24 February 2008

City of Joy

Once again, I have had to take nearly every conceivable form of transport to haul myself out of Bangladesh and thrust myself back into Bharat (which you whites call India). In the morning, I woke early on a cruise ship in the middle Sundarbans. We took a brief rowboat trip up a river to find wildlife and then returned to motor our way back to stinky civilization. From the port, I was brought in one of those funny Toyota Noahs ("onebox" in "Japanese") to a dusty bus stand. From the bus stand, I was escorted in a jam-packed bus (I got to hang out the door!) to a dirty bus station. At the bus station, I changed to another bus. At the next bus station, somewhat less dirty, I changed to another bus, somewhat less comfortable. From the middle of the road where I was finally dropped off, I took a flatbed rickshaw down a polluted road to the border. At the border, I changed my taka back into rupees. Naturally, right after I did this, the bastards told me had to pay a 300 taka exit tax, and the blood rushed to my face. Also, I was told a few bus stations back that I had plenty of time for all this since the border closes at 8:30 pm. Knowing this to be a lie, I nevertheless reached the metal gate to India right as the guard was clinking the lock into place at 6:30. Mercifully, he let me in, and then a random guy ushered me through the somewhat confusing customs building (I wrote my name wrong once, then the date wrong, on two different forms.. sigh) before demanding baksheesh--welcome to India! Then (how many times do I have to write "then"?), I had to take another rickshaw to the nearest train station, 30 minutes away in the dark on an unlit road. Luckily, I got a train to Kolkata (also jam-packed and then some) right away, then a taxi to the dilapidated hotel neighborhood where I and my ilk sleep. I have no complaints about any of this. It's just an example of what I typically have to do to get around. And the weather was quite nice.

So, the Sundarbans. I really can't say it was worth what I paid (I as a backpacker, that is), but it was nice to be on a river for a few days and not have to worry about meals and travel logistics and so forth. We saw a giant crocodile the first day but no tigers at all. I think the guides were relieved about the latter. As for other wildlife, we only had four French children to keep us excited, our group consisting of a French expat family, a Danish consul, and me.

This morning, in Calcutta, I visited Motherhouse, the weird name for Mother Teresa's former abode and the headquarters of her evil regime. Inside, you can visit her bedroom (a bit like mine save photos of myself with the Pope), a reverential museum with relics from her life and descriptions of the heroic stands she took against legalized abortion and contraception, and her tomb (in a rare display of missionary wit, a sign out Motherhouse says that MT is "in"). A mass was underway in the chapel containing her tomb, so I watched, but I could not bring myself to take communion as I had done in Sapa, Vietnam. I thought if I did, I would cry. I'm not sure why I felt this way--perhaps I felt like a hypocrite, or I was overwhelmed by the thought of all those poor little babies who will die from hunger and disease because of Church policy. Anyway, I didn't want to draw any attention, especially from nuns. The Dark One takes many forms, my friends, the most insidious often the most alluring. Sorry, but I can't trust someone who claims to converse with Jesus and whose best friend is the Antichrist. The Martyr from Macedonia did say one thing I agree with, though: "poverty is freedom." I am hardly one to disagree. I think I've said it myself.

Directly across the street from Motherhouse is an internet cafe. I thought that was funny. I'd be writing this from there if the net hadn't cut out. Nothing else to report yet about Kolkata, but I like its vibe so far. The retro yellow taxis are adorable if taxis can be called adorable. And my hotel is full of Japanese!

I am considering ditching my current plans for June and July and studying Latin in Rome this summer instead. Considering. Does anyone have a friend there I can stay with? I'll do the dishes and make the cappuccinos!

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