It's Not All Glitz and Glamour

Aug 4, 2010

My most recent layover brought me to Kolkata, India. Generally speaking, I tend to dislike all flights to India. They tend to be at ridiculous hours of the night, they are always extremely busy, and we just head straight back to Dubai once we arrive. I wasn't sure what to expect from this trip, as it would be the very first time that I'd actually leave the aircraft in India.
The flight went by quickly. The passengers were polite and friendly, and most of them slept as it was the middle of the night. We landed in Kolkata and from the moment we stepped into the airport I could tell that it was definitely not a wealthy city. The airport was old and outdated, quite the contrast from most of the major airports I've been to. After an extremely long and
bumpy bus ride, we arrived at one of the nicest hotels I've stayed at so far. I settled into my room and snacked on the bowl of fruit provided on my desk. Some hotels, including this one provide a crew lounge. Usually it's a room with couches thrown in where a bed would normally be. Crew can hang out, have a few drinks, or use the internet. I opted for the internet, having withdrawals as it had been hours since I'd spoke to Ryan. Much to my frustration, I was unable to connect. Impatient and exhausted, I headed back to my room to take a nap.
I woke up starving, so I headed downstairs to meet up with 2 other crew members... Stela from Spain and Gabi from Brazil. The 3 of us indulged in the buffet, sampling Indian specialties as well as pizza and pasta. By the time we'd finished we we so full that we could have crawled right back
into bed. Instead, we went outside to catch a taxi to Mother Theresa's House. She had lived in Kolkata and we'd heard from a few people that we should visit if we had the chance. The half hour taxi ride was the scariest one of my life. We clung to our seats as we watched buses miss us by inches. After that ordeal I'm amazed that there are still Indian passengers afraid of flying. The sky seems like a pretty calm ride in comparison to their chaotic roads.
Our driver dropped us off and pointed us in the wrong direction. Fortunately, friendly locals directed us the right way. While walking we were overwhelmed by the extreme poverty in the area. Thin, impoverished people lined the sidewalks, putting their hands to their mouths in hopes that we'd have food to offer. It was heartbreaking to see, and after our huge buffet lunch we were feeling pretty guilty. People showered themselves using pails of dirty water. One young
boy who was approximately 2 years old ran up to us and grabbed our hands, walking with us. Wearing only a diaper, he chatted happily to us as if we were his new best friends. His mother approached us holding a small baby. The 3 of us looked at eachother, realizing that we didn't have it in us to walk away from them. Still holding the boy's hand, we approached a small shop where we forked over our meal allowance to pay for a large container of powdered milk and a baby bottle. The little boy happily clung to it, enthusiastically shouting "I have milk!! I have milk!!" He was as excited as any child back home would be on Christmas morning when they'd received just what they'd asked Santa for. The mother repeatedly thanked us, holding out her hand in gratitude. We continued walking, feeling both happy that we were able to help, but sad that people live in such terrible conditions. We finally reached our destination and we were welcomed inside by a nun. She showed us where to go and we headed inside. First, we walked
through a room with photos, stories, and objects once owned or used by Mother Theresa. We read about her amazing life and the many people she'd helped. Afterwards, we walked up the stairs to the room where she had lived. It was exactly as she'd left it, with a crown of thorns above her bed and a photo of her greeting the Pope. It was quite surreal. I've been to many sites where prominent people had once lived, but the majority of them had passed away years before I was born. I can still remember hearing about Mother Theresa and watching the news on the day that she died. Maybe the fact that it occurred within my lifetime made it a bit more touching... or maybe it was just the fact that she was an incredible woman who cared so deeply about helping the poor. Either way, it was quite the place to visit. Next, we headed to the room that housed her tomb. A nun offered us "Miraculous Medallions". Mother Theresa used to carry buckets full of the small medallions and hand them out to everyone she met, as a symbol of faith
and devotion. A few people sat praying beside the tomb, some wiping tears from their eyes. It wasn't the Eiffel Tower or the Red Square, or any typical sightseeing during a layover, but the 3 of us were happy that we'd went. We inquired about volunteer work at the orphanages nearby, as it's something I've always wanted to do. I spend so much of my life in fancy hotels, spending my money in shopping malls and on room service, maybe one day I'll take a less selfish vacation.
As we headed back into the streets we were once again bombarded with children begging for food. Adults surrounding them told us "Do not give them any money, give them food". We had limited funds and there was no possible way that we could help even a fraction of them. I had a bag of candy and we handed them out to children as we passed by, promising that we'd come back another time. We walked by the same family that we'd bought milk for. The baby sat in his
mother's arms with a giant grin on his face as he drank from his brand new bottle. It was a quiet ride back to our hotel. It was a bit difficult to enjoy the luxury of our plush accommodations after such an eye opening day. I headed back to my room, soaked in a bubble bath, and crawled into bed. It hadn't been a glamorous, fun layover as most are, but nonetheless I was glad that I had an opportunity to visit India and at the very least, help one extremely desperate family.


Christi said...

I see you are going to Cairo! I visited there in May/June and just to warn you, they drive like maniacs as well! They don't obey lights, lines in the road or anything of the sort. They just honk when they pass each other (AKA: constantly).

And if you get the chance to visit any museums never believe people on the street, who seem super polite, when they say "Oh right now it's prayer time for a half an hour... why don't you come see my shop in the mean time". Nothing closes for prayer time. :)

PatZ said...

Hah yeah traffic over there is a bit crazy, which could be the greatest understatement ever. While I was living in Dhaka, we used to make the new people staying with us ride in the front seat of taxis just to give them the full on experience of seeing the busses and trucks come right at them as well as the driver steering like mad and yelling.
We also didn't live in an affluent neighbourhood and were surrounded by shanties. Same thing with the kids there too, they just run up to you and suddenly you're their best friend. That was pretty cool.
I remember when I got back, the first time I went grocery shopping I stopped in the middle of the store and basically got depressed about the waste ad overabundance of things that people didn't need, without really even realizing how many people won't even get to see a tenth of that amount of food in their entire life.

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