Wednesday, December 27, 2006
PICTURES: First is me with P. Sainath, a photojournalist at his exhibition "Visible work, Invisible women". Next is a picture of me with Rahul Bose, an Indian actor. when he came to participate in Swayam's 16-day campaign. I took a picture with Anindita, one of the Swayam staff, at Oxford bookstore, where an artist put up a painting exhibition "SHE", to raise and donate funds to Swayam. The next picture is of the Swayam staff with visitors from Bangladesh, who also participated in the 16-day campaign. The picture was taken at another exhibition "Women Struggle, Women Resist". The last picture is of Anu and Anindita putting up campaign banners at an outreach program in Metiabruz, a place in Kolkata.
After leaving the train on my arrival in Kolkata, I was heckled by a lot of taxi drivers, but a quick look at my stern face dissuaded most of them from pursuing me. I took a deep breath to calm myself down. One particular driver refused to be shaken off, and finally persuaded me to go with him. When I got to his car, I said I wanted a car with a meter. He tried to convince me that a meter would be three times more expensive than the Rs. 300 he wanted to charge me. I told him I wanted a car with a meter, he and his friend were trying to persuade me to go in his taxi. I told him I wouldn’t pay Rs. 300, because I had taken a taxi to the airport, which was more than 30mins away, and I hadn’t paid Rs. 300 for that, using the meter. He finally relented, and I bargained down to Rs. 200. I was actually quite angry that he had tried to rip me off by so much, so I called Chandrana, one of the ladies at the Swayam office, to ask how much I should pay. She suggested around Rs. 150. I don’t know why I was taking my anger out on that poor driver, but I was quite mad. On the way home he stopped at a petrol station, and wanted me to give him the whole fare to buy petrol. I gave him half and said I would give him the other half when we got to the house. He tried to reassure me that I had nothing to fear. I was not to be moved. I had this irrational anger towards most Indian men, after my experience at Jaipur, <, and with the travel agent, that I was ready to commit murder. Poor taxi driver! He got me safely to Saptaparni, and I gave him his remaining Rs. 100. I went upstairs where Naran met me, and then I had lunch and took a nap. I didn’t unpack, except to remove the most essential things out and to remove the dirty clothes to be washed. Later that evening I called Anu to let her know I had arrived.I went into the office the next day. The 16 days of awareness campaign had started, so that afternoon I went with the staff to Metiabruz, a locale in Kolkata with a predominantly Moslem population. It was an outreach program, with a film show and a poster exhibition. It was quite nice. On our way back I entertained Anindita and Kakali with my renditions of some Hindi movie songs and with the few phrases I had learnt.
On Wednesday the 29th there was a picture exhibition opened at Gorky Sadan, titled “Women Struggle, Women Resist”, also part of the awareness campaign going on. I didn’t go in to the office because I wanted to work on my AAUW application, which was due on Friday 1 December. On Thursday the 30th of November I went into the office and sent in my AAUW application. In the afternoon I went to Gorky Sadan with the staff to view the picture exhibition and to watch a play mounted by a Bangladeshi team that had arrived to work with Swayam on the 16 days of activism activities. Later that evening we went to Oxford Bookstore for a painting exhibition titled “SHE”, held by Anita Gurbaxani, a painter who wanted to donate the proceeds of the painting show to Swayam.
On Friday I came into the office late, to find the office locked. On the elevator ride down from the apartment, the operator had told me that there was a bandh (strike) in effect. The roads were eerily silent for Kolkata, but that was because most buses and taxis were parked as part of the strike, against the land at Singur being given to Tata motors to use for one of their plants. I was able to get into the office as the security guy and Ganesh were present. I called Jagati and she explained to me that people couldn’t make it to the office because they couldn’t get transportation. Taking advantage of the quiet, I did a few things on the internet. Later on Saswati, Anu and Gargee also came into the office. From there we left for the Seagull Media house, where there was another picture exhibition titled “Visible Work, Invisible Women.” It was a pretty moving exhibition, and I would like to own some of those pictures. The stories they tell are quite depressing. I met this French lady called Charlotte, who is working with the French Association here in Kolkata. She gave me her card and phone number, and asked me to call her if I wanted to hang out. I had met Anindita’s fiancé the day before at Gorky Sadan, and he gave me a lift home as he lived near Saptaparni. Today I watched “Dil Chahta Hai” which was a bit different from most of the Hindi movies I had seen. I wasn’t too sure what to make of it, though it was still pretty nice.
The office was open from morning on Saturday morning, but I woke up in an absolutely foul mood, and when I got to the office they could tell. I don’t know why I was so mad at the world. Anyway, there was a panel discussion at Gorky Sadan on “Women and State Violence”. It was an okay presentation, except for the man who was a historian and therefore spoke for too long. I left with Anamitra to go see a seamstress about a few things. When I got back home I watched “Rang De Basanti” a very moving, and well done film. I decided not to watch it again the next day because it was way too emotionally draining. It was nothing like most of the movies I had already seen, but it had a pretty huge impact on me, so much so that Twum asked me what was wrong with me when he called me that evening. He said I sounded sad.
The next day, Sunday, we had a panel presentation on “Time Men Act to Stop violence” at Gorky Sadan, featuring Bharat (from Vishakha in Jaipur), Ruchira (a lecturer at the law school) and Rahul Bose, a Bollywood actor. Later that evening, Rahul Bose had an interactive discussions with students at Oxford Bookstore and I took a few pictures.
Week 7 (Monday 20th November – Sunday 26th November, 2006): Jaipur-Delhi-Agra and the Radjani Express Train to Kolkata
Pictures: The first one is of me and Karen, with some girls we met at the Shiva Temple in Jaipur. Next is the palace in Jaipur where one of the Maharajas kept his 365 wives. This is followed by a picture of the whole city of Jaipur from Amber Palace, then, me at the Shiva Temple, and me at Qutb Minar in Delhi.
On Monday I went to Anju’s house to do laundry. I sat there and waited for the laundry to be washed and dried. I actually thought I had to do it by hand, so I had bought some soap, but it turned out that she had a washing machine, so her overseer, Hemlal, did the washing for me. He hung them out on the drying line for me, and I worked on the report for Aasra while waiting. I also had lunch with them. I went into town and booked a room in Jaipur Inn, and also attended to some business with Bank of America (they had put a hold on my credit card).
The next day I went back to Mrs. Mathur’s place to give her the report. I had it on my USB drive, so I transferred it to her computer, along with some pictures I had taken while performing the survey. She had made some type of biryani for me, since I had told her that I liked that very much. It was very nice of her. I took some pictures with her and her family, and then Mr. Ahmed took me Kishangarh to catch a bus to Jaipur. It was a local bus, so I paid half the price I would have paid if I had taken an air-conditioned bus.
At the Jaipur bus station, I bought a ticket to go for the Jaipur by night tour organized by the RTDC, and got myself a rickshaw to take me to Jaipur Inn (where I was staying) and then to the RTDC hotel where I would join the tour. I met three French tourists, one girl from Hong Kong, and another guy from Germany on this tour. The funny thing was that apart from the Hong Kong girl, Bess, who was leaving by train that night, all the others were also staying at Jaipur Inn. The tour was nothing spectacular, though the view of Jaipur from Nahargarh Fort was amazing. After the tour we walked home together, and that was fun. I was hoping Twum could call me in my hotel room, but it turned out that the hotel phones were all internal (just like at Hotel Chitvan), so I didn’t get to chat with Twum. :(
The French tourists left the next morning, and Matthias and I went for the day long tour of Jaipur, also organized by the RTDC. On the tour bus, we met Karen, a lovely lady from Australia, and two cousins, Nikhil and Sid, from Karnataka and Hyderabad, respectively. We spent most of the tour together, taking pictures and having lunch together. It was a lot of fun. Matthias left by train for Bikaner that evening, and I went back to the hotel exhausted.
The next day I checked out of the hotel, and decided to do a bit of shopping before leaving for Delhi. I had asked Twum to send me some money via Moneygram, and I also went to visit a DV organization called Vishaka, based in Jaipur. After doing all this, I wanted to check email, so I asked the auto driver to take me to an internet café. Next to the café was a clothing and jewelry store, so I went in there to see what they had. I got some scarves and a sari as gifts for the ladies I work with, and made an outfit (skirt and top) for myself. If that was all, I would have been happy. While I was there, one of the workers had telephoned the owner of the store to tell them that a black woman had come to his store, so after I had been there for almost an hour, the owner arrived. I have to give it to him, he was pretty smooth. He came in and chatted with me, and then he started saying some things that just baffled me. He said I had honest eyes, and I thought that was a nice compliment, so I said thank you. He then said I gave him a good feeling. I thought that just like my honest eyes, he meant he felt I could be trusted or something like that. That was NOT the good feelings he was talking about. It turned out that he wanted to know me biblically, and when I told him I was married and in no way interested in his offer, he said “who knows why we have met today. You give me good feelings, so maybe we just have tonight.” Ha!! Sounds like a line from a cheesy movie, no? LOL! He said he would give me a hotel to stay in, give me a milk bath and oil massage, and take me out to dinner. Sounds pretty tempting huh? Yeah, if that was the only thing he was offering. Initially I thought he was kidding, but the man sure wasn’t. I left quite disappointed and feeling a little grimy from all the stuff he had said. I went back to the Jaipur Inn, got a bus ticket to Delhi at the station, and then went off to Hotel Pearl Palace to visit Karen, the lady from Australia. We went to the rooftop restaurant there and had dinner. We also met a lovely Irish lady who was traveling around India for two months, and we joined her for dinner. As the night wore on, one of the waiters came to me and said I had a phone call. Now THAT was weird, seeing that A) Pearl Palace wasn’t my hotel and B) no one knew I had come to Pearl Palace. If anything, I thought it was the people at Jaipur Inn telling me to come for my bags. It wasn’t. It was Mr. Khan, the grimy store owner. Everything took on a dreamlike quality right there. How the hell did he know where to find me? Simple answer: The auto rickshaw driver had reported my whereabouts to him. I don’t know if he was meant to keep tabs on me or something, but there had been another driver in the auto I was in, who had also been present at the store. I think he was the one who did the reporting. What did Mr. Khan want? To reiterate his intentions and let me know that his offer still stood, and would stand for a year, two years, ten years if need be. Oh my, what a TEMPTING offer!! (please read with in a sarcastic voice). I was shaken, and a little fearful. I went back to the table with Karen and the other lady and asked them to guess who had just called me. Karen was on point. She said that she wasn’t surprised, as the man could have paid the auto driver who tagged along, to give him the information. I stayed at Karen’s till around 11pm, then I got the hotel owner Mr. Singh (really nice man) to get me a reliable auto rickshaw, as it was pretty late. I got back to my hotel around 11:15pm, checked email, then got my bags. My bus was at 12:15am.
When I got to the bus station I drew a lot of stares (what else is new?), but I was too tired to care. I met a lively lady from Mizuram, in the northeastern part of India. I initially thought she as a foreigner, but it turns out that people from that part of India have the Mongolian look common to China< and Tibet, than the Aryan look that most Indians have. She was working at a Christian mission in Jaipur, and was off to meet her husband and mother-in-law in Delhi. We ended up on the same seats also (everytime I’ve done the Delhi-Jaipur trip, I end up on the front row, on seat number 1 or 2. It’s quite odd). I kept her up with my chattering, then finally apologized and left her to sleep. I called my parents to let them know what I was up to, then finally fell asleep. It was nice traveling at night by bus. We got to Delhi around 6am, and I got an auto rickshaw to take me to my hotel, H.K. Choudary guest house. I had to bang on the door a few times before the people woke up to let me in. I basically just made it into the room, changed my clothes and then fell asleep.
I woke up around noon, ordered breakfast, then got ready to go tour Delhi. When I got downstairs the owner of the hotel was there, and he said they had a travel agency I could go to. Big mistake! When I got there, the person in charge whipped out a calculator, asked me what kind of thing I was looking for, punched in a few numbers, and then told me he could organize a tour of Delhi, a personalized trip to Agra and back, and a trip to the train station for Rs. 7000. LOL! I told him I didn’t have that kind of money. He did a few deductions and brought up Rs. 5500. I told him that honestly, that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was just looking for the organized bus tours to Agra and back. He finally saw that I wasn’t some rich tourist out to gallivant about India,and gave me the package for Rs. 1900. I thought it sounded good and agreed to it. My own stupidity sometimes amazes me.
I got a car with my own driver to take me around Delhi. What they failed to mention was that it wasn’t by any means a guided tour. The driver basically took me to the place, dropped me there and waited for me to take as many pictures as I wanted, then took me to the next place. No history, no explanation, no nothing. I was sorely disappointed and a little put out. To piss me off even more, we only went to four places: The president’s house/parliament house, India Gate, Humayun Tomb and Qutb Minar. When I asked why, the driver said that there was a Sikh protest going on, so most roads were blocked, and I couldn’t go anyway. Right! When I got back to the Connaught PI area where my hotel was located, I wanted to buy a shirt to wear on my Agra trip as everything I had was a little dirty. I found a Kashmiri store that sold some nice shirts. As I was about to leave, the man who was helping me took me upstairs to look at their shawls. There I found that they had a lot of lovely bangles, and I spent a large amount of time looking through them. I purchased a few, and the shirt I wanted, and went back to the hotel. I ordered dinner of mixed vegetables, half Tandoori chicken, and some roti. It was lovely! AND, to top it off, the hotel had cable, and one of the channels had Mr. and Mrs. Smith on. So I ate my lovely dinner and watched Brangelina do their thing on TV. Then Twum called and we chatted for a loooooooong time, so I didn’t get to bed till 1am.
My trip to Agra was starting at 6am Saturday morning. I was up at 5:30am to get myself ready. I was quite tired, but I did my best. The top I had bought didn’t fit….seems to happen to me a bit here in India…I’m a little “broad in the chest” compared to most Indian women. I had to wear the same green shirt I had worn the day before, as it was the cleanest of my tops. A guy from the travel agency had arrived to take me to the bus, on a MOTORBIKE!! They are the rage in India, but I never thought I’d have to ride one. As it was still pretty early in the day, there wasn’t that much traffic on the road and it wasn’t too scary. It was pretty cool actually. We made it to the bus stand safely (thank God!!), and we had to wait for about forty five minutes before the bus itself arrived. I think out of the almost 30 people on the bus, only five of us were women. Before the bus took off, the conductor tried to move me from my seat to the back, and I protested pretty vehemently. What the….! Anyway, we set off for Agra and made a pit stop at this wayside restaurant around 9am. I had never seen so many flies in one place!! Ewww! I ordered a cup of coffee with butter toast. It should have been called butter with toast. The toast was mad oily, as if the bread had been added as an afterthought. LOL! Hey, it was safer than ordering an unknown Indian dish. I’m as adventurous as the next person, but not when I’m traveling to a tourist destination and I don’t know anything about the toilet facilities available.
We got to Agra around 1pm. A guide materialized from somewhere and told us we were going to Agra Fort first. When we got down, I told him that I knew that the ticket for the Taj Mahal could be used at Agra Fort and a few other places. He said that was not true. I quietly paid the Rs. 300 and went to see the fort, took a few pictures and got asked to take pictures with other people. You could see the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort. It was pretty cool. I hung out with this couple, a Kashmiri man and his Finnish wife. When we left Agra Fort, the guide said we would go visit the Baby Taj and then break for lunch. We didn’t make it to Baby Taj. He took us to a restaurant where we had lunch, then told us we were going to stop at a government emporium. We wasted time at this so-called government emporium, where people tried to force us to buy miniature versions of the Taj Mahal, and shoes made from camel and buffalo leather. Too much!! When we finally left for the Taj Mahal, it was almost 4:30pm. He told us we had seventy minutes at the Taj. Hahahahah…I scoff at him in retrospect. The line was long, and we had to wait a long time in order to get in, because they conducted security searches of people going in. And…I was right about the tickets. The Taj ticket cost Rs. 750, but it included access to Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and two other places. Mr. Guide had supposedly pocketed our money. Whether he had or not, I wanted my money back. I didn’t enjoy being at the Taj Mahal very much, but I got some good pictures.
By the time everyone got back to the bus, it was past 7pm, going on 8pm. I fell asleep almost as soon as I sat down, because I was pretty tired. The guide had disappeared (predictably!). I was quite mad at this point. When I woke up, we had turned into another town, Mathura, where Krishna is supposed to have lived. We first stopped to go see the main temple. I didn’t want to go so I stayed behind. I decided to find some food around the area, so I got down from the bus. One of the guys on the bus who had stayed behind offered to walk with me, and we found a food seller who sold idli and dosa. I eaten either idli or dos, but I was encouraged to try them, and they were okay. As I was eating, this man started talking to me about sex, about what I did when my husband wasn’t around….I mean, it was hard to see why he was asking those questions or talking about that subject in particular. I’ve found that I’m too polite and too respectful. I should have shut him up plain and simple, without beating about the bush. I tried to steer the conversation on to safer things, to his wife and children and what they did, but he kept coming back to sex. It was quite disgusting. Then, he asked me where I was staying in Delhi. I told him that I was staying in one of the hotels in Delhi. He then asked if I wanted to sit by him for the remainder of the trip. I quickly said that I wanted to sleep, so it was unnecessary for me to move, and that I was having a good conversation with the guy who was sitting by me. He then offered me some rum. What!!?? Once we got near the bus, I quickly detoured into another store so I didn’t have to be in his company any longer, wondering how I seemed to attract such weird people. After buying an apple drink, I went back to the bus, which was ready to depart.
I thought we would head for Delhi then. Wrong. We went to another place that had a Krishna temple, supposedly in Krishna’s house. This time I went and joined the couple I had met earlier, quickly explaining to them what had happened. When I pointed out who the man was, they told me that he and his buddies had been drinking rum and smoking on the bus. When we got to this Krishna temple, they tried to get us to donate money. I was fed up by then, it was past 10pm, and even the people in that area had gone to bed already! Once we got to the bus I realized I needed to pee, but there were no toilet facilities available. Tulli’s husband went with me to the back of a house, and there I squatted in the dark and did my thing. I felt tired and dirty, and couldn’t wait to get back to Delhi. On our way back we stopped at a wayside restaurant again, and didn’t make it to Delhi till after 2am. Then, the driver dropped me somewhere in Connaught place, nowhere near my hotel. Some auto drivers milling around came to my aid, but I ignored them. One of them was however persistent, and said he would take me to my hotel at no cost, because it wasn’t safe for me to be walking around alone. I made him swear to God that he was being honest, and he took me straight to the hotel. Anything could have happened, I know, but my options were pretty limited at that time. I paid him though, Rs. 20 for his help. I again had to wake the hotel staff up as they were already closed.
I made it to my room and fell asleep, waking up around noon again. I ordered breakfast, and got ready to check out. Since I was checking out after noon, I had to pay for half a day in addition to the two days that I had already paid for. They asked me how I was getting to the train station, and I said the guy at the travel agency was sending someone for me. They called him up to check, and he said it wasn’t part of the deal. Imagine my surprise and annoyance! I told him that he had said it was part of the package. He spoke to the hotel staff and asked them to arrange a rickshaw for me, which is how I got to the train station. On my way there, I got the auto driver to stop at an Airtel store so I could top up my phone. I found my way to the station, asked for directions about my train, and went to wait on the platform for a while. The train arrived on time, and we left on time also.
I met this lovely girl called Lina and we chatted for a while, and watched Kal Ho Naa Ho. I was in 3AC (AC car with three beds per side). It was at the train station that I realized how much Mr. Khan (grimy Jaipur store owner) had ripped me off. He also had a travel agency, and I had bought my train ticket from there as I wasn’t sure how the train system worked. They had booked the train ticket online, which I could have done myself, and then charged me Rs. 615 in commission charges. That could have paid for one night in a hotel and for dinner!! I sent him an angry SMS message as I had his business card, expressing my disappointment and anger. I would have felt better calling him and insulting him, but I didn’t want to give him that pleasure. Anyway, the train ride was nice, we got good tasty food, and we made it to Kolkata about an hour later than scheduled on Monday morning, but I was just happy to be in Kolkata!
The next day (Monday) I went for lunch at Mrs. Mathur’s place, where I met her parents, her maternal uncle, and Akshay. It was a lovely lunch. From there Mrs. Mathur (Anju) took me to the MDS University in Ajmer, where she works as a guest lecturer from time to time. Some of the students there had volunteered for Aasra, so she wanted me to meet them, and to ask some of them to accompany me to the villages I would be visiting.
The next day I had to be ready to be picked up around 8:30am, by my own auto rickshaw, with Mr. Junma Ahmed as my driver. LOL! We picked up two students Bhim Singh and Devendra, who went with us to the first village, Chachiyawas. We met up with Hemraj, who lives in that particular village and attends MDS. I met some lovely people there, such as Kamala, the kindergarten teacher. We were able to interview 12 people before we had to leave, as the boys had classes starting at 1pm. I also took a few pictures. I made Mr. Ahmed take me to town, where I checked email, and made extra copies of the questionnaire I needed. We went to Chachiyawas the next day also, and this time we had two more students join us, Gopal and Lavesh. Lavesh loved to sing, so he sung the songs from Kal Ho Naa Ho and other popular songs for me. At the village a group of women were so enchanted by me and they asked me to dance. They wanted me to stay overnight. All of them also kept offering me a lot of food. One of the young ones asked me why I didn’t use makeup, and actually brought out lipstick and eyeshadow to put on me. I had to show her my makeup case and explain to her that I wasn’t big on makeup. One of the ladies actually commented that they were poor but they had big hearts, which was clearly apparent from how they were all making me feel welcome and offering me food and inviting me into their homes.
I was a big hit at the hotel. For one, I was the only permanent guest, as most people only stopped there for a night to rest from driving. I made friends with most of the staff, particularly the manager, Manjeet Singh, and the head waiter, Morsingh. We had fun chatting every night at dinner, and they kept teasing me, because for the first three days I had the same thing, Mixed Vegetable Korma with roti or nan. Morsingh suggested that I try Navratan Korma, which is a sweeter version of Mixed Veg, so I kept alternating those two. I also asked them to teach me a few Hindi phrases, so that’s where I picked up most of my Hindi lingo.
The students couldn’t make it on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, so I was left to my own devices. I made Mr. Junma take me out sightseeing in Ajmer on Thursday. After the sightseeing, where a few people had asked to take pictures with me (seeing that I’m the new attraction in town..LOL!), I went back to the hotel to find the place being decorated for a party. I was having dinner when the party started. Some of the children at the party noticed me sitting in the other room and came to sit there and stare. I started chatting with them, asking their names and how they were in Hindi, and we became fast friends. I asked them if they wanted to dance with me and they said yes, so I went to bring down my laptop and we dance to the songs on “Kal Ho Naa Ho.” Their older sisters came to join us some time later, and we talked about Shah Rukh Khan and other good movies they had watched. We also talked about school, and what I was doing here in India>. They wrote down their names for me, with their phone numbers and email addresses. Piyasha’s mother actually asked me to join the party, but I declined, because I felt odd bursting in on a family gathering. She also brought me some food, but I told her that I had just eaten. I felt bad because I thought it was a bit rude to be refusing everything they were giving. When they were leaving, one of them, Piyasha, told me not to forget her. How sweet is that?!!
I stayed in the hotel on Friday and Saturday and was bored out of my wits. I had watched and rewatched the movies I had with me, and since the hotel was so far from town, I couldn’t check email or walk around at my own leisure. By Saturday night I was ready to commit a crime…hehehe. Thankfully Sunday came quickly and I went to the village with four other guys. Lavesh and Hemraj were the only ones I had worked with before. I had three new guys, PunyaVardhan, Salim and Praveen. We interviewed 100 people in total, and left the village. I decided then and there that I would leave for Jaipur on Tuesday. My original plan was to stay in Ajmer and do the same survey in antoher village, Chatri, but I was tired of being alone in the hotel. Mrs. Mathur had invited me to dinner that evening, so I was looking forward to that, and to also tell her that I was leaving.
It turned out that the dinner was actually a wedding dinner in honor of Zulficar and his new bride, hosted by Mr. Khan, who is Zulficar’s uncle (I think). I met so many nice people there, including a man who had lived with Amitabh Bachchan in Kolkata when they were younger. One of the men gave me lemonade with gin and bitters. Very soon I found myself singing “Kal Ho Naa Ho” to a rapt audience. LOL! When I was done, they asked me for a song from Ghana, so I sung Kojo Antwi’s “Dadi Anoma” and translated it for them. They enjoyed it. The food was also lovely, tasty, and very peppery! Hahaha! It was a lovely night all in all. I told Anju that I would be leaving on Tuesday, and asked if I could come do laundry in her house the next day.
I had planned to leave Kolkata for good this week. I went to purchase a few Hindi movies and some gifts for my family. I met this odd guy in front of Music World (the DVD store). At first he appeared as lost as I was, but then he claimed he had his own software company in Washington DC, and that he had been visiting his grandfather’s house here, and was a little lonely. He got my phone number, and sent me an SMS message ten minutes after I had left him. He sent me another one a few minutes later. Then he called me also. I was a little worried by then. Then he sent me a text saying I shouldn’t worry because he wasn’t weird. Hahahha!!!
As I had already bought so much stuff for my family and friends, I wanted to mail them before I left. The next day (Wednesday) I went to the DHL office to send the things to my family. After I had left the office, I got a phone call from this same guy from the day before (I think his name is Rony) and he asked me where I was. I asked him why, and he said he could see me, that he was behind me. It was one of the creepiest moments of my life. He said he just happened to be doing something in a building near the DHL office, and that I shouldn’t think he was following me or anything of the sort. HA!!!
I also had to resolve the matter of my ticket to Jaipur. What was I going to do in Jaipur, you may ask? And what the hell is Jaipur? LOL! Jaipur is a lovely city in the Indian state of Rajasthan, and I was flying there so I could get to Ajmer a smaller town also in that same area. I was going to visit an organization called Aasra, that worked with rural women and girls, and led the drive for increase in female literacy. One of the founders works with my dad, and he suggested that I go up there since I was in India. I was also getting a little tired of being in the same place so I wanted to move. However, all those plans were modified a few days before I left for Jaipur. I was informed of a conference, the India Social Forum (ISF) in New Delhi.Delhi is about six hours by bus from Jaipur. Everyone I spoke to said it would be a good experience, and a nice way to meet other organizations working against domestic violence across the country. I changed my flight date from Saturday to Thursday, booked a hotel in Delhi (which was pretty expensive), and got ready to leave.
The flight, on Kingfisher Airlines, to Jaipur was wonderful. As always, the food on the various Indian airlines is to die for. I got to Jaipur around 2pm and decided to take the bus to Delhi immediately, especially since I hadn’t booked a hotel in Jaipur. I called the manager at my Delhi hotel and asked if I could come in a day earlier. She agreed, so I got a taxi to Jaipur bus station. The city is quite lovely. It’s called the pink city because sometime in the 1800s ( I think) the Maharaja at the time painted it pink to welcome a member of the British Royal family, because pink is the color of hospitality in that culture. Anyway, on my way to the bus station I saw my first camel. I was beyond myself!! Even though Jaipur is such a lovely city with a lot of modern accoutrements, camels, cattles and horses vie for space on the main streets along with cars, motorcycles and rickshaws.
I got to Delhi around 10pm, and haggled with an autorickshaw driver, who agreed to take me to my hotel (City Center Hotel) for half the original price. I checked in, ate some crackers and went to bed. I got up the next day and found my way to the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium where the ISF was taking place. I walked around pretty aimlessly for a while, then made my way to the place where the event on the new Protection against Domestic Violence Bill was being held. I saw Anu (Swayam’s director) there, but she didn’t stay too long. The event was pretty disappointing. Let me explain. It started out with the organizers leading the group in a song. I couldn’t sing it, but I enjoyed it. I was also happy that there were men as well as women at the event. There were also other foreigners in addition to me. After that, the main speaker asked how many people understood only English, and there were only two of us. Thus, she suggested that people sitting next to us translate from Hindu to English. That worked out for a little while, but as always, you know that a lot is being left out when something is being translated. We finally moved to another tent as more people had come for the event. There other people came whose first language was not Hindi. As such, each speaker had to speak first in Hindi and then in English. I quickly realized that it might be a bit of a problem for me to attend programs if they were all going to be conducted in Hindi.
When I left the ISF, I felt a little despondent, but I resolved to shake that feeling off and enjoy myself. I stood at the stadium gates for a while but couldn’t stop an auto-rickshaw because there were so many people also hoping to catch one. I decided to cross over to the other side to see if my luck would be better there. It wasn’t. Then a random man stopped near me in his white private car and asked me to get in. Okay, he said it in Hindi, but I could tell from his gestures that he wanted me in the car. I declined politely and walked off. To my surprise he followed me in the car. I ignored him and kept walking. He stopped the car, got out to pee on the side of the road, and then kept pressuring me to get in the car. I kept walking, he drove slowly behind me. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I crossed the street to the other side. Luckily, a kind Sikh auto-rickshaw wallah saw me and stopped for me. His name was Titu. He was such a blessing in disguise. He could speak good English (not that speaking Hindi or Bengali is bad, but it made it easier for me to communicate with him), and he took me to a fruit stand and a good place to get mughlai food to go. The food was very good and the price was also quite reasonable, for Delhi. I stayed up late watching movies on TV (the hotel had cable…I watched this movie called “Bunty & Babli. I think it was some kind of Bonnie and Clyde story.) and on my computer.
The next day I got to the campgrounds around 3pm, in time for the program I wanted to participate in, but it was all in Hindi. My disappointment was so heavy I felt I was being crushed under it. I bought some gifts from the stands at the forum and left for my hotel. I decided then and there that I would leave for Ajmer the next day (Sunday).
I took the 9:30am bus from Delhi to Jaipur. Our bus broke down fifteen minutes away from Jaipur, and we had to flag another bus down. At the Jaipur station I met an Indian guy, Rahul, who had been living in Nigeria for the past 12 years. It was quite cool, especially because his English definitely had the Nigerian intonation. LOL! He wanted my number but I got his instead, and left on the bus for Ajmer.
I got to Ajmer 6:30pm. I didn’t know what hotel I was in and where it was located, so I had to call Mrs. Mathur to ask. It was Hotel Chitvan, and it was about 10km from the town center. The rickshaw wallahs I asked didn’t know where it was and kept insisting on other hotels. I finally found one who knew where it was, and we set off after haggling over the price. I couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief yet though. The hotel WAS quite far from town, and as we went farther and father from town I got a little scared. I think the rickshaw driver was also a little worried, because he kept stopping to ask for directions. Finally we saw the hotel sign, and I breathed a little easier. At the hotel I met Zulficar, a friend of Akshay Mathur (the guy who works with my dad.). He had actually just gotten married, which is why Akshay had come to India.He helped me settle into my room. And that was my first night in Ajmer.
PS: The camel picture was taken in Jaipur, and the other two were at the ISF program in New Delhi.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Anindita had left me with three reports to read and edit, as they were going to be compiled into the annual report for 2005-2006. I also got the contact information for some organizations in the area who were working in domestic violence, so I called them and scheduled appointments to visit them. On Tuesday I went in work and worked on the reports. Swayam had a workshop for mothers with adolescent children, with a consultant who works with adolescents. They also had a career consultant come in to chat/confer with some of the clients. I was sneezing a lot during the day, and it got worse once I got to the internet café and felt the full blast of the AC. Every time I sneezed I felt it through my whole body, like little pinpricks. I took some Nyquil after dinner, and decided not to go to work on Wednesday because I felt tired and drowsy.
On Wednesday I called Swayam to let them know that I wasn’t coming in, and also called one of the organizations I was going to visit, to cancel the appointment. I stayed and mostly slept. On Thursday I went to visit in to the office, and then left to visit Shramajivee Mahila Samity (Working Women’s organization), an organization that works with rural communities and women on the issue of domestic violence and women’s rights. They are located in the suburbs of Kolkata, and it took me about an hour and a half to two hours to get there by bus. People’s reaction to me was worse than it had been in the main city. Three little boys followed me with some incense sticks, the bravest one trying to talk to me, trying to get one rupee from me, and just basically rambling on in Bengali. When they got tired they left me alone. A man on a motorbike also stopped by me and shook my hand. Another man stepped in my path and asked where I was from. I finally found the Rasoraj, the sweet shop that was the landmark I was supposed to look out for, and went in to ask for directions. I showed them the address I had been given, and they called a cycle rickshaw to take me there. It as my first time on a cycle rickshaw, and it was quite a lot of fun.
When I arrived at the offices of Shramajivee, I was taken in to see Anuradha, who seems to be one of the head honchos there. She was very nice, and said that it was pretty rare to have visitors from the South visiting (economic South i.e. another developing country), so they were all pretty excited. I did an informal interview with her, and they invited me to have lunch with them. It was basic Bengali fare, I guess, of rice, Dal and some vegetables (okra and egg plant I think). They also ordered a dessert of sweet curd and chondish (made from cottage cheese) as a branch of Rasoraj was located right opposite their premises. The sweet curd was VERY sweet. Apparently it’s a typical Bengali dessert. Anuradha introduced me to some of the staff there, and I met this nice lady who is an activist. They said that it would be nice for me to visit one of the villages they work in, so they would see what they could arrange before I leave.
I took another cycle rickshaw from the office, and this was even more interesting. The man was over the moon to have me in his rickshaw, that he kept tooting his horn for no apparent reason. He even stopped at a corner shop to show me off, but the person he was looking for wasn’t around. He kept pointing out different buildings like banks and hospitals out to me, like he was giving me a tour. I think he just wanted to practice his English on me. He asked me where I was from and I said Ghana, but then he would scream out to other rickshaw drivers he met that I was from Nigeria, and I would have to correct him and say Ghana. LOL! Once we got on the main road, he actually stopped pedaling and came to sit by me, while screaming for someone to take a picture of him with me. It was pretty amusing, although it could have gotten annoying if I had been in a bad mood. (He wasn’t able to get the picture taken, unfortunately.)
On the main road I got a bus pretty easily and settled in for the long trip back to the center of the city. Once I got down at Gariahat Junction, I saw that there were a lot of stalls for shopping. I got some kurtas (long shirts for men) for my dad and Twum, and a salwar kameez for a friend. I also got some earrings for another friend. I got back to Ballygunge Phari by auto rickshaw, and went into the internet café for an hour before heading home.
On Friday I called Gana Unnayan Parshad, the organization I had canceled on, and made another appointment for Monday. I also called STIC travels to book a ticket for Jaipur, as I’ll be leaving at the end of next week. The lady got me a ticket for Sunday 12 November and told me it would cost Rs. 4336. Later that evening there was an Adda at Swayam. This was an opportunity for all the women who use Swayam to meet for relaxation and entertainment. They played music and danced, and got me to dance with them. The women were also served egg rolls (I got to have one. Amazing!!), with some dessert. It was pretty good. I left with some of the women, and got to walk with two of them, Chandrani and Indrani, who are pretty frequent visitors to Swayam, and are also members of the music group. Chandrani is the mother of Jesus. The two of them talked about how Swayam was their everything, and how the staff at Swayam had helped them when they didn’t have anyone. It was a pretty touching testimony to the good work that Swayam is doing. They got me to eat a wayside snack (I know I shouldn’t have) that was this puffed fried bread that was filled with a potato mix and some type of flavored water. It was pretty nice, but I knew that I would have a running tummy later that night or tomorrow morning. LOL! I had to go back to Gariahat Junction to exchange one salwar kameez for another, so Indrani went with me. From there I went to the internet café for about an hour and then went home.
On Saturday the office was open from 10am to 2pm. I had stayed up till 3am chatting with Twum, so I didn’t get in to the office till noon. Anindita and Sashuti are going with some of the women from Swayam to Kalimpong (ten hours away by train) for an outstation workshop. I left after 2pm with Jagati, one of the staff there. She put me on a bus bound for Camac Street, where the STIC office is located. When I got there, the lady there told me that my ticket would cost Rs. 10,940. Goodness! I absolutely refused to pay that! I told them that I had seen on their website that students with the ISIC card could get a flight from Kolkata to Jaipur for Rs. 5117 on Kingfisher Airlines. The lady said she didn’t think so, that it was only for Indian students. She called another staff member to look into it, and after about thirty minutes, I was told that I was right, and that I could get that ticket. They wanted me to pay all that upfront, and I told them I didn’t have all that money, because I had come prepared to pay Rs.4336. I gave them Rs. 5000, and got a receipt for that. They said they would have my ticket ready by Monday afternoon, so I should call them then. I was not happy at all, and I left feeling pretty deflated.
I saw a Punjab government store opposite the STIC office, so when I left I went in there to look at what they had. They had lots of jewelry, bags, clothes and a host of other things. I just wanted jewelry for a friend, and some cushion covers to buy. I didn’t have any money on me though. I picked out some cushion covers and letter holders, and some bracelets, and told them I would come back for them when I returned to the STIC office for my ticket. I walked down Camac Street and bought an egg and chicken roll at a fast food stop. I asked two ladies eating there what bus to take to get to Saptaparni, and they asked the cashier of the fast food place. I finally got a number (206) and went to the bus stop to get the bus home when I finished eating. It was not a totally pleasant day.
Sunday I slept in and woke up around 9am. I went for breakfast around 10am, and chatted with Mrs. Sanyal for a while. I came back to my room, exercised and took a shower. I then sat down to write three weeks’ worth of updates. Now I’m on my way out to get lunch, then probably head over to the café to put all these updates up.
This week I just mainly went in to work at Swayam. Since Anu had left for her two-week travel to the US for a conference, I just went into the office on Monday and finished typing up my summary of Swayam’s annual report 2004-2005, which gave me a pretty good idea of the kind of work they do. Sometimes I feel that what I’m doing is useless, that I could have done the same thing without flying over here and staying here with them. I could have asked them to mail me their publications and then just written summaries of all of them. I however catch myself whenever I think that, because I am getting to see the world, and to see the daily interactions and day to day work that they do. It’s all nice and groovy on a printed document, but I am appreciating the work more when I see the professionalism and familiarity with which the staff at Swayam deals with each other and with the numerous women they see. I’m also eating pretty good food, and now I own some of their Salwar Kameez outfits, which are pretty groovy. I went with Chandrana to Dakshinapan, a government regulated shopping mall to get some new outfits and gifts for others.
Tuesday and Wednesday were public holidays, so I didn’t need to go in to work. I decided to visit the internet café on Tuesday afternoon, to see if I could download a few shows to watch in the evenings. Oh goodness! What a terrible, absolutely horrendous idea! In order to not get the shows illegally (okay, one particular show: Grey’s Anatomy), I decided to purchase it on iTunes, thinking that since it was a legal connection, it would download faster. Sooooooooooooooo not true. I regretted buying it on iTunes, and felt that I would have gotten the shows faster if I had stuck to my guns. The connection crawled much slower than any snail or slug I’ve come across, and I was there for about six hours. I did get to chat with Twum and some other friends on Skype, Yahoo messenger and Google chat.
I went back to work on Thursday and Friday. It was pretty much me reading, and helping out around the office, and also asking questions of the ladies who worked there. I had been allowed to sit in on two conferences that a lawyer had had with two women, so that was also pretty cool, even though I didn’t understand anything that was going on. These two days passed very quickly and before I knew it, it was the weekend.
On Saturday I took the West Bengal Tourism Company’s tour of Kolkata. I met an Indian guy called Arvind who had gone to MIT for grad school and was now working as a software engineer in
On Sunday I basically stayed at home for a while, listened to a sermon from Pastor John Wesley of
I’m sitting on the balcony of the 14th floor apartment where I’m staying with Mrs. Sanyal, and looking out at all the lights people have strung on their buildings in celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights. I am yet to ask what it means. No, let me modify that. I asked this lovely lady at the Airtel phone store what it means, and her explanation was that it was the start of a new business year for most (or all) businesses. Thus, in celebration of this day, all shops and businesses would decorate their premises with lights and religious articles. I think there might be another explanation for it, so I’m waiting to ask Mrs. Sanyal, who is a storehouse of knowledge, seeing that she’s eighty-three years old and counting. Many people started celebrating the Diwali early, throwing firecrackers during the day and the night since last week. I was startled a number of times at the office when I heard loud, cracking (
Chandrana, the mental health consultant at Swayam, asked me what I was doing for Diwali. When I told her I had no plans, she said she would check with her family and see if they were okay with her bringing a guest. She called me on Saturday morning to say that it was fine, that she would come for me at . I spent most of the day sleeping and then knitting. I had purchased a red and black Salwar Kameez outfit at New market a week ago, so I ironed that and wore that for my visit with Chandrana and her family. They were very lovely.
She came to pick me up with her parents-in-law. We drove through the town to Chandrana and her husband’s apartment, where the mother-in-law got down with us. We went upstairs and had some tea and sweets. I met Chandrana’s husband then, and also looked through their wedding pictures. The mother-in-law was very funny and sweet, and when I told her I liked the food and the outfits, she said she would find me an Indian man to marry. LOL! I told her I was already married, and that also from what I hear, Indian men rarely marry other women who are not Indian. She laughed it off and jokingly said if men married more than one woman, I could also marry more than one man. That woman was a trip! Later on Chandrana and her husband lit some oil lamps, and then we left for her parents’ house. There I met Chandrana’s father, a charming old man who said he had adopted me as his daughter, and I also met her mother, who was ill and was not very talkative while we were there. She has to have round the clock care, so she had a day nurse and a night nurse. While we were visiting the night nurse came in, all dressed up in a very beautiful saree. I took a picture of her.
I then went downstairs with Chandrana, her husband, and two younger girls from the house, to throw firecrackers. It was a lot of fun, and I took a lot of pictures and videos. My favorite was this cracker called “The Butterfly”. When lit, the cracker moves around rapidly, almost looking like a butterfly or moth in flight, and it also changes color. Sometimes it even seems to be following the person who lighted it. Chandrana’s husband lighted one which jumped three stories high!! We later had dinner with chicken patties, salad, and a type of bread that I’ve forgotten the name of. It was a great evening, and I returned feeling both happy and sad.
On Sunday I stayed at home, and then later on when to the internet café for a while. I went to Café Coffee Day, a new hangout place for the youth of Kolkata if they need some coffee and a light snack. I bought a chicken tikka sandwich, which was pretty good, and had it with an iced fruit drink. Pretty okay. I came back home, did a little bit of reading and went to bed. Happy Diwali!
I moved into Mrs. Sanyal’s apartment on Sunday. It’s just a five minute walk from the Swayam office, so it’s quite convenient. Of course, every time I walk on the street to the office, people stare at me as if I have nine heads. LOL! I am so not used to being the center of attention in this way, being looked at as the foreign person. This week I worked a bit with Anu, who is preparing a presentation for a UNESCO conference in the
During lunch on Tuesday Anu said that she wanted to taste some Ghanaian food before she left on her trip. She asked me what I could make and I said jollof, so she asked for the ingredients. I thought she was kidding. I left to go to the bank to change some money, and by the time I got back the cook had gone to buy the things I needed. LOL! I started on the stew while Swarmita, one of the caseworkers there, stayed with me and asked questions about what I was doing. I also made a marinade of onions, garlic, ginger, black pepper, salt and some turmeric, and put this on the chicken they had bought (they bought three whole chickens! Luckily for me they had already been cut into smaller pieces). The next morning I wasn’t feeling too well, but I knew I had to go make the lunch, so I went in around . Apparently they had been waiting impatiently for me, so the moment I landed Swarmita and Gargee, another caseworker, pounced on me, saying that they thought I had decided not to come. I went into the kitchen and carried on with preparations. I was cooking for 14 people! That’s almost a party you know. The Swayam staff had one lady come in to help me by chopping the vegetables for me. Of course, as with most jollof I’ve made, the bottom got burnt very quickly. This lady was trying to turn the rice, with the burnt portion too. I got a little pissed at her. I knew she knew how to cook, but because we didn’t understand each other, it was a bit confusing, and I felt it was a little presumptuous of her to just turn my food when I was telling her not to. Anyway, she went to call Swarmita, and I explained to her, and Swarmita basically asked me to ignore her and go about my work, since I knew what the food was supposed to be like. In addition to the rice, I made a stir-fry of potatoes (Aloo), peas, green beans, onions, carrots and green pepper (I steamed the potatoes, and then added the vegetables, along with some salt and black pepper). This was because two of the ladies were vegetarians. I cooked the chicken, and then tossed each piece lightly in a bit of vegetable oil. It all came out pretty beautifully. The staff members totally consumed the jollof. I thought they wouldn’t like it, but they did, and they all asked for the recipes I had used. :) I was muy, muy happy!!
On Thursday I got my Airtel
Friday I stayed a little late as Anu was frantically getting things ready before she left. The upcoming weekend was Diwali and Kali Puja. Her son came with the driver to pick her up from the office, and I got to meet him. Anu was quite busy, so I just waited to wish her a safe trip and to say goodbye, before leaving the office. I had initially planned to spend only three weeks at Swayam, but because she was leaving and I wanted to interview her about how she started Swayam, I decided to stay that extra week so I could see her before leaving.
I stayed up all Saturday night, watching TV and then later chatting with Twum from around till when I finally went to bed. I woke up at , so I could check out from
After getting up to the 14th floor apartment and putting my luggage in my room, I chatted with Mrs. Kamal Sanyal for quite a while, before having lunch of Dal (a lentil soup), sliced okra, green beans, carp in mustard sauce, boiled rice, and a dessert of rice pudding with almonds, and shortbread-like cookies. I also learnt how to make rice pudding (by mouth). The trick is to cook the rice in the milk, instead of boiling it in water and then later adding the milk. J I was quite tired as per my all-nighter, so I took a nap, and was woken up at by Naran, the man who works for my host. He gave me water and coffee, and then I went back to bed till .
After waking up I watched a little TV with Mrs. Sanyal, and we talked about the war in
So, for those of you worrying about me being all alone in a hotel, you can rest easy now, because I’m living in a lovely place now. I can see almost a third of the city from my windows!!
I woke up in the afternoon, around . After lazing a bit more in bed, I got showered and dressed, and I left to go change some money so I could pay the hotel bill. I was planning to leave before on Sunday, so I wouldn’t have to pay for an extra day. Although I had consulted my Lonely Planet
Anyway, I bought one bag initially, gave half of it to the security man at the hotel gate, and bought another bag. I then went into the hotel restaurant and bought a bottle of Aquafina (bottled by PepsiCo. Coke’s brand of water is called Kinley, I think. Pepsi seems to rule over here in
Riding an auto rickshaw is pretty amazing. It’s a tiny little vehicle on three wheels, about the size of a golf cart. However, just like a normal sized car, it seats the driver and one person in front, and three people squeezed in at the back. J I think due to regulation stipulations, most of them are painted green, with a yellow snout (front). There are no doors on the sides, just bars on the right passenger seat at the back. We all enter from the left. If you ride in front with the driver, you have to hold on to a metal handle just above your head. The auto rickshaw drivers navigate the road as if they have no care for their lives. Almost like motorcycles, they weave in and out of traffic, and most of the time cause big buses to stop within two inches of them, easing through slowly to avoid being crushed by the big, obnoxious buses. LOL! They get you from point A to B pretty fast, and cost around Rs. 3-5 depending on the distance covered. Plus, the feel of the wind as you ride through the streets is just lovely! I would like to own one for fun. ( I won’t drive it in the streets of Kolkata though! Sheesh!)
Once we got to the stop where I had to get down, the guy told me, and then paid my fare for me. He introduced himself as Rohan, and I told him I was Denise. He explained to me that the connecting road to
So, Rohan was on his way to New Market, which is apparently the place to get different outfits. I had heard about it from many people but I hadn’t gone there yet. I asked Rohan if he would mind waiting for me to change money, and then allowing me to tag along while he went there. He was really nice about it, and took me to a place to change money, after asking me whether I wanted legitimate or illegal money changers. LOL! I should have lived dangerously and gone to the illegal side; they apparently have better rates. To cut a long story short, Rohan acted as my unofficial guide, pointing out various streets and their significance, till we got to New Market. It wasn’t that far from
Right after I left him, I saw everyone looking, no staring unabashedly at me. J New Market is an indoor market, a storey building filled with various little stores and stalls. I went to the first stall I saw, as the guy there looked friendly and the clothes there were on sale. My main aim was to purchase some Salwar Kameez or Salwar suits, which consists of a top, pants and a scarf, and is won by many of the women here in
The store owner came to my aid, and pointed me to those that were my size, and those cost Rs. 300. I didn’t think he was trying to rip me off, as I had done my homework and been told that that was the normal price. He introduced himself as Guudu, and was very nice to me. I looked at a number of the outfits, picked one out for myself, and one out for my mother. On a whim I also bought one for my sister. He was very excited, and tried to get me to buy more of the ones I had picked but discarded. I was satisfied with my purchases, and so I was not in the least bit tempted. He even sent someone out to buy me some chai, which was lovely, and was served in this tiny clay cup. Guudu took me around to look for male shirts, but I didn’t find any I wanted as they were all western style shirts. He finally gave me his business card and said I could come whenever I needed to. I left the building and saw just on my left, a boutique where this lovely green and pink Salwar suit was being displayed. I went in and of course, caused a pretty big stir as the streets are not exactly teeming with black people. LOL! I was asked for the third time how I comb my hair, and I had to go through the whole spiel. I tried on the salwar kameez that I wanted but it was too tight across the chest. ( I didn’t my bust was THAT big!). I left that boutique feeling a little sad.
Oh well!! The sadness didn’t last too long. I was excited to be shopping. I went on to buy two bags, which were absolutely beautiful. I also asked about other salwar kameez suits but none were in my size. After browsing through other trinkets, I went into a clothing store to look at materials for sewing my own salwar kameez. I found three sets that I really liked but I decided to go sleep on it. The store keeper was really nice, and he asked me to teach him some words in Twi. I asked him to teach me some Hindi words, and then I took some pictures with them. I left the store and got onto
I shook it off and kept walking. I realized it was past and I hadn’t had anything to eat, really. I saw a fruit stand where they made juice for you on the spot. I ordered some orange juice, and they blended the orange for me with ice. It was so good!! I asked the man selling the juice if there were any good restaurants around, and he directed me to one right next door. I ordered plain rice, chicken do piyaza and tandoori roti. It was a very delicious meal. When I finished eating it was a little past . I thought that since it would take me a bit of time to get to the hotel and then walk to the internet café, I should just use the café that was on that street.
The café was pretty big, with almost twenty computers. It was in a big well-lit room. In addition, it sold different clothing and souvenirs. The computers also had Skype and microphones and all that good stuff. I was quite excited. Since the connection was pretty fast, I was able to update my blog for the first week, chat with Kwadwo from AC, and then call Twum on Skype. I was so thrilled I lost track of time, and by the time I realized, it was almost . I got up and paid my tab, and asked one of the workers if he knew any reliable taxi driver to take me home. He took me to a taxi driver who invited his companion along. I was a little hesitant, but since the guy who directed me was the one who had taken me to the café, I felt I could trust him. Well, I could trust him but not the driver!!!!!!!! It turned out that the neither the driver nor his companion were clear on the directions to my hotel, and so they got lost. To make matters worse (and my blood boil with anger!!) they said I made them get lost, so I should pay extra. Honestly, I wanted to smack them both across the head. I told them that I shouldn’t have to pay extra because I am the tourist, I gave them the address, and they said they could take me there. When I got to my hotel, I gave them what they asked for and slammed the car door with all my might. The companion was trying to say goodnight with me. If I had been a little more crass I would have told him what to do with his goodnight. (Hehehe…).
I got back to my hotel room still fuming. To relax I turned on the TV and watched several episodes of “The Simple Life”, and the movie “Fools Rush In” (you know it’s a good movie!). I ended up staying up till ! J
Monday, October 16, 2006
While waiting for the bus, a middle-aged Indian man kept staring at me, then finally said hello. I nodded, said hello, and turned my gaze elsewhere, as per the Lonely Planet guidebook instructions. He wasn’t done though. He wanted to chat. He asked me where I was from and I said Ghana. He asked if Ghana was in South Africa and I said no, in West Africa. He wanted to know what I was doing here, and I said I was just touring. He asked if I was staying in that hotel and I said yes, and then he asked me for my ROOM NUMBER!! WHATTT??!!! I told him I couldn’t give him that, and he said that he was also staying in the hotel. He then asked if I lived in Lumumbashi, and I said no, I was from West Africa, which is near Nigeria. Then he said that I had a good body, and looked really fit. I said I thanked God for that, and he asked if I was Christian, and I said yes. Then he said again that I had a good body, and that he liked it, and I said that my husband liked it too. I wanted to scream at him to leave me alone. Then he asked me where I was going and I said Hazra Road. Around that time the 33 bus was approaching. For a split second I wanted to wait for the 204/1, but I knew he would keep trying to chat with me and maybe keep commenting on my physique, so I jumped on the bus. LOL!
I got to my stop safely (cost Rs. 4.00), and dropped in at the office quickly to let them know I was going to visit my new host. It was pretty close to the office, just as Anu mentioned. As usual, I drew a lot of stares. I’m getting a little used to it. The lady lives in a high rise, on the 14th floor. There was a security gate there, and I had to sign in and give the name and apartment number of the person I was going to visit. I did that, and went to wait for the elevator that would take me to the 14th floor. I got upstairs with no hassle, and rang the bell to the apartment. An older man opened the door for me, and greeted me with his hands clasped in a prayer stance just below his neck. The old lady in there also did the same thing, and I copied them. I thought it was so cute!
I sat down, and chatted with the old lady. Her name is Mrs. Kamal Sanyal, and she is 83 years old. She was quite young looking and active for her age. We had a lovely conversation, and I was given some slices of fruitcake, water and coffee. I was also given a fried dough type of thing, but I didn’t know its name. She showed me the room, which is large and has a double bed, and has a great view of the city (hello! It’s on the 14th floor!). She would be charging Rs. 800 per day, and it includes breakfast and dinner. I thought it was a pretty good deal, about $18 a day. I spent an hour with her without really realizing I’d been there that long. We settled on me moving in there on Sunday. I agreed to stay there for two weeks, to be extended if I stayed longer in Kolkata.
I left and went back to the Swayam office, and did a bit of reading. I got some coffee to drink, in an attempt to stay awake. However, since I hadn’t slept that well last night, I kept dozing off. One of the staff members asked if I would like to take a nap, and showed me a little room with cushions where I promptly fell asleep. I had a fan on me, so it was a pretty sweet nap. Thirty minutes later I woke up because I was sweating profusely. The lights had gone off. Apparently there is some load shedding going on in the area, so it was our turn. I went back to my nap after a few minutes. Another staff member came to wake me up for lunch, but I was still so sleepy I said they should give me ten more minutes. This ten minutes turned into thirty, and I woke up at almost 3pm. I think I had napped for an hour and a half. I didn’t want to wake up but I didn’t think it was nice to sleep the whole afternoon away. I forced myself to wake up, and got some more coffee to drink.
As I was sitting at my desk, one of the staff members came by and introduced herself as Chandrana, the mental health consultant. She asked me if I wanted my lunch, and went to speak to the canteen staff to prepare my lunch. For lunch I had boiled rice with red beans, the Dal again, and some potatoes in a spicy sauce. That potatoes and spicy sauce is very good. I can’t seem to ever finish my lunch because I get filled up pretty quickly.
After lunch, I went upstairs to chat with Chandrana, and we had a lovely conversation. She also gave me a dessert (Rosh something) to try. It’s made from milk; the milk is boiled for a while, then a citrus juice is added to curdle it I guess, then a bit of flour is added to it to make some balls. Then, the balls are soaked in syrup (sugar water, basically). The balls are chewy, and taste a bit like condensed milk.
I did a bit of reading, finishing up the book on helping domestic violence victims who have tried to commit suicide. It was around 5:30pm at this time, so I went online to check my flight booking, which had been sent by the STA agent I’m working with. I hopefully leave India on or around 20th December. I then registered with Jet Airways, so I could claim the miles I had flown (and will be flying in December) from them.
I left around 6:15pm, caught the 33 bus again, and this time, was able to get a seat for most of the trip. I missed my stop and had to get down at the next stop, but it was near the internet café so I knew how to get back to the hotel. I got into my room, ordered some dinner (two chicken wraps. I’ve learnt my lesson.), and I’m now working hard to finish my blog so I can put up the updates online. In the meantime, I watched an old version of Friends and Seinfield, and I’m now watching this year’s VH1 music awards.
(Honey, I just saw the Bacardi Mojito advert on one of the channels! LOL!)
When the rain abated, I went downstairs to ask where I could catch the bus to work. The previous day the receptionists had told me that I could take either the 204/1 or the 33 to work. Today when I asked them, they said they didn’t know, and that the best way would be by cab, which would cost me upwards of 50 rupees. I knew for a fact that the bus wouldn’t be more than 10 rupees, so I found it a little ridic (thanks to Elizabeth, Yale 08 for that term!) that I would pay five times that amount. Having prayed to God for strength, and feeling pretty positive about the day, I went and stood at the bus stop (which, thankfully, was right in front of the hotel). The bus stop even had a sign board that listed the different buses that stopped there. As usual, I drew a lot of stares from passersby, and one lady who was waiting at the bus stop with me finally met my eye. I smiled at her and she smiled back. J Anyway, you wouldn’t have believed that it had just rained, because it was as hot and muggy as it was the day before.
Once the 204/1 came around, I moved towards it, but before I climbed on I asked the lady who had returned my smile if the bus was going to Hazra road. She said it was, so I got on. I wasn’t sure where I was going to get off, but I knew it was called Allenbury Stop, which was the name of the institution or building that the bus stopped in front of. It was a pretty long trip, at least 20-30 minutes, as there was a bit of traffic. I spent most of the trip standing as there were no seats available. What I remember most about the journey was that the song “Bananza” by Akon started playing on the bus’s radio, and it took me back to the DASAC dance with Stephanie. I was a bit amazed that the song was playing on the bus, mainly because the bus had all these symbols and pictures of Hindu deities, and I wouldn’t have expected globalization to hit the bus. But I digress.
The bus got me to Allenbury Stop, and the “mate” as we would call him in Ghana (or bus conductor to the non-Ghanaians) was quite nice. Every time I called him to ask how much the journey cost, he would just incline his and hold up his palm, telling me to wait head (the inclining of the head seems to be a cultural thing, because most of the people here at the hotel and even at work also incline their head several times when talking to me. I don’t know if it means they understand or don’t understand me.). When we finally got to my stop, he told me it was Rs. 5 (five rupees) and stopped the bus for me. I got to work at 2pm, which wasn’t too much later than 1:30pm.
The lady I met yesterday, Anindita, wasn’t at work today, but she had left me in the care of another staff member, Anamitra, who quickly dished out lunch for me and told me we would talk after I ate. Lunch was plain boiled rice, with a potato and eggplant thick gravy, a Dal (some greenish soup of some kind, a little salty), and the sauce that the fish was served in. It was quite good, and I got full pretty quickly. While I was eating, I had the chance to chat with Anu, one of the staff members there, and she left me feeling very much at ease and comforted, and I wasn’t as worried about my stay here in Kolkata as I was a few days ago. I also met her mother, who volunteers at the organization, and a young man who just graduated with a Masters in Psychology and was also volunteering at Swayam. I took a picture with some of them before I went upstairs with Anamitra. She gave me some publications to read, including how to deal with women who are suicidal as a result of domestic violence. They also had internet access, so I nipped on there quickly and checked email.
Anu came out and asked me to sort out some papers they had to use, so I spent most of the afternoon doing that. Anamitra got someone to make us coffee. After the morning’s experience with “tea” at the hotel, I was a little worried. The coffee was amazing! It was exactly like how my mom used to have it back in Ghana. It was instant coffee (of course!!), pretty thick, and with a lot of milk and sugar (and this time it was good milk!). I finished it in record time (even though I was sweltering in the heat), and got another mug, this time accompanied by some biscuits. By the time I was done, it was 5pm, and the office close at 6pm. Anu had mentioned to me that she knew a lady down the road who usually hosted young people working with the organization, and she said she would contact her for me to check whether she had any space available. I was pretty excited by that, because it meant I would have a homestay near to the workplace, and wouldn’t have to struggle with the bus everyday (though it was a memorable experience.)
I went back onto my email account to send a quick message to one of the STA travel agents because I had received an email saying that I had a booking I was yet to pay for. Since she hadn’t told me what dates the booking was for, and I had no other information but this single email, I asked for clarification. I then shut down the computer, and went downstairs to meet Anu. She called the lady, who said she would charge me Rs. 800 per day, with breakfast and dinner included. That’s a little less than ten dollars a day for food and lodging, as opposed to the Rs. 900 I’m paying right now at the hotel, with no food included. We made an appointment for me to look over her house tomorrow. I’m quite excited about that.
With that settled, I left the office to try my luck with the bus. It gets dark pretty quickly over here. I think the sun sets around 5:15pm. This was the first time I’d been pretty far from the hotel and it had been this dark. Some men started hollering in the street when they saw me. I wasn’t sure whether they were calling me or not, but I didn’t turn, just kept walking towards where I thought the bus might stop. No buses seemed to come, and the few that came by were not the right ones. I saw a lady standing a little further down the road, and went to ask her if that was the bus stop. She said yes. I saw this old man selling pawpaw, pineapples, bananas, and another fruit I didn’t recognize. I tried to get his attention but his mind was somewhere else until another friend called out to him, and he finally saw me. I asked how much a piece was, and he said Rs. 4, so I bought one. He made a container using toothpicks and some leaves, so that it looked like a cross between a calabash and ….actually, the best description is that it looked like a navy sailor’s cap, the one the young sailors wear. It was quite skillful. He chopped up the pineapple into the navy hat-like receptacle, and then, wonder of all wonders, he sprinkled salt on it and tossed the pieces to spread the salt evenly. LOL! I tried to get him to stop but he had already done it. I paid him, got my change, and went to wait for the bus. I was a little scared to taste it, but it wasn’t too bad. It was an experience. I mean, next time I get pineapple, I’ll be quick to add that I don’t want salt, but I’m glad I tried it. (I’m growing up, eh? Hehehe…)
The 204/1 finally arrived, and guess what? It was the SAME bus I had taken that morning. The “mate” recognized me and smiled at me. The bus was very full, and I had to stand again. I didn’t mind too much. It was on this return journey that I noticed that the bus was actually demarcated into Ladies’ seats and Gents’ seats. I hadn’t noticed that the other two times I had been on the bus. J I didn’t even try to give the mate money this time, because I figured he would let me know when it was time. When I thought we were getting nearer to my stop (which I found out was called Ladies’ Park), I told him, and he told me it was Rs. 5. He beckoned me when the stop drew near, and stopped the bus for me. I hope I get to pick his bus again. Across the road was the Marina Hotel. I now had to cross the road and ensure that I wasn’t run over. I tell you, crossing the streets here in Kolkata is a risky adventure. Each side of the road is wide enough for three cars (has three car lanes), and pedestrian crossings are few and far between. You basically have to time the cars, autorickshaws, motorbikes and bicycles to make sure you are not run over.
I finally made it across the road, tipped the security guy at the gate Rs. 5 (because he always greeted me and had a smile on his face), and walked into the hotel feeling pretty good with myself. I had had a full day and been pretty adventurous, if I may say so myself. I got my room key, and sat down to cool down a bit, since I was pouring sweat! I watched some music videos on the VH1 channel, worked on my notes a bit, then decided to work out a bit since I was already sweaty. I did 22minutes of Winsor Pilates, then took a lovely shower.
For dinner, I ordered Palak Paneer, which they didn’t have, so I settled for Paneer Tikka Butter Masala without the butter, plain rice, a bottle of water, and a chicken wrap. Even though I asked for no butter, they had substituted cream for it, and put the cream in the middle. I must say it wasn’t as good as I thought it was, although the chicken wrap was amazing as usual. This was third time I’ve had the chicken wrap. I should have just stuck to my guts and ordered a paneer wrap with my chicken wrap. It would have cost less (the total for the two is Rs. 42), tasted better, and filled me much better than the tikka masala did. I wanted to taste different things, so I don’t really regret ordering it.
I watched quite a bit of TV while doing some reading for work. The shows I saw were Friends, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Will and Grace, and E! News. All in all, I had a fabulous day, and I feel I’m progressing a bit from my initial afraid-and-lonely state, to a cautious-but-willing-to-try state. I’m still a bit apprehensive, but I’m not as frightened and nervous as I was when I first got here.
(The only downer on my almost perfect day was that I waited for a certain somebody to call so I could share the good news, but the call never came. Oh well, you can’t win all of them, can you?) It’s now 2:30am over here, which means it’s 2pm on the West Coast, and 5pm on the East Coast. I’m now going to bed. Hope your day was as good as mine. Stay blessed!
PS: He called Friday morning.