Tuesday, May 22, 2012

India, Part 1: The Overview

Late Saturday night (early Saturday morning here) we were welcomed to India at a crowded airport with no pick-up drivers in sight. We'd been through many bumps already on the journey and should have expected the many more to come.  We had almost missed our flight across the Atlantic and had to run through Newark's airport to make the flight. And the layover in Mumbai had had it's own set of security personnel involving antics. But now, we were safe in Kolkata with no one but fifty strange taxi drivers to welcome us. 

Our hosts were waiting at the International terminal and somehow we had been sent to the domestic. Soon the phone rang and our hosts arrived to whisk us through crowded streets to an upscale hotel in a nicer part of town. Shampa, our sweet hostess, came the next morning and poured out wisdom and charmed us with her not-so-thickly accented English. We had two stops that day to different villages to visit children before our Monday morning train departure for Bokaro where we'd be teaching. The houses we visited that day were small and packed with children. We listened to their Bengali songs, told an impromptu moral story and took in everything about this new culture. There were dirt roads and thatched houses, people bathing in not-so-clean water and cows running across the roads. 

We learned that Kolkata has a population of about 15 million people including the surrounding suburbs. And during weekdays, some 60 million people pack the city to work. People were everywhere. In beautiful saris, on bikes and rickshaws and motorcycles. Crammed on buses. Sitting, walking, sleeping and congregating on the roads. And we all noted on our first day that the women and children of India are incredibly beautiful!

Early Monday morning we were up with the sun and the sun rises early in India! Around 4:30 a.m. we were packing bags and ready for our drivers who arrived at 5 to take us to the train station for our 6 hour ride west to Bokaro (Bo-kar-o). Getting to the station took us through packed roads and streets lined with sleeping people.  Once we were settled into an air conditioned coach car feeling quite spoiled, we departed for first-time-ever train rides (for many of us). We were excited and we had no idea what incredible children were waiting!!

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