The heat sticks to my skin, like one of those fleece blankets I love to snuggle myself into during dark, cold winter days in this time of the year. Except that the blankets stayed in the Netherlands, and certainly would be a misfit in temperatures like this. It doesn’t fully resound in my head that I hear Christmas songs all around, while some of the palm tree leaves gently wave at us and we are gently melting. Are we sure we’re not somewhere in the middle of August instead of at the very beginning of a brand new decade?
Now that might sound too fancy, those palm tree leaves. It almost was that fancy, as we intended to fly off to a (not so) faraway tropical island to spend Christmas and New Year in bikini (that only counts for me, Ruben would have been waring something less girly) on a pearly white beach. But, as we could have expected, the ticket prices weren’t suited for our budget, at least not in this time of the year. For the same money we could’ve flied back home and spend those holidays with the ones we love. Or fly straight to New Zealand and don’t be bothered at all. Which makes me wonder, sometimes, why we people have a general tendency to take the most difficult way… It is remarkable that the packages that are on their way to our adres in Mumbai have an estimated delivery time of 5–10 working days. Can you imagine? It took us about 150 working days, weekends of course, not included.
Honestly, before entering India I have been a little afraid of this country. It isn’t an untraveled destination and a few of my friends have been here before me. Even my parents went, a long, long time ago. The stories that they brought back weren’t always the most flourishing ones. Dead people next to the road, feces and shitloads (hehe) of trash in every open source of water, the same place where the children happily swim and people wash their clothes and bodies and where, of course, they also burn their dead. Everything packed, with noisy, ruthless people anyway. And the traffic. Let’s not start about that. It would sure be lethal. One of my friends thought she would go absolutely nuts if she stayed longer than a week. Luckily she got to leave after seven days and she’s still mentally okay. Just a few days before we entered, as a kind of cherry on the cake, some of the people riding somewhere in front of us mutually agreed on how relentlessly relieved they were to have left the country behind forever, never to return. Just how horrible it has been. Well thanks, that gave us hope!
On this trip there is no hopping off a plane to be overwhelmed by the heat, or cold. By the razzle-dazzle or the dirtiness. I think on our way here we kind of got used to it. Yes, the country is in some places sadly contaminated, and it is busy, people are extremely noisy, don’t understand anything of personal space or otherwise socially accepted behavior, and the extreme hospitality we almost got used to in Iran and Pakistan has unfortunately disappeared. Yet the culture shock stayed away. I am happy that we saw culture change so slowly. Because this country is fascinating in it’s own way. It has been incredibly interesting to get to see life a little more up close in those past few weeks. To become kind of part of the small Christian community we live in. And I believe I became to see many things from new perspectives. Many concepts started to be shed in such a different light.
Our super basic 20m2 studio (but it is at least 6x as big as our tent!) often feels like a wealth of space, and though sometimes I’d love to have an extra room I am convinced that it is not needed. Where luxury might have sounded as something like a mansion before, here I see that the fact that I quite effortlessly finished my complete education is actually an enormous luxury. Poverty in the Netherlands often involves a payment of the government from which people can pay a roof above their head and, if they manage it well, they might even be able to go to a cheap gym. Here people don’t receive any money if they don’t work their asses off for it. You can find shags build along the sea, railway, or wherever there is space. Whole families are cramped into a few square meters covered by some canvas. And they do whatever they can just to survive. I still am not used to all the poverty we encounter, basically everywhere. On a small walk to the close-by bakery I always pass two families, always there, living on the street. A few women with children ranging from 0-5, who, if I cross early or late enough, found a piece of carton and a blanked to sleep on. And if they’re awake some of the kids start chasing me, dragging my shirt and begging for some money. But money or some food is not going to give them a future, and even if I give them food today I know their situation is almost hopeless. We just listened to the lyrics of a Phil Collins song in the famous Dutch top 2000 (we have to keep our traditions), explaining in what a paradise we, people with a wealth of possibilities, actually live. It is so true.
But of course there is not only misery around us. Luckily not. We expected to find a kind of party atmosphere Ruben left behind many years ago. But things have changed, his favorite club closed down and we actually became a little old. The need to party til the sun comes up for half of the week, well, that has changed too. But of course I had to see something of the life he lived back then. I didn’t necessarily have to know more about how unorganized Indians are, but there’s no avoiding that. It seems sometimes like the word efficiency is just not discovered here. Instead of letting us know in advance there was a party we had to go to, we received a message halfway the 24th of December that this evening we were expected to join. Head over heels I went downstairs and asked our host if I could borrow some dress of her, or if she wanted to join me shopping for one. Traveling by bike is awesome, that kind of life throws you absolutely back to basic, what I love. But the consequence is that I’m not traveling with my evening gown ready, of course. More so, I don’t even own any proper dresses anymore in the two boxes that contain all the stuff I have left. I had the luck that Tasneem used to be running a shop, so she had a 100 dresses ready. It was a delight to try them on. How weird to feel so feminine again after such a long time! We found one perfectly suiting the Christmas mood. So off we went, in our taxi with Ruben all looking handsome beside me, to the other side of town. After a little search we found our rooftop bar. Since alcohol is banned in Pakistan and Iran, and we haven’t partied since we left the Netherlands, it actually has been a while. After a few drinks I became so aware of this weird intoxicating feeling alcohol actually gives me. How is it that this is legal, and all other intoxicants aren’t? But that didn’t really matter, because we had fun, loads of fun. I missed it to dance. And though we didn’t make it till the sun came up, we gave it a very good try. By the end of the night we found our way back to our little house through this weird, lively, smog-filled city.
This time the year didn’t end with oliebollen and appelflappen (a suspiciously sounding deep fried doughnut balls and apple turnovers, according to google translate), but we had pizza and cappuccino instead. Quite a good substitute if you ask me. Halfway the evening we decided that staying home and watching the bonfire of the neighbors would be a bit boring. So we searched for a party that didn’t have an entry fee of €200 per person. And we found one with unlimited booze and even some included food that didn’t cost us a small fortune. The evening started lovely, a fancy location, good cocktails and music we could actually understand. The change of years though was the lamest ever. Halfway one song the DJ shouted welcome to 2020! We looked at each other with a little surprise, and Ruben consulted his phone to discover that actually the new decade had already started. After which the DJ started the countdown. We laughed and wished each other the most happy and loving new year. How awesome is it to start a brand new decade like this? Well, not with this Indian-style-too-late countdown, but on an adventure like this. With the man I love so much. With all the unknown lying ahead of us. A decade in which we hopefully settle down in the country we’ve dreamed of, and where we first get the chance to finalize this amazing journey. I realized how lucky I am. Though the music worsened (that Bollywood music really sucks), the evening evolved to be epic. We danced until we dropped, made friends with some Indians living in Melbourne, where we’ll probably drop by when we pass. All too early it was three o’clock and on our way home we concluded that it has been an awesome kickoff of this new year.
I try for as much as I can to soak up all this relaxed, weird but vibrant life has to offer. All strange weird little things. Like how I still don’t fully understand it if people mean yes or no when they wobble their head from one side to the other. I love the endlessly rushing rickshaws down the busy lanes, and I am still afraid I might get killed in one one day. The colorful sarees I still see everywhere. How a banana seller lazily takes a midday nap on his wooden carriage. It is all just so, so different. Last week Tasneem took me grocery shopping in a nearby bazaar. That is just a street in which everybody gathers to sell their fruit, veggies, juiced sugarcane, lentils, chicken, panties, well, everything. After I collected all the vegetables and fruit that I needed Tasneem still had to pick up some chicken. Though the country is mainly on a vegetarian diet (what an absolute relief!! And Mother Earth will be pleased with you, dear Indians), those of beliefs other than Hinduism and maybe even some negligent Hindus, don’t bother and just eat meat and fish. This was a Muslim area and finding some fresh chicken wasn’t a problem. Since I do not think I, as vegetarian, should ignore the fact that animals are used for consumption I thought it might be of some educational surplus to stay with her and watch. A spectacle it was. It was like a little factory. The ground-floor of the small stand was reserved for chickens-on-hold, a cage stuffed with fluffy white feathered animals. Behind the desk one of the two guys running the place occasionally grabbed one of these chickens from below, dipped its head in the waterbarrel placed behind him, grabbed a sharp knife to slid its throat and dropped it in a big blue barrel next to him, in which the chicken loudly flapping banged to the sides until it bled to death. The other guy grabbed one of the red colored, non-flapping chicken from that barrel, to swiftly undo it of it’s skin. With a few knife cuts he opened the chest and he pulled out a small pounding bundle first, to drop it on the pile of intestines. The pounding slowed. I discovered there that a heart is really eager to continue for as long as possible.
I am not entirely sure if it was the heat, standing in front of this stall in the burning midday sun might not be the best idea, or the smell of death animals, the incredibly unhygienic worksheet of these guys, or the fact that I simply cannot handle this view very well. But my body started to feel strange and I was a little too lightheaded. I quickly found a quiet spot in the shade and out of the sight from this stand to wait for Tasneem’s chicken to be ready. Some days earlier I wanted to watch an episode of a Dutch show on slaughterhouses but I was only able to watch this between 22.00 and 6.00. Why is it that we do not want our children to see where their food comes from? I believe that in some aspects what I witnessed here is absolutely awesome. By performing these practices out in the open, there is at least great lack of ignorance. While in the west I believe we are absolute kings of that. Yet why is it then, that I still cannot handle it to stay and watch?
Luckily our lives didn’t evolve around slaughtered chicken. We slowed down and found some needed rhythm. I had the intention to find some volunteering job, but after a week of no obligations I decided, egocentrically as I am, that maybe I would like for just these two months to stick to it. For me, as someone who is so used to being busy all the time, it is fascinating not to have the necessity to do anything at all. And when in our lives do we have the chance for that? So, life has slowed down in the past few weeks. It has been an absolute delight to find some peace, to have rest, to unpack all our things and not have to pack it again in the near future. To have a fixed place for things. To grab some coffee in one of the lovely coffee bars in the area. To read as much as I like. To tame our kind of adopted street cat because I miss Zora. To begin every morning with a few hours of yoga and meditation. To even have, after some waiting and complaining, a little ceramic cooking stove on which we can make our own American pancakes, dahl, roti, paneer palak, caramel fudge, well, almost everything we like. I’m definitely mastering kitchen-princess-skills. I have actually proven myself to be quite a good housewife, I think 😉 And it is quite awesome to not have a sore butt from all the kilometers in the saddle. Though last Friday I took him out for a little ride again, after a month of holiday I had to recharge his battery, before he was good to go. He moved so light and swiftly, it absolutely felt like coming home. But beside that little detour our bikes are neatly parked close to our small studio, taken away from sight by the magic invisibility cover. Every time I pass them I give them a smile, promising that they can enjoy their breaks as well. And in a little while, I ensure, we will go on more adventures together. Only half of the world left to be discovered.