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…