If you never got out of your quaint taxi cab, if you didn’t arrive there at 1am, if you didn’t walk on the street or use your eyes much, you might be deceived into thinking Kolkata is just a place with a lot of old charm. There are pulled rickshaws, old yellow taxis, and some historical sites to see. But we did not take the tourist route. We aren’t here for tours or sites or food, we are here to help the most poverty-stricken place I have ever been to.
We arrived at 1am Kolkata time and hopped in a prepaid taxi to go to the YMCA hotel. Driving down the road we saw people sleeping everywhere on every surface available. Trash that was strewn out on every street, everywhere was dark and dirty. We pulled up to the YMCA and a man sleeping on a table woke up to show the taxi driver the doorbell. He rang it and a man stumbled down the stairs — he was laying behind the front counter. He told us there were no rooms available, so the taxi took us to a really expensive hotel that was open ($45 a night is really crazy in other countries). We slept for a while and then checked out to go find Mother Teresa’s house.
At Mother Teresa’s House we met a woman from Uruguay who had gotten there more than a week ago and is volunteering until November (bless her beautiful heart). She told us where to find cheaper housing and the best place to eat called Raj’s Spanish Cafe. It has the most delicious food, which is great because we were not sure where to buy food as every place looks incredibly dirty.
We couldn’t help out yesterday because the Mother House only does training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so we walked around Kolkata a bit and mostly hung out in our hostel.
The main problem with Kolkata based on my two days here is that they don’t have a trash system or a traffic system. It makes everything chaotic, dirty and smelly. People bathe on the sidewalk or in public places. They brush their teeth on the side of the road. Many of the toilets in hotels don’t even flush — it just kind of sits there and you pour water in it. I’m curious to see more and figure out more about this city and try and find a little beauty in the madness.
Here is the poem I wrote about our first day in Kolkata:
I’m in a hostel
staring at a toilet with no flush capability
laying on a stained sheet
watching Mickey Mouse play soccer on the pillowcase at my feet;
even he doesn’t have enough rupees to buy cleats.
But there’s a fan
I have shoes on my feet
Very different than the lady down the street
who has to tell people her husband is dead
to get food and a bed–if you can call it that.
People are crawling around in homes or holes–
depends on your imagination. Dark eyes and hair
stretched out everywhere at night. There’s not a flat
space that doesn’t have a human or a dog in sight.
A 10-year-old boy is squatting in the trash —
taking a dump in the dump seems appropriate.
But the other boy was so young,
he still had a smile and a laugh.
He held out a palm, like all the rest.
The goat and the cow are so small and so thin,
with chunks taken out like someone bit in before they were even dead.
Never in my life would I feel such a weight
as I do now overlooking the rubbish on the street
and the people selling meat in huge slabs
as the flies swarm around the cows made of ribs.
In a couple hours we go to our training session and then decide which place we want to work at. There are eight places to volunteer, but I think we will go to the children’s home first and then the home for the destitute and the dying. Pray for us as we seek to help the people of Kolkata in the best way possible and bring love to all those we come into contact with.