Monday, October 16, 2006

Thursday, 12th October, 2006 – A lovely dayyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!

I had a pretty good day today. Twum and Kwasi called and woke me up around 10:30am IST (Indian Standard Time.. or some say Indian Stretched Time), and we had a lovely chat. It was a nice way to start the day. I took a shower and went outside to investigate what the loud, booming noises were. It was raining cats and dogs outside. That meant I wouldn’t be leaving for work anytime soon, and it was almost noon. I had told the staff at Swayam that I would be in around 1:30pm. I decided to order breakfast from the hotel restaurant, and to be safe, I asked for toast and tea. The toast was delicious, with some nice butter spread on it. The tea? Pretty weak, but sweet. What put me off though was the smell of the milk. I wasn’t sure if they had put fresh cow’s milk in there or something, but it smelled weird. I couldn’t eat it (sorry to those who were rooting for me to live outside my comfort zone). Inam, the guy who had offered to take me to Mother Teresa’s house, and has also offered to get a SIM card for me, came back to say that they wouldn’t give him the SIM card unless they saw a purchase receipt for the phone. It’s a little ridiculous. I just need a prepaid phone card, but I have to jump through all these hoops to get it. First, I need to send in a copy of my passport, and add a passport picture, AND have a residential address before they will let me buy the SIM card. Now this guy who has a driver’s licence and could get it for me, they come up with another hurdle. Anyway, I took my phone and money back, and waited the rain out while catching up on some reading (work – related.)

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.

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