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

1 comment:

Oona said...

Kolkata is the discerning photographer's haven. It is a city that is filled with so many paradoxes that it entirely wraps you. Beautiful city (my second home) :)