I haven’t actually said much about life in India. Now that I’ve been here a couple of weeks, let me explain a tad bit about this place so far…
The flight here went pretty smoothly. I flew into Chicago about 1pm, and met the rest of my group there- Karisa from California, Nicole from Canada, Nic from Mississipi. We had plenty of time to chat on the planes and then again in London before the last flight to Kolkatta. Nic was the only one that got drilled about why we were in India and whatnot at the security checks. Beth and Kyle, full time staff in Kolkatta, met us at the airport and we took a taxi to the flat where we would be staying for two weeks.
The flat was 5 floors up and with luggage, that is an extremely long flight of stairs! Here, there were 6 bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, bathroom, dining room, and a veranda which is like a porch. In the kitchen, there isn’t an oven at our house but we do have a stove top thing and also a fridge. We don’t have to eat with our hands over at Beths and there is a water filter that we fill jugs with to put in the fridge. We also use this water to brush our teeth. We either get bottled water or ask if it is filtered if at a restaurant.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the bathroom/showering situation. It really depends on where you are for what type of bathroom/toilet/TP or lack there of. At Beth’s flat, she has a traditional toilet but uses a bucket to flush it to preserve water. It flushes, but its kinda good to be watching out for the environment. The shower head only puts out cold water so there is a metal water heater that you place in a metal bucket with water for warm water. It’s a bucket shower. You learn how to do it pretty quickly. There is also another side closet like room with the squatty which is a flat porcelain rectangle with ridges along the sides for your feet and then the middle dips into a hole where the plumbing is. It’s kinda like peeing outside… which I had done once in my whole life while in Alaska this past fall. You can’t put toilet paper down them. There is a little trash can for that at Beth’s house. Right now, we have a little bag sitting next to our squatty out in the village. No western toilet there.
It depends on the place if they will have toilet paper or not. Most Indian people don’t use it so we keep extra in our bags for when we are out. They have public restrooms, but they are for men only and are square things that cover the front and sides and go up to the chest but the backs of the things are open. I don’t know how many guys I’ve seen pee on the side of the road or other random places. I haven’t seen any man parts, so they are pretty good at keeping to themselves. No, I haven’t been looking that hard either.
To get around, we use an auto which is this little two bench, 3 wheeled vehicle that goes crazy and you feel like you are going to get hit or die on the way to the destination. It’s pretty fun. I almost got ran over once while crossing the street and one zipped a foot away from the one I was standing next to. You just have to be careful. There are no lines in the roads. People just go as if they are one lane until someone from the other direction comes their way. The buses, trains, and metro have designated ladies areas which is a lot better than being squeezed between men. Men are somewhat the devil here. Anyways, since everything is so crowded, you either stand right next to someone else where you didn’t think there was room anyway or someone squeezes their hips into the four inches beside you on the bench. There is no such thing as personal space. If there is air, there is room for someone.
I’m getting used to the food. I’m not much for spicy food, but I’m learning. If you eat quickly and don’t drink anything, it isn’t as bad. I like the potato dishes and the naan bread. Rice can be rather filling and we eat it with everything. Breakfast is usually toast or fruit and cha (not quite chai tea in America and only about a shot’s worth), lunch is around 1pm and we eat out for that one after volunteering at Mama T’s, and then dinner is at 9:30 or 10pm. Ya, it’s late. Gita’s mom gives us a snack of biscuits and cha when we get home around 6pm.
We moved out to a village on Saturday. We are staying with a lady that I’ll refer to as G. She works as a teacher at the business WMF runs. The commute is anywhere from 30 to an hour and a half to inner city Kolkatta. There is a soccer field in front of the house and a pond to the north. We live in the bottom portion of the house with G who is 20 and the breadwinner of the family, her sister who is 15 and is in school, and her mother. We three girls share a largish pink room that has monkey hand prints by the windows. Don’t worry, there is a metal designed thing in the way of them getting all the way in. Our flat mattresses are on the floor and we each bought a little 3 shelf unit to help organize our clothes and bathroom stuff. We do all of our laundry by hand which was funny the first time I did mine. I hadn’t done it yet so G was giving me direction and then she said she would help. Of course, I decided to do my under clothes first and instead of hanging them in a closed off portion of the house, they were on the line in the open area between all the rooms… nothing like having your underwear strung out for all to see. Eh, oh well.
I would have to say that one of the hardest parts of being here is not knowing the language. Even with trying to talk to G’s mom which only speaks Bangla it is rough and we have our translation books out and plenty of time to try to figure out what she is saying. Also, the stares. If we are in town, they are somewhat used to foreigners… they may target us for begging and trying to buy something, but in the village, people will stop two feet away and stand there and look at us. At first, they were scared and thought we were terrorist… which because of what has happened in some of the larger cities I can understand. The next day when we waited for the train, people thought we were doctors because of the look of Nicole’s bag. People seriously made a half circle around us and watched us stand there for 10 minutes. The kids get a kick out of us, but then the looks from the women and men are intimidating. Hopefully, as they see us more often and get used to us, the stares will lessen.
Well, it is time to leave for our language lessons. I am able to get on the internet about 4 times a week which is awesome. Till next time…