Again

Again and again my heart bleeds. When will the government finally step in? When will policemen, who are fathers and husbands as well stop looking away? When will India cherish is daughter’s lives? Why can behavior that ripped a body into pieces still be described as ‘ladki cheddna'( eve- teasing )? Why do we treat our Dalit sisters worse than our cats and dogs? Why do we call cold-hearted violence and murder a tragedy? Where are the men defending their sisters, mothers, aunts and fiancés, girlfriends and wives rights to move around without boundaries? Shouldn’t this be the ultimate attack on a men’s honour? My heart bleeds for so many years now. Often I feel defeated and sometimes I wonder if it will ever stop?

 

 

Deep diving

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Every evening I went swimming in New- Delhi. The pool was a separated one . One half reserved for women and the other half for men. A third basin was reserved for those,who couldn’t swim at all. Most of them were men, all of them deeply embarrassed that I would notice. They shouldn’t have worried: in the moment I take off my glasses, I am blind as a snake. The men on the other side of the pool tried to impress me with their ability of jumping dolphin-like into the water or to swim as fast as a shark. They shouldn’t have bothered: in the moment I take off my glasses I am blind as a snake. I never got so many phone numbers and was never asked so often: will you marry me? My answer was never yes but I always explained that a much better way to ask someone out, would be a question not quite so fundamental: Namasté, would you like to get a cup of chai? Or Namasté, isn’t it awful hot today, would you like to join me for a cold guava juice? They all eagerly agreed that such an opening would make much more sense. I closed my eyes, diving deep under the water, swimming away from a long day and all the pictures I am unable to forget. I swam and just tried to remember how the water feels on my skin and to forget everything else. The men grew used to me and when new men came, who peered at me under water, before asking me to marry them (one should always check first before buying ) the other men, pulled them out of the water, slapping them hard into the face. Nej, no said I, let it go, because I so desperately needed these forty minutes without blood and pain and anger. I swam and dived deep to forget everything beside the water under my skin. One evening a group of men started a fight, but I was too tired to find out what it was all about. The men responsible for the pool picked up wooden sticks, long and quite sharp, normally used to send off street dogs, separating the men, beating them hard. Then they left, but I dived deeper and tried harder to forget the day. I needed these forty minutes so badly. I wore an orange colored swim suit, the other women came to touch my hips, my breasts and sometimes my ears. ( My ears are quite nice. Seriously). I answered all questions regarding my breasts, hips and my quite, nice ears. In the cloakroom they all tried on my swimsuit. They liked it very much. Their only concern was that the nipples were showing. But I didn’t care, I needed the forty minutes in the water so badly. When I left I bought a similar  swimsuit for S. a young Muslim teacher I taught to swim.  She wore it over her long shorts and T-shirt. I think it suits her tremendously well. But I swam and dived deeper, the water under my skin,I swam away from the memories of the day. Even when the black flies came I didn’t care much. I was so tired, so very tired and so in need of the water, the silence and the forty minutes where everything was weightless and light as if I were swimming in an ocean far away from the world.

Tonight I sit on a desk in Dublin and New-Delhi is far way. In the news they say Refugees are not allowed into the swimming pool in a town in Germany due to anti-social behaviour or whatever you might call it.  I still see me sitting in front of the entrance door of the swimming in South-East Delhi waiting to dive deep into the water, reading the long list of rules and complaints, while the men waiting with me were parading up and down, trying to convince that they were a perfect match. I still see Mrs Rajasthani shaking her head whenever I drove off to the swimming-pool. That’s too dangerous, Read On, she said, but I just smiled and thought how badly I needed these forty minutes in the water, alone.

I don’t have any answers. But having spent the greater part of my life outside of Europe I know for sure, that the freedom women enjoy in Western Europe is an exception and comes at a price, in New-Delhi, Kinshasa and wherever you might live or swim. I wish it wouldn’t be the way it is. The only answer I have is S. the young Muslim teacher and all the other women diving deep into the water, as long they are there, as long as they are coming back despite resistance at home, as long as we are diving deep under the water and up to the surface again ,I am not afraid.

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Jyoti

I drink coffee and then I put the kettle on to make herbal tea. Then I go for a walk and talk to the grocer’s wife. I run some errands and have lunch with the priest. I dust the bookshelves and text with T. I sort out the books I want to take back to Berlin tomorrow and I look out of the window. I pat Queen Cat’s back and put a record on. I try to sleep for twenty minutes and  begin to knit a Yoda hat for my niece. I wash my hair and water the plants. I sit on the stairs and throw out newspapers. Then I wait for the vet, who wants to come by later. An ordinary sunday. But again and again, I get back to my notebook and look at the scenes unfolding in in New-Delhi. I think of all the women I know and all the children I care for and I remember how I walked down an empty road not late at night.

My heart is heavy.

Delhi Diary-In words

It is not enough. It is never enough. 18 hours a day is not enough. Three, thirteen or thirty-three months are not enough. Maybe a lifetime or two. Here, nobody comes. It is even hard to know the address. No politicians, no David Cameron, no Angela Merkel will ever come to visit. The public opinion does not care. But everybody cares about cheap t-shirts and cheap shoes. Here you meet their producers, sewing, dyeing and cutting your clothes for a salary that is no salary at all. Your technological equipment, long abandoned for a much newer version lives on here. the children of the slum are picking garbage and electronic scrap has quite a bit of value. It is quite surprising that the slum is such a big garbage pit for European waste and not as all angry men and women, who write to me assume, a consequence of Indian disarray. Since Independence in 1947 there has been no famine in India. In the slum you will not find pictures of nearly starved to death bodies or children sitting apathetically on the ground with flies in their eyes. In the slum you will see women, children and men who are constantly hungry, who do not the know feeling of being not hungry and who are malnourished. It is quite commonplace to see a family, who eats nothing than boiled chickpeas, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No, nothing goes with the chickpeas. Just chickpeas. Hunger is an endemic phenomenon. The numbers vary but in the slum it is not 30 or 50 percent, it is 100 percent of all children, who are underweight. And yes hunger is a bigger threat for children in India than for those in subsaharan Africa. Maternal underweight leads to the consequence that I never, not even once saw a baby born that was not underweight. A striking feature of the persistence of this situation is the public attention it gets. It doesn’t get any. Poverty is dangerous state, most people in the slum are unable to afford a gas cylinder , where they can cook on, still many people use wood fire and most often it is the children, who have to tend the fire, day after day burns have to be treated. The most common diseases in the slum are all hunger and hygiene related, diarrhea is one of the highest killers of newborn babies and the spread of inflectional diseases is unsurprisingly closely related. there are no toilets, no sewage, no garbage collection and there is no clean, meaning filtered water. Electrocution due to unsafe electricity lines and unearthed plugs is a second and massive threat. Stray dogs and most often aggressive monkeys are a threat for those, who sleep outside on the streets of the slum. No it is not like in the movies. And yes at least three times a day I want to leave. There are not such things as easy solutions and often it feels as if I am pouring water on simmering hot stones. Of course nothing I do is right. Of course I surrounded by experts, who know everything and do know everything better, just because they eat Chicken Tikka once a week. From one side I get angry emails accusing me that I waste the honest taxpayer’s money on Indian streets. They angrily shout and bark at me for them the children are thieves, the men tricksters and the women mixture of both. I am and this a direct quote ” am a nasty piece of sh*t that works on the downfall of civilization.” The other side and both sides have much time to write lengthy epistles accuse me of a want to show off, to suppress the people even further though my mere presence and to represent white dominance and of course would do this anyway to click good-looking pictures of myself. If I would not be so tired I would laugh heartily at them and envy their simplistic view on the world. In reality I always look wrecked and sweaty, in reality it is a painstaking attempt not to give up, not to be overwhelmed by problems and their complexity, to think things through under enormous pressure, to cash in own money for years because development aid and projects for women and children are always, always, always under threat. It is frustrating and means a lot of talking with the people living in the slums, it means being thrown into conflicts between religions, between outbreaks of violence and again and again trying not to drown in a lake of hopelessness. It means listening and listening and listening again. No, I do not expect any thankfulness. I am still a firm believer that every woman, every child, every man counts. One world for all of us.

Thanks to all of you, who have been reading and commenting the Delhi Diary, I felt in very good company with all of you, I felt braver and happier and very much grateful that you accompanied me on my way. Namasté

Ihnen allen, die Sie meine Zeit in Delhi begleitet haben, mein herzlichster Dank. Ich habe mich wohlbegleitet gefühlt, all Ihre Kommentare gerne und wieder gelesen, und mich sehr gefreut, das mit kommen wollten nach Delhi und in einen Slum in der Mitte der großen Stadt. Namasté.

Now in bed for at least a week or so.

Delhi Diary-In numbers

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One toilet for more than 10.000 people.

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One house for a family of seven. No door, just a curtain.

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Uncountable electricity lines.

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Six pairs of white trainers.  200 people under the roof.

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A mountain of cookies multiply by many, many more. Day after day.

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A river of milk, multiply by many, many more canisters. Day after day.

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Every girl, every child, every woman, every man counts.

Delhi Diary-On the road II

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Back on the road. Back on the dusty roads. For long hours merely a face is to be seen, here a farmer who is out on the fields and here and then a woman, who carries her heavy load. The Aravalli mountains I think while driving and driving are so similar to the hills and mountains in Jordan, which I know so much better. But maybe these two landscapes are not similar at all, maybe it is just the past that travels with us,wherever we go. Finally I see the first signs in direction to Jhunjunnu and promptly get lost in a remote village. The first rickshawwallah I am asking for the road to Jhunjhunu says: “right, Ma’am, you have to go right.” While I nearly get stuck between a truck and a vegetable cart I ask a shopkeeper for the road to Jhunjhunu. “Left, he says, left, Ma’am. I go left and nearly get stuck between a herd of black buffalos and a truck delivering metal poles. I sigh and five hundred meters later I arrive at the entrance of the village again. Twice I play this game, than I learned my lesson and find the right road to Jhunjhunu. Again, a very silent drive, shrubbery to my right and left, meagre corn fields. Advertisements for “Abuja Cement” are the only milestones of this trip. In Jhunjhunu I eat a banana and drink Pepsi, surrounded by the many men of the town. I get questioned profoundly. Purpose of trip? Marital status? Where from? Why this car? I can’t even think as quick as the questions appear and then I have to drive on. I leave many men behind, whose questions will remain unanswered. When I arrive later in the afternoon at the hotel, twenty minutes outside of Mandawa, the place looks quiet. Not to say: deathly quiet. After persistent horning, someone opens the gate. Ten minutes later another man arrives on the scene and opens the main entrance door. For another twenty minutes I am pestered with more questions and only later I understand that they needed at least a bit of time to prepare a room. Probably no one had come to stay for a very, very long time. The room smells of dust and moth powder. On the lawn before the room sit four men, who play cards. There is no water in the pool and the water from the shower is rusty and dark brown. But I am so tired after a long day’s drive that I just close my eyes and even forget to sneeze of the dust. When I wake up it is dark outside and empty and dark are the long hallways of the silent hotel, all the keys of the rooms are hanging in the locks, clinging at each other, when a breeze passes through the corridor. I am looking for some food and the man at the reception, he looks a bit like someone, who is not quite sure what is job asks him to do, nods enthusiastically. “Food, is no problem, Ma’am”, he says and leads me the way to big, empty dining room. Massive and back are the tables, on every single one a vase with a dusty, plastic rose. I sit on a table that is set for five. I am surrounded by five waiters. One waiter stands closer to my table than the other ones. He takes my order: a vegetable soup and a sandwich, and whispers it into the ear of the second waiter, who tells it the third waiter, who passes it on to the fourth waiter and finally the fifth waiter barks it as loud as he can into the direction of the kitchen. Twenty-five long minutes pass by and the first waiter who questions me about this and that passes my answers on to those standing a bit back. Five pair of eyes watch me eating, looking how I drink cold water, observe how I cut the sandwich into pieces and probably count how many spoons of soup I eat before the bowl is empty. Five pair of eyes look at how much salt I use and inwardly for sure shake their heads about my habit. The waiter, whose post is most far away from me and the door, runs forward to open the door for me and a chorus of five: wishes me a very good night. In the big hallway, many birds are nesting in the big chandelier, who has no lightbulbs anymore. In the night I listen into the silence and the silence is loud, a big drum of silent heartbeats and in he middle of the night I wake up. Wasn’t there, a strange noise on the floor? An itching? A scratching? A howl? But then I scold myself: The wind, Read On, its just the wind.”

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Delhi Diary-On the road

It is early. So early that the streets of Delhi are as empty as I never saw them before. I leave the house with a big thermos bottle of chai and a long list of warnings of Mrs Rajasthani. Mrs Rajasthani has strong beliefs about such matters as driving alone and speaks to me as if in the countryside dragons would wait to be slain. I wave her goodbye and am astonished how silent it is. Just the occasional boy with a broom crosses my ways, no one is honking and I drive all alone through the still sleepy city. I am not often in downtown Delhi and am always astonished how green Delhi is and Edward Luyten’s plan of big boulevards becomes for the first time truly visible at least for me. The embassy district I cross and I have to laugh out loud while passing by the pretentious Polish embassy. A nightmare of Socialist Realism. A group of boys starts to kick football in the green part that separates the street from the splendid buildings. I still get angry. This waste of space and resources, the waste of water to keep the lawns and the gardens lush and pretty but those, who live here and I we never meet, not in the late and not in the early hours of any day. The highway out of down is empty as well. Just a few milkwallahs, their motorcycles overloaded with the cans are passing by and a few buses, all the passengers are still asleep. Half an hour later, Gurgaon stretches out wide in the horizon. Not only an industrial area or a technological park you see here, but a dream, a dream of a clean and smart India, with skyscrapers and shopping-malls, a dream of a bright and clean future, the New India, whatever this might be. The massive apartment blocks, the dinosaur’s of our days are mist often only half-built, and you never know if this means: to be finished soon or abandoned already. But the names of the soon to be built homes are promising: “Wonderland” has still free ” BHK apartments and “Dreamland” gives you the best offer of your life and “Paradise” fulfills your wishes for smarter living. ( Whatever this might be.) The highway gets fuller now, the trucks are coming, with their loads of bricks and garbage, goods and gas cylinders. I drive through Manesar, a place you won’t find in any travel guide even several thousand people commute between Delhi and the vast industrial zones, every single morning. But I don’t have too much time and still many kilometers to go and so I drive on and on, on the Highway 8, till the land gets flatter, and more dustier and fir the first time since I arrived in India I see cows eating grass and searching for green spots among the shrubbery. In Delhi it seems they solely live out of dustbins. At half past ten I drink a chai in a place along the road and yawn, because soon I will leave the comfortable highway and have to make it through the countryside. The fields are green. Plenty of corn. Kilometers of corn. Then the streets are getting steep and narrow, the car humps up and down, up and down. Kilometers of up and down. Women are carrying large bales of grass and hay, fodder for the animals. Kilometers of women. A truck passes by on its back a couple of black and strong bullocks. Their strong, black bodies glimmer in the scorching sun. At a toll point a lorry pays the fee before me, his car full with onions. Small are the onions and high are the onion prices, when I arrived 40 Rs a kilo, now the kilo costs the double amount of money. Finally the sign to Alwar appears, and 4,5 half hours later I arrive at the small clinic. I unload medications, gloves and gaze in all forms and shapes, and probably most important a water filter. Here you are, says D. and I nod, here I am. We sit on a charpoy outside and I drink cup after cup of the sweet hot tea and listen to the stories of what had happened and what had not happened. Hours later in the hotel I swim in the pool and dive as deep as I can to get rid of the dust and the sand of the road that is everywhere and I am afraid the chances are rather low that I will ever be able to lose it again.

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On the road.

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Women and their heavy load.

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All in black.

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Oh, Namaste, Mr Camel. And yourself? Oh, the heat, yes the heat….

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Nearly there.

The photos are even worse than usual, photographing while driving….