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India 2

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.  So much to love here,
under, over, around, within the persistent layer of gunge settled over
the city.  I don't think I've met a person yet who hasn't been
captivated by Calcutta - so many people who've already been here weeks,
months, years.  Gone and come back, or just stayed and stayed and

All kinds of people too, which makes the community strange and dynamic. 
This morning I met an 80 year old Canadian (with betel rotted teeth)
who's been living here on and off for 26 years.  In the afternoon, a 15
year old Korean girl who's been volunteering at Mother House for several
weeks - came for the experience (looks good on American college
applications...) and decided to stay.  Others too, everything in
between.  Spent most of the day with an interesting French (woman)
railway worker who's at the end of a 6 month trip, and a stunning Arabic
French woman (living in Germany) on her way from here to Nepal to

It's been an awesome day.  Slower than those before, more spread out. 
Experiences infinitely more manageable, simply because there was some
breathing space between them -a blessing of the persistent
pre-delhi-belly.  An impromptu invitation from the French women (above)
to join them on a boat ride on the Ganga turned into a terrific
adventure.  Lost out of the metro, we found ourselves pressed in the
throngs of a crowded market street flowing towards the river - like an
old English postcard, all flat-fronted buildings leaning shuttered
windows upward and inward over the narrow, bustling road.  In the upper
windows, corpulent women in bright saris brushing glistening hair,
grandmothers shouting news across the gap through withered lips,
children dashing from room to room, first visible in one place, then,
moments later, in another.  On the ground level, each door opened onto a
dark and cavelike interior bursting with actvity.  Charcoal makers, all
soot and shovels, eye-whites aglow like fireflies in the artificial
night.  Apothecaries, shelves groaning under the weight of dusty jars of
marvelous concoction.  Butchers, cooks, merchandisers of all kinds,
doctors, jewellers...every occupation I can think of and several I
wouldn't have imagined, all plying their trades together on that one
unbelievable street.  Fragrant with curry masala and the mingled scent
of flowers.  Such life!!!!!

Gradually, the shops gave way to a traffic-y (as in, vehicular traffic)
road lined with huge trucks piled sky-high with empty plastic containers
of all sorts.  Trucks fronted by curlicue-carved wooden ornaments hand
lettered with "goods carriage" signs, above their flat-fronted grills
out of a circus or period movie.  Beside them, warehouses of plastics
and an army of men bearing loads on their heads that are difficult (even
having seen them) to fathom.  When it comes time to load, 5 strong men
together hoist the package, groaning, and then the single man rushes
away - load swaying high above him - as if it were nothing.

Past the warehouses, flower markets and the river.  Long garlands of
marigolds festooning every horizontal surface, bags of brightly coloured
mums, dahlias, sunflowers lining the walk to the bathing ghats (sunk
into the murky water).  Knots of people lathered pearly white and
splashing in the river, brushing teeth, washing clothes, spitting,
shitting, cooking, sleeping...all of man's basic needs right there, on
the cement steps of the ganga.  

After all of that (and something sleek, slippery,and large gliding past
in the water), we only succeeded in crossing the river on a dilapidated
old ferry that shuddered as if trying hard to sink (right beneath the
shiny new walking path on the Howrah Bridge above).  There and back. 
We'd been told we could catch it there and use it to follow the ghats
downriver, almost all the way back to our guesthouses.  Unable to find a
taxi willing to negotiate a price we liked to assist on the return, we
tried out the public busses.  Which again look like something built
about 60 years ago.  And don't actually stop (either to let people on or
off) - slow and jump!  Whee!!  Ours was not very busy, saving us from
having to hang out the windows like monkeys or off the roof racks like
so many of the others we saw, but still it was entertaining.  A full
(and unexpected) tour of central Calcutta all for the sweet, sweet price
of 3 rupees.

Late afternoon found us all in the peace and tranquility of mother
house, reading the "happy new year" spelled out carefully in orange
flower petals across the white marble top of Mother Teresa's grave. 
Unexpected.  The nuns all glide around in their white saris with these
small, sincere smiles, exuding restorative waves of serenity in their
wake.  The orientation itself was marginally frightening (fancy some
lice for your voyage?), but nevertheless, bright and early tomorrow
morning I begin my week with the women of Sandy-dan.  Ex-prisoners ("No
Criminals!!" declares the info. packet), mentally challenged,
shave-headed, banished to the safety of the nuns care for the rest of
their lives.  Happily for me, the women are basically self-sustaining,
so I won't need to clean them or do the physical work required at the
other postings.  My job for the next 5 days (the mandatory day off, then
we'll see...) is just to entertain them - damn I wish I'd brought my
balloons!  French women are posted there too, and the 2 Seattle girls I
met on the plane.  We 5.  I am actually looking forward to it a lot.

This evening I braved the chaos of New Market, just before closing time,
to buy a Salwar Kamise (traditional Indian dress).  Like a whole city
all on its own (with its own special slave pit - a circle of men
descending into the earth and
ascending bearing piles of rocks in baskets on their heads), the place
is incredible.  From the slaughterhouse to the saree sailsmen to the
"registered coolies", unreal.  And yet, success!!  A long sleeved
cotton, tightly woven, with a patterned line of rough-spun running

The streets around New MArket tonight are literally bursting with
energy.  Hordes of people, but merry, smiling and eating sweets (mixed
with onion?!!!) and shouting Happy New Year.  The whole area feels
festive and alive.  Though there is a "party" on the rooftop of the
hotel nextdoor, I plan to close this up and head up to bed.  Since I was
up all night last night, and plan to be healthy enough (!!) to work in
the morning, midnight will have to pass without me.  

I hope that whatever you have planned to pass the new year, it will be
surrounded by joy and loved ones!  Happy New YEar from a happy mind,
slowly overcoming an unhappy belly!  love, Roberta