Stranger on the Road

A smarter travel blog.

The broken rules of sleeping

The ride is dragging on eternally. What has started as a little adventure developed into little torture including hunger and tiredness. I am not at all squeamish, but going on the public busses through the mountains on these serpentines is almost a near death experience. I have already been driving on 5000m altitude on non-existing roads on my own. I have walked mountain-passes alone, completely covered in snow and hitch-hiked on transporters. But now I am sitting in a bus, whose driver seemingly doesn’t know the purpose of the break. Instead he prefers to jerk the wheel violently until the back almost swings off the road. In these moments, even my hands will cling into the front-seat. The only thing that I can do is telling myself that the driver does this job every day. And as he is still alive and vividly driving the bus, he has not died yet. This attempt of self-deception lasts exactly until the next turn. The bus tries to overtake a transporter, leaves the own lane and faces another transporter in the contraflow (what a surprise). The request to “Blow horn“, which is written on the back of most transporters, is followed on both sides, including headlight flashing. My fingers penetrate deeper into the cushion. I already see us rolling down the 400 meter chasm, as the driver suddenly pushes our bus back into its lane, squeezing it between the two transporters. Somehow, he managed it. My view wanders through the bus. Everything chilled. After all, our bus had generous 30cm space for this manoeuvre. Why the worries? Just the daily insanity for the people here.

And then my view stops in the seat row next to mine. There sleeps, cooler as you please and wrapped into a thin blanket, an old lady. She even silently snores in her innocence. I don’t know how her body manages the balance. While I will fall off my seat in every bend of the street and be pushed in and out whenever we are accelerating or shifting gears, the old lady just lies there and naps. Welcome to India. A bit earlier that day, my friend Vimal and I had to change busses. Directly under the National Highway 1, a busy place for transhipment of travellers in Haryana. The street has four official and seven unofficial lanes. Each one is used in both directions. And even transversely. It is a concert of engines and horns, people rush from one point to the other, just like Vimal and me. We are blazing our trails through the masses to the bus stand, just 200 meters away, as I suddenly stumble. Baffled, I look down. A man has settled on these 70cm piece of pavement. In the middle of the hectic mass, he lies there, enveloped in an old, perforated, dusty blanket and sleeps. At the noisiest place which I have seen since half a year (at that time I was in Delhi). Just a small nap. Must be nice between all the exhaust gases, horns, straying dogs and yelling people. I go on making my way, take a last view back at the man. I see other people trapping over him. But he keeps on sleeping like the sleeping beauty.

There is one sentence, which I always make fun of. “I could not do this.” Something you hear quite often as a vegetarian / part-time vegan. Or single-traveller. Or ex-paramedic. I am convinced that you can do everything that others do, if you try hard enough. Probably I could also sleep there on the floor, if I didn’t sleep for sixty hours. I guess it might work. Could I really do it? One day, I must have been maybe 13 or 14 years old, I watched some semi-serious documentary on television. I don’t remember details, but the conclusion is stuck in my mind. „For a healthy human being a sleeping duration of seven or eight hours is the ideal.” I always found this a plausible idea, as I went to bed at ten and got up at six. I have never been a morning grouch and also woke up at the same time on weekends. There were just a few exceptions to this golden rule of eight hours. My classmates seemed to me like superheroes, when they told me that they have been up until 1am and watched television. On the other hand, were they never as awake (evil people would say “hyperactive”) as I was. My mother always calmed me down and told me that these people were just showing off.

The school was left behind, the rule stayed. In my work- and study periods my biological clock has become a little bit more flexible, but the eight-hours rule was still written in stone. If I set my alarm and realize that I have less than eight hours sleep until I get up, I will slightly start panicking. Hence, I also have more troubles falling asleep and increase the problem. Okay, at times like the German “Karneval”, I might just have four hours each night for a whole week, but then I am also drunk and hardly need my brain. That is an exception. But every now and then I meet those superheroes who do that regularly or at least claim to. Then I tell myself that those people work less with their brains and do not have to be as awake as I, for what they have to do. Or probably they don’t do their work as good as I would.

Here in India there is a new superhero for me. The father of my host-family. After the agony of the ride through the lower Himalayas, we arrive at their house. We talk to the family, drink a lot of tea and at one point they finally show us our room and let us fall asleep. Until it knocks at the door. I wake up, my mind is dizzy and also Vimal looks quite confused. While I am still trying to solve essential questions about my being (Who am I? Where am I?), Vimal opens the door. The father rushes into our room, with his son in tow, carrying three cups of tea. “Chai pio”. Drink tea! I take a look at my phone. Five o’ clock in the morning, less than six hours since we fell asleep. I take the cup of tea from the father and ask myself what is going on. Should we get up? Are there any problems? Then the father starts. He fills the room with the pressure of a military driller. He talks without interruptions, I don’t know when one word ends and the other starts. Vimal is blindsided as well and answers in short expressions. After listening to his speech, the tea is already empty, the father suddenly stands up and says: “I go to work. Go back to sleep.“ He switches off the light, closes the door and stumps outside. Vimal lays down and after a few minutes I can hear him snore slightly and peacefully. I lay there, stare at the ceiling and once again ask myself: Why?

I am used to be woken up by sudden noises here in India. Be it the family in the hotel room, who leaves their door wide open, while they are packing and screaming at each other. Or the dogs, who roam around in gangs at night and start to bark without visible reasons. Sometimes you also will wake up because a car approaches your neighbour’s house at midnight and blows the horn for two minutes, continuously, for someone to open the gate. But no one wakes up and complains: “Hey, dickhead, stop this noise.” They all keep on sleeping and letting the driver blow the horn. What else should he do? Get out and ring the doorbell? Or even call on the cell phone? And then there is the daily morning procedure of many South-Asian families. It is common here to release the whole over-night collection of your mucous into the drain during your morning bath. Germans do this as well, but we are conscious that no one hears us. Here, people tend to break their phlegm out of the depths of hell, while the devil is violently protesting inside of them. Like a lion, who roars to attack, will the whole family get rid of their dispensable burden. Before I found my Oropax, it woke me up every morning. In return, the Indians usually do not clean their noses in public as loud as we tend to do.

Okay, for the noise, I have my Oropax. But for the regular tea-break at five a clock I can just take my anthropology mask. It smiles friendly and I drink the tea with a dizzy head. I really got used to it and my eight-hour rule crumbles. I will wake up after six hours sleep, drink my tea, chat a bit, write my notes, read messages from home and then, when the father is gone, I will lay down and sleep a little more. Until the youngest sister will knock on the door. In her friendliest voice she says: “Bye Bhaya! I am going to tuition.” She is up since 4:30, did some morning lessons with children from the village, made tea for everyone and is now leaving for school. I slowly pull my blanket aside and start the day.

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