Hello all. We arrived safely in Kolkata yesterday morning around 9am. The drive from the aiport to Mercy Hospital was an adventure. For the first time in my life I actually think I might have a sliver of appreciation for Highway Patrol in the States. It's pure madness on the roads here, and I love it. Signs along the road say things such as, "Alert today, alive tomorrow," and let me tell you, they are neither kidding nor exaggerating. After getting settled in at the visitor center (our home for the next two weeks) we enjoyed a delicious lunch. I left for this trip expecting to lose a few pounds...I was mistaken. One of the sweet men who works here told us yesterday, "We want people to weigh themselves at the airport when they arrive, and again when they leave. If you gain weight, we have done our job and we are very happy. If you lose weight, you must come back again soon so we can feed you more." :)
After lunch we headed over to the hospital which is about 100 yards from the visitor center. Mercy Hospital has been serving the people of Kolkata since 1977. I'm amazed and overwhelmed by the selfless work of the Buntains. The walls of the hospital are lined with photos of children who would not be alive without the service of the hospital. After leaving the hospital we walked around the streets for a while, and then ventured over to one of Mother Teresa's homes where we signed up to volunteer later this week. There are six homes throughout the city. We will be working with street children as well as spending time in hospice care. The thought of holding the hand of someone who could be dead within weeks, days, or even hours, is overwhelming.
We arrived back at the visitor center, and we were all losing steam quickly. At that point we had been awake for two days straight, and we were all incredibly weary. We decided to take a nap around 4:30pm. We woke up at 6:30am this morning. I wish I could say that 14 hours of sleep made me feel refreshed...I would be lying. My head still feels foggy, and my body is angry at me, but I'm too excited to care about fatigue. In about an hour we will have orientation with another group who just arrived last night from Hawaii. I am anxiously anticipating all that will take place over the next couple weeks.
This part of India is incredibly dark and complex. People don't smile. I've traveled quite a bit, and I've seen my share of poverty. It all pales in comparison to the streets of Kolkata. I've interacted with individuals from third world countries that are stricken by poverty and yet an underlying happiness exists in their lives. An aura of joy and gratefulness hovers over them. This is far from true in Kolkata. These are sad, lonely people in need of so much love. We met a nice man on the plane ride from Amsterdam to Delhi. He was born in Bangalore, but has lived in the States for years. He's an incredibly brilliant and wealthy engineer. He knew nothing of Kolkata. He has never been. The dichotomy of wealth and poverty in this country is unprecedented. Some individuals from our group experienced deep sadness from what we have seen thus far. I, on the other hand, feel incredibly hopeful. I've felt strangely at peace since we arrived. I don't look at the darkness of this city from a negative perspective. Instead, I see all the opportunities to help. Being a part of such a beautiful vision-even if only for two weeks-is a privilege unlike any other. I am getting the sense that my connection with this city will last well beyond these two weeks. I have a heart for this place. As we walked back to the visitor center yesterday, my eyes locked with a little boy on the street. His ratty clothes, dirt-smeared body, and bare feet did not draw me to him. It was his face that enraptured me. He was smiling. As I walked past him, he maneuvered in and out of food stands, jumped over dogs, and quickly brushed past people to keep up with me. I couldn't stop staring at him. His infectious smile was the first I had seen since our arrival. It filled me with so much hope.
The pictures included are snapshots from the bus on the way to the hospital, and a few from the rooftop of the hospital. I will continue to update this as often as possible.
Love to you all.