This post is part of a fifteen-day series covering my trip to Kolkata, India in May 2013. Some entries have been slightly edited for length or content, but they are mostly copied directly from my journal.

5:42am
Hotel Circular, Kolkata
Room 44

It feels strange not to be getting ready to go out this morning. My heat rash and sun poisoning isn’t hurting much now, and so I wonder, should I go out to volunteer anyway? But I need to be wise here, and conservative in my health choices, and I need to stay in to protect my skin. If this gets worse, it could ruin the rest of the trip. If I am okay at lunchtime, I’ll consider going out, but I won’t count on it. It might end up being a pretty boring day. I’m okay with that.

I slept well last night–probably my best sleep of the trip so far. I only woke a handful of times to check the clock or use the bathroom.

Because it’s Tuesday, we’re down to just today and four more full days here in the city. I still need to: shop for a few souvenirs, scatter Kevin Pratt-King’s ashes somewhere beautiful, and take the team for a good dinner at a place like Bar-B-Q on Park Street. Maybe if I feel okay today, Ill go over to New Market and do some shopping.

***

1:56pm

I don’t particularly want to stay inside all day, but my heat rash insists. I napped this morning, read, and evaluated the team budget before almost everyone came back for lunch. We ate together and made plans for the evening. We’re going to order Pizza Hut delivery and hang out in one of the rooms. I could go out for the afternoon on my own, but I’m worried about irritating my skin with heat and sweat. Staying in seems best, if boring.

***

9:01pm

I couldn’t do it! I couldn’t spend an entire day inside when I’m in a city like this. I don’t know when I’ll have this kind of opportunity again–I couldn’t just sit around.

I walked down to Park Street and went to the Oxford Bookstore. It’s how I remember it–cool air, full of books. I bought an Indian novel and a journal, and I browsed for a while. After, I walked down Chowringhee and remembered much of it from my previous visits to this city. It was good to be in a familiar area. Before this trip, I’d spent very little time on AJC Bose Rd, which is where we are staying now.

Shopping on Chowringhee

Shopping on Chowringhee

It was also pretty great to be out on my own. I like my team, but they like to do things as a big group, and it is stressful to walk and keep an eye on all of them. I’m constantly trying to make sure that everyone is together, no one is falling behind, no one looks dehydrated, no one is being bothered by anyone, etc. Instead of all that, I was able to just watch out for myself.

Selecting spices for Chalupa

Selecting spices for Chalupa

I ended up going to the shops that Shakiel, a New Market shopkeeper that my team has befriended, is associated with. I bought some things for myself, Mom, and Ruthie. I also bought some hot spices for Chalupa to cook with. When Shakiel learned that I am an English professor, he got really excited to talk with me about his graduate degree in English Literature. He asked if he could write something for me, and then composed a short statement on the importance of teachers in the lives of their students. It was really sweet.

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Shopping on Chowringhee

When it was close to dinner time, I caught an auto rickshaw back to the hotel.

It felt good to be out in the city on my own. It was such a contrast to the time I spent here as a teenager. I also felt very safe, despite the crowds. Crowds usually stress me out, and although my mental energy level is absurdly high while I navigate the people and cars and dogs and rickshaws, I never feel unsafe here during the daytime.

The students are beginning to get a little bit more adventurous, too! Nine days in and they are starting to venture out on their own for shopping, snacking, and errands. They’re making some independent decisions. Not a lot, but some!

A gallery of our Pizza Hut night:

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