Sunday, June 1, 2014

Routines, Weekend & Thunder

I feel a sense of normalcy about life in Calcutta now. I know the view from our roof like the back of my hand...if I look to the east, I see the house that's crumbling and decaying and I see the roof where women who live in that building often go to wash themselves from a spicket near the ground. If I look to the west, I know the order of the brightly colored rooftops, like Starburst candies lined up on a table. I know I'll see the roof that's always covered in birds. Directly across the street is the house that reminds me of the home of Ernest Hemingway in Key West. There are no polydactyl cats roaming the porches, but there are lush green plants flowing down and cracked white paint on the pillars and balcony rail.

I've fallen into a routine and schedule that feels nice. I know that I'll hear the man who walks around the neighborhood loudly chanting prayers each morning for all to hear. I know my walk to the metro... I know who we'll pass and what stores/stalls and smells to expect. I wave at the man who sold us some bags and other goods. I nod at the doorman when we pass Banana Leaf and he acknowledges me by closing his eyes with a smile and doing a slight Indian head bob. We get to the metro and I know where to get my token, the process of having my backpack scanned before I go down the stairs and ride 10 stops to Girish Park. The sight of those sleeping on the sidewalk doesn't catch me in my gut anymore. I mill along past them like the rest of Kolkata. Not ignoring or forgetting them, but just accepting that they are a part of my daily sensory intake. I've learned to stare off into a weird space when I walk, since I (and we as a group) attract a lot of stares. I don't mind the staring so much, and by looking off to a distant point as I walk is a way to disengage, which has done wonders for my state of mind while out in public. At night we stay at home, mostly because Calcutta shuts down for the night around 10pm. I know to expect the honking of taxis at all hours. Their horns mixed with the hum of the AC in our bedroom have become the lullaby that soothes me to sleep each night.

I've assimilated into life here, while maintaining my Western/American identity. I don't wear the beautiful saris that most most women wear, but I make sure to have my shoulders and knees appropriately covered. I don't pray at the small Hindu/Buddhist temples along the street, where fragrant orange and white flowers adorn statues of deities, but I pass by silently as to not disturb those in prayer. I take off my backpack on the metro and hold it between my legs, to avoid it being in the way of other commuters and to avoid pickpocketing. I greet Indians with "Namaste", my hands clasped together, and thank them, "Dhonobaad". I take cold or lukewarm showers and expect that within 20 minutes I will be sweaty and grimy again, my hair curling and flying in all directions from the humidity as it dries.

Our TA Laura arrived late Wednesday night.  It's nice because she has friends in Calcutta and was here on the trip last year so she knows plenty about what there is to do and see, and has good resources here. She actually graduated from SP2 (Penn's School of Social Work) last week, so a big congrats to her! On her first night here, her and some of her friends from Calcutta took us to a Chili's in Bollygunge at a HUGE mall called Quest Mall. It was an actual Chili's... I was shocked! It's the first American chain I've seen here (aside from KFC, Subway and Pizza Hut at the South City Mall). At Chili's I ordered a burger and french fries...the burger was made from buffalo meat since they don't eat cows here. It tasted really similar to a regular burger and was just as good.
I also just found out that since I've been buying the "toned" milk that means that it comes from a buffalo... so I've been drinking buffalo milk for 2.5 weeks? Cool. Haha.

On Friday Laura took us to Park St. There's a big museum there, I believe, as well as the tomb of Mother Theresa - so it's a big tourist spot. But we had two other destinations in mind. The Sunshine Store and the beer garden! We enjoyed a massive 3 hour shopping extravaganza at Sunshine, a tiny store tucked away on a side street where the amazing owner, Akash, helped us find all sorts of tops, dresses, and pants:

Afterwards we went to the beer garden and enjoyed Chinese/Indian food and I took my first sip of Kingfisher, a popular beer here in India.
 Well -  popular among those who drink. Many people don''s very different than the US. There is no drinking culture, and it's not seen as a social activity. There are no bars, and most restaurants do not serve any alcohol. Even the Chili's we went to served "mocktails"...margaritas with no tequila. Carlos would be astonished. ;) But alcohol use here mostly takes place among those in the upper class, and not at bars...but their homes or perhaps at one of the few clubs that exist in the hotels. It's so interesting and I can't wait to learn more about the class systems here.

Yesterday we all took it pretty easy and caught up on schoolwork. It poured for a majority of the day so we stayed in and watched movies and at one point last night, Kris and Anjali were nice enough to stop by the wrap place on the way to our apartment and brought us food. Two nights ago we had the loudest thunder storm I've EVER heard in my life. The thunder wasn't rumbles or claps, it was CRACKING thunder. And the comes in sheets, the biggest raindrops you've ever seen. I've never seen anything like it! Technically the monsoon isn't here yet, but it feels like it with all the rain we've been experiencing the last week or so. No one minds the rain though because it seriously cools things off. Today's high is only 90 or so. The next few days should be hotter, with highs of 97-99 and less rain.

I really want to come back and explain my research project in more depth. I had a lot of questions after I mentioned it a few entries ago. I'd love to tell you more about the Targeted Interventions and what our research question is. For now, I must go make coffee... I don't know how I wrote this coherently before my morning coffee. :) I promise I'll be back soon to write about the research I'll be helping with! I'd also like to touch on the topic of our second class last week, which was fascinating. I love our "lectures" that take place in the living room, hot chai and good conversation. It feels like I've been here forever, and I already feel like I never want to leave.

We are looking into planning a weekend trip to Darjeeling! This is a photo of Darjeeling that I did NOT take, but stole from the internet:
NOT my photo!
Also: the stat counter on the blog does more than just count hits from countries. It counts hits cities and states as well. Sometimes I'm shocked to see a hit from a certain city, where I know someone who maybe I haven't spoken to since high school or Camp Hoover or PACAA. If you're out there, leave a comment and say hi! I know some people were having trouble commenting from their phones, but I may have fixed that... let me know if I didn't.

Love & Miss

PS. If we're not friends on FB, then you haven't seen my album of Doors. I added a new tab to the blog to post The Doors. I added to it today as well. Cheers. :)


Sara Knight said...

Hi, Kristen! Thinking of you. Glad you're feeling established and more confident. I've been reading along!

Anonymous said...

I loved this entry. Your descriptive writing makes me feel like I'm experiencing it all with you. Keep writing! Love you, Kels

Anonymous said...

Loved hearing about your routines! Can't wait to hear more about your research! Also, alcohol in 3rd world countries is so fascinating, especially to see the different relationships with it.
Stay dryish,

Meghan LP said...

Great post! I'm glad you're getting settled in - also, glad you found a cold beer. Those are important every once in a while. LOVE YOU!

JustJude said...

Great entry. I enjoyed reading about your daily life there and how you are settling in. Interesting to see the balance between your academic experience and your personal observations. Most importantly, happy to see you having fun and making the most of this incredible opportunity! I (we) can't wait to hear your stories when you get home!! Love you, Mom

Rachel Penn said...

Your sensory description of your life and routine was so beautiful! I felt like I was watching the beginning of a movie. Hope you are feeling better! Xo

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