BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for December, 2008

« Home

The Calcutta Diary: A Volunteer’s Experience

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

I can hardly think of blogging right now..still recovering from what has been an endless Christmas celebration…but so much has happened to me int he space of two weeks that I MUST write some of it down.

I don’t really know where to begin. Being here, working with the kids, it’s changed me in so many fundamental ways that I sometimes don’t recognize myself.

Of course, at each junction in this journey-in each country, at each volunteer posting- I’ve felt similiar to the way I feel now.

But here, it seems so drastic. Maybe it’s the environment I find myself in, or maybe it’s just that all the experiences I have had up until this very point have somehow prepared me and made me ready for the changes that are happening right now.

One thing is certain: This place has turned my life upside down and made everything topsy turvy. Not in an uncomfortable way, but in a unforseen way.

Just a few months ago, I was entirely committed to the Ngobe of Panama. I still am committed to them but something has changed.

The thing that has changed is me.

I just don’t think helping the Ngobe is enough. I feel like I want–and can–do an intimate, personal way.

Being here, being with the kids, it’s taught me more about love and patience and gratitude than at any other point in my entire life. I can quite honestly say that although I’ve had many peak experiences on this trip, volunteering at Daya Dan has actually been the peak experience of my entire life.

So, I am making some adjustments.

Big ones.

Huge ones.

Changes in my life and to my earlier goals(which sounded so good and made so much sense 90 days ago but now seem completely inappropriate to who I have become.)

The major, enormous adjustment is that I have decided to adopt a child.

From here, from Daya Dan, if it is possible.

This is quite a drastic change from my earlier thoughts on the subject, but then again..I had never spent time with kids like this and seen, felt, much I would enjoy it.

How this impacts my life, and those in my life, I can only begin to think about. The last few days have been clear only in the sense that I know, simply know that it is what I will be doing.

There is a sense of peacefulness about the entire process that I find to be entirely unexpected. I am actually not worried about it in the least. In fact, I am comfortable in knowing that it is along process that takes alot of planning and patience, and that proper discernment is part of that process. And believe me, I have been discerning about this for quite awhile.

There is one boy in particular that I am interested in adopting, who is named Mitun. He is of unknown age-perhaps 8, perhaps 12- who is the child that has captured my heart.

He is very new to Daya fact, he is rarely there, as he attends a special school for the hearing impaired. He is here for the holidays and then going back to school on the 6th. Until then, I am managing to get to know him and have many special moments with him.

He seems to be very intelligent. He simply was not educated in the past because he could not hear and so his speaking skills are poor. He is only just learning his ABC’s now.

He has a hearing aid, which he does not use regularly(perhaps because the other children would break it) and when he uses it he can hear much better. If he was in the States, had a proper hearing aid and so on he would have a chance to have a much more normal, higher functioning life.

He is mischevious and funny and a wonderful dancer, very well socialized and seems to be the sort of child who charms everyone.

Including me.

He was obviously in a very loving family up until very recently, when he was given up. He is warm and affectionate, plays well with others and is helpful.

It is obvious that he the wrong place, in the sense that he has more intelligence than the children he is with. He simply has speech difficulty..the sisters say he has mental retardation as well, but he doesn’t seem like it to the volunteers. There is not much understanding of children with his special need here.

If any of you met him, you would immediately understand why I am changing my entire life to do this.

It is a very time consuming process, adoption. It takes several years. Luckily it seems I have the support of the sisters in this enormous task ahead.

The whole trip has been about “saving the world” but being here has taught me that I can’t really save the world..but I can drastically improve the conditions of someone’s life…and give them a chance. A real chance.

I never considered myself that kind of person-the person capable of giving a child that chance. But now I realize alot of those feelings were about others’ perceptions of me in the past and not about the person I have become on this incredible journey.

So much to do! My goodness!

I end 2008 as a person who never, ever considered doing anything like this…and I begin the New Year with entirely different goals.

I wish all of you a very Happy New Year, and hope for each of you to be as  happy and content as I am in making this decision.

love to all,


The Calcutta Diaries: A Volunteer’s Experience

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

I’m a bad blogger..bad! It’s been two weeks since my last entry.

I’ll try to cover everything this time in a single one. let’s hope I do a decent job of explaining how everthing here at this moment and how I’m feeling about it all.

The last two weeks have been so busy that I literally can’t pick out any day in particular to tell you about-everything has just blended into one blob.

What’s odd is that two weeks ago I was going on and on about how lovely Christmas was here–no American greed, no shopping for gifts, no bombardmentwith red blow-up plastic Santas, Christmas light overload, Christmas carols nonstop, plastic trees, and shop til you drop.

That has all changed. It would seem India loves Christmas–and the hectic frantic pace it brings–as much as Americans. At least in Calcutta, anyway. We’ve got plastic blow up Santas, Christmas carols, busy shopping malls…

The Christmas tree in the shopping center is fabulous, made up entirely of plastic water bottles that have been cleaned and attached to a bamboo frame, then filled with plastic lights. A fabulous testament to Indian ingenuity and recycling.

We may have to try it in Winters, my tiny town back in America.

Well, I thought I would not have to shop for gifts. Wrong.

Just when I was really enjoying not shopping, the head Sister at Daya Dan asked me to do all of her Christmas shopping this year! I was handed some money, a budget, and a list. A very long list, full of strange items.

It took three days–three days!–to find it all, and that list took me all over the city.

Not only was I to buy things for the children, but I had to buy things for the Sisters themselves. Forexample, 12 matching hankerchiefs. 12 pairs of scissors of a certain length. 12 bolts of fabric. 70 childrens sweaters, 70 coloring books, shoes, etc. Everything to exact specifications.

Sound easy? It wasn’t. The Sisters have strangely specific requirements for every single item. For example, a hanky must be of a certain quality, of a certain size, of a certain color, and without design. Impossible!

The Sisters also get special food around Christmas. Speciality food, things that have to be imported. They don’t get much, just a taste. It’s the one day they have  afew luxuries, like American peanut butter for the American nun, Italian pasta for the Italian nun, and so on. But I had to buy enough for twelve nuns. And the hardest part was the bargaining.

I’ve learned to bargain but this time I had to bargain hard. So hard that it tired me out!

But I did manage to get everything on that two page list!

I have turned out to be such a good shopper that the Sisters have asked me to do their shopping again next year! Oh joy!

Well, didn’t I tell you? Yes, I am already planning on coming back here next year for Christmas. The Christmas here is so amazing..being with the kids…and doing the work we are doing. I love it, simply love it.

The Sisters also asked me to come back! So it looks like I’ll be doing all the shopping next year, too….

Other than shopping I have been very busy with the Daya Dan Big Band. That’s the name of the band of the kids from Dya Dan that have been practising for months on end numerous carols for Christmas, and we have been going out to perform almost every other day.

It’s been an interesting way to see the other Sisters and Brothers’ homes in the Calcutta area..we’ve been to most of the homes for sick, mentally ill, dyingpeople; as well as orpahanages and so on. The breadth of work being done by these women and men is astonishing, and the people that they are helping would not be helpied by anyone if these nuns and monks were not devoting their lives to this task.

The concerts are quite hectic, as all the children must get bathed and then dressed in special concert clothes, then have their hair done and be made up….yes, they put make up on them! This seems to be the norm in this country. The job has fallen to me, I am the “make-up girl” putting makeup–lots of it–on loads of little squirming wiggling boys, wearing white trousers and satin shirts withred sequin vests and bow ties. It’s a hilarious chaotic scene, believe me.

Then we have to get them out of Daya Dan, walk down the alley, load them onto the bus, and keep them out of trouble, keep them from vomiting, wetting their pants, htting each other, putting their hands out the window, and so on..for up to an hour or so, while we breathe in foul air and wrestle with terrible traffic.

The bus rides are adventures in themselves. Seatbelts and car seats are not used here. Volunteers simply are told to hold on to the shoulder of that child and keep that child on their lap as we lurch through traffic.

The main safety featureof these bus rides seems to be the painted “Missionaries of Charity” sign painted on the side(hopefully keeping other drivers from hitting us) and perhpas..the constant blaring horn of the driver. Apparrently a truly skilled driver will just keep his hand on the driver the entire time.

Once we get to the place we are going to perform, we have to manageto keep the children altogether and behaving until the concert starts.

When the concert finally does begin, all my attention focuses on Binoy, who is a fantastic drummer, but only if I am sitting there beside him. As far as I am concerned, it’s just Binoy and me for the next 40 minutes.

What’s amzing is that when I look up and see the audience, see the tears in their eyes, see the kid’s enormous effort…it’s really beautiful.

It’s what Christmas is all about for me, that one shining moment.

After the concert, kids are carted off to be fed ChowMein or something else that is delicious, and the volunteers get a short break.

Or rather, we are supposed to. But Joy(the little autistic boy I have mentioned before) has taken a liking to me and refuses to be parted from me at any time before of after the concert. This includes during Chow Mein time.

After we eat, we load them all up on the bus again. Joy has to sit next to me or he gets very upset.

He also gets upset if he can’t get off the bus right away when he finally gets home to Daya Dan.

The other day, he had to wait to get off, and in his worry and stress, he bit me. On the face. he bites when he is upset, and I suppose my face was the nearest thing to him at the time.

Needless to say, I had to spend the night with the Sisters, for I needed to ice it all night long. I am happy to say that it is recovering nicely, thankyou.

Everyday here is one colorful adventure after another. Face biting included.

For Christmas Eve, I am very excited to go to Midnight Mass at Motherhouse, where Mother Theresa’s tomb is. That will be the experience of a lifetime. Then on Christmas day, we have planned a very nice day with the children, including watching Finding Nemo in Hindi and generally spoiling them a little bit.

Christmas night, a group of the volunteers are coming over to my rooms. I’ve bought a tiny tinsel tree and some candles and will ask everyone to light a candle, eat some food, and package up some food for street children, too. Then we’ll go out and see and American movie.

Being’s been an amzing experience. Not only do I adore India, but I have discovered that I am actually great with children! Especially difficult and special needs kids. Who would have known?

There is nothing quite like showing up for work, opening the door to the orphanage, and being hugged, called out to, and generally loved like the way I am with this group of kids.

This makes up for the difficulty I seem to always face here in other areas–right now, I am dealing with a bad case of bronchitis. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

Oh well.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas.


The Calcutta Diary: A Volunteer’s Experience

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

From terrorism to my room filling with smoke every morning to discussing my bowels with complete strangers ...a taste of Calcutta life for those readers who are still with me!

 Bits and pieces...

For all of you who have written in with your ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Calcutta Diary: A Volunteer’s Experience

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

The Top Ten Things I love About This City....

(in no particular order whatsoever)..

1. The Indian "head nod".

This is a slight nod, usually to the left. It means everything and anything, yes, no, maybe. It takes practice, but after being ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Calcutta Diary: A Volunteer’s Experience

Sunday, December 7th, 2008
A special project on my day off leads me through winding alleys to find clay, then to Daya Dan to spend the afternoon witha very unusual and smart young boy, and finally, a long chat with the head Sister at ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Calcutta Diary: A Volunteer’s Experience

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Tired, so tired.....but  I have the day off and I'm so behind with the blog that I am determined to write up at least a few entries.This entry is all about Binoy, the spunky little autistic child that I have ... [Continue reading this entry]