21.03.2012 - 21.03.2012 31 °C
It's currently Sunday afternoon and I'm on the home stretch of a ten hour drive from Pushkar to Jodhpur, typing this up on my phone to post the next time I get internet. The past few days have been quite nice, and as I've been driving for so long today (and a bit yesterday) I've had a lot of time to think, so this post may or may not end up being riddled with philosophical or thoughtful points that've been rolling around in my head lately.
I think my last post was on Wednesday morning, so I'll start there. The day was pretty normal, as I was back at school. Elena was much better thankfully, and has decided to stay in India rather than go back to Spain, which I think will be good for her (and selfishly I'm very happy to remain in her company!). Back at school Sasha and I changed our teaching method a little, deciding to teach the class as a whole rather than split into two, as she had done the day before when I was absent. I was sceptical but it actually worked out really well. In the morning they were pretty good - it was very cute to rock up in the van seeing them sitting neatly in three lines ready for morning prayer singing. 'Bless their cotton socks' as Big Deb would say (although few of them have shoes let alone socks).
In our class we had our regular eight, plus two more - a girl named Raj and a boy named Mukesh (another one). Raj has come to school a few times before but isn't very consistent, and when I was talking to Sarah she had mentioned that Raj was one of the kids that she worries about, as she is very very thin and often stays home to work so that her siblings can come to school (they come every day). Mukesh I'd never met before, but it was clear that both of them were struggling in class so I left Sasha to the other kids and took Raj and Mukesh outside for some one-on-two. Mukesh just didn't really get it, even his alphabet was off, so we moved him to the lower class after lunch, but I feel really sorry for Raj and a bit bewildered about what to do. She really struggles but tries hard as well and I think she's quite disappointed in herself. She rarely smiles like all the other kids as she always has this pained and worried expression on her face. I feel that Sarah may be right in that she carries a lot of the burden for her family. I really worry about what will happen for her in the future as I don't know enough about her and her family circumstances, but all I can do is try to help in the short time I have with her and hope for the best for her. I already fear leaving these kids as I'm just so worried about not knowing what will happen to them, and it's not like I can just track them down on Facebook in 5 years, as I could with kids I've tutored or taught swimming to back home. These children seriously have nothing except beautiful smiles and hearts.
In the afternoon Claudia had mentioned that she wanted to get a saree so we went (with the Dutch girls) to the saree store. Claudia didn't buy one but somehow I ended up with another one - this time a nice greeny-yellow one with blue decorations. It was only about AUD$7 and very pretty but I really need to stop! Maybe I can turn them into curtains or throws back home, or maybe I can make sarees fashionable in Sydney.
On Wednesday night I don't think anything remarkable happened. Two other girls had come on the weekend - Annabel from London and Tinika from Holland, so I got to speak to them a little bit which was really nice. One thing fun that did happen was henna! I'd bought some tubes of henna paint for 10 rupees at the corner store a while ago and decided that due to boredom I'd go a bit crazy with it. I did heaps on my left hand and right foot, and Purni did a beautiful proper henna flower on my right hand. It's pretty cool, and the next day I kept going with my addiction, so there's henna all up my left forearm now. It looks a bit excessive but hey, when in India. Purni's convinced to finish my whole arm before I go. I'll have fully hektik sleeve.
On Thursday we had ANOTHER holiday from work and in the theme of going Indian I'd promised Purni I'd get all dressed up in the morning. I wore my pink saree, a massive bindi and big earrings as Purni loves. It was funny because she gets so excited, plus I'm totally in love with the bright colours of Indian clothes.
Later in the morning a few of the girls and I decided to visit the Monkey Temple just on the outskirts of Jaipur city. Elena, Claudia and the Dutch girls Sasha, Helma, Marjolijne, Belinde and I left the house and spent far too long haggling for rickshaws, but finally got in one and went on our way. Our rickshaws stopped outside a driveway to a fairly dead-looking temple on a road in the middle of nowhere and curiously we got out and started walking. We went into a door that said 'ADMINISTRATION' with two old men sitting at a desk, urging us to sit down. We asked to enter the monkey temple only to discover it was another kilometre up the road. We walked back to the rickshaws with our tails between our legs and very confused, and a few minutes later arrived at the actual Monkey Temple.
I must admit that given past experiences I was a little nervous about putting myself willingly in a place renowned purely for its masses of monkeys, but it ended up...okay.
I bought some peanuts from a smiley looking man outside the temple to feed to the monkeys, which ended up coming in useful. The space was like a little compound of temples set amongst mountains, though I didn't see many monkeys. Then about five minutes later they appeared from all angles - hundreds of them leaping through the temples and gardens, along the fences and all across the mountain faces (I wish I had a camera to capture this, but they blend too easily with the mountain rock). They seemed to all be headed towards a small building up the top where I think attendants were feeding them or something. We walked around for a while and came up to an area with a pool, where families were gathered and men were bathing in the holy water. To the side was a shrine and below there was a separate one for females, although there was only one young girl being bathed whereas there were many men of various ages in the other one.
As I went to leave the shrine I looked around for my shoes. I couldn't see them anywhere until I spotted three monkeys sitting on top of them. Someone had left food near them and they weren't moving anywhere, so I grabbed the bag of peanuts of bought and threw them down the stairs. As they ran after them I quickly dashed after my thongs (flip flops) and all was well again.
On our way out we went inside one of the temples and some people working there showed us a separate shrine which was nice, but Elena wasn't feeling great so we went back to our rickshaw and headed home.
In the afternoon some of the girls went to the Amber Fort but I just relaxed and enjoyed having the day off, trying to sort through some of my thousands (literally) of photos. I really need to ease up on the Kodak moments. Elena and I went for a walk and I had some hilarious chats with Purni, and that night watched Slumdog Millionaire - a very different experience when you're in the same country.
The next day it was back to work. Sasha wasn't feeling great so I took most of the class but it went pretty well. They're doing well with addition and okay at multiplication, but we're getting there. It sucks that we don't have many volunteering days as there've been so many holidays - I'm really going to miss these kids.
After lunch Lian and I had planned to visit a guru that some of the other girls had had a good experience with. I'm highly sceptical of spiritual stuff but nonetheless curious, plus it was free. Chloe came as she wanted to visit a spice shop she'd seen last time, so we shared a rickshaw. Our driver was super cute and attentive but got us thoroughly lost. When we finally arrived through the many narrow lanes we came to a jewellery shop and waited for the guru to come. Lian was looking for some jewellery as a wedding present for a friend and bought a bracelet. The 'guru' (who was not the stereotypical guru I was expecting) was dressed in a smart shirt, and was the owner of a successful jewellery business. While Lian was looking at various trinkets he asked if my mum has been a teacher or nurse, or someone who does social type work. I said no, and he told me he should be. I sat for a while nervously drinking chai wondering whether I would actually get a reading or if that was it, as he was quite mysterious in his mannerisms. Lian chose a bracelet and paid, and after processing he came to me and asked if he could help me with anything. I wasn't interested in jewellery, which his eyes seemed to already know, and he asked again. I started with 'well, I was wondering if-' and he just said 'follow me, close the door'.
He asked for my left hand and hovered his over it, closing his eyes. I almost laughed but was quite nervous, and then he asked if I could feel something. There was a warm pulsing up my arm from my palm, though he hadn't touched me. When he opened his eyes he said 'wow' and began asking a few questions. He said a number of things, guessing my siblings and parents ages (they were about a year off and he just asked if I was sure, making me double guess if Rachel really is 23 or if Michael is 53 - though it sure wouldn't be the first time he's lied about his age). There were a number of things he said about me, and particularly about my mum, such as:
1) she works too hard and it hasn't been successful and rewarded her, particularly in the last 2.5 years
2) she's severely depressed and he's 100% sure, he'll give me something worth AUD$1000 if he can't prove it
3) she's had a third pregnancy that I didn't know about
4) she's attempted suicide
5) we're very very similar.
I didn't object to these things as I am curious (and these 2, 3, 4 are things that some people may not know about their mothers), and for a moment I wondered if my mum has some mystery past. However, after thinking more and speaking to her, I'm sure that 1-4 are completely incorrect, in fact she's been more successful in the last two years than ever before. He may have something with 5 though, but I don't think it'd take a genius (or guru!) to figure that one out. He also said a few other things that got me thinking but I don't think much of it was super accurate, though some was. I think he does have some sort of gift but in general I'm very sceptical of these things so I'm very curious. Regardless, he said he wanted to see me again to confirm some things and asked for mums birthday, name and birthplace to do a 'horoscope chart' for her - though I feel like that sort of information would allow you to do an extensive Facebook search instead haha.
As I was leaving he had a few customers waiting and wouldn't do Lian's reading, asking her to come next week, which understandably she wasn't super impressed about. Anyway, we went to a spice shop on the way home and dropped Chloe and Lian at the cinema as some of the girls were doing a 'Bollywood movie night' (I'm thinking of going next week!). I then went home, and the driver got a bit weird and wanted me to drive the rickshaw with him, but I didn't really want to do it while I was by myself as he was acting a bit strange. I did let him take a photo of us on his phone though because he had been very nice.
When we were almost at home I saw Purnima walking so I hopped out and went to the shop with her, discovering it was paneer night - woohoo (the most acceptable version of Indian cheese, everyone gets pretty excited on paneer night as the vego diet sometimes makes me think I'm protein deprived).
Another highlight for the night is that the boys that had been mentioned earlier arrived! We have two new guys: Ian from Taiwan and Croan (I actually forgot his name unfortunately but I remember it was something strange) from France. They're both really nice and Ian's currently travelling with us.
Yesterday morning I woke up quite early (as usual) and pottered around before we had to leave at 8.30am for our 5-day Rajasthan adventure. First stop was Pushkar, which I think was about a 4 or 5 hour drive from Jaipur. Pushkar is a holy city in Rajasthan, which I'd heard a lot about in the past - though it seems now that it's just a bit of a tourist haven. Alcohol and meat are not allowed in the town, but these rules seem to bend a bit if you have enough money for a beer. There are also a variety of 'magic lassis' or 'special cakes' etc around.
When we arrived at the hotel it seemed like a palace! It was atop a hill just outside the centre of town and had amazing views from all angles. We got pretty excited when we spied upon a pool, however closer inspection revealed that it was more for decoration and had no water in it! Regardless, we got set up in our room before we had to leave for the market and Annabel ordered a lime soda in the lobby, which literally took about 55 minutes to arrive because 'the lime and the soda are in separate bottles'.
Anyway, we went down to the market/centre of town which was actually really cool. The Dutch girls, Elena and I got lunch at a restaurant where we had the whole roof to ourselves which was cool. We then looked around the markets, which sold a lot of beautiful jewellery (not great quality) among many other things. Elena and I walked for a few hours and out of nowhere stumbled across a big lake - certainly not what we'd expected in the middle of an isolated desert city surrounded by mountains. It was really cool, and here there were more bathing ghats (like at the monkey temple) where people bathe and leaving offerings. On our walk back up we got some fresh lime and mint soda and I bought two things - a lovely necklace (it already broke in my bag but is easily fixed) and a cheap ring.
At around 5 we all met back at the bus to do a trek up to Naga Pahar (check name), which is basically a temple on top of a mountain in Pushkar with beautiful views of the city. The walk up was just lots of steps, but throughout the day I'd had a really bad headache and felt a bit nauseous, as had Dutch Sasha. At a bit over halfway Annabel, Helma, Sasha and I decided we didn't want to go further (I was just about ready to pull my eyeballs out) so we sat and they enjoyed the spectacular view while I laid on the goat pee-infused ground wanting to die.
Eventually my headache eased and I also could enjoy the view, and although I really wanted to see the top (and now regret not persevering), I doubt I would've made it. Uphill walking and I don't mix. Soon the other girls came back down and we discovered that Annabel actually had been sitting in goat piss, and had a wet patch to prove it - rookie error thinking it was just sweat. Elena also told a story of how when she'd been up there enjoying the view she was confronted by 30 monkeys blocking her path back up, which just confirms the fact that monkeys are not our friends.
When we got back down I got a panadol which helped, and we went back to the market for dinner. Annabel, Tinika, Ian and I went to a restaurant Annabel had seen in the lonely planet (though it was actually the wrong one). Funnily everyone writes that they're recommended - some even 'Recommended by all foreign country guide books!!' Regardless, I got some surprisingly good pasta and we met a really cool American girl who shared some interesting travel tales.
After dinner we walked back to the car and I had a quick shower (well it was cold so I bathed myself under the tap) and went to bed.
This morning we woke up for breakfast, which I must say was a kind of hilarious ordeal. When we arrived he gave us some very basic food and when others of our group sat at other tables it seemed to rotate. As I was about to grab a samosa he'd come and the basket off our table and take to the next, same with ketchup, toast and milk etc. It seems they only have one jug/bowl/basket for each. In general the whole hotel was pretty crappy and weird but it was funny.
After breakfast we got in the car for the lengthy journey to Jaisalmer. Had lunch at a fancy restaurant and I've just been talking to Annabel all day, but as I mentioned earlier during this time I've conjured various musings.
1) Perception of time:
Sometimes it feels like I can hardy remember Sydney and that it was forever ago, like the feelings of driving past streets and going to parties in Newtown And annandale are all nostalgic and not clearly distinct memories, but at the same if I went home in a week and my entire trip had been 2 months then it feels like I would've been in Sydney a week ago.
It's also weird that the things I planned for so long have already occurred and become part of the past when I only saw them as the future for so long. I'm excited for Nepal, Europe etc but that means that six weeks in India will have already occurred - something that had just been my plans and dates in a diary for so long.
2) Cultural differences/basic expectations:
It's difficult to comprehend the vast differences in our realities. These children had completely different upbringings to me - it's normal to wake up and go into the desert and herd goats or go to the fields and pick wheat or whatever whereas for me you go to school and then netball training in your specific uniforms and then get bathed and sent to bed. Children in Vietnam are playing on the streets til 11pm onwards, Cambodia they farm for rice from ages of 7, sent to beg etc. I feel like witnessing so many cultural differences will make it difficult to return to Western society where it seems we've forgotten not about what we see as 'the other half' of the world, although it's actually the 'other 99%'. We make sweeping generalisations like 'everyone sends their kids to private school, everyone has an iPod, everyone has basic rights to privilege'. Because we do have it so easy and I think a lot of our problems (I am by no means excluded from this 'we' but rather I think I'm probably just using myself as the primary example in my case study) are made up in our heads. We see what 'everyone' else has except within our line of vision is only the other top 10% of the world. I like that my sense of reality has been reshaped but I worry about how this will effect my interactions when I get home. I fear becoming pretentious about my experiences because I am by no means acclimatised to Indian/SE Asian culture, and I still miss warm showers and not everything smelling like goat piss, but I just think its gonna piss me off when I'm back in a society that complains about pointless shit. But as a product of the society I was conditioned in, it seems to be kind of inherent in me to do so at times.
I want to be able to remind myself of this when I'm home so that I don't continue to take things for granted. And hopefully be able to show my friends and family and people I encounter how great we have it without sounding like a pretentious twat - 'well when I was in India everything was so much harder and you guys don't have the right to complain' because I really haven't struggled so much here, but more just been a witness to the struggle from my cushioned throne with plenty of western comforts. Plus it's not that I don't think people have a right to complain anyway, I just think they have a limited understanding of things outside Sydney/Western society and that this has just been conditioned by their experiences (or lack thereof).
Just to clarify I am completely not excluded from this. I would not willingly choose to live without my iPhone.
3) Hand holding:
Just something strange I've noticed - lots of men walking down the street hold hands. Even more than I've ever noticed in Sydney, and it's just interesting due to their general acute fear of homosexuality.
4) Sixth sense:
I think I have a sixth sense. Well not necessarily a sixth, but rather heightened senses. These senses are triggered by food packaging. I've discovered during my many hours on buses and planes that regardless of whether I'm staring out the window, listening to my iPod on full volume, or even sleeping, I always become instantly alert when I hear the crinkle of food packaging or smell something food-like. Sadly, this gift is actually a curse, as the majority of the time the food in question is not Oreos, and let's be honest that's all I'm really interested in.
Anyway, this has been another extremely long post so I'll end it here. I'm busy for the next few days travelling, so I'll write when I next get internet. It's also nice not to have a pointless existence that revolves entirely around Facebook.