Do I need to contact the sisters before volunteering?No. You just need to arrive and attend an Orientation, M, W, and F 300pm currently at Shishu Bahvan. I recommend you go to mother house first to visit Jesus, and then Mother Teresa, and get further information, in case something changes. They can also tell you which direction you'll need to go to get to Shishu Bahvan. It's a 3 minute no turning type of walk up the street.
How do you recommend I carry money?Indian Rupees (INR) are illegal to buy/sell outside of India, so you have to get them here. But lucky for you, ATMs abound. Visa and MasterCard are preferred, and others can be found but may be a bit difficult. Another option is to bring 100$ bills or Travellers Cheques. I carry at least 100$ starting cash (to exchange at the airport) and an ATM card. In Mumbai, I found an ATM at the airport this time.
Where do I exchange money?At Foreign Exchanges (ForEx). They are in various places, but most likely at transportation and tourist centers; Airports, trainstations, near hotels and hostels.
How do I get the best exchange rate?I get the best exchange rate through my ATM card, but that's because my bank doesn't charge anyting. Otherwise, 100$ bills are the easiest to haggle for a better rate with. Everyone advertises certain rates, but they're negotiable if you've got a $100 bill. This is because 100$ are in high demand, and lower denomonations (perhaps excluding 50$) are not in demand at all. Don't be affraid to go from Foreign Exchange to Foreign Exchange just like you were shopping. This of course will not work with Foreign Exchanges run by banks. But then again, with a bank you might be getting a better rate anyways.
No one will take my torn bill, what do I do?Give them no choice. Don't waver, if they want you're money they'll eventually take it, and if they don't then go somewhere else if you can.
Why will no one take my torn bill?Counterfeits and asthetics. They don't like the look of it, so they suspect it could be a counterfeit.
Anything else about exchanging money?When exchanging money always get at least 1000 INR broken down into 1 500, 4 100 and 2 50s, or smaller. You'll need it.
Do I tip?In most restaurants, NO. In fancier restaurants with good service a tip is always appreciated. I generally do the American rule of 10-20%, but I think this is excessive. Cabs get a tip from me only if they aren't ripping me off. and then only between 20-50 INR.
Where do I find medicines?At Chemists. Pretty much anything is available over the counter. And they also act as surrogate doctors. If you've got a problem, tell them and they'll try to help you out. But remember they're not doctors, and they're just listening to your problems (not investigating them) AND they want to sell stuff.
Do you have any idea if in October a lot of volunteers will be with the Missionaries of Charities?There won't be as many as in June or August, and there should be a "normal" amount, which means there should be just enough to get things done, and make your contribution much more worthwhile.
Is volunteering very exhausting and would I probably need some rest after this time?It's more spiritually exhausting than otherwise, though it can also be physically exhausting. I am personally of the school that spiritually exhausting is good, because you begin to see how God is sustaining your work more than you realise. There are two volunteer periods during the day, morning and afternoon, you can choose to do one or both, and if you get too tired, you can always cut one. Though I recommend you cut the afternoon one, as the morning one will encourage you to go to daily mass and prayer..
Do I have to take Malaria medicine while I am there?Yes. I recommend everyone taking their medicines while here. There is too much a chance of catching it, especially this year.
How seriously is the danger of getting TB and Malaria?TB is low, Malaria, Dengue and Chikunuga (dont know how to spell that), is moderate to high depending on where you're staying. I recommend sleeping with a mosquito net, at the bare minimum of mosquito protection. TB is low, due to the way it infects, you typically have to be in a small enclosed space with an infectious person for a decent period of time. And those two things are unlikely. Most houses where you will work, do not have small enclosed spaces for patients, and are highly unlikely to have TB patients. One vital recommendation: after you get home from your volunteer shifts, CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES. This helps prevent prolonged contact with contagions. And when you return to the states, get checked for TB one month after you return... a general checkup might also be good at that time.
Can you recommend a place to stay at? Where did you stay? Do the Missionaries help with accommodation?MCs do not help with accommodations, I stay in sudder street area, due to the proximity to other volunteers to eat dinner with, hangout with and do outside activities with. I can help you get reservations when I arrive in Kolkata. Remember that most places are rugged. Average cost is about 100 INR per day.
Do you have an e-mail address of the mother house in Calcutta? What is the best way of getting in touch with the sisters?Mail: http://www.sirhair.com/faith/address/ they don't have email. And I don't think you really need to get in touch with them... I was a volunteer orientator when I was there, and almost no one had contacted the sisters prior to arriving... they simply ask that you show up. This is an example of their reply to us when we first went: http://faithorbust.blogspot.com/2006/04/we-got-it.html (the housing list's prices are outdated by several years)
What do you think I should be aware of before traveling to Calcutta?Spiritual attacks. Prior to stepping out on such a pilgrimage to people, you will receive numerous spiritual attacks seeking to disrupt your prayer life and faith. The Liars will try to discourage you, and break you, and make you the worst person they can. Don't buy it. When you fall, go to confession and seek reconciliation with God, and you'll put the demons at bay. Remember, no good deed goes unpunished. And the Devil will also pursue you when you return, but the more grace you cooperate with while serving in India, the more strength you'll have upon your return.