Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits

Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany

Laughing all the way...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Welcome to India! Please Don't Strangulate the Indians

It's been a week filled with adventures, from dancing in the streets of Mysore to watching the simultaneous sunset and moonrise on a stone wall on the only hill, to visiting the only Sikh temple (Gurudwara) for Guru Nanak's birthday...then back to Bangalore where we spent the day at an orphanage where I helped the girls make bracelets and Fred took pictures of mass haircutting by volunteer beauticians...then last night we boarded a train for Hampi in North Karnataka, a shanti land of huge rock formations, temples, monkeys and crappy internet cafes. It's a relief to be out of the big city...and I don't need to tell you how much I LOVE monkeys!

Time and money constraints led us to a somewhat difficult decision against the Andaman Islands, so for now it remains my dream only. But we've had enough experiences in the last week to take up fifteen pages on the blahg (train encounters alone could fill a book! Like getting reprimanded by an Indian man on the train for crossing my legs..), and Fred has mass amounts of pictures that will get posted for you all sometime in the next month. For now I just want to let you all know that we are happy and healthy and loving every minute of this crazy life!

Wish you could be here to share in the blessed insanity,
all my love,

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Miracle of Thanksgiving

For some reason I wasn't able to access my blahg for the last days, so I couldn't post a Thanksgiving note. But Fred and I had a wonderful day meeting all kinds of friendly - if strange - Indian people.

We were hoping to cook ourselves a mass of vegetables for the occasion but soon decided that this would not be possible. Setting our sights a bit lower, we went to a gorgeous vegetable market, picked out 21 rupees worth of aubergines, green beans, spinach and chayote (what's the English name for this one?) and proceeded to walk from restaurant to restaurant in search of one that would agree to cook them for us...

After ten restaurants rejected us, I was beginning to lose hope. Then we asked a chai walla who pointed us to a man in the street who spoke English. We explained our situation and he knocked on the door of a house nearby. The nice Indian people inside quickly agreed to let us cook our veggies in their house! I think this is known as a Thanksgving miracle!

Soon we were awkwardly perched on the bench in their tiny living room as the mama of the house shoved all our veggies into a pressure cooker (Personally, I would have been happy with a two-minute stir fry, but this was not the time to be choosy). The only interest she showed in us was when she asked us if we had a baby ("babu?"). Her son was a crime reporter from Bangalore who, thankfully, spoke quite a bit of English. He proceeded to explain to us the history of Mysore's Raj (king). I didn't understand one word, but Fred seemed to absorb quite a lot.

All the while the India-Pakistan cricket game played on the television. It's cricket season and everyone we meet has a discussion about it with Fred. I guess Australia has a great cricket team?

After what seemed like half an hour in the pressure cooker, our formless and colourless veggies were served to us on a massive plate. I've never been so excited to eat! We quickly finished every last bit, after which they offered us rotis (similar to fried tortillas) and a vegetable/coconut mix (thakadi). Unable to refuse, we stuffed ourselves in the traditional Thanksgiving fashion, marvelling at our fortune to be spending the day in a house with a real family..complete with blaring TV, awkward politeness, Grandma who wants to know about babies, annoying extended relatives...

Soon the kids started coming home and we exchanged plenty of curious stares and smiles. Fred pulled out the camera, I handed out lifesavers, and we were part of the group. The next day we made sure to print them some copies of this pictures as a gesture of thanks for their remarkable generosity..

And this was only the beginning of our day!..but now Fred is waiting me in the street, so I must move along...if only I could share it all!!

Thank you everyone for your's hard to believe I deserve to have this incredible, unpredictable life filled with loving friends and family all over the globe. I have enough blessings to celebrate this holiday all year long...

Biggest hugs ever,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain Is Gone

My dear Fred emerged from the airport less than two hours after his scheduled arrival, and the rain stopped long enough so I could wait for him outside the airport in relative comfort (thank you, God!)..
I almost didn't recognize him, but then the Western guy I was chatting with said.."hey, he looks Australian..." and when I took a closer look, it was him!

Inexplicably, I stopped visiting the toilet every twenty minutes after Fred arrived..coincidence? Miracle? A testament to the power of the mind?? You decide..while I'm still emitting copious amounts of snot, my stomach infection seems to be gone (?!) and my puffy, swollen gargoyle eyeball is looking much better. There's nothing quite like the healing power of a great friendship!

Speaking of testaments...I'm here to testify that my mother is a shopping goddess! She managed to buy me the perfect bra..right fit, right color, right material, AND she got it on sale! Now that is true shopping prowess, and thanks to her skill, I WILL NOT have to buy another bra from the street again! Thank you, Mama!!!

Fred and I decided not to linger in Bangalore and hopped a train to Mysore, the sandalwood oil capital of India. It's an absolutely adorable little city with a palace, a zoo, and - somewhat inexplicably - a corporation. We arrived yeaterday and are thinking to stay some days. Eventually we'll make our way East to Madras for a cricket game (Fred's idea, not mine) before we board the three-day boat to the Andamans on the 30th..

Fred and I are natural travel partners, so my hopes are high for upcoming adventures. He's basically my "ticket" to freedom..with him by my side, I can be myself, talk to anyone, smile at more expressionless face for me! What a relief! It's so much more natural, and besides, the south is much more shanti and the people are very, very sweet.

Did I mention that the tradition for women in the south is to wear fresh jasmine flowers in their hair?? At 10 rupees a metre, I can have them every single day! I'm so pleased I'm positively giddy! It's a simple yet unspeakably wonderful extravagance that gets all kinds of smiles and compliments from the locals...does it get any better than this?

Time to go..!

All my love to everyone,
Still smiling and much healthier,

PS: Thank you, Sue, for your very sweet and uplifting comments!!! I certainly don't always feel so amazing...especially with a gargoyle eyeball :)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Just a quick note to say..

I survived my 41-hour train ride to Bangalore. The nice people I was with were so nice in fact that they forced me (this is not an exaggeration) to take a room here at the railway station! How can I explain to well-meaning Brahmins that staying alone at a train station is depressing? I am trying not to feel low, but I'm alone at the train it just me?

Add to that the following; I still have a nasty cold complete with copious amounts of snot, but now I have also a painful eye infection. And for the first time in the last nine months, I finally have a stomach infection that, if I was in Mexico, I would affectionately call Moctezuma's Revenge (was it the dodgy roti-walla? The extremely dodgy-looking grapes?)'s got me evacuating from both ends. Seems I've gotten a bit too confident with my food consumption of late... I tried to find a doctor but now I think I may just start popping the cipro pills I brought with me.

But I'm here in one piece and in about 12 hours more I'll be heading to the airport to meet Fred, so all is well after all. And I'll admit that I'm quite pleased to be in the south, even if it is raining. The south is more difficult in the sense that more people are relentless about staring, but it feels more like the countryside and my soul is starting to relax. I think.

Once Fred is here we'll discuss our options. Personally I'm hoping to be able to cook a nice Thanksgiving dinner together - did I mention he's also a chef? - but this might be wishful thinking. At the very least I will not be alone for this holiday, something I will happily add to the long list of things I already have to be thankful for..

Hanging in and ready for whatever comes next,
all my love,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

When it Rains, it Pours

Yesterday was another epic FRRO visit. The guy who slipped me his number with a smile during my last visit was much less accommodating this time around. He basically told me there was nothing he could do and sent me to the Ministry of Home Affairs, where I spent eight hours – no, it’s not a typo – hoping someone would listen to my case. When it was finally my turn to grovel for help, the unsympathetic officer assigned to me told me to go back to Varanasi for a new police report and waved me away.

Seems each time I speak to a new bureaucrat, they seize on some new detail and create an insurmountable problem around it. This time the issue was that my police report from Varanasi referred to a lost “money bag” and not a lost “passport.” This would have been no problem had I known about it at any time during the last six weeks, but Saturday I have a train ticket to Bangalore.

I'm finally starting to understand that the FRRO office cannot be navigated alone. I have learned that it is necessary to hire a local attorney or agency to offer money to these bureaucrats to “encourage” them to handle your case. It is my first experience of the sort and I think in the future I will be much smarter about working my way through the labyrinth of corrupt officials that, doubtless, run the entire world. I cringe when I think of the torture – figurative AND literal - our own bureaucrats in the US inflict on the helpless foreign masses…

So, it looks like I’ll be back in Delhi much sooner than I’d planned just to settle this affair before March 13th, my deadline for leaving the country again. And thanks to my Indian friend in California, a.k.a. “The Miracle Worker,” I now have a local attorney who has agreed to help me out. I’m just hoping the help won’t have any unseen strings attached because, after all, there is no such thing as a free lunch…

Am I getting wiser in my old age, or more cynical? Or both? This may be a question for swamiji.

In other news, it’s getting cold here in Delhi and to commemorate the change in weather, I’m developing a cold of my own…

Tomorrow is my last day at Pravah. They are encouraging me to come back in January to take on a salaried position. I have my reservations, but I also have a history of not being able to say no. I’m a little ashamed to admit that, in the past, I’ve had other people quit jobs for me. Like in 1995 when I had a friend (Lavangela) quit my job at the supermarket. She was a good friend, even going to pick up my last check because I was too embarrassed to face my supervisors. More recently, my mama called my supervisor at the resort where I worked as a lifeguard to tell them I wouldn’t be back. Now I find myself unable to tell the folks here that I don’t think I can come back and work.

Instead I’m just holding all the accumulating tension and fear and uncertainty inside. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, my nose has infected and my shoulders have turned to rock. Where is my yoga teacher when I need him most? Not in Bangalore! So it looks like I’ll just have to find a way to work this one out on my own, which, being the eternal optimist I am, should be no problem whatsoever…

Still smiling in spite of it all...


Indian Village Girls?

Our visit to Barchowli was a memorable experience and my friend just sent me these great pictures to prove it. Maria and I got to be typical Indian village girls (minus the sunglasses!) carrying water from the well with our heads. I was amazed I could do it without snapping my neck! It was like being transported back to the mountain in Nepal where God first brought Maria and me together…

The train ride back to Delhi on Monday morning was also memorable, but for different reasons. We intended to catch the express train but somehow ended up on the regular, local one instead. Each stop saw hoards of young Indian men piling in; it was the morning rush hour to Delhi and we were packed like sardines. Not only was I literally unable to move, I found it hard to find space even to breathe! Making it worse, I could feel people touching me but I couldn’t see them.

Normally I shout aggressively at the men who try to touch me, but this particular situation didn’t seem very stable. That coupled with the innumerable newspaper stories about deadly stampedes at train stations convinced me to keep my mouth shut and try to focus my thoughts elsewhere.

At some point it got so bad that a merciful Indian woman who had been watching the situation develop motioned for me to join her on the other side of the seats. As I slowly extracted myself from the crowd of Indian men packed all around me, they took the opportunity to touch me more freely. At my wits end, I finally let loose with a frightening “STOP IT!” and escaped to the relative safety of the Indian woman’s bench.

Then, a well-dressed Indian man who spoke English explained to me that I had made two mistakes; One, I didn’t take the express train and two, I didn’t sit in the “ladies only” car. I can safely say that I will not make these mistakes a second time…

Speaking of memorable train rides, Saturday night I board the Karnataka Express to Bangalore. It’s a forty-hour journey - sleeper class - and I’m armed with Ambien ™ in case the going gets rough. I’ll arrive on Monday afternoon with enough time to shower, rest, and head to the airport to meet Fred at 4:45 the next morning. Inshallah, we’ll find a place to cook up our very own Thanksgiving meal.

After all, there’s so much to be thankful for! Like the epic learning adventure that is my life, the multitudes of good people – my family and friends – who love and inspire me, and, Hamdullah, my good health. What more could a girl ask for?

Love and light to all,

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Wonderfully Wild Diwali Weekend

How many adventures can you pack into one long weekend??

Turns out Diwali is a five-day affair. Friday the office was closed, so I had the whole day free to goof around. I woke up early to do some errands and then met one of my Iraqi friends for coffee. We decided to visit the Baha’i Temple, a.k.a. "The Lotus Temple," because it is shaped like a lotus flower. The Baha’i faith is a relatively new and independent world religion established in 1844 by a Persian youth known as "The Bab."

I love it because it is all-inclusive, holding sermons in all the major religious traditions…Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. The temple itself is a brilliant and complex architectural masterpiece. We sat for some time in the peaceful sanctuary of the temple as I recited all the prayers I could think up, from my Sanscrit mantras to my Hail Mary’s and prayers to Allah. I sent prayers for peace to all of my family and friends and I prayed for my own fortitude during this difficult time. It is a true haven in the midst of Delhi’s insanity.

Then we went to McDonalds. My Iraqi friends are good people, but they can be a little bit rigid. Food is an issue for them; either they cook their own or they eat at McDonalds. There’s really no other option, as they refuse to eat Indian food because "Indian people are dirty." I find it difficult to refute this claim, and in the interest of promoting American-Iraqi harmony, I set aside my long-held reservations, asked God to please forgive my transgression, and ordered a veggie burger.

As the sun set, the firecrackers began. At first it was just a few snaps and crackles here and there, but soon it was a full-blown war zone with serious explosions rocking the marketplace. And these weren’t just sparklers and fountains, these were rockets and bombs. Being overly sensitive to noise, I flinched each time another bomb exploded, causing my Iraqi companion to chuckle. Turns out he’s from Baghdad, and these noises are just par for the course. He related stories about finding bloody fingers, or half of a child’s body, in the streets of Baghdad on a regular basis. This is why, in fact, he has come to study in India. He will stay here until the carnage has subsided in Iraq and is currently applying for refugee status in any country that will accept him. I was sick as he spoke, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the veggie burger…

Afterwards I met up with my Norwegian friend, a co-worker who has lived in India for the last four years. She recently split from her (Indian) boyfriend and both of us were invited to celebrate Diwali with another co-worker and her family. But I was unprepared for the hours of firecrackers and bombs that were to follow, and by 10pm my ears felt like they might be bleeding. I’ve never felt such pain, and the ringing was incessant. By 10:30 I was no longer smiling. The walk home at 11 was, for me, a nightmare, with huge firecrackers exploding all around us, my fingers permanently glued to my ears. I wanted only to get home and sleep.

To my chagrin, I arrived home to discover - that’s right - more fireworks. My only consolation was the pooja ceremony taking place in the kitchen, where I prayed to Goddess Lakshmi, lit candles, and sang songs for prosperity.

The next morning I awoke bright and early, packed a bag and ventured out into the debris to meet my German friend in the tourist nightmare known as Pahar Ganj. We planned to take a fast train (ha!) to Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna about three hours East of Delhi. My dear Maria has been living in a small village near there for the last two or three weeks, and it was finally time to meet her adopted family.

I could spend another hour detailing the process of navigating the railway station, but suffice it to say that we stood in at least five queues before we obtained a ticket. And when we noticed that the ticket didn’t have any pertinent information – such as train name, number, platform number or departure time – we stood in a couple more queues to find out, all the while pushed and shoved by aggressive Indians. Somewhere in between I was interviewed by a television reporter who asked me, to my great amusement, whether we had been hassled by the crowds!!!

After a long train ride, Maria and Setu (her Nepali companion) met us at the station whereupon we rode a tractor to Barchowli, their village about 8 kilometers away. Upon arrival I was promply whisked away by a group of eager girls and women who proceeded to ask me about my German companion…who was he? Friend? Boyfriend? Husband??

In the past I wouldn’t have hesitated one bit before answering "friend." But after nine months here I have grown wiser, and I struggled to think of the right answer. But in the end I decided I couldn’t say we were married without first consulting him, so I reluctantly admitted that he was just a friend. We later discovered that this was not the right answer…

Aside from that little snafu, the village was absolutely wonderful. While we didn’t "do" much, we did explore the village a bit, tried to speak Hindi with the crowds of eager village people that constantly surrounded us, and even made a trip to the well to collect water, which Maria and I carried home on our heads (picture forthcoming!). We only had two days there, but I was sad to say goodbye and I wished that I had more time to fall in love with the village.

And now I am about to be booted by the internet shop man, so unfortunately I must cut this one short. And I didn’t even get to the horrific ride home on the train this morning! If only it were possible to share every adventure!!!

This one is definitely to be continued…
All my love,

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Happy Diwali!!

Today is the first day of the new year, and Indians all over the capital are completely losing it!!! It's the biggest holiday all year, a remarkable thing considering that every day is a holiday in India...

The last week has seen non-stop firecrackers (which I'm finally getting used to) and traffic like I've never seen in my life. The newspaper is filled with pictures of gridlock all over the city and stories of people sleeping in their cars for hours on end. And of course we are all eating sweets like there's no tomorrow. I think I've put on a good five kilos since I came to Delhi, consoling myself with Indian sweets and lots of Punjabi food (butter daal, butter rice, butter get the picture?). And at the moment I'm battling some serious PMS, so today is the perfect day to forget everything and Indulge with a capital "I."

A few days ago I received a note from a German friend I last saw back in April. He is one of the few people I've met in my travels who inspired my spirit simply by his example, and his arrival couldn't have been better timed. For me it's a small sign from God that, even though I am engaged in a deep internal struggle, my soul will ultimately prevail.

Tomorrow we will head East to a small dusty village near Mathura (Lord Krishna's birthplace) to meet Maria and her adopted village family. It's the kind of village that hasn't seen white people before, but now that they are used to Maria, my arrival will be much less awkward. When I spoke to her yesterday she assured me that I was already "famous" in the village and that everyone is excited to meet me. It should be quite a change from my current incarnation...

May God bless you all on this auspicious day,

with much love and affection,

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Just Another Week in Delhi...

I didn't rush to update my blahg for a couple of reasons, but mostly because I still get the chills when I read the last entry. It's powerful prose that my confused ramblings could never match. And thank you to my commenters, who, in just a few sentences, ensured that the life of that poor chicken from Bandipur was not taken in vain..

This week has been filled with a wide variety of experiences that I am unable to cohere in any way, so before I launch into my ongoing internal struggle, I'll just share some random experiences, thoughts and observations:

A Woman Owned

Auntie Veena is the woman who owns the flat where I stay. She invited me to stay with her in Delhi while I waited for my visa and then promptly went to Mumbai, leaving me, Asha (the maid), and Asha's daughter, Kanchan (9 years old), to work our language barriers out on our own. The only lifeline I have is Auntie Veena's daughter, who I will call “Divya.” Divya is only two years older than me and lives with her husband, daughter, and in-laws just one block away. She is not a talkative woman, and my initial impressions of here were that she was a bit sullen and unfriendly. I rarely see her, and only one or two times have we had any real conversation.

She did tell me about her arranged marriage seven years ago. After she married, she discovered that her husband's parents don't like noise, children, visitors, or daughter's-in-law. But when a woman marries in India, she becomes part of her husband's family. I don't want to call it ownership, but I will. As a typical Indian woman, Divya is completely subject to the whims of her in-laws, who wield complete authority. She literally has no option for “outside” help, that is, her family still loves her, but there is nothing they can do to ease her pain. Divya mentioned that “the first five years” she was miserable, but after that she “got used to it.”

Yesterday I came home to find Divya extremely upset and sitting on the sofa. She told me her in-laws had decided they didn't want her to cook in their house anymore and she was helpless to do anything about it. She said she and her daughter had not eaten, and she didn't know what to do. I listened in silent shock as goosebumps covered my entire body. When she finished I had not a single word of comfort to offer..what could I say? She finished by telling me not to say anything to her husband, because he always hides these things and would be embarrassed...

Divya's life and my life could not be more juxtaposed. Even now I have goosebumps just relating the story. Helplessness is the one thing that always turned me into a raving maniac in my past life (I'm so sorry, Vince), so my brain was on literally overload as I tried to fathom her situation. She is no different from me, but she lives the life of a woman owned. I cannot say how or why, but this little exchange has been permanently etched in my soul.

Gay Kashmiri Fashion Designers??!?

I really just couldn't make this stuff up! In another inexplicable twist of events, I met a group of young fashion designers/artistes from Kashmir (North India). They are super stylish, they like to sing, and they are hi-larious, so of course I said yes when they invited me to attend their book release event at the French Ambassador's residence. Then they asked me if I had something appropriate to wear. Ummmm....

Before I knew it I was whisked to “a friend's house” to raid the closet for emergency clothes. I felt like a precious commodity as they brought me tops, sweaters, and trousers to try, inspecting me carefully and, unfortunately, suppressing no opinions whatsoever about how I looked. We finally settled on a mohair sweater and black trousers with tall silver heels. That's right, mohair. I felt divine, if incredibly strange, as we made our way to the Ambassador's residence. I was positively giddy as we arrived, and that was before I saw the wine and fruit tarts!! Two glasses of red wine later (it's been almost a year since I had red wine!!), I was chatting up a couple of people who worked for the Ambassador, laughing and smiling and thinking to myself, 'yep, I still got it.' After all, working a room is a skill, right Bob? I floated for a while after the event was finished. Moral of the story? Power is a serious drug.

I still don't understand how or why I came to be at this event, but I do have some intuition about it's ultimate purpose as part of my adventures. But I'm quite sure that the meaning of this experience - like all the other seemingly incongruous experiences - will become clear as the puzzle pieces continue to fall into place...

Miscellaneous Bits

Friday is Diwali, the Indian New Year. It's the biggest holiday of the year and for the last week there have been firecrackers throughout the nights. When I hear the firecrackers, I flinch. After all, I come from a gun-loving culture, so to me the blasts could be this a permanent condition?

I have no real plan yet, but it looks like I may finally have an invitation to celebrate Diwali with some people from my work! It's been two full weeks, but these Indian people are extremely difficult to know and understand...I only hope the entire day is not painfully awkward.

I'm finally getting used to servants, but I decided there is no way I will ever be able to speak rudely to them. Ok, so it's “rude” in my culture, but pretty standard here.

Now for the part you've all been waiting for...

endless ruminations about my personal internal struggles! My dear mother, a true force to be reckoned with, recently inquired about why I'm struggling here in Delhi. My response to her is excerpted below. I include it because I learned a lot from it, and maybe it will be of some value to someone “out there.”

My struggle in Delhi is reminiscent of my struggle in DC. The only real difference is one of magnitude. DC deserves its nickname "the epicenter of hell." But Delhi is just your typical, money-hungry capital city.

As was the case in DC, my materialistic tendencies are magnified here. Apparently it has to do with the environment, the energy and the people I've met. At least, that's what I've surmised partly because I've spent time with people who think nothing of hanging out in expensive venues (fancy hotel restaurants/lounges, discos, etc.) where they will casually order an entree costing the same as my punjabi suit. It's standard for them, shocking and extravagant for me.

That said, I freely admit I've enjoyed some good times here. But there is a conflict of interest brewing deep within my soul. While it's been "fun" in the superficial sense, I'm sensing a hefty price tag...

I find myself wanting to dress nicer (like in my old life), with earrings, fashionable clothes, etc. And my thoughts focus more often on my financial status, which is definitely not suited to the posh living standards of Delhiites. It's almost like rubbing salt into a wound that was finally beginning to much of my past was absorbed in material thoughts and interests. I want to leave these patterns behind, not indulge and encourage them!

Thus I am deeply conflicted. Since I came to India, I've been thrilled to "discover" my soul - a simple, contented, loving, peaceful person I never knew existed before. In fact, my purpose for being in India is to unearth and cultivate this soul...about this there is no doubt. The question is, what exactly am I cultivating in Delhi?

I have the tradition of "hurling myself into the fire" to learn the lessons I need. But now that I'm a bit older, I am finally starting to see things differently (If this is not a clear example of God's mercy, I don't know what is).

I understand that my only responsibility right now is to evolve my soul, so that I will be ready when my purpose in this lifetime reveals itself, whatever it may be. I could stay here, engage myself in proper employment, buy jeans, rent a flat and go disco dancing on the weekends...but how does this contribute to the foundation I need for my spiritual progress? I suspect I have been compelled to stay in Delhi specifically to draw my awareness to this conflict within my soul and to clarify my options. That is, I can choose to evolve my spirit in the midst of a greedy western vortex ( a.k.a. The Hard Way), OR I can choose an environment that is conducive to spiritual progress (a.k.a. The Smart Way). This is how I's not necessary anymore to hurl myself into the fire!

Did I mention how great it is to be 30?!!

Hamdullah (thanks to God), I will be here for only ten days more, whereupon I will embark on my next adventure; a two days' train ride to the most westernized city in all of India – Bangalore - where I will greet my dear friend, Fred, at the airport. We've decided to head out to the Andaman Islands and are thinking of putting together some kind of documentary project with photographs. I haven't seen Fred since our unforgettable New Years' celebration in Brooklyn, 2005, and I could pee my pants I'm so excited to see him again...

After that? God only knows, but with a generous March deadline for my return to Delhi, I'll have time for a couple other adventures at least. Heh spite of the struggles, the difficult days and the clouds of uncertainty floating intermittently by, there can really be only one conclusion: I am one seriously blessed soul!

Here's to fighting the good fight!


P.S. I was flipping through my calendar this morning when I noticed that yesterday was marked “election day.” Then I had a sudden thought...was there an election yesterday?! Can I claim disenfranchisement?

Friday, November 02, 2007

"The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion." -Mahaparinirvana Sutra

I realize that this posting with not be a popular one. But this passage really does it for me - especially the last two lines - and since few people actually comment anyway, I decided to risk annoying meat-eaters (including my dear loved ones) everywhere. It's a small price to pay if only one soul out there is moved by the following exerpts: (Presentation by Steven J. Gelberg at the Assembly of the World's Religions, New Jersey, 15-21 Nov. 1985)

"Because he cannot really sense his own soul, the mundane religionist cannot sense it in other creatures and so thinks nothing of feasting on their slaughtered remains. Insisting that some living creatures have life but no soul, he inadvertently assumes the ideologic posture of the materialist, who reduces life to a mere biological function. Under the sway of this contradiction, he fondles one lesser creature and slaughters another, pampering one as his pet and cannibalizing the other as his dinner. Devoid of even rudimentary consciousness of spirit, he remains blissfully unaware of his sin.

"Belief in souls in animals aside, the mundane religionist lacks the moral keenness and simple compassion to be sickened by the bloody cruelty which he tacitly endorses as a human carnivore. Due to dullness, he remains unaware that the creature he blithely eates had to endure unspeakable suffering in the slaughterhouse - suffering for which he himself, as its chief beneficiary, is responsible.

"His scriptures enjoin 'Thou Shalt Not Kill,' but he kills with blind, grinding routine. 'As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren,' says Jesus, 'you did it to Me.'"

...does it warrant, at least, a thoughtful discussion over dinner?

Love you,

PS: I have the feeling that something is coming together...something important, but I'm not sure what. Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ready to Ramble!

First thing I want to know is, did So Cal finally float off into the ocean? My pleas for love have gone unheeded...are you trapped under something heavy? Burnt to a crisp in the desert brush? Abducted by militant border patrol agents? The imagination runs wild...

Last night I spent two hours reading and re-reading a short story; “How does the corn go? Pop, pop, pop. How does the knife go? Chop, chop, chop...” and so on. The maidservant's daughter is nine years old and I discovered that she has no idea how to do her English homework (she has a level 2 book but clearly needs a level 1). We read this same story over and over every day, morning and night. The words bounce around my head incessantly like ping pong balls. I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Now that I am officially free to leave Delhi – at least according to the man at counter number two – I have decided to stay. I've even established something of a routine here, discovering many things in the subtle details of my daily life.

Just as the news of my release came, I committed to doing everyone's least favourite work; I will produce this years' annual report for Pravah. I know, it's a loathesome task. The main reason I agreed was that the deadline for the report coincides with my deadline for leaving Delhi - November 18th – and I prefer to leave a project finished. Besides, for better or worse, I have real skill when it comes to writing BS (Thanks to UCSD, Bob Filner, and CCBRES, to name a few).

My workday officially starts at 10am, but this is more of a suggestion than anything else. I spend most of the day staring at the computer, horrified by the documents I am supposed to edit. My email sits open with no messages while I slip into daydreams of remote mountains and islands. I am interrupted only by the office lady who serves everyone coffees from a tray.

The people who work here are highly educated Indians from all over the country. Their status seems to release them from the conventions of the lower classes; most are non-vegetarian and/or non-religious and the dress code is completely open. I notice also that office culture is the same everywhere. Everyone is overworked, there is too much food floating around, and meetings are painfully time-consuming and ineffective.

In other words, I have doubts about returning here in January as a salaried worker. Yes, it's a great opportunity, yes, I have the need for gainful employment, and yes, the work fits nicely into my philosophical framework, but...

What, exactly, is my point?

Even though my soul feels dull and degraded in this greedy and materialistic western-style metropolis, I can still appreciate the lessons I am learning here.

In the past I was under the impression that my country had a monopoly on soul-destroying apathy and greed. But my experience in Nepal and my experiences here have taught me that this kind of apathy can develop anywhere. Once again, I see that I cannot escape myself and I shouldn't try. The only way out of this is by going through it; I must find a way protect the love and gratitude inherent in my soul from the toxicity of soul-destroying environments like Delhi.

Just last night I practised selective tuning while sitting in the park near my flat. Mosquitoes swarmed all about while my legs and ankles burned and itched. But I told myself it was all in my head; if I could focus on something else, I would forget about the burning. And it worked!

I still don't get these Indian people

One reason India teaches patience and tolerance so effectively is because Indian people are not organized. They are remarkably talented in many ways, but organization is a foreign concept. This extends to everything from the queue at the FRRO office to the papers I am currently editing; Logic and order are conspicuously absent.

So it's best to leave your western predilection for reasoning and specifics at home. And don't bother asking why, because nobody knows, and because there is no reason, and because everyone has a different reason... Really, though, what more can you expect from a culture where the word for yesterday is the same as the word for tomorrow?

I do well here because not only do I accept the inherent confusion and ambiguity of the culture, I revel in it; The more inane the scenario gets, the more I giggle and laugh. Pain is pleasure and vice versa; Without one we cannot experience the other. This is the duality of our lives as human beings. The sooner we truly understand this, the sooner we can accept and even embrace the challenges of life.

About those inspirational tidbits I promised...

The following are a few quotes and things that have inspired me in the last months and I hope you find them inspiring, too:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“Fear less, hope more;
Eat less, chew more;
Whine less, breathe more;
Talk less, say more;
Love more and all good things will be yours.”

Swedish Proverb

“If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can't, you're right.”
- ??

“A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.”
Mahatma Gandhi

"Winners never quit, and quitters never win. However, if you never win, and you never quit, then you are an idiot."- Anonymous (courtesy of The Swiss Contingent)

...okay, so maybe that last one isn't exactly inspiring. I'm not sure how it got in there.

Have you had enough yet? Are you ready to stop procrastinating?? Are you clinging to the edge of sanity like me???

With love, light and wishes of peace,
the eternally optimistic LMA