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I woke up yesterday and looked out the window to find snow, snow on the ground, snow falling. I cut my workday short and got the hell out of New England. This morning I shed my layers, wool sweater, Columbia wicking socks, fleece and sped towards my parent’s house in the glorious, 70 degree sunshine. I am truly thankful for changes in lattitude. I miss my housemates though.
I am grateful for so many things, and this year has been magical. The last couple of years really, and I thank everyone who has touched me and those I love in some way. I’m also glad that my mother’s mother is still hanging in there. And sometimes, that’s enough. I’m also grateful that my Dad is cooking turkey, my Mom has made sauerkraut and sweet potatoe pie, my nephew made his 5 cheese and macaroni and his Eclair cake. So I will be the recipient of all of their culinary talents. I will definitely be giving Thanks for that!
So, are you cooking or are you showing up at someone else’s house to eat? Holler at us in the comments.
Looooong weekend of work, but it was fun as always. I lurve my colleagues and our clients. Jet lagged as all get out flying from Norfolk to San Francisco between 6 kids. Yeah, 6. But they were all sweet. Berkeley was cool in terms of the weather, swinging 15 degrees or more in a matter of hours. So we fled. Napa Valley is all it has been hyped up to be. If you get a chance visit Peju Provence and experience the “Napa Rappa'” for yourself. I’m on to L.A., anything I should see/do while I’m there (in between the insane amount of work I have to do)? Holla at me in the comments!
Brown Paper Studios is the name of the outfit that Professor Judyie Al-Bilali runs in Capetown, So. Africa. On ship she taught 3 courses, including a directors/playwright’s course and her theater class put on a two night show.
Watching the student’s write their own (moving, intelligent, funny) material, grown in comfort and confidence and face the community with their politics, insecurities, hopes, dreams and fears is something that any mentor, educator, or parent can understand as a gift. Moments of magic, watching young people transform and blossom.
Terrible pic, but i busted my coolpix S6, so yes, every time i leave the country, i sacrifice a nikon coolpix to the camera gods.
we were pulling into hong kong when the tragedy at Virginia Tech occurred. And we stopped everything as a community and Archbishop Desmond Tutu led us in a community reflection/prayer and a moment of silence. The 2nd to last week on the ship we had an “Remembering Virginia Tech” day and everyone wore either orange, maroon or black shirts. It was beautiful to see the whole community come together. We had 4 VT students sailing with us, and one professor who received her PhD from Tech.
The last week we wore red yarn around our wrists and as you can see from the photo, hung the names of all those lost in our most central location on board.
I like how despite the fact that we were half a world away, and could easily have shrugged the tragedy off and kept on going, we didn’t. It made me proud to be a part of a caring community. And grateful that we had the ability to remember our fellow students, educators and friends.
The faculty/staff lounge was the one place on board where students could not go. It was our own slice of heaven complete with Karaoke and Margaritas. Sometimes too much of one led to the other….
The students pretty much took over every square inch of the ship and it was nice to have a place to retreat to with the grown folks. We held meetings of grand import here as well as knocked back a few to celebrate everything from birthdays to surviving a particularly eventful port with everyone alive and on board. Mostly I’ll miss the people. My friends that became like family.
By the end I was admittedly “Templed Out” but I enjoyed visiting the Churches, Synagogues, Temples and Shrines from Brazil to Japan. Watching how the world worships confirms that the religions may be different, but the core beliefs, needs and desires are generally the same. This pic is from a Catholic church in southern India.
Still counting down my top 15 in no particular order.
This pic is from the Butterfly Farm in Penang, Malyasia. I didn’t blog about Malaysia because it was hella hot, hella expensive and I was fighting a cold. The island is trippy with lots of little tourist attractions and this one was one of my favorites.
I recently had a great conversation recently wherein someone said: “This (traveling around the world, and long term travel in general) is the ultimate selfish act, I left all my stuff behind, all my responsibilities and packed up my necessities and hit the road.” I laughed and said that travel will actually cost you dearly, not necessarily in money, but in ignorance. You won’t be able to ignore anymore what we’re doing to our planet, our fellow human beings, ourselves. By striking out and opening your eyes, you sacrifice the “blinders” that allow us to forget/ignore, the poverty, hunger, and unequal distribution of the world’s resources. I “knew” that when I said it, but now I “feel” it in my bones. I have to do something, I want to do something. But what?
The next morning I woke up with mosquito bites on my arms, and a stirring in my mind. The beginnings of something, but I don’t know what. We headed out to the Periyar Tiger Reserve at 6am (I told you we don’t sleep in on Semester at Sea) and took a misty boat ride around the channels of the reserve looking for animals, but really just enjoying the coolness of the mist coming off the river as the sun rose. I enjoyed the quiet comraderie, the scenery, the myriad of birdlife and despite seeing elephant droppings, we only ever saw Bison and Wild Boar and a bazillion frogs (no, not Brazilian).
I enjoyed getting my Nikon out and just shooting until my heart was content. It was hard for me to take photographs of the Indian people. I don’t like the austere, impersonal act of pointing a camera at someone going about their business, and without their permission taking a piece of their moment in time. I have done it, and will do it again, but I struggle with it. Imagine how you’d feel if a busload of people road through your neighborhood speaking a language you didn’t know and took dozens of photos of you while you were cutting your grass, walking your dog or working on your car…weird.
We hustled out of the reserve to make our next bus but got held up by the cutest monkey troop that would make your heart burst out of your chest. We headed down to Kottyam with a lecture on the tea fields, rubber plantations and different customs in the regions we were crossing. But no matter what, the poverty, lack of water, lack of resources, trash, dirt, and shacks that served as homes were our relentless scenery. By late afternoon I couldn’t contain my tears and cried quietly in my seat staring out the window with my iTunes providing a melancholy soundtrack for my travels. But once finished, I felt cleansed and human. I am not ashamed of shedding tears for souls less fortunate, I am ashamed that I can do nothing for them and somewhat terrified at the reality that the only difference between me and them is the toss of destiny’s coin. My $500 iPod, my $700 camera, my $200 outfit, my full stomach, my backpack full of snacks and two liters of clean water, my moneybelt with two credit cards, a passport and cash, more than 90% of them will ever see in a decade if not two. And the bus rolls on.
We spent the rest of the afternoon into the early evening floating down the backwaters of Kerala. It was beautiful, peaceful even with 19 other people. We rarely spoke, but we would laugh often as the kids along the canal ran alongside waving. We watched life on these gentle waters unfold as people went about their daily routines of cleaning, cooking, bathing, harvesting rice, transporting it downstream, piloting tourists on houseboats. Less poverty, less dust, less heat, less pain in my chest. These people looked happier, healthier, and I relaxed into our surreal float towards the Arabian Sea.
India. There’s so much to say about this country and yet, no words at all that are adequate to describe the heights and depths of emotions I experienced in a week. I love South Africa like a lover. I can see a future, laughter, good food, wine, music, a life created together. I love India like a friend. I want the best for her, I’m better for having known her, she confuses and challenges me, points out the good and bad in me, and calls me on my bullshit, makes me want to be a better person. This post is likely to be fairly unpopular as it isn’t my usual beer and BS.
We sailed into Chennai on a steamy, morning. An industrial marina with ambiguous fires burning in the background, majestic temple spires scattered along a skyline of familiar looking business high rises. We had been warned about the dirt,noise, pollution, grime, beggars, poverty, heat and dust for weeks before we arrived, and I felt as ready as I ever would to face this country of contrasts. Solbeam’s stories and love for India ignited my curiosity last year, I read books, magazines and scoured the net in preparation.
I initially couldn’t decide if I wanted to head north to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and the majesty of the Taj Mahal. Should I head toward Calcutta or Bombay? Auroville? In the end I chose to head south to Kerala, the most southern state in India, for two reasons. One, its the homeland of one of my best friends, Anil, and I was intrigued to see the country of his parents and grandparents. The other was the November/December issue of National Geographic Traveler Magazine. The Special Section: Passages Through India. Though in my opinion there is nothing that can prepare you for India, I am certain that I made the right choice and I am more certain that I want to return one day.
I spent my first day in Chennai (on the east coast of India in the state of Tamil Nadu). Though I consider myself a fairly seasoned traveler, I was challenged, frustrated, exasperated, and mesmerized. First, the heat is unlike anything I’ve experienced yet on this trip. Cape Town was cool and breezy, I spent the majority of my time on Mauritius either in or on the water. But Indian heat is different, its the heat of a billion bodies, millions of animals, hundreds of thousands of vehicles, thousands of trains and boats, hundreds of ships, dozens of factories…and you. The dust billows at every turn, making me shield my eyes whenever the windows are rolled down.
That first day we hired a taxi driver to take us around and found out the universal truth of tourism in India, they’ll take you were THEY want to take you. They beseech you to spend “little time here” and “just look, just look” at the wares of the various stores and shops that promise them either liters of petrol or commissions based on the number of visitors they bring each day.
This led to us spending time in mega bazaars with prices that had doubled, tripled, etc as soon as the ship pulled into port. The Indians bargain, and expect you to partake in the game. This got to be fun when I adjusted my attitude and remembered my global citizenship versus my american aculturization. When they’d quote me a ridiculous price I would counter with “That’s not a price you’d give to someone you love!” which left them exasperated but kept everything light and full of humor. We got ripped off by our cab driver in a long story I won’t get into, but in the end we suffered the loss of a mere $6 and a hot, sweaty walk back to the ship.
I didn’t get a malicious vibe from India. It isn’t a place that I worried for my safety beyond the general precautions. Yes, someone might pick your pockets, yes someone might snatch your bags, but I wasn’t nervous except for the one time when our cab was surrounded by men and one tried to open the door. Not understanding their language or intent, I demanded that we be taken where we
wanted to go. Ultimately they were just trying to be helpful.
You know all turned out well because I’m typing this, but it reinforced that women the world over always have to be on guard and this pissed me off because its not fair that men can take up space, move and roam freely, without fear of violence or rape and women, even in the safest of communities, bear the responsibilities for preventing or anticipating violence against us.
But I’m getting too deep.
I headed south via train to Kerala. First we stopped in Madurai (still in Tamil Nadu), arriving on an amazingly sunny morning with barely time to brush our teeth and change shirts. We headed out to see the Meenakshi Temple, one of the focal points of Hinduism and the 2nd largest temple in India, drawing over 15,000 pilgrims and visitors a day during festivals and events.
When we first got dropped off by the bus, I couldn’t see any sign of a temple, instead shoving down my exasperation at being dropped in a dusty, dirty side street with animals all around, the hot sun beaming down and no idea what the hell we were doing. We started walking and our guide stopped at a little shop to buy dhotis (long skirt like apparel) for everyone in our group who had on shorts. To enter any temple your legs and shoulders must be covered, you must remove your shoes and leave them with a guard (you can’t carry them with you).
We walked some more, laughing in the sun at our western t-shirts and Indian dhotis, relieved to be off the ship/train/bus in the sunlight and safe in pursuit of adventure. Trading our frustration for flexibility and a new experience. And there it was, Meenakshi. We rounded a corner and I saw the first tower and I literally stopped in my tracks. It was breathtaking and you could tell it was going to be massive in size. And it was.
We spent 3 hours walking barefoot on hot stones, lulled into dreamlike states by the incense, the incessant and beautiful chant ” om namah shivaya” which roughly translates into “I bow to the divinity that resides in me”, broadcast over and over again without pause, on speakers throughout the temple of Shiva.
We saw thousands of people going about their daily business of worship, prayer, offerings, fellowship. The bright colors, the flowers offered in honor and love, the chants of peace, the statues, the architecture-beautiful. Like the Churches in Mexico, the Choir in Cape Town, they were quite simply divine. And not the least because I was blessed by an elephant.
Next we headed to a truly Brokedown Palace that at first didn’t hold any appeal to me, but when a fellow traveler exclaimed “could you imagine what this place would’ve been like as a working palace?” And I let my imagination wander the long hallways with amazing arches, the carved and painted ceilings, the sheer scale fo the place transported me to a past that I may not have known but could feel in the pillars.
We finally headed out for lunch which was an amazing array of Indian food and attempts at western cuisine-all of which were fine by me. After rehydrating with equal parts water and Golden Eagle beer, restoring our sodium balances and cooling our sun-kissed skin down, we headed out for the long drive down to Periyar in Kerala.
Along the way we saw monkeys, cows, cows and more cows, humanity going about its daily business, cotton trees (yes, really!) and we scaled a mountain full of treacherous switchbacks, with few guardrails, and many other vehicles careening up or down alongside us and I had to just let it go and relax. If my fate ended on a road in India then I would have perished doing something I love.
Periyar gave us a short break from the constant barage of poverty, a change from the unremittant scenes of hunger, lack, dirt, hopelessness, illness, deformity. We spent the night in a lodge in a spice grower’s paradise. complete with pool, a cooking class (pepper chicken masala!) and a performance of local dance and music. I fell asleep that night dreaming of a golden sun, dust, haunting brown eyes looking into mine, and the rythm of an ancient chant reverberating in my chest.