This is day 4 of 14 days of quarantine, but am I really here?

I have spent the last fourteen weeks since our little school closed, wondering if it would be possible to get out of India. India’s borders closed and so did Australia’s at almost the same moment in late March. Australia has a very small population and a very low covid 19 tally, so it was never going to be easy and it became virtually impossible up until May 25th as all Indian domestic airlines were shut down.

We are six hours drive away from the closest domestic airport and to then travel on to a major city like Mumbai or Delhi, where all rescue/repatriation flights were departing from, just wasn’t going to happen. It would be a two or three day drive and all borders in between required e-passes. The Australian embassy would provide these, but we knew the local law enforcement people could prove very difficult. To hire a vehicle was also prohibitively expensive, although some people did so.

When domestic airlines did reopen, I held my breath. Yes, flights were taking off, in fact more flights were soon added, so then getting out became a possibility. The government airline put on lots of flights to countries and continents with large populations, like the USA and Europe. But to tiny little Australia (population wise), just a handful. Within five minutes of releasing tickets, the website crashed or announced that no more tickets were available. It became a nightmare. I joined several “Aussies stuck in India” facebook groups and a couple of Whatsapp groups, so I knew my pain was being shared by others. All flights were costing four times a normal ticket, but these are extraordinary circumstances. Were the skies going to open up to commercial flights in July or August, before our visas ran out?

On Friday evening  of 19th June, a guy advertised a Singapore Airlines charter repatriation flight on a facebook group, that would fly into Mumbai on 26th June. Bookings were going to open in four hours. If enough bookings were confirmed, it would happen. The flight had got the necessary approval from both India and Australia. I just knew this was the chance we had to take, so I went online and booked two tickets. Five minutes later, I got an emailed confirmation.

There is only one daily flight from our nearest airport to Mumbai; we are as far east in India as we can be and Mumbai is on the west coast. It’s a three hour plane flight. I booked our flight for Thursday 25th. Because of the current lockdown situation, domestic flights may be cancelled without warning, but this was the only flight to such a major city and it was a return flight, so seemed more likely to actually take off.

Now we just had to get to the airport. We used our vehicle to get to the border of our state. We had a pass to drive to the airport, but our friend who was driving, would then have to go back and spend 14 days in quarantine, in the local government hospital, where they provide no food, no support and because of the virus fears, might not even allow anyone to deliver food to him. That wasn’t going to happen!

So another friend organised  a taxi driver to pick us up at the Assam border and drop us at the airport. First leg of the mission accomplished! We’ve just heard that this state has gone into total lockdown since Monday because of new cases, so it will now be very difficult to cross.

We were six hours ahead of our flight, but that didn’t matter. We made it! We sat outside the airport under a giant fan for almost four hours, then had our bags sprayed with disinfectant and went in (yes, we had masks on, mandatory in airports and most other places). To get in we had to hold up our ID and tickets, we even had to print out our baggage tags (turned out to be unnecessary) to eliminate any physical contact.

The flight took off as scheduled and landed in Mumbai at 10 pm. Our next flight was at 1.15 pm the following day. We thought there might be some comfortable chairs somewhere in this vast deserted terminal, but there weren’t. We resorted to laying out coats, a pillow and a small blanket on a granite floor. It was definitely better than nothing and there were toilets close by and a power point to recharge phones.

We survived a few jumbled hours of dozing and maybe a fraction of sleep until about 5 in the morning. I watched tropical fish gliding lazily up and down the aquarium wall of an airport hotel. Possibly the only time I’ve ever envied a fish in its natural habitat.

From 8 am onwards we were occupied with queuing, checking in and waiting for the flight. Everything went very smoothly in the ghostly eerie emptiness of what would normally be one of the busiest airports in the world.

Fourteen hours later after a stop to refuel in Singapore we landed in Adelaide, South Australia. We made the headlines of the local news. Police and security guarded us every step of the way, but were friendly, cheerful and welcoming. We are now in an amazing hotel at the government’s expense for fourteen days. We’ve had our first covid test which was negative for us. Three people returned a positive reading out of 260 passengers. We’ll have another on the twelfth day.

We have a balcony and a wonderful view. There are police on every floor. We can only step outside the door to pick up our meals, delivered in paper bags. The overall sensation is still…. can this really be happening?

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Our balcony view by day and by night. Perfect winter weather right now.

Kind of dissecting a word and its sound..

So today, I decided the only way I was going to be able to write anything was to focus on a word and write about it in some way….

Thanks to the weather today and throughout the past week, the word I chose was drizzle. 

PS. I am only looking at it from the “weather point of view” and not from its other dictionary listed meaning, as all those delicious culinary ingredients that you can ‘drizzle’ onto or into various recipes. This is possibly because none of those delightful ingredients are currently available to me!

DRIZZLE  I don’t believe is exactly onomatopoeic as that ‘zz’ sound doesn’t really give the feel of water drip drip dripping through trees or onto rooftops or lightly spattering across windows or onto the ground. There is definitely a sense of light monotony, especially if you emphasise that ‘zzzzzz’ sound (why isn’t it the way we describe a bee moving from flower to flower…who knows?!) When I did a quick Google search it suggested the word has its origins in an Old English word linked to a Germanic word and to the word ‘dreary’.

Perfect! When it drizzles, it’s definitely a dreary kind of day…., usually overcast, cool to cold and fairly miserable.

As I love languages, I checked out the word in Spanish, French, German and Hindi…

My conclusion, none of them come close to the pleasure of reading or saying the word DRIZZLE or sound half as good as it does in English!

In French, it’s ‘bruiner’, even spoken with a lilting French accent, it doesn’t have the same impact.

In Spanish, it’s ‘lloviznar’ (double ll is pronounced as ‘y’ and v as ‘b’), but that’s really just a derivative of ‘llovar’  to rain.

In German it’s ‘nieseln’, (sounds a bit like ‘neezeln’) so a touch of similarity there.

In Hindi it’s written in our script as ‘boonda baandee’, which doesn’t have a great ring to it either.

So I think ‘drizzle’ is unique in English, in that it captures an essence that other languages don’t, even it does describe a rather drab event!

Come to think of it, the days at the moment seem to drizzle into one another, in the same hazy, innocuous way that rain does when it drizzles!

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And the silver lining is that drizzle is essential for flowers!

Woohoo they did it…!

Our beautiful daughter and her wonderful man, they did it….!

In the weirdest circumstances ever with only three other persons allowed in the enormous room including the celebrant…!

They livestreamed it on youtube, so we were able to share lots of laughter, lots of fun, shots of them going up in the lift via a handheld laptop, we glimpsed a stunning view over the lovely Swan River, love heart stickers on the carpet, designating where the about-to-be married couple should stand…! Even if we couldn’t figure out the live chat option, we still shared the joy and light in this bubble of delight!

Miriam’s bouquet was elegantly fashioned from a neighbour’s exquisite ivory petalled roses by her sisters.

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And they were allowed to hold hands and kiss at the end.

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YES THEY GOT MARRIED last Friday……………24/04/2020.

Even as I type it out, I realise how special that date looks, as it only needs two numbers and a zero!

Like a dreamy, ethereal silken scarf, time just floats by …

This past week seems to have wafted by in a smoky swirl of undefined vagueness. The edges of time seem to be slowly sliding into each other…

I know it’s Tuesday but where exactly did all those other days go…..

On one day we scooped and packed rations of rice, dahl, oil, sugar, potatoes and tea,

I watched ladies hoist laden bags onto their backs and trudge back to small, dark, badly ventilated homes, full of children,

Tender green corn is shooting from rich dark soil, sprouting skywards, in a way that didn’t happen last year…

A bush of rich red roses is blooming, each bud unfurling with a soft fragrant scent, its creamy yellow centre attracting small fuzzy bees and a lone butterfly,

Another day we handed out vegetables that keep well like carrots and beans, together with eggs,

We managed to secure a pass to drive to the capital and sourced more stocks, loaded sacks of provision into the vehicle and were able to chat with a couple of friends,

I listened to a heartbreakingly sad but true audiobook by a parent about the abuse of two of her daughters, which helped me to focus on the knowledge that this lockdown or self isolation isn’t really so bad,

But the nothingness and soft evaporation of these days is something I am still learning to work through…

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No, my mummy is not at home…!

Slice of Life Tuesday

This phone conversation took place on Thursday 2nd April, after we discussed that the best method of keeping in touch with our students for now was by phone. Schools here are closed until at least April 30th.

Student: (shouting in Khasi) No, no, no, mummy is not here!

Teacher: No, Kitbok, I want to talk to you.

Stunned silence…

Teacher: So how are you, can you tell me the date today?

Student: It’s Wednesday.

Teacher: No, it’s Thursday, but can you tell me the date? (Telling their teacher the date is part of a daily routine at school).

Student: It’s 25th….

Teacher: Of which month?

Student: March.

Teacher: No, Kitbok, it’s actually the 2nd of April.

Student: Oh….

His teacher then chatted with him and also asked a set of questions that we had agreed upon for the first simple introductory dialogue. Speaking to a teacher on the phone has flummoxed some of our students. It’s so not part of their routine.

Kitbok proceeded to answer (of course it’s not a smartphone, so he couldn’t actually be seen), but his teacher told me he answered in such a way that he sounded as if he was standing at attention, phone to his ear and saluting…Yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, yes, yes…!

It’s charming to hear the students’ responses, most of them have never had a personal call before and are overwhelmed by the thought that someone is actually speaking to them and finding out how they are! A couple of younger ones have actually said they are dancing on the spot in excitement with the thrill of a personal phone call!

 

The food bank is open tomorrow….

Slice of Life Challenge #Day 31

A month ago I would not have believed that my final March slice of 2020 would contain the news that we are opening a food bank for families of our students. I have spent most of the day trying to work out the logistics of sourcing basic food necessities like rice, dahl (pulses), sugar, oil, potatoes, onions, soap and tea to make up a mini food bank so needy parents can come by and pick up some rations tomorrow. We trust supplies continue to come through so we can keep topping up essential items.

We hope the poorest parents can come, but even that remains uncertain this evening, because nothing has been made clear. There is another loudspeaker announcement in progress right now, but alas, I don’t speak the language. A friend will let us know if it’s important.

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Life is not very coordinated here at present. If you go out early in the morning, it’s usually okay and a very few shops in the market or along the main street are open for a few hours, different ones each day. Today some fresh vegetable supplies came through and I bought vegetables, more than enough, but the concern always is, when will more get through?

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So many have no savings and live day to day and now each day brings no wages because all day labourers have lost their jobs because of the lockdown. Fortunately some friends of our recent frisbee playing cycling guests donated money to the school. Now some of that can go towards feeding the students’ families.

The police were out in force today, as some people thought it was going to be a market day (this usually happens twice a week). Some then foolishly refused to disperse and a few suffered the consequences. Fortunately police at the moment are armed only with lathis (a kind of long stick). This is a microcosm of the chaos and misery that is happening throughout the rest of the country particularly around major cities.

I was told by a policeman today that, as a foreigner, I was the reason he was out there patrolling the streets to protect local people. It was not a pleasant encounter.

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Ruby checking if there is anything edible for her in all this stock. She drew a blank.

To end on a positive note, one of our teachers has just told me that the students he contacted today by phone (as part of our staying in touch strategy) were both thrilled and excited that someone was ringing up and chatting to them. I think it’s probably the first personal phone call they have ever had.

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We’ve worked hard on this one….!

Slice of Life Challenge #Day30

We’ve been working hard over these past eight weeks to put this together.

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Every student in the school had a hand in painting some part of it.

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Of course, they didn’t know how it was all going to come together and neither did I really!

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Kindergarten classes painted giant flowers and other classes painted a town backdrop loosely based on brightly coloured Russian styled architecture.

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I even managed to include a few owls in a woodland setting.

Last week when the school had to close, I laminated and joined all the artwork up and it started to look promising. I then stapled it as a mural to the outside wall of one of our classrooms.

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Even if I say so myself, it’s stunningly bright and eyecatching! Unfortunately the shine caused by the lamination makes it hard to photograph successfully.

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Now I’m attaching photos of all our students, teachers, ex-students, visitors, anyone who has had anything to do with the school in random places…. it will be a kind of photo hide and seek, because these kids love to spot themselves and others in photos…!

The only question is….. when will they back to see the finished mural?

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When shopping became better than Netflix!

Slice of Life Challenge #Day 29

A dear friend of mine in Australia posted this on her facebook page yesterday and as I’m not in Australia right now or able to enjoy the current highs and lows of supermarket shopping anywhere, I asked her permission to use it for my slice today. She’s a wonderful writer and being a photographer as well, her photos have just captured the moment so perfectly!

Thanks, Anna, I think your shopping expedition is going to put a smile on a few faces today!

Saturday 28 March, 2020

Three weeks ago grocery shopping was boring. Three weeks ago I would write a meal plan, order the groceries online, get them delivered to my door while in my pyjamas, and maybe have a little whinge because they made a bad substitution choice.

Now going to Coles is better than a blockbuster thriller! You literally don’t know what’s going to be around the next corner. You thought you were having Spag Bog tonight, but think again, now it’s curried lentils on cauliflower rice!! You thought you were going to have to resort to using the shower after the toilet, but then you round the bend on aisle 11 and lo and behold, there is a mountain of 3 ply purple goodness, glimmering like an oasis in the desert. I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of the shops with such a sense of victory!!

There is nothing like scarcity to revive a heart of gratitude. In a land of plenty, I’m truly thankful for the reminder of how blessed we are.

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Meanwhile we just baked and had a slice each of our second home made loaf, possibly even better than the first one?!

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The mug was my attempt to show that this is a very decent sized loaf.

 

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Can we escape a midwinter spring?

Slice of Life Challenge #Day 28

I don’t pretend to understand T. S. Eliot and his poetry very well, but when one of his poems (part of the Four Quartets) popped up in my emails the other day, I read through it to try and fathom some meaning. Suddenly I was struck by some of its lines that somehow seemed to relate to this current crisis. They speak of  a midwinter spring coming too early, followed by snow blooming like blossom on the hedges, that later on will be covered with real may blossom.

Midwinter spring is its own season…..

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.

So this is my thoughts on our current ‘midwinter spring being its own season’

I think we are caught in a midwinter spring that alarms

Is it here to stay or will tomorrow bring a fresh freeze?

Footsteps cannot be retraced but can we learn from the pattern?

Are we about to step on treacherous ice, or dangerous soil?

Can we lift our eyes defiantly and see how nature deceives?

Can we boldly step onto fresh terrain and pick up the challenge?

 ………………………

Yes, I believe we can, I am sure of it,

We must pick up the pace without actually moving.

We need to confront and stand firm and hold our gaze

Until we look up and find the hedges white again with the sweet scent of may.

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