Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Part II

Then the long night continued. The doctor was helpful and competent. He and the nurses were fairly conscientious, as was the pathologist. Nobody used gloves when they used needles (except the doctor—who I now know works almost exclusively with western patients). (By the next day I made sure gloves and/or hand sanitizer was/were used).

The doctor had bypassed the admitting procedure so they could get Trina on her IV immediately. Then they took her blood and gave her a series of shots. For the first time in my life, this made me nauseous (it's never come close). I had to put my head between my knees for a second to keep from passing out. I don't know if this was because I was sick, or the adrenaline, or what...

I then had to fill out a lot of paperwork and then go down and turn it in (and make a deposit). I was grateful that we hadn’t had to wait for Trina’s admittance; the paperwork took some time.

Anyway, the doctor said we’d need to keep her temperature under control, and then headed out for the night. The night was very, very scary and frustrating. At this point, I knew the doctor was friendly, and reasonably competent, but I didn’t really have a clue as to whether he was keyed in to her symptoms. And our nursing staff was almost all of the intern variety. As it turns out, the nurses here are excellent, but we didn’t believe that the first night, and our belief wasn’t all that unreasonable (we just didn’t know they were interns).

At this point, they laid Trina down for sleep and said goodnight. Her temperature at this point was 105. This concerned me greatly (remember she’s on the maximum Tylenol dose); I was even more concerned about the four heavy wool blankets they gave her to stop the shivering. They said it was important to keep her temperature from getting to high, and then they gave her these blankets. I asked if this was okay.

I got really ambiguous answers, mostly brush-offs. The doctor later said that was because of local rules—most people here are uneducated, and so giving answers without a doctor for further explanation causes more stress usually. So they just don’t tell you. That didn’t go over well.

At one point they got all concerned and took the blankets off and gave her a cold sponge bath. They seemed very worried about her temperature. Then they covered her with the million blankets again. And they left. I said; isn’t her temperature too high? “Yes.” “But the blankets are okay?” Then I got that ambiguous Indian head-shake that is more of a diagonal. I asked for further clarification. More head shakes and brush offs.

So, I didn’t sleep. I had a digital thermometer, and I took Trina’s temperature about a hundred times. Seriously, I at least gave her a touch every 5-8 minutes the entire night. When she would get below 104 I’d let her stay really well blanketed. When she went over it by much, I’d start peeling them off. I also kept cool, wet gauze on her forehead and neck all night. It was heated after about 2 minutes anyway; the nurses seemed to think it would help. So I stayed on it.

Since then I’ve asked many questions, and I’m not yet sure of exactly what should be done in this situation (more importantly, why).

Anyway, so up I sat, worrying about Trina’s brain damage all night. She couldn’t sleep, and she was really, really scared. So I sang to her (she likes that, for some really strange reason) for two hours. At about 3 or 4 we asked for a sleeping pill for her, since she couldn’t sleep with her chills. That mellowed her out and she finally slept. It took until morning for her temperature to drop below 103, and it lingered in the upper 102’s all morning. That felt like a relief to me (but temperatures are higher at night usually, so I did worry about the next night).

But mercy had come with the morning. The doctor returned, competent nurses were all about…I was so relieved. I spent the night on my knees, begging God to keep my sweet wife safe. I’ve not been that scared in years.

Granted, I’m sure that was because of the adrenaline of deciding to go the hospital (and wondering about its safety) and the confusion over temperature and brain damage. Everything seemed out of control.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Wow what a night or seven in the hospital teaches you.

So, this is a bit vulnerable for a pubic blog, but hey, I’m working on vulnerability anyway.

When Trina got sick, I wasn’t too worried. Sickness has become almost as common as the palpable smog around here. When she spiked a temperature, no worries either. When it went over 102, that was fine too. At 103 I started to feel concerned. 104 really scared me, especially since she already had the maximum dose of Tylenol. 104.7, and I was wetting my pants. Is this going to stop? When? How high a temperature risks brain damage? How am I going to get her to hold in any water? She was also shaking violently from the chills, and this didn’t do much to mellow the situation.

So I called the clinic I had heard good things about. I spoke to the person on the other end of the phone. Her English was completely indiscernible. It’s certainly not her responsibility to speak perfect English, but it wasn’t terribly helpful to me. Mostly, I couldn’t get any clear direction on whether or how to get there. I also talked to my travel insurance company’s on-call nurse. In a non-committal manner, she suggested that I take Trina to the hospital.

Now, you have to understand—India is a pretty chaotic place. It’s a mixed bag—there are indeed very high end services, and the uber wealthy in Mumbai and Delhi are as uber as anywhere else. But the gap between the rich and the poor here is the largest outside of Africa. Germ theory really doesn’t seem to make sense to the average Indian. In fact, I’d say it doesn’t make sense to the average Indian medical professional, at least in this part of Bengal. Now, that may not be fair. But it has been my experience. And this is Kolkata (Calcutta), not exactly standing at the cusp of Indian economic emergence.

Granted, we have been in a very above average hospital. But we really didn’t know what we were in for the first night. Our hotel put us in contact with Woodlands Hospital, and we spoke to doctor Ghosh (okay, could he have a different last name; it might as well have been doctor crassgore). His English was excellent, and he definitely recommended I bring her in. I asked him a flurry of questions, many of which may have been insulting (do you reuse needles?) and he assured me of their competence. We now know him very well and now also know that it is indeed fair to have asked such questions.

Anyway, with many doubts remaining, we proceeded to accept the ambulance. It took an hour to get to the hotel. In the meantime, Trina’s shivering had become almost violent. This was really disconcerting and if I hadn’t had the same thing happen two weeks ago, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have freaked out.

I had to help her down four flights of stairs; despite practically carrying her, it was too much for her. It was about a fifteen or twenty minute ride to the hospital (the other cars don't move out of the way for ambulances), and then she opted for the stretcher. No blood left in her face, stretcher, midnight, walking into a dimly lit Indian hospital.

I was really, really scared.

Trinidioms #28

"I can read you like a fiddle."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

E. coli

Man, it's a nasty little bacteria.

Hi everyone. This will be a short post since I'm still pretty weak and get tired out really easily. I was released from the hospital in Kolkata, India after a one week stay, two ambulance rides, two abdominal ultrasounds, numerous blood and stool tests, innumerable bottles of IV antibiotics and a seriously obscene amount of Indian food...into the wheelchairs at airports and finally to my parent's house.

The whole experience has been quite strange...and I'll certainly have more words about it later. For now, I need to go take a nap =).

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Long Ride Home

We are back, and SO so glad to be here.

We left our Kolkata hospital at about 4:30 pm (India Time), which is about 4:00am West Coast Time, on the 25th. The doctor recommended we take the ambulance to the hospital (which in the end felt like almost as big a gamble as the taxis), and that Trina use a wheelchair along the way to conserve energy.

We flew for a little over two hours to Delhi. We arranged for Trina to have three seats, since there were many empty ones, so she could lay down. This helped a lot. They had a special lift to get the wheelchair people off the plane, and then no wheelchairs for them. I was really angry to see that two very old ladies had to walk a very long way. The ground staff said it was the airline's responsibility; the airline said it was the ground-staff's. One man said "contact the airline." Let's just say that he got the wrath of Ron late that Indian night.

Fortunately, one of our flight attendants was compassionate and got us a chair (good thing; it was a long walk). The old ladies had given up and left already, knowing the futility of trying. Having helped one of them take a few shaky steps, I was so angry she had to walk...

Anyway, we had about a two hour layover in Delhi, and then got on the plane. It was brand-new, which was nice, and the entertainment systems were personalized (but without many options). The flight was 15 hours! With the help of some medicines, we each slept about 9 of these hours, which is a real miracle. This was in part because an angel of a man was willing to give us his three seats for our two, so Trina could lay down again.

Then another two and a half hour layover in New York at JFK. The border guard said "welcome home" and I got all choked up (how embarrassing). We found Trina a turkey sandwich (albeit pre-packaged) and I had a greek omelette. We split a big blueberry muffin. Mmmm. I also bought six apples, which during the flights helped me manage my stomach acid (from my antibiotics). They also were the source of much unfortunate bloating and socially inapporpriate activities...

In the US, I'm not allowed to push Trina's wheelchair. As it turns out, then you are expected to tip. I assume I cannot push it for liability reasons, I don't know. But since I physically was able, I was kind of bugged by this (let's be honest, I was so strung out a rainbow might have annoyed me). We learned a lot about what handicapped people go through every day, and it isn't pretty. Trina's situation was temporary and not terribly acute, and yet it was really frustrating. And in the end, you are supposed to tip people when they actually get you where you want to go (the hard part is, most of these people are immigrants, and are clearly low-wage workers, and so you also feel that you really want to tip them). Wanting to tip them on principle and not wanting to have to pay extra for being handicapped (on principle) is a bit of a catch-22. I'll let you guess how we handled it.

Then off to SanFrancisco. This flight was about six hours...and it felt like the longest. I think Trina slept for about an hour; I was grateful for this. No sleep for me--just "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (don't bother if you haven't already). The movie was no good, and the captain kept interrupting it by talking about inane things (and the movie kept moving forward while he was talking). No extra seats for laying down, and no food except for sale. The seats were older, but actually had much better padding. Still, my back started to hurt in a spot that has only hurt once before (when we flew home from Bangkok). This flight felt like it would never end. The captain told us when we were over Boise (I was like, "no, turn north!") and said we only had 150 miles to go (and two hours). That didn't seem right (are we going seventy five miles an hour?). An hour later he said we had 200 miles left to go. That's about how it felt...

I had to talk the wheelchair man into waiting while I ran to the SanFrancisco Sourdough Bread company's store in the airport. My dad had suggested we get Trina a really good turkey sandwhich as soon as we got home. Since Trina's dad used to live in SanFran (and Trina has been there many times), we figured this was our best opportunity. So her Dad looked it up for us before we left and told us roughly where in the airport it was. Boy did I have to run, far. This didn't do a lot for my already gamey appearance and smell. And the wheelchair guy wasn't too happy about it either.

But boy did we get the best turkey sandwhiches available. Great roast turkey (not the slimy deli stuff), swiss, cranberries, lettuce, a little mayo, onion for me (not Trina) and swiss for Trina. On the most amazing, freshly baked sourdough bread--the quintessence of this category. It turns out Trina does have an appetite post E. coli when she likes the food!

Our layover was supposed to be two and a half hours but then our plane was delayed. They said that there was a mechanical failure, and they were talking like the plane was limping into SFO. When the passengers excited, they didn't look too happy either. Yikes.

That was discouraging. The flight attendants said they had no idea how long it was going to be, but it was going to be long. They were telling everybody that their only options were stanby. Trina said, "Get us a seat now!" (nicely but firmly) and I jumped up and told our sob story. Turns out there were actually two seats on the five oclock flight, and so they put us on that. So our layover was five hours, not 2.5. At this point we were at our wits end. You know how it is; you conserve just enough energy and then the finish line gets pushed out just a bit more...

But we met a nice lady named Anita (an executive at Adobe) who lent us her blackberry to call our family and who asked us lots of interesting questions about our trip, which was a nice distraction. She was a bit of a godsend, really.

I felt really bad for one lady who was headed to Alaska. Her Alaska flight was delayed because of a volcano; her dad had been put in intensive care that day with pneumonia. I really hope she makes it to him soon.

Anyway, as it turns out, when we arrived in Seattle (7:15), they said our old flight was still delayed and wasn't expected in until at least midnight, having been scheduled to arrive at 5:15. (and here it is the next morning and our bags haven't been delivered yet).

The final two hour flight wasn't bad. Mostly, we slept for most of it. I was sandwhiched between two awkward teenagers (angry girl and kind of oafy hasn't-grown-into-his-long-legs boy). They seemed to forget the air conditioning, which again didn't do much for my aroma, but nonetheless I slept.

One final hitch. No bags because we had switched flights. Not a big deal on it's own; but I was told that WE would have to come pick them up. They would not be delivered, because we switched flights. Lucky for me, the flight attendants (in Sanfrancisco) told me my bags had been switched to the correct flight, so I used this as a reason that they screwed up, not me, and they needed to deliver the bags (we are an hour from the Seattle Airport). It seems like everything has to be a fight! My brother in law said he was impressed with how firm I was without being mean. Firm I can do. I'm impressed about the mean part...I didn't have much discretion left in me.

Bags just arrived (next day at 1:10, as I type this!--I wonder when the flight got in?)!

Okay, so Trina's parents were both there (Ron and Ann) and Phillip (Trina's brother) and Emily (wife of Phillip). It was all hugs and tears and more hugs and more tears. After figuring out the bag thing, we headed out for dinner (Trina's third Turkey sandwhich for the day), stopped at Phillip and Emily's to drop them off and see their cute dog (sort of a nephew to us), Montana, and then headed home. After a quick shower, so we didn't soil the clean sheets, we got in bed around 11:00 pm, the 26th, west coast time.

That means we had set out about 43 hours before. We spent 13 hours in airports, 25-26 hours on planes, plus driving, dinner and the like. My stomach isn't doing too well (I'll omit the details), and we both had kinked necks, but we both slept until 12:30 (so, at least 13 hours). Feeling much better, although it was hard to wake up (it's the middle of the night in India--a 12 hour and thirty minute time difference is about as bad as you can get)...I'm sure we will struggle with jet-lag.

That said, we aren't done writing about India. We have stories of the city, of the home for the dying, of the hospital. By the time we are done writing, we'll probably be ready to head off to Mexico for the last (probably less eventful, hopefully) stretch of our trip. We are also thinking of taking a roadtrip south on the way to Mexico. We'll definitely write about that too!

We will keep you posted; please stick with us as we continue sharing our adventures. We will also keep you posted about our developments with law and medical school.

Much love to you all!

We are HOME!!!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trinidioms #27

"Could we jimmy rig it?"

(This was my favorite in the last month or two).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Big News

As many of you know, we only have two short trips left to go. One to Kenya and one to Egypt.

We have long been excited about these trips, but in the last month or two, we have started to become a bit weary. It is as if there is a law of diminishing returns on lengthy travels. I'm starting to think I'd be like, "Yah, Taj Mahal...Pyramids...another cool, big brick building...next!"

That tells you maybe it is time to go home and save your money for next time. Couple that with what will now be a week long stay in the hospital (I've gotten sick again too (round three), and am on the mend, thanks to Trina's doctor), and you start to be ready for home.

So, we figure, Kenya and Egypt are so worthwhile, and we don't want to rob them of their incredible value. So we will have to wait. We are shaving about a month off our trip. At the end of April, we will head down to Mexico for 6 weeks, as planned, to work on our book. We also may take a road trip to LA on the way (or head to the east coast for some final school decision making). So our travels are far from over.

That said, we have a plane booked for Wednesday evening. We fly from Kolkata to NYC (about 20 hours!), then to San Francisco (another 6), then Seattle (more like 2 or 2.5). It will be quite a lot of air time. We will have completed our revolution around the world.

I hope this isn't too much a disappointment for those of you traveling vicariously. But with our travel fatigue, and the continuing prospects of weakened immune systems, this seems the wisest way to go. Please don't feel badly for us; in some way this sickness is a gift. Beside reminding us of what is indeed most important to us (more on this later), it gives us a reason to do what we need to do. Come home.

We have had, and will continue to have, the time of our lives living this year abroad. We will continue to do so in Mexico, albeit in a more resort-y way, and we are looking forward to that as well. We easily have enough fodder for a couple books and we hope you will be interested in reading (and buying!) them. Thank you for journeying with us thus far.

And this isn't goodbye. It's just a farewell for a few days. We'll update again as soon as possible.

Thanks for all your love, prayer, support and encouragement.

Ron (and Trina).

PS. Trina continues to improve. She got to go out for a while today (no eating though).

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Trinidioms #26

"I'm such a drip bag"

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Just a quick update...

Trina continues to improve. She is on solid(ish) food, and hopefully will be IV independent as of tomorrow morning (she hates the IV). She is feeling pretty darn decent (frankly, she feels almost as good as I do), and I am back near our hotel to pick up some DVD's and books.

We are going to stay in the hospital until at least Monday here (we are roughly twelve hours ahead of you), and we are quite comfortable there (except that about twenty staff members start coming in the room at 6am (sweet, mop, garbage, bring tea, check Trina, bring flowers, breakfast...). It's nice, but it is kind of annoying.

The doctor is also testing me, since he figures I likely have picked something up and I've displayed plenty of symptoms. Since he is a specialist in tropical sickness, I'm pretty glad to have him working on us.

That's all for now. Will keep you posted.

Thanks for the love, prayers, and well wishes (on facebook too!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Destination: Istanbul

Ancient Constantinople is utterly amazing. The lower photo is the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia, built in the 500's by Emporer Justinian) seen through the archway of the Blue Mosque. Photos here.

Worst Night of the Trip

What a crazy couple of days it has been.

Life in Kolkata keeps us on our toes, or toilets, or hospital beds, as the case may be.

Two days ago, I started feeling gross, just as Trina was feeling better. She started me on cipro, given my symptoms. She finally felt all the way better. We got up the next morning and went to our volunteering without incident, except she seemed a little grumpy and tired. By the time we got home, she was exhausted, and her stomach started to hurt. We did some brainstorming, and figured out that she was again going to need medince, got her some, and I put her to bed for a nap and headed out to the net.

She slept an hour, woke up feeling still gross, but a bit better. We lounged around the hotel for the early evening, and then the fever came. So she took tylenol. But then it went up, up, up just like mine had a week before. But hers kept going. Her chills were severe like mine--shaking all over, and muscles starting to seize up. Her temperature jumped above 104 and got to 104.7 quickly. We ended up in an ambulance (about an hour later).

We had already looked up the lists of hospitals recommended by the US consulate. The hotel also recommended this one, and I had a good conversation on the phone with the doctor. As it turned out, he showed up with the ambulance (standard practice for him apparently--he deals with frightened westerners a lot). He asked lots of questions. Trina was so weak she opted for the stretcher to enter the hospital. We bypassed the admitting part and they got her into bed immediately, and started her on antibiotic drip (two kinds) right away (and then liquids, electrolytes and glucose). She also got a fresh shot of tylenol (they wanted me to leave the room when they exposed her hip for that--you can imagine how that went over).

Anyway, it was a long night. Her temperature peaked at 105 and the night nursing staff wasn't terribly helpful. They wouldn't explain anything they did (turns out they aren't supposed to--long story) and their actions were contradictory. Oh, 105...too hot, lets give her cold presses. But she's shivering. Never mind, lets give her four wool blankets. I was VERY concerned and checked her temperature (with my digital thermometer or just my hand) every five to eight minutes, all night (the night nurse staff doesn't like me any more either--I've been on them like white on rice about their hygeine). Her fever never really broke, it just finally came down to about 102.7 by about five or six am. We got her a sleeping pill, and she could finally sleep (the chills were keeping her from that at first).

After too little sleep, she was shepherded through the usual tests (they took blood the night before). The bathroom tests--and here they do an ultrasound and a chest xray too...she could barely hold her head up. They tried to kick me out of the ultrasound room too (didn't work).

She eventually returned to our room and slept a few more hours, and her fever started to abate (to about 100 or 99.6) for the rest of the day. Midday, her color came back, she could think a little bit, and she got the spark back in her eye. She had gone from miserable to scared to lifelessly not caring and back to herself in about 24 hours.

I ended up staying up 41 hours (minus one 20 minute nap) and so we BOTH slept really well last night (I sleep in the hospital room). Our parents have figured out how to call us in the room, which is nice, since there is no way for me to call out from the hospital (that's been fun with insurance).

Trina's present status is very good. Back on solid food, getting bored. She's going to spend a total of 3-4 days in the hospital, as they want her basically normal on all counts (and they are waiting on test results--the big scary stuff is ruled out--they know it is a food infection, they just want to make sure nothing else is accompanying it). She's a little bugged that she cannot shower, since she has an IV in her hand (sponge baths for now).

Anyway, we are doing well now. It was a scary night. It seemed like her temp was going to just keep going up and we had no idea what facilities were really available. The next morning when they looked at her digestive tract we were pretty concerned as well (gall bladder, ectopic pregnany, appendix, spleen stuff), but it turns out that was routine.

So, thanks for those of you who kept us in your prayers when you heard from our parents. I'm sure it was very scary for them too. We have really enjoyed our service time in Kolkata, but we've spent the vast, vast, majority of our time here very sick, so we are looking in to a relocation.

Will update again in a couple days!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Indian Museum

Our first (and so far only) day of sightseeing in Kolkata was visiting the Indian Museum. We were expecting the history of the country...but instead it was a museum of everything. Geology, cultural anthropology, insects, fossils, archeology. The most dramatic was a room full of huge stuffed animals from around the world.

Saw something like this on that Thai island.

REALLY glad these were stuffed. Disturbed by the notation "Very common Indian cobra."

Hippopotamus skeleton. (That's a hard word to spell).

Never knew what one of these looked like.

NOT a fan of the flying squirrel. Gives me nightmares...=)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Trinidioms #25

"Like a frog in a boiling pot"

(this is a bit harder--hint--if the pot were boiling, it would be molten).


I mentioned before that the majority of the cars and all the taxis are 1950's era. Here's a few photos...

And, here are some sheep that got in my way while I was trying to take these pictures...still have some paint on them from Holi...


We are doing, well, fairly well...

We've been dancing that fine line between ciproflaxin and fecal matter in our systems, and we of course prefer the former, just in small enough quantities to keep us away from even more pernicious problems.

But, other than our gastrointestinal health, we are doing quite well.

Today was another day at the Home for the Dying. We've now had several of our patients die. One lady Trina worked on her first day who was suffering immensely died the next day. Several of the men have died as well, and I expect that one of the guys I have massaged only has a few days left. Another may have already gone.

It's really strange to be doing routine, daily work with people on their deathbeds all around. Activities as pedestrian as laundry (I wrung out 125 garments today), dishes, breakfast and lunch, mixed with the epic task of trying to interact lovingly with people who are facing their last moments on earth (which is usually not exactly comfortable)--a strange juxtaposition, indeed.

The people don't seem to be especially existentially despairing, although the language barrier makes it hard to know. Since they are often long since abandoned, maybe the Home for the Dying brings some light and warmth into their lives. I can only hope so.

One of the volunteers was telling me today of a man who just kept saying he wanted to go to his family. What I find saddest is that a number of these people have families, who don't figure they can care for them, and so they abandon them in the street. What a sad world we live in.

Thank God the Missionaries of Charity believe that it is their job to love these people. Mother Theresa (paraphrased) said that it is a greater poverty to be abandoned and loveless than to be poor by economic standards. I so agree.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ron's Cool Clothes

I am not a 4 year old…but the clothes situation here definitely makes me want to scream to someone, “it’s not fair!” I’m mummified in bolts of fabric and he’s wearing airy pajamas.

Nonetheless, he’s really handsome in his pjs =).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Destination: Bratislava

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia...the eastern half of the former Czechoslovakia. The Communist history and influence was really evident in the architecture of the city. Look at all the highrises. Photos here.

Dented Gong

I don't know why, but I thought this was so cool.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back...

After our first day of volunteering, I came home and got violently ill during the night. Ron joined the sick party about 8 hours later. So, we've spent the past three days recovering. I'm up to toast now and Ron has stomached oatmeal...so we're hopeful we'll be able to head back tomorrow.

Have to say, being able to volunteer only 1 out of 14 days we've been here is a little discouraging...

Grass is always...whiter

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Trinidioms #24

"My lips are shivering."

Trina's Clothing Saga Continues...

The clothes situation has been downgraded from consuming nearly all my attention to a moderate annoyance.

Here’s where I ended up…

The Smurfing cardboard suit with pants altered (note the Creamsicle effect from adding the leftover pillowcase to prevent the crotch from splitting). Ron said the pants looked like the parachute they used in gym class at his elementary school. (Forgot to mention before that in addition to my blued body, the last inch of my braid was a nice turquoise hue).

The original cardboard suit with the ripped pants. I found a man on the street selling (what I now believe are men’s) pants that have an elastic waist and are black…not a perfect match, but it works ok. To be honest, I’m still sort of angry at the ripped pants, so I don’t actually want to fix them.

The great part about these pictures is that they were taken by Ron laying in bed who refused to stand up to take them. We now know he was on his way out of his mind, but at the time he just seemed strangely difficult. This is one of the tailored outfits. The top fits great…the pants, well, they’re another story (at least they’re not too tight!)

This is my favorite outfit.

Here’s a more accurate reflection of that day (sneeze!)

Here’s the “scarf”/blanket that is supposed to go with it.


These are the cardboard ones that ripped! I’m not sure I understand the idea behind making the top enormous. The “tailored” ones look a lot like the bottoms worn by Princess Jasmine. I’m not sure if it is supposed to be a sign of wealth to have such excessive fabric…but it is definitely excessive!

Friday, March 13, 2009

First Day of Volunteering (Trina)

Well, today was our first day of volunteering...and what a day it was.

We started by getting up in time to have breakfast at the place that opened at 6:30...we were there at exactly 6:30 and when they hadn't started cooking at 6:50 we had to leave...we bought a Snickers bar on the street as we ran to the Motherhouse for the morning prayer. We sang a song together, ate a banana and piece of bread and then scrambled to find someone going to Kalighat that we could follow. Out of the crowd of 50 people, we only found one! Turns out it is pretty far south, so most don't start at the breakfast, they go straight there (as we will do from now on).

We followed this guy from Japan who walked really fast (and that's saying something) and got on a moving bus. There were seats for women and for men separately. It was kind of like a cross between a giant wagon and a motorcycle. It was total chaos. And, no matter how many efforts I make to fit in (via respectful clothing, etc.)...I am apparently just a total spectacle. I have considered making clown faces and see if that dents it...but have been afraid of provoking more response.

Anyway, we arrived and the guy (who spoke very little English) ran in and started washing dishes, so we followed him. After that chore was done, I saw a lady near a bucket of medical supplies and went and asked her if she needed help. She is a nurse from Japan and in fact today was her last day. I spent the day training with her on how to clean and change the dressings on the wounds of her patients.

She/I had 5 patients when we started and 8 when we finished. It seems to be kind of an ever-expanding thing. I have never seen anything like some of these wounds. The first one was maybe more what I expected...about the size of a fun size candy bar, not too deep and healing well. The second lady was in so much pain! She had 7 large wounds (mostly bedsores) and suffers from an disease that is "causing her bones to fuse together in a painful way." She cried out often during the cleaning/changing process. Tomorrow I can ask for some pain medicine to give her before I do it. These wounds were the size of the diameter of a baseball, and deep, and (not to be gross...absolutely covered in and oozing pus). It was so startling and overwhelming. I guess she has stopped eating and just wants to die. I can really understand why. In addition, she is absolutely skeletal. I don't know a better word, but when I picked her up to rotate her it was like picking up a skeleton. Her arm is simply the size of her arm bone. It was like nothing I've ever seen. The lady training me said to be sure to touch her and not to be afraid to rub her. As long as I don't try to move her joints, the touch feels good, not bad. But, since she often moans and cries out, most volunteers are afraid they will hurt her if they touch her.

It went on like this. The room was filled with probably 40 beds. Most every lady in there was skeletal and in some sort of pain. But, most were really happy for attention. Often the lady in the bed next to the lady we were treating was especially friendly and eager to show us...well, anything. Usually I will have a novice assist me (she can speak the language and distract the patients if I have to do something especially painful)...so that will be nice to know what they are saying. It was hard to not be able to communicate.

Anyway, I am supposed to finish in 2.5 hours, but it took us 3.5 today. So, tomorrow will be the real test...how well can I remember all she taught me, and how well can I do it?

It surprised me how little expertise was used. Most of the available ointments/bandages are donated, from people in many different countries. So, most volunteers can't read it...label is in Korean, Italian, etc. One lady had what was clearly a fungal infection (based on location, appearance and my deductions from looking at my own athlete's foot)...and we had a tube that was in Spanish, but clearly an "azole" topical (all the azoles are anti-fungal). I asked if we ought to use it for this lady and she said..."hmm, no. They like us to just use saline to wash the wound and (a basic antibiotic-neosporin-type-ointment) and a bandage on most everything." On the walk home later with a nurse from England, she was lamenting this problem she's encountered in many places she has volunteered. The person in charge of medical decisions often has very little official medical training and yet total authority. Her decisions are based on what she has seen in the past, and often quite good for the many...but maybe not for the specific.

It was such an experience. I am a little afraid about doing it on my own tomorrow. Specifically, about the lady in the second bed (no names for privacy sake), and how I will have to hurt her to help her. But, I am most certainly convinced of the need. Still, hard to do it.

I am feeling better. I wear a mask all day and gloves (which I wash between patients...not enough gloves to change between each one! I am having a hard time with that one.) We fell asleep early last night, so even though we got up at 6am, we had 9 hours of sleep. Same plan for tonight and the next few nights until we get the hang of it.

We work every day except Thursdays from 8am until noon. It seems like a little bit of time, but it is quite a lot of energy and experience. On the way home we found out how to use the Metro instead of the bus. It was cleaner and more beautiful than many of the subway systems in Central Europe! I couldn't believe it. The stop on both ends is much closer than going to the Motherhouse in the morning and where the bus dropped us off. We will keep learning.

All in all, a good, but tiring and just big day. I took an hour long nap when we came home and then we'll go to bed soon.

First Day of Volunteering (Ron)

Some of you know we have been delayed in our efforts by a pernicious fever on my part and a nasty head cold for Trina to boot. Anyway, we are finally getting started...

This is pulled from an email to my parents...so, it's kind of a free write:

Today was our first day volunteering. By all accounts, it went well. I'm probably about 100% recovered from my infirmities. Trina less so, but hers is manageable. We got up at six, went to our restaurant at 6:30 (it opens then) and they failed to have our breakfast ready in time for us to make it to the mother house. So we had to walk out, which was awkward, but we bought a couple snikers (mmm). We knew we could get some food at the mother house, so this was going to have to do. So much for my mocha shake I was going to treat myself to (for my first early morning, you know?).

Anyway, so we walked to the Mother House (about twenty minutes) and got our food (mini bananas and white bread, and tea (didn't like the tea)). We gathered, prayed, sang a song and went (probably 30 or 40 volunteers were there, I have no idea how many total are volunteering at the many houses on a given day). There was only one volunteer there that was going to our house, (Nrimal Hiday, I think) in Kalighat. People just call it Khalighat (whatever the case, it is the home for the dying and destitute). As it turns out, the other volunteers skip the breakfast and just commute directly (which we now know how to do). There are probably ten or so at our house.

We hopped on a bus with our guide (the buses here are another chaotic experience). There is a guy that hangs out the side and you ask him if it goes where you want to, and you pay when you get off. They can get very, very crowded (there are ladies only seats, lucky for them, so the guys can leer at them). Anyway, we finally got there (it took a while) and then had to walk a few blocks.

We were there about 5 minutes late (although we had left when dismissed from the mother house, so we weren't late in the delinquent sense). The volunteers were washing dishes from breakfast. I dove in. Got pretty wet (not from diving, from washing). Then it was on to laundry. My job was to wring. Who knew that could be so taxing? I actually wrung the skin off my hands (don't worry, gloves after that). Then was our time with the patients. This was the most interesting, of course. There are a number of things you could do, but since I don't have any expertise or care to learn which patient takes the red pills, I figured I'd do what I could do to alleviate suffering (they recommend this). I gave massages. I think that went for about an hour or a bit more, and I of course got a lot of patient interaction then. Communicating is difficult, of course.

Then on to tea time (those Brits and their worldwide influence). Just a quick snack for the volunteers. Then lunch. Carrying the food vats downstairs (heavy lifting, for sure), serving it on to the plates, and delivering it. This is when the no-solid-food people get fed too. I might do some of that if they let me, but I haven't yet.

Then cleaning up after lunch. They recommend you end after the morning shift, and if you are considering the afternoon shift (shorter! can you believe it? as if four hours isn't short enough!) that you wait until you've been working mornings for a while. The work is pretty physical and pretty psychologically draining if you aren't used to that level of sickness. Indeed, I saw more wounds and such things than I have ever seen in my life, all at once today.

Trina had a different story. She ended up seeking out a medical role, and was trained by a nurse who leaves tomorrow. Her job is to undress, clean, and redress wounds for a set of patients. Pretty vivid stuff..massive wounds, down to the bones, lots and lots of infection. Crazy.

Anyway, there are gloves (although we bring extra just in case) and masks. Most people don't use them (the masks) unless they are really working on patients; I think I will use them when I do massage from now on, just to avoid anything airborne, colds and such (or TB, but that's treatable). They pay a lot of attention to sanitation (more than I thought they would, for sure), and I appreciate that.

The patients are divided into two large rooms (the house is actually a now defunct part of a large Hindu temple, which Mother Theresa thought was a pretty great setup), men and women. I do work with women when cleaning, etc., but not Trina, as her job takes most of the time. But we are in the same location, a room or two away, which is nice. It feels like a very good place.

I don't quite know what to make of the whole experience yet (granted, I have 21 more volunteering days). It feels like really important work. It also feels kinda pedestrian (cleaning, massage). Still, I'm really glad we are doing it. It's been hard to find a way to humanize the suffering around here without getting drawn in to scams. It feels like a chance to really get in touch with the least of these, and to alleviate some suffering.

They don't all die either. Some do convalesce there and get better. That's kinda cool.

Anyway, so that's that. We came home and Trina napped and I read some Plato. We are going to go get dessert to celebrate our reemergence back into the world. We are on a pretty early schedule now (getting up at 6:30 from now on, commuting directly). Since Trina wants lots of sleep (sick, and hey, she's Trina, she always wants lots of sleep) and the time to fall asleep, she's making me go to bed at 8:00-8:30. So, that's an adjustment. I actually don't mind that much.

We are about halfway through season six of seven of The West Wing anyway. Don't know what we'll do when that is over. Maybe have a conversation? I dunno.

Babies on the Sidewalk

Yesterday, during Holi, most of the city was empty. Usually it takes inordinate amounts of effort to walk down the street because of the crowds. The spaciousness made it hard to avoid seeing things (part of you) would rather not remember were there.

We walked by a dad, lying on his mat on the sidewalk playing with his two kids (probably two years old and 6 months) on his chest. He had no collection pan, he was tucked close to the side of the building, out of the way of foot traffic. He wasn’t doing it for display; he was just having a holiday morning with his kids at “home.” He was happy, enjoying his kids.

A few steps later, we walked around a 3 year old holding his 1 year old sister feeding her a bottle. Same story, not doing it for display, just living life where he lives.

What do you do with that?

I didn’t see people who were sad; they were being with and loving their family, and in that moment, really happy. But, it made me so sad.

I thought about what makes me happy and what I spend my time and energy on and why. I am left with lots of questions and feelings and not a lot of answers or resolution. I just sit with it.

(If you look near the center of the photo, the dad has blue pants on…I took it without looking through the lens, so it’s a little hard to see).

Thursday, March 12, 2009


You’d think I’d stop expecting that I could predict much of anything here. It’s not in my nature.

So, yesterday, we walk outside to get some food at our local place only to find that within 30 minutes the entire city is closing down for “Holi.”

As near as I can tell, the holiday involves people throwing water balloons filled with paint at each other. Buckets of paint are acceptable too. Even babies are painted. Lonely Planet says this holiday celebrates the beginning of spring. You’ve got to give ‘em points for encouraging creativity. Kind of like a giant fingerpaint war with the whole country.

I’ll admit that given the sicknesses of the past week, I did wonder if perhaps I was running a high fever of my own.

I have to say, it does make sense of the parade, loud drumming and bonfires in the streets the night before.

Who's The Boss?

The headline of most weeks of our trip could be a Sesame Street style “Trina and Ron do Turkey” or “Trina and Ron do Malaysia”…the headline here is definitely “India does Trina and Ron.”

Sick, Sick, Sick

In the span of about 20 minutes Ron went from strolling down the streets to lying in bed shivering with a fever of 101. He topped out at 102.5 and the fever broke about 10 hours later. It became evident that it was traveler’s diarrhea, we started him on Cipro and he was well on his way to healed within a couple pills.

The day Ron started feeling better I woke up at 1pm (after sleeping 12 hours), took a nap from 2:30pm-4:30pm and then went to sleep at 10pm. My sickness seems to be a nasty head cold (not surprising from the number of times I have literally been sneezed or coughed upon by other people since arriving).

Counting my two-day stomachache when we arrived that’s 3 illnesses in 10 days. I sure hope it doesn’t continue at this rate. We’ve spent the past 6 days huddled in bed one of us sleeping, the other reading and getting food. Not exactly how we imagined serving in Kolkata, but for now it will have to do.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Destination: Vienna

If there was one city I could go back to that we visited this year it would be Vienna. It was the only truly Western European city (and thus priced), so we only spent a whirlwind 2 days there. It was charming, refined, orderly and clean. The photo above was our favorite coffee shop - Cafe Central. Photos here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trinidioms #23

"Totally, because then you could play them like a fish."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Happy Birthday Mom!

March 9th is my mom's birthday (her 49th, actually). I'm sure she appreciates me sharing that.

And yet she should be pretty happy about that. She's accomplished much in her few years. A successful marriage for almost thirty years. She's an outstanding example of motherhood as well. Two grown, healthy children who have wonderful marriages and careers, who are happy and engaged in living life fully. She's also, despite remaining close to us, moved on. A 4.0 couple years in college. A growing real-estate career (with very, very happy and loyal customers). A newfound zest for fun, life, friends, and even some lighthearted leisure.

By the way, if you consider buying or selling real estate, my mom is the best. Ask any of her customers--she won't push anyone to do anything they don't want. She is more like an empathetic educator, who will make sure you are comfortable and you find what you want.

But enough about real estate. My mom is the embodiment of good character, audacious love, and self-sacrifice. On top of that, she is whole, wise, and manages to mange the big personalities in her family. Nobody quite knows how she does it, but she does it with graciously and gracefully.

Happy Birthday Mom. I love you!

Objectification - a moral question

It's hard not to objectify people.

When you walk down the street dodging swerving taxis, goats, rickshaws, motorbikes, treacherous potholes and gutters, urine puddles and the like, there are a large number of beggars and small peddlers. People block your way, grab at you and your pockets, and follow you substantial distances. I'm generally very good at getting people to go away, but if you are white, you are a target, no matter how menacing you act.

As I've mentioned before, the vast majority of most of these are scams and they perpetuate the cycle of poverty and indignity. We have been urged by the most charitable of the charitable organizations to please ignore these people...

I'm certainly capable of it, for better or for worse. But it forces you to objectify people. That's no good, is it? But they are objectifying you (you are not a person, you are a well-spring of gullibility and wealth). But does that make it okay to objectify them? Probably not.

I think of my taxi story. We felt bad for the guy; he seemed desperate in asking to raise the price (we figure he had to pay a fine when we were pulled over by the police). We were really thinking we'd pay him more (despite telling him no). He'd tripled the price, and we were willing to double it. That's ridiculous, in retrospect, but we figured, what's the difference between 50 and 100 rupees (about a dollar of difference, actually)? But this path is perilous.

If you are willing to think this way, you could be rich by western standards, and be all cleaned out within hours. And you would have taught people that the most profitable thing they can do is rip off people. It also can create untenable inflation for the locals, by the way.

Fortunately, our taxi driver raised our price sixfold, which cleared things up for us. He was definitely scamming us. He did the work of objectifying himself for us. We got out of the car and I yelled at him.

But, but, but...I paid him what I thought was a decent amount nonetheless (although I threw it at him). Was this naivete? Compassion? Maybe neither, maybe both.

It's a hard line to walk, one we are working on. I can treat everyone like the enemy, but that is no way to live. But I cannot imagine that failing to objectify people (which seems the only way not to fall into the scams) to a degree is helpful to them in any way (sorry for the multiple negatives).

The problem is, I get stuck with the words of Jesus..."if a man asks for your coat, give him your tunic too." I don't think Jesus was naive, but he so often asks the impossible.

Well, for now, I have volunteering to expiate my objectification and cleanse my conscience. Isn't that humanitarian of me?

What do you think? My goal is to neither fall for scams (that's easy) but to maintain a sense of people's person-hood (very hard, especially if you want to skip the scams). How might you handle this?

We have a month to work on it, hopefully a month that shapes how we approach this matter for the rest of our lives. For in the west, we still live in the world with the desperately poor, they just are farther away.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


As usual, this is a bit of a free-write, so please forgive the wandering nature of the post. Trina is on skype with her parents too, so it's hard to hear myself think...

There is a lot of poverty in Kolkata, which is of course well known. We aren't in a slum, so I don't think we have seen the worst of it. But we have seen the worst of the begging, we are told. It is clustered most in the areas where white people visit. That's not to say that there aren't a lot of well-to-do Indians here. There are. But the beggars don't really bother with them, for the most part. The Indians know about the schemes.

Everything we read, everything, is pretty clear. Don't give to the beggars. There are certainly some who are legitimately down and out. But for the most part, this is a big, mobster like industry, fed by well meaning but naive white people.

The first thing we were told at the Mother House is please, please please, do not give to beggars. The beggars around the mother house were particularly wily. We spoke to a woman last night who was taken in by a little girl that had come after us as well. "Please, please, please, just buy me something to eat...I'd like milk." All the sudden, three ladies show up and they are all asking her to buy them expensive powdered milk (these people are obviously well nourished, beautiful people, actually). It's well known that they just turn around and resell these items for a profit.

Clever yes. Helpful, no. The Mother House implores you--the NGO's all agree, it is said, you undo their work when you do this. The NGO's routinely offer these people education, opportunity, etc. The beggars consistently refuse--we make too much money begging. Many of them are bussed in from the suburbs, or are practically owned by a sort of mob who take most all the money anyway.

Basically, although the social safety net in India is paltry, there are a lot of resources available to these people, but their cycle of poverty is reinforced by unsuspecting and well meaning tourists.

This is obviously a little hard, as you have mostly ladies with babies and little kids begging (and/or grabbing at your pockets). Many well meaning travelers think they should hug on the kids--they figure they don't get enough love (and this is encouraged in the supervised confines of the charity homes). They figure, maybe these people are "untouchables", and what they really need is touch and love.

But, this is heavily discouraged by the missionaries of charity. Child trafficking is big business around here, and this teaches children that there is a relationship between touch and usually money or candy. It is considered a direct way to pave the way to child sexual exploitation.

It seems like there are no right answers. We were speaking to the gal that got suckered by the powdered milk scam last night. I was saying how I really struggle with only one group of beggars, the severely handicapped. I figure if you are limbless, you have very few alternatives.

She had been duped by the little girl, but then she spoke up on her own expertise. She has worked with severely handicapped people for years, and she said this assumption strips them of their dignity. She then named many things such a person can do. Even in Kolkata, some of these could be live options...

I continue to be shocked at my own and others' naivete. I am glad we have a chance to contribute. Even though we've been encouraged that NOT supporting begging is a very good thing, it would be nice to actually do something for someone in need.

Trina's India Journal #4

At the end of the orientation day, I arrived home, took off my clothes to get ready to shower only to discover that my entire torso had been DYED BLUE.

The cardboard-pants-top apparently utilized cheap dye that mixed with the heat of the day to Smurf me. After vigorous scrubbing, I am still tinged with that “death warmed over” blue. Whoa.

Not prepared for that. You have to laugh at some point.

Destination: Prague

They say Prague is the Paris of Eastern Europe. My favorite part was just being there. I liked strolling down the streets, lingering in the monastery breweries and dancing in the square. Photos of Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square, Prague Castle and Mala Strana all here.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Trina's India Journal #3

Today was an ambitious day, but pretty good. I woke up with a lot more energy to tackle the day. My stomach is all the way better. First thing we went and registered with the consulate, and that was great. They were really friendly and helpful...and it is just nice to know that if anything goes sideways we know exactly where we can go and be safe or get questions answered.

We went to the volunteer orientation at the “Motherhouse” (central location for Mother Teresa’s missions in Kolkata). It was interesting and we found out a couple key things. First of all, we got assigned to Kalighat (the Home for the Dying and Destitute), which is apparently a very hard assignment to get...a lot of people have heard of it and want to work there. But, they gave it to us...so that is neat. I think our longer-term commitment is a plus there.

The walk from our orientation back to our hotel took us through a REALLY poor area of town and it is just a lot. This whole thing is really an adjustment. I keep trying to figure it out and have words for it...and it is hard. The things I thought would be hard aren't, and things I didn't expect are. The clothing thing has been a huge issue...other volunteers aren't wearing Indian clothes, they're just wearing loose fitting western clothes. But, with all the comments I've gotten, it seems like it is really appreciated to try. (I don't get how wearing a loose fitting long sleeved shirt and pants is more sexy than the saris which show a lot of your top half...but I guess it looks "western" and "forbidden" and similar to what "sexy" people dress like).

It really isn't a city that I would want to stay in if I didn't have a reason. The poverty is of course hard to see and there are so many scams related to begging. Of course the heat and the dust and the smells are tough. I also go back and forth between being upset/compassionate and kind of afraid. Like today, we took a taxi to get back to the motherhouse in time for orientation. He didn't speak much English...and they are all desperate for customers, so he quoted us a price even though he didn't understand where we said we wanted to go. He turned the completely wrong direction and we showed him again on the map where to go. He turned around and ended up getting pulled over by a cop. At this point, we are late, he's stopped and we aren't exactly going to get out of the car because we don't want to mess with the Indian cops. So, we wait, the cop gives him directions as to where to take us. He starts driving and says "You must pay me 150 rupees (original price was 50 rupees)...it is much longer drive!" Ron says, "No! You said 50 rupees." He says, "Please, please, it must be 150 rupees", which I suspect had something to do with feeling panicky and wanting to recoup money to offset the ticket he just received. I'm feeling badly for him and thinking maybe we should just give him the money. About 3 blocks later he says, "You must pay me 300 rupees!" Ron yells, "NO! We agreed on 50 rupees. It will be 50 rupees and no more!" He says "300!" Ron says to me that we are getting out of the car. He hands the guy 100 rupees and we get out. I don't know what to make of that. If we "underpay" him by giving him 100 are we potentially in trouble with police? Probably not. But I don't know if I felt bad for the guy, if I felt angry at him for ripping us off, a little bit of both, or if I felt kind of scared. So, now we're walking down the street, late for our orientation and fit to be tied and supposed to be ready to help people.

I hate that feeling when you feel like you're supposed to suspect people when you would rather help them or just have a good working relationship with them (ie cab/rider relationship). I don't think we were in any danger, and I think Ron did the right thing...the last thing you want to do is argue about the price after you've already used the service. That is just one of many many little things that happen throughout the day that you use energy to not get upset about and it makes me tired.

Everyone (including the Sisters) say you have to be so skeptical and vigilant about people on the street. The people you see on the streets aren't the really poor ones. They have begging turf, run by a “mafia-like” hierarchy. They actually ship in babies from the slums so the people here can look more “desperate.” The Sisters had such strong words about it - they say everything from touching the children on the street (teaches them to associate that letting someone touch them gets them money) to giving money (pimps run things) to giving food (they'll sell it back) only contributes to the cycle and actually undermines the work of the organizations here. That doesn't mean there aren't really poor people in need of help...but that's why we're volunteering, we can actually help the ones who need it. Even if the circumstances of the scammers are horrible, indulging the deception doesn't help anyone.

This place is by definition...not comfortable. Ron said to me last night, "I think there isn't anything wrong that you are uncomfortable, I think you are supposed to be uncomfortable here." But, most of the rest of our trip, we are used to working to fix things that are uncomfortable. If we're in a sketchy part of town, or in a city that feels hostile, or in a place that is too hot, or too unsanitary, we move on. It feels strange to feel all those feelings and not want to work to counter them. (For instance, what kind of hotel "should" you stay in? We are in a place that is $16/night and actually pretty good. For $80/night we can pretend we're in Lake Oswego when we're inside and that is really attractive. But, that is way outside our budget...and isn't it kind of outside our purpose? We aren't here to "enjoy" ourselves or to be comfortable.) It is tricky. Is it "good" to feel "bad"? I just don't know.

All in all, I think we are doing darn well, for having arrived only three days ago. We have ridden a straight up learning curve and it is still up, but less steeply.

Well, that's it for now.

Volunteer Orientation

So, we made it to the Mother House, just five minutes late for orientation. But, as it turns out, the orientation is actually down the road about a quarter mile. So, we hurried down the street (in 100 degree heat, mind you), the last of about forty people to arrive (thirty of them were in a big group).

The Missionaries of Charity have many houses in Kolkata--the Home for the Dying and Destitute, a convalescent home for old and sick, a few homes for men and women (separately) who have developmental issues or other handicaps, multiple children's homes and schools. It's quite an operation.

They are also pretty well set up for volunteering. Our leader (who has been volunteering) for about a month said that we aren't actually NEEDED, as the organization needs to be able to function without volunteers. So, we are a little wary. Since our goal is to be helpful, we are going to see if we are actually there for anyone other than us (we have another connection at a hospital, that may be a good back up). I think in some ways, once we are trained, our help will be more for providing work relief for the sisters.

So, we will see. We did get a spot at the Home for the Dying, which is the hardest to get a spot at (it's a small home and the most well known). We will be washing, cleaning, laundering, and cooking, as well as working with the people themselves--talking, singing, touching, changing wound dressings and the like. I'm kind of nervous, to be honest. But I think it will be well worth it.

Will keep you posted. We start volunteering Monday morning at 7:00.


Before judging me for being unempathic, know that we have lots of words to say about poverty and empathy in upcoming posts.

But for now, let me tell you a story. Yesterday, we were walking, walking, walking, to look for a permanent place to stay. As it turns out, we will probably stay where we have already been sleeping. But we needed to search to make sure (it seems we are in one of the best value spots in Kolkata, so that is nice). We had walked the significant distance to the area we will be volunteering, and were working our way back to the Mother House for volunteer orientation.

We were not going to make it in time. So, we had the hotel front desk (at one of the places we were checking out--a very nice place (way out of our price range), flag us a taxi). They explained in clear terms (well, it seemed), in the local language, where we were going. The driver agreed to take us, for 50 rupees.

As we were going along, we realized the driver was going the wrong way. Not a good sign when you have been in a city for 3 days and you know the directions better than your taxi driver (reminds me of an incident in New York a few months ago...). Despite quite the language barrier, we helped him understand that he was off course. He turned around, seeming to get where we were going. Then he got pulled over, and we don't know exactly why (the efficiency thing again, it seemed). After getting back in the car, he seemed kind of upset. The police officer came and asked us where we were going, and then he gave the driver very clear directions (easy to tell with attendant hand signals).

We started driving again. The taxi driver said--I went long way, 150 rupees. I said, NO. 150 rupees he says. No I say. Back and forth. We have about a mile to go. We sit at this light for about five minutes (debating getting out), and then he starts moving and says, 300 rupees.

Okay, for the record, it was only 120 rupees to taxi an hour from the airport. This was comparatively about 1/5 the distance. We figure he probably got fined by the police officer (or was forced to bribe him anyway). He seemed really upset, so even though I had said no to 150, I had decided I'd give him 100 when we got there. But when he had raised the price to 600% of the agreed price, that was enough.

I said to Trina, "get out of the car!" She said, "now?" (we were moving). No, as soon as he stops. So we gathered our stuff, and jumped out. I did give him some money, more than I should have, but no where near what he was asking (we weren't yet to the Mother House, but we were close). I figured if we got out before the end, he couldn't claim we screwed him.

Anyway, I yelled at him a little bit. And we made it to the orientation, all the while wondering at the irony of volunteering to help the poor and yelling at them for acting like it.

Trina's India Journal #2

My stomach is feeling a bit better. By the time we got home from our outings today I was thinking my cardboard pants were feeling a little better...a little stretched or something...but, they were actually just RIPPED in the crotch. Well, relief is relief, right? =)

Today I am wearing the salwar top, ever handy scarf and my khaki REI pants underneath. When we walked out the front door today the front desk man asked Ron if he could give us some advice...he suggested that I would be "much more beautiful" if I considered wearing sandals with my Indian clothes instead of Nike running shoes. I am NOT used to this running commentary on my appearance!

All in all, things are looking up a bit. It feels a little like when you're sick and trying to get better. Even relatively small things feel really overwhelming. So, we aren't thinking about dying people now...just what we'll eat for breakfast and what I can wear outside.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Kolkata vs. Calcutta

Just in case you were wondering...

Calcutta was the capital of India during the British Raj and is the Anglicized name of the Indian city of Kolkata.

It was always pronounced "Kolkata" in Bengali, but in 2001 the city's official English name changed to Kolkata.

Just like Bombay is now called Mumbai, Calcutta is now called Kolkata. It is considered respectful to Indian independence to use the Indian (and not the British) name.

Trina's India Journal #1

Let me start by saying I am ok, even if I don't sound great.

We are here safely and things are...well, they're ok. We’d read a lot about how women get a lot of looks and it is best to wear really shapeless big clothes until you can buy Indian clothes. So, on the plane I wore some of my khakis with one of Ron's billowy button up shirts over top...I looked like I was wearing a parachute that came to my knees. We arrived and everything went surprisingly smoothly. The taxis and most cars are from 1940 (not exaggerating).

I definitely got a LOT of stares...of course, I looked hilarious in my parachute outfit, so that may have contributed. Our guesthouse was full (even though we had a reservation...that's how it works), so they sent us down the road to a place that was slightly more money and less nice...but it was fine. We ordered room service for $2.50 total...and this was a pretty fancy place. This is definitely the cheapest country so far.

Anyway, we went to the market and people were really loud and persistent in trying to sell things. There were two key problems. First, I was VERY hot because I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and Ron was in shorts/t-shirt. Secondly, I don't actually know what a sari is...so it is hard to shop for one. Turns out it has three pieces. A "blouse" that looks like a bra, a "petticoat" that looks like a full-length skirt and a sari that is a REALLY long piece of material that you're supposed to magically whip around you and pouf it into Indian beauty. We only figured this out after buying the sari and then being told I needed the two other pieces that were sold at two different shops for inflated prices. But, I was determined to ditch the parachute before the next morning, so we bought it all, for a total of about $10. We went home and tried (in vain for a while) to wrap me up enough for me to walk outside. It is hard to walk when wrapped like a mummy.

The next day we went back to the market to try and find a salawar (alternative to sari for women that looks like a long tunic over pants with neck scarf - to keep your neck warm in this cold Indian climate). I had many women stop me in the street and say that my sari was beautiful and that they thought it was nice I wanted to wear a sari. That was neat. Ron says I got slightly less looks too. I am still not convinced people were not looking because I looked WEIRD rather than that I was attractive. The market was a total adventure again...but we had a little more fun with it and really got into the bargaining. Ron got one item that was quoted at 750 rupees for 250. So, we paid too much the night before! Turns out, after much looking, the way to get a salawar is to buy the fabric and then take it to a tailor who makes it for you for about $2.50.

We figured this out AFTER buying two that were made of cardboard and the equivalent of Wal-Mart jeans. Indian women apparently don't have the thunder thighs that I do...so the crotch of my cardboard pants hangs about a foot below my real one, since I can't pull them all the way up. But, this is still better than the sari that I can't quite get to stay on.

Ron said when I wore the salwar I got even less looks...so we'll stick with that. Which is funny because some of the Indian outfits I think are way sexier...they show their bellies and sometimes bare arms and most of their back. But, that's the traditional, so it is conservative.

My stomach is bugging me a bit which is to be expected. I haven't thrown up and don't think I will...in fact I'm not convinced it isn't a stress stomachache...but it is kind of a bummer. I don't know exactly why I am finding this stressful...but there are good reasons. First of all, I still don't really have anything to wear outside that I know will stay on or not hang at my knees. Next, I'm tired, and hot and there's new food. And, my stomach hurts which makes everything feel a little harder. There's also the personal space thing that I am just NOT used to. Ron isn't having much trouble...but he is very patient with me.

So, it’s an adjustment.

(standing in front of the AC).

FYI: The new Vancouver airport is amazing.

They are hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics...and I suspect that has something to do with it. (We flew through on our way back to Bangkok at the end of February).

Indian Efficiency

So, last night I was in the middle of writing an email about the efficiency of this place, and there was a power outage. Perfectly poignant, isn't it?

When we arrived, we needed money. There was an exchange booth in the international terminal, but there was no ATM (exchange counters notoriously overcharge). But the prepaid taxi service was in this building, and there was no way to pay them.

As it turned out, we needed to leave the building and walk to the domestic terminal (across a parking lot full of taxis and the occasional cow--it's true!). Then they wouldn't let us back in to the international terminal (I'm generally willing to be pushy, but not to a guard with an automatic weapon). There was another entrance they'd let us use, so we had to walk to the other end of the building to get in. Then we had to get permission to back track within the building to get to the prepaid taxi service.

This was a portent of things to come. Fortunately, we haven't tried to mail anything, although we are going to need to do so in a few days.

Then there was shopping. We needed to get Trina a sari and salwar or two (will explain later). Sure, yes, you can buy your sari here (well, this piece of it--it is three pieces). Now my guy will take you to the shop for piece two (oh, it is closed--okay, well, let's try this one). First price was good, but most of the shops are closing--these people are gouging...next shop, same story. Fine, we'll pay for it. Now to the third shop for the third piece...you get the idea.

My personal favorite--when you buy pants they are huge, and then you have to go buy the drawstring--for just pennies. So we had the shopkeeper send us with someone to find the drawstring guy--yes, yes, I have a drawstring. But would you like to buy this? How about this? What about this? No, no, no. Nothing please. Oh, I'm sorry, we are all out of drawstrings.

The next time we were sent to one of these, I paid the shopkeeper extra to go do it herself. So, we are learning.

Everything seems to involve more work than it should--so we don't get nearly as much done each day as we would like. Thus, the lack of blogs thus far (internet is really slow). We seem to have finally found a fast internet place though, so more from us soon!