My fifth 10 days Vipassana course

I realized on July 2014 that this 1,5 years old post post is still in draft … I am publishing it lately

I arrived on the 2nd of January in the morning in the meditation center. It was quite a peaceful place compared to what one experiences in Calcutta. Still quite noisy compared to European standards but quiet for Indian’s one. I was assigned a 2 beds room. The other person sleeping in the same room was an American: Michael. He left Detroit to establish in Korea where he teaches Buddhism children education. Quite surprising that a teacher for such skills is from the west. He was a very nice guy with a very clear way to speak and express his ideas. We spent the day arranging how we would try to take care of the room for the coming next 10 days as from 8:00PM on the noble silence would start: not possible anymore to communicate in whatever way. Furthermore, there is an absolute separation of males and females.
Lunch and later dinner were offered. Meditators were arriving mainly in the afternoon. One gets to know different people from very different origins. We were 5 male foreigners for 25 male Indians. Females were much less.
The first meditation day course took place at 8:00PM. This is called day 0. I always remember when I first started this technique in August 2006. Entering the first meditation course I was wondering what would come. Many open points in my mind but the feeling it would be quite easy for me … I was very far from the reality… It was very hard … However since then I often wonder what kind of feelings the beginners have when they first sit and get the first instructions.
Next day, 4:00AM the bell rang to wake up. 10 minutes later the bell rang again to inform the students they should go to the meditation hall continuing the meditation of last night for 2 hours. At the beginning one concentrates only on the breath. The technique is called Anapana and is a kind of preparation of the mind for Vipassana. It consists in concentrating the mind so much on the respiration that one can avoid being disturbed from the many thoughts driving out from the goal of staying concentrated. Usually for the beginners it is merely impossible to stay concentrated more than a few seconds the first day and more than 30 to 40 seconds even after 3 days of preparation without having the mind wandering away.
At 6:30AM the gong rang for breakfast. It was simple, a kind of Indian pollenta, bread and bananas. Chai was as well served. On my side I had taken enough water to avoid drinking anything I would not see as safe. After breakfast a period of rest is offered until 8:00AM. I always go sleeping during most of the period of rest. Some meditators need to walk and do exercise between meditation courses. On my side I want to stay as much concentrated as possible and prefer sleeping as much as possible to have all meditation sessions as deep as possible.
7:45AM the gong rang for wake up and 7:55AM it rang again to inform the meditation starts. Meditators should join the hall for one hour. 9:00AM again gong to inform the end of meditation, a short 5 minutes break and next session starts until 11:00AM. Old students (means student having followed at least one course of this technique) were assigned cells. These are kind of 2m2 room where one can seat and meditate. Such a cell is very calm and the meditation can proceed more deeply.
11:00AM: gong to announce lunch. I ate rice and some vegetables. I always carefully avoided any suspect things I was not sure of. After lunch pause until 1:00PM. Again I went sleeping every day during this pause.
12:45PM: gong for wake up. 12:55PM, gong to inform the beginning of the meditation. It lasts until 2:20PM. Then again gong, 5 minutes rest and from 2:30PM an hour meditation. 3:30PM gong, rest 5 minutes and again meditation until 5:00PM.

In the evening new students can get fruits and Chai or tea. Old students get only hot lemon water. On my side I directly went for a shower and cleanup. I rested a little without sleep to avoid nights insomnia … this first part of meditation technique (called Anapana) would tend one to go very deep in his past. Many memories and old feeling arise … mostly the painful ones. The mood tend to go down and this can easily lead to insomnia or disturbed nights.
6:00PM one hour meditation followed by a discourse. The discourse explains deeper the meditation technique, what we are doing, what kind of purpose should be served. One has to understand there is no mysticism in this technique. Only respiration has to be observed to learn how to become the master of his own mind by being able to concentrate it as one desires. No believe, no contemplation of whatever God of founder of any religion. Only breath and that’s all.
After the discourse another 20 to 30 minutes meditation session. Questions can be asked to the teacher: the teacher and course managers are the only ones a meditator can talk to.
After this day 1 was over. Day 2 to day 9 same program except day 4 where Viapassana will be introduced. A slight difference in the schedule will happen. Vipassana consists of learning to observe sensations on the body and learning to avoid reacting to it by developing a so called equanimity. This gives a strong power in the daily life to face the difficult moments of it. It sounds quite easy but applied it can be very hard.

Now how was my course ? The first 3 days I literally fell down. I had the feeling that all the thoughts that were surrounding me would never again go away, many images of high violence, almost torture in some cases, many hard memories of the past being much more intensified. I had the feeling I would never again go out from these feelings, from this state. I have the luck not to suffer of depression. However in these days I discovered what deep depression was.
Day 4 Vipassana was introduced, my state did not improved, many thoughts running constantly, dialog in my head I could not really control. Day 5 came and I got up with more energy, I shouted in my head STOP! And it worked out. The dialogs completely stopped, when they tried to come back I could easily stop them again. The images and scenarios of violence went slowly away. Day 6, I was emerging from this depressive state, day 7 I was feeling much better. Day 8 and 9 I could feel many pains in some parts of the body. Applying the technique I could reduce some of them, some joy was arising again.
Day 10 a new meditation technique is introduced: Metta. One learns how to share the result of the meditation with everyone. After this the noble silence is stopped and students can talk with each other. In all my past courses I always spoke a lot after this day, socializing and exchanging mail adresses with people. I had kept some contact with a few of them for a short period and then always lost it. For this reason I preferred staying a little more with myself, enjoying the silence. I spoke as few as possible.
Day 11, after breakfast, almost all meditators left. I had my flight the next day hence I had planned to stay one more night … by chance a one day course was offered. Such courses are reserved for old students only. The technique is quite complex to learn and within 1 day one could not learn a lot making a lot of mistakes when practicing on his own. The 1 day course ended at 4:00PM.
We were only 2 students remaining in the center for the night. The cook was as well there and one guy helping him. The teacher would leave as well on day 12 for a 2,5 day train travel to the east of India. Teachers come as volunteer to offer such courses. They are not paid at all.
In the evening I spent some time with the cook and the guy helping him. They could not speak English. We went for a walk to the Ganga looking at people diving in the spiritual water (extremely dirty). After this they showed me the female area of the camp. It was much nicer than the one of the males. I looked at the kitchen and was amazed to see there was almost nothing in it! Only a few gaz sources to cook. A few casseroles but that was all. Compared to European centers where the kitchen is well furnished it was amazing to see how much they prepared every day having so few tools.
I left on day 12 after breakfast. I wanted to make a donation but as I could not use my Visa card I said I would make a money transfer. Donations are obviously not mandatory otherwise they would not be donations and no one is expected to donate anything if he does not want to or.
I wanted to take a taxi to go back but as a bus arrived I took it and arrived in Sudder street around 1:30PM. I had a pizza and some rice and went to skype with Nino. It was so nice seeing her again. We spoke around 30 minutes. I spent the rest of the day applying to some job offers.
At 8:45PM I left the restaurant to get a taxi. On the way I saw a small dog, he was still a baby and could not really walk yet. He was crying certainly of hunger. He tried to move around falling down after a few steps. This was terrible, he would certainly die: who can care of him in a city where most of people cannot eat enough and where dogs are struggling even to get some water.
The taxi driver drove me to the airport while I could not get rid of the image of this poor dog. After a while it went away. My flight was at 3:15AM. I used the time to write these few lines… the last ones of this 4,5 months travel …

Vipassana

As Nino was leaving I took the opportunity to apply for a meditation course. I had already taken 4 courses in Europe. Such a course is always the same wherever it will be taken, the technique is named Vipassana. The first 3 days one would concentrate for over 10 hours a day on his respiration from 4:30AM to 9:00PM with several pauses in between. The last 5,5 days are spent concentrating on the sensations on the body that one can notice mostly only after the first 3 days of intensive concentration on the respiration. The last day another technique will be taught to learn to share benefits that one could get from a course. This last technique is named Metta.
The technique is not based on any kind of believe and is not against any kind of believe: Muslim taking part to such a course will remain Muslims, Christians will remain Christians and Jew will remain Jew. Actually many people having a lot of faith in their religion stated they could pray being much better concentrated after such a course.
Most of people hearing about Vipassana get scared when they come to know it is not allowed to speak for 10 days. It is however far from being hard not being allowed to speak. But the 10 days are far from being easy: not having any kind of communication with anybody forces to be with oneself.
The technique teaches a way to look inside oneself as one is and not as one would like to be or as one would like others see him. Doing so hatred, frustration, envy, selfishness and many other of such aspects that one cultivated consciously or unconsciously will arise in form of very unpleasant sensations. Furthermore sometimes one may have the certitude he has to stop immediately the course, other times high doubts will arise on the course orientation or sense. However the course teaches to observe all sensations and over reactions with equanimity that means as they are. This could look easy and it is hard to really understand the difficulty without living this as an experience.
The thorn may last almost 10 days in the worst cases. Mostly only a few days are very hard. After the 10 days a deep peace will arise. Doing a Vipassana before taking an important decision in his life is the best advice I could recommend. The benefit of the course can really help to change one’s life for a more useful one (cultivating respect, patience and compassion).
It is however not advisable and not allowed to take a course in case of depression or any kind of mentally diseases. It is wiser to go for conventional or traditional treatments in case of such diseases and take part to a course when the symptoms are gone.

More information about the technique here:

http://www.dhamma.org

Last day as a volunteer

1st of January. Last day as a volunteer. Thinking back to the numerous experiences I lived the last 4 months give me the sensations I was travelling since years. Many people saying time went so fast. I do not have this feeling when I try to remember a few sensations I felt … actually so many are coming up. After Africa, about which I already wrote quite some and which always remained my favorite place, we spent quite some time in south east Asia. I crossed the lives of a few persons sharing deep feelings but the overall experience with people cannot be compared to the one I felt in Tanzania.
On the other hand I had the chance to volunteer in two orphanages: In Thailand and in Vietnam. Both of them remain deep in my memories. I had very deep experiences with these children. I did my best to bring them all what I could but remembering at these times I have the feeling they brought me much more than I did.
Calcutta is again a fully different place compared to all the previous ones. I feel deeper relations with people compared to the experiences in south east Asia but at the same time I feel constantly overloaded because of the high poverty which is in all corners. Even the dogs here are struggling  I saw many ill and some even dying.
The houses of Mother Teresa I visited bring a lot to these people who have a chance to get into one. However from a statistical point of view they have certainly more a political influence showing how much still needs to be done than a real help on the overall poor people. For example Kalighat, the place where many people come to die can take care around 100 people (men and women). Outside the house, even around the house of Mother Teresa, many old people are sleeping in the street. Some of them having dogs to get some warm, others only a very thin blanket. There are so many everywhere, children, mothers, handicapped people. They all struggle. Face to so many people suffering, I had the feeling I was not the right person to help here. Many volunteers come on a regular basis: one to several weeks every year. Some even more. They do a great job and I think when one is christian he can live his faith more intensively in such a place.
On my side I am (no more) catholic. Hence I feel even more disconnected from the volunteers. I tried to help in other structures than the houses of the sisters. I tried to teach some mathematics or english. However again I feel the need is so huge I do not know really what is the best thing to do, how to start. I realize I feel more useful in already developed countries like Thailand or Vietnam than here. Maybe another problem is that here poor people tend to accept their state in a more deeper way than the other cultures I was confronted so far.
At the same time indian government was about to close new law sessions where children work should have been banished to be replaced by a strong education politics. I consider this is the absolute UNIQUE solution to the problem of poverty. Unfortunately politics sat in comfortable sits, eating delicious dishes and fighting for their own ego seem to be rather interested in some short term economical advantages leaving the children fighting against dogs and raven in the rubbish for many generations:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/india_child_labour_g1/?slideshow

This last experience in Calcutta increased my feeling of selfishness, showing me what people need here is beyond what I can give. At the same time accepting this as a fact gave me the sensation I was learning and discovering many new aspects on myself which would change my daily life when I am back to Europe’s normal life.

On the 2nd I will leave for a 10 days meditation course named Vipassana. This day I had an appointment with other italians at 1:00PM as others leave too on the 2nd. I met only Federica as Enrico was stuck in Kalighat serving families and children with food as a new year present. In the afternoon I went to Maidan close to the Victoria Monument. There was a queue of more than 200 meters: Indians waiting to enter the park. As a non Indian usually one can go and skip the queue … however I do not like doing this. Later I joined New Light for the last time. There as well music was loud and they were preparing dishes for people around. Looks like here New Year is seen as Christmas in Western countries …. I did not stay very long. There I met a  very nice Canadian lady who previously traveled in Kenya and suffering as I did from the change of culture: in Africa one feels in a new family whereas in India people are quite closed to strangers.
In the evening I went to the Spanish’s Cafe to call Nino and my parents. There I met Enrico and Federica. It was nice: we could say good bye…

Volunteering at New Light

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On the 28th I left my hotel at 6:50AM, On the way I crossed again people around fire to get some warm, ladies fighting against dogs and raven in the rubbish to sort out what they could sell, men washing themselves with cold water in the cold weather of the morning: they cannot dry after washing hence they usually simply dress up thin clothes with wet skin without showing any sign of unpleasant feeling (on my side I had to wear many layers to protect against the cool wind). Many small places selling something to eat or to drink were getting up from the cold night.
I arrived at the breakfast around 7:10AM. Enrico was already there. He told me he tried to come to my hotel a few times but despite he left a message I did not get any from the reception. He told me today he would go for a particular volunteering: sharing presents to the street children. I decided I would join. For this we took a bus with the sisters to a place almost emptied of people. The sisters were showing us the way but after a while we lost them … as we walked almost an hour I started to wonder whether we would reach the school at all. By chance walking further we arrived 🙂 The school was full of children everywhere. Many different ages: from 3 years old to over 15 years old. All were grouped by age. For each group one to 3 sisters or volunteers were proposing some animations. It was really great to see. Many children dressed up with clothes in extremely bad state but laughing and playing with others. Sisters shared a lot of sweets (not the best thing for the teeth but really good to make children happy). After many animations they got as well presents. Many mothers (of the children) were sitting in a corner. After a while presents were offered. After this we cleaned up and left the school.
In the afternoon I decided I would give a chance in trying to go back to the place with the narrow street named New Light taking care of children of prostitute. Children and mothers have to follow strict rules when a child is left to the association: one of them is that the child is not allowed not leave the association anymore as long as the mother did not find another job or the child is old enough to care about his own life. The interesting point of this association is that it is located in the heart of the biggest area where prostitutes work. Entering the narrow street one meet them. I find this a great idea to really try to change the ecosystem.

As I arrived I explained I was sick but this was no problem they accepted I start the same day at 5:30PM. I went back home for some rest and was again back there as promised. After a few formalities I joined a group of children. We started to talk a little. Many could only very little english. I started with basic things, I also noticed that one girl was very good in mathematics and gave her many exercises always more complex … somehow she had a lot of fun with this. After a while a guy came to me he was quite older and told me he was a boy rescued by the association and now doing hotel management. He explained me he was learning french. I proposed him he brings all his french notebooks so we can practice a little more … he seemed to be happy to get this opportunity. I stayed a little more looking at the children playing and then I left back home. After dinner and some time on the internet I went for a long and resting night …

29th of December. Only a few days left before the travel ends. From the 2nd on I will start a 10 days meditation course named Vipassana: more to read soon about it on this blog. Hence only 4 days more. I spent the morning taking care of bringing clothes to laundry and looking for some presents. At lunch I met 2 spanish girls. They were living in India since a few months. They took the opportunity to go for a 1,5 month travel. In the afternoon I went to New Light (the association of the narrow street). I again tried to give exercises to some children: Maths and English. Children are very respectful and nice. In India as a stranger I am always called Uncle. This is quite funny.

30th of december: I woke up before 3:00 AM and for some reason could not sleep anymore. I stood up at 6:40AM and went for the breakfast at the sisters. I joined Enrico and we went to Nabon Jibon. I slowly realize that Calcutta is really too taf for me. Just like if some inside part in me would protect against the huge poverty. In Jibon I helped cleaning some vegetables. A group of people from australia were there. They were mostly students accompanied from their teacher (not much older than them 🙂 ). Some of them having 17 years old had already traveled a lot. At 11:30AM we left the place and I went for a Pizza with Enrico. After lunch I decided to rest a little before joining New Life. However I slept very deep and woke up too late … I would go only tomorrow. It was not too bad as it was last day of Francesca an italian girl. We went with Diego to the spanish Cafe for her last day.

31th of december. I do not know what I will do this evening. If I have chance I will meet Enrico. We have an appointment for the 1st but the 31st we did not have any. I woke up a little late and went for a Pizza-Breakfast. After this I started to define the next priorities I see for my come back in Europe: what to study versus the needed engineer profile on the market. I also started to prepare all my things: on the 2nd I leave my hotel. At 1:00PM I went for lunch and met Enrico. After lunch we went for a walk to check some shops. I came back to my hotel and after some rest I went to New Light.
Children had somehow no mood fur learning but rather playing with each other. One of them was needing quite a lot of affection. He went to me and just wanted to feel close playing a little. Two others joined. Later I started talking with a teenager and started to give him some mathematics exercises. I had the feeling he would not like it very long hence I tried to raise the level very quick so that he could at least understand a few things. Indeed after 30 minutes he did not want to do more but promised me to come back to me on the next day. I did not stay very late as children were mainly busy with each other. I arrived at my hotel around 8:00PM and quickly looked if some italians were around but I did not see any. I went for dinner and then I called Nino for the last time in 2012 … getting out of the Internet cafe I met by chance the italians: Francesca, Diego and Federica. Francesca had to leave this day but her train was delayed around 12 hours. As Diego and Federica had to meet Marta (an italian girl having started a project for children of a slum) I spent the last few minutes of 2012 with Francesca and 2 other Swiss-Italians that we met. After this I went back to bed for the first time in 2013.

Christmas


In the night of the 23rd to the 24th I felt the throat hurting quite a lot. I understood quite immediately I got a cold. In the morning I was very tired and had to accept I could not go to the orphanage. At 11:00AM I went for breakfast and then went back to bed for 4 hours. Again I stood up for lunch. On the way there are always many beggars. Being myself sick I felt more compassion for them and decided to give one 10 roupies (the sisters strongly advise never to give any money to them). The guy ran after me telling me he rather needed vitamins … an Indian who saw the scene came to me and explained I should avoid giving money to them. If they need something they can go to the sisters but giving them money would support their way of living. He was a nice man. After lunch I wanted to go to the ATM. The beggar saw me again and started many explanations to try to convince me he needed vitamins which were certainly rather drugs.
In the evening a water fall started from our hotel. Somehow a pipeline broke down. Many people looking at it. The street were full of decorations for Christmas  Some Indian people came to me and wished me a Merry Christmas. As I came back back to my room I could hear the rats digging on the roof. Many thoughts were surrounding me: all these people in Europe suffering being alone. Many committing suicide on Christmas Eve. Somehow being here and sick gave me the feeling I was a little closer to them. I was as well missing Nino and my parents. That was my very first Christmas Eve away from my parents.

Next day was Christmas. I was still sick in bed. I very often wondered what is the sense of this fest. Many speak about sharing but I mostly never shared anything on this day. Being here gave me the feeling I was however sharing something with poor people. Despite my state is far away from them: they sleep in the street, some never had seen a roof above their head, it was like if this Christmas had more sense than the other ones. I would have preferred spending that day with children of the orphanage but somehow the Life had decided it in a different way. I was feeling better but still weak and could certainly best case not go to the orphanage before the 27th …

26th I was feeling better and 27th almost cured but as I remembered Gianni not really getting out of his cold maybe because he started again being active too soon I preferred taking this day as a rest. Actually I again slept half of the day. In the evening I however decided next day I would go to the sister’s breakfast and hopefully would see Enrico there …

 

Volunteering at the sisters

On friday morning the 21st we went again to Jibon the place where we take care of the disabled people. Many Indians were volunteering. Enrico said many times he was surprised no Indians at all were helping … somehow his prayer got heard 🙂 The group of Indians was from north est India. There people look rather like Chinese or south east Asian. There were around 8 of them coming with us. We were a little behind arriving in the center. All the Indians were very active and as there is not very much to do we just took some disabled person to walk around. After a while Enrico decided to visit the center of Don Bosco. Don Bosco was an Italian priest taking care of poor children in the streets of Italy in the 19th century. I accompanied him and found the center really interesting. I immediately asked whether I could volunteer there to teach English or Mathematics but the person in charge of volunteers would come back only on Monday … hence no answer possible before. We visited the center which we enjoyed a lot. After this we came back and stayed with Joseph and Christian the 2 guys from New Zealand. It was their last day in Calcutta. Samuel (from the US) was there too. We talked a lot about the sense of this volunteering experience. I am not sure it makes a lot of sense as I feel we are not really needed. Christian studying theology argued that we measure our-self from what we do instead of who we are and that may be the mistake …

At 11:30AM we left the center and after lunch I went to Kalighat. There I came to know that 2 patients passed away the previous night and their beds were already occupied by 2 new patients. One of them looking in a very bad state. Looked like he was suffering from an occlusion.
Walking around I saw Teresa the Italian nurse taking care of some bands of a patient being half conscious. As she removed all bands I could see one of the worst injury I saw in my life. I asked whether I could help but by chance they did not need any. After a few minutes I felt I had to leave the room.
I helped giving medicines and then feeding the patients. I however always have the feeling I try to do something but whether I am really useful I am not sure. Getting out of the center I walked to the subway with Nicolas. I told him my feeling. He replied me there was another center called Star Light where they care about children and they may need help for homework  I would try to get there the next day. Nicolas was not sure whether he would come back to Kalighat as a friend was joining him and they may go travelling around Asia. He plans to extend his trip until March and may go to Cambodia …
In the evening I joined an Italian group to get a pizza in a very expensive place of Calcutta: the price of the pizza was around 6 euros instead of 1,5 euros …
Saturday the 22nd I did not go to Jibon. Actually I like taking half a day rest every 2 days. At least I do not develop too much this feeling of un-usefulness 🙂 I went for breakfast at the Spanish’s Cafe. On the way I often see many dogs. What is surprising is the sad look they all have. Maybe because they are hungry. Once I saw one dog getting some affection from another one. It was very sad, here looks like people are already fighting so much for themselves they could never take care of dogs. I however try to always stay away from them as rabies is very spread in India.
As I arrived at the Spanish’s Cafe Gianni one of the Italians was already there. He was sick since over a week. He was feeling better but then looks like it started again. By chance he planned to go back home next day. I wrote a few mails and I would try to go and find Star Light in the beginning of the afternoon. Calcutta was getting slowly cold, I had bought several new clothes already …
In the afternoon I searched this new place to volunteer with children. I asked some policemen. The name was actually New Light. It is located at the end of a very narrow street. It was quite hard to find and as I asked around a woman brought me there (usually women never speak to men hence I was surprised she offered me to bring me there). It is strange to walk in this narrow street, in Europe one may be even frightened. However here people are very peaceful. In the middle of the street many young men were sitting discussing. I went through the group who replied nicely to my hello. As we almost reached the end of the street we had to enter a kind of house, and going upstairs we ended in a big room. Many children were laying down on the ground trying to sleep I think. They were around 8 years old. A man came to me and asked me what I wanted as I explained I wanted to volunteer he brought me to another person who asked me what kind of volunteering I could provide. I said I am engineer and could teach some English and mathematics if needed. They agreed. I would start next Monday at 12:00PM. I left the place very happy. Met again the group of young men who all wanted to shake my hand saying me thank you 🙂 I did not understood why but it was funny. I continued my walk to Kalighat.
They were preparing the decorations for Christmas. Many volunteers left on the previous day but even more arrived. We were a lot that day. The new ones wanted to be very active as I did when I arrived. There was however not much to do except moving patients, bringing medications, feeding. The guy with the big belly seemed to be in a worst state as the day before: extremely swelled face, he could almost not open the eyes anymore … he was mostly sleeping all the time. As we were about to leave, one old man made pipi in his bed. We had to change him. As soon as he was ready, another one made more than pipi … Again we had to change him. It was not great kind of work but at least I felt useful. After this we left the place.
With 2 new arrived Italians: Matteo and Brando we tried to take a taxi to go back home. We found one but as we were stuck in the traffic, we left and took the subway to go back home.
This evening I could hear Nino: since almost 10 days I could not hear her. That was the present of the day 🙂 Enrico told me he went to Don Bosco in the morning and planned to go again next day. I asked whether I could join and he was happy we would go together 🙂 Hence that was my next plan …

I joined next day Enrico at the sister’s breakfast. This morning was particularly cold. On the way I saw many people washing in the street having almost no clothes on them and washing with cold water. They even did not show a sign of suffering of the cold…. Enrico always go to mass at 5:50AM and then stay for a while alone while all already go to eat. I arrived around 7:00AM in the room where volunteers eat. Enrico arrived a little later. We went as planned to Jibon and as it was too cold, before going to the children of Don Bosco we went to buy some new clothes. I was feeling somehow sad for most of people here who cannot afford buying warm clothes having eaten much less than I did and despite all this never complains.

As we arrived at the brothers many children came to welcome us. They were very happy to see Enrico again and they looked happy that I joined. Enrico brought many small toys his friends had given to him for poor children. On my side I first played a kind of badminton and later started to speak with some children. They were from 11 to 15 years old. All very nice. As they knew I was french they were very motivated to learn some words of french. We laughed a lot as some phonetic is similar to hindi but words have a completely different meaning. I took the opportunity to make them learn trying to ask again and again some of the words I had already translated. Some of them could really good remember. After a while they proposed to show me the place where they were living. It was on the 3rd floor of a building. Many of them watching TV sat on the floor. It was a big room completely empty. They told me this was the place where they sleep. Aside a bathroom. It was not perfectly clean but quite in better state than many hotels around. I was only surprised they sleep on the floor with a few blankets and that’s all.
We went until the roof and they showed me the view which was quite interesting. After this I came back downstairs with them. They insisted so that I come next day but as I had already promised to the other association I promised I would do my best for thursday. I joined Enrico and we left the place to go back to Sudder street (the street of my hotel where the favourite restaurant of the volunteers is: Blue sky).
The 2 new Italians Matteo and Brando arrived later as we almost finished lunch. They joined us. Enrico left to go to Kalighat whereas I did not really know what to do in the afternoon. I was not motivated to go to Kalighat. Discussing with Matteo and Brando I decided to join Matteo to go do Daya Dan with his parents. It is a house of the sisters where they care about children. The house is really nice. We helped a very little and after this we supported children preparing a show for Christmas. It was very nice. Around 5:30PM we left and I arrived in my hotel around 6:00PM. I was looking forward to the next day to go and start with the orphanage New Light in the narrow street.

Arriving in Calcutta

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On the 17th of december I stood up at 5:30AM. My bus was planned at 6:00AM. Time to put all things together I left the hotel and started waiting fo the bus … as it did not come I called the agency at 6:20AM. I was surprised someone answered me … the woman told me to come to her office. This was 500 meters away. I took all my thing and went. As I arrived she explained me she had booked the bus for me but somehow it did not come. She gave me my money back and told me I should take a taxi.
A taxi driver was standing closed by proposing to bring me for 1000 Baht: a price more than 3 times higher as it should be. As he insisted I got really angry and told him he should rather leave me in peace. He went away. I asked another taxi who proposed me 400 Baht I refused and looked for another taxi: there are many. I asked the nextone whether he would open his meter. He agreed and we went.
Thailand is a very nice place and I like people there the only ones I dislike are taxi drivers and travel agencies, I feel they just want to take the highest amount from their customers selling crappy products. My plane was at 10:45 AM. I was expecting that in Calcutta I would again have to fight against taxi drivers. I understand they try to get the maximum profit of western people they imagine to be very rich. On our side we expect fairness. At the end it is only a culture choc …

I arrived in Calcutta at 11:40AM (local time). After all formalities, I decided to go directly to the sisters: one could register at 3:00PM. Getting out the airport many taxi drivers proposed me different prices: from 600 Rs to 700 Rs (1Euro = 71Rs). I was unsure and I noticed one could take an official prepaid taxi. I went there. They charges me 300 Rs 🙂

The way in taxi was very nice. I discovered a very typical city. Many people everywhere. Much poverty. Full chatic. As the taxi dropped me I saw a nice restaurant. I decided I would start my first experience there. I went to eat a Dal (National indian plate). The quantity was huge and very good. There I met an american: Paul. He is retired and volunteers regularly at the sisters all over the world since 8 years. We had a very nice chat.
After lunch I arrived to the sisters 20 minutes to 3:00. I had to wait a little in the so called voluteer’s meeting place. There we had to fill out a form and select what kind of volunteering we would do.
I met a group of 3 italians. Very nice people. We talked a lot. Enrico the boy already knew quite a lot. He went for one day voluteering in a place a little far away explaining me there were lacking volunteers. For this reason I decided to go with him: I like my volunteering makes sense. They need people only in the morning. It was however psosible to apply to 2 different places: 1 for the morning and 1 for the evening. Then I decided to try the famous Kaligat, the first house mother Teresa opened taking care of the poorest among the poors: the ones having nothing come there short time before going again back or … passing away.
Ad I regeisters I explained a sister I had no hotel. She told me this could be a problem as during this period a hotel can be hardly found. I had heard of Sudder street full of hotel and guest houses. On the way to there I saw a hotel. I asked for a single room: the price was 800 Rs. The room was really dirty but the bed looked quite OK. Many insects inside the room … As soon as I booked the room I decided to check further for another one. I found another hotel not too expensive: they had a room for 700Rs. It was still occupied but would be free next day. I said I would take it.
In the evening I went to visit the italians and we spoke almost 1 hour about different experiences of volunteering. It was very nice. Then I had to come back to my ugly hotel, next day I should get up early as voluntters can have breakfast at the sisters at 6:40AM …

On the 18th, I woke up at 3:00AM, it was quite cold: I was used to live in a 30° city and there were less than 20°. I stayed in the bed and stood up at 5:30AM. I left my backpack at the reception as I would move to the other hotel and went to the Motherhouse for the morning prayer starting at 6:00AM. Outside a strange processin was taking place: many voluteers were on the way. I medidated during the mass. After this breakfast was offered: a few slices of bread and bananas. Some tea was offered too but I do not drink any.
At 7:40AM the ones having their last days were sang a thankful song from the sisters and the volunteers. After this we took the bus to the place were disabled persons were cured.
The way on the bus was very nice, very tipical and chatics places of Calcutta. We were 5 volunteers: Enrico, Christian, Samuel and Joseph. It was very interesting to talk with them. As well helping with people having already experience is much easier. The house is held by the brother sides of the missionary of charity. I had never seen them. They are actually dressed normally. But I have to say I find them more friendly than the sisters. As far as I know, the sisters have a huge pressure with makes them stressed in their daily work and then not having so easy free time to take care of the volunteers.
We tried to offer distraction to the diabled people: swinging a few or playing with balls. At 11:00AM we helped the brothers giving them lunch and then washed. It was quite a lot of work. With the volunteers it was OK but when the volunteers are lacking it must be much harder.
As we went back, I went to my hotel to get my backpack. They asked for a tip that I refeused to give saying I was here to volunteer (but thinking I never had seen such a crappy room in my life !). I moved to the new hotel where a new suprise was waiting for me. After I waited some time, I could enter my room which had no window ! I immidiately asked whether I could get another room they promised me I would get one in the evening.
I went for lunch in the same restaurant as the previous day.

At 2:30PM I met Enrico and tried to find the way with the bus to Khaligat. We did not really know it, simply asked to the bus helper who brought us near by. There we asked around and found the first opened house of Mother Teresa. As we were coming in it was a strange sensation: I had heard so much about this place, read as well many stories of people dying, needing some time and affection from the volunteers. Firthermore I liked that the place belonged to a muslim: like a sign of God itself to show that if one wants to make a step ahead living in harmony with other religions is the only way. I entered this place with this feelings and saw many people lying in very bad state. In another room some volunteers were washing clothes. They were almost finished and I went with them to set everything on the roof. There I met Nicolas. A french guy from Paris. He is traveling around in India since a while and does not really know when he comes back to France. It was very interesting speaking with him. Getting downstairs it was time for medications. I and other volunteers wanted to help but somehow the sister refused: maybe this task needs too much care. There was an italian nurse. She is living in Calcutta. She told us about the story of one guy lying having used rings so small that his fingers got gangrane: they had to be cut. Another guy had lost his lower back side and was laying looking deeply in front of him without any movement except asking sweets to the nurse. Another one had lost his hand and was inconscient. One old man had devloped huge scars because he was lying always in the same position. As they cleaned up all volunteers were staring at him crying from pain. We would have liked to help but there was not much we could do. After a while I felt my blood pressure getting down. I sat for a while.
Later started lunch time. We were bringing lunch to patients. All volunteers wanted to help but we were 6 and looks like it was too much. One of the persons working here asked me to help one old man to eat. I tried at the begining but he did not want to be helped and tried to eat on his own. He could not really, I let him do until he accepted some help. This poor man had no teeth anymore and needed quite a long time to eat all the rice and potatoes. Later we brought him back in his bed. Then the bell rang: volunteers had to leave. I was looking a last time at all these people resting. All of us would have liked to do more but slowly ones understand the most important quality volunteer needs to develop is patience.
I went back with Nicolas using the subway. Enrico preferred trying the bus. As we arrived on the way back to my hotel I found another hotel cleaner and very calm. I decided I would move next day. I wrote a few mails in an internet cafe and went in my room.
It was extremely noisy. I was so tired that I fell asleep immidiately. In the night dogs were barking so loud and so long that I woke up. I could not sleep anymore, many ideas running in my head. As I was very tired I decided I would not go to the disabled persons in the morning. Instead I moved my things to the new hotel. They gave me another room not so nice as the one they had shown me the previous day: no window but looked OK. For breakfast I had pasta aglio olio e peperoncino 🙂 it was a long time I had not eaten any european dishes.

I was slowly understanding what Nicolas had told me: in India what you live is so intense that one is reluctant to try and go to see other places.

In the early afternoon I met a few guys from the previous day who proposed me wo could go together to Kaligat. We took the subway but arrived almost 30 minutes late. The sisters were cleaning the room for surgical operations. We had to empty it. Somehow we were too many and after a while I decided to show somewhere else in case I could be of better use. A different sister than the prvious day was preparing the medicine for the patients. For her it was fine that volunteers help for this task. I brought some to a few of them. After this it was dinner time. We brought plates to many patients. Most of them can eat by themselves: in indian it is common to eat with fingers directly. I was asked to help one lying patient. He wanted to try to sit. I helped him and as he could stand on his own he refused my help, he prefered eating himself. I found this good. After dinner all plates had to be brought to the kitchen and we brought many patients who could not walk on their own to their beds. I brought the same patient as the day before. I usually make a massage on some points of acupuncture. I noticed he calms down. Another one clled me. He wanted to hold my hands. He was not calm at all. I took the opportunity to press on some acupuncture points: he got immidiately better, after less than 10 minutes he fell asleep while sitting. This was already the end of the day.
On the way back I met Alberto. An italian living in Brazil. It was very interesting he had similar ideas as I do about spirituality: not one religion but all of them have a message.
We went to the adoration. I usually meditate intead of praying. After the adoration some people were explaining that the only religion is the catholic one. I dislike hearing such things. I suppose God is too great to be adorated by one religion only…

Thursday is day off. No work or breakfast for volunteers: the sisters use the day for more intensive prayers. Every second thursday a tour is organised to visit a house taking care of people having been infected by lepra. Many of us had subscribed. Our bus took us at 7:00AM and brought us for over an hour drive in some small village of Calcutta. On the way one could see how much poverty is around. People not only living with almost nothing but mainly in extremely dirty and dusty and areas. In the previous areas we were poverty was never so dirty as one can see here.
We arrived around 9:00AM at the leprosery. Many people were living around. Aside to the leprosery a small girl was sorting all what she could find in the rubbish. She was surrounded of pigs eating what they could there. Other kids were playing, some haing brand new bicycle, other poorer. In India it is normal being poor among the richs or being rich among the poors. Children around were all having the very intense look very typical from indian kids. Some were taking pictures of us with their mobile phone 🙂
We entered the place and after a small introduction about the story of the site we walked around with one priester acting as a guide. In the center there are 450 families but the prister care about 4000 people having been infected. Indian government had as a target to erradicate lepra by 2000. As they failed they shifted the dead line 5 years later. Then they realized they would not succeed. The brothers do not accept any help from the government. They care on they own of the sicked people.
Walking around we could see many people working on power loom. There were hundreds of machine. Almost none of them was suffering of the consequences of lepra. After this we went to see older people suffering of the consequences of the disease: hands of feets having suffered of deformity. All were greeting us with a lot of Namaste. We visited as well women and children. The kids sang 3 or 4 songs. They were all beautiful. All people in this center were treated and would no more be able to transmit the disease. The way of transmission seems to be the air but it looks like it is still unclear as the bacterium responsible of the disease is very hard to develop in laboratory. After this we went back home. We were back at 11:30AM. I went for lunch with Enrico and then went for a 2 hours sleep: the intensiv life of Calcutta makes me quite tired…