Sunday, August 16, 2009

I'm so sorry!!!

I have been sooooo bad!! I can't believe I let it go this long without a post! Traveling has been.... hectic, to say the least. A blast, but busy! I wish I could explain to you all the crazy situations we have found ourselves in and somehow found our way out. Haha. It's all so... India. Another one of those things that just can't really be properly explained.

To give you an overview of our time so far, here is what we have been up to. We began our travels with a train ride to Varanasi (delayed 2 hours, of course). We spent two days there, taking several boat rides on the Ganges, watching ceremonies, and sleeping on the open-air rooftop dormitory of the Shanti Guest House. Then we took a hell-ish 14 hour bus ride to Khajuraho, where Hannah proceeded to lose her lunch as a result of the bumpy ride. Oy vey! However, Khajuraho was fabulous! There were temples here that date back to the 9th century, built by the Mughals. They were amazing. We also got to rent bikes and ride them around the small town. Next, we took a series of train rides to Agra, the first of which we sat with 16 other people in a compartment that is made for 8. Haha good times. However, it was all worth it when we walked into the grounds of the Taj Mahal. Magnificent! We also saw Agra Fort, which is almost equally as magnificent. Those Mughals really know how to decorate.

Next, we took a train up to Rishikesh. Rishikesh was a relaxing little town on the Ganges where no one wakes up before 9 and everyone does yoga. We stayed in an ashram, took a yoga class, got a massage, and hiked up to a temple. We then went up to the hill station, Mussourie, chasing down cooler weather. We found it here! We only stayed for a day and a half, but it was nice to be in the cool. They had a cable car that we rode up to a point where you are supposed to be able to see the Himalayas, but this time of year, it is virtually impossible, what with the clouds from the monsoon rains. From Mussourie, we took a deluxe, a.c. bus to Delhi. Traveling in style. Haha. Here in Delhi, Hannah knows a family and we met up with them for lunch yesterday. They stuffed us full of homemade DELICIOUS Indian food multiple times before sending us back to our hotel with instructions to rinse and repeat the next day. So we are going to head over there for lunch in just a few minutes. They are the kindest family and the grandchildren are ADORABLE! They make me miss Daya Dan soooo much. We are going to do a little site seeing here in Delhi today and tomorrow and then Molly will go home to Chicago and Hannah and I will continue on to Jaisalmer to ride some camels, on the 18th.

Can you believe it's been two weeks since I left Kolkata? Woah. And in two more weeks, I'll be home. Weeeeeird. Two months has really flown. What an experience! What a life! Haha.

Thanks for your patience and I apologize for all the time that passed since my last post. I will try to be better!!

Much love from India,

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Beautiful Goodbye

I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to say goodbye to these little angels.

All I can say is that I am so grateful for this experience. To have met these children. To have let them bless my life and to allow me to try to bless theirs. I will never know if I made a difference, but they will be with me forever. I will NEVER forget them. I will carry them in my heart wherever I go. I just hope and pray that they can understand that and know how much I love them.

So tomorrow we say goodbye. But it's not really goodbye, is it?

What a fabulous and beautiful thing.

What an experience!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A few words I couldn't contain

"I know the heart of life is good." John Mayer I'm overwhelmed, filled with joy, love, hope... allow me to try to explain.

Yesterday, I had to say goodbye to 3 phenomenal people: Soon, Amy, and Amanda. I may never see these 3 women ever again. But if I ever doubted divine providence, I will NEVER again. These women were placed in my life for a reason. To show me love, patience, kindness, diversity, protection, and a million other things. Where would I be in Kolkata without volunteers like these women?

I have been pretty sick the last few days (feeling exponentially better now) and have had a rash that I got from the kids at Daya Dan. When I talked to the sisters at Mother House, they pointed me to Sister Michael (a doctor) who gave me 6 days of antibiotics for the rash and advised me to take a day off of work. The medication was free of cost. Ever since then, whenever I see a sister or any of the volunteers that I know, they ask how I am feeling. Such concern. Such love. That can only come from God. These people were all brought here to help the poor and the sick, and in the meantime, they really have helped me too. So much love has been shown to me. How can the world really be a bad place with all these good people in it? It can't.

And then, I was depressed.
How can I leave this? How can I go away from such love, such kind hearts? I don't want to leave!
But then, today. Hannah and I received a package from two members of Calcutta Club at our school. They had gone out and bought us loads of good candy, a little picture book of Seattle, and a little pack of toilet seat covers. And they wrote us a note saying they were thinking of us and loving on us. All the way from the states.
And I realized: I'm not leaving this at all. The second I walk out of these people's arms, I walk right into the arms waiting for me at home. This love... it exists everywhere. Not just Kolkata and not just among volunteers. It's everywhere!

How much hope this gives me! I know the heart of life is good.

Love from India (and everywhere),

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It has creeped up on me!

I'm so sorry it's been so long! This last week has been HECTIC to say the least. Now that Hannah and I have gotten our bearings in Kolkata, we have been exploring much more and actually being successful at finding the places we set out to find.... which is encouraging! But also EXHAUSTING. The weather and such has been getting to me a little, I think, because I have a little bit of a fever and lymph nodes the size of tennis balls. (ok, maybe a little bit of an over-exaggeration) But yeah, not feeling top notch. I am trying to rest up a little, but we've been SO busy because... get this... we have 9 more days in Kolkata. NINE. What?? How did that happen? Where did the time go? I have 8 more days with my Daya Dan babies. Wow.

On one hand, Hannah, Molly, and I are so excited to start traveling and when we were sitting in the booking office today, getting our tickets to Varanasi, we were practically bouncing up and down. Buuuut, on the other hand, we have grown SO attached to the kids, sisters, mashis, and volunteers here that I cannot even imagine leaving for good. We are definitely going to be a crying mess next Monday. I have even gotten really attached to Kolkata and the people that I come in contact with everyday. Like the guys at the internet cafe and Blue Sky Cafe and this little shop, Varanasi, and the guys at the Spanish Cafe. So it's going to be hard.

I wanted to share with you all something really special that I got to be a part of and watch. Every month, the sisters put on a Volunteer's Day for us on the fourth Thursday of the month. Hannah and I went to the June one and it was small and nice. They fed us and we watched a movie on Mother Teresa and they had mass. However, in the month of July, they do a much bigger Volunteer's Day, because there are SO many volunteers in the summer months. What a production it was! There was 5 groups (well 6, because they had to split the Spanish-speaking group into two because it was so huge!), each speaking a different language, and one international group for anyone who wanted to participate. The groups were supposed to come up with a 20 minute presentation that fits with the theme of "Glorify God with your body" and that shows the culture of each group. Most groups did skits which were touching, hilarious, fabulous, and so much more! It was so cool because many of the groups did songs that are popular in their culture and in that language, but the skits were in English, so we got a little taste of the culture but could still understand. The French group did pantomime, so no talking, all acting. It was so great! The Spanish group did the funniest skit, playing off of all the inside jokes of volunteers, but ending with the message and some great Bible passages (read in English AND in Spanish).

What I really wanted to tell you about was the international group. Their skit was put on by a man, Pepe, who is a director in Spain. So it was sooo well done (with a set and everything) and it made me cry! They did a skit where the end point was that God is in each of us and when they go to see God in His "office" it is just a mirror and they see themselves. And then, in walks this boy from Daya Dan's first floor and he stands in front of the mirror and I just LOSE it. That was EXACTLY how I was feeling about those babies at Daya Dan. That is what I was trying to get across to you last post, when I talked about the kids and how when I look in their eyes, I see that they know that God is inside them and that it is so beautiful. So, I'm all teary-eyed and embarrassed. But what a beautiful skit and message. And what a blessing to be here in the time of year that they do this and that I got to experience it.

Because the boy from Daya Dan was there, they brought many of the children with him and they watched the whole performance. So, my Pompa and Puja were in the front row and they got SO excited when they saw Hannah and me. It made the night so much more special. Ah I love those kids! Nisha, Leema, Mithali, and Helena were there too and I was just so happy to see them all on the day that I normally don't get to! Overall, such a special night.

Ok, so about the pictures. I don't think it's going to be possible to do it here, in India. I do not have the time in the internet cafe to wait for as long as it takes to upload even just one picture and so I believe I will wait until I get home, on August 31st. I am REALLY sorry because I know you want to see all this amazingness that I am experiencing, but it's only 5 weeks and I PROMISE to put them up asap when I get home.

Hannah and I have been running around Kolkata, doing last minute sightseeing and shopping and just getting ready to go. We are ready to be out of the big city but we will definitely be missing Kolkata. We got our flight changed to out of Mumbai because it is much closer to where we are ending our trip (in Goa) and will save us a 37 hour train ride back to Kolkata just to fly to Bangkok. So next Monday, we are REALLY leaving Kolkata. Like really. But I think both Hannah and I know, we'll be back. Oh yes, we'll be back.

Love from the City of Joy,

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stealing more words.

Again, I must begin with a quote. I always feel like other people say it better than me. Haha.

"The Yogis, however, say that human discontentment is a simple case of mistaken identity. We're miserable because we think that we are mere individuals, alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality. We wrongly believe that that our limited egos constitute our whole entire nature. We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character. We don't realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace. The supreme self is our true identity, universal and divine... a notion nicely expressed in this exasperated line from the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus: 'You bear God within you, poor wretch, and know it not.'"
from Eat, Pray, Love

Hannah read this book at the start of our journey and when I finished Life of Pi, I picked up Eat, Pray, Love and began reading the India seciton. When I ran across this quote, it caught my attention. It's so true, isn't it? Don't we so often just get caught up in our own humanity; our own problems, life, self? And then we begin to think we are so alone in all of it, that no one else could possibly feel the way we feel. Goodness gracious, we can be vain. Myself included, of course. Wasn't I the one who came to Kolkata, complaining about the heat and the crowds and poverty and thought "no one else is breaking down like I am. what's wrong with me? why me?" And wasn't it me who realized I was NOT the only going through this, that I had Hannah and all of Calcutta Club at home right there with me? Complain, complain, right? It's so easy to get caught up in it all.

But isn't it a glorious, unique moment when God smacks you upside the head and back out of the situation so that you can look at it for what it truly is? Standing back, you can see that there is so much more. So much more than just my mortal thoughts, my human needs and wants. Within me dwells a holy being that cares not about whether I am sweating or sitting in a.c. or whether I am tall or short, fat or skinny, or any number of things. All He cares about is my heart, my love, my soul. These things cannot be destroyed by worldly things. They stand alone. HE stands alone. Yet, we so rarely see our life like this. And this is where I thought about those sweet little babes from Daya Dan. Now, they have it right. Some of those babies will NEVER have the things that they want (or some even need), like the ability to walk, or speak, or eat on their own. And yet I have gotten a smile out of each and every one of them at some point in my stay. They are happy. Why? Because an eternal, divine, loving being dwells within them. And they know it. When I look in their eyes, I can see it. How lucky they are! To have nothing, but to have everything! And I have everything and yet nothing. Because I cannot recognize God within me. So now, I suppose, I change. Easier said then done, right? But life is about learning. If I don't take this new knowledge and do something with it what was the point of coming here?

In other news, I am playing around with the best ways to post pictures. I tried to post them directly onto the blogs but it takes FOREVER and I don't really have much time for internet. So I am downloading them into a photobucket album and I'll post that URL here so you can view them.m

Also, I wanted to tell you a little bit about my Thursdays off. Last Thursday, we took a bus to Howrah and to the botanical garden. What a place! It was unlike anything in Kolkata. It was peaceful, quiet, clean (relatively), and so green! Our trips there and back were quiet typical of Kolkata though. On the way there, we wandered around the Esplanade bus station trying to find a bus. A nice guy found us and asked us what we were looking for. We told him and he said he would help us get the bus. When it came, we all ran out into the road and jumped on the bus (while it was still moving, I might add) and took off to Howrah. I don't know exactly who the guy was, but apparently he works for the buses because he ended up working for this same bus. In another situation, we may have been a little sketched out, but he was very nice and we were so grateful for his help that we let it slide. Haha. He and the bus driver asked us questions in the little English they knew and let us sit in the front seat of the bus. At our stop, they wanted us to take their picture, so we did (included in the pictures when I get them up). They were unbelievably nice and I seriously doubt if we would have been able to get to Howrah without them. Just when I think I can only meet people in Kolkata who are only nice to get me to come into their shop, something like this happens and proves me totally wrong. Such genuine kindness knocked me off my feet. Then, on the bus ride home, the bus broke down in the middle of the street! We had to get off and catch another bus from the road. Oh! Kolkata. Haha.

This past Thursday, Hannah and I visited Kali Temple in Kalighat. This is a Hindu temple to the goddess, Kali. This was... an expereince. I found the temple to be very crowded, noisy, dirty, and stressful. Many people were pushing and shoving to get in front of the statue of Kali in order to place purchased flowers on the figure or just to touch it. We had to take our shoes off and the ground was completely disgusting from so much traffic every day. In the courtyard, they were sacrificing a goat. This was quite disturbing as they basically cut the goat into little tiny pieces. We did not stay long enough to see what they did with the pieces. As someone who prefers to be extremely respectful for other religions and other popell's beliefs, I will not do Hinduism the injustice of passing judgement based on my small viewing of the religion in my visit to the temple. I think that I will get a book on Hinduism and Buddhism so that I can be more knowledgeable on both subjects and Hannah and I will continue to visit temples and experience as much as we can. For now, though, I believe I prefer the peaceful serenity and reverence of the Buddhist Wats in Bangkok. Later in the evening, we went to Southcity mall to see Harry Potter. Yay! It was fabulous, of course.

Daya Dan update: Pompa has been walking (with the help of the railing)! She is doing so fabulously.

Thank you all so much for continuing to follow this and support me and Hannah. We appreciate it so much!

Love from Kolkata,

Monday, July 13, 2009

For the Kingdom of God Belongs to Such as These

Never in my life have I believed this more than after working at Daya Dan for the last three weeks. Hannah wrote about some of the kids in her last blog post and I thought it was about time that I do the same. We celebrated our 3 week anniversary of volunteering today, can you believe it? Time flies! Anyways, all of these little babes are so precious to me and I could go on and on about them all, but, as I have mentioned before and as is inevitable, I have a few favorites. Little ones that have melted my heart and keep me getting up at 6 am every morning just to see them.

First, Pompa. Pompa is a little 4-year-old girl with the most beautiful smile you can ever imagine and an attitude that can only be found in a little girl. She is the definition of sassy and has the attention and love of every single female volunteer that walks in the doors of Daya Dan. She certainly has me wrapped around her finger. She does not have any mental disabilities, so I spend time coloring with her, teaching her the names of the colors and helping her learn English. She speaks VERY good English, considering she came to Daya Dan only in March. She can't say Allison so she calls me Alli, which is adorable and when I hear her yelling that across the room, I can't resist. Since she met Hannah and I at the same time, she sometimes just combines our names and calls us both AllieHannah. I think this is so funny and totally fits her personality. Like she is too lazy to pick just one based on who it is. It's much easier for her to combine them and we are too in love with her to ever be offended. Haha. She has problems with her legs, which have developed slightly off kilter, and her knees are stiff, so she cannot walk. However, she has special shoes that she uses to help direct her feet and she can stand with the help of the railing. She just got crutches last week and I watched her walk in them. Go, Pompa!

Puja has a similar problem with her legs and has been going through the same process as Pompa. They are not sure how old Puja is because they found her on the streets, but they think she is about 4 or 5. Puja is an interesting little girl because she speaks a little Hindi, a little Bengali, a little English, and a lot of some other language that none of the Mashis or sisters know or can recognize. So I think that Puja gets a little frustrated sometimes because she cannot communicate like she would like to. However, she is such a sweet little girl. All I have to do is walk in a room, put my hands on my hips, and say, "Pujaaaaa" and she lowers her head a little, trying to hide that cute little smile that she can't help. Like Pompa, she does not have a learning disability and so I have spent time with her helping her learn the alphabet and many English words. I think that her English is getting better every day. She is also making great progress with her physical disability and she and Pompa can be seen at any given point, chilling on the railing in their special shoes. So sweet.

Goongoon just arrived here last week. She is quite the jibberish speaker and QUITE the giggler. She can't speak and only says "la la la la la" over and over again, with this huge smile on her face. I like to sit with her and talk jibberish with her for a few minutes when I need a break. Haha. She has a similar disability as Pompa and Puja and I think that right now, the physical therapists are getting her ready to start standing and maybe walking after. She cries a lot when she gets exercised because she's new and not used to it. That's hard to watch and to participate in. But other than that, she is the HAPPIEST baby in the world. And so so cute. I think she must be about 3 or so.

I like to think of Sneha as my personal little baby. Haha. Like with all the benefits of motherhood without any of the costs. Perfect, right? Haha. Sneha is a little baby with cerebral palsy and severe mental retardation. She has two lazy eyes and I'm not really sure how much she can see, but she responds sooo well to touch. She has the biggest smile and when she is happy, you know it. She squeals and giggles and opens her mouth as wide as it goes, failing her little limbs. She is such a joy to be around. Difficult to feed though. She cries and cries when you try to feed her and the only way to get it down is by putting it in as she cries and letting her deal with it when it's too annoying to ignore. Poor little baby. Every day before I leave, I go say "good night" to her in her crib and give her about a million kisses and she loves every minute of it. I have found that she is the perfect company during their meditation time (which they have every day) because she sits so quietly and lets me stroke her head and cheeks and arms. She has SUCH soft skin. I'm fairly positive that if I ever have children, she is like 80% of the reason.

I like to group Aloke and Priya kind of together in a little cutey baby package. They both have cerebral palsy and they both have this interesting little mix of moods. Sometimes they just stare into space, their bodies suuuuper loose and if they are sitting in chairs, they fall out of them. Haha. During these times, they are fairly unresponsive to most things, but when they are not in this mood, they are sooooo fun to be around. Aloke is ridiculously ticklish and Priya thinks it's quite funny when you blow raspberries on her stomach. These little babies make the exercise room a fun place for me and they are easy to exercise (when they are paying attention). I am also fairly convinced that they both have narcolepsi because they just randomly fall asleep. Sometimes in the middle of their exercises. Haha.

Sonia. Oh Sonia. I think of Sonia as my own little challenge. Sonia is severely handicapped (though I'm blanking on what syndrome she has). She is both mentally and physically disabled and fairly unresponsive to most stimulus. Sometimes you can get a little smile out of her and she does cry a little too. I have exercised her a few times but mostly I feed her and this is where the real challenge is. Once you have proved to the mashis that you are capable of feeding a particular child, they will tend to assign you to that child more often. This is how I got to know Sonia. I fed her one of my first days here and so every since then, I feed her a few times a week. It is heartbreaking and frustrating work. The best way to describe it is to say that each bite is like a mini battle. One where I have sneak attack every single time. It's like I have to trick her into opening her mouth and then, when she realizes it was a dirty trick and that she now has a spoon in her mouth, she jerks her head away and squirms out of my reach in her chair. If the spoon is not securely in her mouth, food goes EVERYWHERE. Both she and I are always a huge mess after lunch. Then, after each battle, I must do damage control, which involves trying to put as much of the food that got free in her mouth as possible without any cooperation from her whatsoever. And this happens with each and every bite. Oh man. By the end of it, we are both fed up with each other. Haha. It's a good feeling though, knowing that she got the nutrition she needed because I didn't just give up when the going got tough. It's hard though, I will not lie or try to pretend like it's all flowers and happy feelings. Haha. Despite our battles, I love Sonia dearly and something about her keeps me working to find better ways to feed her with less conflict. Maybe we will figure it out soon!

Lastly, my boys. Baskar, Shantu, and Raju. The floor is mostly girls and the bottom floor is mostly boys, but we have the younger boys and the ones that are very severely handicapped as well. Baskar and Shantu fall under the first category and Raju falls under the second. Raju is a fireball. He has little control over his limbs, so he spends a lot of time thrashing around but with this huge smile on his face. And he responds very well to smiles and hand-holding, both of which I like to think I am very good at :) I like to spend at least a little time with Raju evert day. He is special to my heart. Baskar is our little walker. When he first came to Daya Dan, he couldn't walk at all and could barely even sit up. Now, he walks, stands, and sits (mostly with the help of volunteers hands) like a pro! He has a head that's just a bit too big for him and his neck is not quite used to holding it up. So it kind of flops around in this really comical and adorable way. He is a hair puller, so we avoid letting him too near our heads, but I love spending time with him. He's a happy baby and is very ticklish! Lastly, Shantu! I spend time with Shantu when I need a little break from the more severely handicapped children. He has a developmental problem and even though he is 5 years old, he looks not much older than a 1 year old would look. He is probably one of the most responsive babies in the exercise room and you could keep yourself and him entertained for hours if you had the time. He laughs more than any baby I have ever known and loves being tossed in the air. I love this baby with such a passion. I hope he gets bigger and can grow to adult size, but maybe being an eternal baby would not be so bad, eh? Haha just kidding.

Anyways, I could go on and on about sooooo many more of the children. They are all sooooo near and dear to my heart. I wish I could explain it! I can't believe I'm going to be leaving them in just 3 weeks! Ick. I hope that this post brings you as much joy as it did me when I was writing it. I was hoping that maybe I could send a little bit of the love that I feel for them over the computer and that maybe you can love them too. Haha :)

In other news, we met another American girl named Molly who is going to travel with us when we go in a few weeks. Funny how you just meet up with people and things just fall into place. We are all excited to travel!

In Kolkata news, we had yet another Oh! Kolkata moment today that I felt you might like to hear. We were walking to the metro from Daya Dan today and someone dumped a bucket of mud (yes we are sure it was mud) from a 2nd story balcony right in front of us. It splashed up and got ALL over Hannah and I. Haha. We looked up and were like "what???" and the guy was looking down and shouted "sorry!" Haha Oh! Kolkata.

I am buying a card reader tomorrow so pictures will be posted very very soon!

And some closing words, courtesy of Gavin Degraw:
"Love has a reason.
There's a meaning to the world.
We're giving love."

Thanks for continuing to follow and I apologize for basically writing a novel in this one post!

Love from Kolkata,

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Oh! Kolkata.

I named this post after this restaurant that we saw next to the movie theater that we went to last night. I feel like it is very fitting for Kolkata. I couldn't have said it better. Kolkata kind of knocks you off your feet, making you say "oh!" and then you look up and you are like, "ok, ok, I get it, Kolkata. you're here." Make sense? Maybe not if you have never been here. This also applies to walking along the street here. Every time a car passes and honks it's horn riiiight in your ear, as loud as it possibly can, you can't help but say "oh!" and followed immediately with a sigh and a "Kolkata". I am trying my best to describe this city to you, but I am sure I am failing. It has a unique beauty. It's horrible and wonderful at the same time. What is like Kolkata? Nothing. So hard to explain!

Let me try once more. Hannah and I attended meditation on Thursday night at this wonderful place about 20 minutes away from our hotel. It was just about as quiet as Kolkata gets. We walked into this quiet, dimmly lit courtyard in this building in the middle of one of the busiest streets that I have EVER been on. And it's so peaceful. And THAT is Kolkata. Silence and peace in the middle of the most ridiculous chaos. How is that possible? I have no idea. "Oh! Kolkata." That's how. Haha.

Meditation was so so great for me though and I think we are going to start going to meditation with the sisters at the Mother House, as they have it every day. Being quiet with myself is so humbling. I began to realize how selfish I have been in my experience here. At the end of this trip, I get to return to my quiet street, with my comfy bed and my Western-style toilet, my private school, and my loving friends and family. Every beggar on the street, every man that heckels me when I walk by, every small boy that calls me "sexy" to try to get my attention, every stare... they are all here for good, stuck in poverty and forced to live this way in order to survive. I come from such privilege and I am so lucky... who am I to judge a culture or an individual? It's so unfair of me. And what would God have to say about that? How am I showing God's love by giving dirty looks to men who blatantly stare at me? I so easily show that love to the kids I volunteer with, but my next step is to show that to Kolkata. I cannot take volunteering out of context. It's not fair or right of me. If I show that love to the kids, I must show that love to Kolkata. Now THAT is a struggle. But I'm working on it. It happens slowly. Kinda like everything here. Except the taxis. Haha.

Yikes, another terribly long post. Happy belated Fourth of July! I hope it was fabulous for all! God bless America. I certainly do miss it :)

Thanks for following and please keep Hannah and me in your prayers!

Much love,

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Yann Martel has inspired me

To begin with a quote:

"All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving, it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive."
from Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I am currently reading this book and this struck me when I read it. This, I feel, is how I feel about living in Kolkata. Some madness inspired me to come here, leaving the prospect of another fabulous summer on the beaches of Southern California behind for the hot, humid, congested streets of India. And this same madness is what is helping me to overcome it. Every day is a struggle here, what with constant harassment by countless men on the streets and the intensity of the heat and the less than pleasant living conditions of the Hotel Paragon. Yet you adapt. Amazing, isn't it? The ability to make a place your own is so interesting and amazing. It's hard to explain, but I guess anyone that has ever been in an uncomfortable situation and been able to come out of it feeling more confident in their surroundings can understand what I am talking about. This feels a bit like how I felt when entering college, but less terrifying because I have Hannah with me. However it is that this whole thing works, the important thing is that it does. Thank the Lord in heaven for that one. Some things I know that I will never get used to, like men feeling it is ok to brush your ass with their hand as you walk past them. But I am beginning to understand how to get by here and how to deal with such situations. Like by smacking them. Haha. Anyways, just a little food for thought.

So the Fourth of July is just around the corner and, I must confess, I am terribly sad. This is one of my favorite holidays and I am so so sad to have to miss it this year. Hannah and I have decided to celebrate in the most America way possible. We are going to Domino's pizza and then going to a movie. Haha :)

Volunteering has been getting more and more amazing by the day. I am falling head over heels in love with the kids at Daya Dan and I wish I could take them all home with me when Hannah and I leave. They are all so special in their own way and I just love that about them. I must confess though, I do have a few favorites. One little girl, Pompa, is just about the sweetest little thing I have ever met. She knows English very well and can remember our names. Puja is another girl that my heart just melts for. Sneha and Santu are the sweetest little babies; I could hold them all day. There are a few that I worry about, like Angeli. She is so thin and she barely eats. She has been sick for a while now and she just looks so fragile. I pray that she can start keeping down the food she eats better.

The volunteers are amazing too. Along with the Korean girls, we have made good friends with many Spanish-speaking volunteers (who, fortunately for us, also speak impeccable English). Another girl, Mary, is from South Africa and she speaks English and works at Daya Dan. We also met three Lebanese boys that we had to say goodbye to yesterday. It is so sad to have to say goodbye to the ones that aren't staying for more than a few days or weeks. We are very thankful for the few who are staying as long as we are. The people that we have met are amazing people with such huge hearts for service. And the boys are not bad looking either ;) We have so many invitations to stay in people's homes if we ever visit their countries. It's so cool to be in contact with so much diversity every day.

Anyways, can you believe it's been 2 weeks since I left Seattle? Time is certainly flying! Thank you for keeping up and for reading this! Please keep Hannah and I in your prayers :)

Much love from India,

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I've been neglecting you!

Wow! Tomorrow will be the conclusion of our first week here in Kolkata. Things have been going MUCH smoother and we are settling into a nice routine in the mornings and sort of winging it in the afternoons and nights. We have volunteered 4 days total now and it has been amazing. Every time we go, we get a little more comfortable with the kids and they get a little more comfortable with us. It's so nice to know we will be staying here for so many weeks because I really want for each one to know me personally and know how much I think they are wonderful and beautiful. Kolkata has been an overwhelming experience, but these kids... they make it so worth the culture shock that we have been experiencing.

It's very hard to describe the culture and the streets of Kolkata, but I will give it a shot so that you guys can get some idea of how Hannah and I feel. Here, boundaries are very different. It is not considered rude to blatantly stare (especially Western women) and it is not uncommon to be followed for many blocks down a street. It is hard to understand why this would be intriguing for people because it is so unusual in American, but the people of Kolkata are just very interested in anything that is slightly out of the ordinary. The people are also very used to tourists and they are relentless when it comes to getting you to buy their products. They use the English words they know (which is usually "yes" "madam" and "take a look") to get your attention and lour you into their shop. The children are what is the most heartbreaking though. They come up to you and grab at your hands, begging for money and food. However, the nuns at the Mother House told us to, under no circumstance, give beggers money. They informed us that many pay for their spot on the street to beg and many of the children get paid to beg as well. It is hard, walking down the streets of Kolkata. Often times, I do feel harassed, but I try not to judge too much what I do not understand.

On a much happier note, I officially celebrated my birthday today, a week late. We have some friends here who are volunteering at Daya Dan and also staying at our hotel who are very very nice. They are Korean but they speak a little bit of English. We invited them for curry and cake on Park Street in celebration of my 20th birthday and they were happy to join us. Not only did they join us, but they bought me a little cake from Kathleen's confectionary, a bracelet, and a bookmark from Korea. They included little notes for me as well, spelling my name Elison. I am totally in love with all of them and want to put them in my pocket and bring them with me all over the place because they are so happy all the time. It was a really great night, all around and I'm glad I got to spend it with them and Hannah. Random, but hey, when in India... Haha :)

More updates soon (hopefully)! Thanks for following this! I love you and miss you :)

<3 Allison

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mother House, Daya Dan, and squat toilets... oh my!


Much to update today! Yesterday, Hannah and I took a rickshaw down to the Mother House (and then walked over to Shishu Bhavan) for orientation. There were MANY volunteers there and we met many Americans and English-speaking Europeans who would be volunteering for various amounts of time. Most of them would not be working for more than a week or two, but we met a few from a group that is staying until the end of July, so that is very exciting for us! Having familiar faces makes Kolkata seems so much more conquerable and less intimidating (though it is still one ridiculous city). The more we explore the city, the less confident I feel about my sense of direction and my abilities to cross streets. Haha. The pedestrian definitely does NOT have the right of way in India. But we are getting savy and having volunteer friends to help us out has been a major blessing. At orientation, we met a guy from man from England and a woman from Korea who are both staying at the same hostel we are, the Paragon Hotel. We hung out with them on the roof last night and agreed to walk over together in the morning. They are extremely nice and knew a better way to the Mother House, so it was perfect!

That brings me to volunteering. Hannah and I decided to work at Daya Dan for the next two months, which is a home for mentally and physically disabled children. We had our first day today and it was great! We met at the Mother House for a breakfast of bananas, bread, and chai and then from there, we followed the more experienced volunteers to Daya Dan. It was quite the exciting trek! We took a bus part of the way and then a motorized rickshaw the rest of the way. Once at Daya Dan, we got to work washing and making the beds, playing with and exercising the kids, feeding them, and then putting them down to their naps. All the kids are sweet and really receptive. They love the attention! It was a very humbling experience as well as many of these children have horrible incurable illnesses that I just wish I could take away. But the sisters love these kids so much and they couldn't be in a better place. It was really nice to begin volunteering because it definitely gives me a sense of purpose and reason. Kolkata is not quite the luxury vacation spot and so knowing that we are here for a reason and having somewhere to go in the morning from 8am to 12pm has been such a blessing. Also, at Daya Dan, we met a few people who will be staying as long as we are! This was very exciting for us and for them as well. We went back to Sudder Street with them and they showed us the metro and the best way to get back from the home. Volunteers come and go quickly most of the time and so it's a great thing to find people that you can actually form a relationship with. :)

On another, more disgusting, note, I had my first experience with a squat toilet this morning. It was.... gross. Though not as bad as I was thinking it would be. But let me just say, I will NEVER take a Western-style toilet again. Ever ever. Haha. But it really wasn't that bad. Hannah and I also had our first experience with manual laundry tonight. We washed our yucky, sweaty clothes and hung them on the lines on the roof and realized why it is that everyone in Calcutta Club suggested not bringing too much clothing. We were certainly grateful!

Wow, this post is long! A few last notes: it's really hot, the food is really good, and we are starting to get used to everything!

I miss you all so so so much! Thanks for keeping up with this :)

<3 Allison

p.s. I will try to figure out a way to get my pictures onto the computer so I can post a few here!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Next Stop: Humid City! aka Kolkata

Greetings from a whole new country... India!

We arrived in the Kolkata airport very early this morning. The very first thing we noticed upon stepping outside the air conditioned airport, was the heat and the humidity. Even at 6 in the morning, it was hard to breathe. We took a prepaid taxi to Sudder Street, where many of the volunteers of the Mother House stay and where there are many restaurants and stores and... people. Well people are really everywhere. Literally. Everywhere. Hannah and I faced some serious culture shock today and we are still sort of recovering. We have a place to stay and so much information about the city that we are generally in really good shape, thanks to Calcutta Club. However, the poverty and the weather is much more than we were expecting and it's definitely been a difficult transition. However, Kolkata has a fascinating culture and we have really been enjoying observing it and, once we get a little acclimated to the weather, I'm sure that will be able to do much more than we were able to today. Wow, I really want to write more but I am falling asleep at the desk! Tomorrow we head to the Mother House for orientation and on Tuesday we begin to volunteer! Hannah and I are excited about this because it will give a little sense of purpose and a little more reason to be here. More updates soon!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thai Thai Thailand!

Hello from the crowded and stifling city of Bangkok! Afer 34 hours of travel, we finally made it at 12 a.m. in the morning. We spent the night in the airport and took a bus into the city the first thing in the morning (yay for 5 a.m. bus rides!) We spent our first 20 minutes getting thoroughly lost and then finally finding the hostel that we had found in our travel guide. It's not too bad and doesn't have squat toilets, so we get to spend one more night and two more days actually sitting on the toilet. Wow! So lucky! Haha :)

The city is really hot and humid, but very green and random and beautiful. It's crowded with people but they are all SO nice and point us in the right direction without us even having to ask (so obviously tourists, haha). We are going to dinner tonight to celebrate my birthday, since we will be en route to Calcutta on the night of my actual day of birth. I'm excited to celebrate in a different country, though really sad to not get to be with all of you. Ok, my time's almost up at the internet cafe, so I should wrap up! More updates soon!

<3 Allison

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Today is the Day!

Hi lovelies!  

So today is Wednesday.  The 17th.  The day we leave for India.  Woah.  

We head out at 10:15 or so and bus it to the airport for our 1:30 flight.  10 hours later we'll be in Japan, then onto Bangkok.  A full 34 hours later, we will finally be in the Bangkok airport.  Sounds kind of depressing.  Haha.  I'm going to try to update this often, hopefully at least once or twice a week so you can get a full account of my adventures.  

Ah!  I can't believe I'm going to Southeast Asia in under 6 hours!  Please please please pray for Hannah and I as we travel and arrive in Bangkok and, later, Calcutta.  We are really nervous, but we are so excited!  

Thank you for your support!  More to come soon from Bangkok!