Monday I got to see the music and theatre groups of Swayam in rehearsal. The two groups are preparing for the 16 days of activism, from 25 November to 10 December, when Swayam and other organizations in India and around the world celebrate Women’s Rights and Human Rights days. I even took pictures and took videos of the rehearsals. I was staying late at work so I could go to the café to call STA travels about my return ticket to the UK. One of the women, Chandrani, had a son who was born on 25 December, and so was called “Jesus” at home. How funny is that!
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.