Erin Saunders, '02 and an anthropology major, sent this email to her family and friends on March 1, 2001. She was writing from Calcutta where she was on the Service Learning semester.
Dear Family and Friends,
Each day the temperature crawls upwards and the humidity follows along. Now THIS is how I had expected Calcutta to feel. But after being spoiled with their "winter" weather, the heat is an adjustment. Calcuttans pride themselves on resilience and in every sense I have to give them that- temperature, noise, pollution, rains of the monsoon, persevering through whatever life doles out...it really is an amazing feature.
I've done a bit of traveling this past month to spice up the experience. One weekend we visited a famous school and museum of a much loved, world renown Bengali - Rabidranath Tagore. We also visited some villages and spent an afternoon touring the countryside on bikes. This past weekend, my entire program of 9 students went to a beach area with some interesting Hindu temples. I caught the sun rise over the Indian ocean as boats set out for their work that day and many people gathered in prayer along the shore. Then again, we rode bikes along the ocean. My roommate and I have found that renting these old-style, one gear bicycles is one of our favorite activities. It really throws you into the bustle as you squeek around motorcycles, pull off for trucks, and avoid collisions with the cattle carts pulling mustard seed or bamboo poles. People are so generous with time and eager to chat or just offer smiles and "hellos" along the way. Pulling off into empty roads can provide some of the best adventures.
So there are some of my travels. The only other trip left is up to Darjeeling to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas if this epidemic clears out. It's always nice to return home to Calcutta and get back into the rhythm of service in the mornings and class in the afternoon.
Working with the children has taught me a great deal about caring for anyone - esp. those who are malnourished, disabled, or diseased. Each child brings a whole new story and life to the place. Their strength and determination inspire me. Those days when my body aches and I'm all complainy, the kids help me reset my priorities. My favorite, Suparna, returned home. A few have left and others have come. Well, I could write about these guys for ages, but suffice it to say that the service has been the BEST part of my experience here.
Classes are good, but a bit unstructured at times. I learn so much just from being here, but am slightly disappointed with the program. The learning just is not fully developed or organized well. But part of that is the relaxed structure of the program. There's just a lot to learn and I still feel like I know so little about India! Yet, I LOVE class and look forward to it.
It's so hard to figure out what to include in these things. My host family has been just wonderful and the best means to understanding the culture better. I've been able to attend Indian weddings, participate in different festivals and religious holidays, wear a sari (always a challenge!), and eat lots of yummy Indian food. It's a definite challenge to live in the bustling city and adjust to all life's twists and turns here, but invigorating at the same time! If it weren't for all the love sent from you all, it wouldn't be the same. The cards, letters, emails, and prayers are MUCH appreciated.
This is a random comment, but they don't say 'thank you' much here. That is one thing I have not been able to change. We just say thanks all the time - my professors, family, or whoever finds it funny. SO I won't say thanks for support, I've been cheesy enough anyways :) . May the snow continue to melt and the sun start giving you warmth! Maybe you can take some from here...
Lots of Love,