Five days in and I’m still jetlagged, but I’m starting to get a little of my appetite back. I’m napping at odd hours, reading late into the night, and waking up early. I’m not concerned about not being able to fall asleep–it’s distractingly hot, even with the ceiling fan and my personal fan by my pillow at full blast. I brought 2 books–“Everything is Illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. I’m almost finished with the Foer book, and I’m a little disappointed in it. Earlier this summer, I read his second book, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, and I thought it was wonderful. He toys with words in really distinctive, interesting ways and creates vivid, multidimensional characters. “Everything is Illuminated”, Foer’s first novel, is not quite as happy as I had hoped. I’m not exactly in the mood to be reading super serious literature right now.
We’ve been eating very conservatively. On day 2, we went to a grocery store called Big Bazaar and got some staples like pasta, Sprite, cheese, jam, and Special K. We found some Ragu pasta sauce and purchased it simply because we recognized the name. It was really expensive because it was imported, and it was actually kind of gross. We’ve been out to eat with our professor twice–once to an Indian restaurant and once to a Chinese-Indian place. Our other meals have consisted of granola bars and peanut butter crackers.
Today, we ran in to some other Notre Dame girls who are in Kolkata doing an ISSLP (International Summer Service Learning Program). They’ve been here for 8 weeks working with the Sisters of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order. Both girls said they’ve lost about 20 pounds–they looked kind of gaunt and thin. It’s surprising, the way people eat here. All the street food is fried and greasy (not that I’ve got plans to eat any, but it’s everywhere), and the fruits and vegetables that are available can’t be very fresh. We’ve noticed quite a range of body types, but most of the people here are small and thin, probably due to a combination of malnutrition and physical, manual labor. The Rainbow kids at the school are all so small. The 9-year-olds look like 6-year-olds, and the 13-year-olds look like 10-year-olds. It’s a sad testament to the importance of a good diet and proper nutrition.
I’ve started to notice a few really troubling things that stick out from the chaos of Kolkata. This is the only city in India where human-powered rickshaws are still permitted. When I read about this in the guidebooks, I guess I had a funny picture in my head, like a Fred Flintstone cartoon or something. On the night we arrived, as we rode to the guesthouse, we saw some bike-powered rickshaws, so I assumed that was the only type of rickshaw around. It was only when we began walking around and exploring the area that I started to see human-powered rickshaws. Men, usually quite old men, jog through the streets clutching the wodden handles of their rickshaw carts. The rickshaw drivers usually don’t have shoes to wear. Today, we saw a rickshaw man running through the rain with a woman and her baby in the seat, covered by a rain shield.
The 4 of us have discussed the human-driven rickshaws in great depth. It’s so troubling to see these people treated like draft animals. I believe that there is legislation that has outlawed the human-driven rickshaws in Kolkata, but it’s just not being enforced (like many, many other laws and policies here). However, I don’t understand how the government could ban these types of rickshaws without offering some other kind of job to the drivers. It’s not like they’re doing something illegal that is detrimental to the community (like dealing drugs), so it would be unjust for the government to totally eliminate their work without providing an alternative. Such a bad situation.
We went shopping today and I got some outrageous India pants. They’re called Ali Baba pants (look em up), and I got 2 pair–one orange, one purple. Totally ridiculous looking, but super comfy and cool in the hot weather. I also did laundry for the first time today. It’s probably going to take forever for my clothes to dry because it’s so humid outside.
We’re going to church tomorrow morning, and then I think we’ll go to Loreto to play with the Rainbows. We went and played with the girls for about 2 hours this morning and it was wonderful. They are so in need of attention and affection, and they are so eager to play and engage. The girls are surprisingly resourceful and find great ways to entertain themselves. They love hand-clapping games. One girl taught me how to play jacks with 5 rocks that she keeps in her backpack.
Some of the kids are a little rough–they are disciplined with slaps around the back of the head. One Bengali hand-clapping song is a particular favorite, so I ended up playing the game with a few different girls. With the first two girls, the chant ended with hands folded in prayer, a bow, and a “Namaste”, which I thought was adorable. The 3rd girl I played the game with ended the chant by smacking me across the face! She was just being playful, but I was completely taken by surprise. All of the girls loved to play with my watch and push buttons to make it glow and beep. I brought along a bottle of water and added some raspberry lemonade Crystal Light powder. The Rainbows were fascinated by my pink bottle. “Aunty what is that?” I told them I’d bring the powder next time to show them how it worked. Too funny.
The girls call all the volunteers “Aunty” or sometimes “Miss”. I guess “Aunty” is the familiar term for female adults, and “Grandmother” is the familiar term for older women. “Sister” is a special term of endearment. It’s a big deal to get called “sister”. The Rainbows are quick to tug down a shirt that rides up in the back or to fix a slipping bra strap–“No Aunty no!” They are also unafraid to ask, “Aunty are you a boy?” “No, I’m a girl. My hair is up in a ponytail. See?” “But you are wearing pants!”