Friday, May 23, 2014

DMSC: Orientation Day 2

Yesterday was Day 2 of Orientation. We traveled on the metro by ourselves this time to the area known as Girish Park, which is near Sonagachi. Riding the metro here is so crazy. There is absolutely no concept of personal space, or a personal "bubble" (of which I am finding, I'm quite fond of and miss at times...) The metro is jam packed with sweaty individuals, myself included, and usually we're packed in so tight that I don't even need to hold on to anything because I'm sandwiched so tight!

At the end of Day One and during Day 2 we were able to hear about some of the projects and special branches of the DMSC. For example, we spoke with USHA, the bank that is run by and for the sex workers. We also spoke with the LGBTKH sector called Anandama that represents LGBTKH sex workers and advocates and supports them. Here, the K and the H are added on. K means Kurthi and means "receiver" and H means Hijra, and is the official "3rd gender" of India. I have not researched it quite enough yet, but as I understand it, it is not just a man who dresses in women's clothing. It is a man who embodies both genders equally. Recently this became the official 3rd gender, making India more progressive than the US in that regard! Hijras can now choose H for their passports, census, driver's license (do they have those here? I'm not sure...especially based off the driving, hah). Here's a link to an article if you're more interested. I took a picture with the Anandama guys because they were so fun to talk to! And also because they asked for a photo of us, so I asked for one in return.

We also met with several sex workers and were able to hear about their experiences in the field before the DMSC was formed, and then after the DMSC was formed. It's amazing how much fear, violence and insecurity (housing, $$, food, etc.) were a part of their daily lives before Durbar was formed, and how different it is now. Their quality of life... One of the last women to speak to us told us about how when Durbar was being formed, they realized they all needed to stand in solidarity. Even though they were fearful, they stood in front of their brothels, not knowing if a policeman would come and force himself without a condom, or if someone would come and brutalize them. But they stood anyway, to be a united force. This made me tear up... what a strong group of individuals. I'm in awe of them.

We also spoke with one of the doctors who is running a few research studies about HIV and other STI rates. What Durbar has achieved from a public health perspective is nothing short of phenomenal. That is why their successful intervention is being replicated all over the world. The structure of the DMSC is very clever. There are peer educators, who have 60 women each that they keep up with, check in on, etc. There is 1 outreach worker for 4 peer educators (and therefor 240 sex workers) and they oversee and provide support and guidance to the peer educators.

I've figured out a way to get through the metro ride - MUSIC. As long as I am holding onto my phone tightly or have it zipped into my backpack, I feel safe enough to be able to plug my headphones into it and listen to music (plus, many people have headphones on the metro). What I'm saying here is: It's okay, Mom! I'm being safe and cautious! Hehe.

Anyway, yesterday we were riding home and I was listening to music and processing the day. It's a lot. I'm definitely overcoming the culture shock a bit, but it's still hard to accept that your daily life is witness to such poverty. Everyone asks me how I'm doing with the heat, but no one realizes that it's not the heat or jetlag that's the hardest (for me) to become accustomed to. It's the fact that I have literally stepped over homeless, sleeping men in gutters (only when absolutely necessary, of course. I usually just walk around but sometimes there are space issues). There is a family that sleeps and lives on the corner that we must round to go to the other apartment. Phillip and I have taken to never walking on the sidewalk as we round that corner, because that feels like an invasion of that family's space and home. The dogs and cats are a lot... there is a family of pups who live near the Girish Park metro station, where we travel to get to Durbar. I saw the smallest puppy today, he's so tiny and he's always sleeping. All of these dogs... so many dogs, it's unbelievable. My eyes started tearing up, and I'm not even LIKE that! It really is kind of Sarah McLaughlin ASPCA commercial-like. They all have flies all over them and are dirty and some are maimed. *Sigh. It's really hard to see animals suffering.

It's really hard to see all of the suffering in general. It hurts my heart. I understand that this is a reality here, and I grew up insulated in my own little suburban neighborhood with bicycles and ice cream trucks and big beautiful public schools and "night night treats" (small before bed snack). But how does anyone ever get used to seeing so much poverty? Right now it feels as though I will never get used to this. It's a lot. But not to worry, I am processing/debriefing/engaging in self care each day in order to not become so overwhelmed that I can't function! But still, it's very hard, especially the children. I have a weak spot for children. I have a feeling I'm going to get so many "Oh, don't take the world on your shoulders, you can only do so much" type of comments. Please... refrain. Just understand the struggle for me and feel that for me. I don't need advice, I just need to know that whoever is reading recognizes and respects my struggle with this.

Last night we took it easy after our long day. Watched a bit of the Hunger Games on our television here, we all made separate dinners and just relaxed. Through Google Phone I was able to talk on the phone with my mom before bed, which was so nice. I made my first Indian dinner of Chana Masala (chick peas cooked in a Masala sauce) and Paranatha bread, which was soooo delicious.

I do want to address the skin color blog and all of its responses at some point. I have received by e-mail some very insightful and interesting comments, and I want to address it all, but now is not the time. It's 8am and I need to shower and get my day started.

Oh, I took some more photos of doors yesterday. I'm finding that they're my favorite thing to photograph here...

Also, bonus photo: the bathroom at the office in Durbar. Luckily, I packed a whole 24 pack of Charmin extra soft, which I'll be taking with me each day. :) The buckets are for rinsing.

Orientation Day 3, here we go...


Anonymous said...

Culture shock is a real thing even when traveling between cultures that seem similar at first glance. I can't even imagine how hard it gets when it's like you've been plucked up and deposited on another planet, almost. (Except that people are still people everywhere.) I'm just glad you're not having to deal with it alone. And even though it's harsh in a way, I hope you will be able to block some of it at some point. -Marjukka

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I love seeing all your photos! Some of the colors are so amazingly vibrant. -Marjukka

Carlitos said...

What's the crime rate in Kolkata? It seems safe enough to walk around and take the bus.

JustJude said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JustJude said...

Thanks for assuring me of your safety, haha! Moms do appreciate that. Love & miss you!

No advice, no judgment. The truth. The most intelligent people in history have always recognized the importance of understanding and compassion for others.

“Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it's beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
― Albert Schweitzer

“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”
― 14th Dalai Lama

“Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

"The greatest gift that a human can give themselves in order to grow personally and professionally is to recognize and increase the depth of their understanding of the world and the people that live in it by exploring mainly with their heart."
--- Mom

JustJude said...

P.S. Love the doors! You need to have a create a wall of door photos when you get home or find some creative way to display those pics, they are awesome!

JustJude said...

Also, despite my place in the list- I don't count myself in the list of "most intelligent people in history", lol. But I do know you and your heart, so I am glad that you are taking care of it too in addition to sleep and comfort. Te amo!

Kristen said...

Thanks Mom. Te amo :)

Unknown said...

Oh the joy of lavatories overseas! Also, your mom is too cute! I say it's ok to be overwhelmed by all that you're seeing and for your heart to hurt. You are human and an awesome one at that! Let this new world wash over you wave by wave. Find the good, find the beauty. Have you seen Born in to Brothels? I'd be interested to hear your take on it at some point. Be well. - Susanne