Its been a bit of time since I've updated my blog, life has been fairly mellow with not much to report on. We've gotten into a life routine here in Banaras so we're not doing anything extra special or especially amazing, even though what we are doing is pretty special and amazing!
We've just returned this morning from a week in Puri. We left on the 12th after attending a really special puja ceremony at Panditji's house outside in the country. Panditji had a village ceremony to bless his temple and especially to bless the fire pit outside the temple, so we went and enjoyed the few hours we were there. We left fairly late as Martin was unwell and we had to check outo f our room in Godowli and head off to Mahmoorganj to drop off/pack up our stuff. As a result of us leaving later than everyone else, we got caught in absolute mayhem grindlock! It took almost 2 hours to go 25 km! We sat in horrendous traffic for about 45 min barely moving, and I wondered where we were in Varanasi. Martin looked out of the window and exclaimed that we were only close to the railway station which is only about 2 km from where we started! But we got to Panditji's village in one piece and when we arrived, it was worth waiting for. Panditji's beautiful family and all of their extended family was there, and a blazing fire surrounded by people lay in the middle. Two men were on a microphone saying prayers in Sanskrit and everyone was tossing offerings into the fire. Naganath sat at the head, pouring in ghee and offering other items like small chapatis and rice. The fire was alive, and poured out so much heat that the women around the circle had pulled their veils over their faces. I took a seat next to Nagnath and Martin and we joined the puja. The children eventually stole me away to the mustard fields where they picked mustard flowers for me and jumped all over me and each other. The kids are so happy and alive here, and completely free from the distractions of modern life like tv and playstation. There are so many of the kids at Panditji's as his family includes his 5 sisters and their families, and all thekids get along like they are all best friends. So sweet and lovely.
We caught our train later that evening from Mughal Serai, which is outside of Varanasi. The train station was really old school India, right off the backpackers trail. A pack of street performing children with matted hair and tattered clothes tried to earn a few rupees on the platform while amphetamine eyed young men trolled the platform, scratching their skinny arms. Finally the train came and we got on and both passed out til the morning.
The train was 7.5 hours late because there are problems with Maoist terrorists going through Bihar, so the train kept stopping for hours at a time. Armed guards paced the stations and came onboard to check the train. I was more annoyed than nervous as this train was dirty and this meant that we missed our day in Puri, instead spending it on a train full of dancing cockroaches. When we finally rolled in to the station at 7:30, I was in a right grump but once I stepped off the train and into the humid air I was happy. We caught a rickshaw right to the Pink House Hotel which is right on the beach, and thats where we found Choti.
Choti was curled up in a little ball with her ribcage sticking out. She hardly moved, or lift her head. She was a darling little 3 week old puppy, white with browny red spots and big brown eyes. She lay right in front of our door, and my heart broke the second that I saw her. I got some bread and milk for her and held her in my lap while she ate. She didn't have much energy, but I could tell that she was really sweet. Bedtime came, and we shut the door. Martin got busy hanging up the mosquito net while I unpacked our stuff. I heard a little whimper and then a huge wail, followed by a barrage of cries. I turned to Martin, who took one look at my face (which was now crying) and he said "Bring her in". And so she ended up next to our bed.
The next day, we went out to the school with Neneta, Umesh and a Portuguese lad named Orrille who is there for a month working on the school as part as his architect masters degree. I brought Choti along, where she slept in the sun and drank loads of milk.
The school has changed quite a bit since the last time we were there. There is another level that has been added, and the primary school wing (2 classrooms and a teachers room) has been built. We rolled up in a cloud of dust, and suddenly all the children ran out of their classrooms and came running toward us with beautiful handmade bouquets of flowers. We got swarmed with kids "Namaste! Como estas? How are you?" and many grabbed our hands and touched our feet. It was hugely moving, emotional, and so fantastic to see the kids.
The school has grown in size, and there are about 300 kids that attend every day now. The school was able to buy a small minibus with a very generous donation so now the children who travel home everyday don't have to walk the 7 km to their villages. The school has (sometime) electricity and running purified water. Another generous donation purchased 4 sewing machines so some of the older girls are learning how to sew. For the children who live there permanently, music and traditional dance classes are offered on the weekends. The children are doing so well and are all so happy. I was thrilled to see that everything was thriving at the school. Neneta and Umesh work tirelessly for the school, trying to raise funds and take care of the business side while always keeping energy and love for the children. It is truly moving to see what a huge difference 2 people can do. In all of our busy lives, we lose sight of the fact that we are able to make a difference. Maybe its because we feel that it may be only just us, or maybe that really life is too busy or challenging to think of adding on something else. But people like Neneta and Umesh are just 2 people who put an idea in action, and 7 years later, they are still going strong. They get so much energy from people who come to the school and who decide that they want to help in someway. Some people paint pictures on the wall, or take photographs. Some people, like Orrille, come from Barcelona to spend a month helping with the planning and construction of the new add on. Some people like us, give money and become an advocate.
There are so many places to give money in this world. There is an endless need for help. Quite often, where the money get sent isn't actually where the money goes. Umesh and Neneta spend every last rupee on the school. This school gives children in this truly impoverished state a chance for something else. Some are orphaned, or from broken homes. Some come from agricultured families, where the expectation is that the children should continue with the line of work and help their fathers. The very chance that these children get to escape this life and attend a school where they will actually end up with something to go out into the world and offer is amazing.
The school needs your help. Money goes a long way in India. A donation of even $10 helps so much. I will be collecting money in Canada for the school and will cover the costs to have to the funds tranfered to India. If you want to make a donation, Neneta, Umesh and all the children would be so grateful. Neneta received word that the bank where she worked for 40 years and who previously donated 3000 Euros a year would be unable to help this year as they have merged with another bank who can't afford to help. This was especially disastrous news for Neneta, who spent the evening really quiet and sad. This chunk of money is meant to cover so many things for the kids- primarily food, books, and clothes. The fact that this money is not coming, means that she is going to have to find it somehwere else. And so Martin and I promised her and Umesh that we would help find it. The children eat 4 times a day at the school (those wholive there permanently) and all kids are clothed and given books, pens, paper etc. It costs nothing for the kids to attend, but means that these children are given valuable education. For a child who is from a broken home with no future, this education is priceless. I will be collecting funds upon my return to Canada. Like Isaid, even a donation of $10 helps so much.
Martin has been quite unwell, so our time in Puri was more restful and he spent it convalescing. This trip has been hard on both of our health. We rented bikes and went for a bike ride to the Jaganath temple on Thursday and woke up before sunrise to have a beautiful bikeride along the coast line Friday morning before our train. Puri is such a lovely place. Its got a wild, tribal feel to it. Every temple is decorated so vidily with strange looking Hindu gods and goddesses. The temples are protected by big smiling lions that don big handlebar moustaches. Its fantastic. Puri is also full of honeymooners, so you see many awkward couples walking around or eating together. The women shyly look at the floor while the men shift around in their seats. Some of the more loved up ones are openly showing affection in the streets - holding hands or catching eyes of one another. Its not something I have seen outside of Puri, and I love it that they feel comfortable enough to show affection openly. The tribal women come in massive processions, wearing brightly coloured threadbare saris that barely cover thier breasts. There are still many bare chested tribes here in Orissa.
I noticed a large white tourist popluation here in Puri that I didn't see before. Many Goa type backpackers as well as Hare Kirshna devotees. When we were here before, we didn't see hardly any other white tourists. But the secret ,ust be out about how great (and cheap!) Puri is. Shame really as I see that its already changing. BUt thats the downfall of travelling I guess.
Choti has developed into a proper little puppy. We spent the rest of the week caring for her, bringing her everywhere we went. She became quite the celebrity around the town. In only a few days, she started to get fat and rolypoly and started to play with us. She was especially sweet in the mornings, where she would prance at our feet and yip while wagging her tail feriously upon seeing us. We decide to bring her to Varanasi in the hopes that we can leave her at Panditji's house out in the country where she would have fields to run in, lots of kids to play with, and a tranquil lifestyle. We put her in a box and brought her on the train, where again she became the little celebrity onboard. I had to take her to wee either in the western style loo or out on the platform when we stopped, and aside from 1 accident in the carriage, things went well. Martin was adamant that I use the western style loo with her as he didn't want me to lose her down the hole onto the tracks if we used the squat style toilets. He said he didn't want to deal with me after a situation like that! Choti is now here in Varanasi with us, and is doing well. She is playing and biting verything in sight, and has taken to nuzzling up in Martin's elbox or pulling on his massive beard. Its hilarious and darling. I just love this dog!! I wish I could bring her back to Canada, but its impossible. So lets hope that Panditji can take her in.
The last 6 days I have here in India will be spent in Varanasi. I have a flight booked on the 25th to Bombay, where I have 13 hours to wait before flying to London on the 26, where I arrive at 7 am. I have the 26th in London getting sorted and then flying back to Vancouver on the 27th. Its going to be a long 3 days of travel, and I'll be very sad to leave India, Choti, and Martin behind. Martin will stay for another month before returning to the UK, and then *hopefully* Canada sometime in late April. I imagine that these last days here in Varanasi will be full of yoga, Choti time, and spending time at the temple. I also want to get my chai and chili paneer fix in so I will make sure to fit these in as well.
Hard to believe that my trip here is nearing the end. But I must get on with stuff back at home and as Nicky always says "India isn't going anywhere". I can come back anytime I want. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in London and Canada, and getting back to work (and getting a paychq!!). My time here in India hasn't been the adventure that it was last time, but I feel a deeper connection to the land and its people. I'm seeing it all in a way that I only glimpsed before, and its wonderful.