Sunday, June 27, 2010

give me freedom, give me fire

another universal subject...the world cup!

when i was in darjeeling, i noticed the italian flag hanging everywhere and it made me curious. i asked someone about it and they said that it was because the world cup was about to begin and italy was the favored team for many people in the area. the world cup automatically gives me something to talk with people about. and people love it when i tell them that i used to play (even though that was many, many moons ago). i have to say though...the world cup really gets me pumped up about soccer again. i don't really enjoy watching sports on television but whenever i see part of a game i am amazed and thrilled. i also love to see how excited the fans brings out so much energy and creates such a fun atmosphere to be a part of. in addition, i love the theme song..."wavin flag" by K'naan. melanie happen to put on the (wonderful) summer mix that she made me before i left. for me, it is the theme of this summer.

also, i realized that i was abroad the last time a world cup competition was played (it happens every 4 years). last time i was in ireland and i remember taking photos in dublin of people spilling out of bars and into the streets.....everyone was trying to cram in to see the game on the television. i like the idea that this could be a tradition for me. or maybe it could be some sort of freelance around the world making sure that people are celebrating the world cup with ultimate enthusiasm and documenting it with photos as i go!

all of this world cup fever has given me 2 new goals to commit myself to....
1. start playing soccer again...even just a pick-up game every now and then
2. keep the tradition the world cup in a different country every time it is played!

don't stop till you get enough!

i was a little tired when i wrote that last entry but i can NOT believe...i forgot to tell the best MJ story that i have from my trip!!!!

when i was in agra at the Taj Mahal i saw a group of japanese tourists gathered around one of their friends (they were all standing on the taj balcony, taking his photo)...he was very tall with a fedora hat ...and.....he was doing the moon walk pose (with the magnificent taj behind him)!!!!! it was so funny and awesome...i blended myself into the group and snuck a picture...i will definitely post it when i can!!!! :)

Friday, June 25, 2010

tonight i write in honor of the full moon and a single sparkly glove

there is something that i keep meaning to mention but i forget each time i sit down to write. tonight is the perfect night to talk about it. Michael Jackson. in noticing the details that are universal as i travel, MJ is one that keeps popping up.
some examples:

-in the long car ride down the mountain from darjeeling to the airport the driver plays Michael Jackson (the entire "dangerous" album on cassette). i can tell that he is hoping that i will like it...and of course, i do. i love hearing "black or white" as we cut around curves and drive through the fog. it makes me smile.

-MJ t-shirts and posters...even in the most remote spots

-a discussion in the ashram about how MJ was legendary

music is universal but especially MJ's music. i wanted to mention it tonight because today marks the anniversary of his death. i read in the paper this morning that there are special parties (many costume parties) all over India to celebrate MJ at clubs and restaurants in the cities and also dedications on the radio.

i can not say that i completely understand the king of pop and surely he was troubled but today i was thinking......

maybe in a way, he did heal the world...maybe he did make it a better place. he is universal. people all over the world are connected because of his music. i have made many connections in conversation on this trip alone because of MJ.

so tonight, under a full moon in India ......

here's to you Michael Jackson! Thank You for giving us that much more common ground!

*** andrea p. ....i hope that you mention my observations to the greatest living artist...i think it would make her very happy to hear! plus every time i see something related to MJ i think of her too...they are now linked in my mind [i think it might make her very happy to hear that also :) ]

"an eternal teardrop on the cheek of time"

the Taj Mahal

...was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second (or 3rd) wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after her death (giving birth to their 14th child). he never wanted her (or his love for her) to be forgotten.

after walking through the crowded building, i find a shaded bench to sit at. this is when i would like to draw but instead (deprived of my pencil and sketchbook, which the unfriendly guard made me check) i sit still. i stare at this beautiful, massive building and think about this story. and i contemplate the kind of love that causes a man to build a world wonder.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Land of contradictions

the truth is... it is wonderful and also really tough

my feelings on contradictions are a contradiction on their own. it can be so frustrating but it can also be very beautiful to see contradiction in people, art, and music. something gentle and tough. remixed music. combined geometric and floral prints. Ferdinand the bull. i am a big fan of this. it gives me a lot of amusement and joy, as well as pain and frustration to spot these things in life. and it is very influential on my visual aesthetic and direction in design. India is the land of contradictions. it is almost hard for me to explain all of the million ways that this place displays contradiction. i wanted to write about it but my thoughts are really scattered at the moment so i thought i would just offer you some...

Random thoughts and observations:

-each time i get used to where-ever i is time to move on (a cliff's note version of the
"art of letting go" or the transient nature of life...both good and bad)

-each region, state, and city is of the reasons that english is still so widely spoken (after independence) is that it unifies the people. people from different regions speak different languages and when they travel they can not always understand each other. there is an attempt to make hindi the unifying language but for whatever reason it is very slow to spread.

-i have seen extreme luxury and people with nothing...... i knew about it this (most of us do).... but there is nothing like actually seeing truly understand what a "developing" country is like, you have to see it for yourself. you are (quite literally) either inside the walls or out.

-traveling on my own is awesome and tough. sometimes i think i have some advantages to doing this as a young woman on my own...other times i feel at a major disadvantage.

-woman are very modestly covered up and traditional (for the most part) and yet the men can pee on the side of the street in public (though there are plenty that would not do so out of their own modesty). truthfully, i did not consider the fact that this is still very much a men's society. it makes me realize how comfortable i feel at home. that being said, i have also met more modern-minded men and woman but it has mostly been in the bigger cities.

- pollution and littering is everywhere! people just throw things out the window! power outages are regular (too much strain on the energy source), and water is scarce in some regions. this is what makes me so worried for the future. India is growing in so many good and amazing ways but they are making so many of the mistakes that we did. the environment is crumbling. and it made me so sad to leave darjeeling, knowing how much it is growing in tourism (many people from the plains vacation there during the hot season) and what that is doing to the place...and yet... i am also part of the problem. i am here. i am a tourist. i am adding to this. the same thing that allows me to be here is also adding the problem (a very painful contradiction). my friends at the tea gardens are worried also. they say that the education about the environment is just not where it needs to be. and we all agreed that it is not enough for India to see the mistakes in the U.S. (and other developed countries) and learn from them (which would be our wish). instead people need to learn for themselves. they never seem to listen until they make their own mistakes (we are all guilty of this in some way). i have the distinct feeling that this will be an entirely different place in 5- 10 years. when i express my confusion and concern to friends and locals, they say they are just as confused and concerned. it is amazing and uncertain to be able to observe such a time of extreme growth and uncertainty.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sorry for being out of touch! i am limited with computer time. here are some highlights:


-i was living in a cloud (quite literally) -wonderful. beautiful. cool mountain air. view of the himalayas. tea garden tours. motorcycle rides. i am very spoiled here.
-Buddhist temples

-friendly Nepali people

-Nepali refuge center (hand spinning, weaving, dyeing)
-Himalayan mountaineering institute (i thought of melanie the whole time!)
-tons and tons of tea!

-making friends and leaving them behind (unsure if i will ever cross paths with them again)
-woke up to a strange sound one night and i am pretty certain that it was the himalayan yeti
-at night frogs and insects that make sounds like the "smoke monster" (from lost)...not really a difficulty but it was creepy
-leaving this place, knowing that it may not be the same when i return (so much change is happening)

next....flight to Delhi and crazy crazy bus ride to Vrindavan (2 hours outside of Delhi)


- known to be the birthplace of krishna

- stayed in an ashram and saw some temples but decided to leave a little early

-lost my mind a little here due to:
.the heat/dehydration
.the difficulty of transportation
.the number of people (this is like the Vatican for Hindus)
.the constant chanting of krishna worshipers on the ground of the ashram....sometimes mystical, sometimes rhythmic, sometimes manic, at times draining

.and lastly i lost my mind because i accidentally ate a chili pepper

onward to Agra!
- another crazy bus ride and some heat exhaustion but i arrived at a hotel with an AC room!!!! -plans to see the Taj Mahal at sunset!
-am traveling on my own now...and it is pretty tough...i have good advice for any of you who have plans to come here!

promise to write soon! i will add pictures and more stories when i can (in the case of the pictures it may not be until i am home....please keep checking!)
love to you!
p.s. please, please go swimming for me!

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I am in love with this place!

*very limited computed access right now...i will share some stories as soon as i am able!


thank you for the comments....i miss you all so much!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

everything in life prepares you for something else

after returning from the weekend adventure, i began a new meditation course in the evening. it is a group course and i had the opportunity to meet many great people. the only other non-hindi speaking person in the class is a woman (around my age) from italy!!!! so i can use all that italian that i have been remembering after all! it felt very satisfying to actually use my translating skills in some way. i love the way this universe works! all good things in good time.
i have a lot of great pictures to go along with that having some trouble posting them....the computer at my next stop may be better. i will try there!

This is your home now

hello friends!
tomorrow i leave for my next destination so i wanted to take advantage of my computer access while i can... i am not sure when i will be able to post next. my 7 days in Kolkata has been very nice. my Kolkata family helped me so much to get adjusted...this was a very good place to start the trip. after many trips out in the car, i can recognize the neighborhood (to get to meditation class, turn right after the big white temple...the candy stand is across from uncle's work, etc.), i am beginning to pick out certain words so that i can ask...i hear you say _ may times...what does this mean? and as i get to know people i am beginning to distinguish the difference between cultural mannerisms vs. personality differences, which i find can be difficult to separate when you first arrive somewhere so new.

this weekend i had a great (and unplanned) experience. my host mother said that she found out about a weaving village outside the city. someone from uncle's work lives near there and can take me if i want. my host mother (auntie) is beautiful, kind, and tough and these were her words to me, "it is important for you to see all ways of life while you are in India. it would be a good experience for you to stay with this family and you are like my daughter, i would never send you where you would be unsafe... they can not offer you the luxury that i can but you will be surrounded by warmth". and so i went.

i meet Sangita at uncles work. she is an employee in the office there. she is beautiful, with a bright smile and she immediately stands very close to me and looks me directly in the eye and says "you are like my sister, you tell me what you need, i will take care of you" (this is a sentiment that i begin to hear over and over from anyone that i am able spend a bit of time with... you are my sister, my daughter, my family.... auntie tells me that there is a hindu saying that whomever shows up at your door is god. and this is how people treat their guests.)

i take the train to Sangita's small town. it is a 2 hour ride (a commute which she makes everyday). she reserves a seat for me somehow before the train gets packed. i am excited to take a train is a good way to see a lot and i quickly realize that this is not the kind of thing i could have done on my own (without serious trial and error). first of all the train is all local people, there are not many signs in english. i make the observation (though not immediately) that there is one ticket line for men and one for women...and later...many (but not all) of the train cars are separated by gender, as well. i made this mistake coming through customs in delhi... i tried more than once to go through the men's line (i just automatically picked the shortest one) and i could not understand the frustrated (and unamused) guard. Sangita drags me around by the wrist in the insanely crowded train station. i feel like a child but i am glad that she doesn't let me go.

on the train we find out about each other....whatever we can, anyway...she has good but sporadic english and i am the equivalent of a toddler (if that) with hindi. i like these kinds of language situations (at least when you have a warm and willing participant on the other end) is scary, funny, serious, and easy to misinterpret but i like it all the same. quickly you are able to see what parts of language, mannerisms, and gestures are universal. it is fascinating. we are the same age. she has been married for about a year. she used to live in Kolkata with her mother and father but now lives 2 hours away with her husband's family, as is the custom. she is so excited that i am staying in her home and she says her family can not wait to see me.

on the ride there we pass a lot of shanty towns with little shops directly on the side of the tracks. even further out, people are everywhere. as we pass the towns many of them smell like something burning. and not the autumn burning leaves smell. i think they burn the trash to get rid of it (though i am not certain). its not good smells like burning tires. the pollution is bad. one really bad thing about it here....a lot of trash everywhere...i guess there are just too many people and no where to put it all.

when we arrive it is dark (it gets dark around 6:30/7 pm here). we take a rickshaw from the station to her house. i leave my sandals at the door and greet her family. Sangita says, "this is your home now." an extended family....15 people (maybe more) in one humble house with a few rooms...pretty much one family per room. they are very excited. they pull out a chair for me, put one of the few fans directly on me and stare. they can not understand me (but i try to talk anyway) and i can not understand them (they try too) so mostly they just look at me. closely. Sangita does a good job translating what she can. i ask to see her wedding photos and she is happy to share (her husband practices photography and takes pictures of local weddings and events...he is at one such event tonight). after we finish, her sister-in-law brings me her album to look at. pictures are universal.

after some time visiting, i start to see the challenges that i will face the next few days. the house has a few rooms for sleeping, one main hall leading to an open space that is the kitchen (with a small television). everything is done in this spot. preparing the food. sitting on the ground to eat the food. everything happens on this floor, as a family. the bathroom is basic. and the water comes from a pump in the morning. the clean water is in many different buckets. standing water. the electricity stops for 2 hours at a time, though there is a generator.

Sangita's family realizes some of my caution....they know that i can not drink the water. but they don't realize how careful i need to be. the fruits and vegetables are all washed in this water. they start each meal by rinsing the plate and leaving some water on it. most things that are served very hot (tea, rice, etc.) i should be ok but there is a lot i am uncertain of. they ask me if i want mango. oh crap. i say yes and eat a small amount. they look at me like i am insane when i refuse the rest. i say it was very good but that i don't want anymore. this makes no sense to them...they think i am with-holding my true feelings somewhere in that statement.

they ask if i want some rice and i say ok. i sit on the floor and eat with my hands and they ALL WATCH ME EAT the entire time. no one else is eating. they sit in a circle and watch me. i try to take rice from the center of the plate (away from the water on the sides) but it is very hot. "no, not like that" she says, "spread it like this and take from the outside" and she shows me how. i keep thinking to myself "oh. my. god. my stomach is going to explode and i am going to get malaria (from mosquito bites) all in one night." but i look at these people and they are so kind to me, i just don't have the heart to say no. so i do the best i can and hope for the best. i can not clearly explain to them why i can not eat some of the food. but what translates clearly to me is the looks on their faces. how proud they are to serve me dinner. to share their way of life with me. and i know that their disappointment would translate equally as clearly to me. i just can't hurt them. so i tough it out. i eat but also do what i can to be careful. i don't finish and they ask why. i tell Sangita that i am full (and i actually am pretty full) and that i don't want my stomach to hurt (i rub my stomach as i say this). she laughs and says in her broken english "you not fat. haha. thats funny." she thinks that i am afraid of getting fat. it is late and i am too tired to try to explain.

the rest of the time with Sangita just gets better and better....and some how i do not get sick!!!! i go with her family to see her uncle's sari factory with power looms, to the weaving village, (which is amazing!), and to a huge temple in Mayapur (where i learn about their faith and almost get banned for my capri pants being too short [at 2" above my ankle] ), we share a meal with the krishnas on plate made of dried leaves and it rains for the first time since i have arrived, bringing such relief from the heat.

they get used to my eating habits though Sangita frequently says, "we are all very very worried for you." i assure her i am fine. her husband (the photographer) is very kind and gentle-natured and brings me british chocolate and tea biscuits because he just wants to see me eat more. i talk to her uncles about ikat, power looms, hand weaving, and double cloth and we are both excited to understand each other. they are impressed with what i know. i am excited to learn from them. we don't really have the words to make sense but we understand each other because it is a craft that we are both familiar with. everyone talks over each other and her uncle says something and laughs. i can't hear him so i ask him to repeat and he says "i forget your name for one minute so i just called out Harry Potter instead." this makes me laugh so hard. we are in the middle of no where, with no running water and this man knows about Harry Potter. he continues "i think maybe this is better name for you". "you like the name Harry Potter better than the name jackie?" i ask him. "yes" he says "better". luckily this does not stick.

Sangita's aunt tells me her teenage son sleeps till noon and it makes her crazy. her 10 or 11 year old niece gives me a piece of candy that is the asian equivalent of a warhead candy, laughing as i spit it out. some things are the same everywhere.

her family asks me many things. are you married? can you stay the whole week? when are you coming back? when you come back bring a husband with you. where are you parents? and they are shocked that my brother (and his family) and i don't live with my parents. i tell them that many people leave home at 18 and they just can't believe it. they ask me why the divorce rate is so high in america. i say i am not sure but i have many guesses as to why. they wonder if divorce would be less if we had extended families. i don't know but they may have a point. extended living teaches you to share. to listen. to respect each other. to act as a unit. these are all good things to bring to a marriage.

they can not believe that i live alone. it is good for me to talk to them about this. i enjoy being on my own and i enjoy cultivating self- sufficiency. but sometimes i am just stubborn. sometimes its hard and i need help and i am very tough on myself about that. it was very good for me to see this way of life. where no one is expected to do it all on their own. and it helps me to see that i also have this option. i am a part of an extended family made up of both blood relatives and friends. the structure may be different and we may not live under the same roof but they are there to share in life's joy and sadness. it is only a matter of speaking up (this is the challenge that we have made for ourselves in this independent culture). i am pretty adaptable to rustic conditions (though i knew it would still be humbling) also humbled me in ways that i did not anticipate. it humbled the stubborn, prideful, part of me. the part afraid to need something from someone. the part of me that is afraid let others see that i am not completely self-sufficient.

**** we are here to help each other*****we are here to live together****we are here to learn from each other*****

i am lucky to have many families. i am so excited to share my experiences of my new families with you. and i am excited that i have families at home who like to hear about it. i am very, very, lucky. and truly grateful.

this experience was frightening, beautiful, unexpected, exhausting, and wonderful.

this is exactly what i came here for.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Welcome to the City of Joy!

hello, friends!
i am sorry that i have been slow to update you! it has taken me a while to adjust to life here. i arrived at night and went directly to was very surreal to wake up and realize that i had lost 2 or 3 days somewhere along the line from traveling! i barely know where to begin....

*stop #1 - Kolkata
(*this is how Calcutta is spelled this days...over time India has been slowly restoring places to their original names after gaining their Independence... I will point this out to you as i travel)

*i arrived without any luggage did not. fortunately my mom always reminds me to pack enough items for 2 or 3 days in my carry-on. my host family shared some clothing with me, as well. i was able to collect the luggage a few days later and was compensated for it (all is well). on the way home from the airport (on one of the craziest car rides of my life...only to be followed by even crazier car rides/street crossings each day) i noticed a sign that read..."Welcome to Kolkata: the City of Joy!" this is the image that stayed in my mind on the first night as i fell asleep.

*it is a true challenge to be traveling here. most people speak english but i still feel at a great disadvantage that i don't know more hindi...i am learning quickly though, because i find that when i am in these situations i "wise up" quite quickly out of necessity. it is a helpful push to get my mind in the right spot. on the first few mornings i would wake up at 5 or 6 a.m. and i could not sleep and while i lay there i was suddenly remembering all of the italian that i learned from studying abroad a few years ago. i could remember tons of vocabulary that i had forgotten. it was very strange but it is almost as if the translation part of my brain is switched to "on" again. i am able to translate but i have not other reference to use except italian! it isn't very helpful with hindi but i think it is a good thing that my brain is at least trying to catch up.

*i am staying with the aunt and uncle of a friend of mine and they are very kind. they have a beautiful home and i am very lucky to be their guest. i am grateful to have a place to be able to rest and receive guidance while i learn about the way of life here.

*it is hot...truly hot... and the humidity is like none i have ever experienced. it is a sauna and you can feel it in your chest when you breathe.

*not too many pictures from the first few days...went to some textile shops, the Indian Museum (which had rooms full of unusual taxidermy animals, shells, minerals, etc., ....think anthropology, natural history, and mutter museums all rolled into one. yes, there was an 8 legged goat! also it opened in the 1960's and all of the cases and displays looked as though they have never been changed...i really wish i had some photos!), also went to a temple, and a meditation class. many places (especially temples) do not allow cameras or even bags - you have to check them (which makes me very nervous). in addition, i am frequently the only foreigner in sight which already draws attention.... so i am apprehensive about pulling the camera out of my bag and making myself more obvious, especially if i am walking around alone. i enjoy being able to explore unusual places but i think that i will have an easier time with photos, etc. when i am around more tourist based cities.

* the hardest part is needing to be so careful about what i eat. there are so many things that i want to try. i want to eat fruit so badly. but i have to be very careful. it seems to make my host family very worried that i am not eating more and i am also worried that i will offend people when declining to eat something. i am starting to learn where the line is but it is difficult to be so far from everything you know and not be able to just relax and eat something (especially a delicious vegetarian something). ugh. making a judgement call is risky but i am doing well with the clear cut rules.... no drinking the water, no brushing your teeth with the water, no getting water in your mouth while washing your face, no eating off of a plate that has water sitting on it after being washed, make sure water bottles have a breakable seal (it is common that they are re-used and weakly re-sealed).... you get the idea....

*i did get some photos this weekend....will post them soon!


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

p.s. the unfolding path! goodbye! :)