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Happy Pancakes

After a terrible bus ride and another horrible one I eventually arrive in Gokarna. I take a tuktuk to Om Beach, and walk straight on to the last resort for no particular reason. Probably because I cannot decide and think the last one will probably be best. It turns out to be the cheapest and it’s fairly deserted, so my indecision steered me right.

There is only one other guest in the hostel, a Northern Norwegian fellow, scientifically the most depressed kind of human. He is drinking beer and whiskey in the hammock. ‘Hey, finally, a new guest. I’ve been here for two weeks and nobody came to visit. This is gonna be great man! We’ll, have a good time.’ He stumbles out of his hammock and walks up to me. ‘My name is Joachim.’ He says putting his hand out.

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‘Willem,’ I shake his hand: ‘how are you on this fine day on this beautiful beach?’

‘Pretty shitty actually, my grandpa just died. He was like my father, you know. I don’t get along with my family, only my grandpa. So yeah, pretty shitty.’

‘I’m sorry, are you going back home?’

‘Na, I’m too far away and I hate my family. The only one I would go back for is him, and he is not there.’

‘Yeah maybe better to drink on this beach in his honor.’

‘Well my old man didn’t like drinking, that’s why he was such a good guy, took me out for fishing, taught me everything, you know. And now he’s gone. It sucks. And I’m getting drunk every day. You know. Wanna smoke?’

‘Sure!’ He waves me towards his room. I put down my bag and follow him through the narrow hall. All the necessities for making a joint are neatly laid out: chunk, paper, scissors. The entire Om Beach smells like a big coffeeshop. And everytime I tell them I am from Amsterdam, they want to know everything about my favorite weed. Sometimes I feel bad to ruin their enthusiasm, so I try to bluff my way through. ‘A guy from Amsterdam that doesn’t smoke. That’s like.. that’s like an American who doesn’t like a hamburger or a German not liking beer.’ one wise Israeli once told me. In this case I just wanted to make new friends and there was not much else to do than swim and wait for the time to pass by. We can only smoke in his room. He is convinced the police will catch him. It has happened before. ‘There’s a new chief. A rich fellow with principles. He doesn’t take bribes.’ After we smoke, Joachim climbs back into his hammock: ‘shanti shanti, you know!’

The next day I meet Shani, a cute Israeli, and Jorgen, the Estonian. He looks a bit like Leonardo DiCaprio, Shani tells me. We hire three kayaks, pull Joachim out of his hammock, and add an Austrian to the group. We arrive at Paradise Beach, kayaking next to the dolphins;

Kayaking next to dolphins you can't see but are definitely there

Dolphins you can’t see but are definitely there.

Back at Om Beach, I follow Jorgen and Shani to their hostel where people are solving a 1000 pieces Jigsaw puzzle of a castle in France. Since I’m new to the puzzle I’ll be putting the blue pieces together to solve the sky. I carry it out with pride and obsessively compulsive dedication.

preperations

Michael, the awesome slum celebrity, arrives at the beach. To celebrate this great occasion, I decide to make happy pancakes. The Israelis will love it as well as the Australians, and Jorgen. Shani and I walk to Khudi Beach to buy weed at a beach club. Later, Jorgen and I start preparing the weed butter. You melt the butter, put the 10 grams of weed in there, wait till the butter is green, and remove the twigs before throwing it in the batter. I decide to make two types of batter, one happy, one unhappy. Of course neither batch of pancakes need no extra special ingredients to make people happy, but it really just fits the situation.

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Jorgen and I put a table on the beach. As the sun is setting, people slowly gather around the table. As expected, the happy pancakes attract the Israelis. The unhappy pancakes attract a group of cows who are chilling on the beach. Cows don’t get butchered here. They teach us an important life lesson: life is easy when you have no purpose.

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I especially liked giving pancakes to the necklace sellers. They walk here everyday, trying to sell necklaces. I bought one the first day to have a good excuse to not buy one again. The guys are extremely friendly and are  always making interesting small talks, even if you don’t want to buy a necklace for your mother, sister or ‘one of your girlfriends’. Ravi told me he has a great life and that I shouldn’t pity him. He has a family and lives near the beach. ‘I am a very happy guy!’ He says cheerfully. ‘So do you want a happy pancake or an unhappy pancake?’ I asked him with a big smile. He wants a happy pancake. Me too, and Shani too, and Michael, and Jorgen ,and the Israelis also.

I am afraid it won’t be strong enough, so we ate quite a few of them.
A Dutch guy arrived. From his accent I figured Zaandam. ‘Alkmaar,’ he said. ‘Same same, but different,’ I think. He did something administrative with the Spar supermarket chain, decent salary, but he will lose his job the next week. He is not married. His brother is though, to a Nepalese. ‘The lucky bastard.’ I nod.
Unable to say anything useful I just listen to his ongoing ranting. He went to Delhi once, ended up getting scammed. He is like: ‘I’m not getting in that taxi, I’m not paying, you know.’ In the end he didn’t know what to do, but it ended okay.’ I was already staring at the waves. ‘I think I’m going for a walk, I’m way too stoned to listen to this in-laws party small talk.’ I tell him. I probably would have said it the same way if I was sober. Especially in India I got really annoyed by tourists who constantly complained that trains don’t arrive in time, that there is too much trash and that the people are stupid and rude.

 

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Somewhat disorientated I walk on the beach. I am glad the money was spent well. I tried to find Shani. I get lost in the garden jungle of her guesthouse. Fortunately, she finds me. We head for the beach. I couldn’t speak English anymore, which was fine. As I walked back to my hut, I see a guy with headphones, lip-syncing to what seemed like an awesome hip-hop song. The next day he is still standing on that exact spot, still lip-syncing. The necklace seller and his friend walk up to me. ‘What did you put in those pancakes! I was walking home and suddenly I was lost’ He cries joyfully. ‘Happy pancakes’, I say smiling wide, ‘with weed.’ We burst out in laughter. ‘It could have killed me!! My wife was so worried!’ He says still laughing. ‘I’m so sorry.’ I tell him with a grin. ‘No, don’t be it was fantastic!’ They hand me one necklace and one bracelet. ‘Because you made us so happy yesterday. It is really good what you are doing!’ They were the only ones that genuinely thanked me for the pancakes and the only ones I really cared about.

 

Two guys sharing headphones watching a bollywood clip

To Jort

 Dear Jort,

Your choice of leaving this life took me a little by surprise. Whichever afterlife you might have chosen, it is most probably better than where I am now. According to the itinerary, the train from Delhi to Kochi takes about 52 hours. I have an upper bed in a sleeper class, with a ceiling just low enough to not be able to sit up straight and it’s just high enough to not get any fresh air from the window or fans. If I turn my head, I can just see the slow rage of the train through the barred windows, but mostly I watch the ceiling. Sometimes, from an unexpected direction, you can smell a cocktail of old and fresh urine.
After 52 hours, I arrive at the Ernakulam Junction railway station in near Kochi.

Waiting for eternity

Waiting for eternity

In 43 hours I’ll be in Kochi. The ceiling comes down one centimeter every minute. Every five centimeters a chai wallah man in a catering uniform passes by, bleating something like coffeee chaaiii, chaiiicoffeeechaii panipani fresh water. But this time a guy brings me a veggie dinner. Rice with Dahl and Pickles. Half lying, half sitting, I shove the stuff in my mouth. Pretty soon I notice that there are no wastebins on the train. I leave the empty packaging on the empty bed next to mine, waiting for the guy with the food to come pick it up. This causes great annoyance to the man in the bed below mine. ‘Look,’ he seems to tell me, and he explains with hints how to get rid of trash. ‘you take it in your hand, you crumple it up, and then you throw it out of the window with a precise nonchalance. That wasn’t to difficult, now was it?’  I reply with similar gestures:  ‘Oh wow, It is way easier than it looks. Thanks.’

view from the train

view from the train

 38 hours left to go. Not that you care, with the eternity of the afterlife. Something touches my leg. Half awake, I try to sit up to see what’s sleep depriving me. A boy of about twenty looks up. He uses non-verbal communication to make clear that he wants to join me and without me giving a chance to respond he climbs up.
It’s half past two.

‘My name?’ He asks.

‘My name is Willem. Your name?’

‘Yes,’ he answers. ‘Country?’

‘Netherlands, Holland.’ He nods and checks me out.

‘Married?’
‘No.’
‘Oh! Single?’
‘Yes.’

I smile, waiting to see if he has anymore questions. No, that was it. He checks me out a little more and jumps off. I doze off, but wake up again. He’s back with his friend, who’s English is a bit better.

‘Your good name, sir?’
‘Willem.’
Where are you from?’
‘Holland.’
‘Are you married?’
‘No.’

‘You have many girlfriends, I know! Many girlfriends in Holland. Very good! Are you traveling alone?’
‘Yes.’
‘Oww very bad. Not good. Where is your family.’
‘At home.’
‘No friends?’

‘I meet nice people everyday, like you.’
‘How long your time in India?’
The conversation slowly comes to a dead end. They discuss something and the English-speaking boy asks: ‘make pic together?’ I want to say ‘It is half past…’, but then I see their joyful faces. ‘Alright, let’s take this picture.’ We have to go to the hallway where it’s light enough.
I want to go back to sleep, but one of the guys joins me. An old man notices and hisses something at him. The boy leaves.

Two guys sharing headphones watching a bollywood clip

Two guys sharing headphones watching a bollywood clip, this is the epitome of friendship

It’s six in the morning. This day will be better, I know it. I get up and get myself comfortable in the doorway. The sun rises over the generously growing palm trees, the hills, rivers, villages, cows. A nice cool breeze is blowing in my face, occasionally accompanied by bits of plastic, teacups, or spit.
It’s all fine by me.
Only 26 hours left. Time flies while the train wanders.

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The company in my subwagon has imrpoved a lot. A man with a big grey mustache shares his food. Puffed rice with onion, tomato and masala. Another has samosas. ‘Wait!’ clumsily I rummage through my bag and take out a big caramel peanut bar. The men and women wiggle their heads voraciously. In India they don’t say thank you, but you can see on their faces that they will talk about it for weeks: ‘a gora handing out peanut caramel bars to us!’ The man with the grey moustache deploys a song and starts dancing in the narrow hallway. The rest of us clap and cheer. People from other subwagons surround us, curious of what is going on. 

As if this weren’t enough, two drummers join the scene. They shout love songs above their heavy drums. They have a different way of making money than the street musicians in The Netherlands. In The Netherlands, they will only play for a little while hoping you give them some change. When you do they keep playing a little longer as a thank you. In India, on the other hand, they just play so loudly until you go deaf and give them something to make them go away.
The man with the mustache doesn’t give them any money, nor do the others. Everybody just starts dancing and clapping their hands with the beat.

I almost forget you should’ve been here too.
But you should have. Although you’re probably in a place you designed and perfected with that genius mind of yours. A place much better than the Kerela Express, which has just arrived at his final destination.

 

Michael and his best friend

Slumcake Millionaire part 2: happy Diwali

Michael Baba and his best friend
Michael the Slum Celebrity with his best friend

I arrive at Faridabad, a city near Delhi. The founders of the Miracle Orphanage where Michael worked live near the slum in a gated community. It is a full house with four Australian girls, one American guy and Michael. It is the night before Diwali. We have plans to secretly buy fireworks to give to the kids in the slum, despite the mother of the house strictly forbidding us to do so: ‘Diwali is a Hindi festival not suitable for Christians. Besides it is very dangerous’. But, rascals as we are, think Diwali is for everybody, just like Christmas and if we let them fire off crackers under our supervision it is much safer than if they were to do it alone. During Diwali everybody decorates their houses with lots of lights.

 Diwali decoration

This morning is a bit heavy. The night before I had my first few beers since Pakistan. Michael and I sit on a bed outsite, hungover, trying to wake up properly. Sacha, the American guy, seems to be continuing a conversation they had stopped abruptly the night before. I try to follow it:

“So what happened next: we leave Kush’s place and we had so much fun with playing Foosball and then we had those, man, that guy was so hammered, and Gail is a bartender, you know, so she can drink, man, she will out-drink every man. The only girl that was hammered, was Cindy, like, with a knife in her hand: ‘I don’t wanna have anything to do with you.’ and we have a nile on you (?) and then there is James, of course. James is doing what Ellen does. And what the fuck is going on, man, you know, it is completely insane. I tell you. She is playing by the rules. I tell her: please go catch up with Cindy. Get yourself a drink! And then you know what happened: he is getting all weird. And I literally push him away, like: don’t even touch her bro. And Kush comes up and touches her head and she kinda likes that but it was all part of this game, I fucking chessed out. ‘I’m gonna make moves on you!’ and I grab his hair and knock his head on the bar, this fucking drunk asshole. And then the guys I played fussball with came and tell me: ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, easy, they are just assholes, man!’ And they go down and one of the guys falls down and I was like, I was just trying to get home. We already said we don’t want you around. So just go away. So yeah pretty weird night, man, I tell you.”
Sacha takes a breath. Michael nods and replies with just a “Yeah man, that’s really sick.”
Not surprisingly, Sacha turns out to be a pretty awesome freestyle rapper. He’s doing it all day long. His play of words is amazing: one long, uncontrolled stream of consciousness.

Sacha telling his story to Michael

Sacha telling his story to Michael

Michael’s friends from Australia arrive, and we move to the slum. When Michael walks in, people from the village gather around him. Kids are laughing and shouting and put their hands out to Michael. Men come out, shake hands, and ask him how he’s doing. Everybody is wishing him happy Diwali. Michael asks how their wives and children are doing and if anything unusual happened during the weekend that he wasn’t there.
The walk takes some twenty minutes, and it seems to be Michael is a big slum celebrity. He’s been working here for almost six months, and the people still show so much gratitude and interest in him. It is truly amazing to see what a difference it makes,  simply walking through a village showing interest and compassion.

 

boys will be boys

boys will be boys

Tonight we celebrate Diwali, so we’re buying some more fireworks. In Australia it’s forbidden to use fireworks so those twentysomething lads suddenly turn into young boys again, cheering at every fire cracker that goes off. We have a few beers on the rooftop and watch the families firing rockets in front of their colorfully decorated houses. Sacha is freestyling us through the night, with Michael and his friends also giving a good show, leaving me to realize that English is clearly not my first language.

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The next day, again hung over, we visit the slum. This time with pancake mix, stoves, pans and bananas. It’s a big group. The Australian girls, Sacha, Michael, his three friends, and me. After we arrive, we first play with the kids. Some of the young girls call out ‘Michael Baba!’, and run off to hide when Michael chases after them.
They don’t come out until I start baking pancakes on the rooftop. The Australian girls are helping me with the pancakes and are entertaining the girls, while Michael and his friends are playing with the boys.
The girls refuse to eat pancakes, even when Larissa, the girls’ hero, tells them they’re good. The boys are happy with this: more pancakes for them.

Happy Diwali Everybody.

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My own frst class sleeper train

Slumcake Millionaire part 1: getting there and around

In Amritsar I meet Michael Bones, a guy with long hair and a big beard. I have been hanging out with a lot of guys with long hair and big beards lately. What is different about Michael is that he is blond and Australian and doesn’t were a turban. Nevertheless, he blend in perfectly in the Golden Temple. Michael is volunteering at an orphanage in Delhi. He tells me that I should come to visit him and make pancakes in the slum. It was around Diwali, Hindu Christmas, which makes it difficult to find a train ticket from Amritsar to Delhi.

I am put on the waiting list, number 158.
When the train leaves I am still on that waiting list, but I jump on anyway, getting cozy between two wagons. The guards doesn’t think this is as brilliant as it looks, but after bribing them they kick someone of a bed and put me on it.

My own frst class sleeper train

My own frst class sleeper train

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Meet the blue for life crew.

Golden Pancakes at the Golden Temple

I met with Gurjit in a restaurant that was top choice according to the Lonely Planet, so it said on the window. Gurjit had a long black beard, wore a blue turban, a long blue coat, half-long white trousers, and two swords. Ami, one of his friends, was wearing the same uniform but added a red iPad to the blue uniform, which gave the whole thing extra swag.

“What’s with the bracelet?” I aksed pointing at the big sharp and solid iron ring Gurjit was wearing.

“It is a weapon.” Gurjit said. “Look, you can take it off and hold it in your fist when you hit someone. Or you can throw it, like a ninja star.”

“You ever used it?” I asked.

“So many times, you wouldn’t believe. Shall we first order dinner?”

 

Meet the blue for life crew. (photo by Gurjit)

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Guys loading heavy cargo from trucks on the ferries

Wacky Wakhi Birthday Pancake Feast

After five days of Karachi chaos I needed a place to get some rest. This place was found in Zood Khun, the last Wakhi village of the Chapursan Valley. The valley lay in the most northen area of Pakistan, near de Afghan and Kirzigistan border. To get to this place I had to take a flight to Islamabad and then a 33 hour bumpy bus ride. The last 4 seats were empty and I only found out why, when the bus would reach the mountain pass. I was launched to the ceiling every now and then. During this ride of terror the bus stopped only twice: for dinner and for breakfast. I didn’t bring enough water and had to pee. In the meanwhile I was getting sicker and sicker of the bumping of the car. The Karaokaram Highway is number 8 of the most dangerous roads of the world and also one of the most beautiful. I couldn’t care, feeling sick, thirsty and in need for a pee stop. The road was in terrible condition but they and the Chinese were working hard to make little progress. The Pakistani ministry  of infrastructure knows to spin this in a positive way. They put on signs saying: ‘the road to success is always under construction.’

 The astonishing view from the horrible busride on the Karokam Highway

The astonishing view from the horrible busride on the Karokam Highway

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Adventure on a Karachi Market

 

‘Do you really have to go to Pakistan?’ Not only my mother was worried, almost everybody I spoke to advised me not to go to this place where terrorist attacks were a daily routine. ‘Yes, I really have to.’ I told them. ‘It will probably be okay, you just have to know the right places.’ But I cannot deny I was a bit nervous while on my flight from Dubai to Karachi. Outside Karachi airport I saw mostly men in the traditional Shalwar Kameez, almost no one was wearing jeans and t-shirt. At a MacDonalds missing most of its letters, I waited for Muzzammil, my first contact in Karachi, to take me to his house.

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Eagles circling above a market

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Dubai Adventure

As I’m standing on the moving sidewalk, soothing jazz paralyzing my brains, I look down on a giant construction site near the Burj Khalifa. Like in the movie Metropolis, hundreds of labourers in blue jumpsuits are walking to their jobs. It’s forty five degrees Celcius outside and I’m freezing and sneezing (in summer, the average person in Dubai spends a maximum of two minutes outside of an air-conditioned area). The construction site workers, mostly from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, are the modern slaves of Dubai. Their wages are low, their working conditions harsh, and their rights are nonexistent. Once they arrive in Dubai, the construction companies take away their passports. Their governments don’t do a thing. The little money they save will be sent to their families in Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. These are the people for whom I wanted to organize the first Pancake Adventure.

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