that’s a CEO’s helicopter landing pad and a popular cricket ground for the kids. Open space is precious.

A couple youths that live in this ‘neighbourhood’ are helping Dev out- he wants these kids to build confidence and knowledge, so he facilitates school-type learning as well as the recreational sports and arts. These young guys are helping kids from the different slum areas put on a show- mainly dancing. The kids are out of school now, so they rehearse every day. I’m too late to help out with the show, so I’m teaching the young guys guitar- they’ve always wanted to learn. I bought em a travel guitar which Dev will let them have when they’re ready- he doesn’t believe these kids should accept handouts because it breeds dependence which destroys confidence and ambition.

The ‘neighbourhood’ I’ve been shown around twice so far- once by Dev, who spends most his free time there, and once by Sameer, who lives in the middle of it. I don’t like the word slum sometimes- because millions of people in this city call these places home. They make these places Home by the sweat of their brow. But at the same time, ‘neighbourhood’ or ‘village’ conveys the wrong images. The hotel room I’m sitting in right now is more than twice the size of Sameer’s home- he lives there with his mother and father, grandfather, sister and her 2 infants. A neat little kitchen area in the corner occupies about three square feet of floor space, with modest tin dishes hung on the wall. They have been here for longer so they’re lucky enough to have a hut made from cement- newer arrivals have to become architectural artists in the medium of corrugated metal, plastic, jute, bamboo and palm leaves. Down by the bay where the mangroves used to be the huts teeter on stilts and the filthy Bombay tide washes underneath their floors as they sleep. These are illegal homes, though. Where Sameer and my other students live is a ‘legal’ slum, and one that’s lucky enough to garner a little government attention. The narrow walkways that used to be a sludgy muck have been crudely paved. Electricity is no longer stolen from the nearest office building but is provided by wires strung at eye-level down the walkways. The toilet is no longer the nearest garbage dump or beach- a three-story tiled shithouse has been erected for the thousands of residents here- 1 rupee per shit. The water is privatized- a man comes around noon everyday in a truck, and doles it out from a black plastic well. Women scramble and cuss in jostling queues with all manner of plastic containers- 20 litres is 2 rupees. Most fill 2 large containers- cooking and drinking water for the whole family for the next 24 hours.

It is a mad little world. Privacy is non-existent. Dogs prowl and are known to bite and the air is thick with flies and dust. Women work in the houses, cleaning, cooking, caring. If the mother is away during the day sweeping floors in the nearby high-rises then the eldest daughter takes care of the chores. This is a mindset Dev is working to change. Almost no girls have joined his activity programs- their parents think it’s a waste of time for them. Even school is a waste of time for the girls. Most of the women here can’t read the names and numbers on the buses they take to work- which are written in Hindi. But Dev is patient. He figures if he can prove the worth of his programs with the boys then more girls may be allowed to join.

I just wish I had more time. Dev says any contact these kids can have with an outsider is good- it opens their eyes to learn little by little of the big world outside their tiny cramped one. And hopefully open minds can look beyond the workaday struggle of their parents and see possibilities of college studies and less mind-numbing, low-paying labour jobs. It’s hard to break out. But Sameer has studied to be a chef at a local college- he hopes to find work in one of the bigger hotels.

I don’t get sad when I walk around the slums. I see poverty like I’ve never seen before and people living in ways I didn’t think people could live. I see people surviving and kids being kids, which they’ll do wherever they are. I mostly look around and see so much that needs to be done and wish I had more time here. These people are virtually ignored in the economic boom that is India and they stab themselves in the back with their cultural norms- the illiterate women, the alcoholic and abusive men, the large families and kids becoming their parents. Dev must feel like he’s looking up a

clear-cut mountain on which he needs to replant every sapling; digging in the dirt with his fingernails to plant that very first one. He must be so overwhelmed. But he’s here everyday. Trying to let these kids know that they can pull themselves out of this world. Trying to give them the tools.

I’m just teaching guitar. Hoping the older guys will pass on the knowledge. The seeds of music. Telling the kids about what I do, where I come from. That the world’s actually a pretty big place though it may not seem like it.