“You’re right. Where did dad go?” Nathan also asked getting up from the bed. “Mom, do you know where is dad?”
“I don’t know either dear,” Mom replied. “I haven’t seen him since I woke up this morning.”
It was 8AM but the air was already warm. Annie and the children were just waking up from a long uncomfortable night of sleeplessness due to the heat of the Jaisalmer desert in Rajasthan, India. Jaisalmer is the largest city in India in terms of land area but it is also the smallest city in India in terms of population. Because Jaisalmer is in the middle of the desert near the border of Pakistan, most of the land is devoid of people, a strange sight in India for it is about to overtake China as the most populous country in the world.
During our unforgettable overnight camel safari, the starry night air was cool and comfortable when we slept on top of the sand dune. But since we got back to the old fort city of Jaisalmer, surviving the daily heat of 40 degree without an air conditioned room had worn down the children’s spirits. Although we were staying in a spacious, sandstone carved room with two balcony views facing the ancient Jaisalmer fort, the most beautiful room we had stayed in India so far, we were sweating profusely such that we were constantly glopping ice water to keep cool and to replenish our fluid. Except for early dawn, it was too draining physically and emotionally to go out. So most of the day, we stayed indoor in the fan room and only head out near sunset time.
“I am back,” I announced to the family stepping inside the room. “While it was still not too hot, I scouted inside the Jaisalmer Fort. Here are two bottles of frozen mineral water, a kilo of tomatoes, a kilo of orange. If we boil water, we can make soup with the ‘cup of soup’ that Sylvia gave us in Kazakhstan.”
“Dad, when did you wake up?” Nathan wondered.
“I woke up around 6AM.” I replied. “After I took some photos of the sunrise, I decided to go and buy some food back so we don’t have to go out in the heat.”
“Dad, can wake up early every day as long as you don’t wake me up!” Joani said jokingly. “This is the advantage of old people. “
Annie added while taking a big bite of the tomatoes, “After having no vegetables eating in India, eating whole tomatoes raw feels so good.”
“We are becoming ‘rawatarian’ like Yelena at Kazakhstan,” I laughed.
“You know, I never thought I would like eating whole tomatoes raw…but it actually tastes good now, especially if it is small,” Joani said surprisingly.
Starting in Jaisalmer, eating raw tomatoes and drinking soup from instant pack became our tradition for breakfast or lunch in India while we take haven in the air-con rooms.
“Dad, when we travel, you act just like a ‘mom’, buying and cooking food, while mom just write her blog all day long,” Nathan observed.
Annie joked, “Because I don’t carry money, I don’t buy anything. If I don’t buy anything, I don’t need to worry about anything!”
She continued, “Therefore, you’re like the wife and mother, you take care of buying water, food security, our meals, our accommodations. And I absolutely don’t mind because I can just take the backseat and enjoy myself. I believe you have an idea of what food you think will be good, so I let you and the kids decided what vegetables or fruit to buy and come up with your own meal plan. Pretty much I am more like the bystander and I don’t mind not interfering with you and the children in deciding what food to buy. I always do it in China so I enjoy this one year break!”
Indeed, during our one year backpacking trip along the Silk Road, I had unknowingly become ‘Mr. Mom’!
I was the person who wake up early everyday to get our day started. When the children are busy doing their schoolwork, I would walk into the town to find diarrhea medicine, buy toilet paper when they are out, and bargain for apple and oranges when we were desperate for anything with fiber. I would take out an empty plastic bag to gather everyone’s trash around the room and wash the bowls and utensils we used for eating instant noodles. When the girls wanted to have some Indian-styled clothes, I escorted them to the shops, bargained together with them, and payed for everything. When clothes had holes, needed altering, or the zipper would not zip, I walked around to find tailors to fix them. When there were holes in backpack covers, I patched it up with duct tape. When a thorn pierced Olivia’s hand, I used a tweezer and took it out. I bargained with the auto-rickshaw or cycle-rickshaw drivers to get us from point A to point B. On the train, I would stop food hawkers inside our train carriage and ask ‘How many rupees?’ I also was in charge of shelter needs. When we arrived in a new city, we would drop our heavy backpacks next to a sidewalk while I walked around to scout out a reasonable place to stay. Or while the children were watching movies, I would go online to search and sent messages to couchsurfing, warmshower, or workaway hosts seeking a place to stay in the next city.
After leaving Jaisalmer, we arrived in the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur. Jaipur is famous for the Amber Fort with its mirror palace and for its ‘Air Palace’ and Janta Manta, which contains one of the largest sun dial in the world towering more than 10 stories high that is accurate to 2 seconds. It was also there that I learned that being Mr. Mom was more than just buying, cooking, or fixing clothing for the family. Indeed, I had to make one of my toughest decisions yet about where we will stay.
“Dad, you will be in BIG trouble if the couchsurfing place we are going does not have air-con,” Joani warned me as she looked straight in my eyes.
“Let’s see the place first before we make any decision, okay?” I said trying to appease her demand.
“Remember, we will not be happy people if there is no air-con,” Nathan added.
We arrived near 12 noon at the peak of the heat at the couchsurfing host’s home. By the time we climbed up the slope to his place near the top of the village, we were in sweat. As it turned out, the host was at the elephant farm where tourists come to “own” an elephant for an afternoon by playing, washing, feeding, and painting the elephants. His sister and parents were the ones to open the door but they seemed surprised to see us as the host probably didn’t let his family members know beforehand. The room was clean but small to fit five of us. Most importantly, there was NO air-con, just a ceiling fan.
“You’re toast, dad,” said Joani. Everyone agreed.
We each took a quick shower after a long night on the sleeper bus, but the water was hot from the sun. While the children were showering, I went out to buy some cold water and check out nearby restaurant and hotels. There was no good alternative nearby.
“Dad, you are really in trouble now,” the children said in unison.
At that moment, given my fatigue and having just walked for 20 minutes under hot scorching sun, I blew up in anger, “Why are you all blaming me for this situation? I didn’t know whether there will be air-con. I didn’t know how big is the room. I didn’t know that his family didn’t know about us coming. Aren’t we a team? Why do I get all the blame!?”
We all felt the tension in the air. After a few minutes, Olivia said, “Dad, we appreciate all you have done for us, the planning of the trip, spending time to find hosts, getting us food and water, getting the rickshaws…I think we are all tired and are really looking forward to a change to staying at a place with air-con.”
It was an agonizing moment for me. On one hand, I spent quite a bit of effort to find the couchsurfing host and it would be nice to have someone local to show us around the Amber fort and the Jaipur old city, not counting the money we would have saved from our budget. On the other hand, after the heat of Jaisalmer, the children were dying to have air-conditioning and they had already suffered four nights without it.
“Why don’t we at least first talk to the host. Or else it would be rude to just walk away without at least say hello,” I negotiated with my family wanting to have more information before making the final decision. “We can see the attitude of the host to see whether he minds us not staying at his place.”
The children all agreed so we went to see our host at the elephant farm. The host looked really “cool” with his tall skinny jean and sunglasses like a local mafia boss. We got to see how the tourists played with the elephants and took many nice photos. When there was a break, we ate lunch and chatted with him in his office. We couldn’t believe our ears when we heard that once he hosted 70 couchsurfers in one day! He told very interesting personal stories and we all enjoyed the time we had laughing with him. While talking I kept debating whether to stay or not stay at his place. Finally, I made the decision.
“We really appreciate you hosting us. Unfortunately, our children are having a difficult time adjusting to the heat in India and they were looking forward to have some air-con. Would it be okay if we find a hotel instead?” I asked the host.
“No problem. I have a friend who owns a 4 star hotel who is also a couchsurfer host. You can contact him and he will probably host you!” our host replied kindly.
Afterwards, Olivia said to me, “Dad, you made the right choice. I know it was not an easy decision. Thank you dad.”
After making this decision, we relaxed and enjoyed the sunset at the Amber fort and then moved to a hotel we found through booking.com, which had one of the best food we tasted in India! The children really enjoyed the food and air-con and everyone was jolly and laughing throughout the night. Thumbs up for Mr. Mom that day!
At that point we traveled for exactly 100 days. I had learned my lesson of how to keep travel weary children happy in India. So at Agra, the city where one of the 7 wonder of the world Taj Mahal is located, I decided to book another air-con room for the family.
“This is so nice!” the children’s faces turned to big smiles as soon as they walked into the cool bright spacious corner family room in Agra.
Indeed, having air-con made everything seems nicer. For lunch, instead of going out into the heat, I went out by myself while the children finish their homework to ‘hunt’ for food. I bargain for tomatoes from one stand, apple from another. Then I spotted a street standing selling lunch set with dal, curry, and chapatti and ordered two set meals.
“Here’s our lunch!” I said happily, bring two armloads of food back to the hotel.
“Thank you dad, this is great.” the children all complemented.
“It’s nice to eat food in such cool place,” Annie said with satisfaction.
That afternoon, we enjoyed a sunset view of the famous Taj Mahal and ended the perfect day snacking on 9 plates of the best chowmein by the street side.
Later, Annie asked me, “Why do you think whenever we travel, you become a homemaker? Is it your natural inclination or is it fun for you since you don’t have to work?”
After some thoughts, I answered, “No, it is not because it is fun. I am actually quite busy planning our next leg of the trip and I am always behind in my blogs. I think maybe it is because it is a logistical challenge to find transportation, to find a place to stay, to find food to eat…like a part of planning for a trip. But I believe the real reason is…if the family is happy, I am happy too!”