Friday, September 29, 2006

1! We are soldiers! 2! In our City Year shirts! 3! Don't we look good! 4! When we go to work!

Congratulations to this year's 2006-2007 City Year Corps all over the country!!! Hey, hey, it's Opening Day!!! Especially those new corps members (Yeah CHEEM!!!) and returning corps members at CYDC. Now comes the fun/challenging part: service! Dont forget: this is hard, be strong. Bing! (ok, i know that was the cheesiest thing i've said on here to date, but i couldnt help it. you can only deprogramm brain washing so much)I can't believe two years ago, on this same day (ok, so it was oct 1 my year, you know what i mean)i was wearing my new clean timberland provided uniform, still proud of it, representing my team to the crowd of well wishers and DC photo op hogs, being formally inducted to Americorps, City Year and my year of service. Who woulda ever thought i would go on to serve another year (cept me, since i went in with that intention) and then be in India on the following opening day. crazy. life is so great! The last 2 1/2 years have been really fabulous, and it just gets better with time. :) i'm pretty happy. i got an email from my friend who i forced to do CY (you're thanking me now... let's hope it stays that way:) today, and he is loving it. i had hardly thought about it since i've been here, but getting his email showed me that i actualy do care at least a little with what is going on there. the other night alex and i talked about it, she was asking me questions about my experience and i suddenly remembered cheem literally filling my boots, standing on my shodlers, making sure the DC community is served. getting the email about what has been going on was like a portal next to me opened, full of a red-jacketed, Timberland army, threatening to suck me back into the high ceilings, wooden floors and hamster cage type cubicles of the MLK space and surrounding City Year office. I asked him to fill me in on all the details. he doesnt read my blog (apparently he is "just too lazy for your journal thing") but maybe other people who know him can guilt him into reading about my experiences.

So it looks like the Mother Theresa hospice is just not gonna happen for me, at least not while i'm intent on trying to work with a hindi tutor. It is festival season here in Varanasi, and apparently no one wants to work. We know have to pay double for one hour of hindi study with this teacher guy. i'll try it out tomorrow, but i'd honestly rather have the experience of serving here sometime during my last 5 days in Benaras. I had yoga tody with a tiny little man who looks to be about 58, although b/c he does so much yoga, he might very well be pushing 80. he is slim, incredibly flexible, strong, disciplined and is missing the bulk of two toes on his right foot. i kept getting distracted by them. he is so wonderful! he speaks enough english to explain postiions to us, and since today was my first class (yesterday i only ended up doing the breath work before i got pulled into my kathak class and today i had to miss the first 15 minutes b/c of a mixup with the male kathak teacher i didnt want to continue with; he apparently arrived at 3:45 expecting to teach me again today, since my leader was sick and didnt communicate the cancellation to him, i had the incredibly awkward task of expaining that i in fact no longer wanted to study kathak with him any longer. great)i didnt know any of the poses. he very gently and patiently explained them to me while he worked with everyone else. i can't wait for tomorrow's yoga. i'm sad we are leaving so soon, there is so much in varanasi that i want to see and do still (like raid silk paradise, the silk shop i spent 2 horus in yesterday) and visit the temples. On tuesday or wednesday everyone will be drunk and dancing in the streets, as they carry the statues of the gods to the river to return them to the ganges. that i can't wait to see. i'll be sure to find a rooftop to watch from though. no mixing with the locals for me. it is a bit perplexing, there are so many foreigners here. swedish people come, isrealis come and so do some japanese folks as well. but i consistently see women completely ignoring the norms of dress here and walking around in small things. i can't even imagine! i get (and we get) harrassed so much as it is, and we walk around in indian clothes, fully dressed and covered.

Alex and i got completely lost this morning, but i finally made it out of Assi ghat and saw some other parts of Varanasi. We couldnt find the place so we ended up buying a fresh pomegranate from a vendor, splitting it under a fern tree in a park and eating pom jewels in the shade as we talked about life. sweet:) i have to get to the friekin post office (find it first) and exchange money. it is almost dire. i have to pay my kathak teacher tomorrow and there are many other things i want to do as well, like go to the new air conditioned swanky bollywood movie theater to get out of the heat and away from the streets to watch a spectacular spectacular. It's late here, its dark and the internet shop is about to close.

more tomorrow inshallah
love
bilbo

Thursday, September 28, 2006

At a loss

I have had a wonderful day today; full, engaging, educational, fun and long. But i'm sitting in this internet cafe almost in tears from missing everyone so much. I just read an email from my little sister and the comments my fam keeps leaving after each post and i miss you all so much.

Today Alex and i woke up super early (6:15 am to be exact) to get ready (even after sleeping horribly in this oppressive heat where the power goes out and any relief from the archaic ceiling fan ceases), have breakfast and meet the rest of the group at 7:45 to go do service at the Mother Theresa House for the Destitute (a hospice for the poor, old and dying). We were to meet at Haifa, a hotel and restuarant approved as safe and clean for foriegners who need food, chai or refuge from the heat. we got lost because all of varanasi (that i've seen so far, although i've been told the rest of it is like this too) is small, low to the ground and built with no sense of urban planning whatsoever. the roads, if you choose to call them that, are either dirt or long ago laid flagstones in dirt, surrounded by mounds and mounds of poop from the leagues of holy cows that always have right of way or the armies of goats that relax on the steps to the Ganges and look at me funny when i try and rest for a moment near them in the sun.

my ability to read hindi script is limited to recognizing letters and starting to string together blends; i'm basically reading at a preschool level right now. this does not help with me being able to distinguish just what part of the unnamed main road (whose only saving grace is that it runs parallel to the ganges and can always help orient you as a result) i happen to be lost on. i did see a snakes on a plane poster in hindi when we got here; it is one of the joys of my walks from my host family's house that i pass it numerous times a day.

there is an amazing children's home run by the man who cannot be named that is within walking distance where today we had our first yoga class and i had my second Kathak class, which is the classical north indian style of dance i am interested in. It is well run, for children who are either orphans or from poor, not so stable families, clean, friendly, and loving. there is a wonderful garden (probably about 1/6 of an acre of green space) that it surrounds which we have been told is the nicest green space in this old smelly city.

I have finally started getting my bearings, although i have not yet been outside of Assi ghat. There are some kick ass book stores down here, along with a silk shop that is so amazing and wonderful alex and i spent 2 hours this morning there, taking chai with the shop keepers and designing new clothes for ourselves. The book stores are chock full of such interesting books about india that i would never be able to find back home; they adress the intellectual vaccum towards india that i find at home. books about partition, feminism, pop culture, hindu mythology, current indian economic & political realities. they also have tons of great western classics and books that have been endlessly recommended to me that i fully intend on reading someday. i'm reading India: A Wounded Civilization by V.S. Naipaul right now and really wish i had someone to discuss it with. i've been taking feverish notes as i read, trying to capture the purest reactions i have to the text before i have the chance to analyze & dissect. when i'm done, mike said he'd read it so that we can discuss it and i'll start reading A Fine Balance, which is a book he recommended to me. I have to say that Siri & Mike are the best leaders i could have ever asked for. They are so caring and anticipate our needs very well. They truly care about our comfort, experiences and growth. They have travelled to India and through India enough where they have many answers to my many questions, but are totally wiling to admit when they don't and help me find those. The group as a whole has so many great and intersting books with them as well that i want to speed through the books i've brought and the ones on my must read list so that i can take advantage of so many at my disposal.

Our morning, though devoid of service, was relaxing and fun. We splurged and got fruit salads as a midmorning snack at Haifa (3rd time we've been there in 24 hours) before our silk escapades and bookstore adventure. Aside from actually being in India, it wasn't that different from the way we might spend a lazy summer morning in america. I cherish those moments, they remind me where i'm my grounding comes from and what i'm grounded in. India is a wonderful place that i can see myself spending a great deal of time in during the next few years, but home is home. I often think of the fall season i am missing, the color changing leaves, the smell of fireplaces first being lit, the crunch of dried leaves under my feet on an afternoon walk, fresh hot apple cider, pumpkins, driving down the Merritt and soaking up the mosiac of autumn colors that New England never fails to provide. These things often seem like dreams, fantastical imaginings i've conjured up while sitting on the stairs to the Ganges in the vicious Indian morning sun. It is as if i can only reach that world through words now, either the ones i write or the ones i read in responses to this blog. A world where running water is plentiful and safe to drink, where meat is readily available and safe to eat, where racial profiling is an inconvenient (but usually not deadly) truth, where electricity is available 24/ 7 and constantly wasted and taken for granted, where open sewers don't line the streets, where toilet paper is in every bathroom (except those unfortunate folks who have run out but fully intend on buying more), where poverty isnt life and death and staring you in the face with its fly covered one, where underwieght children and underweight abused stray animals dont fight for your compassion, where freedom in dress and ritual/religion doesnt mean anything more, where the indivual takes priority over everything, where consumerism is identity. I miss and despise this fantastic place, just as i relish and despair over the place i'm currently in.

I want to do everything here. There are so many amazing internship opportunities, silver smithing, dancing (Kathak, Bollywood/filmi, poy or fire dancing) hindi, tablas, sitar... i want to do and learn it all. I started Kathak classes with a gurl my age who is a senior at BHU (Benaras Hindu Univ) in their 3 year Kathak dance program (which they call a bachelor's of music instead of Fine arts) at a local dance academy called Deeka Music & dance Academy. (At least i think that is what it is called!) She speak alot of english and is explaining Kathak to me as one dancer to another. I love it so far, ive been walking down the street with my hands in the proper position (thumb & index finger of each hand touching while the other three fingers are together and stiff, parallel to the ground) and my feet touching out the rhythms (instead of a typical 8 count, the steps are counted in syllables: Ta, Thi, Thi, Thut, Aa, Thi, Thi, Thut, repeat) while i mouth the rhythmic counts. Next lesson is tomorrow at noon. Hopefully tomorrow i will make it ot the Mother Teresa house and then follow with lunch and Kathak. Today i was so beat because our yoga teacher said we shouldnt eat 3 hours before class, and class was supposed to be at 3pm, so i ended up only having some Hide & Seek tea biscuits (small square crispy cookies with choclate chips...AWESOME), a baby bannana and water to take me through the middle of the day, 2 Kathak class and a yoga class. Not doing that again. I had two classes today b/c i wanted to try out both teachers available to me. The gurl my age is great, i really enjoy her style and her presence. The other teacher is an older man who teaches Kathak at BHU who doesnt speak any english. He was nice enough but rushed me through a bunch of steps and drilled me over and over, it wasnt that helpful.
i also dont feel that comfortable having him re-adjust my arms or have to regulate my movement. A gurl is better for that for me. I'm getting low on funds, i have to change money ASAP so that i can pay for my hindi tutor and buy the books i find. not sure how i'll carry them or keep them...but i'll work that out.

It is oppressively hot here. Did i mention that? Bugs have been attacking me like it is their sole evolutionary purpose and i hate them for it. On the other hand, i heart geckos!!! there are tons here, and watching them stalk giant grasshoppers, crickets and even flies is one of my favorite things to do. i wonder where our collective language and expressions would be without nature to steal metaphors and analogies from? we'd have to ceaselessly explain behavior without having a wonderful, easily graspable idea like "stalking its prey" or "being a chameleon". Anywho. Totally random. Please keep the comments coming, i need them! i will do my best to take some pictures tomorrow and upload them in some form or fashion to the blog.
Love, light and growth~
Bilbo

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Spirit-ed Away

So much has happened since i wrote last!!

I'm now writing from Varanasi, Benaras, the City of Theives, The City of Light, Shiva's city, the holiest city in Hinduism. It is in the state of Bihar, poorest in India; a hot plains state where Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bodh tree. We took a 22 hour train ride from Dehradun starting Sunday evening that after much adventure brought us safely into Varanasi by 6:30 pm the next evening. The train was an incredible experience in and of itself. I was dreading being on a train that long, but it was a sleeper,so we each had a cusioned slab to rest on. We had to keep all of our belongings chained up under the seats so that they could not easily be snatched, nd had to sleep wrapped around our things so that people could not sneak them away. The train is hard to descrie, but if you've ever seen the Harry Potter movies and seen the compartments they sit in on their way to Hogwarts, it is sort of like that except minus the doors to the compartments, any sense of privacy and any sense of poshness. The compartments have 6 bunk beds within them, two which fold down into seats for the day train travel. Across what would be the door/entry way to teh compartment is where my bunk was, up against the left wall of the train. There was an aisle seperating me and the 6 bunk compartment and a bunk beneath me as well. The bun ks on the the wall are shorter than the ones in the compartment and when i was laying down, the edge of my pillow was up against one wall and my feet were firmly against the end wall. I'm not a tall person, but that got uncomfortable. i had my leg running through the top strap of my kanagroo fanny pack and my dupatta as a sheet. I woke up at one point during the night slapping someone's hand very hard off of my arm. I saw a very startled looking man who may or may not have simply been holding onto the chain that suspends my bunk from the cieling in an effort to get by, but in any event, he hurried away from my bunk after my hard slap. After that, i didn't sleep as soundly and woke up a few times an hour with whatever niose or new stop. I woe up to a loud cackling noise early in the night only to discover many older farmer peasant woman sitting in the aisle underneath and near my bunk extending past the constantly open train doors into the corridor in front of the train's squat toilets (which were conveniently and sometimes unfortunately right next to us). They were having lively conversation about goodness knows what; I woke up again as they left.

The thing about indian trains is that tons of people that dont have tickets get on and will sit in your seat/on your bed with a concrete sense of entitlement. It becomes up to you at this point to either politely (or roughly, whichever your style) usher them out of your space, or deal with it and try and get comfortable. Once the sun had risen and i was fully awake, there were many pairs of male eyes trained on my every movement. Behind these curious (OBNOXIOUS!) young men with no seeming sense of shame, class or reason were an abundance of sadhus, ascetic holy men, young and old, squatting in the corridor. They had their own personal incense that they burned at all times, and their dreaded hair and ash covered forheads were like staring straight into a NAtional geographic special. Then the cultured young men began to taunt them, pull at their dreaded hair and call them names. The men got off at the next stop as a result. I had just enough space in my bunk to sit up, but not comfortably, and not for any extended period of time. I had planned to get a great deal of my curriculm work done on the train as i had not had the chance recently to catch up with it. Boy was that a dumb expectation. With each major stop, the shifts of unceasingly staring pairs of brown eyes changed, more often than not getting bigger and rowdier. some times they were funny and wanted to know about Mike's Harry Potter book and practice their english on us. They kept asking Sally (blonde 17 year old gurl from Nantucket) to sing (wierd) and for our autographs. As time progressed they got more obnoxious, to the point where i was biting the insides of my cheeks so as not to start any fights. I was as Jaime put it "like a princess" held captive on my bunk, the rapunzul kind where i have to let down my hair to access the world. They kept asking me if i aws indian, and when i wouldnt answer they would hound the rest of the group who would answe that i was american. Some of the guys would yell diff greetings at me to try and get my attention (Salaams! Namaste ji! Susrikal!!!) and the last group of guys kept making disgusting kissing noises and licking their lips at us. GROSS. One of the earlier groups tried to tke pictures of me with their cell phones and i noticed and put my duppatta over my head and face, like an Indian bride. They started laughing, and that was the closest i got to starting a fight. I was able to suffer through a good 12 hours of entitled patriarchal sexuality and misogyny and come out on the other side without getting arrested or hurt. Yay me! i must be reaching all kinds of new levels of personal growth.
Side note: They bring chai (tasty chai!!! those chai wallas are not fooling you, it is worth it) on the train every 2 seconds, for about 2 or 3 rupees ( the equivalent of 4 cents) that they would serve in these small clay cones. Once you are done with the cones, you throw them out the window and smash them on the ground. This seems incredibly wasteful. Everywhere we went, i saw piles and piles of clay cones laying on the sides of the tracks. Also, if you are ever in India, do not go near the train tracks. The squat pots are simply open holes that leaves whatever you do on whatever part of india you happen to be riding over. Gross. Althouigh the bathrooms were suprisingly clean. They also bring the newpaper (hindi & english), snacks and full scale meals that they prepare. I foolishly ate one, which was quite good, but then got horribly sick for the first night we were in Varanasi. We rode second class on the sleepers which were moderatley comfortable. I would love to try the first class, which means there is a door and air conditioning. It was overall a positive experience, and i'm glad i get to do it again in a few weeks. If anything bad had happened, i'm sure i'd feel differently. we all made it, safe and sound, all possessions in tact, with a deeper understanding of how zoo animals must feel. My first thought when i got on the train was "i've spent weeks fearing monkeys, and now i have to be one. great."

Leaving the beautiful coolness of the mountains and the home life comfort and friends in Mussoorie was hard; saying good bye to my new family there was the hardest. The upside of leaving was that my clothes were finally done and are comfortable and beautiful in a practical way. I have to get my pictures printed so that i can send Yousuf's family copies. We spent Saturday having the greatest day before we left. There was a sikh festival in honor of a guru's birthday which meant full scale punjabi celebration. There was a parade with all male Bhangra troupes from Punjab (apparently the dance that gurls do is called Gidha, and gurls arent allowed to do bhanra), dhol players, sikh marching bands, horses, blind sword fighters, fireworks, (shrapnel from these fireworks that almost killed Leah, Alex and I in our festive enthusiasm to get it on film), free chai, music, it was incredible!!!! We spent the morning at an NGO that teaches farming and Gandhian based self sustainability directed education at a school that focuses on the idea of Swatantrata, which roughly translated maens Self organizedness. It was so cool! i would love to back there and volunteer when my hindi is better. they farm organiclly and served us delicious food. there were 3 guys from a Info Tech university in Hyderabad there volunteering that made for interesting lunch conversation partners. I am really moved to laern more about Gandhi ji's ideas and principles.

Alex & I are staying with a small friendly Hindu family in Varanasi near the Assi ghat, which are the stairs that lead into the Ganga, or the Ganges, the most holy river in India. I saw a body float by yesterday morning in the fast, monsoon bloated brown waters as i prepared to do yoga. Other girls in the group actually saw the funeral pyres of one of the many burning ghats yesterday while i was napping, done in by the travel and the heat. It is said that a single dip in the Ganga will cleanse you of your sins, and the sins of your previous 7 and future 7 generations . It is toxically polluted. Bodies are thrown in wholesale to return to god and also are thrown in after they have been charred to an irrecognizable degree. For men, it is their chest that is not burnt, for women their hips; they are put into the Ganga to feed the fish and allow the fish to reincarnate as humans in their next birth. People come here to die, under the hopes that Shiva will grant them a pass out of the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. Everyday the city doubles its population size, from 1 million to 2 million as pilgrims and the dying come here to attain spiritual purity and closeness to Shiva. Today is the 5th day of Durga Pooja, a holiday honoring the Goddess in her 9 forms. I am still waiting for confirmation, but i believe that the temple i scaled a mountain to visit is in honor of this same goddess in the form of Devi. When she died, Shiva was mad with grief and paraded around the world with her body, screaming and crying the loss of his shakti, or female (and completely necessary) female balancer. Ram, the head god, cut up her body, and parts of her are all over india. It is said that their is a temple in Benaras where her eyes fell, but the temple on top of the mountain was where her head was supposed to lay. I could be completely mixing up my Hindu mythology right now and telling you a completely incorrect story, but like i said, i'm still waiting for confirmation.

Today is the 3rd day of Ramadan, or Ramzaan as it is known here. Ramadaan Mubarak everyone! This is the first time in 14 years that the Hindu festival season and Ramadaan are overlapping. The last time this happened, there were riots, incredible tension and violence. Michael, our Canadian contact in this, the world's oldest city, told us that that happened the same year as the Ayodbag masjid being torn down (on my birthday, Decebmer 6, in 1992) and that was why the riots occured. I was anxious about staying with a Hindu family in such a conservative, old school Hindu city. I was more than alittle nervous about anti-Muslim sentiment and my safety. I have brought this up to my leaders, and they have asked our contacts about it, and all seems good. But i can't help but feel a bit on edge while we're here anyway; I can't imagine how much Michael, or the Man who Cannot be Named (our Indian contact in Benaras cannot be named b/c there is a well established "Study Abroad Mafia" as it is known that all foreigners who come to Varanasi are supposed to go through. If it was known that this man was working with us, it would be a political and reputation disaster, so he is this story's inverted Voldemort) makes it their business to guage the anti-Muslim sentiment in Benaras within any group of people, but whatever. Inshallah I'll be fine.
Keep the comments coming. I'm still working on my GIlman Scholarship application since they extended the deadline to Gandhi ji's birthday, OCtober 2nd, I just discovered that my advisor at LEAPNow, Susan, has been undercutting my application prospects by telling another student about the scholarship and helping them apply. They have already submitted their application, as she anooyingly and traitorously pointed out in an email to me today. great. i was thinking to retaliate i would submit the two newpaper articles written about me and my city year service and maybe even the copy of my speech from the idealism in action gala. any thoughts? can anyone burn a copy of the speech on DVD to send to these folks to knock their socks off? Juan (and my new friend KAlpna) have helped me craft a kickass service proposal to do for the Gilman folks that i want to do regardles of whether or not i get the scholarhsip. hopefully i get it anyway! Inshallah!
Love light and safety
bilbo

Friday, September 22, 2006


Impoverished Indian children who joined us for yoga(and begged and then chased us b/c people gave them $) our first morning in Delhi in the Tibetan Colony of Majnu ka Tilla

Skyline of Hong Kong

Lanterns in the streets of Hong Kong

Fellow morning commuters

Sunset over the hills of Mussoorie

Motorcycles in Connaught Circus in Delhi

Yoga in the morning in Delhi

Standing on the edge of the world

My third eye is open and ready to see you!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Yay!!! Internet!!!!

I talked to my little sister yesterday, the one who just had a birthday. it was wonderful. it was for 7 minutes on skype, but it was a very fulfilling 7 minutes. We were both so overwhelmed to finally be talking that we didn't have a lot to say. but she asked me what the best and worst things about being here are, and I answered that being in India is the best thing about being here, and the worst thing is not feeling 100%. I amend that now. I can deal with the perpetual uncomfortable-ness that I feel but not having access to reliable, fast internet is the worst thing; it is the thing that I miss most. it makes it hard to blog, email or even just check the news when every two minutes the server is dying/crashing/overloading/not working. I think in Varanasi it will be different, but who knows. I'm not holding my breath.

On the topic of things I appreciate, I would also like to thank whatever guardian angel/good Samaritan/saint/yogi transferred $$ into my bank acct so that it is in fact no longer overdrawn and is still open!!! yay!!! You have taken a great worry off my shoulders. I would also like to thank (since I’m getting into Oscars acceptance speech mode here)all the family who is constantly supporting me and sending me love and positivity from across the time zones, miles and oceans. I feel loved and supported in a way that I haven’t ever before, and I think it is helping my experience a great deal to know that all the people that I love love me back and are behind me 110%. It means I don’t have to worry about how to spin anything, how to frame anything, how to rationalize or excuse anything so that it will be accepted. It is a lot of pressure and stress off me.

And now onto the news....... lol. So you know those crazy Opus Dei people from the Da Vinci Code that Mel Gibson's dad is a big supporter of? They do this daily self mortification thing to demonstrate their devotion where they hurt themselves. I think it also serves as a form of penance. And you know those stories you hear overreaching old folks telling about how they walked up hills to school both ways through the snow? Well a combination of those two things is my daily existence here. Every morning, I walk what has to be about a mile form the hotel to the language school, which is at the top of the mountain. It is a steep and grueling trek that every morning threatens to steal what little lung capacity I have left. It is not my daily worship, but it is certainly proof of my devotion to learn Hindi! Every day I trudge through increasingly familiar streets full of poop of all kinds (monkey, dog, donkey, horse, chicken, and often unidentifiable), freshly spat phlegm, trash, dirty water, old chai, fruit & vegetable peels from the fruit stands, leering men, overfriendly children eager to practice their public school English, honking scooters, motorcycles with entire families perched precariously upon them, on their way to school, delivery trucks with the loudest, most obnoxious horns that blare at you EVEN IF YOU ARE ALREADY CLINGING TO THE NEAREST WALL TO LET THEM BY, bicycles, dogs, monkeys, roosters, other tourists and the smell of very public urinals that are rather strangely located by the gurdwara (Sikh temple), the Jain temple and the Hindu temple. The incline of these streets becomes steeper than 45 degrees and just keep going. I often imagine my lungs and heart imploding from the incredible effort as all I can think of is the next step each foot needs to take. It is the most meditative, living-in-the-present- moment exercise I can do. The minutes seem to melt away, the seconds stop, all time and other people cease to exist. They people my periphery view as shadows, either witnesses to my daily quest to make it up the hills or distractions/demons sent to knock the last morsel of motivation out of me. When I inevitably make it up the hill, I am astonished to discover that a mere 20-30 minute chunk of time has passed and I am in fact, on time for class. The first class passes in front of me with very little participation or even awareness, it normally takes me about an hour to recover from the incredible physical exertion.
Basically what I’m saying here is that I’ve got all those bragging old people beat.

I’ve never walked this much in my life, and Yousuf bhai says that I am wasting away whenever I see him (granted, most of the time I am out of breath and trying to rest after I’ve made it up the hill). To add insult to injury, we hiked to Happy Valley yesterday. It is the Tibetan corner of Mussoorie where many refugees live and is covered in monkeys and Tibetan prayer flags. It is beautiful, but an hour and a half downhill hike. Sound easy? Imagine being pulled downwards by gravity with such alarming force that your only weapon, your knees, almost splinter from the effort. This is the trek to Happy Valley. It is also followed by an hour and a half hike back uphill. We visited the loudest Buddhist temple I have ever been to- there was a pair of monks who were doing pooja using cymbals and other marching band drums consistently for the better part of an hour while we were there. The temple was beautiful in a homey, loved and appreciated sort of way. It was so colorful! There were many prayer wheels along the entrance which are colorful, foot and a half long, foot wide cylinders that you turn in a clockwise motion before entering the temple to ensure a long and happy life for yourself.

The walls, eaves and ceiling were covered in paintings of the incarnations of Buddha. Every inch of space was bright, clean and colorful. There was a large cardboard cutout of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the front of the temple next to the main alter/where the Buddha sits. At a quick glance, it looked as though HH was sitting at the head of the temple, waiting to greet and bless us. It wasn’t as enriching as an experience as I had hoped since there weren’t any English speaking monks and the Hindi speaking ones were old and somehow not engaging with us. It was still peaceful and incredibly refreshing to sit down after the constant fight against gravity we had to endure to make it to the temple. The view around the temple was spectacular. It was the first clear day in Mussoorie since we’ve been here, so we could see all the surrounding hills. The sun was shining, the breeze was gently blowing and two girls from the other group sat with me on the steps opposite the temple as we talked about he nature of love and anger and how our lives have been influenced by each. Then the group suddenly separated; one group left to go back to Landour Bazaar while another went to see hill tops full of Tibetan prayer flags. Erica and I stopped to find a toilet and never found that hilltop nirvana. We became permanently separated from our group and after a semi frantic search for the group aided by our friendly neighborhood Tibetans, we gave up and started back at a snail’s pace.

I have no idea how long it took us to walk back, but I do know that it was mid afternoon when we left, the sun still fairly high in the sky. As we walked, the sun began to descend, dusk set in, and by the time we made it back to Landour Bazaar, it was full on night. Turns out everyone was worried about us while we just figured we had been abandoned and headed back. It was quite the adventure. We had to walk through a small area surrounded by white bodied black faced langoor monkeys and while I prayed to make it through, Erica was determined to get a picture of them. I walked ahead holding my breath, convinced I would turn around and find families of langoors attacking her. When I turned around, she had a panicked look on her face as she rushed to get away from them. She got the picture though. We started out the adventure looking for a taxi or any vehicle on wheels to return us to Landour without us having to walk. The longer we walked, and the more we talked, it became easier. We talked about the lives of trees, Ents, Madeline L’engle, Tolkien, metaphysics, and the nature of life. We then talked about principles, racism, patriarchy and societal connectedness vs. disconnectedness. It was a great talk. It’s quite late now, I have to grab dinner and make it back to the hotel in time for a Spirit team meeting. Love you all.
Bilbo

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

sick!!!

Yesterday i spoke entirely too soon about the being better thing. i spent the day in bed, trying not to die. last night we went to this great chinese place that looks like it belongs any where in america, and they had international radio on (which meant american)so we listened to american top 40, ate chinese food and dished about hot american actors. it was wonderful. then this morning i woke up feeling as though i was in the movie Alien and extra terrestrial life was trying to riggle out of my abdomen. HORRIBLE. so i miss an entire day of school and will have to play catch up. we left our host families yesterday and are staying at hotel urvashi palace, which is a guest house (very litle empahsis on the palace, much more emphasis on the "i can't believe i'm staying here ewww") and i was in bed all day. i felt homesick and lonenly, since it was jsut me and start gold tv. i watche dhte bollywood film "tum bin" which was all about duty and love and tragedy, yada yada yada. not the best thing to watch when u'r trying not to kick the bucket or puke into it either. it was enjoyable though. my hindi is so paltry! it makes me sad but determined to get good enough to understand everything in a bollywood movie. yesterday was my litle sister's 20th birthday, and i spent about a day and a half trying to call her and sing happy birthday, although the me getting sick again tootally killed that. i just called her on skype using my friends acct.
Note to family: don't we have skype? if we do, can i have the acct info so that i can call you fine ppl who i miss??? that would be great...

i am trying to soldier on and not die so that i can make it to varanasi this weekend.
might as well tell you guys about my 3000 ft hike. we visited a temple dedicated to devi on sunday, which was about 3,000 ft higher than mussoorie. we undertook the pilgramage aspect of it, taking about an hour to climb the steeep steps that were falling apart, were covered in donkey, dog and horse poop and try to adjust my sea-level lungs to the thin mountain air. it was worth all the trouble though. being in the mountains is pretty incredible. we get what looks like fog here, but is really just the clouds moving through. we saw a peek of the snow capped himilayas while up there, but the clouds surrounded us and the temple, so it looked as though we were in the middle of nothingness. pretty amazing. we got up to the temple and my leaders offered coconuts (which are apparently the vegetarian version of a live sacrifice), some dupattas, and some other food to the goddess at the shrine. her head is supposed to be buried at the spot of this shrine, high in the mountains. after they offered the food & stuffs, we all got the tikka on our forheads and the mita (sweets) called parsaad. we stepped out of the shrine and cracked the coconuts on the ground and all ate them. there was a priest who was going to do a special prayer for us (for a fee of coursE) but he was busy doing lunchtime pooja to the goddess. it was interesting...definiately thte first time i had been inside a hindu temple before. we got the tikkas to signifiy having seen "god", having been seen by "god" and our third eye being open to the world. it was a very short experience, considering how long the hike up was. there were some gurls there when we went who had come a very great distance just to make an offering to the goddess devi.
i still cant believe i'm here. sometimes all i can think about will be what i do when i get home, and other times, i cant imagine coming home. travelling is such a unique experience... i've only been out of the US for 12 days, and yet it feels like a world of time. i gota go hydrate now and try to hang in there till tomorrow. keep the comments coming. i miss everyone!
<3
bilbo

Monday, September 18, 2006

BRAT, chai, don't drink the water, and call me in the morning

In my last post, I definitely said I would right again the next day. It has been 5 since then. During this incredibly timeless 5 day period, I have battled with the enemies of every traveler. I had some bad water, and as a result of my bout with "Delhi Belly" have been on the BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Apples, and Toast) diet for 2 1/2 of the last 5 days. I am thankfully better now.

There is so much to tell! I don't even know where to begin. Yousuf's family is wonderful. Umma ji is like a real grandmother to me, and today I was very sad to have to say good bye to her. There were only enough home stay families to have half the group be hosted, so we split up along group lines and Spirit was first. Before I left, she told me that i am like a child of hers and always have a home in Mussoorie to come back to. She also told me that i will stay in her du'ahs. She said that she has been praying for nothign but good for me and to trust in Allah that I will achieve the things I am working towards. I told her that she is my grandmother in India and inshallah when my hindi is better i'll be able to call her on the the phone and talk to her. Now that she is older and a bit more infirm, she is very lonely and laments having no one to talk to during the day. I will be visitng her after school in the afternoons of this week. The boy who is replacing me speaks very little Hindi, and is a boy, so she wont be able to really get very close to him.

I love Mussoorie and want to bring everyone I love here. It is incredible-the Himalayas surround us, the people are welcoming and friendly, and the monkeys are really scary. Since my initial warning about the bandurs, I have been chased by a few, and in constant fear of them. I was walking through landour bazaar (down the mountain) when I noticed a group of very close monkeys sitting along the high stone wall across the street from me. As I looked at them, I noticed them looking at me. I noticed their steely stares; they started to run down the power lines crisscrossing above my head towards me. I screamed and jumped into the post office, which I had been standing in front of. I met up with two girls from my group there and as soon as they were done I half ran half walked down the street to outrun the monkeys. They eventually lost interest, but not before they have made me permanently fear monkeys of any size. This fear is fast becoming a well developed paranoia/neurosis.
Hindi school is getting harder and harder, and I have not had the chance to review what we've been learning since every night I go home exhausted and then have dinner and chit chat time with my family. Staying with them will be one of the most enriching experiences of my whole trip. Their house is a modest multipurpose building of which they occupy 3 stories. The front most room of the house is on the street and serves as the tailor shop that the family owns and runs all day, morning to night. This family works so hard...it is amazing to see. It is also sad to me.

As my stay has lengthened, I have learned more about this family's history and the way Partition affected them. Yousuf, my teacher, and his brothers’ grandfather had been a member of the congress party during partition. He had been assured that Muslims in the party would be safe and able to stay in their homes, not forced to trek into Pakistan. Mussourie is very close to Pakistan, and although we have not talked about it, the little I know about partition makes me think that Mussourie might have been an area, like many others that was not clearly going to India or Pakistan. I will have to find out. His grandfather made no arrangements to leave or sell anything or even pack because of this assertion. Then, as Yousuf tells me, the killings began. Muslims in the area went missing, were being attacked and killed in a systematic and obvious way. His grandfather, who was the oldest of his family and a skilled tailor, sent his 2 younger sisters and 1 younger brother in a caravan to Sarumpur, a mostly Muslim community a few hours from Mussourie and planned to leave the next day on the train. They (grandfather & grandmother) could only bring the clothes on their back, their 1 year old son and a bottle to feed him with. His grandmother wasn’t even able to bring her bridal jewelry, which was her only source of wealth. They had to leave all their belongings in the house and went to the train station to wait for the next train to Pakistan via Saharmpur. They hid in the woods while they waited to try and stay alive as long as possible. When the train arrived earlier than expected, they could see people working on the train. They watched as people washed it; it was covered in blood. The train conductors and employees were washing it off so that the desperate fleeing people would get on it, none the wiser that they were simply filling the very marked shoes of the people before them. The train would go from Mussourie through Punjab and then into Pakistan, making all the people on it sitting targets for the killing that was sure to come. His grandparents fled into the woods at this point, waiting until the train passed through where they were. Under the cover of night, they jumped onto it and arrived in sarumpur. When they arrived, they discovered that his grandfather’s siblings never arrived. After partition, he spent two years in Pakistan searching for them to no avail. They have never been found.

Yousuf tells me that Mussoorie used to be a fairly successful Muslim area; there are 4 masjids that surround the Landour Bazaar area I am staying in. After Partition, almost all Muslims had fled this area or been killed. After some time, Yousuf’s grandfather returned and convinced other Muslims from Sarumpur to settle here as well. Now there are hardly enough Muslims to fill one masjid’s congregation. Eid only lasts one day here. Even though Muslims live here peacefully with the many other people here, there are very few jobs and occupations they can do. They are not trusted. For example, if a Muslim wanted to rent out tents and pots and pans for use during weddings, no one would rent from them because the Hindus, Jains and Sikhs are vegetarian and wouldn’t trust a Muslim’s word that the pots were used for purely vegetarian cooking. I think even being doctors wouldn’t be accepted, although there is such a dearth of them here that maybe that would be an exception. All of the taboos that are carried within the caste system are prevalent here. Muslims would never get elected to office or even hold any good high paying jobs. Yousuf has been teaching at the language school for the last 12 years, and is still only paid on an hourly basis. The large, nicer houses in Mussourie used to belong to Muslims; they are now filled with Sikhs and Hindus.

On Friday we walked down the mountain to Mussoorie proper and visited a masjid, a gurdwara ( a Sikh temple) and an Anglican church. All were within walking distance of each other. When we were in the masjid, Nasir, Yousuf’s brother, talked to us about Islam. After his brief introduction, I ended up talking the rest of the time we were there and answering everyone’s questions as best I could. I later found out that both Yousuf and Nasir were very impressed that I knew as much about Islam as I do. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that last year an American Muslim girl visited the language school and knew nothing about islam. The second is that in India, according to Yousuf’s family, many Muslims don’t know a lot about their faith. They are mostly in Hindu areas, and grow up going to public Hindu schools, learning much more about the Hindu culture, religion and way of life than Islam. When not surrounded by much Muslim community, they don’t learn much. Often this is through a decision on the parent’s part to not teach their children, but often these parents are in this same position. Umma ji told me about a distant relative of theirs who fits in this category. Earlier this year when there was all the international controversy about the incendiary (incredibly distasteful, irresponsible, purposely hateful and fire flaming) political cartoons that depicted Muhammed (PBUH) as a terrorist going on, said relative turned to Umma ji and asked “Why are the muslims of the world protesting against these cartoons of Muhammed? Who was Muhammed? Why do they care?”

On the walk back up the mountain after the visits to the different houses of worship, yousuf told me how as I spoke about islam he tried to gauge how close to islam he really is. He said that despite having many close hindu friends, they never speak about religion. It is so sensitive still, neither side (hindu or muslim) ever uses their word for God, they simply both say “Uppur Wala” which means man upstairs. I thought that was both hilarious and sad as well. I explained to him how my friends are of all different religious and non religious stripes and how we talk about religion and spirituality whenever we can. He lamented how those sorts of relationships are not possible here. He started telling me about how he thinks yoga (basically the idea of physical worship) is very compatible with Islam; I want to talk more with him about this.

Living with a family completely without the advantages of modern conveniences is a very different and humbling experience. Asma, Yousuf’s wife, wakes up at 6:30 every morning to start making breakfast for the family from scratch. She also makes my breakfast and the kids’ lunches for the day. The 5 year old and the twin 3 ½ year old boys all go to school. (They take their lunches to school in large metal tiffins that they carry by the thin steel handles that only look smarter with their crisp school uniforms.) They have a fridge, but they only run it sometimes, when there is a need to keep food cold for a short time. Every electrical appliance is unplugged after use, including the tv. There are only a few lights in the house, natural light is used as much as possible. Clothes are all hand washed and hung on the terrace to dry. This is both convenient and bothersome; the terrace is the part of the house that gets the most light (duh, it’s the roof) but the monkeys terrorize the roofs, balconies and windows of all the area homes. Just last week they ripped one of Asma’s salwar kameezes and then ran away. Each meal is simple; usually rotis with some daal and some vegetable dish. They seldom eat meat, more on special occasions. Chai follows or accompanies every meal.
Side note: I’m drinking chai! And when I say I’m drinking it, I mean about 3-4 times a day kinda drinking it. I hope you’re proud Mom.
All showers are taken using a bucket of hot water (again; thanks for the training Mom!!! Felt like I was a kid again, it all came back to me) in a small standing only tiled area that is a bit lower than the raised, tiled, porcelain squat pot (which I now have no qualms about using; more about that later). The bathroom is only accessible by walking onto the balcony which means my nightly trip to the pot is a cold and monkey fearing event.
The family eats every dinner together and everyone except for Yousuf has lunch together as well. They put a table cloth down onto the oriental rug that covers the cement floor and all eat together. We have the tv on during dinner, which is around 8pm. We watch Mr. Bean whom the whole family loves, and old school Looney Tunes. After dinner I drink chai with yousuf and Nasir bhai and watch CNBC AWAAZ (awaaz means noise in hindi) to catch the day’s news in English before we switch over to the all hindi stations.
This is my favorite part of the day. I get to watch Indian tv and best of all, get to watch Indian commercials!!!! Did you know there is a Hindi Seasame Street? Or that most of the cartoons and children’s tv programming in the US is dubbed into hindi? Watching coyote chase road runner or Sylvester and tweety fight in hindi; it is priceless. The marketing here is crazy! Bollywood actors & actresses saturate everything. I am equally disturbed by this and the overt sexual nature of many of the ads. It boggles my mind how such a conservative place where dating and PDA is actively taboo has no problem with Bollywood folk dating and breaking up and doing sex scenes in movies and then suggestively selling everything from candy bars to Coca Cola. It is almost time for me to go to the Jain temple and learn about this peaceful religion, so this is me, signing out. Since I spent the last 2 ½ hours in this funky Sikh run internet cafĂ© listening to bhangra writing this, I fully expect plenty of lengthy comments. I’m still working on trying to get one or two pictures up. Till next time~
~Bilbo

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Monkeys, mountains and Mussoorie

goodbye delhi....heat, humidity, bugs, beggars, rickshaws of all kinds, dirty air, busy crazy city life.... hello himilayas, foggy cool mornings, monkeys (langurs)that attack if you bare ur teeth at them, homestay families, tiny curving mountain roads, tibetan prayer flags alongside the morning adhan, masjids next to churches, temples next to clocktowers, baazars next to monkey colonies. it is cooler here (thank GOD!) and way less buggy. it is like walking through a bollywood movie set every morning and afternoon on my way to class. today was my second day of intensive hindi classes, i'm in the intermediate class. my conversation is more advanced than anyone in my group, but i have never really studied the devangari script, and my leaders, the other 2 ppl in my A-1 class, know most of the characters. their pronunciation is horrible though, and we're considering getting me a private teacher so that i can work on the script slower and conversation faster. it's nutz, learning the grammer and structure for hindi is like geting the key to a map i'm already familiar with, or finding a code breaker to a code i've been usuing for years. i am staying with yusuf-ji's family, he is a teacher at the hindi school. he lives in a combined family situation, so it is him (he's 32), his wife (26) their three sons (5 yr old, and a set of 3 1/5 yr old twins), his older brother, his wife (25) and their 2 1/2 year old son along with their mother (umma-ji). their youngest brother is visiting right now to help with our group at the school (he's 25). my hindi is horrible, and although i am able to communicate with peopel and my group is constantly jealous and overestimating toward my hindi skills, i am reminded how vast the space btwn where my hindi is and where it needs to be when i work to speak with my family. we communicate well, but are constantly having to consult yusuf-ji and his brother who speak english for those difficult phrases or ideas we can't convey. umma-ji said i feel like one of her children, so that was very nice. the boys are adorable!!!! they are teaching me small hand games in hindi and it is just precious. it is 8:30 pm here now on sept 13, i've got to run home to eat dinner witht he fam. i'll continue this tomorrow and maybe uplaod some pics.;) love you all!
kal miljainge!
<3
me

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hello Delhi!!!

Today is sept 11, 2006 and it is the morning here in delhi, slightly cloudy so we have some respite from the oppressive heat and humidity. its wierd, the english language newspapers are have articles about the 5 year anniversary of theWTC attacks and then frontpage articles about the bombing that happened theother day near Mumbai (bombay) in the state of maharashta, in a city called malegaon. the english alnguage newspapers here arefilled with bull shit about america like the latest gossip on paris hiltion or angelina jolie. there is also tons of gossip stuff about the bollywood stars, it's brain mush. the style of newspaper journalism here in the enlighs language papers that i have been reading seems really informal, and not up to the professionalism standards that i am used to in the west. there is alot of english shorthand that i dont understand here. there is also alot of ultural markers that i dont have. this morning i was reading about this guy who mysteriously died in a mall in the wee hours of hte morning. apparently, in this ity alled noida, there is a disoteque in the mall (this seems to be a ommon thing judging from the way it was mentioned in the paper) and th police werent called. he seemed to have either fallen or been ushed off a high floor into the mall's lobby. he was found nby his fiance, and then was declared "brought dead" (exact quote)at the hospital. the mall authorities then cleaned up all the blood. police and the hospital didn't identify this dude's next of kin, and neither did the fiance. now the weirdest thing about all of this to me is the casual nature in whih this is reported. no one seems too angry about it, it is on the front page, and even though it is under the headline "MYSTERY DEATH IN MALL: suicide of murder?" it seems sort of daily news-esque in the sensational, editorialized way they reported this. there also seems to have been some sort of grisly murder of this woman named jessia lall that is being investigated right now b/c of police negligance and evidence tampering that they ompared it to. anyway. onto different stuff.
being in india is nutz!!! it is so overwhelming! the sights, sounds, smells and sensations are all different here. alot of the things here are things ppl have always told me about india: the poverty, the beggars, the animals that just run around, the traffic, the smell. i had some idea what to expet as far as that went, but it is nothing like experiencing it. the poverty here is the thing that above all i have the most trouble with. women with infant hilden follow u, hand outstrethed, asking in hindi for a pittance in american pennies to buy her baby some food. it is harder for me in those instanes b/c i can atually understand what they are saying (more than the other kids i'm with anyway)and it is so hard to see all this destitution and desperation and not give everything i have. i know i an always make more money; inshallah i have much more life and earning ability ahead of me. these people have no hope, no chance. giving to beggars here is really dangerous, espeially some place you will be frequenting. they will then wait for you and hound you for more. the children here are just heartbreaking. like all hildren in the world, they are beautiful. joy in their eyes, music in their laughter, innocence in their interactions. also like many children of the world, they are undersized, malnourished, barefoot, extremely poor, in need of medial attention and often are hardly clothed. it really shook me when a woman (young or old, i have no idea, people here seem ageless. there are those obviously young, like the hildren i describe, and then the very old people, and everyone in btween seems beaten down by their lives to a point beyond reognition, where their hardships are all they know and death is present in every breath and moment. it really shook me when a woman (young or old, i dont know) walked up to our auto rikshaw in the middle of the street to beg for money for roti for the tiny infant she held in her arms. the woman's han was out, begging, and so was the barely 6 month old child's. talk about learned behavior. that broke my heart and made me sik at the same time.
i really like delhi, i wish we were staying longer. we leave in a few hours to head up to missuri in the north to our homestays and language school. there is so much to see and do here, i haven't even scratched the surface. every one else is really tired, experiencing culture shock and hating delhi. it is a rough place to get situated i guess, especially since we are leaving again so soon. i plan to come back here at some point, maybe next semester!!!
so my favorite way to travel here in delhi is by auto-rikshaw. it is a rikshaw that is powered by a motorcyle engine and is partially enclosed, more substantial than the bicycle rikshaws and runs on natural gas. three people fit comfortably in the back, and you can have someone sit in the front with the driver, but we don't recommend that. one of our boys was molested by a driver yesterday!!! horrible, right? it is insane to ride in them since you are literally an inch from every moped, bike, car, truck, bus, bike rickshaw, cow, stray dog, boar, or group of people on the street. some ppl saw an elephant on the highway yesterday, but i've only seen cows (bulls) and dogs running in the streets. we saw some blak wild looking pigs rifling through the many fetid piles of garbage on the side of a glorified dirt road btwn our guest house and the metro. delhi has a year and a half old metro system which seems clean and efficient. the people riding on it are better off, wear more western style clothing, have cell phones, and som of the younger ones hang out in co-ed groups!!! scandal!! things are muh more progressive here in the city than where we will be going next. the metro is a strange thing to reconcile with the inredibly bakward poverty that exists as soon as u exit. so many beggars! people who are limbless and so skinny you hardly notie their missing appendage wait for you when you enter the metro at connaught circus, whih is a place full of shops, restuarants, banks and some movie theaters where delhi-ites go. we tried to find lothes there, and i was too set on haggling, and i missed out on a really ute white short sleeved shilwar khameez i wanted. hopefully in missuri i will get some things amde pretty inexpensively so that i'll have some clothes. i brought 2 outfits to india, one i wore on the plane, the other i changed into and was wearing for 2 days straight after. gross. my leaders, mike & siri, suggested that instead of bringing my giant bakpaker's pack, i should pak as little as possible, put my things into small stuff sacks and divide it amongst my fellow group members. this way all ihave with me is my "freedom fanny," a giant fannypak that is basially a bakpak on my hips. i then have a small collapsable duffel bags that the last few remaining things go in and what i keep everything in when we arent travelling. i spent so muh $ on stuff before i got here; as soon as i get home, i'm returning it all. all of that is to explain that i need to get clothes so that i can be as clean as possible and not wear the same thing all the time. there is so muh more to write about!!!! i have to go pak to leave for missuri now...we're taking the train. this is a very common way to get around india and i am excited to experiene it, but it is very easy to get robbed on the train. we have to be on our toes to take it, and i have also read/heard about so many horrible things happening on trains in india (Earth anyone? the namesake? july 11, 2006, mumbai?) that i am a bit apprehensive about it. please comment once u read the blog!!! this is how i know u are and miss me:( dont u are and miss me? love, learning, growth and fulfillment~
~peace

Friday, September 08, 2006

Monsoons, noodles and Buddha

I'm in hong kong!!! can't believe it. my day here is almost over, i will be boarding a flight to Delhi in about an hour. can't believe that either. hong kong is a beautiful and interesting city that is hot and humid. it is like a DC summer on crack. our leaders assured us this was preperation for india and its inhospitable climate. we got here around 5 this morning, a full ohur and a half before schedule. we watched the light fill the sky over the mountains that surround the airport and then walked (hiked!) up this crazy steep hill to get to a zoological & botanical garden where we did our morning yoga. i felt dizzy and started seeing white light so i didn't participate. instead, i gulped down a liter of water full of two packets of ermergen c. it helped alot. then we walked around the zoo/garden and saw the animals and wildlife. i saw this crazy moth that looks just like a humming bird and an incredible green house full of delicate orchids. we split into 4 diff groups after that and went our seperate ways. my group was supposed to be the low-key-we're-exhuasted group but we managed to check out a whole bunch of outdoor markets that went down this giant hill, two chinese art galleries, ate at 2 restaurants back to back, had haagen daaz, rode the ferry from hong kong island to the mainland of hong kong, took lots of pictures and got caught in monsoon like rains. the food we had today wasnt taht great unfortunately, but noodles are noodles. what can ya do? we did really good considering we hadnt been to the city before, didnt speak the language and had no real game plan. we crashed around 3pm and headed back tpt eh airport for our 10:30 flight. nutz. there is so much to see and experience here. even though hong kong has been a part of china for the last 7 years, the brutush influence is everywhere. the cars drive on the left side, the signs are in english and cantonese, there are white people everywhere, hollywood movies take up more space in the theaters than chinese films, and there are random british pubs every once in a while. it is a beautiful tropical city, lush greenery, large mountains; a paradise. i had a great time bonding with my small group of slackers today, and i'm getting really anxious as i wait to board the plane to meet india for the first time. my uncle and aunt came to see me off in san fran, and it was wonderful. seeing them made all the difference in the world to me, i went from being overwhlemed and on edge to being back in control and totally aware of how amazing and blesed this situation is for me. so now i've gotta trek back across the airport to get back to my gate, eat my take away noodles and then board the bird that will bring me to the rest of my life. hope everyone is well~
love, life, learning and growth~

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Countdown to take off.....

It is a little after 2 pm here at Maacama. We leave for San fransisco Intl Airport in 5 hours. We will then check in our things and wait for 4 huors before our flight leaves. We leave sometime around 2 am. We're flying on an airline i've never heard of but is supposed to be decent: i hope it is! I'm exhuasted and as usual, have a to do list that is a whole page long. it has been difficult to get anything done here because we haven't been allowed phone or internet access. Inshallah soon my financial stuff will get all figured out, my scholarship application will be submitted, and i wont need to worry any more about money for a while. Inshallah. the kids i'm here with are great! i'm excited to see India with them, and they regard me as the wizened old woman of the group, lol. in some ways i legitimately am, but more than a few of them have come up to me to tell me that they really admire how independent i am, and how inspirational it is that i am mostly supporting myself on this trip. alot of them are straight out of high school and squarely in mommy & daddy's pocket, but enough of them have actually applied for financial aid that i don't feel like a complete poor kid surrounded by richie richs.

i like the fact that i will be in the all female travelling group, spirit. it's hilarious to me that i can't ever get away from city year! SPIRIT, discipline, purpose and pride........just kidding. that is seriously what i automatically think of when they call us by group. i also brought my young heroes bright yellow fleece (b/c i didnt own another one) and my two city year black hats, one winter, one summer. Kids here know the game "Big Booty" and "Ride that Pony" and i introduced the idea of a daily debrief session at the end of our days in india, along with the power tool "Hands UP!" Hands up is when the person who needs the group to quiet down will raise their arm in the air and everyone else who notices will stop talking and do the same. it then spreads because everyone is looking at everyone else. it's crazy how much the americorps experienec/city year experience has informed my view of how an organization should (and shouldnt) run, and how to communicate within a group dynamic. i find myself trying to explain some efective (or ineffective) way to do a task and trying to not start with the words "In city year we..." We had to work on our individual and group purposes & intentions last week, and they have all been included in our bound curriculum guides for the semester which we received today. my purpose is:
"To grow as a woman, a communicator, a writer, an artist and a humanitarian."
and my intention is:
"To move forward into every experience and opportunity with deliberate pupose and resolve to gain as much emotionally, culturally, artistically spiritually and intellectually as is possible for my soul, mind, heart and body."

We had what turned out (for me) to be a very emotionally overwhelming intentions ceremony on Sunday night where our teacher, Cassie, handed us over to our trip leaders. the studio was dark, and we blessed ourselves with burning sage before we entered the space. we sat in our usual circle, but we were all dolled up, in whatever ceremony garb we had. in the center of our circle were 18 votive candles, in a circle, and four votive candles at the cardinal direction points outside of it. the north south east and west represented our leaders, and the 18 candles were for us students. there was a large candle in the center of that circle from which we each lit our small ones. our teachers and the rest of the staff that has been a part of our experience so far were in the circle as well, with their own candles. the students began, each of us getting up when we felt ready, lighting our candle from the main flame and proclaiming our intention before the universe (and more locally, each other). to symbolize letting go of the things that might hold us back from these intentions, we each picked a small stone up from next to the large flame and dropped it into a small bowl/pool of water with a final plunk that accented each intention. it is an interesting thing, to be sitting in a dark room, surrounded by people, and feel completely alone with your intention. so often in life we don't voice our intentions, let alone recognize what they are. it is both a liberating and scary thing to crystalize your intention into one statement and tell the world. as each person declared their intentions, the light travelled back to the circle with each of us, and the room got brighter. hearing everyone's intentions was like looking into the darkness of the unknown in each of them, illuminated by their small candle. i felt a sense of personal (and possibly cosmic?) pressure before i said my intention aloud; i was the last one. i wanted to make sure that i remembered it exactly, and that i would say it with all of the resolve and importance that i have towards it. i spent so much of the summer writing about my purpose, intentions and expectations, i really doubted i would be able to distill pages and pages of writing and life experience into a one breath statement. it didn't end up being one breath, but i think it sums up what i want out of this next three months.

i'm excited to go, i'm excited to change, and most of all, i'm excited to come back. i'll have no way of measuring how i've changed until i go back to my old life and see how much of it still fits. in a more literal interpretation of that, apparently the gurls that take this trip usually gain around 15 pounds, since all we eat is rice, naan, chapatis, parathas, samosas and the most cooked carbs you can think of. there will be many blogs to come where i detail my eating, drinking and non eating/drinking habits i think. listening to the leaders (and my family) warn me about what i can and cannot eat and how to avoid getting horribly sick makes me think that it will be a topic that is going to come up alot.
it's almost an hour later! i gotta go pack!!! leaving in four hours!!! oh my gosh!!!!!!! gotta go!! keep those comments coming! love you all!!!
:)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Two nights away from Hong Kong!!

I'm sitting in a wooden rustic cabin surrounded by 3 gurls I didn't know from Eve a week ago. I'm the oldest by a few years, and browner by a few shades. the last few days have been very full; i am on kitchen crew here, which means i wake up an hour before everyone else and have to help prepare the organic, mostly vegetarian delicious meals. we then go to the Studio...it is a multi purpose space in a small empty one room house style building. it is a sacred space, meant to be used for reflection, work, practice and anything else (we have dance parties and concerts up there since there is an ipod speaker base thing) we can think of that isn't loafing. we start the day off with movement, which is when we learn yoga and other eastern movement disciplines. we then meditate after our sun salutations and go to eat a breakfast of fresh baked bread, fresh cut organic fruit salad, admittedly wierd porridge, boiled eggs and sometimes scones. our teacher is a former pastry chef and modern dancer who has had her own companies in ny and WI or something. she's cool.
it's techinically a night before i should be using the internet, but my gurl alex, who reminds me a great deal of myself, in her penchant for overpreparedness, her heady interests and her ability to talk, got one of the eternally-miscommunicated-to leaders to give her the password to the wireless network. then someone came and asked us what we were doing, followed by the aforementioned leader apoligizing, and cancelling out the email that was up while leaving the connection. we then followed alex to her cabin and have been here ever since. there is a line (a very long line) to use the beautiful white portal to the outside world. it's nice here in maacama, but the real world follows me whereever i go. we went to REI (a FABULOUS moutain sports store), Target, and Trader Joe's today to get supplies. It turns out that alot of the things on my expensive and completely generic packing list were not specific to india. so alot of us spent alot of $$ we don;t have on shit we don't need. it was definately a VERY unhappy and even bitter group of us this morning.
the people here are sincere and open, these kids are really ready to experience India and are very open to the cultural grounding that i have tried to remind them they need. the "great sprirituality" of india and the "non materialistic worldview" of the people are obvious contrivances of the west, especially when not taken in context of how stratified the Hindu culture is, and how the status quo is so violently enforced that people's spirits are beaten into submission with every word, action and ritual from before they ever enter this incarnation of life. i appreciate that they recognize that the india they imagine is not the india that exists. they are very eager to learn more, and be corrected. they do not want to ever fall into the "stupid white americans" category.
there are 18 of us: 15 gurls, 3 boys. a few gurls are 20, everyone else is 17 or 18. we have been split into two even groups, each with a female and male leader. there is one co-ed group, and one all female. i'm on the all female one. we are the "spirit" group, and the other group is the "shanti" group. (shanti means peace) we will travel some of the time together, and the rest of the time with just the 11 of us. i'm really excited to be in india already, i can't imagine what it will be like at all. we've started having "India Orientation" with our 4 leaders today. They seem nice, quiet and slightly clueless. Not about India, but about the trip's ultimate details. They seem nice, and i look forward to getting to know them. Each of my leaders, Mike & Siri, has been to India 5 or 6 times for long periods of time. They are both very into Buddhism and learning/improving their Hindi.
There are two kids from CT here, one from Darien and the other from Weston. The gurl from Darien shaved her head along with 3 other gurls here. Crazy. Bald heads everywhere. Their sillouettes in the backlit curtainless windows look like mannequins. It's almost lights out, and as usual, there's way more to say.. i'll try and get back to the computer (illegal or legit) to post more.
Hope yall are checking back here, and PLEASE!!!! leave me comments when you read stuff!!! I haven't really gotten too many emails back either, which sucks. I miss everyone alot....please write me! i love long detailed updates of what is happening in your lives.
MUAH!!!!!!