Sunday, November 25, 2007

Japanese Eat Lots of Rice

Well I'm happy to say that as creepy as that doctor in Bodhgaya was, whatever medications he gave me seem to have done the trick. I'm happy to report that my bowel movements and body temperature have been returned to their normal states, and I'm no longer wandering around in a dehydration-induced daze of frusteration and homesickness. Although I wouldn't say the homesickness has entirely left my side; he seems to be a constant companion throughout my entire journey here. Anyway, by the time we got to Varanasi I felt considerably better and we found a cheap yet clean guesthouse. We spent our time there wandering around mostly, watching the thousands of people bathing in the Ganga everyday. I must say for being one of the holiest rivers in the world, it's fucking nasty. I was amazed (though not really because after you've been in India for 2 months very little amazes you) as I watched people throw their trash into the river, piss and shit next to it, and then hop on in and "spiritually cleanse" themselves (which includes taking the water into their mouths, swishing it about and spitting it back in). As far as I can tell the only they're cleansing themselves of is any hope whatsoever of possessing a healthy immune system. While it did make for some first-rate people watching, I felt a little bit wierd watching people bathe themselves in the river and couldn;t help but deny the voyeristic attraction to the ghats. But honestly, if they can stare at me like a freak as I walk down the street, I'm entitled to some quality stare-time. On our last morning we got up at 5:30 and went for a 3 hour boat ride along the ghats, watching hundreds of thousands of people bathe on the steps and it was pretty cool. Although I tend to have a problem with gently moving vehicles early in the morning and halfway through decided I had seen enough and curled up for a nap on the bottom of the boat. It was also quite pleasant.
Another highlight of Varanasi was visiting a psychic and getting our fortunes told. Which really means we paid a large half-naked Indian man loads of money to tell us about ourselves and our fate. I actually really enjoyed it, and he told me a few things about myself and my family that no one had ever told me, and which are apparently true. It's odd to think, but I entirely believed the things he told me. I guess I'll just have to wait and find out. Anyway, I enjoyed the experience and feel that it was worth it to me. It was odd to hear about what will happen in my lifetime, and how long I will live - things like that. One of his five rules is that his words are for me only and I'm not to share them, but I have yet to decide if my fate is my decision to share with others if I please. We'll see, I'm still mulling it all over.
So from Varanasi Jodie and I split ways, and I got on my train to Delhi, a little nervous at setting off on my own for the first time in India. But my train to Delhi was an uneventful 14 hours, and I arrived in Delhi at 9:00 am and was on my bus to Dehra Dun (thanks to the help of a local) by 10. I arrived in Dehra Dun last night to find myself literally the only white person in the entire town (or at least as far as I can tell) and feeling really quite lonely. But I found a nice hotel, and after failing to find an internet cafe and getting yelled at a ton, I called Austin at 4 in the morning his time to blubber about being alone in the middle of India. After being reminded that I only have 30 days until I'm home, I felt much better, got some dinner, read my book and slept for 11 hours. Today I've packed my things, found the Vipassana office (I was afraid it was actually the center) and am scheduled to show up there in 40 minutes when I will be driven to the center for my 10-day silent retreat. I'm sure you are all skeptical that me of all people will be shutting her mouth for 10 days, and you should be. I just hope I don't break out in spontaneous laughter halfway through one of the meditation sessions, cause that's totally something I would do. Seeing as I'm not allowed to read, write, speak, send e-mails, etc, this will be my last blog until December 7th or 8th when I can get to a computer and blab like I've never spoken before. Lord, what will I do without the constant mumble of my own voice, without the incessant singing and talking that I fill my time with that annoys the people of my life so extremely? I'm sure I'll make up for it as soon as I'm set free. I can just see myself bursting out of the Vipassana Center on the last day, singing whatever obnoxious showtune pops into my head first. Oh Christ (or Buddha more appropriately) spare us if that happens, cause I know it'll be Guys and Dolls. And I'll just have to sing "Good Ole Nathan Detroit" at the tops of my un-tuned lungs until I get to Dharamsala and the Dalai Lama asks me to excuse myself from his teachings and calm myself down. What, he no fan of Guys and Dolls? I know he'll love it when he hears my version. Who wouldn't?
Wish me silence,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ok, fine. It's been 11 days since I last blogged, I'll blog. But let me tell you, if intestinal parasitic infections don't get in the way of me blogging every step of my trip, then I don't know what does. Cause they're really effective at fucking up most plans I have.
Anyway, I suppose I should finish up my time in last week was nice actually. I spent it lazing about, getting things I needed for my trip, hanging out with new friends and eating delicious (and apparently contaminated) street food. Last Thursday morning Jodie and Pontus and I decided to check out the "Hoo Hoo Haa Haa Laughing Club of Calcutta" that takes place every morning at 6:00 am at one of the lakes in town. So of course jolly Swedish Pontus rowsed Jodie and I out of our beds at 5:15 am and we made our way down to the lakes where we were greated by a huge group of old Indian people doing yogic stretches and sychronized forced laughter where they would all start bent over at the waist and laugh louder and louder as they moved upright until they threw their heads back to the sky and their hands up in the air and were all cackling like fools. At one point I couldn't stop laughing and one of the women grabbed me and said "Ok you stop stop laughing now". Apparently this was a very controlled laughing environment. Only in India...
So we concluded our laughing club and were walking around the lake when I spotted the Calcutta Rowing Club boat house. Of course, I thought I had finally freed myself of the slave-like bonds of rowing, but alas, I had to go in. So while Pontus worried that I might be intruding and that I should ask someone if I could go in first, I marched right in, looked at their boats and introduced myself to the head coach. Hearing that I was a rower in the US, he invited me to come down and row with his women the following morning at 6:30 am. So of course I dragged my ass out of bed for a second morning at 5:15 and went down to the boathouse. I was pretty much conviced that I had entirely forgotten how to row and that I was going to kill myself, but the only real issue I encountered was the fact that the coxswain spoke not a word of english. It was great. Resulted in a lot of me turning around to the one girl who speak speak some english and saying "WHAT DID HE JUST SAY? DOES THAT MEAN STOP OR START?" but after some confusion it was all good. And they gave me a shirt, so of course it was worth it.
I'm sorry to say that after that things have pretty much gone down hill. I picked up some sort of intestinal virus in Calcutta before we left and have been plagued by fevers and diarreah and dehydration since we got to Bodhgaya. Plus Bodhgaya is thoroughly disappointing as well. For being one of the most the sacred and holy places on this earth, it's a shit hole. It's the same pollution, the same beggars, the same people shitting and pissing everywhere, the same men yelling at you on the street, the same piles of burning trash every 50 feet. It's really a shame, because there are some great temples and sights here that would be so great if they weren't tainted by the Indian population trying to make a buck off all the tourists. So I've pretty much spent my time here trying to get better, sleeping, drinking water, and going to a creepy ayurvedic/allopathic doctor who Jodie and I think is trying to convice me to be his wife. Or just seduce me. Today I went in to get some vitamins and he proceeded to pull out a minty ointment which he rubbed my chest with, and then moved straight on to my boobs (at which point I didn't really know what to do) and then took down my name and address and number (all of which I made up for him) and made me promise him to come back and stay with him, and then he hugged me for a while and nuzzled his head into my neck while mumbling something I couldn't and probably wouldn't want to understand. Lord I'm so sick of creepy men.
That's it for now, as I have to go catch a train to Varanasi where it will be undoubtedly more crowded and crazy and dirty than anywhere else. I miss you all and home like nothing else (which is especially hard now that I'm sick) and I hope you're all having wonderful food and family-filled Thanksgivings. And know that what I am thankful for is that I have all of you, and that I get to come home to you soon.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Fruit Salads!

Coincidentally, after I wrote that last blog entry I walked back to the guesthouse to find my friend Jodie (another GVN volunteer staying at BMS) reaching the same breaking point I was at with Calcutta. So of course we sat and ate chocolate and cried for a bit, and then I looked at my calendar and said "Well then, let's go. Fuck Calcutta." So, long story short, two chocolate bars and lots of tissues later we decided to cut our time in the city short by about a week and leave on the 17th of November. We bought our tickets to Gaya today, and we train out on Friday night.
The problem with this blog is that I simply don't know how much of it you can understand. I wonder how you view my decisions and emotions from so far away; from such different and distant places. I know there is only so much of this you can understand, and only so much I can explain, but my decision to leave Calcutta (and my volunteer work) early is something that I feel like is probably miscommunicated. I don't know. Part of me feels like a failure, like I chickened out, like I left my job unfinished. Perhaps this frame of mind is the result of things like crew and school, where I have forced myself to finish what I started because I know (or am told) that it will be worth it. Or perhaps it's a result of my entire culture's frame of mind - you know, the "finish what you started. Serve your time" kind of thing. But honestly, it gets to a point where it's just not worth it. It's not worth putting myself through this kind of physical and emotional stress just to say that I "finished the job". What the fuck even is the job? What is my job here? My job is to experience, to learn, to grow, to feel. But also to take care of myself. That is always our first and foremost job in our lives - to make sure we are ok. I believe that it's only after we feel ok that we can help others to feel ok.
If someone told me today that I would be here in Calcutta for the next year, I could do it. I would physically survive it, but why the hell would I want to? While it's good to experience these environments, and to know they are here, I don't want to live in them. I don't want to be in a place like this if I don't have to, and I shouldn't feel bad for that.
So, I'm off to Bhodgaya, which right now sounds like the perfect place to recover from Calcutta. It's the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in the world and home to the descendant of the original Bodhi tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment (or so the story goes). Sounds pretty damn chill to me.
Love and momos

Monday, November 5, 2007

Malnourished Minds

Today I fully accepted the fact that I just don't like Calcutta. It is not a place for me. I've been fighting this fact since my first day here, plagued by a sour feeling in my stomach and head that I have been attributing to indigestion and food poisoning. However, I think it's more than that.

Today I kind of sat down and came to terms with the fact that I just don't fit here, and in more ways than one. I have had a really hard time finding redeeming qualities about this city, (although I may have said otherwise) and feel that I just don't do well in a place where life is such an everyday struggle, where perfect health is an unattainable goal, and where I don't feel nourished by anything around me. I still even hesitate in saying this, and I'm not sure why. I guess I feel like I need to like Calcutta, like I'm supposed to love it, but I just don't. Aren't I allowed to just not like it here? I think I am, and I wonder why that's so hard for me to accept.

I've also been beating myself up for thinking about home so much, and for missing my comfort items, but what I realized today is that what I miss is the nourishment those items provide me with. I miss feeling physically nourished by good food and clean air and physical contact, I miss feeling emotionally nourished by the people around me, I miss feeling accepted, welcomed and loved. I miss being in places where life thrives; I miss feeling whole. The irony with Calcutta is that while there are 24 million people living here, it is simply not a place that supports life. As far as I can tell the only life form that thrives here is bacteria, and it's apparent everywhere.

Today the director of the school I'm teaching at was talking about Calcutta and she said: "Life is an everyday struggle here, for everyone. It is not easy and everyone is tired all the time".That's when I realized that I simply cannot be whole in a place that wears at the mind and body so thoroughly. No human is designed to be able to take this kind of life-style, and especially not one who has been as spoiled by Portland as I have.

My feelings about Calcutta don't mean that I don't realize what an amazing experience this is and has been, or how much I am learning here, but I am so thankful for the fact that this is not my life and that my time here in the city is coming to an end. I mean, for the 24 million people living here, this is all there is. This is their entire lives, and they feel grateful for the fact that they woke up this morning, got one meal today, and will probably wake up tomorrow and do the same thing over again. But for me, this is just an experiment. I get to show up, experience it for a bit, and then retreat back to my healthy, happy, nourishing community on the other side of the world. And man, let me tell you, I feel so immensely grateful for that fact. I hope I never forget that.

I wonder where this leaves me. I have established that I don't like it here, that this isn't an environment that I like or that I want to be in, but I'm not done here. I hope that I can live my last three weeks here being present, and trying to tune in to my surroundings, but if I've learned one thing since I've been here it's that everything in Calcutta is harder than it seems.
Anyway, those are my thoughts for now. I hope you are all feeling good and putting intention towards nourishing your bodies and minds simply because you can.
Love and fresh air

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hello Dalai, Well Helllooo Dalai...

I won't lie, I literally spent about 5 minutes privately chuckling to myself after I wrote in the title of this entry. Then I spent another 5 minutes dying of explosive laughter after I invisioned the re-make of "Hello Dolly" that I plan to create called "Hello Dalai", where everything is exactly the same as the original, except instead of Barbara Streisand it's staring His Holiness. I really think he would do well in so much sequin. I just can't wait to pitch it to him.
Anyway, the real point of my entry.....are my new and improved plans! Man I'm excited!
So I was parusing my Lonely Planet India the other day, and looking at towns up North that I might like to get to after I leave Calcutta, and was looking into Dharamsala - where the Dalai Lama lives when he's not travelling around the world. It mentioned that Tibetan New Year is Decmber 10th, and that in Dharamsala (which is also where most Tibetan refugees live) there are huge celebrations and week long teachings by His Holiness for the public. Dharamsala is pretty far North, close by the Himalayas and is apparently as kind a place as Darjeeling. So, Ima go see Dalai! Currently I'm enrolled in a 10-day silent meditation course in a near-by town called Dehra Dun until the 7th of December, and then I'll head over to Dharamsala for my last week before heading back to Cal to fly out. Yeeehaw. And yes, I did say 10-day silent meditation retreat. Yes, I know I have a hard time not talking for all of 10 minutes, let alone 10 days. That's why I'm doing it. Oh and I have to get up at 4 am and meditate for 1 hours per day and can;'t have solid food past noon. Yes, I may go crazy. I just can't wait.
In other news, I volunteered at Mother House this morning, which is one of the infinite instiutions in Calcutta set up by and dedicated to Mother Teresa. It was great. I played with retarded kids all day, held a couple of kids down while they tried to bang their heads against walls, fed some, bathed some. It's just great to see that these kids actually have someplace to be in this city, because if they're not in a volunteer house they're either abandoned by their parents and left on the streets or out begging for money.
I start teaching english classes on Monday at the school for street kids, so I suppose I should go polish my almost-fluent Hindi and learn how to not swear every other word. Oh, and also how to teach English to a bunch of street kids who would rather throw crayons and large metal objects at me than listen to whatever I have to say. Shit. There goes that plan.
Be well,