This week has been a turbulent one to say the least. Our family has been on an emotional roller coaster ride of highs and very lows. As with my previous post titled Living Tough, the four girls have been dealing with culture shock and with that the rejection of all things Buldana. It led us to have a massive emotional meltdown one night where all four girls cried, yelled and screamed at us and blamed us for bringing them here! Steve and I were completely drained.
After finally getting them to sleep, Steve and I chatted and came to the conclusion early in the wee small hours of the morning that we had to do something to relieve the pressure and make the experience a happy and joyful one again. Now that’s a hard ask here in rural India Buldana. So we have looked into various options including taking more drastic measures such as moving earlier than planned from Buldana to another location in India. Of course that comes with its own organisational complications – finding a place to house us all, ensuring there is high speed internet so the girls can continue their Distance Education learning online, and incorporating the added cost of all of this to our budget. Added to this is the fact that we have my parents (Rob and Pete) coming here to Buldana for a visit lasting 10 days in early March with pre-booked tours (just the two of them) in Mumbai and Delhi that bookend their stay with us here. I’ll keep you posted as to our outcome next week…
On a more positive note, we had a visitor here! Australian Dr James Wei come over to Buldana for one week. James and Dr Moses have shared a long history together (see further below), and James has been Dr Moses’ greatest believer and initial and ongoing supporter of his commitment to work with rural villages. James has been with Dr Moses and the entire Kharat family from the very beginning of the initial seed of an idea to help deliver rural healthcare to now delivering that healthcare to the poor and marginalised of Buldana, the untouchable classes, over 10 rural villages in and around Buldana.
We were also quite excited to see James with a supply of SOS food – jars of Nutella, peanut butter and vegemite plus vitamin tablets, two boxes of delightfully tasty and filling muesli (which disappeared in just one week!) and a scientific calculator (for Charlie’s Year 11 Maths). Thank you James. I will introduce Dr Moses’ friend Avinesh and his story in a later post.
The girls have also taken to cooking their own meals! We are gradually self-weaning the cooking duties from our volunteers. This is a great thing. Dacey made her own pasta sauce using fresh produce from Steve’s fresh produce man up the road: tomatoes, garlic, red onion, and a pinch of salt. After finding packets of pasta at Ard Supermarket this has been a winner during the week! Charlie has been lightly frying squares of paneer (cottage cheese) and including it into a stir fried vegetable medley of cauliflower, carrots and green capsicum with a hint of fresh garlic and sometimes chopped pieces of fried egg. It sounds like a chaotic arrangement, but is delightfully tasty. Billie has been the hardest to impress with the food options here in India (but that’s no surprises here). She prefers meat over vegetables so that’s a big problem here (except she loves potatoes)! We have been purchasing chicken, but with the bones included in the pieces I find it tedious getting to the meat. However, Billie is happy with it and we continue getting the volunteer experts in to cook up a meat dish which we have maybe once a week. But what is most impressive is seeing Billie actually cooking in the kitchen! She prepares and cooks potatoes boiled in salt. Ash does the least cooking and most of the complaining. Although she loathes “rubbery” paneer she enjoys Charlie’s lightly fried variety with vegetables especially after finding broccoli. But lately the broccoli seems to be out of season. As I write up this week’s blog post, the girls have taken over the kitchen area with me being on rice duty. Nice and easy right? Hardly. I burnt the bottom of the pressure cooking pot because I didn’t have the rubber ring in the lid! This newfound cooking behaviour amongst the kids is a complete turnaround to our way of life back home, where I would be undertaking most of the cooking duties. Gotta love travelling and changing up the routine!
This week the girls attended the local gym every night. The opening hours are not the greatest: 6-9am and then 6-9pm. It means we are getting to bed later but at the moment with the emotional roller coaster they’re on, it’s the only thing that they seem to look forward to. I also made enquiries about finding a yoga instructor and class and I was successful. We are learning time and again that you have to ask at least three times before getting the correct answer about anything around here. Rajeet the name of the gym also hosts a twice daily session of Zumba. The Zumba is heavily advertised but nothing about Yoga is mentioned. I’m more interested in Yoga, and the yogi man can bend and stretch his slight and nimble body without much effort at all. Instead of gym on Tuesday and Thursday nights I attend the only two weekly classes with a handful of local Indian women. The class is conducted in the local language of Marathi, so I have no idea what’s happening or when the transitions occur so I’ve always got an eye open watching the Yogi man. I feel so good after yoga, elated almost, so I’ll keep going I think while we make our way through the dirty waters of culture shock.
We have visited Dr Moses’ preschool a couple of times. This week local elections were held, so everyone got a public holiday on that day to vote. The preschool was also closed Thursday and Friday. It’s nice to not have the ongoing obnoxious loud noise emanating from politician branded cars touring the dusty streets with pre-recorded messages of election promises (probably to fix the roads!) Politics and religion are big here in India, and the people take their politics very seriously. Well serious enough to believe in the corrupted representatives that take office. Here money does not get through to the people and the projects they need most and everyone knows this to be the case. It’s just how it is here. For instance, proper roads are a big issue in rural Buldana, and Dr Moses tells us that for 10 years he has been asking for the road that runs past his home (and many others) to be made. Presently it’s a bumpy, dusty, potholed road where the bitumen only extends to the politician’s home and stops there abruptly. Money is designated for roads each and every year, but nothing ever happens. It is the same for obtaining government grants for his NGO CBHP (see more below) – if Dr Moses were to be given a grant to assist with the delivery of health care to poor village areas, he would need to pay out the many and varied crooked politicians and their ring of scum. To get any grant you have to play the game. Dr Moses refuses to play that kind of game.
CBHP – Community Based Health Project
Dr Moses is an untouchable. His grandparents lived in a nearby village as Hindu Indians. The missionaries came into their village and brought with them healthcare and education and a different kind of religion. It saved many children from certain death, and it saved his mother as a newborn. Their lives were changed forever, and they began to trust the life-changing services offered by the Christian missionaries. However not everyone in the village trusted nor wanted the missionaries in their village. And over time, Moses’ family was driven out of their home and village and their home was set alight due to superstitious beliefs. It was a tough life for Moses’ parents to live day by day and feed their 4 young children (Moses is the eldest). But they managed to bring up four children who not only thought about their own lives but the lives of others.
It was their attitude to serving others that made Moses dream of becoming a doctor, something completely out of reach of any other Hindu untouchable. But with support and education from the missionaries and his family, he attended medical school, failing twice before trying for the third time and passing the examinations set by the highest order of the Hindu caste system, the Brahmins. He became a medical doctor. Moses has worked and managed hospitals and clinics. But his dream to impact rural health was still something he yearned to do and achieve in his home town. He met a young Australian medical school student James Wei in India, and they met and shared their stories. The most difficult part of assisting anyone on the ground in India is the fact that you can’t really trust people on face value. Corruption is rife throughout the country, it’s a way of life. So James waited in the background, while Moses and his sister Varsha founded a community based health project. Formed to address and alleviate the healthcare in rural Indian villages in and around his hometown of Buldana. A couple of years on, James could see more in Moses’ actions that he started something without waiting for a foreign handout.
CBHP now has grown from just one or two villages to 10 villages receiving health care. But the model of delivery is unique and suited to the cultural nuances of remote village life – a Village Health Worker (VHW) is selected from the village itself to represent the village and receive training from Dr Moses to look out for signs of the most common health care concerns – from breakouts of disease to common dysentery and the simple ways of preventing sickness and contamination. His VHW have saved baby girls from being killed (due to societies boy preference and the high costs of dowry), and have set up sewing classes for widows so that they could make a little bit of money and contribute to their families. Dr Moses also saw the need to educate adolescent girls on refusing dowry (the payment to a husband’s family that is required by the bride’s family when a daughter is married), staying in school as long as possible, and giving education on feminine hygiene and women’s rights. It’s a dark cultural broth with many men in the villages resisting change and preventing many young girls and women to reach their potential. A big goal of Dr Moses is addressing long held cultural patterns and shifting mindsets. Domestic violence is a big problem here, as well as locally made alcohol that village men drink which makes them angry and violent. But through some VHW initiatives and working with their communities, two villages have outlawed home brewing and consumption in their village.
Dr James, Dr Bharat (another doctor based in Melbourne, Australia who is friends with James) and little ole me have formed an overseeing CBHP board to ensure smoother operations, support and expansion of rural community healthcare foremost and the delivery of pre-school education. It’s a mammoth undertaking and one I do not take lightly, but feel very passionate about. If it were not for Dr Moses I would not be involved. So as you can sense, I have an extremely high regard for Dr Moses and his entire family and his commitment to the villagers and slum dwellers, most people are happy to forget about, is second to none. These are his inspiring words in bringing about positive change to his people in rural Buldana:
“People who really want to make a difference in the world usually do it, in one way or another. We hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters. We are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind and treat one wound. We aren’t determined to revolutionise the world at once, we’re satisfied with small changes. Over time, though, the small changes add up. Sometimes we even transform cities and nations and yes, the world.” Dr Moses Kharat
I’m in and hopeful that I can walk alongside Dr Moses and support him in any way I possibly can with his unshakable conviction that he can make a difference. Let’s change the world!
Volunteers in Buldana
As I have I’ve previously mentioned briefly, there are five volunteers who have come from the north eastern tribal states of Mizoram and Nagaland. If you have never heard of these states before, you’re not alone! Most of the Indians in Buldana thought they were foreigners from South Korea or China. And honestly these volunteers do look more Asian in appearance than Indian. The north eastern states are part of India but their isolation from the rest of the India coupled with their close proximity to the South East Asian country of Myanmar (Burma), as well as Tibet, China, Bhutan and Bangladesh would have you think otherwise. Check out an Indian map in your atlas or online and you’ll see how far away these states really are to the “mainland” of India.
Since being here the volunteers have become our friends and helpers on the ground here in Buldana. In the mornings the volunteers conduct preschool class from 8:30am until midday teaching English to a cute bunch of pre-schoolers who are often as young as 2 years old! It’s more like a child care arrangement for the young ones. In the afternoon they hang out with us playing cricket or learning new card games or staying in their accommodation and chilling together. They’re a beautiful group of people who have been volunteering with Dr Moses for the last seven months here in Buldana. As soon as school finishes for the summer break in the middle of March their volunteer duties are complete with Dr Moses and they will move onto other things or return home to their families. Here’s a bit of what I have learnt about them and their culture:
The Volunteer Boys
Bohoka and Vito are from Nagaland in the north eastern tribal states. They are both 25 years old and are old school friends from Nagaland. They’re still great mates. Bohoka has a degree of Bachelor of Arts, and speaks Naga and English and a little Hindi to get him by just. His sense of humour is dry and he and Steve get along very well. He is a witty person too. Vito is organised and kind and he seems to be the one who leads the lessons on a day to day basis at the preschool. He doesn’t have any higher education but shows how capable he truly is in the classroom or playing chess or spoons against anyone of us. We converse in English, as they do not understand the local Marathi language nor Hindi.
The boys tell me the hardship they face in their home state of Nagaland when trying to find employment. It’s a case of corruption again – without money you cannot get a break to get a job or any type of meaningful experience. So those with ambitions and a sense of purpose move away from Nagaland to find opportunities and experience and this is what has led them here to Buldana.
Then there is Mapuia who is the only volunteer who is married with two children. His wife and children are still living in Mizoram state and miss him lots. He is always on the phone to his family. He doesn’t speak any English not Marathi, nor Hindi, so giving him instructions (both for us and Dr Moses) has been more than a little difficult: “straight”, “right” “left” are the driving words he’s getting used to in English lately! His wife and two boys (4 years and 4 months) will hopefully join him here in Buldana in the next month or so. Mapuia is looking at being driver for Dr Moses and his parents (no one here drives behind the wheel as it’s too crazy on the roads!)
The Volunteer Girls
Abaioihi is from the state of Mizoram. She’s 21 years old and has a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Education including Honours. She’s also a whizz at mathematics I hear she does some extra one on one tutorial after hours with preschool kids who are struggling with English in the classroom. Arboy, as we call her, is a very shy, quiet and studious person who doesn’t come out of her shell in public at all, but having a one on one conversation with her she’s amazingly informative and willing to share about her life. I’ve learned that she has four siblings (she is middle child) with an older sister 27 years who is married with two young children, older brother 24 years who is married and teaches at a private school in Mizoram, younger brother 18 years who is studying science and wants to get into civil engineering, and another younger brother 16 years who is studying in Mizoram.
Lapuii I also from Mizoram and is 20 years old. She started her Bachelor of Arts but didn’t finish it, and tells me her mum really wants her to go back and complete her higher education. She will have to start again. When I ask Lapuii what she would like to do with her life she has a range of possibilities from being in the army or police force to being a nurse. She finds herself here in Buldana volunteering because she says it was a calling from god to go and help in a community. The states of Mizoram is majority Christian religion and they live a more western oriented life than the Hindu majority (Christian minority) in Buldana. Lapuii is one of four children (she’s the second eldest) – older sister Gospel 22 years and has a job in the District Council. She also spent time as a three year old with an aunt in Shillong learning Hindi (she’s the only one who can speak it in the family). Then there is a younger sister Tamara who is studying Year 12 and a younger brother 16 years studying Year 10.
Both girls have lost their father’s – one to a stomach ulcer and the other to high blood pressure in their 50s. Their mother’s live in their homes still, one receiving a pension from her husband’s work fund (formerly a Hospital Medical Supervisor) and the other farming family crops of fruits and vegetables – banana, orange, papaya, guava, rice, and pigs. Eating pork is very common in the tribal states and it’s something they all miss while they have been living in rural Buldana.
I’d love to visit the north eastern tribal states one day and see where and how they live. It would be fascinating. Getting there is more than a little tricky with long flights. Nothing worthwhile is easy hey.
Roadie Monday Update
A quick update on our little street pup we found, saved and named Roadie Monday. He’s now a healthy pup! He has put on the much needed weight – loving the buffalo milk and dry puppy food. I think he’s double his size when we found him on the road. He’s now biting our feet and ankles due to his puppy teething which annoys everyone except Dacey and I. He’s now more playful and runs around chasing a stick or your feet! He’s 100% full of personality and love, and he’s a reminder of our commitment to humanity and canine kinship. We have had a breakthrough with his new ownership too. A woman that Dr Moses’ sister Varsha knows, who works in a beauty salon, is interested in taking Roadie on when we depart here. Apparently she has lots of parrots and buffalos, but no dogs. She sounds like a real animal lover and we will check her place out. What we are searching for here is a place that Roadie can call home, be fed, and sleep without being attacked by dogs or pigs or unfriendly humans. It’s a harsh life out there for the street dogs and there are so many of them.
In the meantime, Roadie apparently now has superstar status because he has been reared by western “white” people so he’s a more in demand dog plus he’s had all his shots. I just want him to go to a nice home (because I know what the ugly alternative actually looks like). It’s looking up for Roadie, and this week I’ll pop into the beauty shop to have a chat with this woman while I give my poor feet some attention they much dearly require.
The Toilet Paper Shortage Saga
It has come to our attention that we are obviously doing something very wrong while we are in the toilet here – using toilet paper! We have purchased all the toilet paper at the local supermarkets (yes including the bigger ones) and now we must use napkins. It is well known that Indians eat with their hands, well their right hand and wipe with their left. So you never touch an Indian’s left hand due to it being the “dirty” hand. I have been trying to work out how it actually works but it’s not quite the topic to discuss, so let’s not), as we may need to make adjustments ourselves if the city of Buldana runs out of napkins next! The Nagaland volunteer boys tells us that’s why Indians eat lots of spicy food – it comes out quicker! Hmmm…
It’s one of those best kept secrets, and no one knows what toilet paper actually is here. It takes a long time for the shop keeper to register what we are talking about when we ask for toilet paper or rest room paper or rest room wipes. I’m nearly performing the mimic of wiping my bottom in front of a store manager just to get the message across. I never thought that we’d be hoping for restocking of toilet paper in the shops here. But alas it is true. I think we have also purchased all the pineapple juice out of Ard Supermarket, which Dacey is devastated about more so than the toilet paper saga. Where are her priorities!?
It’s been a more down kind a week, and now I’m looking to the horizon of this week for a much more positive week ahead…please! Fingers crossed we find the good in the little moments and let the big one’s pass through much easier and quicker than we have been dealing with them.
Here’s to the upcoming week #4 in Buldana…cheers!
PS Thanks to our parents – Sue an Baz, Pete & Rob back home for all their support and calling in with support while we navigate our down times. Thanks for Andrea for always being on the end of an online message!