Tuesday, August 21, 2007
After 20 hours in the air, I touched down in Louisville at 2:30 a.m. on Monday. When the cab pulled up to my East Louisville home, the first thing I saw was an Indian flag my husband had hung near our door.
Inside were a dozen roses.
I hugged and kissed him, then couldn't stop talking -- telling him as much as I could about my experiences, and asking about his, and how the kids were doing. I kissed my son and daughter while they were sleeping and finally hit the pillow around 4:30 a.m.
A few hours later, my 8-year-old son rushed in and hugged me so tight I could barely breathe, saying he loved me and telling me never to stay away so long.While I was gone, he had slept near a picture of me, which he covered with a blanket. I couldn't promise Aaron that I would never go on a long trip again, but I did tell him I missed him and thought of him just as much as he thought of me.
My five-year-old daughter woke up next and also rushed to me with hugs and kisses. I took them to school at Norton Elementary -- which they had started while I was gone -- and met their teachers for the first time.
All day, I was too pumped up to feel the jet lag. I kept thinking about how I feel different. America feels different.
I kept noticing the little things. From the air, I was surprised to see highways, which I hadn't seen for almost a month. In Chicago's O'Hare airport, a man yelled out an obscenity when his plane was delayed for a second time, reminding me of how such things bother us stressed-out Americans. The Louisville skyline at night looked so wealthy and polished. The cab was new, clean and air-conditioned and glided along well-maintained roads. The previous morning, I had left my Kolkata hotel in a cab out of the 1960s with towels over the ripped back seat, which stalled out at one point and bounced over potholes the entire way to the airport. At one point we passed a man leading a herd of goats on the road at 4 a.m.
I'm making the transition, sharing everything with my family and friends, planning out my stories and getting ready for meetings with editors.
But I'm also cherishing my memories -- like the last night, when our interpreter Manik threw us a party and we dressed in sarees, drank and ate Indian food, talked philosophically and joked about some of the crazier things we've been through. By the end of the night, Manik and his family and friends were singing Bengali songs, we were singing Nat King Cole, and everyone chimed in to sing Beatles songs and John Lennon's "Imagine." Then, like Cinderellas, we changed back into our Western clothes and left after midnight. We hugged goodbye, telling each other we would meet again. I truly hope we do.
I will keep such memories forever, and I also hope to use my experiences to help me be a better person. I've noticed I'm less stressful in my interactions with my family, and at work. I'm trying to get the most out of every moment and keep this newfound perspective on my life and my country. I'm trying to feel the full spectrum of life every day even when the pain and the joy are are not so close together and dramatic as they are in India.
I feel like India has given me back a depth of feeling and experience that had slowly slipped away -- at least a little -- over the years. I felt it most strongly on the first leg of the plane trip, when a warmth and a quietness washed over me and made me cry with joy. It filled an emptiness, made me feel fully alive. It made me swear to myself that I will always live this way.
txt全集下载posted by Laura Ungar at 5:26 PM
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Well, our time in Kolkata has come to an end. It has been an amazing journey thus far. I have learned a lot about India, America, and myself.I have also learned how truly important our jobs are. The many women we met that are dying of cervical cancer will now have a face and a voice from Laura's writing and my photographs. I am constantly surpised by the amount people will open up their home and personal details of their lives to strangers. Especially two Americans that do not speak their language. They have put their trust in us and it now our job to tell their story for others to learn from. I hope we can make a difference in their lives and the lives of their families and communities.
We spent our last night at our sweet interpreters home, Manek where his wife and daughter dressed us up in traditional Indian attire and we had Indian drinks and food. It was a great way to wrap up our time here. We have definitely made some lifelong friends.
It took a little while to embrace the way of life here. Kolkata isn’t what people in the U.S. would consider a pretty place. It is dirty, poor, polluted, and hectic. But, I find myself welcoming those attributes because without them you wouldn’t have the wonderful sense of culture and spirituality you find here. Nearly everyday we have seen all realms of life. From dying people in hospitals and children begging for food to an intimate traditional wedding and people praying the river.India has a way of pushing you to your limits in terms of patience and tolerance, but you seem to end up loving it. What I mean by this is just when you think you have seen the most awful scene you can imagine you see something beautiful and humbling. I suppose that is why they call India “the land of contrasts.”
Something else I love is, you never know what is going to happen on any given day. This is somewhat true in America, but I think we try to control things and act like we have life all figured out. Nothing, and I mean nothing seems like it is under control or restricted here. This is a little scary, because all the chaos can be maddening at times, but it can also be very exciting. You truly have no clue here. Some people might not like this, but I think it can be invigorating to be in a place that is so random and crazy rather than somewhere boring and organized.
I have heard from many people that you will either hate or love India. It took some time, but I can definitely say I love India and I will be back. My time is not up yet. I leave in a few hours to go to Varanasibefore returning to Louisville. Varanasi is known to be one of the oldest cities in the world and the last stop for Hindus pilgrimages. I suppose it suits well that I am spending my last few days there.
txt全集下载posted by Kylene Lloyd at 6:04 AM
Saturday, August 18, 2007
I have lived a lot of life in the past three weeks, soaking up all I could.
There are so many things that will stay with me.
The sights: Vibrant colors everywhere -- on the clothes people wear, joyful paintings on city buses, garlands of flowers adorning pictures of the gods. Rows of small shops open to the street, lit from inside at night, casting a warm glow on the streets.Tea houses with small stools where people sit barefoot and talk, clutching small warm cups.There's the fire, majesty, magic and warmth of an Indian wedding. Hands painted with henna. Villagers gathered to support one of their own suffering with cancer. People washing and praying in the Ganges as the sun rises.
There are other sights, too: Tarp-covered lean-tos up the street from our hotel, where poor families live an existence so meager I wonder how they survive. A naked baby less than a month old sleeping on a blanket on the sidewalk next to his mother. The skeletal people fading away at the Kalighat Home for the Dying and Destitute, being ushered into death by kind volunteers and followers of Mother Teresa.
The smells: Incense wafting into a hospital ward to soothe patients, or into a shop to entice buyers. Cooking fires, spices and lime juice. Exhaust.
The sounds: High-pitched voices of women singing Indian songs. The neighbor's alarm clock playing: "It's a Small World." The Muslim call to prayer ringing through the steets at 4 a.m. The pleas of beggars. The shouts of vendors. The conversations in Bengali. The constant car horns. The squeaky bicycle horns. The clacks of hand-pulled rickshaws. The joyful chants of Hindu prayer sung in unison by many voices.
What I touched and felt: The warm head of a beggar's baby placed against my shoulder, making my eyes fill with tears. The feel in my hands of a green coconut given to me by villagers, and the taste of the juice. The rocking of the old train as it headed toward a village. The bumps of an autorickshaw making its way down a narrow, red-brick street.
I have learned so much in a short time. Watching people quietly just make there way through monsoon rains and crazy traffic, I started letting go of my own stress. Participating in conversations that quickly turn deep reminded me of the need to live deeply all the time. Seeing the sincerity in people's eyes when they say "God bless you" reminded me to fill all of my own words with meaning. Waiting while people sewed packages shut reminded me of the meditation of patience.
So many times, I felt like I saw the spectrum of human experience in a single day. There was celebration and tragedy, great joy and beauty, then great pain and ugliness. It stretched my mind, my perspective, my emotions.
I have an awesome responsibility now. I am working on the huge international story of cervical cancer in India. I feel like I will be giving voice to many whose voices are mostly unheard, beautiful people who are dying around my age, leaving children behind. I can only hope that I can do justice to this story, for them and for everyone.
But long after the stories are written and published, India will remain with me. It has helped shake me out of routine, widen my perspective, become a deeper, more sincere person, a better observer, a better listener. It has shown me in a very real way that even in places so different the basics, the feelings, the suffering and the joy are the same. It has given me new friendships. It has reminded me to look at things anew and find adventure in every day.
While today is an ending, it's a beginning too. India has changed me, and even as I say goodbye, it will always be in my heart.
Friday, August 17, 2007
This morning we awoke to the sound of raindrops on our windows -- first a few, then many.
I strained to look down at the street, but couldn't see it from our third-floor room. People told us the streets flood quickly after monsoon season rains.
And so they do.
We walked out of our hotel with our reporting and photography gear and our umbrellas, and soon realized there was a foot of water in the street. I ran back to the room for a poncho to protect Kylene's equipment and some rain shoes for myself.
Then we ventured into the water.
It was brown with mud and dirt from the road. Wrappers from chewing tobacco and other products floated by. I stepped into some sort of hole under the water, so for a few seconds I was in water at least two feet deep. Drivers of hand-pulled rickshaws shouted to us and other foreigners, constantly asking if we needed a ride. They probably thought we were crazy when we said no. But we wanted to experience something of the hardships of the monsoon.
Everyone had warned us that we would be constantly battling rain. About a week after we got here, serious flooding north of Kolkata caused all sorts of problems in villages there. Just yesterday, a cancer doctor with whom we have been spending a lot of time told us about driving through water that reached higher than the bottom of his car windows. But until today, there has been barely a shower in Kolkata since we've been here. In fact, the sprinkles that came down while were going places in cabs would magically clear up the minute we got out. So we were hoping for at least a little taste of what monsoon season means.
It didn't seem to stop the shopkeepers or drivers. Kylene and I have noticed that people here don't get as stressed-out about such things as we Americans do; they just keep going. Shopkeepers sat on their counters to stay out of the rain, and kept selling their wares. Taxis drove right through it, and bicycles did too. Kids walked through it, laughing and playing. Rickshaw-pullers just kept pulling.
By the time we finished breakfast, the water had subsided -- but not before it had given us another memory.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Seven steps together
The bride was late to the wedding, and the groom looked at his watch.
Then the groom, Biswajit Sarkar, 19, sat down on a plastic chair near some family and friends in a small wedding hall with a concrete floor. Bengali music featuring the sehnai, a kind of flute, played from speakers. After several minutes, his 19-year-old bride, Chandana Khastugir, arrived and was guided to aregal maroon chair. She wore a red-and-gold dress and a matching veil, and her hands were intricately decorated with henna for the occassion. On her wrists were gold bracelets. Female relatives lifted her veil to place necklaces on her. At one point, the brides mother sang out in a tone reserved for auspicious occassions, her tongue moving up and down in her open mouth.
Meanwhile, the groom sat on a pad on the ground on another part of the room separated from the bride's area by a piece of fabric. The father of the bride sat nearby, giving his daughter away.
This was a traditional Bengali Hindu wedding, and we were there to observe an important part in the life cycle of women. Women's lives, their place in society and their marriages all figure into our story on cervical cancer.
As we watched, the bride and groom finally came together. The bride hid her eyes with leaves at first, then moved them away, signifying the first moment she saw her husband-to-be. Friends and family held a cloth above the two. They exchanged garlands of flowers.
Then the bride sat on a small decorated pad across from the groom. Near them were flowers, leaves andholy water from the Ganges River. The priest placed stones on a red-and-white cloth that had been ripped in two -- three stones representing three Hindu gods.
Finally, the priest lit a fire, pouring ghee into it. The room grew hotter. The bride poured puffed rice onto the fire, causing it to grow even more. Her groom held her arms from behind. They took seven steps together -- steps meant to lead to togetherness.
Then came the most sacred part. The groom took vermillion and painted his bride's forhead with a red mark to signify that she is now a married woman. She smiled shyly, then looked up. She was stepping into a new phase of life.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Independence Day pride
We arrived back in Kolkata about midnight last night, just in time to wake up to India's 60th Independence Day.
We noticed small touches immediately: little green, white and orange flags hung on strings criss-crossing Sudder Street, and an Indian flag decorated by flower petals.
Later in the morning we attended several celebrations -- the first one the main Independence Day ceremony for the state of West Bengal. A police honor guard, followed by young men and women from the National Cadet Corps, marched into a blocked-off portion of the road. Then the chief minister of West Bengal, dressed in traditional Bengali clothes, hoisted the flag. A police band played the national anthem.
Then a choir began to sing a patriotic song in a more traditional Indian style, with a sitar, a harmonium and an Indian drum. A woman in a saree shook her head with feeling as she sang in Bengali. Our translator said the song went something like this: "India is a land full of flowers and crops. I'd like to be here my whole life."
Even though it was morning, the sun was extremely strong, the humidity oppressive. At one point, a young man passed out from the heat, and police carried him into a government building as camera's flashed.
Kylene and I, still recovering from our stomach problems, also struggled with the heat. But it didn't stop us. We continued to other ceremonies in which dignitaries place garlands of flowers at the base of statues. The second statue was of Mahatma Gandhi, "father of the nation." In the statue, he walked with a staff. Below were the words: "In the midst of death life persists/ In the midst of untruth truth persists/ In the midst of darkness light persists."
Gandhi's grandson, the current governor of West Bengal, placed a garland of flowers at the base of the great man's statue and folded his hands together in the traditional Indian prayerful greeting. Then he told the press that 60 years after becoming independent of British rule, Gandi's philosophy of non-violence is still relevant and should be practiced today.
Certainly much has changed in 60 years. The newspapers here carried stories comparing then to now. One particularly startling statistic was the average life span, which went from 30 years old in 1947 to about 65 today. On the editorial pages, opinion editors argued that much still needs to change. But they also said there's a lot to be proud of. I would certainly agree. Even in my relatively short time here, I know that India can teach the world much about depth of feeling and philosophy, tolerance, love, sincerity and joy.
And today, the country's pride shined. In the translated words of the choir's patriotic song: "You wouldn't find anything like this country anywhere in the world."
Monday, August 13, 2007
Riding in an auto rickshaw yesterday, I saw some graffitti on a brick wall that said: "Down with the USA."
It was the first time I'd detected any anti-American sentiment in India. And it was odd to see it in Bangalore, which seems so much more Westernized than Kolkata.
Uma Devi, a gynecological oncologist we have been interviewing, told us that Bangalore used to be a much different place, green with trees and not as crowded as it is today. Now, it has many multinational information technology companies. Probably half of the people we see dress in Western clothes. There are stores like Benetton in addition to the Indian craft shops.
While I'm sure many residents welcome the new wealth, I can't imagine everyone likes the changes they've seen. Maybe that explains the graffitti.
Sick in Bangalore
I got sick yesterday.
The day after an extremely spicy dinner, I had terrible stomach cramps and a few other symptoms of tummy trouble that I won't get into. At dinner, all I could eat was soup broth.I felt feverish and exhausted and actually had to leave the restaurant early because I was shaking with chills. I figure maybe I caught something on the airplane from Kolkata in addition to my reaction to spicy food. I don't know.
I almost always get sick when I travel somewhere for a long period of time; I was sick for a month when I moved from Delaware to Kentucky three years ago.
After a good night's sleep and some ibuprofen, I feel better this morning -- although my energy level is still lower than usual.
This just in -- Kylene seems to have come down with it, too. She feels achy, and is taking a rest before going out on our next interview. Maybe we can both sleep on the way back to Kolkata this evening.