People told me that if I stayed for three years, my lungs would be as black as a heavy smoker's lungs, thanks to the pollution.
I went anyway.
The pollution did not disappoint. I'd never seen anything like it. As my tattered taxi drove me from the airport into the center of town, my eyes must have been the size of American dinner plates. Away from the streets, frames of buildings where people--whole families, or perhaps a small population--lived on open floors. Half-finished high-rises--buildings without walls--had colorful sheets flying on all levels, with people walking and sitting and preparing dinner and...well, living...without the protection or privacy of walls.
Closer to the streets my taxi honked its way down, people walked along the sidewalk and the flattened grass next to the sidewalk. Impossibly thin young men with business pants and button-down shirts passed weary, wiry old men wearing nothing but a sheet of cloth on their bottom half. All wore a type of slip-on flip-flop, their toes happy to breath the not-so-fresh air.
Women were the colorful part of the scene. Dressed in saris or salwar suits, gaggles of girls ran through the sidewalks, their faces and noses and ears often glittering with jewelry that sparkled almost as much as their big smile. Older women wore similar clothes, but had less energy. The older the age, the slower they walked.
Gangs of dogs roamed these streets. They were scabby and scrawny; they must always be looking for and thinking about food. They panted and trotted with some sort of authority no dogs back home knew. These dogs had a hard life.
The heat wafted in through my taxi window, bringing the smells of the city: burning fire, car exhaust, human waste, and the new and indescribable smell of heat itself.
I saw life from the windows of that taxi unlike I'd ever seen it before.
I flew into the City of Joy knowing of the dirt, the crowdedness, the poverty, and the misery I'd find there.
I went anyway.
The first day of any challenge pales in comparison to my first day in Calcutta, which was more overwhelming because I was a silly young girl with a limited perspective and a million ideas on how things should work. But here I am, typing on my computer 18 years after first arriving there, rereading my old journals and old letters, trying to recall every sight and smell because I feel compelled to write and remember and add perspective to my experiences there. I aim to return to Calcutta through my journals and the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day to see what resurfaces for me, to see what stories come to my mind. It's like I'm refreshing myself and remembering and recalling. I have too much to do in my real life to do this--my house goes on the market in two days, we're moving across the country, my three kids need to eat and play every day, I work out every day--but...I can't not do this.
So, I'm writing anyway.