Saturday, June 30, 2007
on wednesday, we arrived at 5 o'clock in the morning and you could feel the humidity even before we got to our gate. i think the way the pilot put it was "its the usual unpleasant stickiness for this time of year in calutta" ... it's always something when important peole, like the guy flying your place uses words like "sticky"... anyway... it was a phenomenal flight ... especially the part of watching the map of our route as we went over afghanistan and iran... we even talked about how far we have to ship people and equipment to that very region for the war.. and how we were flying over people we knew... and to hear words like "airspace" from the cockpit in explaining our path to india... i sat next to what i thought then was the most adorable india couple i had ever seen.. of course i have since met more... but these two were like orphaned grandparents that forced me to adopt them by naturally involving me in doing things like helping grandpa find medicine and helping grandma get her coat out and find gandpa's missing sock... it went on for most of the 9 hours it took to get here from London... but it was cool.
our accomodation here was at best "up in the air".. in fact we looked at it like, "well, at least we will have an adress to put on our customs card"... when we arrived at the YWCA of calcutta located in the vicinty of Park Street (calcutta's version of park avenue) we opened the door to an enormous hallway with a giant courtyard, a sign for the Y's karate classes and a 6 foot scultpure of the crusified Christ... this really WAS the Young Women's Christian Association. we found our rooms and also these great meeting spaces, fans in all the rooms and would you beleive- a constant breeze coming in all the windows that has not stopped since (knock on wood)... above is a picture of our 2nd floor hallway where we hang our clothes and also a picture of my room... don't rememebr if i cleaned it a bit before this promo shot...
listen, you can ask anyone, i was pretty much counting on hours after hours of turmultous storms and stifeling heat... turns out it rains for about 30 mins Total, if that, every day and the sun comes right back.. yeah it's hot, but relief is close at hand with this out of control breeze that is always around... we decided to stay .. the people are nice... the breakfast is cute..and it's 305 rupee a day, about 12 american dollars.
our project started before we knew it... Our work is to explore the condition of women living on the streets. after dinner our first night we met a woman whose husband was a rickshaw driver who was hit by a car. his leg is injured and can't work, so he is back in the village out of word. his wife is in the city tryng to get some money together by joining the begging trade. After a contribution she broke into tears and asked if we would take care of her and her two kids while we were here. well, that's kindof why we came all this way.. So they have become the first of our encounters with street families... we have been spending sometim e with them helping to fullfil some basic needs and then are hoping she might help us grapple with our own questions about the realities facing calcutta's poor who even in this "nicer" section of town, take to the street to beg for money- the most recent stat i heard is that 70% of calcutta's population lives on $1 a day...
we have also found that that this whole journey really is a process... it's hard to believe that we have only been here for 3 days... the questions are building and the ideas of some strucutral solutions are boiling... now, as we are researching resources for street people that might already exist, we are learning about other areas of deep poverty and exploitation. for exampls hellish red light districts that where kids are drugged and often raped by thier mother customers, who had been sold into prostitution as kids themselves. places liek that seems to be living proof of a demonic cycle of opression and exploitation. there are organizations that work with the kids of the women who are there and also help some women get out, which is kind of like getting out of the mob. they have to hide them and educate them so that she might have a life outside. there is too much to do here.. so our work is steady and we are working to find a balance between hospitatlity for those who we encounter and a committment to beginning to answer questions of the causes of these types of human suffering.
while spending alot of time with the begging community, we have also met some entreapenouers. one woman, Khaton, has been selling cocoa nuts for 19 years. She sits on one of the corners of park street and prepares the perfect cocoa nut experience with a machete. she cuts it so you can drink the milk out with a stratw and then creates a spoon out of the shell and serves the trender cocoa nut inside. her and her husband both make a livng this way and we are hoping to learn more about how that came to happen as we have chance to hang out with her more... and of course eat more cocoanuts, that i of course made one of mar's grandkids eat as a test... her picture is above ...
today, we went to the new market with our family taht we met on the street . it is this ENORMOUS mall/system of tunnels/place where all things scary live... it was easily one of the most intense overwhleming esperiecnes so far in my life... it was like a living video game and you could easily go from the good worlds to the bad worlds and all these people would be coming at you and you had to manuever around them and then there were people with all these babies just kind of sidecaring you until you bought one baby milk, one mother some food and you could never get out... it was a dense thicket of merchandise and smells that i don't understand what makes those smells. i can't say i don't want to go back.. i mean a set of about 20 gorgeous bangle bracelets bardered down to 50 rupees, $1.10..have you met me?
it was interesting that when our family led us into the market, she went directly the really creepy part.. like a back section that in reality was dark ally posing as a strip mall. the ground is all wet, stuff is dripping from everywhere, you can't really see where you are going because it has this patches of dark and light and people coming and going ... she didn't even begin in the section of the market that you meet when you enter, well lit, lots of workers, lots of shoppers.
the documentary is on its way ... i did my first shooting today in the market and also and interview with Hari, a guy who works at teh YWCA and makes the breakfast. the kitchen is like a shed... it must of been some ruin behind the facility. there is a table with 2 hot plates and a few cupboards for the jam and the bread... we have a hard boiled egg, a bannana-which is green on purpose, 2 pieces of sliced white bread, scoop of jelly. and then some tea... that's right tea in india... an its funny how foreigner conscious the breafast is, fruit that can be peeled, proceessed food and all things boiled..
in fact-i nthese past for days, i don't think i have ever felt so foreign in my whole life.
take care and i'll right some more soon.. i was hopeful to add pictures, but this computer is from the 90s... hopefully i can figure something out. peace and love, jamie