"Aathite Deveo Bhavya."

Being home is like returning to Oz.  I suppose that's fitting since Seattle is known as the Emerald City.  But beyond that happy coincidence, lie the magical aspects of living in one of the cleanest cities in the world, in one of the most advanced nations on the planet.

Getting drinking water from the tap, sleeping in a bed with springs, going into a grocery store and not having to wipe dust and dirt off the boxes, fruit, veggies, or swipe flies away from the meat are all rediscovered joys.  I knew how much my groceries were going to cost.  I didn't have to argue with the sales guy over using a 20 dollar bill.  I'm reveling in my home which is filled with color and beauty, not locks and tin trunks filled with God knows what.  I'm waiting patiently to go to a restaurant this afternoon to order food which will be served on plates that are unlikely to be suspect, germ-wise.

I can pick up my phone and call friends far and wide.  My Internet is lightening fast.  Texting is called "texting" and not SMSing, and I can do that too, with pictures attached if the mood strikes me.

It's amazing how giddy all of these things make me.  I literally giggled when I bought my groceries.  I said, "My BED" out loud 20 times before I could accept my good fortune and fall asleep, sound asleep, blissfully asleep, feeling as if my ordinary pillow-top mattress had been transformed into the most opulent feather bed made for the most glorious queen.

One thing has been unsettling and that is the silence.  This morning I sat at the kitchen table and felt like I was drowning in silence.  All I could hear was the ticking of the clock, and as any bad horror movie will tell you, that's a disturbing sound when left all on it's own.

I left Seattle fearful of the impending lack of silence in India, and I returned unable to comprehend the quiet.  Where are the packs of dogs barking, the sacred cows mooing, the sweepers moving dust around, the calls to prayer blaring in loud speakers, the horns announcing, the people talking, the peacocks squawking, the laundry being beaten against a rock?

In the silence of my kitchen, my espresso maker sounded like a jet plane with only the ticking clock to compliment it's song.

I haven't seen too many people yet.  The few I have all ask the same question, "How was it?"

I don't have enough perspective yet, I tell them, to deliver the summation they all seem to want...the sound bite....the elevator speech.  Going to India for three and half months might be one of those things that can't be explained in any satisfactory way to someone who hasn't been to India themselves.  Like childbirth.  Unless a miracle happens and I get pregnant sometime sooooon, I won't really ever be able to understand what giving birth feels like, physically or emotionally, or how, given the absolutely intense physical ordeal some women have, why they would do it again.

But there is one nagging loose thread that wants to be pulled.  It goes back to something I asked in my first week in India, when I wondered what this Indian idea of "duty" in relation to visitors was all about, and why does it seem so foreign.  Over the months as I was repeatedly a guest in other people's homes, I tried to unravel the mystery.  I also tried to reconcile the stubborn insistence that many Indian's had to feed me, even when I was sick, and with the absolute inability for many Indians to actually listen to what I, the guest, wanted and needed.

As chance would have it, a young Indian girl who was traveling by herself from Varanasi to Delhi befriended me at the Varanasi airport.  She had come to Varanasi to take her university qualifying exams and was on the way home.   She was obviously a very independent young person.  She is intent on being a doctor, isn't worried about marriage.  She told me how her parents were very forward thinking and how they weren't "hung up" on all the more traditional aspects of raising a daughter in India.  What they wanted from her amounted to three things: Be Helpful, Be Respectful, and Trust in Your Heart.  She said, "I don't worship God very much.  But I worship my parents."

She plied me with questions about my trip and somehow the idea of duty to visitors came up.  So, I asked her what that was all about.  She said, "We explain it as Aathite Deveo Bhavya.  It means, Guests are God.  No one knows what God looks like, so anyone could be God and should be welcomed into the house, country, our lives, accordingly."

Wow.  It's so simple.  If each person you meet could be God, then best to pay your respects, bring them sweets and food, just like they would when they go to Puja at the temple.  No wonder no one listens to what the guest actually needs.  After millennia of worshipping a pantheon of Gods, the Indian folk probably figure they've got the process down.  After all, rarely, I'm guessing, does Ganesha say to a devotee who walks up to his shrine with sweets and food, "Hey, listen, I'm really not feeling well today, so I'm afraid what I need instead of candy and biscuits is a little peace and quiet and time to sit and read a book."

The other glitch in this system, this practice of Aathite Deveo Bhavya, is the presumption that neither they themselves or the people that they encounter everyday could be God.  I mean, they don't offer the gal who sweeps their floor every morning biscuits and tea, nor do they force their mal-nutritioned cooks to partake of the amazing chicken curry that they've spent all day slaving over.  They turn their daughters into burdens, their wives into work-horses, their husbands into good-for-nothings, and their planet into a dumping ground.  But, guests are God.

As I re acclimate to the joys of western living, I find myself making sure that I take the time to really say hello to each old friend I greet, to hug them with all I've got.  Not only does it feel blissful to be able to hug and touch another human being in public, I am newly aware of how special and beautiful each of them are.  Not only have I been a guest in India for three and a half months, but India, in some respects, has been a guest in my life and heart, an entity that I tried to be respectful to, to listen to, to learn from, to be fully present with.  I want to make sure that I am engaging with my "same old-same old" life here in America with the fresh eyes and open heart that I gave to India.  I want to remember that not only are guests God, but so am I, so are you, so is this planet.

While I settle into backyard bbq's and relish the clean streets and put together quality of life in Seattle, I also want to hold onto what India taught me about our humanity, the complexity of it, the room we all have to be fragile AND strong, smart AND bone-headed, adventurous AND cautious, clean AND dirty, available AND shut away, full of grief AND filled to the brim with joy......

Exodus

I can't believe that it is my last day in India.  I didn't sleep terribly much because of the excitement of going home and because my nerves for traveling are really ramping up.  While I was getting dressed this morning I stopped, suddenly, and stood in the middle of the room saying out loud to no one but myself, "I am in India.  I've been in India for three and a half months.  My trip is coming to an end.  I'll be home tomorrow.  I'm in India."  It was like I had to fix this reality, solidify it, own it one last time because tomorrow the reality will be totally different.

Last night I stayed in the home of Aditya and Mridula who I'd met back in Santiniketan.  They are two of the country's leading historians.  They have a great home filled with eclectic furniture and books and wonderful artifacts and mementos of their studies and travels throughout the world.  Picture tribal masks from various African countries, Mexico, Korea and Japan mixed with Buddhist and Hindu statues, alongside, plastic thermometers from New York City.  If you had asked me what the home of two of the leading historians and academics in the country would look like, this is what I had pictured.  Cluttered, warm, full of the joys of finding treasure in odd and exotic places.  Aditya showed me his newest find, a piece of gnarled wood discovered in the forest next to his house while he and his daughter were out on a walk.  It is something I would have lugged home, had I found it.

Yesterday afternoon we went to a lecture at their university given by the man who had taught Aditya and Mridula history.  He's kind of a historian rock star.  The house was packed.  This historian is close to 90 and almost blind, probably almost deaf, and was completely oblivious to the fact that 99% of the house couldn't hear more than 20% of his words.  Nor did he acknowledge the piercing feedback that would terrorize the room whenever the technicians tried to find a way to mic him enough to be heard.  People would be fiddling with mics in front of him, piercing noise would threaten to deafen his audience and he just kept reading his notes.  It was uncomfortable to watch.

But it was also beautiful.  Hundreds of people from the ages of 17 to 80 sat and gave this man their total attention, when someone did need to navigate through the crowd, who were literally sitting in the aisles, to help with the sound issues, they said excuse me and were very polite; you could feel the room oozing with respect for this man, and each other.  At the end of the talk everyone applauded and speeches were give about how it was an "exhilarating talk" despite the fact that no one heard it, students took pictures of the little man at his table as if he were Paul Newman.

Can you imagine an historian commanding that much respect and attention and kindness in America?  Sadly, I cannot.

I spent my first two nights in Delhi with Chandana and her father, Ajit, and her daughter Nandini.  I was, of course, taken such good care of.  Chandana was in full mother hen mode, but also allowed me full sway to excuse myself and nap and take it easy.  When I finally admitted that I might need another prescription to get this stomach bug under control, Chandana phoned Dr. Ganguly and then ran out at 8:30 in the evening to get the medicine.  Ajit, played chauffeur while I just stayed home and played the dutiful patient.

Ajit, it turns out, was once the leading economist for India, "held the top post".  He is still, at 86-ish, whip-smart and funny.   Nandini has only just graduated from university and is socially and intellectually buzzing with brains and beauty.   Yesterday was her 21st birthday and the house was being readied for a large party, friends were calling and there was an air of festivity and the hope that comes from stepping into your adulthood held and cared for so meticulously by her family.

So, Delhi has been, for me, an immersion into the intelligentsia of India.  It's a completely different side to the country than any I've seen before.  I've seen glimpses of it in Santiniketan, but to be in these two wonderful and warm homes, surrounded by art and humor and conversations that go leagues above my head has been a wonderful way to end my first visit to the country.  Not only is it a new and fresh view, it's a place to wonder, one last time, how I got so lucky to be on this adventure in the first place.

Today I had a long visit with Aditya and then went to the tiniest beauty parlor I've ever seen to get my feet scrubbed and my face cleansed so that I can leave just a little of the dirt of India that's been absorbed into my being, behind.  I still have plenty of India in my lungs and digestive track and, of course, my heart and mind and spirit.

Just now, I've awoken discombobulated from a nap I've taken in Aditya and Mridula's living room.  They are off at a big lecture.  I could have joined, but I knew I wasn't up for being social and that eventually I'd have to rest.  Summer came early and suddenly to these parts a few days ago and the temperatures linger around 105 degrees outside and the air-conditioning isn't in for the season yet in this part of the house.  So when I was waking up, I was aware that I was sweating and achy and slightly nauseous.  I worried, for a moment, that I might be sliding backwards, health-wise, but then knew it was just the extremity of the heat.

Back home it seems to be raining and cold.  Several facebook status updates from friends in Seattle indicate that there is even snow in some parts.  As I look outside at the lush tropical forest which sits on the oldest mountain range in the world, I was told, I feel both here and there, up and down, in and out.  A peacock is somewhere, calling, which is both a reminder of the exotic nature of where I'm sitting (there are wild peacocks right outside!), and as familiar and comfortable sound as I know.  When I was growing up I could hear the zoo peacock everyday; his voice would float across the river to my house along with the occasional baboon yell.  Right now, I am 41 in India and 6 years old in Virginia.  Both.

But not really.

"I am in India.  I've been in India for three and a half months.  My trip is coming to an end.  I'll be home tomorrow.  I'm in India."

When I was going to sleep last night, I discovered that the house I'm in is in the flight path of the Delhi airport.  I started my journey in Mumbai, staying in a home in the flight path of that city's airport.  With all the other noise in India, I haven't heard an airplane, outside an airport, between then and now.  I could feel the circle closing.  In 24 hours I will be in the Newark airport.  In 35, I will walking through my front door in Seattle.  In 35.1 hours, I will be taking a shower and trying not to go instantly to bed.

While I write, I am aware of a deep well of sadness, grief even, to be leaving this place.  I feel frustrated on some primal level that here and there, have to be so far apart, that a choice has to be made.  With all that India has taught me about being able to hold multiple realities at once, I cannot really be both in India and in Seattle at the same time.  I can love India and hate India, I can wilt in this extreme heat and yearn for it immediately when I arrive in the cold and wet Pacific Northwest, I can want to throttle the shop-keepers here within an inch of their lives and, yet, revel occasionally in the absurd ritual of bargaining for every little thing.  But I cannot be on two continents at once.

Not really.

So, I must leave.  In order to go home....and I use the word "home" deliberately, specifically, strongly, then I have to peel away the fingers of my heart that are wound so tightly and resolutely around this place.  I must drag those angsting parts of myself kicking and screaming into the airport and onto the plane.

I am rather surprised to discover that there are parts of myself yearning to stay.  It's been such a tough few weeks.  For a while there I wanted to go back to Seattle early and was sure that I'd never look back if I did.  But then the gifts from India kept coming, bombarding me till I could open my heart once more to this strange, unfathomable place and now I can feel the bittersweet, tender bits that love this land and it's people with every fiber of their being.

But the leader in this exodus, who is gently prying the other parts away and pointing her finger to the future, is ready to leave and is packing nothing but gratitude for this amazing and dynamic land.  I feel like my inner child has grown up, gone on the great adventure she'd always dreamed of and learned, at the end of it, how to love being a grown up in her own right, how to place boundaries that really mean something, how to say "no" without feeling guilty or worrying that people won't like her, how to find peace and to enjoy silence in the midst of chaos instead of trying to insist that the world around her quiet down, and, most importantly, how to let people into her heart even when they scare her, or annoy her, or mystify her.  I think I'll always be an observer, but instead of observing from the place of a young and wounded child who is afraid to fully participate in relationships, in career, in life, for fear of getting hurt, I think that child went through a series of intense growth spurts and returns to the United States, on the verge of real womanhood.

But that's tomorrow.  Today, for 4 and a half more hours, I am in India.  I've been in India for three and a half months.  My trip is coming to an end.  I'll be home tomorrow.  I'm in India.

"Next Time"

I’m hanging out in my hotel room in Agra, hometown of the Taj Mahal.  I arrived yesterday afternoon after a 5-hour drive from Jaipur.

My mood was not good.  My body was not much better.   I went up to my room, closed the door, turned on the TV and tried to forget that I was still in India.  Eventually, the fact that I hadn’t eaten became a mental health issue, so I ventured out into the town.  I had to walk about half a mile to get some chips and water, which was about all I thought my system could handle, if that.

Agra is like every medium sized town in India I’ve been in, full of dust, dirt, trash and people trying to get something.  Two little begging girls started to follow me, one even turned on the water works, “Meeeessssss (Miss), sob sob sob, Meeeeeessssss, sob sob sob.”

I discovered that I had no feelings whatsoever for those two little urchins.  I snapped, “Chelle Jow, Chelle Jow” which is a really rude way of saying, “Get lost.”  They hung on.  As I kept saying, “Celle Jow,” and the one girl upped the histrionics of her routine, “MMMMMeeeeeeesssssssss, Mmmmmmmeeeeeeeessssss,” the younger quiet girl started laughing.

Eventually, a man on a motorcycle came and put himself between the girls and me and told me to go on ahead.  I was grateful for the help.  I tried to let his kindness reignite my love for India and the majority of kind, warm, helpful souls that I have met, because they have held the majority.  Unfortunately, when a country has billions of people, the minority can take up a lot of space and sap a person’s energy.

Eventually I found a store, bought some supplies and started the walk home.  When I was looking for the store, I had told a bicycle rickshaw man that I might get a ride on my way back.  By the time I reached him on my return journey, I was being followed by 5 auto-rickshaws that I’d already told to go away, and several bicycle rickshaws.  I went up to the guy I thought was my guy and said, “Are you the guy I spoke to?”

“Yes.”

I pulled out the card with the map to the hotel to make sure he understood that I had only a short way to go, and where we were going.  Ten other drivers crowded around me and started trying to say they knew better how to get back to the hotel.

I waved my finger at all the interlopers and said, “I’m talking to this man!”

How much has changed since those first days in Mumbai and Fort Cochin, huh?  Remember when I let rickshaw drivers boss me around?

I got home and hid in my cave of a room, determined not to go out unless absolutely necessary.  I even thought of not going to the Taj Mahal this morning, staying in my cave till I had to get on the train tomorrow to go to Delhi.

By dinner last night, I was in my darkest mood yet since I arrived in India.  I sat at the table in the small hotel with the two couples that had freshly arrived in country, all four people full of wonder and awe at the color and spectacle that awaits them.  They talked about the difficulty of dealing with drivers and salespeople almost as if it was cute, not nearly as annoying as people say it is.

I am really proud of myself.  It took all of my effort not to rain on their parade.  I held my tongue and squelched all the bile that has been building up from the dealing with the harassment of never being able to walk down the street without being yelled at to buy something, to look at something, to take a picture with so and so and then being asked to pay for the picture I was asked to take.

That morning I had not been as reticent to speak out.  My Jaipur guide, RV, who lived next to the hotel I was staying, had asked me to dinner with his family on my last night in town.  I had repeatedly told him that I was sorry, but my stomach was not up for food.  I was very nervous about having a 5-hour drive the next day and being caught in the middle of rural India with the desperate need to find a bathroom.  After the seventh or eight time I had said I couldn’t come over because I couldn’t eat, RV said, “Just come over and meet my family.  No food.  I’ll introduce you to my niece.”

Of course, I had to say, “Yes.”  Mostly because I didn’t seem to have a way out.  When I got there, I met his lovely sisters, his mom and dad and his three year old niece.  I aped it up for the little girl who found me, at first, very disconcerting, but who warmed to me eventually.  Soon she was dancing and flirting and we were all having a great time.

Then, RV said to me, “Now you eat.”

“No, RV, I’m sorry, but I can’t eat.”

His whole family was staring at me, expectant.  I was informed that the desert I would have was made especially for me.  It was good for an upset stomach.  It was made out of milk and cheese.

I said, “RV.  I’m sorry.  I’m allergic to milk and cheese.”

He said, “No.  Come one just a little it won’t hurt.  If you eat this every morning you will never get sick.”

I said, ”RV.  Milk and cheese has been known to paralyze me.  I can’t eat it.”

He literally rolled his eyes.

Everyone else stared.  He told them to get the food.  It was brought to me.  I had a bite or two, thinking," I will eat this, go home and take an aleve and hopefully not be any worse off".

Then, when I was done with that, they brought out more food, rice and veggies in spicy sauce.  I said, once again, twice again, three times again that I couldn’t eat.  No one would take no for an answer.  I was going to look like the rudest American ever if I didn’t have a few bites.  Oddly they didn’t think it was rude to make a sick person eat food while they all sat around not eating and just staring at her.

I went home and was up all night running to the bathroom.  So, in the morning I very strongly told RV, “Here’s a piece of advice.  If a tourist in your care says that they are sick in their stomach and that they cannot eat food, you must listen to them.  I was up all night and now I have 5 hours ahead of me where I may be in distress, all because you made it impossible for me to not eat without being very very rude.”

I was almost enjoying my righteous anger.  I was becoming more and more sure that this is what India has been trying to teach me all along: how to have a backbone, how to say “NO”, or something like that.  I actually wasn't sure if I was more mad at RV or myself, for caving in and doing something that I knew would be bad for me just to make other people happy.

I carried all this anger and frustration with me to the Taj Mahal this morning.   I got there at 6:15, having not eaten or had water for a long time only to discover that the provisions I’d packed were not allowed in.  So, low blood sugar and dehydration also accompanied me into one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The Taj Mahal is breathtaking.  Even in my state, my breath was taken when I stepped through the arches of the gate that faces that most famous white mausoleum.  It is perfect.  Because it is a world heritage sight, the grounds it sits on are also very beautiful, green, mostly trash free.  Because I was part of the early crowd, there weren’t that many people, only a thousand or so, would be my guess.

Sadly, the splendor couldn’t distract me for long.  I obviously had more important brooding to do.  I’m sure the cloud around me was as black and ugly as the Taj is white and pure.

I wanted to shake my mood.  I wanted to break through the darkness so that I could enjoy the moment of being at the Taj Mahal.  I dutifully walked around and took it in, along with all the people looking almost as miserable as I was feeling. All their sour, hot faces would have made me laugh if I wasn't feeling so contrary to even myself.

I kept wondering, "Why can't I let all this anger and animosity go?  I know I'm making the choice to be miserable, why can't I shake it off."

I found a bench to sit on, in the shade, out of view of the monument, but surrounded by some truly great trees.  I was watching all the families go by, all the couples, all the friends.  Miraculously, no one came and sat next to me or tried to sell me anything.  I could just sit and watch.

Maybe it was being in nature, or being left alone in a beautiful spot, or the hunger finally getting so great that I went into another dimension, but something started to release in me.  I started to shed all my defensive anger and began to feel open space around my heart.  What I discovered past the gates of darkness was that though I am not lonely, I am no longer enjoying my solitary adventure, but not because of India and all the hastle and the stomach bug, etc....but because the Taj Mahal should be shared.

Adventures should be shared.

It was a new feeling, a new sense of understanding.  There was no self-pity, no “poor me”, no sadness, grief, regret for my loner life up to now.  Just an acute understanding that sometimes an experience really is only half experienced when you can't share it with someone, family, friend, lover.  I realized, too, that there were other adventures back in the good old USA that I'm so much more excited about now......I knew that after the exotic wilds of India that the only place I have any desire to see right now is back home.

I got up and walked around a bit and found another bench with a better view of the Taj.  I got to thinking about what the place is about.  Built by a king for his dead wife, it is about love, of course. But it's also a requiem to death.  So, as exquisite as it is, there is something very dead about the Taj Mahal.  It is an empty place devoted to what must have been quite a passionate affair.

As I sat there I felt something on my leg.  I thought it was a fly, but I discovered, instead, that it was a beautiful green caterpillar.  I picked it up and it began crawling on my hand.  I watched it crawl up and down my arm for about 20 minutes.  I found it infinitely more beautiful than the Taj.  It was so small and perfect and alive, so in the present.  The eagles flying around the gardens and the perfect white dome of the Taj also enchanted me.  The things of the earth, tiny and large were so much more beautiful to me than the absolutely amazing creation of man that is the Taj Mahal.

While I sat there a transformation was taking place.  My black cloud was breaking up and floating away. By the time I got up and started ambling again, I felt completely free, free of all the angst, the anger, the frustration.  I only felt full of love.  I could really see the people around me again.  They weren't all sour and miserable.  Some of us exchanged smiles, I felt like the darkness that has been around me for the past week was lifting and I was visible again.

Simple things.  I'm interested in simple things now.  A touch, a look, a nod, a moment, a kiss.  Dinner.  Holding hands.  Laughter.  Good conversations.  Work.  Telling stories.  Digging in.

Yesterday, I talked to a Nicole.  She was in exactly the same place I was…tired, fed up with India, contrary, angry at this crazy place.  But she said that she knows she will be back within 6 months, that this insanity has made her want to travel even more.

She thought it would be different.  That after three months in India she would want to settle down for a while before her next travel adventure.  I'm the opposite.  I thought this would be the whetting of a great appetite to travel as much as possible, as far as possible, as soon as possible.  And now, I just want the simple things for a while.  A long while.  I'm not saying I don't want to travel.  I'd love it if somebody wanted to pay me to travel for short periods of time and to write about it. But as for the shape of my life in the near to not so near future, I'd like to settle in, settle down, connect with home.

I'm so tired, but I feel good.  I feel broken newly open.  I have felt that so often on this trip...broken open, newly.  But I keep discovering layer after layer.  I keep thinking I've hit the core and that there's no deeper place to find.... and then something like today happens and I feel gutted to a point I'd never known existed.

Yesterday my driver from Jaipur had smashed a bug on the inside of the windshield while he was driving.  It left a big splat on the glass.  He looked in the rearview mirror and said to me, “This is India.”

I began to laugh quietly, cynically.  Then a little more.  Then even more.  Soon the driver was also laughing.

As we went along the road, whenever something very Indian would happen, a cow would block traffic, a car would be driving the wrong way down the highway, two camels would get loose and bolt in front of the car, one or other of us would say, “This is India,” and laugh.  It was slightly comforting that his laugh was as cynical as my laugh, and just as tinged with a deep and bittersweet kind of love.

About 40 miles away from Agra I had to decide if I was going to take a detour to see the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri, a gorgeous red complex of buildings high on a plateau.  As you can already anticipate, I decided not to.  My driver helped me choose.

He said, “It’s hot.  You are tired.”

“You’re right.  I’ll save it for next time.”

“Next time.  With family.”

“With family,” I echoed.

"Next time," he said again.

"Next time," I echoed.

It feels blissful to be free of the anger that has possessed me for the last week, to feel, instead, full of love, excitement for whatever adventure lies ahead closer to home, the adventure hidden in the familiar, in what I had previously known, but which I will now discover anew.

And it was lovely to drive around town this evening, looking at the daily life of India with all it's color, it's squalor, it's friendly faces, it's children waving "hi" to me from the side of the road, and to feel, once again, how lucky I am to be here, to know something of this transformative and transforming place.  I was excited to find myself imaging returning, next time.


Mope-aholics Anonymous

India is hot.

India has been hot since I arrived, don't misunderstand.  Compared to "my" moderate Seattle and to the parts of the globe that have been ravaged by winter over the last two months, India has kept warm and cozy, at least the parts I've been in.

But sometime in the last week the sun shifted in such a fashion that even the way its rays shine onto the ground have a different, more aggressive slant to them.  The afternoon air turns almost white with glare.  Now, it is more judicial to close the house up entirely around 1 o'clock to keep the fresh heat from making the old heat trapped in the house utterly unbearable.

Sweating is quickly becoming the natural order of things.  Chaffing follows.  Sitting still, if at all possible, ensues.

This is only the beginning.  India will continue to get hotter as the days tick by.  April, I'm told, will be unfathomably hot.  If it is, at the rate I'm going, I shall have to take 19 tiny showers a night just to stay cool enough to sleep.  I'm already up to three 30-second spritzes between 10 when I go to bed and 6 when I get up for the day.

My mood seems to be reflecting, in a distorted fun-house fashion, the change in temperature.  I am irritable, melancholy, quick to judge.  Perhaps this is because the heat is affecting my digestion and for the first time since I arrived in India  I've had a more than fleeting bout of travel related stomach ailments. Maybe it's because Martin has written to say that he has decided to "move on" despite the fact that I "have awakened feelings in" him.

It could just be that my time here in India is growing short.  I find that I am occasionally beset with fits of inner conflict about going back to my life in Seattle.  Certain moments, I simply cannot imagine it.  Other times, especially when people get to talking about the Indian government and the absolutely ass-backwards way that certain programs, health, education, and human services especially, are run, or not run as the case may be, I feel sure that I would go mad if I tried to make a life here.

One small example involves the process of adoption.  If an orphan can be adopted, which isn't always the case for some reason, it takes at least two years for a child to move from the chaotic orphanage to their new home despite the fact that they have been assigned to a couple that has been approved and is waiting to nurture and to love them, not to mention able to relieve the state of the burden of feeding and clothing the child.  I defy anyone to satisfactorily explain to me how this is a good or wise or logical or prudent or humane way to do things.

I told you I was grumpy.

I didn't even go to teach this morning.  My stomach, and my emotional barometer, felt too delicate.  Like the humidity in West Bengal which can rise from 30% to 70% at the drop of a hat or fall just as quickly, my constitution threatened to be just as unstable.  Instead of teaching I fell fast asleep for three hours, sleeping past lunch (no big deal) and awaking in time to feel the sun ramp up its super-powers.  I shut my windows and now am hiding away in my sweltering cave, hiding from the even more oppressive heat outside, my obligations, and anything or anyone that might ask me to be present and accountable.

I could, actually, be moping.  It's been a long time since I have moped, so I'm not sure.  But the permanent pout I've been sporting all afternoon is a pretty good sign.

I talked to Nicole today.  She is in Varanasi hanging out with some boatmen and swimming in the Ganges which, since she told me she just saw a dead cow float by, seems like a rather, well, insane thing to do.  I felt jealous, though, that she is out in the crazy world, taking risks, while I am moping in my dark room.

It got me thinking about that last three weeks in April that I'll have after I leave Santiniketan and before I go back to Seattle.  Whatever shall I do?  As the Celsius rises, I am aware that my ability to move with any speed or even joyful sense of adventure will be severely handicapped.  But, time is running out.

The prudent thing is to do what the English always did at this time of year and disappear into the hills around Darjeeling.  I'll probably do that for a week.  Then I must see Varanasi myself and though I'd like to swim in the Ganges I'd rather do it from farther up stream where dead bodies aren't a regular feature:  Rishikesh, maybe?  I leave from Delhi on the 28th of April, so it is looking like Jaipur will have to be axed from my current itinerary.

People always talk about how big India is and, therefore, how hard it is to see everything.  India is actually not that big, just increasingly hot and always hard to get around in.  The diversity of the country also becomes a looming factor when contemplating the next move: will the next place be more or less conservative than where I am now, will it be primarily Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, will it be hot, cold, dry, humid and do I have the right clothes, can I get there by plane, or do I take an all night train, or must I chance a bus????

I should not be asking these questions today.  They feel like itchy wool sweaters worn on already sensitive, and very hot, skin.

I keep telling myself that the lethargy and the irritability that arise as the temperatures begin to soar are important aspects of being in India; they are part and parcel of the whole experience.  I cannot separate out these lousy days of adjusting to the extreme weather and pretend that they are aberrations.   I must not punish myself for losing time and experiences because I am not out and about every possible moment.  I've only got to find a way to give into the shift in dynamics, to respect the heat, and to discover what smaller worlds are waiting behind shuttered windows in the still realms of this country where extremes of every kind, weather, geography, religion, politics, social status, shape its essential mysterious beauty.

But can I start to do all that tomorrow?  Today, I only feel like moping.

Oxygen


Last night I had my first really great dream since being in India.  Normally, I dream epics on a regular basis, so the dearth has been significant.

I was in a boat of some size.  It felt tugboatish in shape, but not in aesthetic design.  There were several of us living on this boat.  We were in the Pacific Ocean, which in dreamland began where the locks empty from Lake Union into Puget Sound.  There was a giant wave coming toward us, towering over us.  I knew it wouldn’t break on us.  Instead our boat was carried back into Lake Union.  The captain, who was also my husband, took us, then, even further up stream and found a place to anchor our boat where the rising tides of the ocean would be less volatile and dangerous to us.  There were so many boats doing the same thing that we became a boat island.

The Captain became ill from exhaustion.  So we lived in the boat village for a while until he recovered.
Eventually we had to venture onto land to search for something.  In the dream, I did not know what we were looking for, only that we were a party sent ahead to search.

We walked through empty residential streets.  No one was living on the land.  The only signs of life that we encountered were solar lights that were shinning very brightly in the yards, even in daytime.  The sun was strong; the air was thick with smog.

Suddenly, in a yard where there were trees we caught sight of children playing.  When they saw us, the kids hid.  We went into the yard, into the grove of trees.  I realized then that these were the first trees I’d seen in a long time.  The children slowly came out.   We asked them what they were doing here, how they were managing to live where no one else could.

They said, “It’s our forest.  It’s the redwoods.”

Then their father, played by Aiden Quinn in my dream (of course), came out of a house.  He was obviously nervous about people discovering that he had managed to keep the redwoods growing and was even cultivating new ones.  I looked around and saw all the baby trees.  The grove had grown into a dark, thick expanse of trees.  On the ground was a sort of by-product of the tree bark that was edible…it fed the family and it fed the Earth.

I was aware then that the air in this stand of trees was pristine, almost pure oxygen.  It was so cooling, soothing and restorative.  The captain told “Aiden Quinn” that we would not tell the other people back on the boats about the forest, not yet.  We would change our route on the map (now there was a map being drawn by one of our search party) so no one would come that way and the trees could grow.

I woke up with the feel of fresh. clean air in my lungs, a feeling I haven’t known since I came to India. 

"You Look Good in Indian Dress."

"You look good in Indian Dress."  That's what one waiter said to me yesterday.  He wasn't the first to comment on it. It's amazing what a difference wearing my Kurta's and long pants and dupatta (the scarf) actually make.  Everyone comments on it. Indian's, non-Indians, former Indians who now live in the US or England.  Seriously, people stop me on the street to tell me how well the clothes suit me.  Apparently I look as if I've been wearing them my whole life.

I suspect that I'm really starting to wear India more naturally.  I noticed a shift even in Mumbai.  But it was so tenuous that I didn't want to mention it for fear of jinxing the inner evolution.  Last week I had whole hours where I felt more in India than out of it.

After just two weeks in the country, I find washing my clothes in a bucket in the bathroom common place.  I consider cold showers and hard beds normal.  Did I really ever sleep on a soft mattress?  Are pillows flexible?  I can't remember.

Energetically, I seem to be shifting as well.  I have moments when time gets hazy.  I sense that I've always been here.  Or at least lived whole lives here.  I can almost remember the days when rickshaws were powered by human strength.  I feel if I just concentrated hard enough I could recall which birds migrated through Kerala at this time of year, because it feels as if I've always known it.  The other day when I was walking to the ferry, my lower back started screaming at me. I was soon passing by a small spice shop.  I walked right up to a basket filled with gorgeous large pods of some kind.  I picked up several of them.  Nothing else in the shop even came into focus. A woman walked up and explained that I was holding a kokka.  If I drop the pod in boiling water and crack it open, I was told,  I would find a large white seed.  Eating that seed, she explained, cures lower back pain.

I returned last evening to the boardwalk to watch the sunset.  It was Sunday so it was almost as crowded as Republic Day last week.  Remember when I went to the sea to find some balance and almost had a nervous breakdown because I felt so outcast and downcast and cast away?

This time, sitting there in my Indian suit, parents practically forced their children to speak to me.  When I went out to sit on a rock to get a better view, a lovely older Indian woman and her daughter navigated the unsteady and craggy path out to where I was just because the older woman wanted to tell me how lovely I looked in my outfit.  That, and she thought I probably had a great vantage point.

The mother's name was Indira.  She was born and raised in Kenya, actually.  Her daughter, Yogini, was also born in Africa.  They now live in London.  They had the most lovely and posh accents, Indian and African and English all mixed together which created this extra resounding trilled"r"~Delicious.

Yogini and I found we shared a love of trees and we vied for the best shot of the setting sun behind a craggy tree.




When dark descended the three of us shared a stroll back toward town and Indira offered to treat us all to coconut water served fresh from the coconut because, "It makes the ur-een come.  It ees very gut for dis cli-mat.  I am always drinkeng many coconuts when I am herrrre."

I only slightly protested her generosity.  But she said, "No. Got has made us all to meet herrrrre. So, we will celebrate."

The coconut vendor stands at a table piled high with coconuts.  He chops a tiny bit off the top with a big machete, barely missing his coconut holding hand every time.  Then he takes a divet out of the top and sticks a straw into the nut, a bendy straw.  It's always a bendy straw in India.  We were all handed coconuts and then, in the dark at the edge of the Arabian Sea, we clinked coconuts and said, "Cheers."

When I got back to the house there was an American girl there, Nicole.  She had just arrived in India the day before.  She is a very seasoned traveler and a New Yorker and she exudes this kind of tough, take no shit attitude from the second she introduces herself.  We were fast friends in a sort of yin and yang way.  We went to dinner and made plans to spend today going to the spice market.

Nicole: "I won't take a tuk.  Or if I do, I'm not letting him follow us around.  I won't stand for that.  He's taking us right there and we are getting out. And he will be done."

Me: "Awesome."  I wouldn't have to worry about betraying Sandosh or about negotiating with another Tuk, Nicole could be responsible.  I could just walk around charming people with my Indian dress and my scant Malayalam vocabulary.

I went to bed feeling truly relaxed for the first time, feeling more at home and holding the prospect of an on again off again traveling partner since Nicole and I discovered that she leaves India only one day before I do and we have almost the exact same list of must see places.

I woke up rested and self-assured.  I went downstairs and sat on the stoop petting Marshall, the giant Golden Retriever.  Leelu was across the street and she wandered over to me and announced that I had to move.  Just like that.  An internet booking had been re-confirmed and they had no room for me for at least one night if not the rest of my stay.  She said Roy had made her give me the bad news.  Roy said later that Leelu was very angry with him for missing the internet booking.  My Indian family was falling apart and it was all my fault.  My mood sunk like a stone in the sea.  On top of moving, I still didn't know if my bank card had broken or if I was cut off from my money.

"Why can't anything be simple here", I wailed...... in my head.

Nicole, who is in the Leelu Homestay annex a few blocks away, showed up and we had coffee.  We laughed about how plans are so fluid in India, its impossible to count on things happening the way they are "supposed" to.

But we are Americans, and we had a plan of our own.  I would go to the bank.  We would meet in an hour or so, after I moved and then we would go sightseeing to the spice market and "Jew Town."  As we talked about our day's plans, I started to make peace with my change in accommodations, even though I didn't know where I was headed.  I went to pack up my bag and Nicole used my computer to check her email.

Then Nicole ran into my room and said, "The plans are changing, the plans are changing."

Her Indian friend Raj, who lives in New York, had written that he was in Cochin visiting his mom, so she needed to cancel the spice market trip to hang out with him before he leaves tomorrow.

Huh.  Ok, so, no room, no money, and now, no friend.

Holy Ganesha.  What a morning.

"One thing at a time, Morgan.  One thing at a time."

That's all I could say to myself.

First, Roy moved me around the corner to a nice enough hotel.  Then I went off in search of the bank to speak to the manager to find out if he could give me a cash advance on my debit card since it wasn't working in the atm.

The Canara bank in Cochin is like some kind of dusty, clap-trap, rambling version of the Bailey Savings and Loan in It's a Wonderful Life.  If you made George Bailey Indian and 20 years older, you'd have the bank manager.  I waited dutifully in the amoeba shaped "line"of people clustered around the manager while important looking papers were exchanged and stuffed in drawers that looked more like the "catch everything" drawer at my house rather than a place where Very Important Documents should be stuffed.  When it came my turn, a young Indian man tried to cut in front, but the bank manager very quietly, but firmly, shooed him away and insisted that I take a seat and tell him the problem.  I did.  He couldn't help.  But he told me to go to the "Credit Extent" down the street could.

"The extent?  Is that an extension of the bank?"

"Ex---tent," he over enunciated, as if he was making himself clearer.

Only after I found the "Currency EXCHANGE" did I make sense of what he'd said.

The "Ex-tent" was excellent and solved all my money problems and I wandered back thru town.

When I got back my new BFF was waiting for me.  I was being invited, in an "I'm kid-napping you for the day" way, to join her and Raj for the afternoon.  I thought about saying, "no" because I'd had enough of being moved around and guided by Roy and Leelu and Sandosh.  I wanted to regain control, say "no" and stay in town and write.

Thank Ganesha I didn't.  Raj took us to a fancy hotel restaurant in Ernakulum for a real Keralan feast.  Even though Raj is Indian by birth, he is a New Yorker by personality; he is out-going and funny and not shocked by women being feisty and talking sass.  Plus, I felt that I could be totally myself without worry that Raj was going to try and hit on me just because I am such a smiley personality.  The restaurant had a bar and, since we were far from the judging eyes of anyone I might know in Fort Cochin, I had a margarita which was the first drink I'd had in weeks.  The three of us laughed and made jokes at each other's expense and there was an easy-to-be-me feeling I hadn't realized I'd lost because I've been working so hard to be culturally respectful and to fit in .  At one point, Raj had to get up to go clean his shirt which had gotten food on it, a major source of ribbing, and left Nicole and I at the table in stitches.  Nicole said, "Isn't it great to be able to poke fun and talk shit with someone?"  And I said, almost sobbing I was laughing so hard, "OH MY GOD, it's such a RELIEF."

Nicole and I pose Japanese style

After food, we went to meet Raj's mother and her young live-in helper, two charming ladies who chattered with us and graciously put up with we three giggly folks who'd invaded the house.  I showed off my Malayalam and received an invite to come back for lunch or dinner anytime.

"As usual, everybody wants to adopt Morgan." Nicole good-naturadely teased.

Raj and his Mum

Earlier in the day, when Roy was moving me, I rode in the car with Nicole and Randa, the cleaning lady, over to the annex.  Randa insisted I sit next to her and she talked to me in Malayalam and held my hand the whole way over, like a grand-mother might.  She was sad, I think, that I might not be staying anymore at Leelu's.

I'm not great with the holding hand thing, especially when I don't know someone well.  I can be a little physically self protective.  But this hand-holding was so natural, so very right.  This woman I've only met is part of my heart now.  It was part of my heart holding my hand.

Like India.  India is becoming, quickly, a part of my heart.  Or maybe, like it has taught Rajiv, India is teaching me to think with my heart.  The hastles of dealing with ancient banking systems and the Indian tendency to say "Yes" to everything (any person who asks for a room, for instance), when really the answer needs to be "No", ("No we don't have a room for you because it's already pre-booked," as an example) are fast becoming secondary to holding hands with the beautiful woman who cleans the floors and laughing with friends I only just met.

Nicole had a moment where she stopped and said, "Oh my god, I just realized I'M IN INDIA!"  I know that feeling. I've had that feeling....in Rome standing in the Colosseum, in Cornwall walking Queen Morgaine's coast.  But I've not had that feeling in India.  India feels natural, like an old coat.  Despite the drastic adjustment to dirt and begging and staring men and disapproving women, it fits.  I have always been here.  In some lifetime, or several lifetimes.

I just had to remember how to dress.

***********************************************

Addendum:  The internet has been uncooperative for the last few days, so I'm a day behind.  Today, I moved back to Leelus.  Nicole and I went to Jew Town.  And, I bought a sari.

Leelu, Me and Roy
If you are a gal and you ever want to feel like a rockstar in Kerala, buy a traditional Keralan sari.  First, 10 beautiful Keralan girls dress you and put kohl under your eyes and fuss over you like they might a favorite doll.  Then when you walk down the street, you might as well be an Indian princess.  The men were staring, the women were giving me the ok sign and waving, and the respect factor went through the roof!

Culture Shock~Part Two: Why It's Often Better to Just Sit and Wait.

Three Posts in 12 hours.  There's a whole lot of processing going on.

I couldn't go out today.  I tried.  I headed for the train, hoping to make my way to the Chor Bazaar, which some call the greatest flea market in the world....THE WORLD, think about it.  How could I miss that.  Fridays are the best day, too, because that's apparently when all the Muslim men open their stalls and I guess that makes for even better picking.

But after hemming and hawing and writing all morning, I made a late start of getting ready and by the time I walked outside, the heat and my own nervous energy had grown too great.  No big deal, I thought.  I never go out every day at home, why should I be worried about needing down time here.

Then the realization that I was in full blown Culture Shock started to set in.

I spent the day either in my room or talking with Payel who was meant to go into the hospital this morning for some tests.  When she arrived they told her that she had no bed, she would have to reschedule.

"That's India," she said.

Though she was a bit flippant, I could tell that she was quietly, but obviously, upset.  Usually helpful Rajiv could hardly answer a question.  Concern permeated the house.  There were many people working on her behalf to get her into a bed.  She thought her chances were good since, "well, my husband is a famous human rights advocate".  Through our language differences I think she was basically saying, "wait till the papers get ahold of this."

As the day went on and she waited for the hospital to call, I sifted through my disconcerting array of emotions.  Finally, come dinner time, we both found ourselves in the kitchen having spent our days waiting and wading through some of the harder and more frustrating realities of living in India.  I asked her if she had any news from the hospital.  She had none.  "But," she said, "everyone has something that they are dealing with.  Nobody's life goes smoothly."

I got up the nerve to ask her how she and Rajiv, who volunteer all their free time to help ease other people's suffering, deal with the beggars, do they ever give them anything.  She said, like everyone else I know who's been to Mumbai, "No.  You Can't."  Instead She and Rajiv give to a charity that helps with education for the poor and to another that helps the elderly in Mumbai.  She says it is the government refusing to control the population, like they do in China, that is the problem.  There are just too many people.

In the back courtyard, a group of women had started chanting under a homemade tent.  The songs were sort of familiar, haunting.  I thought they reminded me of the song the children sing at the end of Out of Africa.  While I listened to the women sing, my friend Gary and I started chatting on-line.  He didn't know the full extent of my Culture Shock, but he sensed that I might need something uplifting so he put into process the possibility that I might go tomorrow to an orphanage and read to kids.  Gary and some friends have a charity called Bookwallah.org that gives books to orphanages, one of which is nearby.

As Gary organized from the other side of the planet, I asked Payel another question, "What might all the chanting in the back yard be about."  She told me it was a pre-wedding celebration where all the women from the community come together to bless the impending union.

While she explained this, the phone rang.  It was the hospital calling to say Payel had a bed and that she must go right away.  It was almost 8 o'clock in the evening.

When I returned to my room it hit me why the chants coming from the back yard were so familiar...they were eerily similar to the chant sung in my dream last week, the dream about weddings.

I was overcome with relief.  I knew then that I was, that I am, exactly where I'm supposed to be.

It's not easy.  My heart and my soul are cracking and shifting and lashing a bit with all the new information that is flooding every one of my senses.  But whatever it is that I am meant to learn from India, I am learning it.

I just have no frame-work yet to make sense of it.


Culture Shock~Part One: When Trust Might Not Be Enough

I hesitate to send this post onto the inter-web for fear that it will cause concern.  So, before you read on, know that I trust the process that comes with learning about a new culture and these feelings were to be expected.

I think I have honest to goodness Culture Shock.  Apparently it is a real thing.  Like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It's only a mild case.  I hope.  But I have many of the signs.  I don't want to go outside.  Every ache and pain makes me think I've caught some terrible travel disease.  I kind of want to go home.

I have this strange sort of shake in my left arm.  It's not visible.  It's an internal thing. Like a small tremor, the way a person shakes when they are scared.  Just now as I was lying in bed trying to relax I asked my body what was wrong, why was I feeling ever so vulnerable and frightened.  I've been far from home, alone, before.  I've had bad days in foreign lands before.  I've even thought about going home early when times got tough.  But this is different.  This angst is deeper.  It is more than wanting toilets with seats and sidewalks without people spitting and peeing on them as I walk by.  I've had days where I've yearned for the the very same things while I was in Paris, and nowhere feels closer to home away from home to me than Paris.  This gnawing dis-ease is less superficial, it is a soul ache.

I keep thinking of the little boy who came up to me yesterday as I was buying my dinner at a street side restaurant.  This kid was eating a plum from the shallow pit in the stump of his right arm.  His left arm was even shorter, less existent.  He was tapping against me and smiled every time I looked at him.  I ignored him.  The man cooking my dinner, pointed to the boy and smiled.  Was he expecting me to buy the child some dinner as well?  I don't know.  I soldiered on, waiting for my meal to be wrapped up.  Paying.  Leaving with my fried rice which cost $1.54.  There was enough of it that I had some for lunch today and will probably have more later.  I did not give into to the boy.

I tried to feel proud of my resolve.  All day I had been ignoring small dirt encrusted urchins who had been pawing me, smiles on their faces.  They asked me for my bottled water, my half drunk soda, they wanted my pen caps.  A friend suggested that if I felt overwhelmed by the beggars when I got here that I should buy some dried fruit to hand out.  I have thought about it.  But then how would I decide when to reach into my purse for the bag of fruit and when to be cautious.  Sometimes it appears that there is just one beggar, but suddenly there can be three, four, a whole family of beggars and I sense that an open purse in that situation could quickly become an empty purse....no matter how many hidden pockets I have.

The truth is I am not proud.  I am shocked by how "easily" I walked away from that little armless boy without buying him dinner.  I am mad at myself for taking my water bottle back out of the hands of a child no more than 5 earlier in the day.  Especially since I then couldn't drink from the bottle for fear of germs that had been left by her filthy hands.

When I was trying to decide what do when I came to India, where I would go, I looked into different volunteer organizations.  I wrote to a few several months ago that seemed to fit the bill of what I could afford and where I could use my skills.  I only heard back from one, but not until the day before I took off for Mumbai.  It was too late.  To volunteer I would have had to have a work visa, not a tourist visa, references, a police background check.  I could get none of these with only 24 weekend hours before my plane departed.

So, here I am laying about in India.  Seeing the sights.  My "pockets" are relatively full.  It seems like constant bad karma to walk away from so many people in need, but more than my future spiritual well-being, it just plain sucks in the here and now.  Poor planning on my part.  I should have tried harder to have some purpose here, something that I could do that would at least give me the feeling that I could make a difference.

I want to sweep up every small child I see wallowing in the dirt.  Except I also don't.  Their filthiness repulses me.  My own repulsion infuriates me.  These are human beings, small beautiful human beings and I cannot let myself love them because if I love them I might disintegrate right on into the dirt at their feet.  There are too many of them.

And that's just the children.  There are also all the grown-up people sleeping on stones, raising their families without walls, or potable drinking water surrounded by sewage and disease carrying mosquitoes while I have two beds in my air conditioned room, deet, medicine and filtered water.

I see now why India could make one mad.  It is incomprehensible, this kind of living, but the brain still wants to try and understand.  One can't help feeling like one of the zillions of Mumbai dogs chasing it's tail, focused on something it cannot catch, missing the rest of the picture while it runs in circles.



I have taken to chanting mantras to Ganesha as he is the guardian in the corner of my room.  Asking him to remove any obstacles to my well-being and safety.  It is a helpful way to begin the day.

Who knows, I may end up in an ashram after all, chanting for some kind of understanding, or for a way to free myself from the relentless chasing of my tale that could take hold if I don't find a way to relax into this place.

I know that I have been here less than a week, but if this kind of poverty and constant begging follows me to Kerala on Monday I might not be able to handle it.  I suspect that that is not going to be the case.  I mean it may follow me, but I trust that the way will unfold for me to break through this disquiet that is enveloping me just now, Ganesha willing.  But it feels important to own that, for the moment, I am uncertain.

A Third of The Way There

The last time I made a long journey (that time to Europe) I stopped in New York for a week on my way.  This time, I’m hanging out in Newark, at the airport, for 5 hours.

Even though it is a meager correlation, I like the idea that I am touching base here on the East Coast…my birth coast… if only for a short while.

Almost three years ago, on my first afternoon in New York City, I stood on a corner in Washington Square waiting for an old friend, wondering what in the world I was doing going off to Europe for three months.  The economy was on the verge of collapsing; I had no income on the horizon, all I knew was that I had to go and that I had to go then.  I stood there, arms crossed over my chest in my best New York defensive stance trying to get a grip on why the universe would be calling me to the British Isles, what could possibly be so important.   A clear voice from somewhere deep inside (or was it from some higher guide?) said, “Well, Morgan, the only thing you can do is go with an open heart and see what happens.”

That seemed like a good plan.

I got a look at myself standing there, stone face, protectively guarding my chest.

“Huh.  That’s not very ‘open-hearted.’”

I decided in a flash that I was gonna drop my arms to my side and that I wouldn’t cross them over my chest for the entire journey.  I mean, if being openhearted was the only way to discover what the trip was about, then I was going to keep the channel clear!

I dropped my arms and instantly a guy came up to talk to me. He was selling cds, his cds.  Rap Music.

“I don’t like rap music.”  I told him. “Great, I uncrossed my arms and look what happens!” I thought.

He said, “I know, I know.  The culture is so violent, so full of hate.  I’m trying to change all that.  Look at these titles….we got words like ‘love’, ‘family,’ ‘connection.’  Look, I don’t even want you to buy my cd.  Just take one.  Listen to it.  Then email me at the address on the back and tell me what you think.”

My European adventure was full of moments like that.  I never crossed my arms over my chest and magic seemed to follow me along my trail, right up to Iona and that amazing rock I told you about last week.

So, here I am on the first day of a new adventure.  I learned so much on my last journey about trust, about the kind of listening it takes to navigate on my own so far away from home.  Even at 5:30 this morning when I walked into SeaTac airport, I could feel the travel instincts start to kick in.  I could feel the energy start to percolate.

But what it’s all about?  I have no idea.  Thank goodness.  Much more fun this way.

But I do have an hypothesis born out of that last trip and the discovery that came out of opening my heart on day one and finding that rock on the last leg of my journey.  I believe that there is a connective tissue that binds us all together. I believe it is made of love.  I believe the Earth is an active participant in this web.  I believe that if we could all clue in and listen to each other, we might have a chance of healing this planet and ourselves.

I think going to a third-world country where poverty, and all that comes with it, is rampant and almost validated by the caste system is a great place to study that connection, to test its existence.

I live in a place that is filled with a certain standard of comfort and convenience.  Traveling in Europe, I was in familiar, very westernized territory.  Perhaps it was easy to make the kinds of connections I made there because, in essence, I was fluent in the cultural vocabulary.

It seems important to open my heart and mind to a place and people that will challenge what I know of the world, to discover if, underneath all the differences, we can still feel the same pull, the same thrum, the same global heartbeat.

I know I may be disappointed.  I will surely be stunned by much of what I see, there will be much that will shock and hurt and wound my senses and perhaps my beliefs.

I have no idea how I will test my theory.  I can only travel with my arms by my side, listening to my intuition and my guides, following those “dancing lessons from God” that come from “strange travel suggestions” and observe.

But right now…dinner…in Newark.  Think of it this way, I’m a third of the way to Mumbai!  It sounds much more exotic that way.