Today I saw a cloud in the sky - nothing to write home about one would think but here in the desert it is stiffling hot, under a sun that beats relentlessly from a hazy cloudless sky. So hot that I am sure you actually could fry food on tin lids. I have prayed for days for a cloud to give us some respite from the heat. "Not verry hot on this day madam .. this actually verry nice temperature ...you come here in May ... Then verry hot madam" says the Indian man in jeans and a long sleeved shirt. Are you kidding?! It has been over 40 degrees every day ... ambiant. I am going to add my own "feels like" factor here of 50. I have lived 2 years in the Australia desert, so I am not a stranger to these extremes, but I have never felt heat like this before. The boys are coping surprisingly well - but after few hours their nerves are frayed so we take seistas when we can.
The past few days have taken us about 150 km from the Pakistan Border, into the Thar Desert. Our home has been an incredible room in an 858 year old fort in the town of Jaisalmer. 4000 people call this fort their home and tourists like us are welcomed into its historic havelis and guest houses set high above the town below. This place is dripping with character, history, colour and beauty. I feel like we have stepped into a scene from Arabian Nights. Brightly coloured turbans worn like a crown of glory on men of age. Saris, silks, gold and silver adorning women cleaning their stoops in narrow alleys. Intricate carvings into city walls, buildings, temples that the eyes cannot believe. Delicately made silver jewellery sold from tiny, cramped stores. Women carrying colourful ceramic jugs on their heads and helping the men haul rock. Then the contrast: Cows - everywhere. Poop, flies, garbage and stench that makes you gag. Yet turn another corner and the beauty hits you again as strongly as the smells do. Rickshaws, motorbikes and carts all competing for the small spaces in between the pedestrians in these alleys. The boys now know to walk single file close to the sides and they bear the constant beeping, mooing and swerving of traffic quite well. I like it here. I think the boys do too. This town is smaller than those we came through to get here. Its people are helpful, interesting and genuine... albeit intense. Our room and the terrace where we eat looks out over the whole magical city and captures both the sunrise and the sunset. We sit for hours over dinners of delicious dahl and panner watching over the town as the sun dips. And after sunset our eyes are focused intently on the pink sky as the thousands of pigeons fly back to their holes in the fort and are replaced by thousands of bats! We are high here in the fort, so they swoop close to our heads ... precariously close. The image of a bat tangled in my long hair sees me quickly covering my head with my scarf. Fascinating to watch but I must admit there is something about bats that sends shivers up my spine. The boys hardly flinch and think it's the greatest show on earth. Thousands of them. "No fear!" I announce, lying to them both.
One thing I have no fear about at all in this country is shopping! Who`s absurd idea was it to travel with carry on only?! I have a 1/2 inch of room in my small humble bag. For this is the home of silk and exquisite tapestries. Bed linens, scultpures, clothing ... colourful, plentiful and cheap. I am sure that India can be exhausting for the serious shopper, I find that too ... but it also amuses me and I am now having fun with it. "Madam ... Hello! ... Where you from? Ahh ...nice children. You come look in my shop... No buy, just looking. Make your eyes happy!!" A hundred times a day ...same line. Some will vhase you down the street, others just yell it at you. I love this line and have heard it throughout Rajasthan. "Make your eyes happy!". Well, let me say that my eyes are VERY happy, my wallet still in tack and my willpower strong! There is however something that I can fit into that 1/2 inch space in my bag and that is silver jewellery. Both Ben and Jordan are currently on the look out for a local horseman from whom they can purchase some blinders from. Each time we pass a jewellery store they now say to each other ... "lets get our Ipodsand bring on the Chai!" Bless them both for their enduring patience for a silver loving Mumma!!
Silver aside, I have forgone shipping textiles or clothing or hand carved marble Ganesh chess sets home. I have instead decided to give money to who I feel needs it, be it a kind driver, a child in a village, a mother selling handicrafts or the camel guide who showed humble warmth through his eyes only. I want to give more, and know that our small contributions go only so far, but this is a lesson I want to teach the kids. Not to throw money away, as here this is easy to do. EVERYONE, and I mean everyone wants your dollar. But to choose moments that require genuine compassion and answer legimate needs. Often easier said than done, and several times we have been fooled, our genorisity taken advantage of. But thats ok, its all in the learning and the kids are slowly getting it. We have visited remote desert villages, and have been warmly welcomed by its children and invited into the homes by their mothers. We have given where we can. The boys are learning how children can be so happy - and have so little. Toys that are made from tires, bottle caps and grass. Children that live in concrete and mud huts with grass roofs and a few blankets for bedding. Children that know of another world but seem perfectly content with the one they have. Strong community in these villages. It is humbling indeed. It has been my favourite experience here so far.
We reluctantly left the villages, said goodbye to the children and went via Jeep to meet our camel guide to take us further into the desert. In the middle of nowhere, under a group of sparse trees, our camels were waiting. I have never ridden a camel before, and after this experience, I may not be chasing the chance to do it again in a hurry. Don't get me wrong, it was amazing and being on the sand dunes was incredible, peaceful and very moving for me. But I have never had such a sore butt in my entire life. And mean, removal of skin kind of sore. I still feel it. The kids were fine, although Ben mentioned not being able to keep his legs closed for a day or two! It's just such an awkward animal to be on ... from the time you mount it and the death defying "stand up" move to actually staying on the thing. Then you have to get off. Personally I wanted to just jump off the camel right into the dunes and skip the whole "down on the knees" move they make so ungracefully. But, alas, we had arrived and we had a hour to play in the massive dunes, here in the Thar Desert as the beating sun dipped into the horizon. The boys played hard climbing the massive dunes, sweat pouring out of them. They loved it here. We were the only ones on dunes and we took a million pictures. After the chaos of the city, this was such a welcome respite. After the sun had begun it's descent, we made our way again by jeep to the desert camp, where we were welcomed by spine tingling drumming, fire lanterns and were blessed by sacred ash on our brows. After an incredible traditional Rajasthan feast served with music and dance, we spent the night in a hot tent, fighting off the hundreds of bugs that had made their way in. Ben has invented a new dance, we have called it the Grasshopper being named after the insect he was fighting all night. He is so very fearful of bugs of any kind, he "danced" into the night and finally fell asleep with a sheet over his head. By 1am, the generator had cut out and so did our fan. We lost a lot of fluid that night. We were woken at 3am by a pack of dogs nearby, then by 4am the peacocks and crows had begun. Who knew they were so loud!? So by 6am after no more than an hours sleep, I greeted the sun rise and walked the dunes. A true desert experience, one in which we will all never forget.
So much to tell, this is just a fraction of what we have experienced these past 12 days in this wild, unpredictable, frustrating, gorgeous, intense country. I still can't really find the right words. Maybe I never will. I know many have tried. So we move through each day, embracing whatever comes our way, with grace when we can, but sometimes with exasperation. I understand however, and the boys are learning this too... that it is futile to let impatience take over. Things happen as they will, and for the most part it all seems to flow. This is what strikes me the most. That it all works, and never yhave even een look a look of frustration, stress or impatience on one of these faces. Not in the midst of their excruciating poverty or their surroundings of heat, filth and pollution. No. They will smile at you and communicate their incredible humanity while they bring their hands together at the heart and bow slightly with a namaste. And even while having textiles or jewelry flung at you as you sit in their stores, drinking incredible, sweet Chai Masada tea, they are still gracious when you walk out with nothing and tell them " "thank you ... Namaste ... My eyes are very happy!
ps: I know I mentioned that my posts would be short, and I have done my best. Just so much to share! Also, the boys have finally added something to their pages!