Rachel Berlowe Binder from Duke University is currently working in Calcutta as a volunteer at Future Hope from June this year. She experienced Calcutta in all her authenticity with Calcutta Walks on a tour with Explorer Ramanuj.
We are happy to feature her blog on her experiences with us. You can follow the post on https://sites.duke.edu/engagekolkata/2017/06/20/food-faith/
June 20, 2017
Food & Faith
‘Hi! My name is Rachel and I’m a rising junior from Chevy Chase, MD. Today, our day started at 6:45 am, as we met outside Transit House to make our way over to the start of our walking tour of Kolkata. Our tour guide, Ram, led us through the city, weaving through people, cars, and dogs for about 5 hours and 2.5 miles. Despite the consistent recommendations throughout DukeEngage Academy in May, we ate delicious streetfood on our tour – only at Ram’s suggestion, of course. In addition, we stopped for chai twice and coconut water once. All of the food and drink was made right in front of our eyes, so freshness was guaranteed. Each vendor deftly created their own specialty, including the man selling coconuts, who chopped the top off each coconut, carved a hole in the top, and stuck a straw in. The chai was incredible – it’ll be close to impossible to go back to drinking Starbucks chai lattes after this trip. It was served in tiny, unfired clay pots that we excitedly smashed after finishing our drinks.
Aside from the incredible taste, the most impressive part about our food was that everything that we were served (except the plastic straws) was biodegradable. From the clay pots to the palm leaves that our food came in, it would all end up back in the earth. This seems to fall in line with the general Indian way of life, which emphasizes repairing over buying brand new and eating all parts of the food. These concepts were practically unheard of to a lot of us, as US culture often values the new and the big. Many in the US are also privileged enough to overlook of the problems of food waste, whereas in India, wasting food – if you have it – is unthinkable after seeing such widespread abject poverty. These are only some of the cultural differences that I’ve noticed, and they’ve made me significantly more aware of the often problematic ways in which I and my peers in the US use and buy products.
The other fascinating parts of our tour were the numerous cultural and religious locations we stopped at. In total, we stopped at 5 places of worship on our tour – a Buddhist temple, a Zoroastrian temple, a Baptist church, a Chinese temple, and a Jewish synagogue (plus a Hindu temple yesterday and Mother Theresa’s house later in the day). At each of these stops, Ram explained how the community formed and changed over the years as well as a bit about each religion. Although only one of these stops involved my own religion, I felt the holiness of each place through the decor and the spirituality of the people there. One of the most notable things he emphasized was how peacefully the communities have coexisted, even through present day. I honestly had no idea that Kolkata was such a melting pot of religions and cultures, and seeing real proof of that was incredible. Whether it’s the Muslim children who go to school at the Buddhist monastery, the Muslim men who are the Jewish synagogue’s caretakers, or other interactions between different religious groups, the various communities in Kolkata are clearly intertwined. The absence of hate crimes in Kolkata for hundreds of years, according to Ram, is a refreshing and important reminder that different groups of people can, and should, live together in peace, and one that other countries, including the US, should learn from.’
Given the world we live in today where disparities are more highlighted than celebrated, the concept of global citizenship is reinforced in a cultural milieu like we have in Calcutta. Our ‘job’ seems worth its while, when we get responses like Rachel’s here. Thank you Rachel.
Pic credits: Explorer Preeti