Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The end (of only the beginning)

My last few weeks of traveling have been a mixture of experiences and emotions. As my trip is winding down...I frequently ask myself if I am actually ready to go home. I am exhausted and homesick, but am I ready to go back to reality just yet???

I continued traveling up the west coast of India with a few girls I met in the ashram. Interestingly, we were all towards the end of our travels....so we shared similar feelings of excitement and apprehension. Each of us in different stages in our lives and each of us returning to a home that would not be the same as we had left it.
After a few relaxing days in the cliff side town of Varkala, three of us decided to head up to another village called Gokarna. I was responsible for getting the train tickets lined up. The sales clerk told me the train left at 6pm and that the tickets would be ready for pickup in a few hours. After I picked up the tickets I gathered the girls together and we got to the train station. As we viewed the board and compared it to our tickets, we realized the train didn't leave until 10pm. For some reason I didn't even think about looking at the actual ticket and just went by what the sales clerk told me. Needless to say, I felt a little bad that I made everyone arrive 5 hours before the actual train was departing. To smooth over the situation, I convinced everyone to walk over to the small dhaba (local restaurant) to sip chai tea and hang out a bit. Gemma, a nutritionist from the UK, had finished a 10 day detox program in Thailand before entering the yoga ashram. She is very conscious of her diet and once a week does a "raw" day to help keep up with her detox. We all decided to do the raw day together on the train journey.
The train was about 15 hours long and we did our best to sleep through the hustle and bustle of people getting on and off. The next morning I woke up to oily skin, greasy hair, and a hungry stomach. "Chai Chai Chai....Marsala Chai Chia Chai!" yelled the tea guy as he walked up and down the aisles of the train. I presumed that spicy chai tea was not on the "raw" diet so I watched him pass as my stomach gave a rumble. We had a few mandarins with us so I just munched on some of those...feeling unsatisfied. The morning turned to afternoon as we still sat in the bus watching the coast pass us by. The mandarins were gone and nothing raw had passed us in the train stations. Finally, Gemma cracked. She looked at me with hungry eyes and said "this probably wasn't the best day to do the raw diet. I say we eat the next thing that someone comes on to sell." Obviously, I agreed with her and we waited for a few more moments until a man with piping hot tea and a basket full of goodies came by. He was selling fried lentil cakes and savory donuts. Pretty much as far away from raw that you could get. We inhaled 4 each.
We had to transfer trains a few hours away from our destination, but didn't have tickets yet. When we bought the tickets we realized there was no seat number. Apparently, they were the "no reservation" tickets which meant it was a free for all and first come first serve. I felt a little dismal by this as we all had huge backpacks and yoga mats strung around our bodies. The likelihood of us getting seats together with all of our luggage was slim. When the train arrived we ran with the masses to the free for all section. Indians were squeezing through the doors and windows and trying to get a spot. Somehow, we managed to get in a cabin together and threw our luggage on the top rack. More and more people kept cramming on and before long we were squished together like a pack of sardines. Some of the Indians climbed up into the luggage racks to lay down. There was no space left unattended. A young Indian man...perhaps in his 20s...was sitting next to me. He kept smiling at us and trying to make light conversation. "What is your good name mam?" "What lovely country is missing such a beautiful girl?"...all the same old questions that the Indian men ask over and over and over again. I went with the dialogue for a bit, but was not in the mood to entertain the conversation for long. I grabbed my Ipod and tried to tune out for the remainder of the trip. The man motioned to me for something, but I didn't understand him. I took out my headphone to hear him better. He smiled and grabbed the headphone out of my hand and put it in his so ear that we were both listening to the ipod through one ear each. I was a little taken back by his abruptness, but I just sat back and tried not to let it get to me. Moment by moment, the man inched his way closer to me. Finally, he was resting his arm into my side. It was as if he was trying to get as much of his body to touch my body as possible. We were all crammed together, but everyone else kept their limbs to themselves and tried their best to not touch. This guy was getting more and more peculiar by the moment and I wasn't really sure what was happening. I thought it was all strange, but I didn't want to overreact. As he leaned more and more into me and smiling and finally placed his hand on my knee. I started to fidget and shrugged him off of me. However, he slowly made his way back to touching my legs and hips. I pushed him off again and then grabbed my ipod away...giving him a "dude that is not cool" look. A Muslim woman wearing a burka was sitting across from us and stared at me like I was this loose western woman provoking the whole scene. I started to feel very uncomfortable. Gemma and Robyn started noticing it as well and we all decided to stand at the doorway the remainder of the trip. It is unfortunate...and I am not generalizing ALL Indian men, but a lot of them have this image of western woman as being easy and provocative. Intimacy and love is very hush hush and kept behind closed doors in this culture. Sometimes certain men will overcompensate their feelings on foreign woman. Because of this, the scene I am describing now is very common while traveling in India. They will stare at you, pester you, and sometimes even grab you on the streets. The young man got up and walked to me at the doorway and leaned in to whisper "You are getting off in Gokarna yes? May I come stay with you...we could have fun?" and then gave me a sleazy smile. I just rolled my eyes and ignored him.
Finally, after a long train journey and the creepy man, we made it to our destination. Gokarna was a lovely coastal village. There are 4 beaches around it in which you hike 30 minutes in between to each. I really enjoyed the village and if I ever come back to India, I hope to spend more time there. It was only a quick stop though, our final destination was the infamous Goa.
In the 60s and 70s, Goa was this thriving party area where people would practice free love, experiment with drugs, and live like aimless hippies for months at a time. Nearly 40 years later, the beaches kind of have a "has been" feel to it, but nonetheless....you can still have a good time. A few years ago, the government enforced a noise ordinance in Goa. To get around this, they now throw "Silent" rave parties almost every night. This is where you have your own headphones while you have an option of listening to several music channels. People drink and get crazy while jamming out to their own music. It is quite entertaining to walk into a bar with no loud music and see 100s of people dancing to their own beat. When I first saw this, I stood there laughing at all the ridiculous people. But it wasn't long before I got my own headphones...and as we put it..."Entered the Bubble". We would stand around talking to one another and then be like..."Ok, I am going back into the bubble...talk to you in a few"...and then put on the headphones to jam out. One night a few of us were at the silent rave and sitting at a table. There was another table about 15 feet from us with a tall long haired guy at it. He was sitting alone and looking around. I was in a goofy mood and yelled "Hey...how are you doing over there?" He replied with some sort of gibberish like "Heyyyy...goshprack blafff nerffffda". I thought this was sort of funny and figured he was just having some fun, so we started speaking gibberish back to him. He seemed to be getting a kick out of it as well and we went back and forth a few times. Finally I yelled..."Dude...just come sit over here with us." He got the biggest smile on his face and stood up to come join us. As he started walking over, we immediately realized the guys functionality was not working AT ALL. He stumbled over to our area in an awkward way and tried to get to the empty seat. In doing this, he tripped a bit and nearly fell head first into the seat of the chair. Somehow he caught himself right before his head hit and then he stopped. For that split second something must have triggered in his mind like "abort mission...abort mission" because all of a sudden he sprinted full speed back to the table he came from. He crashed straight into the table and flew over onto this other person nearly breaking his own neck. He then got up and fell back again and then somehow made it back to his chair. He looked around quizzically as if he had no idea what had just taken place. Basically kids....say no to drugs! If I had a video montage of my trip, this moment would have been in the top 3 of craziest scenes ever. We all looked around at each other in astonishment and couldn't believe what had just happened. I felt horrible because it was my egging that almost led to his abrupt death from a wooden table. But at the same time I couldn't stop laughing. I cried I laughed so hard....it was my official crazy Goan Drug story. For the rest of the night we joked with each other about it, but at the same time hoped that the dude on acid made it home alright.
I decided since I was in India, that it would be fun to get some henna designs on my arms. Henna is a short term dye that woman decorate their skin with. It usually lasts about 2-4 weeks.
So I was walking through the streets of Goa and asked this local Indian woman where I could go to get some henna done. I figured there would be a salon somewhere close by. She insisted that she could do my henna for a good price. I was a little weary about it, but I figured she was Indian...and probably every Indian woman can do henna, right? She looked around cautiously and told me to watch out for police. She did not have a license and we would have to go back to her house for her to do it. "Ohhhh Boy" I thought...."here we go." You may ask yourself why I didn't just ignore the woman and go find a proper salon. The truth is, at this point I wasn't so concerned with the henna as I was intrigued by going into the local neighborhood and having a chance to peak inside someones home. So I followed this woman through the shacks and shambles of the poor class in Goa. We came upon a mud hut that was partially covered with a blue tarp. This was her home. Inside was a bed and a small gas burner surrounded by dirty kitchenware. She flicked on a light and excitedly pointed to the miniature ceiling fan that she had installed with dodgy wiring. I think she was stealing electricity from the house next door because the thin wires were coming from that direction. She grabbed a small tube of henna and we went to sit outside. Some locals burning their trash were staring in our direction. Chickens and pigs horded around us as she began the process. During the henna, she talked about how her family abandoned her and she was too poor to take care of herself. She went on and on about how the police won't let her work and she has a hard time paying for food. Minute by minute I was wondering why I had gotten myself in this situation. She seemed to be more interested in telling me about her family problems then working on the henna. Half the time she was looking at me while she was squeezing the dye onto my arm. The lines were not straight and I was puzzled as to if this was actually how proper henna was done. She insisted that her designs were good and the style was very traditional. I felt removed from the situation as if I was just watching it from a distance. Trying to take in the surroundings and conversation of the woman. However, the longer and longer she painted, the more I knew that it was a disaster. Finally I snapped out of it and made her stop, but the damage was done. I wasn't sure if she was taking the piss out of me or if she was just a sandwich short of a picnic. But literally, it looked as if a 3 year old got a hold of a permanent marker and went to town on my arms. She wanted to do the other side of my arm, but I finally told her that it was enough. I payed her some rupees and went home to see how much I could scrub off. The dye had already soaked in...so the hideous henna job was going to be on me for awhile. Ohhhh India....never a dull moment :)
I am now in Mumbai (Bombay) spending my last few days here before I fly out. The city is surrounded with architecture from the Raj empire...streets are filled with small shops selling anything from watches to clothes to spices. Uptown university kids talk in perfect English about world politics or the latest Bollywood flick. Old men trade stories around Beedi stands (handmade cigarettes) or chai stalls. Holy cows roam through the parks as old woman sweep the dirt off....the dirt. Professional men walk briskly to work, but always take the time to pray at a passing Hindu monument. As my last few days wind down I am trying my hardest to really pay attention to everything happening around me. I must admit, India was pretty intense when I first arrived, but somehow...each day I grew more and more fond of it. With the bizarre organized chaos, religious devotion, and food that tantalizes each taste bud....how can you not succumb to it eventually?
It's true what they all say. If you visit India for 2 weeks, you probably won't like it, but stay longer then that and you will slowly fall in love. I am looking forward to coming back here someday and visiting the areas I wasn't able to get to this time around.

Ahhhhhh at last, we come to the end of the journey...
One of my favorite quotes that I say to myself is..."and this, too, shall pass". It originates from a Jewish wisdom folktale involving King Solomon.
This sentence is true in all situations...whether the circumstance be good or bad. It can make a day seem brighter or remind you to not become too proud. It has allowed me to get through some painful bus journeys and to also be humbled when I feel invincible.
And throughout this journey I had always known....that this too shall pass....and it would come to an end someday. It has been an unforgettable adventure and I wish I had the energy to continue on....but I feel inside that it is time to head home.
This will be my last blog for this trip. However, I hope that it will not be my last blog ever...as I plan to have plenty more travels in my future.

Fourteen months is a long time to be on the road. Originally I had set out to move slowly through countries as I immersed myself into the cultures. Somehow along the way though, I never slowed down....just kept on moving...searching for the next adventure. I visited many countries, met some amazing people, and opened my eyes to new things. I now know that there is other food out there besides Mexican and I am no longer limited to using just a western style toilet.
For some reason, I thought that I would go travel the world....figure out life and find all the answers. I visioned myself returning home someday with a peaceful aura around me and confident about the person I had become. Well, the exact opposite seemed to happen. I am more lost then I was before I left. It's like the saying goes...."The more you learn, the less you know."

My mind has been exposed to so many things over the past year....
Issues that I was certain I had a grasp on and a strong opinion about have changed. The way I perceive my own culture and my own country has changed (in both negative and positive ways). The history and governments of other countries has given me a new light in how this world we live in is getting more and more tangled up. Humanity....oh humanity....I feel we are at a tipping point and I just pray that it tips in a better direction. I always thought I had a decent grasp on life, but I realize that I a nowhere close. I have more compassion, but at the same time am more cynical. My patience has strengthened, but I have no problem being tough. I've opened my mind to religions, but wonder if faith is worth all the sacrifice.
And when I keep thinking about all these trivial issues....my head begins to hurt.

If there are two things that I can take from this journey...they are that this world is ever changing. History is the present and the present is the future and everything changes minute by minute. It is something that I am learning to accept....as challenging as it may be.
And lastly....as confused as I am about myself and the world that I live in, I do know this...that I can handle most situations on my own and that I will survive.

For those of you who labored through my blog....(Mom and Dad), Thanks!
I hope you have enjoyed listening to my rambles, experiences, and perspectives of the world I traveled through.

1 comment:

  1. It's been an amazing read and thank you for allowing us to share the experience vicariously! I loved the way you wrapped it up. (Use Yoda voice here...)"The wisdom strong in this one is" And I strongly suspect that you can handle ANY situation on your own.
    Uncle Mike