India: Mumbai to Ahmedabad

After my visit to South India, I took a flight to Mumbai where I joined my friends Edward Sanchez and Anita Jaisinghani to take the overnight Gujarat Mail train to Ahmedabad. Anita is originally from Ahmedabad so it was a real treat to have her show us around her hometown. Edward is an award-winning filmmaker who came along to do a short documentary about our journey and the work of She Has Hope.

Anita is the owner of what she refers to as an “India-Inspired” restaurant in Houston by the name of Pondicheri. She is currently embarking on her latest venture called Queen Scarves which will feature a line of headscarves made from fabrics sourced in India.

Many of the scarves will be made by trafficking survivors who are recovering at the She Has Hope rehabilitation home where they find purpose and empowerment as they learn various tailoring skills. A generous portion of proceeds from the sale of the scarves will be used to pay the artisans fair trade prices for the pieces they produce as well as to fund their programs.

Thus you will see many photos in this set showing you the amazing fabrics we shopped for while we were in Ahmedabad.

Then, of course, there were the amazing people of Ahmedabad. They were extremely welcoming and so happy to be photographed. I have found this to be true all over India. It’s a photographer’s dream come true to be able to freely interact with the locals and have the honor of shooting their portraits.

For my fellow statistic lovers, here are some mind-boggling stats I’ve gathered on Ahmedabad and India population topics. Honestly, this is just me rambling but in case you find this kind of thing interesting I wanted to put it out there:

Ahmedabad is the seventh-largest urban agglomeration in India by population (6,361,084), and the fifth most populous city in terms of people living within the official city limits. Interesting to note that my hometown, Houston, has about the same urban agglomeration population as Ahmedabad at 6,315,000.

However, the real difference can be found in the population density of the two cities. Ahmedabad is extremely crowded with 22,100 people per square kilometer, whereas Houstonians enjoy a sparse urban sprawl of just 1,300 people per square kilometer!

This kind of density is seen throughout India. Many do not realize that India has a current estimated population of 1.339 billion which is more than four times the population of the United States. Here’s the rub: India sits on a landmass only 1/3 the size of the United States. So we’re talking about four times the population of the US, on only 1/3 the amount of land.

Add to this the challenge that 31% of this population lives in urban areas. This means that just India’s cities alone hold a population of 415 million people, more than the entire population of the United States and Canada combined. I do not envy the infrastructure challenges the Indian government is faced with.

Yet in spite of these challenges, India is finally taking some bold steps to fight its environmental crisis. I am so happy to report that almost all of India’s 29 states have banned plastic bags, and many have banned all single-use consumer plastics such as plastic drinking straws as well. It’s a wonderful thing to see the people of India standing up to take pride in the beauty of their amazing country and unparalleled heritage.

This is a major step for India’s staggering environmental crisis, as most cities do not have any well-organized trash collection systems and estimates put the time it takes a plastic bag to decompose at anywhere from 20 to 1000 years. Even at 20 years in a best-case scenario, imagine the accumulation of plastic bags in such intensely dense population centers with no organized trash collection systems?

The plastic litter had completely overwhelmed Indian cities and meanwhile, plastics disposed of before the bans are still seen strewn about the landscapes, seashores, and riverbanks taking their time to decompose. But this new of the bans is great progress and gives me a lot of hope for the future of India to avert a full-blown environmental catastrophe.

So I have given you quite a lot to think about regarding India! Now let’s take a look at some of the beautiful Gujarati fabrics and the beautiful, hospitable people of Ahmedabad!

Note the bonus content at the end of this post with some food shots and a few Ahmedabad restaurant recommendations! 

Bonus content: food shots taken with my iPhone along with a couple of videos of street life during the rainy season. Restaurants you MUST try when you’re in Ahmedabad: Swati Snacks (could eat here every day), The Vishalla, House of MG, and the Green House.

Rural Uganda: Bugadde, Mayuge District

A day (and life) in photos. There was an essence of life present in their expressions. A sort of oneness with the earth and each other. A grandmother gathered her grandchildren and asked me to take their portrait. (We want to remember our togetherness). A family was grieving the loss of a loved one yet invited me to sit with them. (We find comfort in the simple presence of others during times of loss). A man told me how he had lived in the same thatched hut home for 29 years. (We all want to feel grounded). A woman was eager to tell me of the twins she had just given birth to. (New life brings the joy of hope and a belief that life will be better for them). Both cooks and kids smiled as over 200 were fed for a back to school celebration and prayer time on the Peace Gospel rural campus. (Provision brings joy in the hearts of the grateful).

Rural Uganda: Kafu Village, Lake Victoria

In the small town of Kafu, Uganda, located on the shores of Lake Victoria just a 20-mile boat ride from the Kenyan border, you will find some of the most beautiful smiles in all the world. All you have to do is give yours first. That has seriously been a theme I have noticed on this trip to Uganda. I cannot recall smiling at anyone on this trip who did not smile back. There have been times in these days where it almost felt as if I was on a movie set and all the locals had been paid to play the role of extras cued for “ok here he comes, smile now!” At the Peace Gospel rural boarding high school, we have received several primary school graduates from this town and were visiting some of the families of the students here. Despite their joy and contentment, there are still several challenges the residents of Kafu face. The main water sources here are from open wells and the lakeshore, both of which are at high risk for contamination. 75% of all diseases in Uganda are a direct result of lack of clean water and proper sanitation. The number one cause of death here is from diarrheal diseases. To get to the closest major town with any serious medical treatment options takes about two hours on the bumpiest, muddiest roads I’ve ever traversed. I often talk about the contentment and joy of the poor that comes from their simplicity and communal lifestyle. And that is without doubts very real and inspiring. But there remains the undercurrent of disease and the cycle of poverty and corruption that is crippling this nation. The key is to improve infrastructure even if it means just drilling more closed wells and to focus on affordable, quality education for the next generation. Slowly, I believe Uganda can get there, with a little help from her global good neighbors. Their smiles tell me it must be true.