I’ve been carried away with a busy summer at work, neglecting my blog. Now summer is over and we’re into pumpkin spice season it’s time to get back on the blogging train. I’m going to kick start the autumn by sharing my final story from India, only five months after I returned home, oops!
Towards the end of our time in India we spent a couple of days in Jharkhand, India’s poorest state. Many of the children living in Bethel House and Bethany Home come from Jharkhand and some of them still have family living there. After the odious bus journey to Digha a week before, we were all glad to be making the journey to Jharkhand by train. We had even been treated to an air conditioned first class carriage which, as you can imagine, was pure luxury compared to the bus.
With fewer wild animals, less rubbish and a less unpleasant smell, the train station could almost have passed for an English station as the basic design was quite similar (the toilets were very Indian though). As you usually find in train stations, there was a bridge above the tracks for safe crossing to different platforms but everyone except us seemed to favour the lazy option of walking across the tracks instead. Inside the carriage of the train were large, comfortable leather seats grouped in twos and threes, a refreshing change from the seating on the bus. The carriage was very Indian in decoration with pictures in frames on the walls and flower garlands that wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Hawaiian themed fancy dress party. If you’ve ever found train journeys a little boring you should definitely move to India as they have some top class entertainment which you can even hear over your headphones when they’re at full volume! As nothing in India is ever normal or boring we shouldn’t have expected our train journey to be any different. We were graced with some interesting entertainment during our journey, the majority of which could be described as singing, although there was one man who came through the carriage holding a microphone and small amp from which we could hear the sounds of what I imagine a strangled goat would sound like.
The train journey lasted five hours and when we got off our luxurious air conditioned carriage the heat was even more intense than it had been back in West Bengal. We were under the impression that further north, up in the mountains it would be slightly cooler but we actually experienced the highest temperatures of the entire trip during our time in Jharkhand. When we got in the Jeep for the two hour drive to the town where we’d be staying, Tracey took out her thermometer and the water in her bottle was 37◦c, the temperature both inside and outside of the Jeep was 39◦c and there was no air con! The highest temperature we experienced in Jharkhand was 42◦c!
On the morning of our full day of exploring Jharkhand, the first stop was a small rural village in an area of extreme poverty where two members of the team gave a health workshop to young mothers. The health workshop however, was not the only event going on in the village that day. When we arrived, we walked in on the middle of a wedding! We were welcomed by the wedding band and dancers when we stepped out of the jeeps. The bride was wearing a beautiful white lace sari and veil. She looked very young but she already had a child. It’s custom in these small tribal communities for couples to live together for a couple of years before getting married which seems unusual compared to the much stricter traditions regarding dating and marriage in other areas of India. We had the amazing opportunity to sit and watch a part of the wedding ceremony during which the couple came outside into the village and were fed sugar, which is supposed to give them good luck, and their foreheads were anointed in oil.
After this particular wedding ritual was over, the health workshop could begin and the bride took a front row seat! The workshop was being held in a small room and so those of us who weren’t involved in the workshop stayed outside in the village where we were roped into being part of the wedding band and learned a traditional Santali dance. Even though there was only one person in the village who spoke English, we were so warmly welcomed and managed to interact with a lot of people. While the girls were having a dance lesson, Tom was playing cricket with some of the village children with a bit of wood and a mango seed. All of the people we met were all so happy even though they had so little and that’s what made this my favourite day in India.
After the health workshop, dance lesson and spontaneous karaoke session, we spent the rest of the afternoon visiting a couple more villages and got to meet some of the families of children living in Bethel House and Bethany Home. One of the older boys had come to Jharkhand with us so we visited his mother and older sister. We were all warmly welcomed into their small home, a mud hut with a thatched roof and no doors, where they made us ‘tea’ which seemed to be just hot water with sugar as that was probably all they could afford. It’s amazing that they were so willing to share whatever they could with the large number of unexpected visitors who had just appeared on their doorstep, the hospitality of everyone we met is definitely something I will always remember about India.