Friday, 5 August 2011

India: Finale

Frozen water bottle on swollen feet
Friday was our final day at Ranipathra. Woke up VERY warm as the fans were not on for most of the night. We got dressed in our sarees and other clothing we had bought for the final session with our mentees. Teachers from all 3 schools were coming to Ranipathra for a final "awards ceremony" and session making resources for their classrooms. We also gave our hosts gifts and received some in return - steel lunch container and 2 steel plates. These are what they use everyday, but will make good camping dishes for me :)
Gift packs for the teachers

My mentor group

Dance Party
After lunch we started gathering our things together and taking our final showers before the 12 hour train ride back to Kolkata. Back at the train station was the same overwhelming scene of poverty - old women begging, a woman with a toddler who had a bandaged eye and an infant who did not look healthy (she had one tomato that they were all sharing), dogs wandering along the platforms and tracks. Heartbreaking. The group got split up because half were heading travelling elsewhere and were taking a different train to avoid backtracking. So it was me, Connie and Tamara, escorted by Diana, Pastor Daniel and Basant.
We all chatted for awhile and shared some snacks, then settled in to our bunks to read for a bit before getting some sleep. This time I was in a top bunk along the aisle. I slept great! With the curtain shutting me off in my own bunk, it was a lot cozier than the 4-bunk cubby, so I did not get too cold from the air con. My earplugs also helped, as when I woke up just after 6am I took them out and there was a symphony of snoring in our car! Others complained that they didn't sleep well because of it. I got up to use the washroom, there is a choice between 'Western' or 'Indian'. Western has a toilet, Indian has two raised foot pads and a hole! But both lead to the same place - the tracks whizzing past underneath.
When I had finished brushing my teeth and waking up, Tamara was also up so we sat in her cubby - the others that had been in with her had gotten off at an earlier stop. It was nice to sit and watch the countryside going by in the morning. At one station we saw a man walking along the platform pulling along two monkeys tied on strings.
Slowly the others woke up and joined us as we headed towards our destination, passing more towns and even crossing the Ganges.
Once we reached Kolkata, we headed to a hotel to drop off our bags, then went for breaky at a place Pastor Daniel frequents often and is always full of Westerners. Then we went to the Mother Teresa House. It was amazing reading about her life.  I am planning on reading some more about her life; she was a very selfless woman.
"Mother Teresa: IN"

We then went to check out the market. There were endless shops selling everything imaginable at ridiculously low prices. Many of the shop keepers speak English and all want to show you to their shop "just this way, I show you". As we wandered, we found ourselves in the food section with spices and produce, then all of the sudden we were in the meat section. Huge netted baskets full of live chickens, cats running around under the tables, stalls full of hanging meat, and the STENCH. We did not last long before we retraced our steps back to more breathable air.
Chicken anyone?

After getting a few things, we had lunch, went back to the hotel to shower, then caught a taxi to the airport. The final leg of the journey home. For me it was an especially long leg. I had a 2 hour flight from Kolkata to Dehli. I arrived just before 11pm then had an 8 hour lay over - during which I got no sleep at all - and then continued on to London at 6:30am on a 9 hour flight. At Dehli security, the immigration guy looked at my form and told me I had to fill out the address of the hotel where I stayed the night before.
Me: I was on an overnight train.
Him: Address of hotel
Me: But I wasn't at a hotel, I was on a train.
Him: You need to fill out.
I write: TRAIN
Him: Wha? HAHAHAHA (Holds it up to other official across from him) She write train! haha, ok where was train from? Write that.
I tried to tell him...

I got in to London around lunch time, and kept myself awake that night until I could not physically keep my eyes open any longer, then slept a glorious 11 hours.
The following day I just wandered around Wimbledon, got a pedicure in a massage chair, then started feeling a little queasy. Was up all night with what I presume was food poisoning. The next day was pretty sure I was dying of malaria (conveniently shares many symptoms with food poisoning). I had my flatmate run out and buy me a thermometer, and when I was satisfied I was not going to die, tried to get some rest. Thought I was feeling better that evening, but spent another night getting up every 1-2 hours.. not fun! But at least my stomach held out until I was home, I am thankful for that.

Overall it was an unforgettable trip. I don't want to sound corny and say that it was life-changing, but it definitely gives you a new perspective on life and the way we live. We always say that we are blessed and that we take so much for granted, but it is not until you see such overwhelming poverty and people living with absolutely nothing at all that it really sinks in how much we have. It hit me when I started to think that many of the people I saw probably only had the money that was in their pockets - and I am sure many had
empty pockets. It makes you want to slow down and really take some time to appreciate every meal that you eat, and every time you sit down with friends and family and share time together. I hope that I never forget the things that I saw in India, and that I can always remember to take a minute to stop and just be thankful.

Kolkata New Market

A taste of driving in India: 
Watch it once for the traffic and again for everything passed on the side of the road.
Now watch it and keep in mind that it is over 30 degrees and humid and that the air is thick with overwhelming smells. THEN you will begin to picture India.

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