I'm so happy I have my old journals from my time in Kolkata, India. Last night as I turned the pages and read some of my over-the-top sentiments about the scenes I was witnessing, about the sweet boy I was falling for, about the bizarre food I was eating and its effects on my stomach, I came across my expenses for the entire trip.
The facts: I wanted to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity after graduating from college, so I took all of the graduation money my family generously gave me, changed it into Traveler's Checks (remember those?) and boarded a plane. (I had fundraised and earned enough money for the plane ticket.) My plan was to stay as long as I could--in the late 1990s, you could buy a plane ticket with a flexible return date, so I'd just schedule the date as I ran out of money.
I ended up staying for six months. Every four or five weeks, I would leave Kolkata to travel. I wanted to see as much of India as possible, and short breaks from the pollution and emotional difficulty of the work were good things. The first month, I took a train north to tea-infused Darjeeling, then took a bus west into Nepal, where I stayed in Katmandu and listened to trekkers tell wild tales. The second month I went to a quiet town on the coast, Puri, and saw where a huge hurricane left its mark. Next I headed to Agra, by way of busy Delhi, to see the unbelievably perfect Taj Mahal. Finally, six weeks before leaving, I took a train to Kerala, perched on the southern tip of India, and stayed with the family of one of the Sisters with whom I had been working. I rang in the New Year in a huge Catholic church, thanking God for last year's blessings and beginning the New Year with prayers and hope.
I lived in cheap hostels and ate at tourist dives, wrote dozens of letters home each month and bought used books in shops along Sudder Street in Kolkata. I drank Kingfisher with the other volunteers, laughing at the craziness of the city and trying to solve the big problems of the city and the world and humanity with my new friends from Germany, Argentina, Mexico, Ireland, and other countries.
How much did all this cost me? $880.
I've been thinking about that amount all day today, as I shopped at Cosco for my family of five (plus one puppy), as I wrote a check out for a new thingamajig we're putting into the garage, as I signed up for a special class at the Crossfit I frequent. It feels like life here in America--my life here in America--costs $880 a day.
Just trying to make sense of this one small figure and how it brought me so much.