Monday, 5 September 2011


Shuulei holding her younger brother, me, and her two friends.

After 3 years of planning in conjunction with Celebration Church, one of KCM's most fervent dreams came true! A small medical team travelled from Celebration Church in Denver, Colorado to serve the people of the slums alongside KCM. It was a 3-day program, each day dedicated to the 3 slums KCM works in (Durgan Nagher, Promod Nagher and Baghmari). 

As the medical team worked away, the rest of us interacted with and played with the slum children who were standing around watching. The members from Celebration Church had brought bottles of bubbles, sidewalk chalk, balloons, and construction paper, and the kids went crazy! It was amazing to see what little things could bring them such joy. 

I was sitting on a plastic chair off to the side resting for a bit when I noticed a girl in a pink dress, along with two other young girls, standing beside me. By that time I had learned a little Bangla (Bengali) and was fairly comfortable trying it out. 

"Tomar naam ki?" I asked the girl in the pink dress. (What is your name?) Her face registered surprise as she replied, "Shuulei." (After this she excitedly rambled on for a bit in Bangla...I think maybe she was saying she was surprised I could speak Bengali, but I'm not entirely sure..) 

"Tomar boyosh kotoh?" (how old are you?) 
"Aat!" (eight) 
"Amaar naam Phoebe." (My name is Phoebe) 

After this brief exchange, we spoke for a while in whatever Bangla I knew and the English that she could understand. We talked about the randomest things....our favourite colours (hers was laal - red, and mine neel - blue) and our favourite flowers (hers were roses and lotus, mine sunflowers). As we talked I was constantly surprised at her maturity; she was such a young girl but carried herself with such dignity and grace. When the other kids started popping the balloons she reached over and grabbed one, chastising them with a firm voice. (I'm not sure what she said but they stopped after that!)

In all of 20 minutes, we'd managed to cover our ages, family members, favourite colours/flowers/foods/animals as well as commenting on my saalwar and where I'd bought it. 

Suddenly she grabbed my hand, and gestured off towards the main road of the slum, saying something in Bengali enthusiastically. Eventually I realized she wanted me to visit her home, and so I followed her across the slum, stopping at one of the small homes along the road. Stepping on bricks laid at intervals across the mud path, we arrived at her doorstep and took off our shoes to enter. 

I walked into her home and she led me to one of the bedrooms, the walls covered with images of Hindu gods and goddesses, one large bed in the middle of the room and a few shelves lining the walls. She took out a photo album and pointed to the people, saying "Me." when we got to a photo of an adorable, chubby-cheeked toddler in traditional Indian clothing. We laughed as I tried to guess who she was pointing at, and I unofficially met her entire family through the photo album. 

As we left her house, we walked back to where the medical camp was set up and as we made our way there she pointed at things at random, naming them for me. 

She pointed at a tree we were walking under. "Bhaat tree."
"Ooh, naam....bhaat?" (Ooh, name...bhaat?)
"Haa, bhaat tree." (Yes, bhaat tree)

We walked past a flock of chickens and they started squawking when we walked by.

"Muurgi! Chickens." I laughed.
"Haa! Muurgi!" She agreed, laughing with me. (Yes! Chickens!)

We walked in silence for a while, and then suddenly she asked in English,

"Do you love God?"

A million things ran through my head. Was she referring to the God I loved and served? Or was she referring to the hundreds of other gods Hindus worshipped, often lumping Christ into a kaleidoscope collection of higher beings? 

"Yes," I said simply. "do you?"

I had no idea what her response to that might be. I held my breath and waited as she looked away briefly, contemplating my question. 

"Yes." she said suddenly, looking straight at me. "I love Him very much."

That was the first day in Kolkata, in which I realized I didn't want to leave. 

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