So much, too much.

This place has so many flavors, smells and tastes, but I’m beginning to get used to them. I still wake up with the heat of dawn, but I’m starting to get enough sleep, and my host mother – the woman is a saint – makes sures that I’m eating enough. I’m also eating more eggs than Rocky because she knows I like protein.

That said, my mucus is still permanently black from this city’s pollution. You take what you can get.

Every morning, I wake up to the sound of a rooster, not because my host family owns any livestock, but because – in the cricket field behind the flat where I’m staying – a squatter family lives. They don’t have many possessions – a few cooking pots, a lean-two that they sleep under and a few pairs of clothes each. They share the field with the neighborhood cricket teams. When practice is in session, the family has to make sure their cow doesn’t wander into the bowling path. It’s a strange form of symbiotic coexistence, but one that seems common here.

The other day, and I’m ashamed to admit this, I discovered that my host father in fact speaks perfect English. I had just been speaking too quickly too understand, and he was too shy to speak up. Now, our formerly awkward interactions which consisted of me trying to use my meager knowledge of Bangla to communicate, are much better. We hang out – and like men all over the world – bond over sports. He taught me about cricket, and I tried to  explain American Football, but despite my best efforts I don’t think I managed to communicate anything more than football is sort of like rugby where a possession can only end with someone being wrestled to the ground.  I realize now that football makes no sense.

Yesterday, I went to Julnia – a village outside Kolkata – to interview women who are part of the microfinance Self Help Groups (SHGs) the non-profit I work for runs in the region. Only 20km from Kolkata, its shocking how rural and isolated Julnia is.  The villagers, who are considered very well off by the standards of rural West Bengal, barely live above subsistence levels. The microfinance groups have allowed the women to start small agricultural projects and cottage industries – raising fish, keeping goats or sari weaving – but the income generation from those is minimal. The bulk ofthe village’s wealth comes from the manufacture of surgical scissors. The men of the village smelt them and them pound them into shape, so that they can be galvanized and polished at a factory in Kolkata. For them 3 days manufcaturing can earn them as much as a month’s work of farming.

I am still shocked by the poverty here.  So are the others in my group. While driving to the village, before we left Kolkata, we saw a homeless man whose skull had been broken open and whose flesh was exposed. Maybe it was a tumor; I don’t know. He was just wandering through the busy traffic. I don’t think anyone saw him. There is too much to see.  

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