7.28.2009

It's 3am (almost)

(above). Summertime in Colorado through my lens.
The blog HearBlack is changing my life right now. Beautiful.

I discovered it on A Cup of Jo...which is a place I frequent. You should too.
It is almost 3am in Colorado and I have plans...yes, plans... to watch the sunrise at Garden of the Gods with two friends at 5:30am...I think it will be better to just stay up all night at this point. Gotta lot on my mind. So much to do. So little time.
Spent an amazing two days here at home with friends from Pepperdine...we went to Pearl Street in Boulder, Poor Richard's in downtown Co Springs, Fox Run Park, and The Mate Factor in Manitou Springs. Sometimes I fail to appreciate how much I do love this place.

Also, I want...no need... to see (500) Days of Summer. Anybody else? Only ONE theater is playing this movie in Denver. How is this possible? Urgh.

:)
(all photos copyright 2009 Lydia Supplee)

7.26.2009

We're back!

After two ten- hour flights and a crazy 6 hours spent running around central London, we have returned to the USA. At this moment, I am now finally at home in Colorado writing this from my sister's mac. After landing back in California and spending one night there, I spent the past two days road tripping from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs. Exhaustion! :) But if feels good to be home. Pictures of India soon to come!!

7.18.2009

Varanasi, New Dehli, Trains, Harry Potter

Whew. What a crazy four days it has been! We took an economy class sleeper train from Calcutta to Varanasi on Tuesday night. It was our first experience on the trains in India and they definitely live up to the stories I have heard and films I have seen. The train system in India is something to behold, particularly if you choose to ride in economy class. The smells are as diverse as the country (very!) and you must become very comfortable sharing your seat for any given amount of time... especially if you are on the bottom seat, as I was for the first ride. People cram on and rush off at nearly every stop...and many of them are just traveling for a short distance. Beggars and peddlers are constantly in the hallways (Sidenote: The film Slumdog Millionaire's portrayals of the trains in India are 100% accurate!!). Surprisingly I slept fairly well, though I had to share my seat for the first couple of hours. When I laid down to sleep on my bed I woke up at different intervals to find various people sitting on the edge. I found that I was too tired to care about it one way or the other. :) I must say that the overnight train ride from Varanasi to New Dehli (our current location) was a bit more intense for me, however, as there were two babies in our little area. Both families were of humble means and so neither had diapers for the babies. Both babies pooped on the floor (one two year old literally just squatted and pooped on the floor of the train and the mom casually wiped it up with a scrap of an old scarf and the remains of our tissues). The other small baby peed all over my foot. They were incredibly cute though, when they weren't screaming their heads off. :)

Our experience in Varanasi was brief and AMAZING!! Varanasi is known as the "spiritual city" in India. People come from all over India to cremate their dead and send them off in the River Ganges, which Hindus worship as a god. Every morning hundreds of people can be seen bathing, praying and washing in the Ganges. Every night at 7pm one can hear the bells of the hundreds of Hindu temples throughout the city, and at 7:30pm the hour-long puja begins on the banks of the river (a puja is basically a Hindu worship service/prayer time). We had the opportunity to take a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges and watch the morning unfold. We were also able to attend the puja, which was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen (I will upload a short video I took of it sometime soon).

We arrived in New Dehli yesterday at around 5pm, 5 hours later than we were supposed to arrive. So we decided to just find a place to stay and find a theater showing Harry Potter. It was opening day for Harry Potter in India and I thought there was no way we were going to get tickets...especially trying to see it in New Dehli, which is arguably the most modernized/Western city in India. However, the show wasn't even close to sold out. I found that amusing. I was slightly dissapointed in the movie too I've gotta say. I found it to be a little anti climatic. For those of you who have seen it, any thoughts?

Tomorrow we will go to see one of the seven wonders of the world: the Taj Mahal. I am very much looking forward to this. I can't believe we will be back in the States by Friday. I feel like our time has just flown by and that we have barely scratched the surface of all that is India. I already can't wait to visit again.

If you're still reading, thanks! :)

7.12.2009

Andy and his Boys:




This morning at Kalighat, Dominique and I had an incredibly special opportunity to meet Andy from Germany, who first came to Calcutta in 1983 as a traveler just passing through when he happened upon Mother Teresa's Kalighat. We had heard about Andy through a mutual friend in Los Angeles, Folco Terzani, who created the documentary about Kalighat: "Mother Teresa's First Love." Andy was in the documentary back when he was a long-term volunteer at Kalighat...back when Mother Teresa was still alive. Andy worked at Kalighat as a volunteer for 14 years and then received a special calling from God 5 years ago to start his own little home for abandoned mentally handicapped boys in Calcutta. All five of his boys were once dying patients at Kalighat. Some of them were going to be discharged because they were too close to death and the beds at Kalighat were completely, utterly full. Now all 5 boys are stronger, growing taller by the day, laugh and play, and amazingly are even in school and some of them know a little English. They are full of life and joy. Andy is a tireless caretaker, pours so much love into these five boys and calls them his "jewels" and "inspiration." He never grows tired of talking about them and telling their stories. He hopes to increase the size of his home to 15 boys someday soon. He brings them to Mass at Kalighat every Sunday morning and so we had the special opportunity to sit down with him, hear his story and meet his lads. They are beautiful boys. I left Kalighat this morning feeling beyond inspired. There are no words really! It is a beautiful story. The above picture was taken this morning on the roof of Kalighat during the volunteer's lunch. :)


Our time in Calcutta is coming to an end. On Tuesday night we will leave on an overnight train for Varanasi, the "Spiritual City." There we will begin the last bit of our adventures before heading back to Mumbai and our return flight home.

7.08.2009

Still sick...

These past few days have not quite turned out as planned. My sore throat and slight fever turned into a full-blown flu. Today my fever is down and I hope to be back at Kalighat by Friday. The days have been long...but when I have made it off the bed, there have been lots of interesting people to talk to. Additionally I have made good headway into Anna Karenina, which I happened across in a bookstore when we first arrived in Calcutta.

Anyway, as not a whole lot has taken place the past few days on my end, here are a few random quotes I want to share:

"Seek God in everyone and in everything."
-- the priest that finally allowed Mother Teresa to begin her work in the slum (I can't recall his name).

"Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life. Define yourself." --Harvey Fierstein. This quote we found in an Indian magazine that Gared brought back one day.

"When I go home I'm never taking anything for granted. For like two weeks. Then you go back to being your usual prick self." --Another young volunteer here in Calcutta. lol. so true.

And finally, here's one of my favorite quotes of all time, one that has taken on a new meaning for me since I've been in India:

"This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body..."--Walt Whitman

7.05.2009

Today.

Today is the first time in the past month that I have felt a strong desire to just be at home. On my couch. With the TV. Someone to cater just to me because I am sick. Not any sort of deathly symptoms. Just the typical sore throat and slight fever...something that I experience often when I am pushing too hard. Something that easily goes away with a day or two of sleep. Today I find it difficult to rest in the overwhelming heat and humidity of Calcutta, made worse by having a room located on the roof of our hotel. Today, it is such a struggle for me to leave the sanctuary that is our rooftop or the internet cafe for the streets of India...where my senses are assaulted by stenches, beggars, human rickshaws, women wanting to paint henna on my skin, street children pulling at my pants, and loud temple music. Today I skipped mass and breakfast at the Mother House, I did not go into Kalighat for volunteering, and I have spent the majority of the day looking at the pre-monsoon rain, sweat pouring off my skin, feeling sorry for myself. I have heard that it takes 3-4 weeks for the negative effects of culture shock to really sink in. Today I can testify to the validity of this statement.

Honestly, I am surprised this is the first time I have experienced such negative feelings. Maybe I have just been lucky. Or perhaps it is all due to traveling with such amazing, positive peple. Either way, the feelings have set in and I am really feeling them. I think this is important while traveling, however, to allow time to feel things as intensely as you can, which is something I have not really allowed myself to do until today. So I am trying to be grateful for this forced day of rest, although that is the last thing I am feeling at the moment.

On Friday I began my morning shift volunteering at Kalighat, Mother Teresa's home for the dying. It is simple work, it is hard work, it is frustrating and it is joyful. We begin the day washing all of the laundry and dishes by hand. I expend energy and sweat alongside other volunteers of all ages from all over the world, sometimes in silence, sometimes talking and laughing with each other. After the work is done I leave the kitchen with the other women volunteers for the women's ward of the center. I work alongside the Sisters, other volunteers, and full-time workers to care for the women patients--most of whom are old and close to death, some of whom have deadly diseases. We take turns exercising them so they don't get bed sores (often while supporting most of their weight), feeding them if they need help, helping them with the toilet, dispensing medication, and just sitting with them, massaging them or holding their hands. The majority of them are in a lot of pain and don't speak English and so much of this work is incredibly difficult. I experienced a powerful interaction my first day there. As I walked by a bed, one dying younger woman with a shaved head, who is also psychologically handicapped, began pulling at my pants and smiling at me. I sat on the bed next to her and held her hands in both of mine. We just smiled at one another and I stupidly wasn't really sure what to do next...perhaps try and sing to her? Massage her hands and arms? Before I could make up my mind on what to do, she began to massage my hands, and my arms! I was so taken off guard that I started laughing, then she started laughing, her few rotting teeth showing through, and then the Sisters, seeing what was happening started to laugh as well. It was such a sweet moment. I didn't know if I wanted to continue laughing or start crying. Looking into this dying Bengali woman's eyes as she was caring for me, as our roles were reversed for a moment in time, was so real and so human. I was humbled to the floor and overwhelmed by grace.

7.02.2009

Kolkata, India

It is Thursday, July 2nd at 10:23am in Kolkata, India and we have finally made it and had a chance to sleep after a long night and full day of traveling. We will be here volunteering in the homes of Mother Teresa for the next 10 days- 2 weeks. Our time in Goa proved to be relaxing and quite adventurous as well. We were lucky, as the sun peeked out for our few days of rest. The only day it poured rain was our first day there...quite unusual for monsoon season! We played in the warm ocean, ate fish, french fries, and molai kofta in beach shacks along Baga beach in North Goa, and made friends with a few locals who made for very interesting conversation! On Monday we took an hour long local bus ride up the coast to Anjuna beach, where we bought fresh corn on the cob and pineapple and explored the more deserted cliff points and coves. We also had a very interesting and strange interaction with a few of the beggars/peddlers in that area...but that is a long story for a different time.

The overnight bus ride to Bombay from Goa was crazy...so so different from our last experience. Needless to say I didn't sleep...not even a little bit. We were dropped off with our backpacks, exhausted in Bombay. We proceeded to haggle rickshaw after rickshaw until we found one that would give us a fair price, and we found a Cafe Coffee Day...an Indian chain coffee shop much like Starbucks that caters to tourists, and which has become a sort of safe haven for us. A Western refuge at times if you will...when the negative effects of culture shock just become a little overwhelming. After a few hours in a plane we found ourselves in Kolkata where we found a cab to take us to Sudder street near the Mother House and homes of Mother Teresa.

Driving in the cab through Kolkata was, for me, a similar experience as driving through Mumbai for the first time...overwhelming...feeling like...what are we doing here again?? After a stressful hour of sweat, heat, and dirt, walking with our packs through the overcrowded Sudder street, being followed and at times harrassed by several different peddlers or beggars, we had trouble finding a place to stay that still had rooms available. Finally we gave up and quite literally crashed at a restaurant to eat and just chill out...I think we all needed the break. Dom and I left Gared at the restaurant with our stuff and proceeded to confront Sudder street, determined to find a place to stay. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon Hotel Maria...an international hostel type environment filled with foreigners...some of whom are here in Kolkata just to be here...the majority of whom are volunteering at the Mother Teresa houses. We were thrilled they had only two rooms left for us...both located on the roof without air conditioning. But it was cheap and perfect. Dom and I decided to wash our clothes in buckets on the roof in the cooler, humid night breeze. I don't think I have ever felt more at peace: thanking God for a safe journey, doing my laundry by hand looking out at the old, broken down buildings of Kolkata and hearing the noises of the city from below.

We met a great group of people last night all just hanging out on the roof by our rooms. We stayed up with them until the early hours of the morning just talking and trading stories about our travels...learning from each other. I look forward to many more nights like this while we are here. Today (Thursday) is a day off for the volunteers. So tomorrow we will go to Mass at the Mother House at 6am. Then we will eat breakfast with other volunteers prepared by the Sisters and proceed to take busses to one of the six homes set up by Mother Teresa. I am so eager to experience this work. This is what I have been most looking forward to about our time in India.

This morning Dom and I awoke rather early and walked down the street to a small market for a simple and cheap breakfat of toasted rolls and a small cup of hot chai--a staple everywhere in India it seems. We sat on a small bench against a wall under the pre-monsoon sprinkle and just absorbed the city for a couple of hours. We are literally on the other side of the country now in the state of Bengal. The language is different. Even the food is different. It is still essentially India...and yet it is still just so different. Life here is still insane...yet slower, even simpler and simultaneously more desperate than anywhere else we have seen. It is very poor. Yet Kolkata is described by Westerners as a "special city." Truly the city of joy. We have been advised to get up early at 5am and walk to the flower market one of these days where we can see life unfolding. Shops opening. Cab drivers waking up on top of their cars. Shopkeepers sweeping and women hanging colorful loads of laundry.

We are anticipating a very full and heartwarming couple of weeks.

Until next time,

Lydia