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.

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