Day 10: Kolkata
I fully admit that I didn’t know a lot about Mother Teresa before this trip. Sure, I knew that she worked with the poor in Kolkata, but that’s about it. The tour to her mission today, known as the Motherhouse, changed all that. We started with a visit to her tomb and then walked upstairs to visit the room where she lived, worked, and died. At first I was thinking that she and I had a lot in common, and I could probably do what she did. Then I read the sign that explained how she refused to get a fan even though her room was the hottest spot in the house located right over the kitchen. That’s when I started rethinking.
I really rethought when we visited the orphanage she founded. Even though Sumit had told us that we would see two groups of children, one with physical and mental disabilities and one group without, I was not prepared for the emotional impact as we walked through row after row of cribs holding bone thin young children with limbs involuntarily outstretched and eyes either staring vacantly into space or fixed on us like lasers as we walked by. Attendants rocked, soothed and touched them, but many of the children showed no apparent reaction to the contact. Heart wrenching doesn’t even come close to describing the experience, and I noticed almost all of our group members fighting back tears as best they could as we left the room.
The second room was a lot more hopeful. Beautiful babies and toddlers dressed in bright colors sang and smiled while attendants read books and played games with them. High Five proved itself to be the universal language of friendship as child after child raised their hands to greet each of us, sparkling eyes, joy, and excitement replacing the flat affect of the previous room. Sumit added to our hope by explaining that almost all of the children without disabilities find homes. Sadly, he was not able to say the same about the other group.
In an effort to cheer us up after such an emotional roller coaster, Sumit arranged for a little shopping time before we needed to catch our flight from Kolkata to Jaipur. Our gang of four was not particularly interested in shopping so we hung out at a very nice hotel restaurant and let the others fight off street vendors and negotiate their hearts out.
The flight to Jaipur was uneventful if you don’t count the cultural experience of trying to understand the airport security screening rules in a foreign country. Apparently, Eileen had packed a small Swiss Army knife primarily for the scissors function but accidentally placed it in Cindy’s carry on luggage. Of course they questioned Cindy about it, and the more she tried to explain, the more they became concerned. It ended up with them writing down Cindy’s name, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when they told her she could go without calling armed guards to escort her off to prison still pleading her innocence.
While all of our hotel rooms on this trip were very nice, none of us expected the full Maharaja treatment at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. It’s a real live former palace once owned by Indian royalty but now transformed into a fancy schmancy hotel. Each room is a little different than the other, and John’s and my room was a real show stopper. With bathroom sconces that could pass for street lamps, more marble than the Taj Mahal, and a balcony the size of our condo, we were treated like kings. As fun and exciting as it was to live in the lap of luxury, it wasn’t lost on us that this is a side of India that very few of its people ever have a chance to experience.
While we are in the habit of being intentionally grateful in our regular lives, visiting the Motherhouse and contrasting it to the opulence of the Rambagh Palace all in the same day was pretty heady. We knew that this conflict would come up for us, and decided to focus on the learning we’re taking away about ourselves and others. It’s clear to me that I’ll never be a Mother Teresa. But at least I can be inspired by her and be grateful for all the blessings in our life.