Rural India’s Top 10

Top 10 things I like about living in Rural India

1. Chai and the 5:00pm chai break. I join all of the men working on campus in front of the campus manager’s office. We sit around on the brick steps, or under the porches if it is raining, and sip roasting hot chai and read the newspapers. There is a real trick to drinking hot beverages out of an uninsulated stainless steel cup, you have to gingerly hold the edges at the rim with just 2 fingers touching 180 degrees apart from each other and sip in-between. My tongue gets a little singed often, but the conversation is worth it.

2. The food. Yes, I CAN eat rice and beans (or lentils) every day! No, it is not too spicy, and yes, I enjoy eating with my hands. On the whole I enjoy every meal and have made it a point to try everything that is set out at least once. Some dishes are absolutely delicious, some I avoid. There is only one thing I refuse to eat: Poha for breakfast (Sorry Dani, I can’t stand it!). I do crave some food items, specifically juice and my Mom’s blueberry pie, and cheese or a salad from time to time. I am reminded of how healthy it can feel to eat vegetarian and to let my digestive system adjust to consistency. Some might call it monotony, but I like it!

3. Bucket showers. This is a big thing for me to say: I really like taking baths! I grew up taking baths only when absolutely required on Wednesday and Sunday “bath nights,” and the habit continued well into my 20’s (I know… maybe too much information… my excuse is the fact that I spent A LOT of time in the woods as an outdoor professional without bathing facilities). Here, in a different kind of backwoods, I have discovered my love for bathing. There is something really special about taking complete charge of pouring water over your body. In the hot summer weeks it was complete heaven and I would take multiple bucket showers per day. I think Caro wrote about the “joys” of a cold shower early on, and I have to say she was right on! It is one thing to have a running showerhead and convince yourself to gingerly or brazenly allow the water to run over you. It is completely different when it is your own hand submitting yourself to the shock. You know it is coming, you are in charge of it coming. It takes a little coordination, you have to convince both your body AND your hand that this is a good idea, whereas with a running tap there is just one entity to control! Whether it is warm out or cooler, I enjoy this system thoroughly.

4. Taking walks on the dirt roads around the campus. There are a few main routes, one up towards another small town, one back to the main road, and a loop that goes all the way around the campus. The one around the campus is my favorite; it involves walking in what was a dry streambed and now is a little creek. There are always exciting volcanic rocks and geodes to be found and women carrying water or sticks on their heads who allow me to test out my latest Hindi phrases. We always exchange “hello, how are you, I am fine, where are you going,” and then they realize that is the extent of my Hindi. I give them by best confused look and “I’m sorry I don’t understand” shrug, they giggle and say something I REALLY don’t understand, we say goodbye, and move on. The same sequence happens pretty much daily.

5. The little girl who waves and smiles every time I pass her house, either on foot or on a bike or in a car. She sees I am coming, runs out to the edge of the road, and starts waving and stops only when I am out of sight. If I am walking, she waves and smiles for about 4 minutes straight, and I wave back and smile for the same amount of time. She is a very persistent and inspiring waver, and seeing her puts me in a good mood each time.

6. Bullock cart traffic jams. Or cow traffic jams, or goat traffic jams. Traffic laws here in the tribal belt are about as flexible as they are in the rest of India (which is very flexible), and adding a slow plodding bullock cart to the same road with busses and motorbikes and bicycles and commodity trucks and dogs and cows and goats causes some really hairy moments. Thankfully the bullock carts do not go up the windy ghat mountain road. That would be a disaster, especially coming down. I am pretty sure there are no breaks on those things.

7. The smells. There is always one lingering. Burning brush and trash, a cooking fire, mud from recent rains, that cowpie that the motorcycle just drove through, my own sweat, the sweat of the person crammed next to me on the bus, a wet dung hut (or a dry dung hut, for that matter), used cooking oil for samosas, animals of all sorts, fermenting soyabean left in gunny sacs for just a little too long, the heat. Reading this you are probably thinking “those things all smell terrible, why is this part of the top 10 list.” It is true, these smells are not necessarily good. But they are unique to this place and part of it. They must be enjoyed.

8. Very limited internet access. Really, it’s pretty great. Productivity of all kinds increases when I have to plan out exactly what I am going to look up and how many MBs it takes and how much it will cost me. I really appreciate having e-mail access, and the ability to communicate over whatsapp and viber, but beyond that I am happy to be somewhat disconnected. Sometimes it makes blog posts tough, I have typed more than one into the WordPress app using my phone, which takes a while and needs a least a few proof-reads for typos.

9. Motorcycle rides on the newly paved road. Apparently the road was horrendous until about a year ago, and now it is dreamy smooth blacktop that is perfect for taking a cruise on a bike. The scenery is beautiful, other travelers include the bullock carts and goats mentioned above, the weather is usually ideal for an open-air ride, and there are always exciting things to see. Like 5 people packed onto the bike that we just passed, baby on the handlebars. One step closer to my life-long goal of taking a long-distance motorcycle trip: I have ridden on a motorcycle.

10. The Stars (Becky and Uncle Norris, this one is for you). I’ve gazed on naked stars from many beautiful, silent places. From the remote parts of Utah’s red canyons and green valleys of Vermont, on fast mood-changing lakes in Maine and Minnesota, on big, burned, heaved mountains in New Hampshire and Colorado, on a salmon fishing boat filled with mongrels in Canada, while mushing huskies up a river in Alaska, even from an ice breaker in the great, white, silent Antarctica. The stars in rural India are just as clear and beautiful with the same eternal truths. There are the same whispers on the night winds and gleaming, guiding stars to test my luck in all wild places. I can’t help but listen.

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