While everyone else is wrapping up their internships, Laura and I have 2 weeks left with Chintan in Delhi! My project on e-waste is coming along quite nicely and we’ve finally started to conduct our “E-Waste Value Chain Survey”. One of the other interns from India named Sadhvi, our new surveyer named Shakir, and I plan on going to 4 or 5 areas around Delhi that work in e-waste. The main purpose of the survey is to understand the transactions that occur with e-waste all the way down to the final recycling of precious metals. The chain starts with the collectors who give the e-waste to dismantlers who dismantle the waste into plastics, metals, and different components. The dismantled waste is either used to refurbish other electronics or is finally sent to recycling centers to extract the precious metals. We want to know how much e-waste is bought for from the consumer and how much each component is bought/sold for throughout the chain. This way, when the whole system is formalized there will be a standardization of prices.
Yesterday we visited an area called Mustafabad. The community is quite poor but people live in dilapidated brick buildings instead of cardboard shacks, which we’ve seen in the poorest of the slum villages. Shakir is from Mustafabad so we received great responses. People were very hospitable and invited us to sit in whatever seat was available (people usually made themselves comfortable sitting atop mounts of e-waste). We were often offered chai or pani (water). The experience was much more enjoyable than in Shastri Park, where Sadhvi and I had previously surveyed alone and received short responses and a lot of unwanted attention.
I was especially taken back by a particular interaction that we had. One man invited us into his office to answer our survey but it became quite apparent that he was much more interested in talking about ‘America’ than answering any of our survey questions. He first began asking simple questions about the US and how I like India (all through Sadhvi who was translating for me). Our conversation took a quick turn when he asked me what religion I was. I hesitated quite clearly. Mustafabad is a Muslim community. I am Jewish. I decided that I would be honest with him and gauge his response and make a quick exit if necessary. This was clearly not necessary. I told him that I was Jewish but did not think badly upon Muslim people and since we were on the topic of terrorism I made sure to make it clear to him that I completely understand that terrorists and Muslims are two separate peoples. Much to my surprise, he quickly invited us into his household to meet his wife. So, Sadhvi, Shakir, and I followed this man up to his house (which was awfully nice for the area). We unfortunately could not meet his wife because she could not come out in front of Shakir (an unmarried Muslim man). Our host brought out a plate piled high with mangos and invited us to eat with him. We discussed terrorism, 9/11, and the US foreign policy towards Muslim countries. He obviously had some very opinionated views on the matters at hand and complained of things such as US interference and use of torture. I replied that torture exists everywhere and that I too am ashamed of America’s use of torture but that unfortunately (but definitely not excusably) it seems that this is prominent among many other countries including but not limited to other Muslim countries. We talked about religion and I noted how incredible it was that people of 3 different religions (Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) were all sitting together eating mangos and having a peaceful conversation. He agreed. The man made sure to close our conversation by ensuring me that Muslims are peaceful people and are taught to be this way. I completely agreed with him and told him I hoped that one day all religions could be at peace with one another and the key to this happening is to have peaceful and honest conversations with one another like the one we were having. I will remember this conversation for the rest of my life, and I hope he does too!
–Abby Waldorf, Chintan