I love waking to the early morning sounds of rural India. The quiet hum of life is a beautiful start to my day. First with the early morning sound of crickets and then the vehicles cruising down Chikhali Road with the sound of holy cows mooing for food. The subtle sound of a man walking along the residential streets calling out something in Marathi sounds like a mesmerising repetitive yodel. Others wander the streets later in the day calling out their offering or what they’re selling: “honey for sale” or “recyclables collection”. As with each morning I am the first in the family to rise in our Buldana apartment and have a little ritual that commences my day. I open up all the doors of our Dwarka apartment (there are three) and windows in the bedrooms and allow any lingering trace of the cool morning air to enter our closed and stale apartment.
I look forward to a coffee forth thing: 1 teaspoon of coffee, 1 teaspoon of sugar and lots of warm milk. I stand in the kitchen on the cool concrete floor with bare feet and cracked heels and warm the milk over the gas cooktop. It’s all milk, no water. I stand there as long as it takes for the milk to boil and a thin milk film to form over the top of the heated milk. I stand holding the steel handle to stop the pot from falling over and spilling the milk everywhere (which has happened a few times already). I look out of the open side door and watch the friendly, always smiling woman who lives across the road shower water with a hose over the dirt road out the front of her home. The sweet morning rays glisten in the fine sprinkle and I stand there thinking how much of a great photo that would be. But I’m in my crop top and underwear and don’t think it would be the best look for me to run outside looking like this, especially in rural India.
It’s heating up here in Buldana now too, the hot summer season is fast approaching and we have been surviving with consistently high temperatures in the mid to high 30s which has definitely raised the temperature gauge and is testing out our resilience and motivation levels. Next week the forecast is for even hotter conditions – 38/39 EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It’s hard to stay fully alive in this demanding and dire heat – it’s not a humid heat, but a very dry scorching heat just like what we’re used to back home in Melbourne just not EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Feels more like 45 degrees. Dr Moses tells us that most locals do what they need to do in the early morning or later afternoons when the sun is not at its hottest and they spend the middle of the day inside by the air-conditioning unit. We can completely appreciate this, and I think of so many people here who don’t have the luxury of air conditioning or even fans to relieve the heat a bit. I also wonder how they manage to stay cool and comfortable in this heat while wearing jeans and long shirts. I just stand up from sitting on a chair at the table and my jeanie pants are sticking to the backs of my legs and damp from sweat.
I have learnt to enjoy my coffee in peace each morning while scanning through social media posts or writing before waking street pup Roadie up from his overnight slumber. Roadie sleeps on the balcony of our apartment each night in a small on-loan bird cage from the local pet store that we have manoeuvred onto its side so he can walk in and out as he wants now. He has bedding and his toys in there – a piece of wood for chewing, my now very old beanie I purchased in Delhi and donated to Roadie when we first found him to keep him warm and snug (which he uses as a cloth to chew), and his plastic bowl which he has also started enjoying chewing.
He’s growing up so quickly and now has long spindly legs and a tonne of energy to burn. He runs and plays just like a puppy. I’m always seeing lots of other not so lucky street pups who are desperately looking for food and love. He is a lucky one!
I wrote in my previous weekly wrap post that I’d explain why street pup Roadie was still with us when he was supposed to leave last week…So there’s a couple of reasons: 1) the new family who was going to take Roadie on Sunday (which we changed to Monday as we ran out of time on Sunday) had an emergency on Monday with his new mum’s mum or the young boy’s grandma being admitted to hospital for a blood transfusion. So Varsha texted me asking if it would be okay to keep Roadie for one more week, while the mum dealt with her own mother’s health issues, and 2) Having Roadie in our lives while being in Buldana has been a wonderful distraction – especially for Dacey our youngest who is a dog lover and who has forged a bond with Roadie and transformed his life from unwanted street pup to lovely pet to have in a family. Let’s face it, street dogs are not looked upon in a positive light here in rural India and everyone is frightened of them. But it was a perfect fate: Roadie needed us and we needed him.
There are so many Roadie’s around here and it breaks our hearts to see the way they have to try and survive out on the streets as pups. We have seen many dead on the side of the road as we go on our daily walk, or hiding in the middle of a traffic roundabout.
So the plan (mark III) is to hand Roadie over officially to his new owners and home sometime next week as the countdown has now begun before we officially leave Buldana on 1 April. Dacey wants to keep Roadie here with us until her two cousins arrive in Buldana on Tuesday night so they can meet him too. Stay tuned…Dacey most likely will try and hide Roadie in her backpack when we depart!
We are also looking forward to Steve’s sister Andrea and our two nephews Luke and Harry travelling to India to visit us for the school holidays. They left Friday of this week and arrive into Mumbai for some sightseeing and tours, and then fly into the closest airport to Buldana – Aurangabad. Then they get to enjoy (more like endure) a 3-4-hour taxi ride to Buldana in the dark. The hour time discrepancy is due to the fact that the roads are in terrible condition between Aurangabad and Buldana and many trucks and buses travel along them, which can mean being stuck behind them for long stretches at a time. They spend four nights here at Hotel Sai (just a short walk up the road where we are living), whose restaurant unfortunately just closed due to the workers demanding higher wages. Then we’re all off on an overnight train journey (currently on a waitlist so fingers crossed that comes through) to the capital Delhi where we will go on a 10-day tour in an 11-seater minivan (the 9 of us plus luggage) around the Golden Triangle including Agra to see the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Oidapur, Pushkar and then returning back to Delhi where we say goodbye once again to family and depart for our next destination: three months in Europe (Spain & Portugal), and hopefully some weekenders exploring the area and catching up with friends from Scotland and London.
As we prepare to say goodbye to Buldana and Moses and the Kharat family, we reflect back on lessons learnt here on the ground in rural India Buldana (next week’s post). The girls are happy that we did come and stay in Buldana, but I have to admit we as parents have found it challenging beyond anything we have ever had to do (as my previous blog posts have described). I’m not sure if the girls will want to return to Buldana any time soon but Steve and I will would definitely love to come back to visit Moses, Varsha and all the family and friends we have made here.
On the school front, this week the girls are cramming two weeks of school work into one so that they can take next week off and spend it freely with their cousins Luke and Harry. The arrival of the cousins is a magical carrot stick – and so far it’s working as they’re actually prepared to do the work for the bonus of having three weeks off during Easter holidays and starting term 2 in Spain. Steve and I have felt completely overwhelmed at the needs of supervising four different year levels (three high school and 1 primary school) especially when two of our girls are a lot more organised than the other two. Steve and I have at times discussed returning home earlier and getting them all enrolled into school and leading a much more normal and straight forward life than what we felt was occurring here in the homemade by parent’s classroom. But we have supported each other through the many and varied teenager crises and the tween tantrums and demands and held on to dear life.
Charlie so far has sat and completed two of her SACs – Year 12 Health & Human Development and Year 11 Biology. We rearrange the classroom and move one of the plastic tables she works on from the front lounge room up to our bedroom where she can complete the 60-minute tests without distraction. Her brain is more geared to maths and science type subjects and she struggles with the intricacies of the English language (that’s where I love to assist). Funnily enough in term 1 she studied the movie Slumdog Millionaire so being in India and having visited some of the location scenes was a bit of a buzz.
At one point in her Biology class Charlie was asked to find a lab with a microscope so she could look into the cells of an onion. Dr Moses helped us get to a local blood lab and the man there helped us enormously. We got to see the cells, but the microscope wasn’t quite as powerful in its magnification as what she needed. But the bonus was that the man asked if we’d like to see cells from a urine infection and malaria under the microscope. I loved it! And although Charlie is not studying any Media subject this year, she has discovered a passion for making GoPro and Drone videos and sharing them on social media. It’s a great thing to have as it mixes up the often intense learning environment with something more free and artistic.
Ash has been up and down with her school work. There’s been overwhelm and frustration coming from her about having to study Year 10 full stop. She is the poster girl for the classroom anywhere resistance! But it’s nothing new or different from what we had to manage last year – it’s just that we’re in a foreign country and it’s a little more intense. She can be easily distracted (by people and social media) and refuses our assistance at times which makes it a harder road for her and us to walk together. But when she gets into the flow of a subject, she’s great at her work. If I suggest taking notes, she’ll not take a single note. If I suggest that she read, she won’t read a page. She’s naturally a very good speller and enjoys English and HPE which is great but she tries to get out of doing Maths and Science if she can. So I have quickly learnt to simply shut up and get out of her way with gritted teeth while I privately dream of sending her off to boarding school (lol). As you can imagine there’s been quite a few quarrels in the apartment about life as it happens here in Buldana combined with the pressures of learning, study and being in communication with online teachers. Ha never a dull moment…
Billie has been the quiet achiever of the family. She has been mostly ahead of her work in terms of weekly submissions to her teachers and she’s completely got herself all organised by herself. She’s an independent Year 7 learner and gets her work in on time (actually early) and complete. However, she likes to rush things a bit and has a habit of not reading instructions fully – so she’s had to resubmit a couple of pieces of work early on but we now get her or us to proofread it before she rushes off to send to her teachers. She’s a shocking speller so we’re learning new words every other day but she loves Maths and Science and HPE. She can’t see the point of History but puts up with it.
Dacey is a lot like Ash – easily distracted (Roadie has been good and bad for that) and not overly compliant that we are in fact her learning supervisors for the year of Grade 6. She’s buckled at times, screamed and walked off from us because she wants to decide what she thinks is worth completing. Again there’s been some discord in the family dynamics at times, but we are moving forward and she’s getting positive feedback from her teachers. I certainly appreciate the teacher’s life much more after experiencing my own lot! Dacey would be an excellent candidate for the world schooling learning philosophy – where you learn from the world when you are ready to learn and only learn what you are truly interested in learning.
Online school life with Distance Education has been an up and down journey so far. Our reliance on quality high speed internet has been hard to come by on some days here in Buldana which has made it even more frustrating for the girls. But we are nearing the end of Term 1 which we can say we have nearly completely finished. However, they’re looking forward to higher speed internet in Spain which may assist with getting through all the online learning materials.
Snippets of Buldana
Part of my way of de-stressing from being a mum-teacher-writer-mediator-traveller-crazy dreamer in Buldana is to do yoga. I’ve been attending a Buldana class twice a week below the gym where the girls and Steve go and it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to my yoga teacher. He’s a middle aged man, short and extremely flexible. There’s really not much of him, but he has this amazingly deep and calm voice that soothes my crazy and times distorted frequency. Each time I finish a 50-minute yoga session with him, I walk out feeling light as a feather, almost the feeling of walking on thin air. Can I take him with me to Spain? I wish. How cool is he on his bike leaving after a Yoga session?
I love the most hearing his Marathi voice and words vibrate through the floor when I’m relaxing after doing 12 repeats of salute to the sun and the way at the end of the session after deep breathing he sings a song in Marathi with the other women. It’s poignantly beautiful and wish somehow I could record it and replay it back to myself when I need it.
I love a mendi pattern created with henna on my hands at the moment, and the most amazing mendi artist is Rachana the nurse who works with Dr Moses. She came along one afternoon to our apartment and spent a couple of hours drawing the intricate details of Indian mendi patterns with henna. Young girls learn how to draw the intricate patterns and details of mendi at an early age with their mum or friends – some better than others. An oil is applied to the hands pre and post mendi henna application and after allowing the henna to naturally dry it then peels off leaving a mess on the table or floor of dark brown flakes. I particularly the meditative process and how it just makes me feel more Indian too. Girls and women here all have 1) mendi on their hands (outer and inner), 2) nose piercing, 3) very long hair usually tied in one very long plait, 4) bindi between their eyes, and 5) huge smiles (mostly)!
Taking A Shower
Since living in Buldana we have been showering using a bucket of water – cold and hot mixed together – in the bathroom. We are obviously looking forward to experiencing a ‘real’ shower again in Delhi in a couple of weeks’ time, but I have noticed the strangely nice ritual of showering with a bucket. The automatic turn-the-taps-and-the-water-falls-freely from a shower head is one that we are accustomed to in Australia and most hotels we’ve been staying at on the road, but the manual task of washing oneself with a bucket of water and tipping it over yourself in small hand held tubs is quite a fulfilling one.
It makes me realise and appreciate how little water I actually need to wash my body. Gosh we waste so much water all of the time without even taking a moment to consider using less. But it also gives me an understanding of how wasteful my entire family has become. We are creatures of habit who have been culturally conditioned by our own environments and upbringing and since living here in Buldana for the last eight weeks and using less water I actually like it a lot (even though I am dreaming of a shower). And that’s the hardest thing, knowing how wasteful we actually are is a lovely insight versus changing the way we shower from now on and using less, or being happy with a warm bucket of water to wash with. That’s the glorious thing about travelling or backpacking overseas – departing from the normal creature comforts of our ‘way of life’ and trying something new that millions of people around the world are doing each and every day.
The other thing that I love doing when I’m travelling to different parts of the world and meeting people less fortunate than us is to help out in some small but meaningful way. My ‘signature’ assistance is usually through storytelling and sharing photos from the ground. And this has been the case with a young 14-year old girl named Nikita we met a week or so back in her slum home. Nikita was introduced to us through Dr Moses as a young person from Buldana who needs assistance in realising her potential and dreams. Nikita loves sewing, she attends school (walking one way 2km each day), and helps her carers out – her grandparents – when required. They live together in a slum home with 12 goats and 1 cow. Her mother abandoned Nikita when she was quite young. So life has been pretty tough on Nikita. After meeting with Nikita for the second time and going to the market and purchasing pieces of cloth to hand sew blouses and so forth, we also walked to the sewing machine shop near the Dr Moses’ preschool and got a couple of quotes on a new sewing machine. We then departed saying to Nikita and her grandfather we would work something out.
So I thought it might be a great way for others to contribute to Nikita’s dream too. And an invitation was made to anyone following our Sixbackpacks journey on social media to jump on board and contribute a little bit of money towards a new sewing machine for Nikita.
WOW! The response was amazing! In a matter of 10 minutes I had A$200. And there has been further offers of assistance since then. I’m grateful for being able to do something like this with you even if it is from afar. So what that meant was that we could indeed purchase an Usha branded sewing machine (4600 rupees/$92) as Usha is a better quality brand than the Geminy entry level machine that requires more servicing (according to the salesman). With money left over we also purchased Nikita a bicycle (3600 rupees plus 200 rupees for a chain and wheel lock, and 30 rupees to have her name engraved on the steel handlebars in English and Marathi / all up A$77). With more money left over, we decided to buy another sewing machine which Varsha mentioned was greatly needed in the village of Guiaan for sewing classes which many young girls, including Nikita, attend.
A special thank you to those people who accepted my invitation and transferred money straight away. We are delighted to be able to do something small yet significant in the life of a young girl in Buldana.
As the days come to an end, I’m constantly reminded that it is soon time to pack up our belongings in the apartment we have called home sweet home for the last eight weeks and move on from Buldana to our next experience. We are in the mode of thinking about days now, not weeks, or months (which the girls are excited about). I am forever grateful of this experience we have been able to have as a family and all the wonderful people we have been able to meet and come to know well. As you know it has been a hard journey for us but not without its rewards and highlights and experiences. I think we have had to deal with issues in most areas – from food to entertainment and money to weather and internet to no water supply. But we have been able to work through all of them, and enjoy and laugh about these ‘living in Buldana mishaps and misadventures’ along the way.