”The phenomena of life may be likened unto a dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, the glistening dew, or lightning flash, and thus they ought to be contemplated.”
-Buddha, The Immutable Sutra
Leaving Kolkata was kind of hard. I ended up going to volunteer for Mother Theresa’s outfit with my roommates. They’re all going to school to become doctors, so they worked in the medical ward. I had no idea what to expect. What I found out was that the medical ward is not so much there to provide treatment in hopes of rehabilitation, but rather the sisters bring in men and women from the streets on the verge of death so that they can treat the ailments and pain, allowing these people to pass on with peace and dignity.
I worked in the woman’s ward, where the women lived side by side on cots, most unable to move due to mal-nutrition, many also suffering from diseases from Tuberculosis to painful bedsores to Hepatitis to a slew of unidentified bacterial infections and worse. The volunteers walked around and took care of them, bringing food and water as requested, helping them to the toilet, bathing, and putting lotion on their skin. We also assisted the nurses in giving medical attention. For those who could walk, we did a short stretch and “exercise” program to strengthen their muscles. The patients ranged from despondent to exuberant. One woman didn’t realize she’d been taken in and every time someone passed, she put out her hand and asked for money and food. Of course the atmosphere had its encouraging aspects to be found in the untiring efforts and a kind of bleached optimism in the volunteers, some of whom had been working there for years on end. I wasn’t there long enough to get a real sense of it, but it certainly made an impact.
Aside from this experience, I’d really grown quite attached to my roommates, and it was sad, even difficult to say goodbye. But as my dad so correctly put it, the important thing is that they were worth missing. And in traveling and in life, the inevitability of impermanence is well worth remembering and appreciating; and so far as I can tell, provides greater meaning and a richer experience than the things that linger too long then peter out. In truth, I imagine I’d rather have it this way, so that if I have the occasion to be sad, it’s only because I was at one time so happy.
The train ride to my next destination was largely uneventful, with the exception of being awoken in the middle of the night to terrifying screams coming from the berth across and down a little from me. I tried looking over the side, and as much as I could ascertain from the situation was that the poor fellow was having a nightmare. Someone across from him had woken him up and was talking to him, but he appeared still pretty shaken. However, it was hard to get a good look because the guy across from me was concerned that I might be scared and kept repeating, “He ok, miss. You sleep.” to the point that I felt obligated to turn around an commence my slumber.
Now I’m trapped in Puri, a beach town (poor me) on the eastern coast. It’s not really such a great beach, and I wouldn’t really swim in it as it’s used as public toilet for the locals, but if you can ignore the beach hawkers with real pear necklaces for cheap! it’s nice to sit on the sand close your eyes, hedging your senses to intake ocean and sun in full.
Yesterday I did this for a while, and then went back to get something from my room. Getting there, I realized that what I really wanted were bangs –a decidedly challenging task with a swiss army knife, something I unfortunately learned only after having begun. Though they’re mabe a cm shorter than I envisioned, I am overall pleased with the outcome. I’d been tossing the idea around for a bit, believing it would make me look sassy, possibly european, and also a little like a secret agent. I had my reasons, ok?
Currently, in my attempt to leave Puri, I’ve booked a waitlisted ticket South. All the trains are full. This leaves a real possibility that tomorrow I will embark on a 24 hour crowded train ride without a bed, so the next entry might contain a story of woe. Or whoa.