Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wilting, But Happy, Flower

As you may have noticed, I've been having some trouble posting on a daily basis. It's a combination of being really busy each day with my volunteer work, a paucity of internet stations near my hotel, a malfunctioning internet connection at my organization's office, and the fact that I'm super exhausted each day by about 8:00 pm because of this infernal heat. It is freakin' hot in Kolkata people. H-O-T and H-U-M-I-D. By 2:00 pm I feel like a wilted flower. By 4:00 pm, I'm ready to fall down. I've noticed that if I take an afternoon rest and wait to go back outside until about 5:00 pm, then I feel much better. The evenings are nice.

* * *

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for a public service announcement: HOLY CRAP, the fattest, most disgusting looking rat I've ever seen just waddled past the glass wall of this internet cafe, just four feet from my unprotected toes. I feel like vomiting! I looked at it in horror and then caught the eye of the guy monitoring the computers. He grimaced back at me in understanding. That rat could have seriously taken most of the rats that I've seen in the NY city subways. Dang.

* * *

In the last few days I've largely overcome my initial culture shock an I've gotten somewhat used to the stares of the people on the street. I love my volunteer position. The people at my organization could not be more welcoming, warm, or hospitable. They have been generous with their time and knowledge and already I have learned so much from them. My favorite part of this week has been working with the adolescent girls over in one of the red light districts. Some of the girls have mothers whom are prostitutes, and others just come from very poor socio-economic backgrounds. One of the girls, Neine, was rescued recently from a brothel.

The girls are so wonderful!! They're warm, full of energy, and so much fun to spend time with. The other day, I lead a discussion with them about international human rights norms and the reality of their lives. They were so smart, introspective, and insightful. When the issue of prostitution was raised, they talked of the stigma that makes it difficult for women to leave the red light areas and find other work. They talked of disliking the profession but not the women who are in it. Some of them felt that women had a choice as to whether or not to enter prostitution, but others - those with mothers working as prostitutes - felt that they did not. One after another they recounted stories of girl children not getting enough food, not getting an education, of mothers being beaten, of police doing nothing. In between talking, they showed me Bollywood dances, begged m to sing them songs, and tried to teach me snippets of Hindi and Bengali. They quiz me each time they see me. They're amazing. They're yet another example of how just a small amount of attention and care can go so far with a child.

In between the volunteer work, I've seen many sides of Kolkata. I've been to a Bollywood movie, "Namaste London," saw "The Namesake" at a fancy mulitplex cinema in the middle of a typical Western-style glass-encased mall (that gave me reverse culture shock), gone to dinners at some fantastic restaurants, bought some beautiful cloth at a market, and gone to one of my new friend's tailors to have some Indian-style tops made. When in Rome...

A word about the food: It was funny because before leaving for India, my mother, in a moment of worry started telling me about some friends of hers who had gone to India and lost 25 lbs. Apparently the food did not agree with them. I was pretty sure that wasn't going to happen to me because I like Indian food and eat it regularly back home. Since being here, I've been really careful in terms of not eating off the street (except with my Kolkatan friends who know the good vendors), have been avoiding fruits and veggies that might possibly have been washed in bad water, and have been having a ton of absolutely delicious Bengali food. It is so good!! The result of all of this is that I've eaten a lot of paneer butter masala and naan - which I've been enjoying thoroughly - and hardly any healthy things. I have yet (knock on wood) to get any "Delhi Belly" and I think I've gained at least 5 lbs!! And, I've only been here 8 days! I'm going to have to hit the gym hard core when I get back to NYC. The point of all of this (Mom, if you're reading), is that my mom had nothing to worry about with respect to me potentially wasting away. I'm getting downright curvascious.

I'm planning to be in Kolkata through Friday, and am trying to arrange to take a night train (AC 2nd Class) to Darjleeng. After Darjleeng, my rough route is: Dehli, Dharmsala, McLeod Ganj, Shimla... I was planning to pop by Rajasthan but I've heard that it's 50 degree Celsius. As I'm basically wilting here in Kolkata in the 40 degree Celsius temperatures, I'm rethinking that leg of the journey. At some point I hope to wind up in an Ashram but haven't planned that out yet, again because I've been so busy.

I've been reading "Eat, Pray, Love," and so far I love it! I highly recommend it.


Gypsy said...

I love hearing about your trip! Will you post pictures when you get back? :)

gravelly said...

I am glad the food is agreeing with you and that you are enjoying yourself! Stay safe! I will want to hear all your stories!

Sparky Duck said...

my eyes glazed over after seeing Giant Rat a few feet from my toes. Good gravy stay safe