I mentioned in a post last month that I spent some time in Calcutta working with the Missionaries of Charity in 2000. Anon writes, "How did you communicate to the people in Calcutta as the poor would only speak Bengali. Were there enough translators? What was the most positive experience you had there? There are a lot of Indian people not connect Mother Teresa who help the poor there but unfortunately don't get the same recognition."
Calcutta was a TOUGH place to be, especially for a Montgomery County boy! It was extremely hot, and immensely populated; it's half the size of New York City with twice as many people. The air was very dirty - if you blew your nose, your tissue would be black. They had no traffic system, so the cars there (mostly cabs) just honked at each other all day and night; yeah, sleeping was fun! And, of course, the consistent sights of deep poverty - many people sleeping on sidewalks, little children begging for food, broken-down housing in the poor areas, etc. About halfway through the trip, I sent postcards to family and friends back home, writing about all of the conditions and saying, "having a great time. Wish you were here!"
Great question about communication. No, we really didn't communicate with the poor through words. We had to use gestures or symbols if we needed to make a point to them. Mostly, the sisters served as translators. The main language that we did use with them, however, was love. I'm thinking of the man that I served pretty much daily at Kaligat (Home for the Dying). In the morning, I took him to the shower, bathed him, shaved him, gave him fresh clothes, and fed him breakfast. On one of those mornings, we definitely communicated to one another.
I was feeding him breakfast: spoonfuls of fruit. At one point, he interrupted me by folding his hands as if he were praying. I put down the fruit, and made the same gesture. He then pointed to a cross that was hanging on the wall. We prayed silently together for a minute or so. I tried to communicate to him that Jesus loves him-by saying it and pointing to the Cross and then his heart. He beat his heart a few times, showing his understanding and gratitude to Christ. Over the next several days (which were the last days of his life), he would communicate to me that through all of the love and care he received at Kaligat, he knew Jesus loves him.
My most positive experience there occurred on one morning at Kaligat. It was during the mid-morning break, and I was trying to rest and cool down from the morning work. One of the sisters approached me and asked, "would you like to go to the chapel?" I quickly said yes, and she took me up to the top level. With my clothes soaking wet and dirty, I entered the open-air room in which our Lord was present in the tabernacle. Trying to enter into prayer with all of the noise, heat, and filth surrounding me, I looked up at the tabernacle. It appeared so majestic and pristine! Our King on His throne! It was the greatest experience of the presence of Christ in the tabernacle that I had ever had. I had been experiencing His presence in the poor, especially the man at Kaligat, which led me to greatly appreciate His Real Presence in the Eucharist. I said to Him, "Jesus, this is all for you. You're the reason I'm here. I'm hot, filthy, exhausted, and 10,000 miles from home. It's all for you, Lord".