A Long Awaited Journey

I have long wanted to go to India, and when I learned that students went to Kolkata in previous years to do their candidate work for the fifth term at the medical program together with IIMC, I didn’t delay my application. To my great joy, my class mate Alma was as excited as me and we started planning for the summer before we started the fourth term. It has been a long process that has not yet ended. At the time of writing (June 2017), we have completed our essay, which we will present later in August.

Today, it’s Wednesday lunch and it is Swedish summer outside the window. The weather app says that it is 16 degrees and pouring rain in Lund. In Kolkata, it is late afternoon and 34 degrees. 34 degrees sounds unusually chilly to my ears. But I suppose that the rainy season has started now and that’s why it has become colder. If there is one thing that I’ll never forget, it is the heat during the month of May in Kolkata. I didn’t think that my body was capable of sweating that much. But now I know and am instead grateful for the body’s fantastic ability to adjust to temperatures. It is hard to imagine that only a couple of days ago, we were in the middle of the morning rush hour in Kolkata on our way to the clinic in Sonarpur. And when I say morning rush hour, perhaps mid-morning rush hour is more accurate – because at 8am, the subway is only just open!

It has been an incredible journey and I am so glad that I got the opportunity to do this journey in conjunction with my candidate work. Working with the IIMC has given us a unique insight into living in India, which we could not have experienced otherwise. We have seen disorders that I do not think we will ever see in Sweden, and we have taken so many blood pressure tests that we are still sore in our ears! We have met so many people who live starkly different lives than we do in Sweden.

However, I would not recommend anyone to go in May, since it’s the hottest month of the year! But the heat was an experience in itself. If it’s your only chance to make this trip in May, I can recommend that you pack plenty of Resorb in your suitcase. And it’s best to travel with a friend – everything is much more fun and easier when you are two – especially in a country where the culture is so different.

India is such a fantastic country that has taught us so much in just five weeks that it’s hard to even try to cover more than a fraction of it in a blog post.

It is fascinating how fast you get used to a new life. And how fast your new life after 24 hours on Swedish soil suddenly feels like a distant dream. But the memories of this trip I know I will carry with me for the rest of my life: the lunches outside the clinic where we happily waited for our naan bread for over 40 minutes, because there were some shadow and a fan; the time we got to ride on the disco-rickshaw with speakers that played Barbie Girl at the highest volume all over Sonarpur; the families in Dhaki who gave us coconuts; the bodies burning in Varanasi; the never-ending line with people who wanted to take selfies; the feeling of getting into a cafe or an Uber with AC in it; the fantastic food; the joy that is was ‘mango season’; the brown sludge that was left in my washing water when I rinsed my clothes after a long working day; the cool evening, morning and afternoon showers; the traffic noises; the dogs who bark late at night; the smell of incense and stench from burned garbage; all the people… Amazingly, I do not think I’ve seen two women wear the same sari more than once, there are so many different beautiful patterns and colours there. All this and so much more, I will remember when I think back on my time in Kolkata.

But I will also think about the little child who had played to close to her mother when she cooked food – resulting in horrible burns all over her leg. And how I stood there with a single instruction in my hand: “gentamicin”. I think of all those people who came to the clinic to get injections and pain killers, when it was obvious that they need so much more than just that. People with advanced diabetes, who would have? needed amputation long ago.
But it is not possible to compare anything with Sweden, for these clinics in India are so different from those in Sweden. And what we have done is the best we could do for these people at the time, with the resources that were available to us. This is something that has been hard for me to realise and get used to. But I also think that it is a valuable lesson.

With everything said, the one thing that really has inspired me, is the calm patience I have seen many Indian people have. I hope I managed to absorb some of that during my trip.

Women outside building

Outside the Outdoor Clinic.

Indian street food


Man on bicycle with huge cargo

A man on a bike.

Rooftop with a clothes line

The roof of the guest house.

Hanna Bielawska Bokliden
IIMC volunteer May 2017