Note: still not wearing a watch…Tony Falzon!
It’s been another transitional week for us all here in rural India. It has improved enormously from week #1 when we experienced settling teething problems and culture shock of Buldana.
But it was not over just yet! We have still had difficult discussions like contemplating staying half the time we originally planned in Buldana (1 month instead of 2…a kind of self-mutiny) and moving to another location in India thinking that might be easier to live in for us all (but we don’t think it would be with trying to get decent internet for school), and could Billie survive the two months here in Buldana eating just grapes, strawberries and cashew nuts?
But the week has also presented some opportunities like:
- Joining a Buldana gym for 2 months (600 rupees each per month / $12) equipped with modern weights and all that Ash has dreamed about since leaving Australia. Steve has to be there with the girls as the gym doesn’t usually allow women to workout. Steve has also started to run in the streets of Buldana and he’s attracting quite a bit of attention with one man travelling beside him on his motorbike asking – “do you want a lift somewhere?”
- Getting to know the four Indian volunteers better and enjoying spending time with them.
- Talking about the future of the pre-school and what can be done to raise the much needed money to keep it going.
- Catching up with Dr Moses’ family including his NZ sister-in-law Suzanne and her 12-year old son Sameer. Grateful for the conversations had on Indian life with Suzanne while the kids played Indian Monopoly one night. Sometimes all you need is to be able to express your feelings about living here to someone who can appreciate them, and feel validated about what and how you’re feeling and thinking without trying to fix anything.
- Playing animal rescue in India with Dacey saving a puppy from near death and all the people who helped us find the help we needed.
- Finding broccoli at the market (even though it’s very expensive – 1kg 100 rupees / $2) – but we love it!
- Discovering the Ard Mart Buldana supermarket that stocks a greater variety of food brands and snacks we can enjoy to ward off insanity of eating the same thing for two months. Steve had to sign in to the supermarket and met the family member of the Ard Mart empire and had a photo published on the Art Mart Facebook page (we must be famous now right?):
- “Mr. Stephen Cole with his friends from Australia & Mizoram have a Great Shopping Pleasure at ARD Mart Buldana. They are surprised to see this type of beautifully arranged Mall at Buldana. These people came to India for Rural Health Programme and will be here at Buldana for 2 months.”
- Steve’s thinking of writing a book and calling it ‘The Lost Civilisation of Buldana’ (it still hasn’t been found). And he keeps repeating this quote (I think he’s going mad): “If there were seven western people in Buldana, six of them are the Cole family and one of them is lost.”
I am forever humbled by Dr Moses and the work he performs in rural Buldana delivering basic healthcare and education to the poor. We are all staggered at your resilience and dedication to keep going knowing the reality of what you face on a daily basis.
Overall we six backpackers are all getting along really well and are all in good spirits. A healthy level of acceptance has attributed to distinguishing the outrage of staying here in rural India somewhat (which is great) and I think we can say we are officially off the tourist track, and settling into the Indian way of life here. We are more and more appreciative of the help and kindness shown to us from all of our Buldana friends each and every day.
I can confirm that we have the internet working (yay) and we have been able to commence the school year with Distance Education Centre Victoria (DECV). After trying various devices including dongles and local sims charged with data, in the end Dr Moses organised a wifi unit to be installed at the Dwarka apartment. It is still not seamless, and chokes around 10am most mornings once the rest of rural Buldana gets going! We started waking the girls up earlier to start their online learning orientation program with DECV and make the most of the strong wifi signal. They have been through an introduction, meeting homeroom teachers, tests (yuck) and getting familiar with all the buttons and pages on the DECV’s Learning Management System. But they did it, and we ironed out glitches of incorrect email addresses, best scanning apps to submit extra notes to teachers, best way of communicating and time to get in touch with subject and homeroom teachers. We are 5 ½ hours behind Victoria’s time, so we only have an hour or two max to communicate with teachers. At one point we had to call Steve’s mum Sue via Messenger, and get her to call DECV from her home phone. She put us on Messenger and the teacher on her home phone on speaker so we could discuss some of the glitches with Billie’s email to the homeroom teacher directly. When nothing is a given, you seek out creative alternatives to find solutions.
This year the girls are studying Grade 6 (Dacey), Year 7 (Billie), Year 10 (Ash) and Year 11 (Charlie). Charlie is also taking on a Year 12 subject Health & Human Development so will need to complete SACS throughout the year and an end of year exam in Melbourne to obtain an ATAR score for Year 12 next year. I have the role of supervisor! It was hugely confronting for Charlie, after many people back home had told her she was doing the wrong thing studying a Year 12 subject through DECV while travelling, let alone the other 3 Year 11 subjects on her plate. But full credit to her, she has successfully moved through the doubts and intermittent wifi and submitted week 1 work and has received positive and learning affirming feedback from her teachers. She’s a star!
The other girls completed their orientation over 3 days, and now are waiting for their subjects to upload onto their LMS and start formally online next Monday. I think they are all excited about getting into the school year, and also unsure as to how it will work for them outside of a formal classroom. But the journey of taking their own learning on, rather than being pushed and pulled by teachers has started. Initiation. Organisation. World schooling meets online education – nice combination actually!
WELCOME TO PUPPY ‘ROADIE MONDAY’
A little distraction early this week was welcoming a canine into our home at Dwarka, whom we named Roadie Monday. We had taken Billie and Dacey to the preschool to meet the children and afterwards went around the corner to a café to get a drink. On our way back, we walked through a dusty carpark and noticed a little puppy walking around on his own. Of course Dacey noticed the pup as she is counting all the animals she sees in India in her little notebook, but we realised fairly soon that he was all alone. No mum or siblings in sight. He was small and looked weak. We contemplated helping him out, as we could see he would probably not last long, and get under a truck tyre in this carpark or just curl up somewhere and die. “Can we help him mum?” Dacey wanted to know.
We contemplated the idea for a bit, Steve and Billie a definite no. I could see where Dacey was coming from, but didn’t know how it would really work. But Dacey persisted. After a pragmatic (Steve) versus irrational (me) argument, we made the decision not to help and walked back towards the preschool. And then I saw tears run down Dacey’s cheeks. Many things went through my mind in that terrible moment, and I just couldn’t do it. So we turned around and walked back to find the puppy.
He was still wandering in the car park area, and I asked the shoe vendor along the side of the road if I could use an empty show box. He handed one to me, and we went over to the pup. I started talking to Dr Moses on the phone, asking him if there was a rescue hospital or shelter or something and he said there was. So after we had determined that, we felt better that we might be able to help get this little one off the streets and get some medical intervention. Dr Moses was sending his driver to pick us and the pup up. Next we needed to find where this animal rescue/shelter place actually was.
We stood in the shade of a large tree in the car park for about 40 minutes, waiting for the driver and having an ongoing debate with my pragmatic husband at why we were doing what we were about to do. There are so many street dogs here in India, and it’s an impossible task assisting each and every one that falls on hard times. But to animal lover and advocate Dacey it felt right – I knew we couldn’t help all of them, but we weren’t doing that. We were just helping one little fella who just needed some help. And since we crossed his path, we were going to help. So after that was intensely discussed, and finding Billie walking around in circles away from the people watching, we were all on board (sort of). The pup had made a comfy bed in between my feet while I stood there waiting for the driver, while Steve and Dacey went to a local cake store to get directions to the shelter. I looked down at him and he was infested with fleas. They were crawling all over his little body. It was sickening.
We had attracted a bit of an Indian crowd around us, the pup and shoebox. Steve kept saying they were looking at four crazy white people trying to help an orphaned street pup in rural India. It’s the one thing we have to get used to – the stares. These men watched us for the entire 40 minutes, chatting with each other and doing nothing in particular. The car arrived, and we jumped in with the pup in the shoe box with Dacey in the front seat. Then we had to work out where this animal rescue place actually was. Loose directions are given out ALL THE TIME here, so you can’t rely on them fully to get you where you want to go.
We stopped off at the local Wine Shop where Steve had made some good contacts, and they knew of it too. A young man got on his bicycle and we followed behind him in a car full of white people and an Indian street puppy! We had arrived to a desolate looking place and got out of the car, hoping to find someone who could help. A man somewhere in the vicinity said, “open again at 3pm”. It was 2:20pm and the thought of waiting around another 40 minutes, most probably more, was overwhelming. But then a man on a motorbike rode up the long driveway with a look of ownership. My hopes were raised. He was, I think, a vet.
So the flea infested pup in the shoe box was taken to an outdoor table, where his temperature was taken, and then a quick relay of where we found him and then he was given 2 shots of antibiotics. The vet then asked, “where are you from?” “Australia.” We replied. I don’t know why I assume that the way things work in Australia would be the way things work here but I keep falling for it. I thought that was our small good deed in humanity for vulnerable canines done. We saved a pup from near death, and we would be on our way. But there was no one to take the pup, not even there at the so called shelter/vet/rescue place. We were it. A quick handshake initiated by the vet to all of us after we told him we were from Australia was more like a congratulatory new owner shake, and he said, “bring back tomorrow.”
The pup was back in the shoe box, and we were back in the car headed for home base Dwarka.
The pup has been given the name ‘Roadie Monday’ for obvious reasons – we found him on the road, and it was Monday. As we travelled back in the car shell shocked at the scenario of looking after a puppy in rural India, Dacey was the happiest we’d seen her since her ride on the banana boat in Langkawi Island just before Christmas. I call her our little animal rescue girl. Now I worry of crossing paths with another animal that may need our help…
Lucky for Roadie Monday that Steve is a detective. He has been walking along the main street we are based on Chikhli Road each day, looking at all the shops in an attempt to find the things we need to live happily here in rural India. He’s found an egg shop run by a former Indian Army General of 22 years, a milk shop next door, and next to the milk man is the soft drink and ice-cream man, up the road is his barber so he said, “I think I know where there is a pet shop.” So after stopping at numerous atms to get some more cash out, which were either empty or had too long queues, I went inside to Dwarka to grab my wallet which had some rupee cash in it and we headed out to the Buldana pet shop.
It had everything you could want! Amazing really considering we are in rural India and we find it hard just to get any decent comfort food from shops, cafes or restaurants for ourselves. We purchased shampoo, flea powder, and some puppy dry food. Then it was back to Dwarka to start the TLC on Roadie Monday.
I felt like vomiting a couple of times while we were washing Roadie Monday for the first time. His tiny body completely wet and the thousands of fleas living off his tiny body was gruesome. But as I watched Dacey, happy, resilient and determined, quietly talking to this wet and weak little fella who had started to shake and groan. A quick dry in the sunshine, and then it was flea powder time – and lots of it. The fleas tried to escape alive. I’ve never seen so many fleas. We used an old toothbrush to comb them out of his fluffy puppy coat. We gave him some warm buffalo milk which he lapped up in a frenzy and placed him back into the shoebox with a blanket where he slept for a long and probably peaceful time.
His weak body surprised us with being able to eat a bowl of dry food. After the first night of a very interrupted sleep waking to his crying and howls from the kitchen at 1:30am and feeding him some more warm milk and staying with him until 2am, then again at 4:30am and Steve staying with him until day break while cleaning up his little but inconvenient messes, we discussed the reality of the situation with Dacey and if keeping him here was at all viable.
Dr Moses came over, and said his nephew Abhi could find a home for him. Dacey wanted to keep him as long as we were here in Buldana, but we couldn’t have him wake us up in the middle of the night with his whining. So we got thinking that we needed some sort of a cage to put him in and safe on the balcony. This is where we could place him at night and when we left the apartment. His crying during the night, we are hoping, blends in with the other animals who roam about during the deep night and early morning – cows mooing out our bedroom window for food to be dropped down from the balconies, pigs scrummaging for scraps of food, and dogs barking and fighting in packs. So what’s a little high pitched whining to add in amongst all of that? Or it just may get us some neighbourly complaints and an eviction notice!
After having a chat with Dacey, who has been cleaning up his messes, brushing dead fleas out from his hair, feeding and playing with Roadie Monday since we found him on, it is time to contemplate the plan on letting him go and live an Indian dog’s life with a new family at a village. Our Indian help in the Dwarka house Ajewla and her parents, who live in a village are happy to take Roadie Monday on.
And although it will be hard to say goodbye to this little pup, especially for Dacey at least we know we did the right thing and can enjoy the who he has become – a very cheeky, plump and playful puppy. It is in his best interests (and ours) to get him re-homed to what will be a second chance at life. Now we just need to work out the day to hand him over to his home.
VISITING GAIRAAN VILLAGE
During the week we also visited a nearby village where many of the preschool children come from and live with their families. We walked around the village with Dr Moses and his sister Varsha, who is a nurse and assist him with the mobile health visits, and were invited in to see a couple of the village homes. There are about 2,000 people in this village and a neighbouring one. The village is set up well with concrete paths (rather than eroded away dirt paths) and a water pump (rather than an old well that exist for many of the other villages) to access drinking water. The homes are very simple, some made from sticks and mud, others bricks (or a combination of both), while many others have sheets of tin for a roof and a series of heavy rocks placed on top of the sheets to prevent them blowing off in the monsoonal winds. There is no privacy, no lights inside, nor internet. I couldn’t take any photos because the rooms were pitch black and small. Power connects for a period of time each day, but it’s fickle. While there, we watched as one female village resident held a long wooden pole up to the overhanging black wires with a steel hook attached at the end. She was trying to illegally connect her home to the electricity circuit to access power.
Village life is extremely simple and basic and there’s not much to do if you’re young nor is there any entertainment at any age. Other than a temple and work being central to their daily lives, and people getting together under a banyan tree to talk and gossip, life in the village is slow paced, monotonous, boring. I read an article about village life where it purports that the pace of life is directly proportional to education and market resources. City life is fast (more education, more resources); village life is slow (less education, less resources). I tend to agree with that statement.
Quality of life is another matter. There are no bathrooms or toilets in village homes. There is no finding a trace of consumerism or fancy products. Health care is poor – these are the very places Dr Moses targets with his mobile health clinic where he creates a relationship with a village chief and its people, and gets permission to visit the village and offer free health care checks to the people as well as providing health training to the selected Village Health Worker (VHW) – a representative of the village who is trained to look for common medical issues, listen to health problems, address outbreaks of disease in the village, neonatal and maternal care, and general health knowledge. People living in the villages rarely access public hospital institutions in Buldana city as they do not have the energy, funds or mindset to do so. There is a general lack of sanitation that we in the west wouldn’t survive on a weekend camping trip. But they manage to live this way all of their lives. Some try to escape village life; others are crippled by their own lethargy with low aspiration levels and they stay.
SCHOOL LIFE @ VIDYA NIKETAN ENGLISH SCHOOL
We have visited the preschool a couple of times this week. The volunteer teachers do an amazing job, especially since they are not formally trained to teach nor are they receiving any payment for the volunteer work they perform. Vito (25 years), Bohoka (25 years), Lapuii (21 years), and Arboy (21 years) who moved from their north eastern Tribal states have been in Buldana for 5 months volunteering at the preschool and are such generous and warm-natured young people. They are here trying to build future work and possibilities – gain experience and references. I hope they go on to do great things with their lives after they leave here in March. They speak and teach English to the pre-schoolers, and we have gone to the school to try and break up the day for them by taking on some of the English learning focus with our iPads. The pre-schoolers were wary at first even touching the iPad, but once they got going they were finger writing the alphabet and numbers in English. But it’s hard going with them being so young and unable to converse in English that well.
The preschool is very old school Indian style with the preferred style of learning – rote – being the way. The mindless repetition of alphabet and numbers – it becomes clear once you spend some time inside their classroom that the kids are memorizing rather than experiencing meaningful learning. But in a place like rural India so unlike anything we know at our real home, we need to remove our western tinted glasses to find the value. In a classroom where many of the children can’t pay for the learning privilege, having it available to learn the basics is beneficial – including life skills such as hygiene, manners, organisation, and grasping the foundation of the English language. Is it better to have something rather than nothing? Is it best to get kids into the classroom earlier than later for marginalised children and their families – many of whom do not value education for themselves but are happy for their children to attend as long as they don’t have to pay for it. Many of the preschool children share what they learn with their parents too, and thus the ongoing learning takes place outside of the classroom where youngsters teach their elders basic hygiene like washing hands before eating food. It helps to ward off unnecessary sickness.
It’s complicated here if you don’t know the hidden problems under the surface of the culture, and the problems here are multi-faceted, with no one clear and easy solution implemented for instant or positive results. In a country that is full of contradictions, to survive and then thrive, we westerners must take away our ideal, logical, western perceptions, solutions and recommendations and work alongside the local community – leaders, citizens, health providers – to help assist them overcoming the barriers and obstacles that exist in having basic health and education available for the next generation. It seems simply by living here in Buldana and witnessing life is a lesson unto itself for the six of us.
Cost of food here in Buldana (based on exchange rate of A$1 : 50 rupee):
1 x egg = 5 rupee / 10 cents (and can be bought singly!)
250ml buffalo milk = 20 rupee / 40 cents
1kg broccoli = 100 rupee / $2.00
1kg cauliflower = 30 rupee / 60 cents
1kg Potatoes = 20 rupee / 40 cents
1kg garlic = 60 rupee / $1.24 (it’s very expensive at the moment)
Ginger = 10 rupee per piece
1kg chicken (whole cut up into pieces – and I mean the whole chicken and fresh around the corner!) = 160 rupee / $3.20
Other meats that are readily available – chicken, goat, mutton (lamb)
Other meats that are non-existent or scarce – beef, pork
1 beer (large Kingfisher 650ml) = 150 rupee / $3.00
1 bottle (750ml) of soft drink = 40 rupee / 80 cents
1 kit kat (4 fingers) = 20 rupee / 40 cents
100 grams Cashews = 100 rupee / $2.00
100 grams Butter = 44 rupee / 88 cents
1 loaf Bread = 40 rupee / 80 cents
OOPS…Nearly forgot a footnote from week #1:
After much debate in the family, we have changed our itinerary! Why? Because we can! (lol) After our 3 months in India, instead of flying to China we are off to Europe departing New Delhi in the early morning of 14 April flying into the southern Spanish town of Malaga (via a brief stopover in Moscow).
The reasons for the change in itinerary are numerous and varied:
- Steve found cheap flights for the six of us to fly from Delhi to Malaga for A$433 per person (all up A$2,600).
- We were also concerned about the daily cost of living in Europe for 3 months in tourist peak season (Jul/Aug) as well as the heat – we’re trying to bring the budget in after overspending in the first month!
- Charlie needs to make a return visit to Australia in early Nov to sit her Year 12 exam on Health & Human Development. This goes towards her ATAR score for Year 12 in 2018 and flying back from Portugal to Australia would really put her under pressure with such a drastic change in time zones etc just for a week stay…so we plan to be somewhere closer located somewhere in Asia at this time to make it a little easier for her.
- A change of pace – rather than going to another Asian country straight after India, we thought it would be good to change it up a bit with a European adventure.
- Everyone in the family wanted to get to Spain earlier rather than later in the year, so we took that on and thought why not!
Big week ahead with the arrival of Dr James Wei from Melbourne who will be staying here in Buldana for the week. James was the doctor who originally supported Dr Moses in setting up a rural health program back in 2009 and continues to support Dr Moses and CBHP work. Lots to discuss!