Wake up. Sweat. Get out of bed. Sweat. Shower. Sweat. Not just a standard start, but a guaranteed start to a day in Kolkata. Mornings are hectic. Thirteen Volunteers milling around, trying to get ready for the day. Leave the house. Stop off at the shop across the road. Get the supplies for the day. Have a bit of banter with the staff because you do not have change. Same argument. Different day. The journey begins.
The five minute walk to the train station. Wave to the kids on the street as they shout, ‘HELLO! HOW ARE YOU? Delighted with themselves that they are speaking English with a Westerner. Wait on the platform. Find shade. Embrace the stares of the locals. Prepare yourself for boarding the train. Elbows out. Here comes the shove. Find whatever space you can. More stares. Chat to the other passengers. Tell them your story. Assure them you love their country and you are being treated well. Politely decline the passing salesmen. You don’t need Tiger-Balm today. Look out the window. Appreciate the beautiful surroundings. One hour later, you’re at your stop. Taldi.
Wait for Ashis and Apurna, your teachers. Walk between the huts to your school. Wave to the kids as they come running up to greet you. Let the fun begin. One room. 5 metres x 15 metres. 60 children. No electricity.
Try not to smile, Rejaul is pulling a face while everyone else has their eyes closed for the national anthem. Can’t encourage him. But it is hilarious.
Half the children are learning English. The other half, Bengali. One hour. Swap. They’ve remembered what you taught them yesterday! The future of Mensa. Lunch. Apurna has brought food from home. Hoping your own mother isn’t within ear shot, you tell Apurna she is the best cook in the world. The kids eat what they brought from home. They drag you up to play. The game is irrelevant. Football. Cricket. Chasing. It will end with 7 children climbing on top of you.
Nap time. The children rest as well. Games. Songs. Dancing. The kids are having the time of their lives. So are you. School finishes.
Community visits. Talk to the families. Back to school. Quality time with the teachers. More food. Time to go home. Knackered. Train is quieter. Not as much fun. But at least you have a seat.
Talk to your teaching partner. Your new best friend. Discuss the day. Plan for the next. Prepare your materials. Good craic. It’s Friday. Team dinner tonight. Meeting with the other team after. Shower. Sweat.
– Simon Walsh, who volunteered with Suas’ partner Sabuj Sangha on the Suas Volunteer Programme