Saturday, 25 June 2016

8 things I’ve learnt during my EduCARE Internship

1. How to live sustainably 

Living in an Indian village and trying to set an example for the village, I discovered how unsustainably I – someone who claims to care about the environment and climate change – had been living. Since being here I’ve learnt to go without toilet paper, blow my nose with my hands and a bit of water, conserve and re-use water, cut down plastic bags and unnecessary waste and to switch my light off when it’s not in use (something my dad will be cheering about).

2. How to become a cooking extraordinaire 

I still live at home so I have come to rely on heavily on my mum’s cooking. Even when I tried to cook it would end up tasting horrible, but living in a house full of piggy’s for four months I’ve been forced to learn not only to cook but how to get inventive with what we have available. Now I can cook everything from cauliflower and bean tacos, pasta with cashew nut cheese, chapatti pizza and of course the standard mixed vegetables and rice.

Best cauliflower bean tacos of all Harike

3. How to look at the bigger picture 

When you work with a grassroots level NGO like EduCARE you learn to think about the bigger picture and how your actions now will affect and help the organisation in the long term. When I first started I was concerned mostly with my own project and thinking about the “HARIKE VIKAS CENTRE” was secondary. After four months here and many meetings I’ve come to realise they are one and the same. When implementing your project you have to always ask the question “How will this help us develop a sustainable VIKAS centre in the future? What will we get out of this interaction/project?” 

4. How to reach new levels of patience I didn’t realise were possible 

I am someone who starts furiously pacing when my bus to uni is two minutes late, writing an angry complaint email to Sydney buses in my head, when the bus arrives. So for me, India was tough. I’ve had to get used to the girls in my Girls’ Club taking 45 minutes to get ready every week despite us being there at the same time every week. I’ve had to sit on a delayed train for over 17 hours in 40-degree heat while my chances of seeing the Taj Mahal slipped through my fingers. I’ve had to deal with no sim card or internet for a week as I began a descent into madness. Now I know patience is a virtue that I should practice more often. 

5. How to sleep on public transport 

I’ve learnt how to sleep without a pillow on a moving train. I’ve learnt how to sleep on a public bus with plastic seats that don’t move. I’ve learnt how to sleep sharing a bed on an overnight train and I’ve learnt to sleep on the floor of a moving train. 

The very first time I discovered what it was like to sleep on an Indian overnight train

6. How to break stereotypes and trust people

When I first told people I was coming to work in India everyone had the same response:


And that’s good advice, wherever you travel in the world, especially alone. India is rated “exercise a high degree of caution” by the Australian travel website and it is possible to follow this advice while still opening yourself up to trust the people of India. There were times in my internship I decided to go with my gut feeling and put my trust in people. Whether it was the deputy stationmaster at Firozpur station, the guy in the seat opposite me on the train or the many MANY people who gave me directions and help throughout India these people always showed me what you can miss out on if you judge the whole country by what you’ve been told or think you know. Basically I’ve learnt to break down your own stereotypes of a country and open yourself up to new experiences. You’ll be surprised how many great stories you get!

7. How to understand my own privilege

I’ve always known I was privileged to be born in Australia, privileged to be able to follow my dreams and be who I want without fear but here in India I began to understand it a bit better. All the girls I’ve met have BIG dreams for the future, just like me, but unlike me most acknowledge they will probably end up getting an arranged marriage and working as a housewife to fulfill their parents wishes. Most of these girls are probably smarter and stronger than me, but they are held back by a society that celebrates the birth of boys while terminating the pregnancies of girls. By a society that accepts a level of violence against women as the women’s problem. The only difference between me achieving my dreams, and them theirs, is the fact that I was lucky enough to be born in Australia.

8. How beautiful India is 

From the shining golden temple of Amritsar that offers free meals and shelter to any person regardless of religion, race, gender or creed to the symbol of love that is the Taj Mahal. From the snow capped hills of the Himalayas in Manali to the green, calm waters of the Ganges in Rishikesh. From perfectly planned Chandigarh to the crazy, backstreets of Old Delhi. India is a diverse, colorful and beautiful country and over the past four months I have been lucky enough to experience it.

A typical tourist snap in front of the Taj at around 6AM

So there you have it, I’m leaving EduCARE a million times wiser and full of memories to last me forever. 

I’m going to miss playing with these loud, excitable and funny children

I wanted to finish this blog post (mostly because I promised them I would) with a special shout out to the Harike Dream Team who have become my friends, family and partners in weirdness over the past four months. From our deep chats on natural selection and the evolution of the tailbone or climate change that often devolve into animals having sex (and watching the geckos on the wall mate), shaving buffaloes in chest hair, buying an actual fish for a birthday (and then gutting, cooking and eating it) and quizzes to see which Harry Potter house we would be in, it has been the best four months I could ask for. I’ll never forget you guys or the infamous scandal of all India at the Taj Mahal.

Ariadne Sofianidis - Australia
Women's Empowerment Project Manager in Harike 

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Home away from home

Beginning of June 2015: After 28+ exhausting hours of travelling I finally made it half way across the world! Standing in the scorching heat, I spotted my suited driver holding a ‘Ms. Sheth’ placard. Off I went to my ritzy hotel. When I arrived, the staff welcomed me with overzealous ‘Namaste’s’ and ‘How are you?’s’. Travel weary, I was in no mood to talk. As soon as I entered the suite, I drew a bubble bath and dimmed the lights to ‘relax setting.’ I thought ‘Well, this will be one hell of an easy adjustment.’

Flash forward 4 days, I’m now in the Himalayas in the middle of a place that has the address ‘Naddi, Near Bus Stand.’Ok, so not only do I have no idea where I am, neither do the residents of this village. Oh and there’s a cow pooping next to me. Cool. Great. Where’s my welcome drink? 

I was stranded in the middle of the Himalayas, hauling a large suitcase—the size of which could fit my body into—with the sun beating down on my back, and temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I lugged my suitcase down the unpaved, rocky path ventured by moving animals and their feces. Every step I went down, my heart beat faster and faster. Soon, I was sufficiently disoriented, and my mental sanity was about to explode. ‘Sh** what did I get myself into. Holy hell Tulsi, you think you’re Mother Theresa? What’s your problem in life?’ I was just about ready to throw my suitcase off the mountain until I heard someoneyelling “Hi Tulsi!! Hi Tulsi!!” Confused as to where the voice was coming from, I continued to walk down the dubious path. 

My mind was frazzled, my bones fatigued, but my eyes finally saw the girl who was enthusiastically screaming my name—Savita Meen. Her long brown hair, radiant smile, and beautiful brown eyes were enchanting. Savita’s physical beauty was only overpowered by her charisma—quite the sight for my weary self. Unfortunately, my mind was still completely elsewhere to appreciate that at that moment. As Savita showed me her quaint home, my throat started to close and my eyes began to swell. We quickly made it to my room that also functioned as her sister’s, Sunita’s, sewing room. I held my tears back while seeking the right words to say, I choked ‘Thank you for showing me around, everything is great!’ 

Alone in my new room, hundreds of flies swarmed around my face—great. I burst out into tears. Again a series of rapid-fire thoughts zoomed through my mind, overwhelming me and causing me to sit. 4 days before I had breakfast made for a king: the choice of 100 dishes and an omelette bar, and now I’m with a family burning sticks to prepare a standard meal of rice and dal. 

I cried myself to sleep that night. I woke up in the morning not feeling much better. I told myself, ‘Either you can go home and end up regretting everything or you can suck it up and do what it is that you came here to do.’ I sucked it up. But by the end of my first week, there was no despair that I needed to ‘suck up.’Savita’s family became my family. Every aspect of them and every stick that was used to cook our food I fell in love with. I was happier than I was at that omelette bar. No hate to the omelette bar, but in retrospect I believe this was the beginning of my journey towards understanding happiness outside of materialistic possessions. I spent a few weekswith the Meen family before moving into our NGO’s house just up the street. My time and experiences in Naddi and with the Meen family were quite extraordinary, and deserve far more space than I can give them—however, that is for another time.

My perspective on life and India began to change drastically. I had only experienced a narrow version of India—my extended families’ secured, Bombay lifestyles and the swanky hotels we visited. It was quite perplexing, with a dash of irony, that despite being of Indian descent I was oblivious to all of India’s colors. Every week, I exceeded my emotional limit. I kept witnessing things that I thought would only happen in movies- young girls chasing their cows down the street and others carrying buckets of water on their heads. I thought that my efforts would lead to no avail, and even if I could do something I wouldn’t know where to start. I realized that I to take a step back and take in the whole picture, to understand how I could address the needs of the community and create measurable change within it. As I learned, it’s a picture easy to lose sight of. 

In many ways, I think the Naddi community gave me more than I gave them. I remember walking up the main road with a 3 lb. wooden board for ourlocal shop. But I was wheezing by the time I got to the main square. As I searched for my breath, I heard a mischievous giggle behind me. The giggle continued. I look behind and its Mamaji aka Savita and Sunita’s mom bearing the biggest smile. “Hi Tulsi!!” she lovingly says. Her right hand was holding the bottom of her headscarf that she was innocently chewing, and her left hand was effortlessly placed on the side of a 40 lb. haystack sitting on her head. ‘Well I’m a total loser. Panting while carrying a wimpy piece of wood, while a 50 year old is running around with a forest on her head.’ While humorous, this encounter helped showed me that no matter how much I improve and how much I learn, there is always something more I can do to be better than I was yesterday. The strength, love, and happiness that the community members taught me are true blessings. I’ll never forget them.

EduCare’s philosophy avoids the classic paradigm of imposing Western thought processes and value systems on groups receiving aid. Rather, it aims to provide a context-based understanding of people and their circumstances, leveraging them to foster individual empowerment. This organization has provided me with endless opportunities and challenged me in ways that I didn’t think were even possible. It helped me understand the boundless nature of human achievement. Bring any idea you have come to life! All you need is a cupful of humility, a spoonful of introspection, and a sprinkle of imagination. 

Hopefully I’ll be seeing you soon near a bus stand in the middle of nowhere.

Tulsi Sheth, USA
REstore Project Manager - Microfinance Project Coordinator

Saturday, 11 June 2016

First day in India

Everything started on the 5th of February 2016.

After many adventures to get my visa I closed my backpack and took the car to reach Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport. Unfortunately, there was a taxi strike (France you know!) and my departure depended on them. I wasn't sure that I will catch my plane because traffic was blocked for several kilometers to the entrance of the airport.

FINALLY I reached the airport, I ran as a crazy girl to register my baggage and I entered in the plane 5 minutes before the closure of boarding the plane. I found my colleague who will travel with me for the next few days. I was too stressed and I wanted to vomit, anyway I was in the plane guys!

8 hours after, we arrived in Indira Ghandi International Airport in Delhi. We didn't have any cash, any local money (smart) … No problem we were sure that it will be possible to get money in the ATM outside the airport. So we left the airport to get money but of course all of them were out of order otherwise it was not funny.

No worries, we tried to go back in the airport to get money. Of course, as the security told us it was impossible because we didn't have any plane to take. Damn we are blocked in the airport, without any money it's impossible to take the subway or the taxi to reach the main railway station..We wasted so much time to talk with the security hoping to enter in the airport. No way, even with our best smile it was not possible.

After I don't remember how much time we found a miracle, a sweet woman told us that her son will help us. We met her son, Ashia, he was so nice almost too nice that it felt weird. He called a taxi for us and asked him to drop us at an ATM in Delhi. He joined us in the taxi... I didn't really understand why and I had the impression to be in a scene of Taken 1.

Taken 1 scene

Fortunately the following is less dramatic.

Finally the taxi dropped us at the ATM, we had money, we said bye bye, thank you to Ashia, and the next incredible adventure could start. Few hours after, we reached the railway station to buy a train to reach Gajner, which is in Rajasthan, where we were expected for our induction.

There were so many people in the railway station but unfortunately from that billion people we asked to buy a ticket to the wrong person. The man told us that is impossible to buy a ticket here because we are foreigners. 

Typical situations in Indian Railway Stations

Because we are young, naive (and super tired for my defense..), we followed him in a governmental foreigners office.

He told us that there is no train, no bus, a big event in Delhi which meant that it will be impossible for us to find any hotel. He told us that he can provide us a taxi to reach Gajner. 

We knew that the man was lying to us, anyway the night fell, I don't want to spend more time in Delhi, this crazy city, and we are already late for our Induction. So unwillingly we accepted his proposition, took a taxi from Delhi to Gajner and pay 10 times more than if we took the train.

The way from Delhi to Gajner

Conviced to take a taxi was the best solution because I could sleep serenely and arrive fresh to the Induction...I was completely wrong ! Impossible to close my eyes since I realized I was about to cross the country with someone that I didn't know 5 minutes before.

To summarize,after throught the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, and going throughout several checkpoints, the taxi man who was supposed to drop us in Gajner, left us at 5 am on the side of the road (in Bikaner) 45 minutes from Gajner.

Definitely motivated to join Gajner, we took a rickshaw from Bikaner to Gajner at 5 am, in the most bitter cold of the desert in February. 

Travelling in the Rickshaw!

FINALLY around 6 am we arrived in Gajner and I don't know how we found the headquarters of EduCARE. Daniela, the experience coordinator was here to accomodate us with her best smile.

Ready for the next 4 months. Let's go, Jammin together!

Lina Machrouh - France
Women's Empowerment Project Manager in Rait

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

One of the highlights of my internship in India was visiting Amritsar.

We got up at 3 AM on Wednesday to get to Dharamsala to get our bus at 5 AM. It’s about a 6 hour ride but on a government bus, which means its literally like rows of benches and super crowded. Amritsar itself is just a typical busy, dirty, dusty and underwhelming Indian city but it’s also home to the Golden Temple, the holiest site in Sikhism, the religion of most Punjabis. The Golden Temple is AMAZING and so beautiful, its like stepping into another world when you get inside the complex. You approach the complex and everything becomes marble and immaculately clean (weird) and you have to check your shoes and socks (they aren’t allowed inside the complex even inside a bag) and cover your head (men too) and then you walk through this shallow pool of water to wash your feet and then into the temple complex.

It’s full of people 24 hours a day but it’s also so peaceful and quiet, except the hushed sounds of lots of silent people milling around and praying and the gurus inside the temple singing/chanting prayers over this loudspeaker. I spent hours just sitting on the marble on the edge of the water (which is holy water and the men bathe in it in their underwear and the women can too but they have to go in this covered section). Then you can get into the line to go into the temple itself and you get inside and it’s so crazy and ornate (also warm, I cannot even imagine what it’s like in there in the summer) and when you get out of the temple they spoon a scoop of this stuff that looks kind of like dark brown oatmeal into your hand and it tastes like sugary whole wheat flour mush and you’re supposed to eat it and then rub the oil from it on your face. 

We stayed there for free, they have what are called “niwas” which are giant hostels essentially that are free for Golden Temple visitors. You just walk into this giant courtyard just next to the temple complex and if you’re foreign this really nice Sikh guy comes over and brings you to the “foreigners room” which is basically a small section of the niwas that is a bit more private. There’s one big room with a bunch of cots and then four or five smaller rooms off it that each have three cots in them, we stayed in one of the smaller rooms (challenging to get four people onto three cots). There’s a bathroom with a tap and sink and bucket to shower in the big room but then for the toilets you go out into the courtyard and there two-story toilet “halls” with the most toilet stalls I have ever seen in one place. The whole place is full of giant rooms with cots and there are so many people that at night the whole courtyard is full of people just sleeping on blankets on the ground

The most amazing part of all of this is the Langar (which just means food in Punjabi) hall. You enter through the temple complex and you walk through another foot pool and then you walk up and a guy hands you a plate and then another guy hands you a spoon and then another one a bowl and then you shuffle into this enormous room with really long thin mats lined up in rows and you sit down on the mat and then these guys come around with baskets of fresh chapati, buckets of dal (lentils) and subjee (Indian mixed vegetables) sometimes rice and then either something similar to what they give you when you leave the temple or like a sweet rice pudding type thing. It’s totally free, and you just eat as much as you want and then take the plate down and hand it to someone and they pass it along this assembly line to like 100 people who are doing dishes. And next to that there are 100 people cooking in these absolutely enormous vats. Apparently something like 40,000 pilgrims eat there a day. I loved it, the food was incredible - I ate every meal there.

The whole temple, niwas, langar experience was absolutely incredible, I loved it so much.

Part of Naddi's team in the Golden Temple

Kyla Korvne - USA
Women's empowerment Project Manager/ Centre Coordinator in Naddi

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Living on the Road

One random day meanwhile I was working in Greece I decided that I wanted to move to another place and do something else. Once I made the decision one thing linked to another and after a series of lucky has by unsuspected events I ended up in India doing an internship with EduCARE India. 

Before coming I was a bit sceptic of what I will find in this country, in the organization, the people around me...when I arrived to Delhi that feeling was fading out slowly (I felt super confident after ruining a taxi driver scam) and during my Induction it went away definitely. 

Soon I learnt that my internship will be characterized by one thing, I will “live on the road”. As my internship is as Communications coordinator and during 2016 the COM Team (Collaborative Operations Management Team) will be travelling between the centres to be more helpful and support better the teams. I loved the idea from the very first moment and since then I have been discovering EduCARE India centres and India at the same time.

My first home in India was Gajner (Rajasthan) and it will always be a place I will remember with special affection. I loved how I felt part of the community really soon, how every child will greet me with a big smile, how beautiful were the sunsets at the lake, the amazing dinners that the interns prepared, all the chais and kachoris I had at Manoj’s shop (one of the places I miss the most!) and the weekend trips we did always preceded and followed by some hours in Bikaner, I city I got to know well (partly because of my multiple visits to the FRRO office) and I like for some inexplicable reason. Whoever has been in Bikaner knows that is a crazy and noisy city, but when you get to know it becomes...let’s say familiar.

ASP in Modiya Mansar (Gajner)

Lovely dinners in the intern's house rooftop

Peacocks acting as my morning alarms in Gajner

But the time to moved came and with a lot of sadness but some excitement for keep discovering India and EduCARE I left Gajner behind and I spent two weeks in Harike’s centre. During the train trip I already noticed how different everything will be from my previous life in India, the desert was not there anymore instead I will find green plains, the wetlands and humidity, a lot of humidity! Even the people were different Punjabis were undoubtedly taller and bigger than my previous Rajasthani neighbours. 

I still remember vively the buffalos and their crazy eyes, the Sikhs’ culture all around, my first noodle burger and how surprised I felt at first by Harike. I was used to my calm village life in Gajner where not many (or none) shops or food options are available and suddenly I found myself in a little town where they even had fabric shops and my beloved paranthas (a dish that if you didn’t try yet, believe me you are missing something!) I definitely took advantage of all the options that were around me, noodles, noodles burgers, paranthas, real ice creams, lassis, Chocos, milkshakes by Armand and more! I was awakening the food monster I have inside every single day.  

View behind the intern's house at sunset

In the temple community, one of the places where the interns in Harike work

Nevertheless soon it was time to keep moving.

After a long night driving where I found myself stuck in the back of a car surrounded by backpacks, household stuff and the belongings of my team members, we finally arrived to Naddi, Himachal Pradesh. It was six in the morning and it was so cold compare to my previous locations!! My body had a complete shock but even though I was shivering and I had a big lack of sleep, I could not believe how beautiful everything was around me, the mountains, the clean air and the view itself. As soon as I step out of the car and I got my first chai things started fitted in. 

Stunning view from Naddi

These four months have been a great learning experience so far and one thing I have learnt is that when you “live on the road” your house is your backpack and that means going through many housing situations. I loved the place I stayed in Gajner it was calm, fresh, I had shelves and we got a fridge just a week after I arrive (cheers for that!). Harike was good, I liked the open spaces, the big table, the size of the rooms and the pressure of the water was great compare to Gajner! Naddi was a bit rough in the beginning (even though the fridge came after only four days!) but once we started to clean, built shelves everywhere (thanks to Faik and Emma, they literally changed our lives!) and taking advantage of the balcony to enjoy the view, it became slowly slowly my third home in India (still having freezing showers though) 

Building shelves with Atul's help

Of course this incessant movement has sad sides, when you know all the shopkeepers, your neighbours, how the buses and trains work, who has the best paneer in town, who sells the best lassi and people treats you as part of the family, as part of the community you live in you have to move and start from scratch. But it has a lot of good things also, I got to know all the centres and all the interns (I am really happy about that, many beautiful and inspiring personalities in EduCARE!) I have experimented and lived in three different Indian states that couldn’t be more different from each other and the most important thing is that everywhere I felt at home.

Another lesson I am learning is about me, I considered myself a really easy going and flexible person before coming to India, but now I definitely can say that I am both even more (mostly like everybody in EduCARE, we left behind almost all our comforts and food pleasures, believe me) I can sleep on the floor of a train station without blinking (or literally sleep anywhere), I can cook tasty dinners with three ingredients, survive to power cuts or water cuts that last two days and I proved myself that I can survived without cheese! Everything takes longer here and everything can go wrong but once you accepted it life can be surprisingly good. I can also say that this way of moving around is making me realize how little I need to live and how many useless stuff we use that just take space and money away (cliché alert!). 

Getting to know all the communities and living among them, sharing time with all the teams and participating in some of the women’s empowerment projects I also find myself even more convinced about my ideals and principles regarding feminism, environment, education, gender issues and inequalities among people. I discovered really soon how unsustainable I was and how little I thought of the consequences of some of my daily habits. Before coming to India I also considered myself a feminist but now after seeing how Indian women feel and struggle daily and how many times I had to control and repress myself for not reacting against certain behaviours towards them, I can say that I am a convinced feminist seeking for equality among all human beings with a renewed motivation. 

I find myself sometimes thinking how lucky I am that I got to live this experience and how much I have learnt so far, I already see how I am changing and how much India, EduCARE India and its interns have opened my eyes and showed me how much still needs to be done. 

India can be too much sometimes, some days are a bit overwhelming but if you have the right attitude in the end everything works out and something good can always came up, all depends in how you face the situations!

I am looking forward to seeing what more India has to teach me! 

Enjoying Himachal Pradesh sceneries.

Mercedes Milán - Spain
Communications Coordinator in EduCARE India

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Why India?

The question I get asked the most about my decision to come and live and work in a rural Indian village is:


Because the families you meet are the most welcoming and loving.

Working with Educare has given me a unique opportunity to meet different families, with two things in common: their ability to feed you until you are literally bursting out of your Punjabi suit and their obsession with selfies and photo-shoots. My favourite story is with a family in Makhu whose daughter, Komal, does girls club. They invited Jessica, Sacha and myself over for her father, Malkit's birthday where we were hand fed cake into our mouths and on our faces, danced until we could no more and posed for a series of photos involving swords. The hospitality and love of this family is shown across so many families I've met who have treated me as their own.

Me having a sword fight with an Indian father in Makhu

Why India?

Because everyone I meet while travelling is so helpful.

I’m someone who has managed to miss an international flight from Belgium to Australia, an overnight bus from Goa and has gotten on the wrong train (more than once) back home in Sydney so when I was travelling alone in India for the first time I was a little nervous. I got the bus from Harike to Firozpur, managed to buy my return ticket from Haridwar with no issues and I was feeling pretty confident as I walked into the station thirty minutes before my train. I went to look at the board that lists the train numbers only to find my number wasn’t there. 04934. I ripped open my printed ticket sure that I had gotten the date or the station wrong. 
No, everything was correct. 
My stomach in knots I walked to the stationmaster’s office to ask. I was offered water while Raj Kumar (the station master) called a million people, shaking his head, the worst thoughts running through my head. Finally he looked up, “You want chai?”, I nodded my head thinking oh no this can only be bad news…. Sure enough, he began to tell me the train was delayed…by FOUR hours. They didn’t know the platform yet. I drank chai and chatted with them until they had to leave. They introduced me to the deputy stationmaster who was going to come and get me when the train arrived (he did, despite my many visions of him forgetting and me sleeping in Firozpur station for the night) and opened a private meeting room for me to wait alone. 
I'm happy to say I ended up safely in Haridwar. 
Although I had another incident on the way back which involved an Indian man walking me to my seat, putting my bed up and making sure the ticket guy knew I was there.

Why India?

Because people you are wary of end up being nicer than anyone in your home country.

Coming back from Pushkar we forgot to buy our tickets and we ended up in GENERAL CLASS (cue scary music) – we decided to try our luck finding spare sleeperseats. 
Luck was not on our side.
Resigned to our fate of having to sleep on the floor of the train right outside the bathroom we began to get comfy. About an hour in, some Indian men who had been drinking and staring came over and offered us two of their beds. We initially refused but they insisted. This kind gesture meant that three Punjabi men (who as anyone who has been to Punjab knows, are not exactly small) had to share ONE bed. When they left the train before us, they explained to the new people the situation and astoundingly they also let us stay. To this day I am still shocked because if this had been Australia, we would've been laughed at and left exactly where we were. 

Alex and Armando sleeping very comfortably on the floor of the train

Why India? 

Because each hotel owner has their own story. 

I find the people who run hotels some of the most interesting people, they always have stories to tell about India and other travellers. From Abu in Jaisalmer with his pearls of wisdom such as “Life is Mamma Mia, Life is Hello, Hello is Life” to the owner of a cottage in Old Manali who told us about his work as a peacekeeper for a few months every year in east India and about a book he was writing called “Travel Ugly” with destinations such as the village of living bridges or the place where birds commit suicide. There was also the owner of a hotel in Haridwar who told us stories of the ”Goa fashion style” and Russians drunk on vodka getting into fights on the beach.

Why India?

Because despite the 50 degree heat, the power cuts, the slow internet, train delays, the stares, the dirt and the diarrhea, the people with their big hearts and open arms make it all worth it. 

I think I'll end this blog with a quote from Shantaram that has stuck with me ever since I read it, and sort of inspired this blog:

“India is the heart. It's the heart that keeps us together. There's no place with people like my people, Lin. There's no heart like the Indian heart”

Being welcomed and loved by my girls in Girls' Club

Ariadne Sofianidis - Australia 
Women's Empowerment Project Manager in Harike