Volunteering with Missionaries of Charity, Heading to a Leprosy Colony, and Setting Plans for the Future

Day 43

Kolkata, India

Volunteering with Missionaries of Charity

I think I have found another profession in case the whole writing gig doesn’t eventually work out. I’m a pretty darn good barber. I have been doing quite a bit of shaving the past few days and have started to enjoy it. The men I have been working with all have pure hearts even if sometimes it is hard to see underneath the dirt, sadness, and blank stares.

So far working at the Missionaries of Charity hospice in Kalighat has been a good experience. A perfect balance of difficulty, not too tough but not too easy as well. I work only with the male patients and have started to break the ice with most of them. There are currently around 30-40 and the same with females in a separate ward.

Each day, I start off doing laundry with the other volunteers, washing the soiled clothes and sheets from the day before, mostly just stringing out the soapy water and then tossing them into another cleaner pool of water to be strung once again. After that, I spend some time bouncing around and seeing how each one is doing. A lot of them don’t talk at all and have either some form of dementia or another disease that doesn’t allow them to communicate well. This on top of my lack of Bengali makes it difficult, but when I talk with the eyes and the heart, the messages eventually make it through.

After this, the patients go through having their bandages replaced and their wounds covered in creams and balms. Some are a little gruesome, not going to lie. At the same time, we hand out medicine to all the patients and help to crush some into small pieces for those who can’t chew so well. Once the medicine is taken care of, then the fun begins! Shaving! At first it was a bit difficult for me as I had never shaved another person. I was worried I was going to cut them so I was pretty slow and I was not used to the blades, which take a few more strokes then the Mach-3 that I used to use in the states.

It is such an intimate process and is a great time for me to use my presence and metta with the patients. They have to relax and have full trust in me and I put 100% of my attention into the process. I think they notice the extra love and care that I put into the job. At the end, as a joke, I have started saying “thickee bis rupay” and rubbing my fingers together, which means “Ok 20 rupees,” in Hindi. I then smile and tell them it is a joke, after which they start cracking up laughing. It is quite funny.

After shaving, the volunteers take a tea break and afterwards lunch is brought down and served to the men. It is probably their favorite time of day as they get to eat fish, rice, and very tasty mangos. Most of the men can eat on their own, but many can’t. I have to spoon-feed some of the men, but they can usually only eat a little.

One great story happened today. There was a man who arrived recently and I saw yesterday for the first time. He has been a very angry man, but I can tell also quite intelligent. He speaks pretty good English and seems to be more lucid than the other patients. Yesterday, he was throwing food and a tantrum about random things like he didn’t like when people touched him and he didn’t like the food (granted he was angry about being served fish when he doesn’t eat fish). Today he continued his angry streak and so I decided to send him some attention and metta. My French friend Emory had been trying to win him over the past few days but to no avail.

I sat next to him and just started talking to him, telling him I knew he spoke good English so he could understand me. I asked him why he was so angry and if he wanted to leave, but he would not respond. He would constantly just face the other direction when I tried to look at him. Anyways, today at lunch I kept smiling at him and I was being extra nice with him. Emory, at tea break had mentioned that his goal was to become friends with him before he left the end of this month.

I had an idea. I gave him a really nice looking mango and slowly he started to change. At the end of lunch he was so happy. He asked me to come near and he waved his hand for me to come close. He whispered to me, “I enjoyed that mango to my heart’s content!” Haha… it made me feel really good. He had made quite a mess on his clothes and so I had to change him into new ones, but the whole time he was smiling. I eventually took him to his bed so he could take a nap and Emory was surprised to see him change so much. As I was leaving I saw the two of them sitting next to each other on his bed and they were having a nice conversation. Dharma works!

Tomorrow is the volunteer’s day off, so the sisters are taking a big group to a leprosy colony about a 2 hour drive outside of Kolkata. I am going to go because I am interested in seeing how they live. Seems very Che Guevara-esque in The Motorcylce Diaries. Like inside the hospice, I don’t think I will be able to take pictures, but I’ll keep a mental note of what I see and feel when I am there.

Volunteering in Auroville

I am currently in the process of finding a volunteer opportunity in Auroville, outside of Pondicherry beginning around June 15th. I signed up for one, but I have not been accepted yet. It is working for an organic bakery called the Ganesh Bakery near the Matrimandir, which is a huge crystal ball meditation room or so I have read. Perhaps, it is fate as I have wanted to learn how to bake bread for some time and I have a Ganesh tattoo on my left arm.

I am hoping that I can do a work-for-housing exchange to keep my expense account from dipping too low. Otherwise, I will look for somewhere that it is possible. The account after this week will be around $350. One good piece of news is that my train ticket is now confirmed after I was on the wait-list for the past week. This will save me around 1,000 rupees from having to book a taktal or “emergency” ticket. Feels good to have my own bed this time 🙂

Voting on the next country is finished! The winner: Sri Lanka!


With only a month and a half before I leave India, I decided it was time that I should go ahead and book the ticket to my next destination. If I waited any longer, the ticket may become too expensive for my budget. I was lucky and found a ticket for under $50 from Madurai, India to Colombo, Sri Lanka through SpiceJet. Furthermore, I signed up for the e-visa and just got an approval confirmation.

A plane ticket and a visa for under $80 is pretty amazing and will ensure that the journey continues after India. I will start looking for volunteer opportunities in Sri Lanka and that way as long as I have around $100 left by the time I leave India, I won’t have to start using my own money (even if no more donations come in).

Overall, everything is going well. I have been thinking of starting writing some longer fictional short stories just as practice for myself. I am in a very neutral phase in my meditation with lots of clarity, and am happy with the direction everything is going.

Hope everyone has a great day!

Photo courtesy of zaletic’s Flicker account.

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This American Sadhu

Wandering traveler, writing a story, contemplating spiritual stuff, living austere, and helping random strangers... all rolled into ONE. What fun!

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