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

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