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.

1 comment:

loreneduffyiwertz said...

You can lay on the couch and watch TV at our place... Just 19 days! Can't wait to hear all about your trip in person!