Michael the Slum Celebrity with his best friend
I arrive at Faridabad, a city near Delhi. The founders of the Miracle Orphanage where Michael worked live near the slum in a gated community. It is a full house with four Australian girls, one American guy and Michael. It is the night before Diwali. We have plans to secretly buy fireworks to give to the kids in the slum, despite the mother of the house strictly forbidding us to do so: ‘Diwali is a Hindi festival not suitable for Christians. Besides it is very dangerous’. But, rascals as we are, think Diwali is for everybody, just like Christmas and if we let them fire off crackers under our supervision it is much safer than if they were to do it alone. During Diwali everybody decorates their houses with lots of lights.
This morning is a bit heavy. The night before I had my first few beers since Pakistan. Michael and I sit on a bed outsite, hungover, trying to wake up properly. Sacha, the American guy, seems to be continuing a conversation they had stopped abruptly the night before. I try to follow it:
“So what happened next: we leave Kush’s place and we had so much fun with playing Foosball and then we had those, man, that guy was so hammered, and Gail is a bartender, you know, so she can drink, man, she will out-drink every man. The only girl that was hammered, was Cindy, like, with a knife in her hand: ‘I don’t wanna have anything to do with you.’ and we have a nile on you (?) and then there is James, of course. James is doing what Ellen does. And what the fuck is going on, man, you know, it is completely insane. I tell you. She is playing by the rules. I tell her: please go catch up with Cindy. Get yourself a drink! And then you know what happened: he is getting all weird. And I literally push him away, like: don’t even touch her bro. And Kush comes up and touches her head and she kinda likes that but it was all part of this game, I fucking chessed out. ‘I’m gonna make moves on you!’ and I grab his hair and knock his head on the bar, this fucking drunk asshole. And then the guys I played fussball with came and tell me: ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, easy, they are just assholes, man!’ And they go down and one of the guys falls down and I was like, I was just trying to get home. We already said we don’t want you around. So just go away. So yeah pretty weird night, man, I tell you.”
Sacha takes a breath. Michael nods and replies with just a “Yeah man, that’s really sick.”
Not surprisingly, Sacha turns out to be a pretty awesome freestyle rapper. He’s doing it all day long. His play of words is amazing: one long, uncontrolled stream of consciousness.
Michael’s friends from Australia arrive, and we move to the slum. When Michael walks in, people from the village gather around him. Kids are laughing and shouting and put their hands out to Michael. Men come out, shake hands, and ask him how he’s doing. Everybody is wishing him happy Diwali. Michael asks how their wives and children are doing and if anything unusual happened during the weekend that he wasn’t there.
The walk takes some twenty minutes, and it seems to be Michael is a big slum celebrity. He’s been working here for almost six months, and the people still show so much gratitude and interest in him. It is truly amazing to see what a difference it makes, simply walking through a village showing interest and compassion.
Tonight we celebrate Diwali, so we’re buying some more fireworks. In Australia it’s forbidden to use fireworks so those twentysomething lads suddenly turn into young boys again, cheering at every fire cracker that goes off. We have a few beers on the rooftop and watch the families firing rockets in front of their colorfully decorated houses. Sacha is freestyling us through the night, with Michael and his friends also giving a good show, leaving me to realize that English is clearly not my first language.
The next day, again hung over, we visit the slum. This time with pancake mix, stoves, pans and bananas. It’s a big group. The Australian girls, Sacha, Michael, his three friends, and me. After we arrive, we first play with the kids. Some of the young girls call out ‘Michael Baba!’, and run off to hide when Michael chases after them.
They don’t come out until I start baking pancakes on the rooftop. The Australian girls are helping me with the pancakes and are entertaining the girls, while Michael and his friends are playing with the boys.
The girls refuse to eat pancakes, even when Larissa, the girls’ hero, tells them they’re good. The boys are happy with this: more pancakes for them.
Happy Diwali Everybody.