Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Ba-nay-nay cake!

This is the beautiful garden at the Church we attended - the first greenery I have properly seen here!
Casually a dinosaur and a giraffe hanging out just outside of work...
The building next to the one we work in - another reason to remember to look up in Kolkata.
Banana cake that I made, and smothered in Oreo icing that E made... just like it tastes at home - thank you Edmonds!
Cutting up my masterpiece for the hungry flatties.
Nom nom nom...
First of all, before I begin, I thought I had better do a shout out to the 'BOP-assy' (BOPRC) people who mum says have been keeping up to date with my adventures!

So, I have officially seen my first cow in India (which Judy thought was a horse), and today we actually saw a horse (Judy has only seen them in the zoo, so was a bit freaked out), and have just arrived home from work, after being surrounded by a bunch of kids asking, "What is your name?" It was such an uplifting scene, we were just laughing because we couldn't take two steps without a hand reaching out to shake our's. The kids here are just filled with life - sure, some of them have it pretty tough, but kudos to them, for smiling and taking the opportunities to laugh at the lighter things in life. We have a lot to learn from that spirit.

It actually caught me by surprise when they asked for our names, as their english for that sentence was so clear, that I had to stop and think what had just been said - I am so used to being talked to without understanding what is being said to me, so to realise that it was english coming from their mouths was new.

Hahahaha one of the boys is currently boogying in the lounge to some hip-hop while waiting for dinner to be cooked...

But anyway, as you can see in my photos, we went to a church which had a garden! We were so excited to see it, and the boys had a bit of frolic, whereas I was just in awe at the sight of grass!! I just stood and looked at it... so nice to see greenery.

Oh - I learnt how to tell someone to 'move', so if I am getting crowded by men on the metro or somthing, I can just say 'sorun!' Our Bangla tutor said that it will be totally acceptable to use that to 'politely' request them to move. I am yet to learn a less-polite way for when that does not work...

Today there was a strike in Kolkata, which was quite surreal, as the streets were so quiet, there was barely anyone on the road (be it walking or driving), and only the odd taxi drove past. It also meant that when I woke this morning, only the occasional horn was heard, and in their place was the sound of chirping birds! So refreshing. Although the crows seemed to think that it was their turn to make even more noise to fill the void.

This Sunday I am flying out to Pune, Maharastra, so that I can attend a two-day orientation programme - I am so excited about it! It will be really nice to get out of Kolkata for a few days, and see another part of India. And then I will return just in time for Holi festival! Bring on the colour! I have been warned by someone to avoid drinking the beverages that are served on the two days of celebration, as some of them are laced with marijuana...

It is a bit sad too though, that Holi will be happening, because it means that here in Kolkata, the men that are celebrating will be more likely to visit the women who are in Sonagachi (the red-light district). My heart is truly beginning to break for these women. I cannot even begin to ever understand what goes on for them.

Some days it is hard remain hopeful for Sonagachi when I hear stories about some of the women, and just how big the situation is. But I just have to keep believing that one day God will reclaim that area, and there will be freedom and happiness there instead of poverty, brokenness, corruption, and crime against the women.

Well I think that is enough for now, I am super hungry and can smell dinner! Hope everyone going great, that all the uni students are enjoying/grieving the start of a new year of study, and that everyone in between is enjoying slightly cooler temperatures in NZ - seriously, be grateful that you have winter to look forward to. I am so anxious about the heat levels lying ahead of us here in India!

My love goes out to you all back at home.


Saturday, 25 February 2012

More firsts.

Chilling in my first experience of the Western world in India - Cafe Coffee Day! With AC!
This paper cost me about 2.5 rupees... less than 10c in NZ. Main headlines include the continuing case of the woman who was raped not too far from here, and about the West Bengal strike happening on the 28th.
Also, that clay pottle holds some 'mishti doi' - a sweet yoghurt dish, and the 100grams I boughtbv
The way wires are hung and 'organised' around here..
Cafe Coffee Day menu!
Hah.... love the grammar, and who the target market is for these.
A nice cold green-apple soda... such a refreshing drink.
Here is the mishti doi! It has an interesting gelatine texture... not sure if I love it, but I do enjoy it, as the vendor gives it to you cold.
So warm, that everyone just drops where they can to rest.
Tonight we made garlic naan pizzas. So yum.
Today I bought a tiffin tin - Dave + Stacey S, you should be proud of me!
It has compartments so that you can keep your rice and curry separate, and bring it to work with you! So excited to use this! I bought it for about 130 INR = just over $3 NZD.
Today Judy and I woke up early so that we could attend the monthly service FS holds for the women who work there, only to find out we were given the wrong time and missed the bus... so instead we decided that seeing as we were up, we might as well do a bit of exploring.

E had bought some mishti doi last night, and I was so keen to try some, so we headed to the local mishti stall. It cost me just 12 Rupees for 100g; Judy's was 10 because she decided on the un-sweetened version.

We had a late start due to the service, and worked until 3pm. I love that some of the women are beginning to try include me, some of them will get my attention, "Di-di! Naam ki?' to find out my name. I am doing my best to remember all of theirs...

After lunch, J and N took me in my first auto-rickshaw, and on my first Indian bus, (which was an experience), on our way to Spencers at Mani Square (a mall). The last leg of the trip took us through some slums... which for me was quite eye-opening. And then before I knew it, I was walking through the metal detectors, proving my camera was a camera and not a bomb, and I was back in NZ. Kind of. It was so surreal to walk into a tidy, air-conditioned, and very Western mall, knowing where I had been just two minutes beforehand. It was so nice to feel in place for once, yet I felt quite sick about the extremes. It was so good to read packaging I could understand, and find food I would eat at home, but I became so frustrated about the security - every shop had so many security guards, and when we left Spencer's (a grocery store), they checked your receipts to make sure you hadn't stolen anything. It felt very suffocating. And it angered me that they were so focused on the potential for the odd thief, when so little efforts are put into policing the trafficking of women into forced sex-labour.

J mentioned today what I had brought up with N, which was the fact that men will stare at the boys because they are white, then all of a sudden they will be like, 'Oh wait! There is a white woman with them - so much more interesting, let's stare at her until she is uncomfortable!' J said, 'It's nice having you around to detract the attention away from me!' It was quite hilarious, and a very valid point. It is like the men have never seen a white woman before. I think I might snap soon, just to let it all out on one unfortunate fellow.

Okay. End of rant.

Tonight I went out to the market and to Ricky's (a restaurant) by myself, which is a huge step for me. It was the first time I was buying fruit and veg in the market alone, and paying for things etc. without needing anyone to help understand transactions and such. I felt so independent and free, even just for an hour, and it was quite calming. I purchased some things for our pizzas, and picked up the naans from Ricky's, headed back to the flat, and made dinner.

Now I am sitting in the lounge, with the fans at full speed, two Americans, a Korean, and a fellow Kiwi, typing away as they play poker.

I like it here. There is never a dull day. Despite a few ups and downs, I like it.


This is where I live.

Here is a video for you all to watch, as we walk to work after lunch. This is a very average day, it is still 'cool' enough to not be sweating 24/7, (high of 35 degrees C today!! And it is only the beginning of spring...), and just one of the two ways we take to work. This is the considerably less-chaotic way to work.



Thursday, 23 February 2012

It's the small things.

Gabs doing what interns do best - making fresh coffee, even on her last day in India. Legend.
This precious girl is only a couple of months old, and she was a premature baby - so she is so tiny! But so adorable. I thought Gabs was carrying a couple of blankets in her arms, until these tiny hands came out.
I have no idea what I ate, but it tasted amazing. It is some type of sweet, and it pretty much oozes syrup... mmm. By the way, this is the desk I have currently taken over, with a funky keyboard that confused me (and still does), when I first used it. And of course, can't forget coffee, and super handy Pantone colour charts!
Today as Gabs was heading off, we had mishti for morning tea, which is Bengali sweets - these looked like little balls of dough covered in flour, but had the texture of finely ground coconut, and had a sweet, milky taste. They were quite moist, and so delicious. They came in mini paper cases, and I was eating mine out of it instead of picking it up and putting the whole thing in my mouth, and all of the women around me began exclaiming, as they thought I was eating the paper, and tried to show me how to eat it properly! Hahahaha.
I am learning quickly that in India, people like to have their photos taken (in most situations). This guy really likes his photo to be taken.
Every day on our way to work, we pass these men (there are many more on both sides of the path, outside of the photo), who are busy constructing out of bamboo, paper mache, and polystyrene, different figurines. They are usually making them for a festival, or in some cases for a funeral (according to one source).
Walking home. The purple building in the distance is my marking point for home here, if I am travelling from another part of Kolkata at night in a taxi etc. and so I know where approximately to pull over.
A bit blurry, but there are many pavements constructed of tiles, and then cracks filled in with bricks.
Walking down the lane to our apartment.
I love looking up in India. So much of the time is spent looking at your feet so you don't step in anything not-so-nice, that you forget to look up. Up.
The door opposite from ours into our apartment. Many doorways have religious symbols or objects, but I think for this design, it might be a substitute for a sand painting; I know that in some parts of India, every morning a new 'painting' is created in coloured sand outside of a doorway. I could be wrong, but this is just my assumption.
Looking up at another apartment building from the bottom steps of ours.
And another. Most windows have some form of a grate over them (I think because of security), but some sorts make it look like jail cells. Some have amazing, intricate metal designs, and are not as intimidating to wonder who is behind them.
A face!
The entrance to our apartment building. I love the textures, and the worn look everything has here.
The entrance again. Those steps you see, we have to climb 6 or 7 flights to get to our apartment. Either that or take an elevator the size of two, small, up-standing fridges, in which you need to manually pull across the gates (not too dissimilar to the one in this image) - not a ride for the claustrophobic.
Looking down the lane to the main road.
How is this for security? Barbed wire, and broken glass. I really want to see the hands of the person who made this.
Gabs and I! I miss her already... but she'll be back 3 or 4 months!
Remember what I said. Look up.
These two gorgeous girls came to see what us white people were up to, and I then showed them this picture. Then we tried our very poor Bangla on them, but managed to find out their names.
There are a lot of small details in Kolkata, that are the things I will miss the most when I leave at the end of 12 months. Like how you can buy liquid milk in bags. And that the 'intercom' system at FS is to lean over the balcony and shout out the name of whoever you want, and continue to shout when you have their attention, to converse with them. It really is a joy to witness. Another, saying hello to the old woman in her white sari, a cataract in her eye, and her heart in her smile; we hold hands, smile, laugh, and then go on with our day. She lives about 50m from FS, so most days I will encounter this wonder of a human being.

Some not so great things that I won't forget, but are not the nicest memories, include: street animals too hungry to stand, so they just lie where they can; walking past someone who does not have a home and asks for money; the smell of human waste in the gutters, or under your shoe; the ache in your stomach when you know what you recently ate was a potential risk; or even the wave of emotion that hits you when you realise just how real the issue of forced sex labour is.

I love India, I really do. I even love some of the things that I find hard to see, hear, taste, or smell. I love it here - even though every day I am challenged with the contrasting sight of poverty, and of my own prosperity at home in NZ; it is beginning to change my outtake on life. Not that prosperity is a bad thing, it can just feels like something you could be guilty for here.

I really hope you enjoy looking through my photos, and of reading about my encounters, but I hope most of all that each time you leave this blog, you go away with the thought that there is so much more to life than the tiny worlds we tend to wrap ourselves up in in Western society. Materialism can be a blanket - here when we go to a Western food market, or a place that sells Western items, it feels almost 'safe', or familiar. As sad as this may seem, materialism here can sometimes become a sanctuary. I really hope that I walk away from this experience with a greater sense of security in God, in the unfamiliar, and in having 'enough'.

Bless you all.


Gabes' final night...

This was hilarious when Nate bought Judy her coffee in this cup... you should have seen her face.
And again, Gabs makes the most amazing apple pie, and Nate gets the credit for the epic pastry triangles on top.
I am so guttered that I have only been able to know this girl for under two weeks, and she is already leaving! I cannot wait until she comes back later in the year.
Waiting for our egg-rolls and more guests to arrive... too hot to do much more.
Look at what I found in my room....!!! Indian music hits, and Bollywood dance workout. Can things get any better??
Scribblings from my first Bangla lesson!
Gotta love a self-portrait. Just so you know where I am am when I am writing to you, or emailing etc. I think most of my friends back home would think/expect me to be in a full sari, with Indian music playing, and typing away. (Well, it is half true... I am listening to the music CD I found....)
This fan is both a blessing, and a sleep-aid. It makes a rhythmic noise while it spins, which helps to get me to sleep.
One of my walls.
The tiny window in an alcove above my head. I love the pebble design on it.
Above my head.
I had thee biggest chocolate craving in the world. And then I found someone selling Cadbury Silk. And then I didn't crave it so much anymore.
I took this photo of myself, as I feel so separated from the life I had back in NZ. When I looked at it, it helped me to remember who I am, and to bring everything back to reality. It is easy to feel like I am living in a dream here; sometimes bad, sometimes good, but disconnected from time.

Many firsts have happened this week.
I saw a man peeing on the side of the road right next to me for the first time.
I saw two grown men holding hands out of friendship for the first time.
I tried my first egg-roll (where have they been all my life?!).
I went to my first Bangla lesson.

There have been a few other things too. This week started off pretty down, because I was ill with a really bad migraine, a stiff neck, sore stomach, and aching eyes. I an better now, and we have been busy at work! I am now becoming a bit more independent in my work, giving Nate a bit of a chance to not stress so much, but I am still learning - which is a good thing! I love learning, but knowing that I understand what is being said, and that I enjoy it.

The ladies here at FS are just so lovely. They have the largest smiles, and they talk to us in Bangla, and either laugh or get frustrated when we can't figure out what they are saying. One of them, A, calls me 'Aana-di', because 'Alanna' is a bit hard for them to pronounce, and 'di' as a sign of respect. I love it.

Love you all.