This next adventure is just like being in an actual, real-life ‘foreign film’, where the story is simple and sweet and that is enough. I mean it’s uncannily like living in such a film.

mithhouseWhen we moved in, we observed the view from Rish’s family’s apartment – a lot with two abandoned buildings on a property filled with litter. Mark and I both liked the design of one of the buildings and fantasized about fixing it up and living in it. The other building is nice also. With its many rooms in a row all sharing a common exterior porch, it’s somehow reminiscent of an ashram.

We asked some neighbors about the building once and we were told that the owners live in America and that the building has a ghost living in it.

I guess this spooky story didn’t deter us much, as the next day we decided to jump the fence and start picking up the litter on the property. It’s hard to imagine the kind of immediate uproar this created as we started cleaning up.

First of all, most of the people in our building are always home, or at least it sure seems that way. Secondly, the families are generally pretty large, with cousins and friends and all kinds of people often hanging out. Half of the building shares our view of this property, and like us, they look out through a large window covered in bars.

Picking up trash from ‘the other side,’ we got a glimpse into our own building, and in the process of causing a scene, this view became quite spectacular. Imagine a big cage that might be filled with monkeys or something, now filled with 7 or 8 human beings –men, women, and children – all standing up in full view, looking out at you while holding onto the bars. Now imagine a building with a grid of about 15 of these such cages, all filled with people holding the bars and all looking out at you.

mithwindowNow imagine every one of them all yelling at you simultaneously. I wished I had a camera at that moment.

They pleaded for us to stop cleaning. They told us that they would continue to throw trash out the windows and that there was no point. Sometimes we answered their protests by saying that we wanted to improve our view and the views for everyone else, and that even if it became littered tomorrow, at least it would be nice for today.

But most of the time, we just ignored their mad protests and kept picking up trash.

The second day was more or less the same. On this day, however, a man came by after we had jumped the fence. We were standing in and he was standing out. The door was locked and he informed us that he was the owner. He said that he was bothered how everyone from our building threw their trash onto his property and told us that they needed to be “brainwashed.” In slightly different terms, we comforted him by saying that through our selfless act of cleaning it, people would necessarily have a different relationship to this property than before.

He asked us to join him and others in a neighborhood cleanliness/awareness program, and encouraged us to keep cleaning up his property. We asked if he could lend us a rake and he went away. It was a very odd exchange, but nevertheless, we were able to continue cleaning on.

By the third day, people started to get used to the idea that we are unusual and this is what we do. Just like on previous days, we were offered caps and bags and other things to help out, but on this day, people started making requests. Could I move this pile of broken concrete to the street, with other broken concrete? Could we clean the elevator shaft?

They weren’t exactly joining us, but at least their focus on the possibilities began to develop.

The fourth day – or was it the fifth? – was the breakthrough day. After playing with the kids, Mark told them that he was going to clean the back property again. The kids (there are a ton of kids in this building), weighed their choices and decided that cleaning happened to be the most entertaining of their options. They all jumped the fence and for the first time, all the kids started helping move stones, sweep dirt, and joining in the movement. This project was no longer a nonsensical play to watch starring us two bizarre foreigners. It had now become a collective project.

We don’t exactly know where we are going with this, but it’s just crazy enough to keep going and it seems to be shifting mindsets and opening unexpected doors. I suppose for now we’ll just keep clocking in a little time here and there and enjoy this most amusing story as it progresses. One thing that is perfectly clear to me is that far greater than the greatest of cinema is to observe and relish your own living story for the beauty that it is.

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