I'm getting more forgetful as I get older. And I forgot to mention in yesterday's blog that I was writing it after having been awake, apart from a cat nap on the plane and an hour grabbed in the early evening, for 36 hours. I was more comatose than tired. I hope it made at least some sense. I eventually turned the light out at about 12.30am knowing that I had to be up at 6.30am for there to be enough time for a quick bite of breakfast. To make sure I didn't oversleep some kind people decided to strike up a brass band, accompanied by extremely loud fireworks at about 5.00am. They sounded like they were having a blast! I must have managed to fall back to sleep shortly after 6.15am as I slept through my 6.30am alarm.
Fortunately breakfast was a swift couple of slices of toast with butter and Frank Coopers Oxford Marmalade (thanks Ben, as I'm not a curry for breakfast sort of person) before heading off into the melding melee that is the Kolkata traffic to catch the 8.17am train to Basirhat to look over the property that Ben owns. Following info from IJM and Smita we are much more aware of the regulations that we will need to comply with. Also we were going to be joined by Madhu, who has a great understanding of the system as she worked with IJM until 2011 and is now working for 'TalithanArts', an organisation run by some lovely people I know from HTB days. They provide 'Arts' therapy in Aftercare Homes for rescued girls. Madhu had already been an enormous help to us in chatting through practicalities and problems, logistics and legislation with Kerry Brighouse, who may I just add, has done such a great job in working out an effective intinery and setting up useful meetings for us to make this week the most productive it could be. Madhu was unsurprising caught in traffic and we worried she would miss the train. A word of advice. If you ever come to Kolkata do not rush to catch the train.
Unlike Norwich to Sheringham, Kolkata to Basirhat is not listed as one of the great train journeys of the world and anyone who has ever done it will agree that this was not an unfair omission. Hard seats, ancient, overcrowded carriages. No refreshments trolley. Although to be fair there were refreshments. And tea towels. And nail clippers. I'm sure the latter were chosen as a locomotive commodity after much customer research. The wooden bench sits can sit three comfortably. Sorry, I'm a vicar I shouldn't exaggerate. The wooded bench seats can sit three people. I sat next to Mark on my left, with the aisle on my right. Benjamin was on the window side of Mark and across from us were Madhu, Sony and Ben, who was directly opposite to me. Bear with me. I soon became more intimately aquatinted than I would have chosen to be with an Indian gentleman who sat between me and the aisle on about 3cm of bench and 'shuffled up'. He was with a group of friends, young men and women who filled the space around us in an manner that expanding foam would have struggled to replicate in efficiency. There then followed what I can only describe as the best impression of a human Rubic's cube that. I have ever seen (to be honest, it's the only impression of a human Rubic's cube I've ever seen). Girl A stood up from next to Ben. Boy A moved left, girl B moved left. Boy B filled space left by Boy A and girl C sat down next to Ben. 5 minutes later girl C stood up. Boy B moved left, boy C moved left and girl B sat down. 5 minutes later girl B stood up. So did Boy C who had been sitting next to me. And so it went on for about an hour. Until Ben stood up and all chaos broke out!
We arrived at Bashirat and went by haulage rickshaw to the property where Mark in particular had a good look round and prepared a short written report on the structural soundness of the building and the potential risks of the current foul drainage system. The upshot is that we think with a reasonable bit of work the property may well be suitable. The train ride back was less entertaining but less crowded and more comfortable, a trade I was definitely happy to make.
We spent the afternoon meeting with another saint who was giving herself to running another aftercare home and who gave us much help and advice. However, perhaps the best encouragement came when at the end of the meeting we prayed together and she said 'Dear God, thank you that my brothers and sisters from the UK want to start an aftercare home in an area where trafficking is rife and where there is such need.' We have been praying for confirmation about the right setting for the home. Should it be in the city of Kolkata itself, is there a need in Bashirat? This confirmed what we had been told by IJM and others, that this area of West. Bengal, known as North 24 Paragans is a major area from which, and through which, girls are taken and trafficked.
Im afraid to say that Mark got slightly side tracked today having discovered that you can by a new Royal Enfield motorcycle here for under £1,000. 'Hypothetically Benjamin, could someone buy a Royal Enfield here and ride it back to the UK?'.........Someone needs to warn Judith should Mark ever mention buying a one way ticket to Kolkata!