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!