Monday, January 31, 2011


Prior to my trip to Kolkata, I was a person that fully endorsed the “there’s no dream too big for you to touch” slogan and although, I don’t think I can abandon that belief in its entirety, being up here for the last few weeks has made me seriously challenge that statement.  Can the homeless person I walked by this morning really touch any dream...let alone just get off the streets for that matter?  I want to say yes to this question, but I think that’s only for my own peace of mind since saying “no” would mean that for some people, they’re just screwed in life and there’s nothing they can do about it.  I guess it’s a situation like this where people would say faith in God comes into play...for nothing is impossible for God right?  I guess so, but sometimes I wish God would at least endow everyone with a shovel at birth so while they’re waiting for the rope to drop down from heaven, they can at least get somewhat of a jump start on digging themselves out of the hole they were born in and into a life where their basic necessities are within reach.  That’s not asking for much is it?  God’s response to a comment like that I can hear already...“I gave you two hands Tyson so what are you waiting your neighbor out of the hole already.”  Good point God!  It was us after all that created this mess...not you.  And that’s the great dilemma today I think; us on one end waiting for God to intervene and make the world better and God on the other end waiting for US to make the world better.  With God being able to wait an eternity...I figure it's time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.

Speaking of work, today was my 1st day with the new volunteer team at the Howrah Station and it went well, which means without real incident other than us properly dressing a minor wound for a kid on his foot.  We figured the newspaper he was using wasn’t the best bandage.  For the 1st week or so, I’ll basically just be shadowing other volunteers on their assigned routes to get a feel for the job, but the idea is for me to venture off on my own route at some point and be my own “Robin Hood” as I’ll distribute food and basic medical care to anyone I think is in need of it.  If we happen to stumble into someone that is in need of much greater medical care, like the guy I mentioned in my last blog, that is when we’ll transport them to Kalighat so the Sisters can better assess what should be done.  With me not having any kind of medical background whatsoever, unless you consider superglueing a cut above my eye back in December as bonafide medical work, a job keep in mind that has left a scar that seems to make its own introduction to every new person I meet, I’d say this is the area that will require my greatest focus. 

Below, you can also find some pics I took from the Victoria Memorial.  If the Queen were alive today, I’m sure she would be quite happy to know I shared these with you.  

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Despite travel websites discouraging you from wearing shorts in India if your goal is to "blend in," you'll find me comfortably writing this blog update in Gonzaga mesh basketball shorts, which I've been proudly wearing all around town yesterday and today as well.  The thing's impossible for me to "blend in" around here and only possible for me to stick out and when you get the feeling that the stares around town couldn't be any more than they already are, I guess you just stop caring about blending in...and getting to that point, caring less about blending in and CARING MORE about just being you...feels pretty good.  Tomorrow...I just might throw on my Zags baseball cap!

On Friday, I had the privilege of attending my first movie in Kolkata, which cost about $1.20.  If your wondering what differences there are, if any, that the India cinema experience offers compared to back has quite a few.  One, there isn't just one type of "general admission" ticket.  Instead, tickets are "assigned seating" and they are broken down into 4 different categories and the closest you are to the screen the cheaper the ticket.  For those of you who like to keep that extra seat between you and the stranger next to you at the cinema back home, this might not be the place for you.  Two, at least with respect to the cinema I went to in New Market, it had no movie previews before the actual showing of the movie so "showtime" here really means showtime and before you knew it the guy in "128 hrs" was tearing his arm off.  For those of you not familiar with the movie "128 hrs," it is a movie based on a true story of a guy from Colorado that had a boulder fall on his arm when hiking, which resulted in him needing to cut his arm off to escape.  Good movie good as a movie about a guy having to cut his arm off can be I suppose.  Three, and my personal favorite, the cinema here offers an intermission session, which in our case, occurred about 30 minutes into the movie and during this time they play crazy techno music and have guys walk the aisles trying to sell you popcorn and other munchies.  Needless to say, I'm already waiting to see what English movie is lined up for next week.

As for a volunteering update, I'd say I've gotten comfortable with the flow of things by now, but that will abruptly change beginning tomorrow as I begin working with more of a "long term" volunteer team that goes out into the streets and finds people with the greatest need for the different Missionaries of Charity centers.  I can't say this was a part of my plan while here, but if that's where I'm needed most, that's where I want to be most.  Today, I was given just a taste of what I'm going to be exposed to as the team I'll be joining brought a younger guy into Kalighat from the Howrah Station (train station) that was in desperate need of medical attention as his right hand was completely blown open and infested with maggots.  Prior to cleaning his wounds, we shaved the guy's head, bathed him, and then put him in the dressing room for the nurses to attend to his wound.  As far as what this experience left me with when walking away later in the day, I can say I now know what rotten flesh smells and looks like and I had to leave the room on two separate occasions in fear of almost passing out.  Two,  I now  know when offering my hand and a little comfort is all a person is asking for as this is what I extended to the guy on the operating table as we both watched as the nurse began cutting his finger off, at least that's what I'll call it here, when in reality, the piece of flesh getting removed looked more like a chew toy of one of the dogs on the street.  Three, I now know what kind of experience someone needs for the traffic and noise of Kolkata to fade away and become separated from reality as this is what happened on my ride back to Sudder St. in an autorickshaw. 

Despite my new area of service, I still plan on spending some quality time with the guys from Kalighat during the afternoon session that's offered and so my CARE MORE project is far from complete there.  Despite the nerf and squirt guns being hits at the center, I've decided to not bring them the last couple of days based on some of the feedback I've received from some of the more seasoned volunteers along with the fact that I haven't even had a conversation with the head Sister at Kalighat about what I can and can't bring.  Getting permission to do some stuff I'm fine with, but "to stop thinking" as another volunteer suggested for me to do since it's "better that way" is something I won't do.  Once you "stop thinking" you stop CARING MORE!



Friday, January 28, 2011


A few days have passed since my last post and I'm happy to say I'm writing this today in much better spirits and that says a lot I think when taking into consideration that I woke up this morning thanks to a full blatter only to find out tht someone outside my room locked my door from the outside so I couldn't get out.  My first guess as to why this may have happened would be that my "celebrity" status was beginning to wear off at the Salvation Army, but my experience at the Victoria Memorial yesterday where some Indian tourists were more eager to get pictures with me then they were the actual memorial makes me think I still got the "Hollywood" touch.  Wth about 30 minutes of knocking on my own door here and there, I was kindly released from an Asian resident that seemed just as confused with my situation as I was. 

Despite me feeling much better now, thanks to a day of American indulgence on Wednesday that consisted of 3 relaxing hours at my new favorite spot in the Oxford Bookstore, a delicious grilled cheese and ham sandwich, a visit to KFC, a double scoop ice cream cone of rocky road and mint chocolate chip, and last but not least, a King Fisher lager to wash everything down, I'd have to say I'm quite ashamed for feeling so sorry for myself a couple days ago.  Here I Kolkata, the home of the "poorest of the poor" and I was feeling sorry for Tyson.  There are too many people!  It's too loud!  I'm tired!  No doubt I could pick any person on the street that I walk by every day and they'd trade their "I'm starving" and "I'm dying" for my discomfort in a heartbeat.  Going forward, don't plan on seeing any more "pity party" posts on my behalf. 

Thursday was our free day from volunteering and we used it as an opportunity to do a little more sightseeing and it was the Victoria Memorial and the Kalighat Temple that were selected as our places of interest.  The Victoria Memorial was pretty remarkable, but more for the craftmanship of architecture than the actual purpose for the memorial getting built, which in my opinion, was Queen Victoria's way of saying "look at us" (us being Britain) and how great we are.  Not that I disagree with the Queen in thinking her and Britain were great...because they had much to hold their head high about just as everyone does, but I got a feeling that the Queen's sense of greatness came by making other people feel like they were smaller and I don't like that. 

With respect to the Kalighat Temple, this was one of the Hindu temples nearby where we were told many locals in the area make daily offerings to Krishna.  Although I could have said I was disappointed by the temple visit because I didn't see a live sacrifice of a goat, which I was told happens from time to time (don't tell P.I.T.A.), that's not what I found so disappointing.  Instead, my disappointment was in trying to go inside the temple when I was told it was closed but that I could bypass this by paying what they called "VIP" admission for 200 rupees.  It's not like I've never seen this kind of "payoff" before and it's quite common at nightclubs even back home, but to see this at an actual Hindu temple, something I would have considered much more sacred and uncompromising, just kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I'm not even Hindu.  As my Dutch friend explained to me later, "everything is for sale in India" and I found that statement to be quite depressing because I was hoping India might be different, my beacon of hope, in a world where it seems like the only thing people CARE MORE about these days is money.

In walking around town a bit more, it hasn't been the excessive spitting or sandals and sock combo everyone seems to wear around here that has caught me by most surprise; rather, it's the fact that you can walk alone at midnight and not feel threatened on streets we'd consider back home to be the "street you stay away from." Put the poor of America in some of the same streets and circumstances as the people in Kolkata and it would become an area with one of the highest crime rates in the world I think.  The poor of Kolkata might wear rags, but in a way they wear them with a crown...with a sense of dignity and I can respect that.  They might beg or hustle you for money from time to time, but at least they aren't killing and robbing people for money like we do back home. 

In other news, I've made a new friend by the name of Ron from Bangladesh and we've hung out over the last couple days.  Ron's the type of guy that has a sense of humor anyone would die to have since it seems like he gets a good gut wrenching laugh from just about anything.  Case in point, when Ron told me 98% of life is about work and making money and 2% is reserved for having fun and I responded by telling him that his theory would pose a problem since we'd need him to use about 5% in the next 15 minutes and that he might want to reconsider his theory, he couldn't stop laughing.  Really not a laughing matters as far as his philosophy goes, but I won't hold it agaist him just like I wouldn't with him not being a doctor or lawyer, which he was ashamed to admit since according to him, it's those professions that receive the highest amount of respect.  As peace of mind, I told Ron that I was unemployed, had no idea what I'd be doing when I got home from India and that the only criteria I'd jude him on with respect to his work was whether or not he was happy doing it since it is that we should CARE MORE about.  Ron said he was happy and so that's that. 

P.S.  Zags have now lost 3 WCC games in a row with their last one coming at home on Thursday in the last seconds of regulation to our rival St. Mary's.  I think it is now safe to say unless the Zags win the WCC tournament, they wont' make the BIG DANCE and that would be the 1st time in the last 12 yrs I think.  Ouch!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Not sure what means I’ve hit the wall over here more, the fact that I’d gladly take up the offer of babysitting 8 crying toddlers over having to hear the traffic around here, me trying to find peace and quiet at a mall yesterday, or the fact that I couldn’t even escape the streets of Kolkata for 5 hrs in my sleep as I had beggars asking me for rupees in my dreams last night.  

I’m exhausted, cranky, homesick, have about 10 bites on my ankles from who knows what and I truly think how I’m feeling right now is as close as I can get to feeling what every female goes through during that “time of the month.” Of all places where I can find shelter from the chaos of Kolkata is actually in Kalighat volunteering with the “dying and destitute” and I’m actually glad I can say that because it’s a testament to how well things are going over there right now.

With me taking the day off on Monday from volunteering, I used it as an opportunity to try and round up some gadgets that I could take to Kalighat to entertain the patients with.  A squirt gun, nerf gun, magic balls I can’t seem to make “magical,” and a mind teaser game that has proven to be more of a bully than it is a “tease” later and I officially have some stuff to work with now.  On Tuesday, I decided to kind of throw a “feeler” out there with bringing something into Kalighat and I decided that the “squirt gun” would be the right toy for the job.  With every squirt of the gun, I can gladly say there was a wet face here and there and also a smile that followed and so that was nice to see.  One of the Sisters even grabbed the gun and went around squirting all the patients and I think you would have had a hard time determining who was having more fun...the patients or the Sister.  When a girl from the group discussion on Sunday told me “don’t underestimate the power of a simple touch or holding of hands,” I say don’t underestimate the power of a squirt gun and CARING MORE.

Although during orientation I expressed an interest in jumping around a bit from center to center over the next 4 months, today’s volunteering has made me reconsider this desire as I’m starting to build more of a relationship with a lot of the patients.  Today, I even got a massage from a patient....A MASSAGE...and that just shows you how big of hearts some of these patients have.  Even with the language barrier between the patients and I, I get a sense that a friendship is slowly forming between us and just as much as I think the patients could use a friend, I could too and switching centers would only leave me feeling like I left Kalighat only to see a daisy grow when more time could have produced a rose. to the streets to lose my mind and get some dinner!  Until next time and Go Packers! 

Monday, January 24, 2011


Rooftop view at Kalighat where we hang the laundry. 

Outside of the huge cost-savings and proximity to the Mother House that the Salvation Army offers me, I’ve come to find another huge benefit associated with it and that is that most of the residents here are Christians.  Although this little fact does result in me having the same faith as most staying at the Salvation Army, that really has nothing to do with the benefit I’m talking about, but everything to do with the easy to hear and remember Christian names of my new Indian friends like Reggie, Francis, Timothy, Errol, John and Michael instead of names like Ansarri, Serseraj, and Dipanker.  Maybe after another month or so here, I’ll have trained my ears to hear a “Serseraj” better, but until that happens, I’m still gonna have to ask these guys to repeat their name about 3 times upon introduction and to have them write their name down for me to sound it out for myself.  
I volunteered this morning and everything was pretty standard, which at least for today, wasn’t a bad thing.  After my shift, I still had to take a little catnap since 5 hrs still feels like 10 around here and after that it was back off to the Mother House to attend a group sharing session for all the volunteers.  This event took place at their Shanti Dan center which was a bus trip, followed by a blown out tire, followed by an auto rickshaw with 7 people ride away (personal new record).
With Shanti Dan being located in more of a remote area of Kolkata, it was one of the few times since I’ve been here to get away from the streets and actually have a little peace and quiet and I cherished it, as did most of the other volunteers.  The irony of it all...Shanti Dan is a center that houses women with a lot of mental illness and even though you could hear in the background an occasional “personal demon” echoing in the hallway from a patient, you could still find comfort in this environment.  Only a place like Kolkata could create such a paradox like this and I’ve been told there are a lot of those here.
After a brief message by Father John, an Australian trekker and adventure enthusiast turned priest compliments of the “Kolkata” experience, it was time for all of us to break out into discussion groups where we were asked to answer the following questions; one, what brought you to Kolkata and two, what have you discovered from your volunteer experience so far?  Although the reasons on “Why Kolkata” varied just as much as the nationalities in the room, one common denominator I found in all the answers to the “Why Kolkata” question was that I think everyone wanted to feel like they were a part of something great...something that gave their life a sense of purpose where they could walk away at the end of the day and say...I made the world a better place today.  In thinking about this more, I kind of found this observation disheartening.  Not because people were on this quest to add a sense of purpose to their life and make the world better, I’m on the same journey, but the sad part was that some of these people thought they had to go to Kolkata to acquire this sense of importance when I’d argue the opportunity lied in their own backyard the whole time.
Not to take away anything from what I’m doing in Kolkata or anyone else, but the love we are providing the “poorest of the poor” here is of no greater value than the love anyone else is offering in their own communities.  Love is love and as long as you are offering it to everyone you can and as often as you can, I’d say you’re a world changer just as much as we say the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. was.  If a book was wrote for every world changer that walked the earth…we wouldn’t have any trees left so just because I, or anyone else, might not get the recognition for our CARE MORE efforts like the people I mentioned above, I don’t think that means our efforts are of less value.  All it really means is that we don’t have to deal with a bunch of people following us around with cameras and microphones and I'm fine with that.
With respect to the 2nd question of our group discussion...”What have you discovered from your volunteer experiences thus far,” I’d say the biggest thing for me is how easy it is to become desensitized to a lot of the poverty around here.  What would have made for a headline story on my 1st couple days here like a story from yesterday where a group of kids jumped a volunteer because she didn’t have candy to offer them like the girl before her, is a story that now doesn’t even make the “final print” on my blog and that scares me a bit because it makes me question what things, if any, I’ve desensitized myself to here or back home.  (The girl that got jumped by the way ended up being fine).
On one last note for the day, I found out the Zags lost in overtime to San Francisco on Saturday.  Anytime you see on the stat line that we only had 10 turnovers and Demitri Goodson had 20 points instead of around the 5 he averages per game, you’d think that would result in a win, but that wasn’t the outcome in this one.  If this loss was similar to one’s I’ve seen in the past this year, I’m sure San Fran just CARED MORE about doing the little things that win games than we did and if that’s the case, I’m glad I couldn’t watch the game because whether it’s my Zags or it’s just a person on the street, I hate seeing someone sell themselves short.   
Until next time.
Go Sags!   

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Things at Kalighat have turned into quite the routine by now with this Friday marking around the week and a half mark since I’ve been volunteering there. As my days of volunteering increase, I find myself only getting more frustrated with my inability to connect with the patients on a level I’d like to and what I think they would to due to the fact that I don’t speak Bengali and none of the patients speak English. This frustration always hits a boiling point in the periods where you have some free time in between duties and you notice either a group of ladies on the left wing of the building or the guys on the right wing just sitting on their benches with a look in their eyes that is asking you for something more than the smile I can offer them or the basic necessities Kalighat provides. 

Don’t get me wrong, these people at Kalighat need to get bandaged up, fed, washed, and a bed to sleep in at night and if the Missionaries of Charity didn’t provide these basic necessities to the patients, I’m certain all of them would be worse off if not dead, but I think there is a difference between keeping people alive and making people FEEL ALIVE and I guess I feel like the mission here is more about achieving the former objective than it is the latter.  Again, it’s not that I think we aren’t doing a good thing at Kalighat, but I just think we could do more that’s all and that is something I aim to try and do while I’m here. 

In delicately expressing my CARE MORE thoughts on this with Sister Mercy Maria, I think she respected where my heart was at on this, but she told me that any idea I might have would need to get approval by the head Sister at Kalighat prior to doing anything and so I will do that in the days to come.  Given how many years Kalighat has been ran like it is today, I’m fully prepared to have many of my ideas rejected for being too “radical” like the idea of getting a ping pong table for the common area or getting a radio for the patients to listen to music and if in fact that’s the case, all I can do is respect the opinion of the Sister’s even though I might disagree with it.  It is their organization after all...not mine.  

On another note, since the 2 days I’ve only been at the Salvation Army, I’d like to say I’ve already been given somewhat of a “celebrity” status as a lot of residents are very excited to see that an “American” is staying with them and as the “cherry on top” his name just so happens to be “Tyson!”  When it’s all said and done here, I’m not sure if I would have heard more honking horns or more “Mike Tyson” comments made and since my last blog of just a day ago, I’ve already had 3 more “Mike Tyson” comments and the girl from Domino’s also made a point to say I had “a very good name” and she didn’t give Dale that satisfaction when he gave his name.  Of course, by me mentioning this fact, I’m not doing it to suggest “Dale” isn’t a fine name or that “Tyson” is better than any other name or more importantly, that what your name is is of greater importance than the person you are behind your name. All I’m saying is it feels good to be Tyson right about now...that’s all.

P.S.  It might feel good to be Tyson, but I can’t say the same about being a Zag fan, as I found out the  boys lost to Santa Clara on Thursday by 14 points on the road.  Back to the drawing board!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Dipanker and Sister Tina

Today, me and a girl by the name of Theresa from Seattle ended up going to the Mother House to get directions on where we could find the convent Mother Teresa actually lived and worked at for 20 yrs prior to starting her order.  Instead of getting directions to the Loreto Convent, a gentleman by the name of Dipankar who just so happened to be going to the Mother House for prayer told us to give him a couple minutes and that he would personally take us there.

With Dipankar being a “man of God” I of course, had to make an exception to the “too friendly” rule I’ve incorporated into my local encounters and so off we went to the Loreto Convent.  Could this finally be the CARE MORE type of person I was looking for that could restore some of my hope in the Kolkata people?  Time would tell.  After the usual complicated route that I’d never be able to back track even if I tried, we arrived at the Loreto Convent, which ended up being about a 30 minute walk.  The biggest thing I took away from this experience wasn’t what was outside the Convent, or even the story of Mother Teresa as related to the Loreto Convent, which was still quite fascinating; rather, it was the opportunity to meet Sister Tina, who is the principal of the school the convent runs for displaced girls grades K-12.  If there’s one thing that has been just as consistent here as the crazy traffic, the beggars on the streets, and the poverty, it is the sweetness of the Sisters and Sister Tina not only fit the bill of sweetness, but I’d say she sets the benchmark of sweetness that every Sister strives for.  Maybe I created the halo in my own mind above Sister Tina or maybe it was legitimate, but either way I could have sworn she had one. Sister Tina’s philosophy on how to make the world a better place...”it needs more love and it all starts with each one of us to love it, specifically our own communities, and all the people within it more. I don’t know if Sister Tina realized it, but she has a lot of CARE MORE in her and it inspired me.  

After all of us exchanging hugs and me not wanting to let go of Sister Tina, Theresa, Dipanker, and I hit the road and in walking back I figured I throw out the “long term accommodations” question again and see what happened. Turns out...Dipanker did have a suggestion for me, which happened to be the Salvation Army only a block away from the Mother House.  Although I wasn’t that familiar with the place, Dipanker said the Salvation Army was (insert Indian accent here) “a very good place...yes, very good place” and so I decided give it a try.  Of course, Dipanker offered to take us there and long story short, I chatted with Captain John and he said he’d be able to find a room for me at a cost of about $100 American a month. Score!  As far as what the accommodations look like at the Salvation Army, they really aren’t bad with the exception of not having my own private bathroom and also potentially having to have a roommate.  When checking in was all said and done, I guess you could say my soon to be “roomie” also had his reservations about having a roommate and it was later brought to my attention that he put in a request to stay in the dormitory room instead of with me.  Not sure how I’m supposed to take this request because essentially he was requesting to be taken out of a room where he’d share it with one person and get put in a room where he’d share it with a bunch of people.  Maybe he also has a “too friendly” criteria and I came off too nice when our introductions were made.  Regardless, I won’t lose any sleep over it because this means I get my own room and that’s fine by me. 

As a side note, while at the Salvation Army I was introduced to one of the tenants there who kind of showed me around and in telling him my name was “Tyson,” I received the usual “Oh...Mike Tyson!” response.  Regardless of Mike’s past and his ups and downs, one thing he definitely has going for him that a lot of people don’t is that he is always thought of anytime a “Tyson” in the world has to make an introduction and I’d say that’s quite the accomplishment. 

Although Dipanker still pleaded with me to help his family and daughter out financially and I kindly obliged given how good of a deal I got at the Salvation Army, I won't put him in the same category as I have the "other guys" I've encountered so far and that is in large part because he had some pretty good CARE MORE things to say throughout the day, the biggest nugget of wisdom being  "you can use your time in the day for good or you can use it for bad and I don't like it when people use it for bad."  Whether Dipanker was saying this kind of stuff to me to "plant a subconscious seed" in my head that would eventually result in me giving him 500 rupee or he was in fact sincere about it, either way...I'd agree with him on his philosophy of time and how a person should use it in their day.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011



Due to a nasty head cold, I ended up taking Tuesday off from volunteering and I used the day instead, as a field trip day to just walk around and see some more unchartered areas of Kolkata.  Although in a lot of places around here it’s hard to assess what streets you’ve walked on in the past and what you haven’t, I knew taking a left off Sudder St. and on to Chowringhee Rd. would lead to something different and so I headed in that direction.

While walking on this street I ended up stumbling into a cathedral by the name of St. Paul Cathedral (refer to pictures), which I’d say was more beautiful on the outside than the inside.  In the cathedral’s defense though, I’ve had the opportunity to see the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy and so I’m trying to compare a Ferrari with a Cadillac.  St. Paul’s Cathedral is a nice church, but it’s just no Ferrari.  Since I’m currently still trying to arrange more long-term accommodations somewhere, I’ve been making a point of mentioning the topic with any local Indian I find myself in a conversation with in hopes that they can point me in the right direction.  In my time at the cathedral and also walking around later in the afternoon, I found myself talking with 3 Indian men, 2 of whom were security guards at St. James and 1 that was a local shop owner.  Although none of the Indian men I spoke with knew where I could make such arrangements, the 2 security guards offered their own homes to me and the local shop owner gave me some chai “on the house” and also did what he could to point me in the right direction to some cheaper hotels.  While talking with these guys, I was already excited to bring these stories back to everyone and title my blog something like, “The Kolkatan people...poor on the streets, but rich in the heart” or “Kolkata...a city that CARES MORE.” Sadly, I’m not in a position to do that anymore because as my conversations with these guys matured, they always led to the same topic and it wasn’t about what they could do for me, but instead, what I could do for them.  As for the security guards...they wanted a better job in America.  As for the local shop owner...he wanted me to buy something from his shop and bring my friends too.   

The very next day, I was again confronted with a British Indian who for a period of time, I would have said was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and I’d say that even if he didn’t call me a “sweetheart” or kissed my hand like he did, but that relationship yet again, ended with Norman with his hand out asking for more as if the dinner and 3 beers I bought him wasn’t enough.  The whole time here I thought I was meeting people that shared just as much interest in me as I had in them, but as it turns out, all they were interested in was the $ sign that every American or Westerner wears on their forehead. Shame on me I suppose for believing in a CARE MORE world where strangers would help strangers and kindness was an end in itself.  I’m not giving up hope that this world isn’t out there or that it doesn’t exist in Kolkata, but until I find it, my wall is up and I regretfully, can’t trust any local Indian who is too friendly.  

Just to revisit Norman again, it’s probably worth mentioning as well that 3 King Fisher beers is too much for him and him grabbing my hand on the way back to Sudder St. had everything to do with Indian culture than it did anything else you’d like to try and entertain as a reason.  That kind of thing might be normal here and I can respect that, but it definitely doesn’t FEEL NORMAL so if any of you back home expect me to display my affection to you in this way, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. 

P.S.  All of you reading this I’d consider to be friends of mine so THANK YOU for your friendship and for just being YOU.  Consider this my hand holding moment with all of you.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Woke up this morning around 5:15 am and the Muslim prayer echoing outside my window was right on cue as it has normally been for my last 3 nights on Sudder St.  I can’t say I have any idea what is being said in the prayer, but I’ll admit it’s a pretty soothing alarm clock to wake up to.  Of course, as soon as I started to think I was beginning to get this Kolkatan life figured out, leave it to me to start rinsing my toothbrush with the water from the bathroom faucet. You’re not in Montana anymore can’t do that over here remember. 

My 20 minute walk from the hotel today to the Mother House was pretty standard I’d say...crow eating a rat on the street...check!  Kolkatan washing himself in the middle of the street...check!  Beggar pleading with me “uncle, uncle” for some change...check!  Even though I’ve only been here now for 5 days, a lot of the “shock” that I initially experienced upon arriving in Kolkata has gone down in voltage.  This is a good thing in the sense that all the noise and activity of Kolkata almost goes down by a few decibels, but it’s not good because it also means the guy in rags I passed by today generated less emotion in me than it did when I first got here and I don’t like acknowledging that fact. See something enough times and you just kind of grow numb to whatever that might be and as much as I hate to admit it, a little numbness in Kolkata might not be a bad thing because if you didn’t have it, I think you could die of a broken heart. 

My day at Kalighat today consisted of the usual activities. Prior to visiting Kolkata, I always said I wanted to experience the “poorest of the poor” with all my senses and today, it was the first time I actually touched it as I tried to give as much comfort as I could to one patient that is always looking for a little love from a volunteer as they pass by.  What was hard with this patient is that she’d never want to let go of you and when other responsibilities were required of me on a couple different occasions, I’d have to kind of gently pry her hands away from mine and I didn’t like having to do that because it gave me a sense of abandoning her.  After walking out of today’s shift, it left me kind of frustrated because I had a sense of powerlessness in making things better for the people in Kalighat.  Sure I can give them love, hold their hand, and provide them with a warm smile, but those things don't give these people their life back and that is what you are left wanting to give these people after seeing them.

After my shift, it was time to grab some lunch and my new volunteer friend from Indiana by the name of Dale recommended a “local Indian place” that he said he was dying to experience and it turned out to be McDonald’s.  This McDonald’s was easily the nicest McDonald’s I’ve ever eaten at as it had doormen and a layout that had more of a casual dining ambiance to it than it did fast food.  Back home, walking into McDonald’s with bedhead and sweatpants would have been just fine, but I wouldn’t have been comfortable doing the same thing at this McDonalds as it had some serious class.  With this being such a special occasion, I felt like I needed to “go big or go home” so I decided to order the Maharaja Mac Combo...Large Size it Please!  The Maharaja Mac is the Big Mac equivalent of back home and since Indians don’t eat beef, they used chicken patties as a substitute.  When my meal was all said and done, I can say the fries were delicious as usual and the Maharaja Mac didn’t disappoint either.  After lunch, my next big item of agenda for the day was to get an international phone so I’d have a better way of getting in touch with people over here as well as back home and after a few stops here and there to make this happen, I am happy to say my front pocket is now home to a Nokia1800 with a ringtone of Jiya Se Jiya.  

After looking back on my day and kind of thinking I’m starting to get things figured out around here...I then rinsed my second and last toothbrush under my sink faucet! 
Take Care and Go Zags!

MY SUNDAY--01/16/10

Today, my volunteering started back up again at the Kalighat and in walking to the Mother House to meet up with everyone I had my first encounter with a dead person lying on the sidewalk right outside the mission’s doors.  If it wasn’t for the 4 Sisters surrounding the man when I passed, I honestly would have just thought he was asleep like the many other people I’ve seen on the streets so far and this experience has made me wonder how many other dead Kolkatans I’ve walked past thinking they were just asleep.  On a more positive note, I am happy to say I found a way easier route today to the Kalighat thanks to a Dutch guy I met during breakfast who has been volunteering in Kolkata off and on for the last 10 years and who just so happened to purchase some land outside of Billings, MT a year ago. Small world...I’m telling ya. Prior to getting to the center, we made a stop at a local vendor and had some chai with a homeless Kolkatan guy by the name of William Sebastian (no joke) that my new Dutch friend had gotten to know over the years of volunteering.  My Dutch friend’s philosophy on giving to beggars in Kolkata and life... “give to those that don’t beg and smile every day because life is too short to be so serious” and it’s hard for me to disagree with that credo, especially around here cause you need a smile every now and then to pick your spirits back up. 

Once I arrived to Kalighat, I found out that my trip to the village the day before had saved me the experience of seeing a dead person there, but as soon as that conversation ended, we found out that another patient had just passed and that’s when I realized that death in Kalighat would be quite the frequent occurrence.  Beginning duties for the day was laundry as usual and I found myself washing and scrubbing clothes with a Christian youth pastor from Colorado, a Hindu from India, and a Catholic girl from Austria.  Later in the morning, after some chai and a nice conversation with a lady from Singapore on break whose take on MT was that it is “way too cold!”, I was asked to feed a patient his rice and meat for the day as he was bedridden.  Outside of doing a “tickle, tickle, tickle” to an older Indian woman’s feet earlier who was in a wheelchair, this was by far the most personal contact I had with someone thus far and I was glad to have it.  With me getting most of the 20 spoonfuls of rice, potato, and meat in the patient’s mouth instead of all over his face or neck, I’d like to say it was a successful first feeding.  

After lunch was served, the rest of the day is spent cleaning the floors and after doing this I made my way up the road to grab an auto rickshaw back to the hotel for .25 cents...a ride that would have probably cost back home about $12. For anyone not familiar with the auto rickshaw I recommend two a google search and check it out and two, ride in one at least once if you ever have the opportunity and hope you don’t get smoked by a taxi or your toast. Since autorickshaws can’t get away with charging regular taxi fares, I think they try and make up for it by cramming as many people they can on these things and in my case, we had 5 people in their including the driver...on second thought, make that 4.5 people since about half my body was sticking out of the autorickshaw because of how small it was. Since I’m writing this after the fact, I obviously made it home safe and sound and so all of you can take a deep sigh of relief.  

Since I’ve been in Kolkata so far, it almost seems like a half day here is like a full day back home and with only about 3 hrs of sleep the night before and this is because of the sensory overload of everything. The only thing I can try and compare how hard my eyes and ears have been working over the last 5 days in Kolkata would be to compare it to about 5 Hispanics working in a kitchen and with that said, I think I'll be using the rest of my Sunday honoring the Indian tradition of it being a day of rest.

Side note…looks like my Seahawks decided to take a day of rest as well on Sunday against the Bears.  Nice knowing you Hasslebeck and better luck next year boys. 
Until next time and Go Zags!