I have signed up for a 6 month volunteering with Jesuit Missions UK, the mission of the Society of Jesus in the North of India at this present moment is to educate some of the poorest groups. In Dumka India, the Jesuits of Santal society has set up a Collegiate, providing education from high school level to some education at university level, this provides a brilliant oppurtunity for the santal tribe to get a good education, I will be teaching english and maybe a little bit of maths, to help the school with the mission that goes on here in Dumka.
I’ve been in India for 3 days now, I’m still trying to process everything that I’ve experienced so far. I travelled from dartmoor and left for London last friday and on the Sunday my flight was booked for Kolkata India. I landed in Kolkata on Monday, the flight took roughly 13 hours, stopping at Dubai on the way. When we landed in Kolkata we were warmly greeted by a Jesuit, as soon as I left the airport the air hit me, it was really hot, roughly 34°C and with a very high humidity, I was glad to be wearing a linen shirt but I was still feeling the heat and the humidity.
We got into the taxi, forget about seatbelts in India and forget about fixed taxi fares; the funniest experience of taxi fare bartering I had witnessed was the next day, we got a taxi to the Victoria memorial and the taxi driver told us one price outside the car and then a different one once inside and started moving, so some intense bartering took place, the Jesuit acompaning us even played the ‘I’m jumping out of the moving vehicle’ card to lower down the price. It’s all drama and my co volunteer and I found it quite amusing at the time. This sort of hassle and argumentation can be quite common here but the people are very kind, quick fire but quickly forgiven and fotgotten.
Back to the story, we got into the taxi From the airport, the car was filled with incense left over from looked like morning prayer, there was an idol of some sorts in the front. The driving was somewhat like what you would see in a Mario cart game, everyone trying to get in front of each other in a very chaotic fashion, constantly beeping horns, swerving and cutting eachother off, even in a dual carriage way with no turn offs for miles. I have never experienced anything like it, it was scary, comical and fairly exciting. We got to the hostel, the term hostel in India actually means university halls. The Jesuits run hostels in the city to provide cheap accommodation for those studying in Kolkata.
We got there and rested for a few hours while the temperature was very hot. I woke up after about an hour of sleep and decided to walk in Kolkata by myself for an hour or so, the hostel was is one of the poorest areas of the city, very close to where the missions of Charity are based, the order that Saint Theresa of Kolkata set up, I knew where it was so I walked there. On the way I passed so many different market stores, some that spilled over onto the payment, selling all sorts of items, from car horns, car parts, bags, clothes, so many different foods, goats, chickens and even a parrot. The pavements were absolutely packed, some were just sleeping and some working; I have never seen so many people on a pavement and especially selling all these wild items. Mavouvering through that was challenging, especially when there was a busy road, but people just walk out slowly and the cars sort of flow around them, of course with horns beeping.
The people I passed did stare quite a bit, I suppose they don’t see many foreigners in Kolkata, especially in that part of the city. But I got many smiles as well, one boy selling car tyres even shook my hand to say hello. I eventually got to the missions of charity centre, quite a small place just off the busy road. I entered and took my shoes off and there before me was Saint Teresa’s tomb, I knelt down prayed a decade and a few prayers. Visitng the missions of Charity centre and seeing the people Saint teresa dealt with with my own eyes really put this place in a new persepective and it has been in my mind ever since, espeically when walking back to the hostel.
After the walk we went out to queen Victoria’s memorial and then had some delicious Indian kebabs in quite a nice restaurant. The street food we walked past looked and smelled so good but I wouldn’t have been able to digest such things given the hygiene standards and not being used to the local bacteria. The Bengali people love to come out in the evening and fill the streets, listening to music, eating different foods and even do a bit of shopping in the markets.
After our meal we went to sleep to wake up at 4 am to get an early train, to make out way to Dumka. The train took 4 hours and we arrived in Rampurhat and then we met the superior of Jesuits in the school, another Jesuit priest. We got in a jeep and made our way to dumka on the road.
We stopped off at a Jesuit run alternative Medicine centre, we had a coffee, an Indian omelet, some nime and some raw garlic. Nime is twig from a certain tree that you chew and prevents gum problems and leaves you quite fresh, it doesn’t remove enamel like floride based toothpaste does. 2 raw cloves of garlic a day reduces cholesterol and also is great thing to prevent malaria from mosquitos, mosquitos hate garlic. After our stop, we drove to dumka and had lunch with the provincial, a delicious curry with some ice cream as a treat. I have never seen ice cream melt so quickly. After lunch we got to the school, only a few kilometres away. We set up our rooms and since the collegiate is only 3 years old, some of the class rooms haven’t been filled so we have a class room each to stay in as a bedroom.
For the past 2 days we have been mostly relaxing, getting used to the time zone and the climate, We traveled into town, to dumka a few times to register and pick up a few items. Yesterday, when the cows eventually cleared the road, we went to pick up some fresh local curd and stopped when we saw some elephants near the town centre.
It’s been a very interesting 3 days, I can’t imagine what I will experince in 6 months living here. I’m currently writing this on a balcony in the shade with finally a cool breeze, winter is coming. I can see the pupils happily playing basket ball and volley ball, they look especially happy since they just finished their last exams today. The school has now broken up for a 2 week period of major festivals. I’m looking forward to start teaching when the kids come back.