Calcutta, India 2014.
The setting: the heart of Calcutta, where the poorest of the poor live in what can barely pass for a house. The time: summer 2014, when temperatures peaked at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The people: a group of Americans in the midst of a population that rarely sees outsiders come in.
To say that it was unusual for me to be there is an understatement.
When we finally landed after 30 hours of traveling, we were full of adrenaline and ready to go. However, immediately all five senses were overwhelmed at the same time. The smell was a mix of pollution, rotting meat, animals, unbathed people, feces, urine and many I am not even sure of. I could literally feel the humidity heavy on my skin as I sweat instantly because it was over 100 degrees with no air conditioning. The taste of pollution and humidity made me start coughing uncontrollably. All around, there was obnoxious honking from the insane amount of traffic. All I could see were people everywhere, traffic, animals, and buildings. Needless to say, I found myself missing the wide-open plains and fresh air of South Dakota.
The poverty is striking as people sleep, eat, bath and even die in the streets. There is garbage everywhere because there is no system for it. Cows, stray dogs and goats roam freely. Staring is a part of the culture and especially since we were a group of Americans, they stared a lot. There are vendors selling everything from clothes to fruit lining the streets. There are no enforced traffic laws so traveling was an adventure as pedestrians do not have the right of way. The people loved to say “Hello how are you?” as it was the only English they knew.
I soon started to call Kolkata home though and grew to love being there, craziness and all.
I go back to India often in my thoughts. The experience I had there transformed my way of thinking about the world and about myself. I will never forget the time I spent in a place that will hold a piece of me forever. What started out as a very unusual experience turned into one of the greatest blessings.
Photo Challenge: Unusual