Hi everyone! It’s the first week in India and so far so much has happened!
We arrived in Kalkutta last Monday night and stayed there till Thursday morning. We stayed at Professor Banerjee’s mother’s house. The first thing we noticed was the poverty. People were just lining the sidewalks to sleep (I arrived at night), and vacant lots were filled with people lying down- the lucky ones had sheets- if not they slept on news papers. There is no good waste disposal system so trash lines the street and is occasionally burned. During the day the city is packed with people. Driving is kinda like playing mario cart. The drivers play a very skilled game of chicken. If one wants to pass someone, they lay down their horn and start driving into oncoming traffic-pulling back just in time so as to not be hit by a bus. Traffic lights are more like suggestions and lanes are optional. Seat belts don’t exists.
People take pictures of me and the other white people on the trip and most of them aren’t too stealthy about it. My first experience with this was on Tuesday- we visited the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta. There was an Indian family there and the father came up to me and said “photo?” I nodded assuming he wanted me to take a picture him and his family, but then I was immediately surrounded by his family with his kids grabbing my hands as he took a picture of me!
On Thursday morning we took a train to Koderma (it was air conditioned!-last time for that…) and when we got off at the station we gave someone some money to help carry our bags to the car. This guy balanced two of our suitcases on his head and grabbed another one in his hands. It was quite impressive- makes you think how people become skilled at something so simple to earn a little money.
Koderma is great. The school where we will be teaching is quite developed and we took a tour of it to see the classrooms and labs, and to meet the principal. It is really beautiful. A few of the nuns teach and they also have some outside teachers come in. It’s not clear exactly what we will be doing yet, the school is on break though so we won’t start until the 21st, but we are all eager to get started.
The hospital is very impressive as well. Most of what they deal with from what I can see is infant care (births…), but there are all sorts of other illnesses and such that they cover. They have an in-patient care (300 rupees a night-about $6) and an out-patient service. We walked around the hospital and went into the room where they do surgery and meet some of the mothers and new borns (so cute!). All their laundry is solar powered (wow) as well as one of their disinfectant machines. We watched three babies being born and the other day and Molly and Namratha watched the second have of a C-section. Namratha later went back and watch another one while the rest of us were resting.
We visited a section of the campus that is set aside for care for the mentally ill. They have 15 women there right now, but can take up to 20. Most of them they said were found on the streets while a few were dropped off by their families. They do some garden work and cleaning, but not too much outside of that. There isn’t a sense of vocational education for them and reestablishment into the outside world, and the ones here will probably stay for the rest of their lives. Yesterday we walked over and sat with them and taught them the itsy-bitsy spider- which was perfect because it was raining!
There hasn’t been much rain here- last year they didn’t get any. We are conscious to conserve water because on most days, even the hospital runs low.
Mangos are abundant here. We have had a fresh mango every day-multiple times a day. They are SO GOOD. There is a mango tree outside our room and a lot at the school. When we went to the school the other day, they served us mango juice with fresh mango. Then when we got back to the hospital (where our home base is) for lunch, the nuns handed us more mangos for desert. So far we have tried 2 types of mangos, mango juice, mango puree, mango jam, mango-coconut curry and spicy mango pickles.
It is pretty hot, but we’re getting used to constantly sweating and slowly adjusting. Our rooms have fans and air coolers- though it all runs on generators so I don’t like to use them too much- mostly at night. The rooms themselves are beautiful- the house we’re staying in has two rooms and two bathrooms for the four of us. There is a staircase up to the roof, and at night you can see all the stars.
It hasn’t been all fun and games, but we’re hopeful for a great experience and a good summer. Another update later!