The Bag Lady

I’ve reached a state of total exhaustion.


Between the heat, days that are frequently containing at least 10 or 11 hours of work, two consecutive whirlwind trips to Kolkata, and late night meetings with my boss, I am pretty much wiped out.


Sunday night I went to bed at 10pm or so, and didn’t wake up until my alarm went off at 7:30. Not only is nearly 10 hours of sleep, but most mornings I wake up around 6 because the sun is up and it is too hot to sleep anymore. Not the case on Monday morning. Anyway. Life will go on whether or not I am a little extra tired.



This last week or so has brought several interesting new developments.


Last Friday Darpan announced, “You are no longer a microfinance intern.” Hmmm. Ok, that was news to me… He went on to explain that for most of the rest of my time here at VSSU, I will be helping to compile a book that commemorates VSSU’s history and activities, which will also double as the annual report for this year. I met with Mr. Mondal on Friday and Saturday to discuss the book. He had created an outline of what sections he wanted the book to contain, but pretty much told me I am writing the whole thing. His target is for it to be about 60 pages long and to be 100% finished by the time I leave including cover designs, content, graphics… everything.


So I got to work. However, Saturday I only worked a half-day, so I didn’t get very far. But I finished at least one section, and then closed my computer and left the rest for Monday. On Saturday, I took the one o’clock train into Kolkata, which had me arriving at just about 3pm. Amit had organized an alumni event which he had invited all of the Wooster people in Kolkata to attend. This was going to be a little bit of a bigger gathering and more organized than the first couple of times we met, which were just for dinner. I went from the train station to my hotel (my usual hostel was booked up so I actually had quite a fancy room for the night… one night of luxury was pretty nice!), showered, and got dressed. The shower was spectacular. For one, it was the first hot shower I had had in 5 weeks (and the room had AC, so a hot shower was actually nice!). But more than that, the water and power had been out at VSSU for 24 hours which meant I had just been sitting around and sweating with no functioning fans, and then unable to bathe. So the shower at the hotel was excellent.


At about 6pm I got in a taxi and was quite proud of myself that I was able to find Amit’s club without too much of a problem. The gathering was low key but really nice. There were several current students in attendance- both students who are from Kolkata and a couple of us who are in the area for summer internships- several alumni, one incoming-freshman, and one prospective student. And of course, all of the family members. It is so easy for me to forget when I am away from campus, but this night was a great reminder for me about why I love Wooster so much. Sometimes during the semester I’ll call home and announce to my parents, “I had an I love Wooster moment today!” These moments usually revolve around an exceptional interaction with a professor, a random act of kindness from a fellow student, or some special opportunity that I have been provided just because I am a member of the Wooster network. This gathering in Kolkata was definitely an “I love Wooster moment”. Even though Amit was the only alum in attendance that I had met before, and I didn’t even know two of the current Wooster students that were there, there is just something about people who are affiliated with Wooster; they are fantastic and the friendliest group of people I have ever known. I 100% believe that Wooster people- past, present, and future- are a family. And it is a family that I am incredibly proud and humbled to be a part of.


Anyway, after a really enjoyable evening, Amit dropped me back at my hotel, I watched a movie on my laptop, and I passed out in my incredibly comfortable bed. In the morning I slept in a little bit since it was Sunday, and I knew nothing would be open before 11am or so anyway. After I ate breakfast, checked out of my room, and left my backpack in the luggage storage room, I got in a taxi headed for South City Mall. The people in my office jokingly asked me about 2 weeks ago if I would cook them an American dinner. I was completely serious and I said I would love to. One problem… the only things VSSU’s kitchen has are a gas stove, a wok, and a knife. Other than plates, that’s literally it. Challenge accepted. I emailed my mom asking what I could make with nothing but the stove, wok, and knife, and we came up with a decent menu. So, in the basement of South City Mall, home to a Marks and Spencers, I set out looking for the ingredients I would need to make fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pasta salad, and no-bake cookies. Amazingly, I found everything I needed. It did kind of crack me up though because several of the things I needed were found in the “gourmet” section of store. These items included Kraft Italian Dressing, peanut butter, corkscrew pasta, and poultry seasoning. Oh well, I found them!


That little outing took a while, so with my big bulky bag of groceries, I took a taxi back to my hotel, had a quick lunch, grabbed my backpack, and headed back to the train station.


The train ride that came next was the best I’ve had so far. The ladies compartment was PACKED. I feel like I say that every time I write about riding the train between Kolkata and Lakshmikantapur, but this time trumped them all. I really don’t even know how to explain it. For whatever reason, I was lucky enough to get a seat and be able to store my backpack up on the luggage rack. There was another row of seats facing mine, and at least a dozen women stood between these two rows of seats, stepping on our toes, and just trying desperately to stay standing despite the lack of hand-holds. After about 30 minutes, there was some shuffling. It took me a minute, but I finally realized that all the women that had been lucky enough to get seats were standing up to give some other women the chance to sit for a little bit. Of course, I also stood up, letting the woman who had been standing directly in front of me sit down.


Thankfully, when I stood up, I was the person standing closest to the luggage rack which was over my head, but that I was still able to use as a hand-hold as the train jerked along the tracks. Those of you that know me understand how important this was. I am clumsy to say the least; I am known for spilling all sorts of food and beverages on myself, falling up stairs, and generally injuring myself in ways that can be considered both remarkable and extremely embarrassing. So the hand-hold was a must-have. However, the poor women beside me then used me as a support. Oh lord. Two women had their hands on my shoulder, so whenever I would lean a little bit, they would nearly fall over. I felt terrible, but they seemed to be ok.



Then the really funny part started. One of the women behind me had to get off the train, and her luggage was on the rack right above my head. She pointed to a bag, and I grabbed it for her. A look of amazement struck all the women that watched this happen. I was tall enough to reach the luggage rack without standing on my tiptoes, or really having to reach too far at all. All the women around me were so short they had to stand on the seats to retrieve their bags. And therefore, for the rest of the trip, I was the bag lady. I really didn’t mind it at all, and the ladies around me got these huge smiles on their face when I would help someone get their luggage down. It was pretty funny, and when we finally arrived in Lakshmikantapur, one of the women who had been next to me the whole time patted me on the back and smiled at me as she walked away. Not a bad trip.



Sunday evening, I was back at the guesthouse, unpacked, with the laundry I had just washed drying in my room. I looked down at my feet and noticed that on my left foot I had two giant blisters, with red rings around them. Ugh. I don’t know what it is, but there is one type of bug bite here that is extremely itchy and turns to a blister when you scratch it. I can recognize them now, although they look remarkably similar to mosquito bites. I try to avoid touching them so they never reach the blister stage, but sometimes in my sleep I scratch them. Apparently that is what happened with the two on my feet. I cautiously popped the blisters and put some rubbing alcohol on them, and was very careful to not let anything touch them that night. Monday morning, I woke up and they were clearly infected. Goody. It has been especially hot and so my feet and ankles were swollen anyway, but with the infected blister/bug bites, my feet were so swollen I couldn’t get my shoes on… not even my flip flops. Today marks the third day in a row that I’ve been running around the village without shoes on, but I think they’re finally starting to get better. With a careful regimen of popping the blisters several times a day when they refill with the disgusting yellow/green fluid, treating that with rubbing alcohol, and then letting them air dry, I think tomorrow I might actually be able to fit some shoes on my feet. Hallelujah. But if this is the biggest medical problem I encounter while here (well, other than the heat rash that has been all over my legs since my first week here), I’ll consider this summer a success.


I’ve spent this week so far sitting at my desk and working on the book for Mr. Mondal. So yesterday, when I was sitting and writing the history of VSSU, I was quite surprised when a large group of fully armed members of the Indian military marched into the office. After asking a few questions, I learned that district elections are this Friday, and there are often “spats”. I didn’t see it in the news, but apparently in a nearby village three people were shot and killed a few days ago because of tensions related to the elections. So, VSSU is housing these military men in the guesthouse upstairs while they provide security in Ullon this week. Each time I see them walk by, it still surprises me because this is such a peaceful village, that the sight of so many armed men seems markedly out of place. It will be really interesting to see how everything goes on Friday.


Other than that, not much is going on!! I’ve been working on this book a lot, and while the initial writing is going relatively quickly, I am sure the editing will be a lengthy process, so I’m bracing myself for that. I attached just one picture below… the lovely current, prospective, incoming, and past students of Wooster!



This isn’t everyone, but at least a few of us from the Wooster gathering!


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