From Coffee to Chai
See you soon.

Leaving Kolkata in 24 hours, I am ready to come home. But it’s so crazy to me that this is where I’ve spent five months of my life, five formative months, a place where I’ve changed and learned and grown, yet most of the people who matter most in my life will never get to see it. They will never get to go to the places that I feel such a strong connection to. They will never get to meet my family here, the girls at Loreto. India is a part of me that I don’t think I will ever really be able to explain to someone who hasn’t been here.

I want to bring Emily and Emily and Sara to College Street, to take a look at the books books books. I want Courtney to see the flowers here and tell me what the names of the various trees are. I want Julia to come to Loreto and meet little Paramitra – who poses and dances and performs more than you did when you were a little girl. And I want you to come here and get used to living in a big city – the U will feel like Smalltown, USA next year. Emma, you could start some major green initiatives here, if you could get past the bureaucracies of the place, which I have no doubt you would do. Dad, you would love the sweets and I’d be interested to see if even you could eat enough to satisfy Indians. (“Eat more eat more. Such small eaters.”) Mom, I want you to see me being assertive, to know that I do not get walked on over here and can elbow harassing men in the stomach pretty easily. And you’d love the prices and random assortment of everything – garage-saling every day! Terry and Lori, I want you to eat the food here! I want to search the city for M&Ms with the Albrechts. Taylor, I want you to see all the bikes here and the things they carry on them. “A whole new workout for cyclists: Today we’re going to transport 25 live chickens on our bikes!” And you and Joanna and Lacy and emily, I want you to taste the Bengali sweets and find out that compared to them, cookie dough really doesn’t have all that much sugar and when we eat a batch or two, it’s really not that bad for us at all. Britt, I want you to try the masala chai here, and see if it is up to your liking. Taylor, I want you to see the largest octagonal church in India and their Easter Vigil mass. I also want to see you and Katie ride in an auto-rickshaw. I want everyone to see how cute and stoic Indian babies are. All my res life women, Steph and Sarah and Sara, Anika, I want you to see them change the bulletin boards at Loreto weekly and with such fine detail. Granted, there are 300 of them… I want to go to the planetarium with Ali and Kate and Emily. Laura, you need to taste Little Reena’s cheese omelets - I think you’d approve, even if they are only cheese. And I want to see CoCo running late through the Indian crowds. Sarah, I want you to try the seafood here, and see how it compares to the East Coast (prawn curry, perchance?).

Most of all, I want everyone to experience feeling grateful for the heat, because at least you have a home to back to after the day is over, to feel the joy of recklessly giving away an ice cream cone, yet still feeling guilty because you know that you can always always do more. A student from St. Xavier’s said as we left the rural village (so long ago!), “We live a life of luxury in Kolkata.” But then, compared to the US, it’s not a life of luxury. And Minnesota is a good place to live in the US – lots of welfare programs, less poverty, good education. And then here we all are from the middle, upper-middle class. And on top of that we have families that support us and have instilled good values in us, who skype us and care for us. And I just realized that we are at the top of the top of the top of the apex of the pyramid. “We are the 99%?” No, we are the 99% of the 98th percentile. But how do you ever get that across to someone? You can’t just say, “Hey, you’re so lucky, you know that?” It doesn’t sink in. How will I be able to teach my kids just how lucky they are? How do you teach that? That even if I have the worst day possible, I am so lucky?

I’ve always been a homebody, but I guess the best way to teach that is for people to travel. To meet new people. To see the world and learn just how lucky you really are. Maybe even go to India, where the contrasts are extreme, allowing you to truly see and be thankful. Where the old and new, the traditional and modern, meet and mix in the most confusing ways, confusing you more every day. Where the metros and jeeps and buses are packed to the brim, but the friends you’re with make every moment a memory. (This is actually a quote from a little known show of Garrison Keillor’s, set in India, which went off the air before Lake Woebegon came to life.)

As I’m packing up and preparing to leave this country tomorrow, possibly forever, I am so very thankful for every experience I’ve had, every person I’ve met, and all those back home who have loved me, prepared me for this journey, skyped and emailed me, and even sent me birthday cards. I hope that I never forget how lucky I am.

Love, simply,
Rachel

Where I left my heart in Kolkata.  Loreto Sealdah Day School and our Sanlaap girls.  Walking away from here was the hardest thing I had to do in India yet. 

Where I left my heart in Kolkata.  Loreto Sealdah Day School and our Sanlaap girls.  Walking away from here was the hardest thing I had to do in India yet. 

(More pictures, in which some I believe you can see the sweat dripping down my face, in front of the camera lens.

Despite that, I’m going to miss this place.)

Overdue pictures from long ago.  Click on the link to see them!

Things I’ll miss about India:

  • Being able to go outside and just buy a bag of chips for 20 cents
  • The price of food!
  • Great Indian and Chinese and Lebanese and Burmese food
  • The colors and the prints and patterns
  • MY FAMILY
  • The brashness, say-it-like-it-is attitude, in which people say what is true, not in a mean way, but not in a let’s-tiptoe-here demeanor
  • Bourbon cookies
  • Gariahat market
  • Rocking those early buses to Loreto
  • LORETO
    o   The Rainbow girls: Rijiya, Priyanka, Durgi, Arpita
    o   Our Sanlaap girls: Ria and her constant chorus of pagol (which means crazy/mad - she’s always calling us that) Banty, Mantu, Khaleda, China and her work ethic and perseverence
    o   The changing bulletin boards as we walk up to the 4th floor – always done in impeccable cursive
    o   The way they love Baby’s Day Out
    o   Being called pagol multiple times a day (it’s not just Ria)
  • The fact that every single day I am forced to think about poverty, forced to realize how lucky I am
  • Darjeeling
  • The Indian ocean in Puri
  • The songs and music at church (sample lyrics: “All the stars that twinkle in the sky/All the waves in the ocean/All the worms that wiggle by/We praise you Lord…end with some keyboard drums”)
  • The way everything is asked to be done “kindly”

Love from India,
Rachel

 

Wickets and Overs

April 28
Today I went to a cricket match at Eden Gardens Stadium!  It was so much fun!  I loved the atmosphere, the game itself (which I think I’m finally starting to understand) and the people who we went with.  It reminded me so much of a Twins’ Game back in the United States.  They did “the wave” and had much more stamina than US crowds – “the wave” went on for a very long time.  It was very much like something in the United States.  Except, since this is India, everyone was extreme.  They were all waving flags and wearing jerseys.  The advertisements were also extreme.  They were everywhere, on everything.  People wore little Vodaphone visors that must have been given out.  They held out “4” and “6” cards (the number of runs scored when the ball hits the outer edge or goes into the crowd) that had advertisements about the Kolkata Police.  The guards were extreme as well.  Courtney couldn’t even take her camera in.  We finally found a nice police officer to hold on to her battery during the game so she wouldn’t have to give it to some young kids who were collecting items to “keep safe” (seemed very sketchy). It was crazy, but also crazy fun.

Love from a new Kolkata Knight Riders fan,
Rachel

P.S. We won. 

Convenience.

Being in India makes me realize how much US culture is built on this, on convenience, on what is easiest for each person at each moment.  It’s not something I realized until I started to live here, where things are decidedly different. 

Some examples: The large refrigerators, the way we have cupboards full of food for the days to come so we don’t have to go to the grocery store each day.  That is not how it’s done in India.  Everything is smaller and made that day.  If there are leftovers, they are eaten for breakfast the next morning – but usually there aren’t any, because the right proportion was made to begin with.  Large open spaces – why are our houses so big?  Don’t we only need a bedroom and a bathroom and one living space?  Why do we have multiple floors filled with things?  Unnecessary things.  Here, they unplug everything when done using it and even turn off their power outlets.  It takes just a few extra seconds to do this before you are able to use your microwave.  The washer we use is a small washer, much much smaller.  And it takes longer.  There’s no dryer, just a spinner.  Here in Kolkata, drying really isn’t necessary.  But it sure would be more convenient.  And bucket showers are perfectly acceptable.  I’m able to take a shower using less than two buckets of water, which is a lot less than I ever used showering in the US.  (And if it can clean you of the India dirt and dust, trust me, it can clean you in the US.)   

The whole culture of America is built on convenience.  Are we that hurried that everything needs to be done as quick as possible in the most efficient way possible?  Is that the goal of life?  Or is this the price of progress?  Would people argue this is why the United States has been able to grow and prosper, because we’re able to expend our energy on other things?  We don’t have to hang out our clothes to dry.  We don’t have to make a trip to the store every day.  We have more time to do other things. 

But it’s definitely a trade-off.  This past semester, I lived in an apartment for the first time, having my own kitchen and making my own food.  For the most part of the semester, I just snacked.  Honestly, I hardly used any of my small meal plan nor did I cook anything substantial (unless you count Mac & Cheese).  But then I came to the conclusion that if I couldn’t make time to cook my own food – something which has been basic to survival since the dawn of woman and man– what kind of life am I living?  How am I going so fast as to not have time to stop and prepare food, to give my body sustenance?  Do I really have that much to do? 

So I’m not really sure where exactly I stand on the whole convenience issue.  Because I do really like dryers.  And cupboards full of food so that I can snack late at night as I do my homework.  But at the same time, I really appreciate the more simple way of doing things here in India.  (Simple as in less-appliances, more human work.  Because nothing is truly simple as there are bureaucratic inefficiencies, long explanations, and multiple sides to every story here).  I appreciate how much I’ve learned I don’t need in life.  

But I wonder how long that will last back in the US, when I’m surrounded again by things and conveniences?  

Love from an inconvenient post,
Rachel

Who’d a known?

Things I never thought I’d do in India:

  • Fit 14 people in a jeep. and enjoy it.
  • Sit in a small air-conditioned shop called Just Baked, sneaking peanuts, and praying that the workers don’t see us eating “outside food” so we don’t have to go back out into the heat
  • Struggle to find someone to break a one dollar bill (50 rupees note)
  • Coo and caw and wave at every baby I see – why are they all so adorable?! (except the one with the enormous head that gets walked by our house, staring creepily out of his stroller)
  • Become a wildlife warrior
  • Learn to be a decent barterer
  • Have multiple dreams (the count is now at 4) about coming home unexpectedly early from India and not having gotten gifts for everyone I love
  • Take one look at Kelsey’s dress – with one inch straps and fitting like a pillowcase, with leggings underneath – and say, “yep, too scandalous”
  • Hear over and over how good of a move Baby’s Day Out is – from children ages 6 to 62 – and be proud to have seen it (but, yes, it is a good movie)
  • Hear the song “My Heart Will Go On” more than I ever have before in my life – at the metro, at Café Coffee Day, by Kate at a Saraswati Puja, by Becca at our talent show
  • Become a regular customer at the eye clinic across the street, where they sell soda and chips
  • In this city of 15 million, just so happen to get on the same metro, in the same car, as not one, but two other groups of CSB/SJU students - all three groups of us getting on at different metro stations.  Woah.

Love from unexpected happenings in India,
Rachel

April 14
Shubo nobo borsho!  Happy Bengali New Year!  For me, Bengali New Year was a day of good food and saris. 

P.S. I’m up and at ‘em and doing great now!

Bye bye iron stomach.

April 11

Sick sick sick.  So this is what it feels like. 
Gross. Tired. Turns out I haven’t been missing out on anything.

So what was it?  I think it was a combination of things.  1. The heat.  It’s so hot, and I’ve never been good with the heat.  I am the first person to run inside to the air conditioning.  I’ve been good here – India comes with a strict “no complaining” guideline – but it’s just been so hot.  I’ve been crabby too, probably a little because of the heat.  2.  Also probably a little because of stress – we’re almost done!  Only a month left! There are still things I want to do, gifts I need to buy, people to see and spend time with.  This is where I’ll have spent 5 months of my life and very soon I will be leaving it, possibly forever.  3.  Also, I’m guessing I ate something, because there is no reason that heat and stress would make that much food go right through my body.  Ten times a day, at least, on the toilet for the past four days is too much.  (Sorry if that was too much information.  Here in India, we hang with the same 15 people all the time and I no longer have any sense of what is appropriate to talk about.  Digestion is a regular topic of conversation.) I don’t know what bug I got, but it must have been a good one if it was able to break through my iron stomach. However, the doctor came tonight and just gave my Kelsey - who is worse than me - and me some probiotics to take.  Hopefully I’ll be better in no time!

Love from a no longer iron stomach,
Rachel

Pictures from Hyderabad! 
Please note that the sweat that formed the second you stepped outside is not visible in these pictures. 

Hyderabad, South India

April 4 - 9

We got up early and flew to Hyderabad on the morning of the 4th.  So early.  4:30am early.  No nap.  Lovin’ on my coffee.  Hyderabad is located in mid-Southern India. A summary of Hyderabad:

  • Looked all over for palace ruins (it used to be one of the richest areas, a princely state independent from the British in the world before it became a part of India in 1948), but spotted only graveyards that I falsely thought were ruins at first.  Interesting thing about the graveyards: they are Hindu graveyards, which I found unusual since Hindus are cremated. 
  • Verrrry hot down there.
  • I want to live in a castle. 
  • Large proportion of Muslims (around 30% of the population.
  • So many advertisements - everywhere, every surface possible. 
  • The largest number of Western brand stores I’ve seen in India – the usuals, plus Papa John’s, Hanes’, Hard Rock Café, Steve Madden, and an unusually large number of McDonald’s
  • High tech city = VERY high tech - all skyscrapers and shine and gloss, no roadside vendors or chip stands.
  • It’s HOT.
  • Combination of heat + something I ate = Rachel is India-sick sick for the first time.  But we were in a very nice hotel, so I was able to relax and recover. 
  • Did I mention the heat?
  • Made a trip to Easter Vigil mass at the largest octagonal church in Asia.  We also think it may have been theonlyoctagonal church in Asia.  Complete with neon crosses and lights across the whole front ofthe church that lit up and blinked when Jesus rose.  Alleluia!

Love from the heat of Hyderabad,
Rachel

Proof.
Figure 1, top: The “hand spider” in all its hairy glory, perched in the corner of the wall of Stephanie and Kelsey’s bedroom.

Figure 2, bottom: A close-up of the hand spider.  I will spare you the fun of the super close-up in which you can see all the hair and eyes.  If you would like to see this picture, please email rlziegler@csbsju.edu, along with a doctor’s note saying your heart is in good health, and a waiver form stating you asked to see it and will deal with the consequences. 

This is not a joke.

April 1

This is no April Fool’s Day joke.  What follows is 100% true.  I don’t think you will believe me, so I have also posted pictures to convince you that this tale I am spinning is accurate. 

This story takes place on the night of Sunday, April 1.  As with most good stories,  it starts when our family left the house.  They had a birthday party.  We were home alone.  Kate and I were doing homework when we heard Steph and Kelsey call our names.  “You have to come in here and see this.  You have to!!”  Neither Kate nor I had any intention of going in, especially after the snake scare the night before (see summary in paragraph below), but were finally finagled into it. What we saw is in Figure 1, above. 

There
was a spider as big as my hand in Kelsey and Stephanie’s room.  Apparently last year, the group called it the “hand spider.”  Why they did not kill it though, remains unanswered. 

Soon after seeing it I realized we needed to launch an attack.  If we all left, fled to the other room, the spider could be gone upon returning to the room.  Stephanie and Kelsey would never be able to sleep again.  I know I wouldn’t.  I chose my weapon: a squeegee.  Before hitting it, I was told to practice my accuracy and strength on the opposite wall.  I hit the wall a couple of times before the screaming started.  I turned around to see the spider scurrying along the wall, scared by the vibrations I had made.  It was fleeing.  As it scuttled across the top of the wall toward the side I was on, I gave a battle cry and aimed my squeegee at it.  I missed the first time, but managed to knock it on the second hit.  However, this just made it fall onto Kelsey’s bed and scuttle to the mess underneath.  (This appears to be a wildlife hotspot, as the snake also slithered here.  Did I forget to tell you about the snake? A summary: small snake, not that scary, family freaks out, situation suddenly becomes very scary, “is it poisonous?” gets no answer, neighbor’s groundskeeper called over, snake is finally removed, we are requested to sleep upstairs that night, the next day the house is sprayed with carbonic acid supposedly killing all living things, said carbonic acid actually just brings animals out of the walls and into the house as they flee, rat and hand spider sightings ensue.)

Anyways, what followed was 30 minutes of constant vigilance, constant goose-bumps, almost-constant screaming, and the occasional full-body shiver.  Kate and Kelsey stayed in the main room, Steph hovered near the door on a chair, while I stayed perched in the room on a chair.  Steph and I managed to get the spider to come out a couple of times by poking under the bed and shaking the frame.  But it scampered back down each time.  Finally we got out the toxic all-insect killer.  Once I sprayed the drain with this and the next morning there were four dead cockroaches on the bathroom floor – this was serious stuff.  We sprayed it liberally.  But the spider didn’t move again.  It was either dead upon breathing in the fumes or one smart spidey.  Suddenly though, Steph poked the right spot and it scurried out.  It ran behind the dresser.  I jumped down from my chair to hand Steph the spray.  She sprayed and we watched.  Nothing.  She hit the dresser.  Nothing.  Once more.  Suddenly it raced out.  It was on the floor, I was on the floor.  I brought the squeegee down and with a stroke of luck, landed right on the spider.  I didn’t want to move, afraid it was not really dead, but just caught.  Slowly, Steph and I peeled the squeegee off the floor.  Figure 2, above, shows what we saw. 

So the spider was dead.  The hunt was over.  When our family came home, they uttered an “Oh my gud!” upon seeing the wreck of the main area of our level – clothes from Kelsey’s bed, as well as the sheets and blankets were piled all over as we had extracted them earlier, thinking that the spider had maybe been hiding inside.  They listened to our story and thanks to the physical evidence, didn’t take it for an April Fool’s Day joke.  You too, I hope are convinced.  While I am proud I killed the spider, you must not think I am some sort of brave animal-hunter.  I merely did what had to be done and screamed pretty much the entire time.  I still get goose bumps and the occasional shiver when thinking about it.  I could handle the lizards (so cute now!), cockroaches (I killed three with my shoe before we sprayed the drain), rat, and snake, but this “garden spider” as Arundhati calls it, put me over the edge.  I think I am now wild-lifed-out.  

Love from your squeegee wielding, spider killing,
Rachel

Bon-joo-er!

March 28-29, Chandannagar

We ventured to the house of one of my friends here, Asmita Chandra, who stayed with me over fall break last semester. when she was visiting the States.  She lives in her ancestral home in Chandannagar.  It is an old French colony that only recently became part of India in 1950, three years after independence.  (However, I’d like to note that the French-est thing we encountered was an Indian man yelling, “Bon-joo-er!” at us as we rode past.)  It was a great trip.  After a two hour journey consisting of a bus ride, a ferry ride(that was just for fun), and a train ride, we were in Chandannagar.  We then were to take a “rickshaw” to her house.  I was picturing an auto rickshaw.  But, no.  In Chandannagar they use actual cycle rickshaws.  “You ride these everyday home?” I asked her in awe.  “Yes…” she replied.  “Well, no, I have my own rickshaw.”  She has her own rickshaw and rickshaw man!  He lives in the old “servant quarters” of the house with his family.  Yes, there were servant quarters.  Her house was huge!  Bedroom opened into bedroom into bedroom.  There were 16 bedrooms!  The house is so big there are two staircases to get upstairs – a front one and a back one.  She has a backyard and two kitchens and a rooftop terrace and a terrace off of her bedroom. I want to grow up there, running around, playing the most epic games of hide and seek ever.  This is a place where hiding under the bed would actually be a valid tactic, as there would be so many beds to check you might never get found. Sadly, we did not get a chance to play while we were there.  Next time I visit an ancestral home. 

Love from Chandannagar,
Rachel