Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gotta Catch that Train!

I often use this space to update you on my course in life, or even share meaningful moments I have had along the way.... but this time I want to just share an exciting story. So enjoy!

Beep-beep Beep-beep 5:45am my watch rang- it was time to begin our journey to Kolkata. Little did we know, the sound of my alarm also signaled the start of a race- a race to catch our train that had started boarding before we even left our beds. Unfamiliar with how to correctly read boarding times on our international train tickets, we leisurely enjoyed our granola and fruit breakfast, pleasantly surprised on how our taxi was a “minute early” at 6:29am to take us to our 7:15 departure. Tic tic tic. 6:29 we sat at a train station, a place packed with local peoples, cha venders, street children and disabled begging for our change, mosquitoes buzzing about us. The cha vendor assured us we were in the right place. Naively we plopped down in a pool of all our belongings to wait for our train. 7:13- I went to ask the conductor “Which side of the tracks we should wait at?” One look at my ticket, his face told it all- we were not in the right place.

(My friend Pip who we stayed with in Bangladesh while studying Bengali)

Clearing a path in the crowd, he pointed to the train across the way “Dhaka Containment station! Go!” In the chaos of the moment I gathered from his Bengali conversation with the observers that there were actually 2 train stations, international and domestic. A concerned observer stepped forward to lead the way. It was a boy, just crazy enough to believe we might make our train. I started to believe him too. At 7:15 (the time of our departure) we found ourselves running across train tracks with all our belongings to catch the wrong train that was headed towards the right station.

(I got a haircut in Bangladesh)

The train bellowed it’s horn, signaling that it the engine was turning it’s gears just as the girls loaded their gear on the train. Still on the platform, with 30pds on my back and 20 pounds in my hands of luggage, the train started to gain speed. My first attempt to jump aboard failed. I had too much weight to jump 2 feet onto a moving train- go figure. Recalling this scene in a movie I knew what to do next, I tossed my valuables into the carriage and pushed with all my strength to board the train again. Luckily, two men joined my efforts and pulled me and my pack inside to an upright position. Temporarily relieved, I looked at my watch….At 7:20 we were on the wrong train at the wrong time pulling away from the wrong station. We looked at each other. It was written all over our faces; the prospect of catching the only train this week to Kolkata was fading like our mistaken train station was into the distance behind us- faster and faster.

(7 layer tea in the Shrimongal Bangladesh gardens)

I searched our tickets, were no instructions about “what to do when you sit at the domestic station and miss your international train by an hour”. So we sent our silent prayers as we imagined another week in Dhaka. I looked over, the boy had not a worry on his face. Within minutes the train pulled up to a much nicer platform, one that made our last station look so obviously intended for domestic travel. Observers cheered us as we jumped across the 4 foot gap, luggage and all. When I turned around, a man pointed across the tracks at the most beautiful train I have ever seen- a modern steel carriage that contained our only hope of reaching Kolkata this day. “You have 3 minutes, Run!” he said.

So we scrambled off the platform, luggage and all once again, over the tracks and up again onto the platform of the other side. Men pointed the way, the boy ran ahead with our luggage. “No time, no time, run!” the observers cheered us on. Running past security, out of breath, handing our tickets to the customs officer felt like what I imagine it might feel like to cross the finish line of a triathlon. As we caught our breath, our little hero said not a word. He even refused to take any money for his help, but still we insisted. Without him we would be $60 short and another week in Bangladesh. It figures before our adventure in Kolkata even begins we would have an adventure in getting there. I can only hope the next six months have half as much excitement in store and that this is but a foreshadowing of how God will continue to provide for us along our way.

(Kolkata here we come!!!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Home, Away from Home, Away from Home

(view from the roof where I stayed in Nepal)

Nepal was just a few hours behind us when we entered a slum community in bangladesh. As we approached the outskirts of the vast community, I noticed we were ironically encircled by modern high-risers, the workplaces and homes of the nations wealthiest people. The slum conveniently located in this position to serve the domestic cleaning and hard-labor jobs of the wealthy. After the work of the day, it was as if the city divided itself into economically bi-polar communities.

From across the river, I saw little tin and scrap wood shacks help up on stilts hovering precariously above the polluted riverbed. My mind was plagued with questions... "Would a muslim slum be as hospitable as the hindu slum I just left? A month without bengali study, will I remember how to talk? Will this be a good experience for my 2 friends on their first night here?"

We descended into the narrow lanes, where the moonlight could no longer guide us. Tin walls lined the path as we stumbled over rocks and debris, side stepping around boiling pots of food or scattered ditches. Each doorway revealed a different story. People chatting on the floor of one, children playing in the next, a tired woman cleaning, a group of men playing cards after a long days work.

Within the first minute, just as I I began to wonder if our presence might not be welcomed, a woman stepped out of a doorway to greet us. Her name was Mukta and before I knew it we were sitting on her bed sipping tea. In homes this small, the bed is not only a place of sleep but fulfills the role of a kitchen table, a living room couch, a desk, and many other uses. She told us about her husbands illness, likely a case of TB, and her 8 year old son whom was mute, from a high fever years ago. All this was over plain conversation as we exchanged the details of our own lives with her. Surprisingly, my Bengali freely flowed out as if just yesterday I was in Sonagacchi. And somehow this tin shack felt a tinge like my India home. The walls and people were new, but the warm hospitality was exactly as I had remembered. The time passed easily, along with the tea. As conversation wound up we thanked Mukta and took our leave.

As we trailed out of the slum, to my surprise, a woman grabbed my arm and pulled me into her home. Startled and confused, we both burst into laughter. She quickly offered that I stay for dinner. Clearly subdued by her offer and or perhaps the hilarity of the situation, I pleaded that she go invite my friends to join us, whom were still walking ahead unaware of this pleasant kidnapping. Soon the five of us sat on the bed as the rest of the room filled with spectators. We spent the hour receiving bengali make-overs, eating rice and vegetables, and giggling at the spectacle we created. I left that night once again blessed by the generosity and kindness of the poor.

For the next month I am studying bengali 5 hours a day, an intensive effort to gain some much needed grammar and literacy before returning to my home in India. The school I am attending is called HEED (Health, Educated, and Environment Development) and does amazing work throughout Bangladesh. Check out the short video below to see a bit of HEED's work and how our daily lives in the west can help prevent natural disasters and love our neighbors better overseas.