Thirsty Camels, Stars and Wandering Beetles

Jaisalmer, 2012

I am standing in the middle of nowhere waiting for the camels to arrive. It is hot and dusty. Some children come up to me: chocolate, chocolate, miss? Pens? Candy? Money? A nice Canadian women offers them some chewing gum and the children take off with the whole pack.

After a while, a big group of camels with tourists on them arrive. They get dropped off. I never realized how big they are, and get nervous imagining I will be on one of them too.

cute camel

But it is time. I will be a nomad, riding my camel through the desert. Eating and sleeping with the desert people, in open air.

I get called over to the camels. I ask my guide for an easy going, non- grumpy  Camelia, that reflects my personality.. He tells me to take Lulu, one of the smaller camels. She has a ring through her nose and wears a nice, red piece of cotton to sit on. I take a seat. Lulu starts stretching his front legs and stands up. Help. I hold on tight. Before I know it I am high above the ground.

Lulu starts walking. Slowly. I watch my fellow nomads on their camels. The sun is burning on my skin.

camel ears

After an hour of riding through the dry landscape, with some grass and bushes we make it through the first sand dunes, and probably the only ones around. I expected to see more sand, but instead we seem to make different rounds around the same bushes and sand- dunes. My bum starts hurting. I try to chat with my nomadic guides, for some distraction. I ask them if they grew up in the desert, if they make long days, and what age they are. They seem to be more interested in their phones. I can’t blame them.

The camels are getting thirsty. We make a short stop that turns out to be longer. The well is empty. We have to walk over to another well, where there is still some water out in the depths.  While I am watching the process I take a sip of my bottled water. I am not an entire professional nomad yet.

Lunch. I am sitting in the grass while the guides are preparing a full meal. From scratch. Garlic, potatoes, tomato, cabbage and lentils in curry. Rice, chapatti. Chai. One pan and a self-made fire. Picnic professionals. I could not have done this better. After eating my bum still hurts and feels bruised. Never thought riding a camel would feel like this.

desert picnic

Another short ride. Back to the sand dunes, where we will watch sunset, have another meal and we will sleep. Our beds will be in the sand, right under the stars.

The sand dunes are busy. More tourists and camels arrive. We are not the only ones with painful bums. And more unexpected visitors, the sand beetles. Big and black and they crawl around in the sand. Anywhere.

zandkever

A glowing stripe of orange in the sky. The sun is setting. I try to look for a spot to enjoy my new nomadic life in the desert. Where the other tourists will just dissolve in nothingness. I watch people run for the best bed- spots and realize I will soon have to make my reservation, or will sleep next to the beetles in the sand. It slowly gets dark.

sunset 2

Another big meal. Two curries, again made from scratch. Spicy pickles. Rice, chapatti, sweets even. And the biggest surprise: beer. I never knew they had an oasis of beer in the desert. And coke. I feel excited about all these unexpected natural resources and start drinking. On the desert.

I have to pee now, and make my way through the dunes. In the dark. I walk through the sand until everything gets quiet around me. No camp sounds, no light, nothing. Just sand. And beetles. After I have found my spot, I realize that I am not sure where I am. All the sand and darkness look the same. I see that people get lost easily around here and try to focus on sounds of people camping. Suddenly I am back at central spot. Thankfully.

In bed. In the sky there is a big cloud with a hole in it. Through the hole I can see a lot of stars. Satellites too, and sometimes a plane. Two shooting stars. I make a wish and look up. The same sky that I would look at from my window in Amsterdam. Just from a different angle.

I wake up cold in the middle of the night. The wind took my blanket. A nightly desert storm. I make sure to be warm again and look at the stars until I fall back asleep.

desert bed

Sunrise. The people around me are already awake. I hear the guides offering chai. I feel groggy and decide to watch the sunset from my bed. When I get up, all my muscles hurt, especially my bum.

To my regret I get a different camel. A hungry one. I call her Zsa- Zsa and she likes to stop whenever she sees small plants, or other appetizers to munch on. She also reflects my personality but is harder to work with than Lulu. She is a bit more unpredictable and scares me sometimes. Maybe she is also tired after all the long days of carrying tourists. I decide to be easy on her today.

ikopkameel

After another two hours of riding, we make a stop again. My bum hurts so much that I can hardly sit anymore, and some skin is coming off. An open wound. Never thought you could get that from a camel. I need a break from my nomadic desert life.

At the end of the afternoon I am back in Jaisalmer. I feel very excited about my first camel adventure. Sleeping under the desert stars and riding the camels, I did feel that I was in the land of a fairytale, with my bum being the witch. I would go again any time!

Children of the Streets

India, 2012

So many, and so hard to ignore. Children who are forced into adulthood at an age that that they should be playing with Fisher-Price instead.

I see them everywhere I go. Most of them are in smaller groups asking for chapati, money, chocolate, pens, or whatever they can get. They know exactly how to present themselves in order to get something out your wallet.These children have been forced to learn.

arme man

They sleep in empty train wagons, inside construction pipes or under bridges.They might work in ragpicking or sort out garbage. Or they can be shoe-watchers, scammers, prostitutes, or a little bit of all the above. Every night they have to make sure to stay safe. Every day they have got to find enough to eat and to come back with some money. They might have sisters and brothers to look after. Their parents might be aggressive, addicted, too poor, ill, or they might be dead.These children have to be inventive, assertive and quick at all times to survive.

They all have their stories. Hollow eyes that have seen too much injustice in this world before being able to comprehend. They dream of a real future.To be some one, one day.

Some of them can be helped.And some of them are being forced to beg. By giving them money, or goods, the cycle keeps continuing. So how can we help them? A kind smile, will their souls still be able to notice? By playing football with them, and let them be a child for a small moment. By working with them every day, and trying to understand their reality?

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Children need investment, someone to turn to, and to be accepted by. Children need time to play,and to be taken care of, instead of being hit for not bringing back enough chapatti, or money, to their addicted parents.

It is a sad story. As an outsider, it is very limited what you can do. Showing them kindness, compassion, both are for free and can maybe make a tiny difference on their day. I hope.

And I hope, for each one of them their fate will change. Some day.

normal kids

Rajasthan, the beginning of desert

Jaipur, October 2012

I am in a warm minibus. The landcape gets dryer and the first signs of desert appear. I see a camel and an elephant and get greatly excited.

There is something romantic about this dusty, thirsty landscape. The sandy roads, sometimes busy, sometimes quiet. Women wearing colorful skirts, and shiny bracelets. Tall men who show their white teeth, black mustaches and big turbans. Animals carrying lots of goods: dromedaries, elephants, buffalo’s and horses. The dry land, with sometimes people working in the fields.

I think back of  the first time I saw pictures of Rajasthan. I was twelve  years old and writing a paper about India for school. I was fascinated by how different this world looked than mine, and hoped that one day I could see Rajasthan. With my own eyes.

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We are approaching Jaipur and drive past an old romantic fort with a lot of tourists and traffic. Amber. The minibus stops and the driver tells us we have reached our destination. A short discussion about our destination between us and the driver follows. Then the driver arranges a tuk-tuk and we are brought into town. festival amber

Lots of dust and traffic. Cows and other animals on the roads. And again many, many people. Fruit, flowers, handicrafts, animals, spices, candy, clothes. We race our way through town and  the young tuktuk driver tries to sell his tours and hashish.

Look for a place to stay. A common ritual. I am starving, decide to eat first and not to shop on an empty stomach.

A couple of hours later I have found myself a nice, just renovated room. The smell of paint surrounds me as I try to go to sleep later. A headache follows.

The next day. Walking to the historical city center is challenging, scary even. Traffic is crazy and some people are mad. Tuk-tuks are offered everywhere and drivers are pushy. Cars are always in an extreme hurry. Sellers are pushy. The cows walk around the traffic and complete the chaos. Who designed this?

jaipur palace

I visit palaces and temples and wonder again about the big contrast – the chaotic, noisy and dirty streets, and these impressive buildings breathing out wealth. I walk back to my hotel during rush hour and realize again it is impossible to walk.

I made it to a Kingfisher. It is getting dark now and I listen to the mosque, while Jaipur is getting ready for another evening.