First day of the new school year - Sydney's first day of school!
Hot off the press... pictures of the first day of school. This morning started a new school year for Ani (Standard 2), James (Reception) and Sydney (Preschool). They were all very excited to start and were all very ready for bed tonight. First day of school does that to you.
The family packed into an auto rickshaw
The city of Pune from the back seat of an auto
The modern is sprinkled throughout the run down in Pune
Well, we made it. We survived our first major travel in India. We went with four kids and we came back with four kids - good stats, huh? I will start with our first leg - Ooty to Pune. We had to go through Mumbai, where city proper is the most populous city in the world, with approximately 14 million people. Holy buckets that’s big! I didn’t see all 14 million people, but I saw a bunch of them. To be perfectly honest, the thing I noticed the most on our drive from Mumbai to Pune is that we were actually on proper highways - like 4 lanes each way - without crater-size potholes. And they had tolls, and yellow dotted lines, and speed limits, and everybody was going the same direction. Being that we really haven’t left Ooty for 6 months, I honestly was like a little girl who has never been out of her village. Okay enough about that. Pune, let’s talk about this little known city. It boasts 6 million people and is known as the college town and cultural center of central India. I was surprised on how beautiful it was - big green trees that arch the streets and it was quite tidy. I would like to say that we took in a lot of the local cuisine, but I must admit that we had Pizza Hut, Dominoes & McDonalds as well. Think what you want, but we had tears in our eyes as we put down our Big Mac and Meat Lovers. Not necessarily over the quality of food, more because of the presence of home. (One quick news note: While we were there Pune had the first swine flu death in all of India. Lots of reported cases, but no actual deaths until last week. I know Swine Flu is old news to you all, but just in the last month the amount of press time that it takes up here has increased a ton.)
Several of the amazing Freedom Firm Pune staff
On to our time with the FF’s Pune staff. Jayson spent both days meeting with staff and we the family joined them for lunch each day. It was just so great to hear more about the work that Pune office staff is up to and the crazy schedule they’ve upheld recently, rescuing 24 minor girls in the past 2 months. (Pune has become the hub in central India for the trafficking minor girls into the sex trade - hence the reason FF has an office there.) The moment FF rescues a girl, aftercare begins. The social workers spend time with the rescued girls in government-run homes counseling them and helping them prepare to testify against their brothel keepers or traffickers. On the day we left, two of the social workers were on their way to Calcutta to do several home visits. It’s a 36 hour train ride - yikes! Freedom Firm’s Pune staff are deeply committed and motivated to spend endless days and nights searching for and rescuing oppressed girls and they’re finding ways to be effective. We were honored to serve and encourage them for the 2 days we were there.
Arriving at the enormous Mumbai Central Train Station
Waiting for our train to arrive
The Indian train
We ended our time in Pune with ice cream cones at McDonalds and drove back to Mumbai to catch an 11:30 p.m. train to Goa. It’s what everybody wants to do at 11:30 p.m. with their 4 kids. Let’s see if I can paint an accurate picture of the Central Train Station in Mumbai, India. Massive, hot, dirty, crowded, smelly, noisy - really it was overstimulating in every not-so-pleasant way imaginable. Now picture the Palm Six arriving, walking probably three city blocks through the station to our train, with our luggage, two of the kiddos sleeping, standing out like 6 sore thumbs while trying not to stick out and attract swarms of attention - not possible. Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, trains - like the Eurorail or Amtrak.” Umm, not so much. These trains are what you would imagine trains going west during the Gold Rush years in California. I really have no idea if that’s true, but that’s the first thing that came to mind. We had tickets for 2nd Class A/C. Meaning, two bunk beds in each compartment (some facing each other) and it had A/C. The hope was that our whole family was to be in 4 beds that were facing each other with our very own curtain to give us a bit of privacy. Didn’t work out that way. We were across the aisle from each other, meaning a constant stream of people walking by, heading to the potty or selling “Chai, chai, chai, chai” “Chicken lollipops, chicken masala, veg biryani” - no big deal, once we got over the initial disappointment. (I’m still not sure what a chicken lollipop is, but I don’t really want to.) The kids slept great. Jayson and I... tried to sleep great. That’s okay, taking a train is a fraction of the cost of flying and it really is a great way to travel, it just takes, hmmmm... gumption and wet wipes. I really could go on and on about all the things we saw, but I need to end sometime. We are going to save the rest of our trip (our time in Goa... any Jason Bourne fans out there?) for the next blog - until then...