Calcutta is the first place I have cried myself to sleep from thinking about someone else besides myself.

Don’t worry—I don’t cry myself to sleep often. But when it has happened in the past, it has always been about my own personal woes.

But I have cried myself to sleep here both when I think of the loving, smiling boys at Daya Dan, and when I think about the thousands of strangers who I have seen doing the most shocking things I have ever seen in my life.

On any given day as I travel to the orphanage or go out with friends in the evening, I might see a man the age of my grandfather brushing his teeth with his finger with the water gushing out of a public fountain…a wizened old woman sitting in 100 degree heat on the side of the road, her arms bare and wrinkled…a woman with a terribly tiny baby begging for milk who probably would just resell the milk if she got the chance…a man retching into the gutter…people sleeping on traffic medians at nighttime…the smell of defecation greeting my nostrils because so many people here have no access to a toilet…naked barefoot toddlers playing on the sidewalks with nothing but a string tied around their waists…the piles of trash that line the sides of the streets with children, crows, and lean dogs picking through them, the buildings covered in black grime, the one long honk as taxis and buses and autos belching pollution slam by, and similar images and senses kind of just hitting me one after the other.

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But as tough as those images can be, that’s not why I cry.

I cry because I’m confused. When people ask how I like Calcutta—the way most people still say the name of the city— and I assure them I like it very much, they smile knowingly.

“That is because Calcutta is the City of Joy,” they say.

This is why I cry. I am totally disarmed. The people here are happy. The boys at Daya Dan are happy. What a tremendous struggle that causes me inside myself to see that. What a mind-boggling dilemma. I know not everyone here is equally happy. I have no doubt many of them would love to see an improvement. But the level of friendliness here, the absence of crime, and the seeming lack of resentment towards me, a clearly wealthy Westerner, is undeniable. I’ll be honest when I say I don’t quite understand it.

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Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 371 awesome articles for us.

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