I have resurfaced!

I had been living without internet for about two weeks until yesterday. My internet stick (often referred to as a dongle) is finally registered! Apparently there was an issue with registration so the five of us have been without liberal use of the internet for a while. It’s actually been kind of nice in some ways. I’ve been reading a lot lately. Mostly the paper and magazines. But it has definitely helped me stay connected with the world and just generally informed about what’s going on in India.

Moving out of the hotel was pretty sad. I didn’t realize how attached I had grown to the staff and the comfort of seeing familiar faces everyday. Nonetheless, it was time to move out and experience the real India and become a resident of Kolkata. I adore my apartment. Its a cozy private sanctuary where I can recharge after a long day out. Sometimes traveling from point A to point B can be really exhausting. Worthwhile, but exhausting. I live pretty close to the metro and a bunch of street vendors so it is really easy to run downstairs and grab a mango or a magazine. I remember the first time I saw the neighborhood, it seemed a bit chaotic to me. People are usually hanging out, cooking, eating, selling things, sewing things, ironing…just anything. But, that’s city life in India. Its a whole new hustle and bustle that I am still getting used to.

By the way, I am not teaching yet. I start on August 1st.  We have been going to intensive Bangla classes which are extremely helpful. I can now communicate with the auto-rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers, bus ticket collectors  shopkeepers and food vendors. I still can’t get much across with the caretaker of our building, the maid and the cook although I am getting there. I always love the beginning part of learning a language, where you can communicate a bit but you aren’t yet disillusioned by all the crazy grammar rules. I like to practice my Bangla when I buy fruit. Its still a little rough around the edges but I manage to get my point across. Language definitely comes in handy when taking public transportation too.

My roommate Stacia and I take the bus and an auto-rickshaw to our Bangla lessons. The bus is usually quite the experience. The ticket man hangs out the middle of the bus, and calls out destinations while the bus slowly cruises past the crowd of people that make up the “bus stop.” Sometimes the bus will stop.The bus itself is usually crowded way beyond capacity and I often find myself sharing sweat with a stranger, or 5. Sometimes we get lucky and catch the air conditioned airport bus on the way to Bangla. Its about 14 more rupees but it is worth it for the A/C and the smaller crowd. There also seem to be some unspoken do’s and dont’s on the bus that I had to learn the hard way, for example, don’t bring large objects onto the bus.

The first day of Bangla  class was also the day that we moved into our new apartments. After class, Stacia and I went to the bazaar to buy some household items for our new apartment. The featured items being four plastic bucket-like trash bins. After shopping we stuffed all of our other things ( sponges, rags, soap holders, etc.) into the buckets and decided that we would take the bus home. This was our first experience taking the bus in the opposite direction, so we didn’t know exactly what we were doing. We had been told by our facilitator that the buses that go to our neighborhood are usually white but we were very unsure. As a result, we decided to ask/yell, “Rabindra Sarovar” to every single bus ticket man as the buses coasted past us. So there we were at Gariahat Crossing, one of the busiest areas in Kolkata, running towards each bus with our hands full of buckets hollering at each ticket man. Perhaps I was just too proud to ask someone which bus would take us to our destination, but at the time hollering seemed like the logical thing to do. Finally, someone emerged from the “bus stop crowd” of people and finally helped us out by telling us which type of bus we were looking for. Of course, as he was talking to us, the correct bus emerged out of nowhere. So we hollered “Rabindra Sorovar” one final time to which the ticket man nodded yes. Then, we followed a mob of people, mostly men, onto the moving bus. It was, of course, crowded and I had no idea where Stacia was. I was positive that my buckets were going to break. It was kind of like moving with a stampede. Then once we got on the bus, the real show began. There was no space at all on this thing and I had two cylinder shaped trash cans, my purse and a plastic bag filled with hangers. Whenever someone had to pass by me to get out of the bus door, I had to shove all of my stuff into someone’s face and give them about 4 inches of room to pass me. It was beyond awkward. I knew it was a no no as soon as we got on. Early on in the bus ride, someone offered Stacia a seat. At first it didn’t phase me but then a few more minutes in, I realized that everyone was watching me struggle and no one was offering me a seat. Just like that, the universe responded and a man offered me his seat. Bless his soul. What came next was the epitome of sitcom awkwardness, except no one was there to laugh. The young man offered his window seat to me. I assumed that the man sitting on the outside of the seat would move in and let me sit on the edge so my bins and bags could spill over into the sea of bodies that consumed the middle aisle. Instead he stayed put and moved his knees to the side so I could pass through. So as the bus is jerking and speeding along, and as my buckets go hurling forward and back like an ungraceful pendulum, I shuffled past his skinny knees with my buckets and hangers to lock myself into this window seat position. So now I am locked in this window seat but I don’t have enough space to sit down so I am just standing and trying to assess how to sit down with all of these buckets and bags. I felt ridiculous, hopeless and slightly amused all at the same time. I had to work hard to stifle my giggles so that I didn’t appear crazy, as well. At one point I gave up trying to sit down and I just looked around at all the people staring at me. It was just too ridiculous. Each face was difficult to read. I couldn’t tell if they were laughing inside, if they were being critical or if they were simply just observing this foreigner with the buckets. I finally figured out how to sit down but by the time I figured that out, it was time to start making an exit plan to get off the bus. Luckily, it ended well, we got off at the right spot and proceeded to our new home.

Lesson learned. I guess it is kind of common sense to not board a bus with large awkwardly shaped objects. But somethings you have to learn the hard and funny way.

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