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!   

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