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