Kerala backwaters and other ‘stuff’

We have been in India six days. Our skin smells of sweat and spices and the fingernails on our right hands are yellow with turmeric. The heat and humidity is making our hair curl and we’ve started doing the endearing yet not always helpful Indian head wobble. It means, yes, or no, or maybe, or thankyou, or I don’t know. At the very least it means ‘I heard you and I acknowledge you said something and this is my reply.’

The kids look like they’ve been eating with their fingers all their lives. I wonder why? Oh yes, despite our food and eating rules, they HAVE been eating with their fingers all their lives!

Yesterday we went on a tourist boat ride on the famous Kerala backwaters. Had we not been relaxed and chilled already, the extremely slow pace may well have frustrated us. Two men, one at the front and one at the rear, poled us along the water ways. Never rushed, but never resting, they pushed the pole down to the bottom of the river, letting the rough bamboo slip through their calloused hands. Then they leaned hard on it, walked three paces to get maximum push, and deftly pulled the pole up again. Over and over, for about 6 hours!

We passed small fishing boats and one large river ferry.

The air was thick and heavy and the jungle thick and green.

We stopped to see how coir rope is made from coconut husks. All over town, we’e been seeing coir products; door mats, hanging baskets, and rope. All that stuff we normally see at Bunnings Hardware, for 500% mark up, is made right here, by hand, by ladies like this.

Then we saw the most low tech processing operation Chris had ever seen. As a metallurgist he used to visit a lime kiln in Dongara, near Perth,  offering technical support to the processing plant. This was nothing like it.

Men in thongs (flip flops) and lungis shoveled clams shells and charcoal into a brick furnace and heated it to 500 degrees, by burning coconut husk. How many Occupational Health and Safety Hazards can you spot?


After five hours of tending the fire, fueling it with more coconut, and breathing in the thick smoke,  the result is calcium oxide; used for making cement. Like coir mats, it’s cheap stuff, but look at the human cost!


We saw the process begin, but we were hurried out before it got smoky. I’d hate to think what condition the lungs of the workers are in, with hours and hours of exposure to the dust and smoke. Of course, their families live just outside, in hot smoky huts.

We can buy some stuff so cheaply, but the human cost is enormous. As wealthy westerners, we have so much money, and therefore I believe, so much responsibility to spend, save, and give ethically. As we prepare to go home for Christmas, the tempation to buy ‘stuff’ is mounting. Yes, its really cool funky stuff, but ‘stuff’ all the same! Recently we watched The Story of Stuff with our children. They are budding minimalists, which is just great. Lots to think about.


Our lunch was a Keralese thali on banana leaf in a pretty garden full of turmeric, vanilla, nutmeg and pepper trees. We pottered on down the river, Baby Boy trotted up and down the boat, pointing things out to the other guests. He also threw his new sippy cup over board! What fun.

Meena befriended a teenager from Delhi, and Tintin and Snowy sketched away.

Tintin drew our backwater boat


Snowy drew our backwater boat

Sparky loved the cool breeze and the sound of the water lapping.



A peaceful and thoughtful day. Have you watched the Story of Stuff?  What did you think?

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26 Responses to Kerala backwaters and other ‘stuff’

  1. Amy @worldschooladventures November 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    I love you guys! Yes, we have seen The Story of Stuff and we try to embrace minimalism, self sufficiency, and reusing and repurposing whenever we can. Travel has taught us even more on this front. Living out of a backpack forces minimalism and the kids are doing just fine without all the toys!
    Amy @worldschooladventures recently posted..The Nai Yang MarketMy Profile

    • Jill November 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

      Hi Amy, when we go home my baby is going to see some toys and say ‘what are all these weird thigs?”

      I think traveling helps, although I do struggle with using too many take away containers

  2. Bron November 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    Love the capture of Meena x just beautiful. Will get the family to watch the program you suggested tomorrow x
    Bron recently posted..Thankfulness Day 8.My Profile

    • Jill November 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

      thanks Bron!

  3. A King's Life November 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    Beautiful post, Jill. Christmas is just right around the corner and the advertising and marketing has already begun. I’m seeing so many articles on the web about the pending stress that arrives with the Christmas season as families dish out on average over $700 (and I think that figure is low) for presents full of STUFF. Stuff that people don’t need and sometimes don’t even want. Certainly it’s a waste.

    We have watched the Story of Stuff and it is very insightful to the planned obsolescence of things. Intriguing for sure.
    A King’s Life recently posted..Why organic gardening is important to usMy Profile

    • Jill November 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

      Hi Sabina, yes that PLANNED obsolescence thing is terrible.
      I for one, do not want anything for Christmas ( except maybe some good cheese!)

  4. Maria November 10, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    I love these pictures so much. Tell Tintin and Snowy that their drawings are fantastic!

    Glad you’re enjoying India!
    Maria recently posted..A Stay in BerlinMy Profile

  5. Rebeca November 10, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    We love The Story of Stuff too! So good for kids to be in a place where they can actually see how much human effort goes into production. If you make it to Goa, I have some dear friends in Arambol. They have four kids and she’s pregnant with another. Her blog is I imagine you and they would enjoy meeting one another!
    Rebeca recently posted..An Ensenada AfternoonMy Profile

  6. Ileana November 10, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    The pictures, as usual, are beautiful. Tintin has captured in his drawing the movement of the trees. Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories!
    Ileana recently posted..CatalunyaMy Profile

  7. Joanne November 10, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Thanks for another great posting Jill. Can’t believe I was actually going to buy myself a new slimlined tv last week to replace my bulky 15 year old analogue tv because digital is coming to town in April. Now I’ll investigate just getting a set top desk thingy to convert with the knowledge it’ll probably need replacing in 2 years….hmmm.

  8. Barbara November 10, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    Getting your kids away from the pre-Christmas commercialism means is a great gift to give them.

    It sounds like you had a lovely day. And I love your thoughtfulness. I don’t know how you find the quiet time to be thoughtful. You guys are amazing.
    Barbara recently posted..Friday Food Photo: Fabulous FondueMy Profile

  9. sonja everson November 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Fantastic pictures, as usual! I’ll agree that the bobbly head gesture is very confusing. We hosted a doctor from India and whenever I would ask a question she would respond with the head bob and I was left to guess what her answer was. It was funny, frustrating and endearing all at once. We’re looking forward to hearing the rest of your experiences while in India. Happy travel!
    sonja everson recently posted..Men Who Dress Like Men: 45 Life Lessons, written by a 90 year oldMy Profile

  10. Aunty deb November 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    Hi guys. It looks to me like India suits you best of all! Love A Deb

  11. Michelle November 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    I took my mum & kids on a 13wk roadtrip across USA earlier this year & I came home with so much stuff. Stuff I am to blame for buying & buying my kids, it was so cheap & when we got home we don’t actually have the room to put it all. I was kind of ashamed of myself & actually admitted we bought too much stuff. When I think back we had more fun the days we spent in the National Parks, having fun in the snow, seeing new animals, different mountains, lakes, birds. Those are the days we remember the most. I am glad to say I refused to buy any more stuff when we got home for about 4months except food. Seeing the video you suggested has made me all the more determined to save my money for travel instead of things. My favourite quote is ‘collect moments not things’.
    I love reading your travel posts, I think you all live an amazing life. Your children are going to grow up so kind & understanding of other people & cultures. I wish I had your courage.

    • Jill November 12, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

      Thansk Michelle! Its easy to save when you have a trip to save for. Good luck!

  12. buddyandgirlsmama November 10, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    The preparation for our travels really turned off the need for stuff for us. It is so refreshing to not ever think of buying anything other than basically food and water… although our son’s feet have grown in the mere three months we have been away – may need to buy him a new pair of shoes! Great post.

    • Jill November 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

      Hi! yes our baby neded new sandals the other day, he’s growing so fast. But the other kids have obligingly stayed the same size all year!!

  13. Ronald Steur November 11, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    With growing interest following your family adventire. Facsinating
    Kind regards

  14. Deb @ Bright and Precious November 12, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Oh Jill, I’m so far behind… I’m way back in Mongolia with my reading… so I can’t wait to catch up to INDIA! How exciting. Your blog reminds me that real life goes on. And you, Jill, inspire me no end. Lots of love. xxx

    • Jill November 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      Thanks Deb!

  15. Mark November 14, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    The Story of Stuff is a great reminder to live simply and give generously. There’s a campaign to ‘take Christmas back’ at The stories of your family and adventures are fascinating.

  16. anne November 16, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    Dear Tintin & Snowy,

    I loved your pictures you must be very good at drawing. Do you like to draw boats? Tintin’s is very complicated WELL DONE !

    From R.Y :)

  17. Rika November 23, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    Love your blog & to see whats actually possible.
    For me there is still the big question about being minimalistic AND traveling: going by plane is so bad for the environment, it makes the co2 footprint huge and fuel doesn´t come from fairtrade conditions either.

    • Jill November 25, 2012 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Rika
      thanks for visiting!
      Yes, we think about this a lot. unfortually leaving and returning to Australia has basically got to be done by plane ( although I have looked at container shops, but they don’t do wheelchair access) However, we choose train where ever possible. Far more environmentally friendly and fun too. Actually we kind of hate flying. But we always go Air Asia, at least they cram in a lot of people per plane!

  18. Wendy Tanner December 12, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    The story and photos brought back some lovely memories for me too. It was a privilege to share this day with you guys.
    I’m now at the opposite end of India in Kolkata. Have had lots of adventures too and some interesting insights. India certainly makes you think a lot about everything.
    And yes, I have seen the Story of Stuff and agree with you about the rampant consumerism in our so-called developed countries.
    Enjoy Christmas back home. I fly back tomorrow :(
    Love to all the kids.
    From Wendy Auntie

    • Jill December 12, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Hi Wendy, so cool to hear from you! We hope to go back to India soon, particularly the north, which we missed.Its Christmas madness around here!! But a Happy Christmas to you too!

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