Saturday, September 17, 2011

Southeast Asia...better late than never:)

Here I am traveling again and I never posted my last blog for my time in south east Asia...I suppose re-entry to America was a bit distracting. My apologies. I'll be posting from Egypt soon:)
The sun here, especially in LPB, seems red and like it struggles to shine through the smoke of fires. The only comparison I have is when we had those fires in the O.C. I remember how strange the sun looked and felt on my skin, how even though there was less light the heat had been intensified. Very post apocalyptic.
Here, they say "Hey lady, hey lady!!" every where you go, but after India I'm just happy not to be called sir anymore.
Here the ATMs gave US dollars and although American currency is accepted in most foreign countries, preferred in many, I hadn't seen prices given in dollars since I left the states.

Tonight I went out with the girl I met here in Vietnam and her husband. Well, I call her a "girl" only b/c she looked so young, but cute couple. Although they hardly looked old enough to drink, they already had a daughter in first grade!! She's very nice and this was the second night we hung out. Last night we went out to a local bar and played pool which was really fun; alcohol is the great uniter after all. Tonight though she invited me back to her home where she she said we would have a "cooking class" and she would teach me how to cook authentic Vietnamese food!! It was exactly what I look for opportunities to do while I'm in these countries: hang out with a family, bond with the women in the kitchen and drink with the men afterwords. I had homemade liquor (which I could remove my nail polish with between shots) and I ate fox for the first time! That will go on the list right next to eating sting ray in Malaysia:) Sting ray btw is the most fantastic meat I've ever eaten...if you ever get a chance to try it do!!
Halong translates as ‘where the dragon descends’ and Hanoi translates to 'where the dragon ascends'. Legend has it that the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon that lived in these mountains. As it charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses. When it finally plunged into the sea, the area filled with water, leaving only the pinnacles of the rock formations visible.
Russians may have taken over Goa, but the French and the Germans have Southeast Asia in a choke hold!!

Don't bother to ask taxi drivers in Malaysia what country they are from because according to Malaysian law no one except someone born within the country is allowed to be a cab driver. But I found Malaysian people to be quite friendly:) They are fluent in English, quite helpful (which I find common in Islamic countries) and although many of the women wear abayas and the black robe the smiled at me from under their covers. Malaysia had the better qualities of the eastern culture including the cuisine, but brought in the Indian masala as well; Kuala Lumpur had development and building sizes comparable to Los Angeles or Capetown in the center, but if you walked 10 minutes outside the hustle and bustle you'd finds Chinatown and street meat vendors who's grill aroma was simply hypnotizing.
If Asia is the capital of false eyelashes then Malaysia is it's mecca. Every make up counter here has a "lash bar". Yes, you heard me correctly-lash bar. You have the strip kind that are layered, you have the kind that are colored, you even have the individuals which are a bundle of 4 or 5 eyelashes which are glued to the lid. When they aren't trying on the latest lashes they are drinking tea and discussing numerology. Many times over coffee several interpretations of the numbers in my date of birth gave rise to in depth discussion as to what it meant for me and my personality.
The percentage of foreigners here are from Switzerland.

While there may be less people in China than there are in India it sure didn't feel like it. In retrospect India may have been crowded and you may have been sure that people were going to run into you or worse run over you, but surprisingly they would come within centimeters from you and with skill learned only in a country that overpopulated, they never even touched you. In China they mow you down and not think twice about it.
It's VERY clean here, but I quickly figured out why. In a communist country everyone works for the common good, but EVERYONE works. Well, there are a lot of people here to find work for. I was in the store to buy shampoo, this is one of the lesser complicated of my tasks...usually. I mean how complicated can it be- there are pictures and smells to choose from. (Try using these criteria to identify meat...not as easy-or as relaxing.) So I pick up the first bottle, frosted green with an ergonomic shape. These are things I notice now. I don't think anything of the swarm of people both staring at me and speaking very loud- both culturally specific to Asian countries and most pronounced in China I have found. I puck up the bottle and hold it close to my nose, as 2 more people knock into me, and replace it on the shelf as a vision of my 3rd grade teacher is nostalgically brought to the forefront of my mind. (So many scents in the world, why do they always seem to smell of things/people I don't care to remember?) Here's the weird part: I put the shampoo back on the shelf and out of no where a guy wearing all white stands it front of it, straightens it, leans down and squints one eye like he's going to take out the eight ball and satisfied with his work disappears as quickly as he had appeared.
As a communist country China's government essentially has carte blanche. You have only as many rights as they allow you to have and the long arm of the law extends to the internet as well. The powers that be have blocked You Tube and Facebook for all including tourists. The locals have come up with a nickname for the national firewall: they call it the"New Great Wall". Clever huh?
As in Malaysia, all the taxi drivers are Chinese and although they were strongly encouraged by the government to learn English (or at least the essentials) for the Olympics, clearly it made no difference. One thing you can count on the cabbie for though: he'll roll the window down after no more than 2 minutes-EVERY time. Why you ask? They say westerners smell funny; they attribute it to all the milk we drink. They say that must be what makes us smell so sour. Ha!!
They are big on accessorizing here, accessories are as ubiquitous as eyelid stickers and perms, as effeminate men and wearing socks with sandals.
Interestingly, there is a huge Japanese influence here because of all the immigrants. They have the money to afford their creature comforts from home and China is willing to oblige...for a small profit of course.
The Chinese have a reputation in Southeast Asia as the cheapest tourists to visit. They were the tourists in Vietnam who would haggle the price of a one hour massage for $6 down to $4.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

If India only had a system...

I was at the post office the other day mailing postcards to friends and family. In most countries you are able to buy stamps in the same place where you are able to purchase postcards, but this is not the case in India. So be it. I was open to the idea of a journey to the post office anyway. After waiting in a line that really didn't exist except in my imagination, I learned two things: one, don't make up things that create obstacles like lines and use your words even if you think it makes you look stupid. I had waited in that "line" for 45 minutes so when I finally made it up to the window you can imagine my reaction when the guy said I needed to wait in the other line for the other window where I would be able to buy stamps. With forced patience I moved to the other line where I learned to cut the queue. I got to the window where a very tired older man and I communicated via notes that what I needed was stamps for 6 postcards. He sold me the stamps and told me to go put them on. I put them on the cards and returned only to be told that I needed to take the stamped postcards to the window I had gone to first. I went back to that line and cut to the front and attempted to hand my postcards to the man. His reply was a shake of his head and a look of disappointment when he told me it was a holiday weekend. What this had to do with me I had no idea...until he elaborated. He said that because it was a holiday weekend the postal rates were higher and as a result I needed another 2 rupee stamp on each postcard. With what little energy I had left after the 2 hours I had already been there I said to him "Fine, I'll pay the 2 more rupees. Just give me the stamps." His reply was borrowed from the French: impossible! I needed to go back to the other window to purchase more stamps. Indeed if India only had a system imagine what they could do...

In Africa getting money was difficult, in Europe traveling from A to B was difficult, but in India everything is hard!!

You commented on how much I was able to read on my journey, but truly it's as a matter of preservation not only self but otherwise. I do a lot of hurrying up to wait, so I bring a book along, the alternative is to run in circles like a child until I get dizzy enough to pass out. I prefer a book. The one I'm reading right now called "A Mapmaker's Dream" is about a monk in 16th century Venice who struggles to create a perfect map of the world without ever leaving his cell. Travelers bring him tales from all over the world and he uses the info to more accurately depict the lines of demarkation, but what he discovers is that the lines created are only set by those in our minds. It was much more philosophical than I am giving it credit for, but I really enjoyed it:) It also helped to pass the time in the airport when the power went out...

A method to the madness???

Women wear toe rings because it is supposed to bring a healthy baby, so it also acts as a symbol of marriage and trying to have a child. When they do have a child a black power is put on the cheek of the baby to ward off the evil eye and to make the baby look less cute so as to discourage the necessity of passing the coconut shell with candle inside to break the spell. Indian mothers are the most protective and actively involved in their children's life I've seen in any culture.
Whenever a welcoming ceremony was performed in both Nepal and India they would give us garlands of flowers, but I began to notice, and too frequently for it to be a coincidence, that there was hair wrapped within the necklace. When I asked about this they explained that hair is seen as a relic of beauty and that it is given to the gods on many different occasions and that children's heads are shaved when they are very young to ensure thick hair...but just in case the shaved hair of the baby is given as an offering. They said that the hair in the garland was a way of "combining beauties".
Ash, kum kum or sandlewood are worn on the foreheads of the people in the south for two reasons: 1) the ash is a reminder that one day we too will be ash and 2) when put on the place on the forehead, it has an immediate cooling property to it.
India is where modern laws and ancient traditions collide. In a country where love affairs are punishable by death and you must be 25 to drink alcohol, one learns that what is written in the law books and what can be enforced in a population so dense are two different things. In a nation where 24% of GDP goes to national security and defense because of tension with China, Bangladesh and Pakistan. 5 million of India's 1.1 billion citizens are in the military.
I think the most surprising part of Indian culture wasn't the ceremonies, but rather the unexpected conservatism and socially acceptable domestic violence. When traveling to cover up countries you expect the repression of women; it's not only understood by the population it is written into law, but when you arrive in a country so exposed to the western culture and realize how little of it has been adopted it makes you wonder. Women in many parts of the country still ride side saddle on motorbikes and cover their faces in public. Indeed, many of the people especially in the south, are "educated", but I think a distinction needs to be made here when talking about education. Just because you are literate doesn't mean you are educated in the social sense. Infanticide based on gender is still as prevalent in the south as it is in the north and although finding out the sex of your child before birth is illegal it is still done.
Girls are the least desirable of the sexes to the point that one of the greatest insults you can say to someone is "may you have 10 daughters and may they all marry well". (The latter part of the phrase refers to the dowry paid by the family of the bride to the family of the husband.) In spite of this there is a common practice in families full of just sons. In these families one son is chosen, usually the youngest, and is dressed up, made to look like and treated as if he were a girl!! Some of these boys are unable to pull out of the female role and grow up living their lives as cross dressers. One of those occasions where they are allowed into the town is for a ceremony performed once a year for the boys. In this event an idol is built out of wood and tied together to be made to look like a person. The boys are wedded to this figure just before it is set on fire, (a la Burning Man style). The boys cry and scream that their husband is now dead and what are they going to do; this ceremony signifies the justification for their celibacy. These transexuals are exiled by society to the fringes of the towns and the only other time they are allowed to engage with society is when there is going to be a wedding or a child has just been born. In both of these cases a blessing from a transexual is very auspicious.
95% of all marriages are arranged in India and only 5% are what they call "love marriages". In a culture that gives more respect and credibility to men than it does to women it makes being a western woman in the country twice as difficult. Fortunately, I'm aware that my greatest asset in any country is a local and I am quick to meet people. You would be shocked how differently I get treated when I am with an India man than I do in any other circumstance! Something as menial as ordering a meal can take up to 3 hours and then the wrong meal arrives, then you wait another hour for the wrong check, but when I was with an Indian man that never happen.

What I've learned about India:
-Here, they do what is necessary at the moment
-Daybreak, sunset, middle of the night, it doesn't matter- roosters crow when they want.
-Your country is only as educated as the women in it
-Indians are like mirrors- they give you back the same expression you are wearing on your face
-I didn't realize I still had privacy until it was gone in India

What I've learned is international:
-smelly people
-sucking teeth
-cheap filler foods of empty carbs
-negotiable EVERYTHING
-helpful people
-men who waste their time and money playing cards and drinking
-traffic lanes as suggestions and not laws
-out running the police as an option
-staff not privy to the services they provide customers with (ie: tech support when they don't have a computer of their own)

Indians are the Italians of Asia

"There is so much Italian in the Indians, and so much Indian in the Italians. They are both people of the Madonna-they demand a goddess, even if the religion does not provide one. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy, and every woman a dancer when she walks to the shop at the corner. For them, food is music inside the body, and music is food inside the heart. The language of India and the language of Italy, they make every man a poet, and make something beautiful from every banalite. These are nations where love- amore, pyaar- makes a cavalier of a Borsalino on a street corner, and a princess of a peasant girl, if only for the second that her eyes meet yours."

That was a quote from the book "Shantaram" and though it may be true that Indians demand a goddess I assure you they don't value her as much as they would her male equivilent. This was one of the things I found most significant about India: for as exposed as they are to the western culture they are quite conservative as a country. In places like Africa and India's neighboring country, Nepal, the women were conservative to the extent that women from the baby boomer generation would were long skirts that covered their legs down to the ankle and would sit side saddle while riding a motorbike. You could see the progress of a country through the clothing and riding style of the younger girls. In India however every female member of that family piled on the motorbike would be ring side saddle. They have shawls that cover their heads in many areas and many walk a meter behind their husbands. The perception of western women and their "lack of morals" can't help but affect the way we are treated when visiting India...Let me tell you a story:
After arriving in Delhi, a poor and polluted city yes, but developed as far as I was concerned, I needed a beauty day. I went to the closest 5 star hotel with my hair color in hand. After sitting down for my manicure the young man, not more than 19, starts talking to me while my hands soak. He continues while he massages my hands and shoulders, but couldn't understand why I got upset when he started massaging my boobs!! (Btw, I really wish I could say that this is the first time this has happened...I wish I could say that this was the only country. But alas, Egypt's shampoo guy got a little frisky with the bubbles as well.)

God knows it's not India without the wabble, but the funniest part wasn't how I seamlessly picked it up unintentionally, (well that was pretty funny b/c I didn't even realize I was doing it on the phone), it was their responses when I would ask what it meant. No one gave me the same answer! I came to the conclusion that it means any one of the following:
- "How are you?"
- "I'm well"
- "I'm good and you can trust me"
- "I agree"
- "Okay"
- "Okay, but I don't agree"
- "Okay, but I don't want to"
- "No, but I don't want to tell you no"

There are literally people everywhere you go in the country so I think Indians have incorporated the only motto that can work in a country so densely populated: do what is necessary. When getting on the train along with everyone else and their mother what is necessary is to push your way through the non-existant queue and get yourself a seat on the train, but once on and the train begins to move assuring passengers boarded that they have nothing to worry about and passengers still trying to get on to cut their losses, what is necessary is to place one hand on my heart and the other hand on your knee that that I just bumped b/c as the passenger riding in the seat across from you for the next 12 hours that is what is necessary to make our journey pleasant.

75% of India's population are Hindu, the third largest religion in the world next to Islam and Christianity. Hinduism began in 2000 B.C. and Buddhism in 600 B.C.. Shiva, the destroyer or god of new opportunity, is popular in the south. Vishnu, the god who reincarnates himself to come to Earth essentially to save us from ourselves each time is quite popular in the north. (The 9th and latest reincarnation was Buddha.) I was quite unhappy to find that Brahma, my favorite god and husband of my favorite goddess Saraswati, had very few temples. (Saraswati is the goddess of learning and the arts, music and wisdom. She is the goddess students pray to just before an exam!) It seemed everyone was interested in worshipping Shiva and I though that was kind of unfair since Brahma was doing all the creating and Vishnu was continually fixing the situation. When I asked about why I was told of the story where Vishnu and Brahma got into an argument about which of them was more powerful. Shiva was to be referee and took on his largest form. He told Brahma to find his head and Vishnu to find his feet. The legend says that Brahma took a flower from a nest assuming the bird had been able to make it to the top, rather than having to go all the way himself, but when asked about it upon his return he lied and said he had gone to the top himself. His punishment for lying is that there were very few temples built for him.
Durga- Protectress and slayer of the buffalo demon
Lakshmi/Laxmi- Goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity
Parvarti- (married to Shiva) Goddess of power
Ganesh- (son of Parvarti and Shiva) Elephant headed remover of obstacles
Brahma- (married to Saraswati) The Creator
Vishnu- (married to Laxmi) The Preserver
Shiva- (married to Parvarti) The Destroyer

"You Americans may have watches, but we Indians have time"

You know you have been in a developing country when you take a paper towel from the dispenser before you even check the stall for paper. You know you've been in a developing country too long when you try to shove the unused paper towel back in the dispenser when you come out because there was toilet paper.

Here are some of the phrases and facts I've learned since I've learned since I've been in Nepal and India.
"Don't expect a banana from an apple tree"- This is the equivalent to our "you reap what you sow" saying.
"The bathroom may be nice, but you don't take your meals there"- This is used to prove the point that there is a time for everything.
I learned that goats with vasectomies tend to have more meat on their bodies and that goats which haven't been neutered have a stronger smelling meat.
Twice the circumference of an elephant's foot is equal to it's height.
The only place an elephant sweats is from the toenails.

The differences between Asian elephants and African elephants:
Asian African
2 domes on their head 1 dome on their head
10-12 feet tall 12-15 feet tall
Grey color Grey brown color
Spots on the ears and trunk that develop with age No spots at all
Ears are in the shape of India and Nepal Ears in the shape of Africa
Ear flaps forward Ear flaps back
Trunk comes to one point at the tip Trunk comes to two points at the tip
5 toes in the front and 4 in the back 4 toes in the front and 3 in the back

Rhinos only digest 45% of what they eat.
Rhinos always return to the same area to poo and this habit makes killing the rhinos much easier for the poacher because all they have to do is wait there for the rhino to return.
The "Rhino Apple Tree" is named after the rhino not only because they are the primary source of the seeds dispersal, but also because that is the best tree to climb when a rhino is chasing you. It has a smooth bark that won't tear up you skin.
Climbing a tree is one way to get away from a rhino when they attack, but be sure to run in a zig zag fashion because they have thick neck skin which makes it difficult for they to turn their heads or change direction.
When a tiger is attacking it's best to look them in the face rather than run because they will only attack from the back. This is why hunters wear a face mask on backwards when in the wild.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Namaste Nepal

Well I'm finishing up my visit in Nepal and looking forward to my next adventure in India. I've been reading one of the best books I've read in a long time too, a fair contender for a position in my top five as a matter of fact. A nice blend of corruption and the philosophical contemplation of existence and how to objectively determine a measure of good and evil. The perfect in preparation for Delhi: "Shantaram". Below I've included some of the best one liners, although the book is full of them, and some excerpts that moved me. I hope you enjoy as much as I have:) Before I get to that though, I have two short stories of my own and my New Year's Choices to share with you first. The first story is about a guy I met who is working for U.S. Aide in Nepal and the second is about how I was compared to a monk...I know, I was as surprised as you are:)

Without Words
I've always been clear about what my nirvana would be like- it was the happy place I allowed my mind to slip into to indulge myself on occasion. Filled with feathers that licked your skin like eyelashes, warm winds as soothing as the gust from your hair dryer on a cold morning, but most of all I would drown in the sounds of my heaven...the laughing of children; the belly laugh of children who haven't learned yet to restrain their emotions. Not until a conversation I had this week did I realize I had never considered what hell would be like. Sharing traveling stories at the dinner table with two kids from U.S. Aid, one told me about his stint in the Peace Corp. He was placed in a village in Senegal (the western most country in Africa) to coordinate with other teachers to revamp the curriculum. It all sounded quite interesting and I asked if he has learned French before he got there. He laughed and said that that wouldn't have really helped since French was only spoken in the larger cities and he was in a village...where the next closest village was miles away; where the closest American was hours away. That actually didn't bother me as much as the fact that there was no one who spoke English at all in the village. Here he was there to help with the curriculum and I could picture him putting his index fingers on either side of his head and making a "moo" sound while gesturing to the meal on the plate. (Don't laugh, I've done it.) He didn't speak their language and they didn't speak his. This is in no way similar to my situation. Yes, I go into foreign countries where I quickly acclimate to the customs and societal ques given to me by the public. I may be in a different setting than I'm used to, but I can usually find someone eventually who can speak English, albeit broken, English nevertheless. He made an interesting point though after my mind was still trying to get around the idea that had been his reality. He said he chose to go there. That had it been something that was imposed upon him, he might have had a very different experience. Simply because of his approach to the situation, his perspective, he enthusiastically embraced his placement in that village was for 2 years.

While speculating upon some of the situations that may potentially cause a bit of culture shock on my part as I attempt to shove the toothpaste back in the tube by one day returning to the U.S., a story was shared with me from a book called "The Client that Changed My Life". The book is a compilation of accounts from therapists about a client that had a significant impact on their life. The one that reminded this person of my situation was about an American woman who had moved to Taiwan and become a monk. She had lived, chanted and immersed herself in the philosophy of Buddhism and after considerable time in the monastery she developed an allergy to one of the staple foods used daily in their meals. She had no choice but to leave and return to the U.S.. After years of living a fairly simple life without wants and with minimal needs, she found herself overwhelmed with Los Angeles and its life style. She began working as a spiritual guide hired by families for patients in the hospice ward of hospitals, helping them prepare to die. She recounted to her therapist taking several buses to get to a particular hospital in where one of her patients was staying. It was common knowledge that the time between buses was minimal- at best, barely making a transfer possible. People run across the busy street to make it to the next bus for transfer. The buddhist philosophy is contingent upon the principle of divine perfection in each moment: there is nothing you need to be, nothing you need to have (aside from the essentials) and nothing to get to. Life unfolds just as it is meant to. It states that the only moment is now and thus, monks don't run. Upon arrival at the terminal she determined that she would join the default race to the next bus like everyone else, because after all she was trying to re-acclimate to the "real world", but instead of running in stride with the rest of the passengers, she broke into a full-bellied laugh at the absurdity of it all. The whole situation and the significance with which people held on to it as the mob ran from one place to another was just too much for her. The person said that having gotten to know me, he could fore see this as the most challenging of situations- seeing the comedy, and the tragedy for that matter, and just allowing it to be.

10 New Year's Choices for 2010
- Learn 5 new things in each country I visit
- Choose a place to settle down and grow up
- Be generous in spirit by allowing others to contribute to me
- Live life like I'm on top of the jungle gym
- Be with it, whatever "it" may be, even when everything in me wants to run
- Say what I feel no matter how bad I think it makes me look
- Create something that will last on Earth longer than I will
- Fall in love passionately and whole heartedly without holding back
- Live in the present thoughtfully
- See the divinity in each moment

Shantaram ...on love
"The clue to everything a man should love and fear in her was there, right from the start, in the ironic smile that primed and swelled the archery of her full lips. There was a pride in that smile, a confidence in the set of her fine nose. Without understanding why, I knew beyond question that a lot of people would mistake her pride for arrogance, and confuse her confidence with impassivity. I didn't make that mistake. My eyes were lost, swimming, floating free in the shimmering lagoon of her steady, even stare. Her eyes were large and spectacularly green. It was the green that trees are, in vivid dreams. It was the green that the sea would be, if the sea were perfect.
"Her hand was still resting in the curve of my arm, near the elbow. The touch was exactly what the touch of a lover's hand should be: familiar, yet exciting as a whispered promise. I felt an almost irresistible urge to take her hand and place it flat against my chest, near my heart. Maybe I should have done it. I know now that she would've laughed, if I'd done it, and she would've liked me for it. But strangers that we were then, we stood for five long seconds and held the stare, while all the parallel worlds, all the parallel lives that might've been, and never would be, whirled around us...I listened as she spoke to them, but I couldn't understand the language. Her voice, in that language and in that conversation, was surprisingly deep and sonorous; the hairs on my arm tingled in response to the sound of it. And I suppose that, too, should've been a warning. The voice, Afghan matchmakers say, is more than half of love.
"She was so relaxed and at home, so much a part of the street and its inscrutable lore. What I found bewildering, all around me, seemed to be mundane for her. I was reminded of the foreigner in the slum-the man I'd seen from the window of the bus. Like him, she seemed calm and content in Bombay. She seemed to belong. I envied her, the warmth and acceptance she drew from those around her.
"But more than that, my eyes were drawn to her perfect loveliness. I looked at her, a stranger, and every other breath strained to force its way from my chest. A clamp like a tightening fist seized my heart. A voice in my blood said yes, yes, yes... The ancient Sanskrit legends speak of destined love, a karmic connection between souls that are fated to meet and collide and enrapture one another. The legends say that the loved one is instantly recognized because she is loved in every gesture, every expression of thought, every movement every sound and every mood that prays in her eyes. The legends say we know her by her wings-the wings that only we can see-and because wanting her kills every other desire of love.
"The same legends also carry warnings that such fated love may, sometimes, be the possession and the obsession of one, and only one, of the two souls twinned by destiny. But wisdom, in one sense, is the opposite of love. Love survives in us precisely because it isn't wise."

"...'Yes. You're a good listener. That's dangerous, because it's so hard to resist. Being listened to--really listened to--is the second-best thing in the world.'
'What's the first best thing?'
'Everybody knows that. The best thing in the world is power.'
'Oh, is it?' I asked, laughing. 'What about sex?'
'No. Apart from the biology, sex is all about power. That's why it's such a rush.'
I laughed again.
'And what about love? A lot of people say that love is the best thing in the world, not power.'
"They're wrong,' she said with terse finality. 'Love is the opposite of power. That's why we fear it so much.'"

"...She loved the guy. She did it for him. She would've done anything for him. Some loves are like that. Most loves are like that, from what I can see. Your heart starts to feel like an overcrowded lifeboat. You throw your pride out to keep it afloat, and your self-respect and your independence. After a while you start throwing people out-- your friends, everyone you used to know. And it's still not enough. The lifeboat is sinking and you know it's going to take you down with it."

Shantarum ...on acceptance of the differences in cultures
"'It's good to know what's wrong with the world,' Karla said after a while. 'But it's just as important to know that sometimes, no matter how wrong it is, you can't change it. A lot of the bad stuff in the world wasn't really that bad until someone tried to change it.'
"'...I went down from my hotel to meet Prabaker [his guide] on the street. But on the stairwell, there were these Indian guys, one after the other, carrying big pots of water on their heads, and climbing the stairs. I had to stand against the wall to let them pass. When I made it to the bottom, I saw this big wooden barrel with iron-rimmed wheels attached to it. It was a kind of water wagon. Another guy was using a bucket, and he was dipping it into the barrel and filling the big carry-pots with water.
'I watched this for ages, and the men made a lot of trips, up and down the stairs. When Prabaker came along, I asked him what they were doing. He told me that was the water for my shower. That the shower came from a tank on the roof, and that these men filled the tank with their pots.'
'Of course.'
'Yeah, you know that, and I know that now, but yesterday was the first I heard of it. In this heat, I've been in the habit of taking three showers a day. I never realized that men had to climb six flights of stairs, to fill a damn tank, so that I could take those showers. I felt horrible about it, you know? I told Prabaker I'd never take another shower in that hotel again. Not ever.'
'What did he say?'
'He said No, no you don't understand. He called it a people-job. It's only because of tourists like me, he explained, that those men have a job. And he told me that each man is supporting a family of his own from his wages. You should have three showers, four showers, even five showers every day, he told me.'
She nodded in agreement.
'Then he told me to watch the men while they got themselves ready to run through the city again, pushing their water wagon. And I think I knew what he meant, what he wanted me to see. They were strong, those guys. They were strong and proud and healthy. They weren't begging or stealing. They were working hard to earn their way, and they were proud of it. When they ran off into the traffic, with their strong muscles, and getting a few sly looks from some of the young Indian girls, I saw that their heads were up and their eyes straight ahead.'

"Now, long years and many journeys after that first ride on a crowded rural train, I know that the scrambled fighting and courteous deference were both expressions of the one philosophy: the doctrine of necessity. The amount of force and violence necessary to board the train, for example, was no less and no more than the amount of politeness and consideration necessary to ensure that the cramped journey was as pleasant as possible afterwards. What is necessary? That was the unspoken but implied and unavoidable question everywhere in India. When I understood that, a great many of the characteristically perplexing aspects of public life became comprehensible: from the acceptance of sprawling slums by city authorities, to the freedom that cows had to roam at random in the midst of traffic; from the toleration of beggars on the streets, to the concatenate complexity of the bureaucracies; and from the gorgeous, unashamed escapism of Bollywood movies, to the accommodation of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Tibet, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa and Bangladesh, in a country that was already too crowded with sorrows and needs of its own."

"As I walked along the narrow rag-and-plastic lanes of the slum, word spread that the foreigner was on his way. A large crowd of children gathered and pooled around Prabaker and me, close to us but never touching. Their eyes were wide with surprise and excitement. They burst into fierce gusts of nervous laughter, shouted to one another, and leapt into jerky, spontaneous dances as we approached.
"People came out of their huts to stand in every doorway. Dozens, and eventually hundreds, of people crowded into the side-lanes and the occasional gaps between houses. They were all staring at me with such gravity, such a fixity of frowning intensity, that I felt sure they must bear me enormous ill-will. I was wrong, of course. I couldn't know then, on my first day, that the people were simply staring at my fear. They were trying to understand what demons haunted my mind, causing me to dread so terribly the place they knew to be a sanctuary from fates far worse than slum life."

"Truth is a bully we all pretend to like."
"It's a fact of life on the run that you often love more people than you trust. For most people in the safe world, of course, the opposite is true."
"As the minutes passed, I reflected on that particularly Indian custom of amiable abduction."
"We have a saying in Persian- Sometimes the lion must roar, just to remind the horse of his fear."
"The burden of happiness can only be relieved by the balm of suffering."
"I think there are two points about suffering that we should remember, and they have to do with pleasure and pain. The first is this: that pain and suffering are connected, but they are not the same thing. Pain can exist without suffering, and it is also possible to suffer without feeling pain...The difference between them is this, I think: that what we learn from pain-for example, that fire burns and is dangerous- is always individual, for ourselves alone, but what we learn from suffering is what unites us as one human people. If we do not suffer with our pain, then we have not learned about anything but ourselves. Pain without suffering is like victory without struggle. We do not learn from it what makes us stronger or better or closer to God."
"Every virtuous act has some dark secret in its heart...and every risk we take contains a mystery that can't be solved."
"Cruel laughter is the way cowards cry when they're not alone, and causing pain is how they grieve."
"You can never tell what people have inside them until you start taking it away, one hope at a time."
"I love him because he has the task, where other men do not even have the dream, of changing the whole world."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas in Nepal

In addition to the hands on learning, I've been doing a lot of reading; "Things I want My Daughters to Know", "Cathedral of the Sea", "A Brief History of Nearly Everything", "Three Cups of Tea", "The Secret Life of Bees", "A Year in Provence", "Paradise in Our Backyard", "The Memory Keeper's Daughter", "The Time Traveler's Wife" and "Something Borrowed"...(I spend long hours in airports, what can I say?) But the book I'm currently reading is "The Motorcycle Diaries" by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. Its a first person account of his travels through South America to North America with his best friend on a motorcycle named "La Poderosa", meaning the "powerful one". The nine month journey takes these two from Argentina to Chile, Peru, Columbia, and Venezuela before making it to the U.S. and then back to Argentina all the while keeping records of their disasters and discoveries. In the introduction "So We Understand Each Other", Che shares, much better than I, what traveling and journaling can and cannot do. Enjoy:

"This is not a story of incredible heroism, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least I do not mean for it to be. It is a glimpse of two lives that ran parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams.
In the nine months of a man's life he can think a lot of things, from the loftiest meditations on philosophy to the most desperate longing for a bowl of soup-in total accord with the state of his stomach. And if, at the same time, he's somewhat of an adventurer, he might live through episodes of interest to other people and his haphazard record might read something like these notes.
And so, the coin was thrown in the air, turning many times, landing sometimes heads and other times tails. Man, the measure of all things, speaks here through my mouth and narrates in my own language that which my eyes have seen. It is likely that out of 10 possible heads I have seen only one true tail, or vice versa. In fact it is probable, and there are no excuses, for these lips can only describe what these eyes actually see. Is it that our whole vision was never quite complete, that it was too transient or not always well-informed? Were we too uncompromising in our judgments? Okay, but this is how the typewriter interpreted those fleeting impulses raising my fingers to the keys, and those impulses have now died. Moreover, no one can be held responsible for them.
The person who wrote these notes passed away the moment his feet touched Argentine soil. The person who reorganizes and polishes them, me, is no longer, at least I'm not the person I once was. All this wandering around 'Our America with a capital A' changed me more than I thought.
In any photographic manual you'll come across the strikingly clear image of a landscape, apparently taken by night, in the light of a full moon. The secret behind this magical vision of "darkness at noon" is usually revealed in the accompanying text. Readers of this book will not be well versed about the sensitivity of my retina- I can hardly sense it myself. So they will not be able to check what is said against a photographic plate to discover at precisely what time each of my "pictures"was taken. What this means is that if I present you with an image and say for instance that it was taken at night, you can either believe me or not; it matters little to me, since if you don't happen to know the scene I've "photographed"in my notes, it will be hard for you to find an alternative to the truth I'm about to tell. But I'll leave you now, with myself, the man I used to be..."

Arriving in Kathmandu and making the 13 kilometers journey outside of the capital to Bhaktapur, home to Durbar Square. I would be in Bhaktapur teaching for 2 weeks before the rest of the group comes to Nepal. I was able to take in the sights, sounds and smells of my newest country. This square used to be the former palace of the royal family (when Nepal was run by a monarchy). The square is filled with temples, buildings, monuments and in keeping with the authenticity of the ancient city, the roads are quite narrow so automated transportation were not allowed in, but progress made this impossible. So buses, cars, motorbikes, buffalo and tractors navigate the narrow roads with a kind of iron determination that would surely cause me to have a heart attack if I were to try the commutes they make. I actually had an in depth discussion about the driving situation with my sherpa A.D.. We decided that motorbikes began as a great idea, a way in which to navigate through traffic and wind around the obstacles that keep four wheel vehicle at a stand still...but then more and more people began to see the advantages and their semi-affordability- at least compared to cars. (The 265% motor vehicle tax makes owning a car nearly impossible, but owning a motor bike possible). People bought motorbikes and now no one can get through the traffic jams-especially the motorbikes!! The lines in the road here aren't even a "suggestion" as I've been referring to them in other countries.

I walked the intricate alleyways of Thamel, the "downtown" district of Kathmandu during the time I have off for a change of scenery. The following weekend A.D. and I went to explore Pokhara, one of the Top 5 tourist trekking destinations in the world. It was full of nature and beauty beyond imagination. We hiked up to the World Peace Pagoda, just a large white mass at the top of a mountain until you get to the top. It was beautiful, but the view from up there was breathtaking!! We took a canoe ride from lakeside to the Hindu Temple island:)
As with most of the poorer countries the biggest problems are pretty standard: drinking water, food, poverty, corrupt government, (including the 25% income tax and strikes which make businesses, schools and roads shut down.)

-The group got in yesterday from the U.S. and I met them in Kathmandu. We will be traveling all over Nepal presenting scholarships to girls in primary schools funded by donations to the foundation I'm working with. It was eye opening for me because it wasn't until I was with my own people, so to speak, that I was really able to see the changes in myself. I'm much more laid back as far as my expectations on time frames, delivery on services and the length of time a meal should take. I enjoy conversation more because I'm less rushed and I feel like I can engage in a conversation that I might not have started if I thought the meal would only last 40 minutes. I really enjoy 3 hour meals with tea before and coffee after, I enjoy moseying along the streets of a city with no particular place to go...and no need to pretend I'm on my way to somewhere important to ward off approachers for that matter. I love sitting in coffee shops, tea houses or market places and not take my book out. Instead I can transform a stranger into a friend...probably even learn something. I walk with the humility of seeing too many hungry faces; no longer the swagger of a tourist in new travel gear who believes that reading the guide book has prepared them for the streets. No, I've seen too much truth to not bow my head and pull my hands together for a child I meet; the god in me will always recognize the god in them. (That is the literal translation of "Namaste").

-Load-shedding is a term most people in the U.S. aren't familiar with, but the way our energy use is going we may be soon. It is where districts/cities/towns elect few hours per day in which they will go with out power to share the load of the electricity usage. In Tanzania they took a different approach: they elect a full day, from 9a.m. until 11p.m. in which they go without.

-Add to the list of things I've tried: I ate buffalo meat, yak cheese and the most delightful sweet treat called goodpack.

-For their New Year's celebration (in April), they have a week long festival in which they throw rocks across the square at each other to get out the frustrations and anger of the year before. Because everyone is throwing the rocks there is a sense on anonymity so when someone says they got hurt, the typical response is "Oh, one of my rocks must have hit you".

-These are some expressions in Nepali that I've learned:
"The tongue has no bone"- It means that people can twist words all kinds of ways to make it sound pretty to the ear.
"I've changed my clothes more times than you have"- It means I'm older than you and have more experience.
"The mustache doesn't prevent the mouth from eating"- It means if you want something bad enough, nothing will get in your way. (Similar to the expression "Where there is a will, there's a way".

-The colored flags you see all over Nepal are the Buddhist prayer flags written in a language only the monk know how to read. They are covered with the written prayers, but when the sun has faded the flag to the point where they are no longer able to be read, they say that that is when the prayers have gone up to heaven.

-"Garaha" is the energy someone gives off; the unexplainable attraction or repulsion you feel for a person even before you have spoken with him/her.

-In the pictures of the water spouts throughout Nepal you will notice that most of them are made in the shape of a frog or a snake of some sort. This is because when the pipes would clog up, they would send a frog up through the pipe and a few minutes later they would send a snake in after it. The frog would break up the clog in the pipe trying to get away from the snake. Brilliant!!

-I was surprised to hear that although Nepal is one of the poorer countries as well as quite small, they sent 80 representatives to the G Summit in Copenhagen. Interesting because with that many representatives one would hope for a better line of defense against the pollution than surgical masks color coordinated to match their outfits.

-Perhaps it is because of the pollution, at least that is what I choose to think, but I've never heard so much hawking and spitting in my whole life!! Everyone here, including the women, spit on the streets. They say it is caused by the exhaust, but I've been breathing the same air and I'm not doing that...but then again I am getting headaches.

-Today's pollution level should have been much better because it is the first day of ANOTHER 3 day strike organized by the Maoists. The story is they want more power, influence and money. They have 40% membership in Parliament they feel they aren't fairly represented in the government so to retaliate they use their presence in government to stop potential progress and have imposed a "general" strike on the whole country. What this means is that every school, store, restaurant, business, market and petrol stations are closed; every bus, car and motorbike is off the street and no one risks challenging the Maoists who march through the streets. This isn't because the people agree with them, in fact it's ONLY because they are afraid of them that they adhere to the strike. The charred remains of businesses whose owner thought they might get by or the dented cars of the drivers that thought they would be lucky are left as a visible reminder and warning to the rest. In order for our guide to pick up arrivals from the airport he had to make a deal with a taxi driver he found on the road. Not only did he agree to pay a higher rate because of the risk the driver was taking, but he agreed to take care of any damages incurred should the car be attacked along the way.