This feels like the longest train ride of my life. After I asked Yasen not to talk about lady bits, he laughed and simply said, “ok, ok,” and that was that—the “p” word was never mentioned again.
“Please tell me about your sister and her NGO,” I asked.
“Sister work with children and women. She educate them, very good, you will meet her. She will bring car to train station in Khajuraho. You take photo at NGO, no worry. We take you to hotel, very nice hotel, you like hotel. Khajuraho very nice, very clean, it is good village, very famous temple in Khajuraho. Many tourists, many Americans coming to Khajuraho!” Yasen puffs up like a peacock when he speaks of his home. He has such fondness for this place, makes me wonder what it is like. I have no point of reference, the only cities I have seen are Delhi and Agra—both grossly over crowded, filthy places teeming with malnourished, poverty-stricken people. Honestly, I have never seen so many malnourished people in my life. The level of poverty in India is like no other place I’ve been. My husband was recently in Soweto, South Africa and showed me photos of the tin-roofed homes that were shockingly make-shift and clearly unsafe and unsanitary but now, those look like proper homes next to the stick, tent-like shelters I have witnessed in India. It feels heart wrenching and hopeless here. Another thing that I can’t understand is the trash everywhere. Don’t people realize this is where they live? This is what they chose to live around—trash heaps? Isn’t there a place to throw garbage?! Everyone seems to discard all trash in his or her own backyards. They open a package and toss the plastic on the ground, the goats come and eat it, they drink the milk from the goats who ate the garbage and wonder why they are malnourished?! They are drinking garbage! It is sad, gross, upsetting and disgusting all at once. They throw garbage in the same river they bathe in…why? They let their animals defecate in same river they bury their dead (after they burn them) and then wash in this water, how is this sensible? This vexes me.
Back to my travel buddy and our stimulating conversation…
I am hopeful that Yasen’s sister is nice and that I am truly able to meet her. Even though he grossed me out with his talk of Indian men and their sexual habits, I dismiss that and consider that perhaps I was meant to meet him. We have a few hours until our train arrives so I decide to put a protective layer between us–I lie down on the blue bench and cover my head with my scarf and mentally escape. I decide this was the most effective way to avoid conversation and pass time. It worked. He slept too.
Approximately an hour before we arrive in Khajuraho I awake and stretch to find Yasen doing the same. He gets up to use the facilities and I’m thinking that I better do the same, I’ve been holding it since the Taj Mahal and realize that was several hours ago. I can’t avoid toilets my entire time in India, right?
I just had to be the jackass tourist who photographed the train toilet because I honestly couldn’t figure out how they wipe without any paper. Locals must clean themselves by using the water and bucket in the bathroom. Hmmm…how does one do this while wearing pants? I guess you then have to drip dry? Do they wear underwear? Of course I always travel with wet wipes or Kleenex so this hose option is simply out of the question. I did find it amusing (and disgusting) that the pee (and my wet wipes) went directly onto the tracks—gross.
When I return from the toilet, Yasen tells me he can read my palm. He is an unusual man, this homeopath, sexpert…so I let him. What do I have to lose?
“Kristal, you have very good life. I see many children around you, not all yours (good because my husband and I only have 1 and have NO intentions of having any more). You will be successful and do many good things. I tell you more later. I see more but you must wait,” he teases.
“I am happy that you see good things, Yasen, thank you,” I tell him.
“You know that you sit in good seat on train?”
“Really, no?” I ask him.
“You know many times people ask you if you want to stay in seat or change because you sit in good luck number. Number 19 and 21, good luck numbers, Kristal. You know this?” Yasen askes me as he gives me a sideways smile and points to the numbers above our heads.
“Really? I had no idea, that is good to know, thank you,” I patronize him. I think to myself that this is silly but at least it is good luck, right?
“Yes, very, very good luck these numbers. Many people stop to check if seat available so they sit here. You are good person, Kristal. You choose to stay in good luck seat without knowing this. You can go to better class, nicer seat but you stay here with me. I know this is because you are good person, Kristal,” he says.
I am flattered in a not-grossed-out way and it’s nice.
Then he says, “I am honest, Kristal. I tell you truth about my family. I have son and 2 daughters but I do not live with my wife any more. I respect the woman, Kristal. Very much, I respect. I love her but she live with my brother now. She live in my house and I live with my parents.”
I am making some assumptions that are none of my business so I focus on what interests me most, “Yasen, I thought Muslim men do not shake hands with women?” This is what I have been taught in the past and I assumed he was Muslim.
He laughs and tells me, “Not the same in India. Muslim men respect the woman. We have no rules like this in India. My wife Hindu.”
“Really, you married a Hindu woman? What did your family think of this?” I ask out of genuine curiosity.
“They no like at first but they see I love her, they ok, it is ok. My brother marry woman from Switzerland. He live with her in Switzerland,” he adds.
“Interesting. Do your children live with your wife?” I ask him because I’m just happy to be leading the conversation in a direction I feel comfortable.
“My son live with her sometimes and me. My daughter love me too much. They live with me and my parents,” he explains.
I just smile and think that maybe our gross conversation earlier was just a slip up, an ignorant statement that seemed worse than it was when translated. I decide now to let it go, pretend it didn’t happen and move on. This guy might be ok after all, he has daughters, he loved a Hindu woman and married her…he’s got heart.
“Kristal, I can’t believe I tell you these things. You have heart like lotus flower. Very open,” he tells me.
“Thank you, that is a very nice thing to say,” I smile inside thinking about my lotus flower tattoo on my foot…what an interesting comparison he just made.
Our train arrives and we exited together. A feeling of relief washes over me as a beautiful, 40-something year old woman approaches us smiling, my new sister, Afroj, shakes my hand and welcomes me to Khajuraho.
“So beautiful,” she smiles as she looks me over…I feel the same way.