As I write this Saturday morning, I still find myself in the same clothes I wore when departing Denver so I guess that tells you what the status is of my baggage arriving to Kolkata. As to why I have no idea of what the complications are with my luggage, it’s not because the agent I spoke with on the phone yesterday didn’t tell me, but rather because I could only make out about 25% of what the guy was saying. Even though I’ve been wearing the same articles of clothing since Monday, I oddly enough, feel relatively clean still when considering the rags many Kolkatans are wearing in the area.
With no volunteering on Thursdays, a guy from England and myself used it as an opportunity to hit the streets of Kolkata and see what we’d stumble across. With Kolkata having a population of approximately 14.6 million people, it was easy to find ourselves stumbling over quite a bit and any street or narrow alley we found ourselves walking on made me feel like all 14.6 million locals were accompanying our expedition. People are literally everywhere. During this walk, I couldn’t help but have kind of a Dorothy’s “we aren’t in Kansas anymore” moment as it seemed like every Kolkatan stared at us as we passed by. And when I say stare, I’m not talking about the “stare until you get busted” stare where the person will quickly look away once it is identified that they got busted staring at someone. The stare we got from the Kolkatans was more like a “we know you know that we’re staring at you and we are gonna just keep staring at you until we can’t stare at you any longer” stare. What made this experience even more humorous to me was in thinking back of how I made a deliberate effort in packing for this trip to only bring attire (i.e. no shorts, no t-shirts, no running shoes, no baseball cap, etc.) that would help me blend into the crowd and look less touristy. In catching my reflection in a window shop later in the afternoon, I just had to laugh a bit because it made me realize how naive I was in thinking I could blend in. It was like I thought my clothes would have the magic ability to change my skin color and unless I could change that, there was no way I had any chance of blending in with the Kolkatan people.
As far as some historical landmarks and/or places of interest we discovered on Thursday in Kolkata, we did walk across the Howrah Bridge and also took in the local flower market. The Howrah Bridge in my opinion is of more interest because of the high traffic it hosts on a daily basis than it is for any kind of extravagant architecture. In the bridge's defense though, I have seen pictures of it at night and it is pretty remarkable at this time as it lights the sky up with purple all across the Hooghly River. Sorry no pics yet...do a google search! Take the population of Great Falls, MT (65,000 approx.), quadruple it, and put all of those people on foot with head baskets and pull carts on the 10th street bridge, I think you’ll get a good idea of what it looks like on the Howrah bridge. As for the flower market, this was a very fascinating site to see as this area is where Kolkatans buy and sell all types of flowers for what I understand to be offerings for the gods. As of now, I’m far from understanding the Hindu religion with respect to daily obligations, but this is something I’m hoping to learn more about while I’m up here. One reason I particularly liked the flower market as well was that it provided an area where the smell of everything that comes with poverty (i.e. sewage, pollution, smog) was temporarily overpowered by something much more fresh and sweet.
On Friday morning around 7 am, I went to the Mother House to meet up with all the volunteers and have some breakfast prior to all of us heading to our volunteer centers and the meal consisted of a banana, two pieces of bread, and some chai (hot tea w/ milk). If you’re looking for a new weight loss program, this might be the breakfast for ya. If you aren’t looking to shed any pounds, the other big reason to attend breakfast at the Mother House each morning is so you can follow a more experienced volunteer to the location you’ll be volunteering at. With respect to where my volunteer center (Kalighat) is located, it’s a must to find somebody to follow due to how difficult it is to find your way around the city. Kalighat is about a 25 to 30 minute walk from the Mother House and it has a few lefts in the directions, a left then right, a right then left, a couple zig zags, a winding street, a few more rights, a railroad track crossing, and a hill. Oh...by the way...there aren’t any streets signs to refer to and every street block looks the exact same. If at any time this month, I’ll be able to figure these directions out all by myself it will be one of the biggest accomplishments of my life I think...at least it will feel like it.
Once we arrived to Kalighat, it was time to roll up the sleeves and get to work. If volunteering at Kalighat was like an actual job, it would be equivalent to your boss saying, “you’re hired” and then shutting the door and leaving you to figure everything out. For any boss that is a big fan of the “sink or swim” training philosophy, you’ll be happy to know that the Missionaries of Charity are too so you’re in good company. With there not being a lot of volunteer direction given on my 1st day, I would say my 1st session consisted of a lot of observation. Basically, the outline of the day is as follows..handwashing the patients clothes/blankets and hanging them to dry on the roof , handing out water and medicine to patients, washing dishes, volunteer break (have to drink more chai!), serving and feeding people, more dishes, and then clean up. With me being stationed at the center of the organization that is notorious for housing the "worst of the worst" cases, one might think it would be a pretty overwhelming environment to walk into and I was thinking the same thing as well, but I can't say my 1st shift left me with any "mouth dropping" events and sadly, I think a lot of this had to do with me already being exposed to so much of the same suffering in the streets. For every cripple or extremely malnourished person I saw in Kalighat there's about 100 times more on the streets that I've already walked by and it is this reality of Kolkata that is by far the most shocking. When considering my expectations for my 1st day in Kalighat was that I would see someone die and I didn’t, I’d say it was a good 1st day.
One more note of importance before I conclude my 2nd writing, it looks like the Gonzaga Men’s Basketball team beat the Pepperdine Waves on Thursday making it their 8th win in a row. Can’t say I watched the game of course, but when looking at the stat line with Steven Gray at 19 points, Elias Harris at 19 points, and Robert Sacre at a career high of 24 points...I’d have to say I like what I see.
Go Zags and until next time.