Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Great Expectations

Before I left for this trip, I had plans... big plans...like I always do. I was going to turn my blog into a travel blog. I was going to finish that memoir that I have 100 pages of! I was going to consider an MFA, maybe even apply. I was going to read all the books I have on the wish list in my head. Or wait, I was going to take little video clips and make that short documentary. And of course, I was going to stick to a regular exercise plan and maybe even learn, yoga. I was definitely going to meditate. I mean, if I don't do all these things now when I have the time, then I'll never do them, right?

Since I was a kid, I have always lived in between that half lit place of having a secret belief that I am special girl with extraordinary powers destined for great things and that half dark place that believes I am unworthy of any of it, destined to suffer great pains, pains which come with some strange sense of responsibility that I am supposed to do something with them. And I call it "that" place, because I don't think I am the only one living there. I mean, surely I was given some love for words because I am meant to write down these life stories. I am meant to pass them, maybe even help someone else going through something similar. Or am I meant to help myself make sense of all the shit that has happened? Is my interest in writing a memoir because I really feel it is an important story to share? Or because I am still trying to organize trauma? It doesn't help when the only things I've written that have been widely read capture some of those moments. Forget the penny for my thoughts, I'll take 10,000 reads on BlogHer in exchange for the most violating experience in my life. And with a blog, it makes the purpose of the writing all confusing. I think, should I now link that BlogHer post to that sentence? But for what? Do I need one more person to read that? The answer is simple: No, I don't. Do I regret it? Of course not. Am I proud of the writing? Yes. But where I am at a loss is where my stories belong. Do my travels belong on a blog or in a journal? Do they belong in a book or shared across a dinner table with a friend? Do my childhood tales of survival in a single parent home belong in a series of essays or a fictional YA novel? Does the story about how I put my best friend's brother in jail when I was 18 belong in an opinion column or shared at a women's empowerment rally? Maybe in an office with other victims of sexual assault? Or does the sudden loss of my grandparents (whom I was estranged from) three weeks after reuniting with them belong anywhere but in a conversation between my brother and I when we sneak away for coffee in one of our treasured visits? My biggest fear is that maybe they aren't meant to be anywhere. That maybe it has all just been a string of terrible random events. That maybe I am not special, just unlucky sometimes. And after some of the things I witnessed in India, I actually believe that, in fact, I am very, very blessed.

When we started out on this trip, I journaled every day and though I didn't blog very much, I was excited about it when I did. Right now, I am not writing at all. Not in journals or blogs and I'm not sure what that means or why I am writing about this here. I am taking lots of pictures, but the writing is nowhere. Like most of my plans, the motivation has slipped through my fingers and I haven't the interest or the strength to chase them. Have I truly lost interest? Has traveling been too intoxicating to focus? My New York City therapist would stop me at this point and tell me that she doesn't buy that I lost interest but that somewhere in me I might feel I don't deserve it. I don't think I have ever bought her theory and yet at the same time, there is a little piece of me that thinks about it. What is at the bottom of the belly of the beast of self-sabotage? What aids in the slow acid-filled digestion of choking one's self over and over again? Of tying one's shoelaces together time and time again so you can tell the other runners that you totally would have been there if you could have gotten those knots out. Is the writing paralysis because I don't know where my stories belong or because I don't know where I belong? And what's with this word belong that keeps coming up? Or is that word the answer: stop trying to belong and try accepting.

Last summer, while trying out a few yoga poses my friend was teaching me, she told me that yoga was not about pushing yourself, but accepting yourself where you are at in that moment in your practice. Traveling has not revealed new things to me about myself but it has helped immensely with accepting the kind of woman I am becoming. When that bullshit Hindu priest trying to sell me a spiritual package told me my mind was butterflies and that I lacked concentration, I had never heard truer words about myself, and surprisingly they didn't bother me. It was kind of a relief for someone to say that to me, no matter how much of it was a recycled line they feed to a million other tourists. And here is where I get even more confused, I tell myself that it's true, that I do lack concentration. That I never follow through with the millions of ideas that I have and then I'll suddenly come to and find myself on a bus bouncing along through Nepal, and I'll think but I'm in Nepal right now. I may not have that book finished, or figured out what to do with this blog in the future, but here I am, traveling the world just a year and a half after getting some wild thought in my head, that after I got married, this is what I really wanted to do.

This New Years, I don't have any resolutions (except maybe learning how to cook). I know myself to know that what stands in my way is not lack of interest or concentration or time, but navigating myself out of that half dark world that still has a hold on me. Somewhere in that third dimension of not failing and also not succeeding, I have built a comfortable home that keeps me unsatisfied but content, unrealized but unstuck. I have no idea what the future has in store for me, but I know that me "figuring it out" has never worked.

We have been in Nepal now for almost two weeks. The country has regulated black outs so that everyone enjoys a piece of the power grid for certain times of the day. I have gotten really good at fumbling my way through an unfamiliar space in the dark, but most of the time, I just stick my hands out in front of me and pray that I don't stub my toe. Is there anything more to it, that that?
Lumbini, Nepal (Birthplace of Lord Buddha)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ken and One Photo (BlogFestivus Day Five)

Ken came to Lumbini with the expectation of seeing the birthplace of Buddha. What he didn’t expect was to become the main attraction. A local school had decided to take their annual field trip. Most of the students were Hindu, some Buddhist, but all were curious in the scruffy Westerner at Maya Devi Temple.

After circumambulating the tree, the kids swarmed Ken who was adjusting his camera. Cell phones were drawn, nervous requests were pleaded.

One photo?!

Photo, please?!


One photo turned into several photos. A young boy stood on the edge of the pictures, wanting to join the group, but not knowing how to belong. When he tried to talk to Ken, his voice was quickly drowned out.

Later, Ken took the long way to the snack stand and found himself standing next to the quiet boy.


The boy held out his hand and they shook.

As an offer of friendship, Ken bought the young man a juice. He waved goodbye and headed off when he soon felt a tug on his sleeve.

The young boy placed a picture of Buddha in Ken’s hand.

One photo? Ken asked.

The young boy nodded and smiled for the camera.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sandra and The Tigers (BlogFestivus Day Four)

When she came to Bandhavgarh, Sandra promised herself she would only splurge on one safari for Christmas. When she didn’t see tigers, she called it a nice drive through the jungle. 

While in town, she spotted two young men, brothers, Westerners.

They excitedly ran up Sandra, one barefoot, the other smoking.

Hey! We’ve been trying to find someone to split a safari with, but the cost is still high. Any interest in splitting?

Sandra thought about it.

We just got word that there’s a fresh kill, a few of them have gathered at!

This was not part of “the plan.” She could miss her train. It could throw off everything! But weren’t these the kind of experiences she was looking for? Wasn’t she looking to be more trusting in the universe? Less controlling about her future? Spontaneous?

Okay, Sandra agreed.

Within an hour they were deep in the jungle. Suddenly, they heard it: the monkey’s call.

The driver raced to a brush with paw prints leading into tall white grass.

Tiger, he whispered. The three went silent, nothing but the sound of beating hearts as they waited for a tiger, and for one safari, Sandra forgot all about “the plan.” 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lydia and Marcus and The Buddhist Monk (BlogFestivus Day 3)

When Lydia and Marcus set out for their 2013 trip, they didn’t think about the holidays they’d miss. So when they found themselves in a community of Buddhist Tibetan refugees for Christmas, they scoured the town for anything with nutmeg. When alas! A sign:

Pumpkin pie

As they stood in line at the coffee shop, they eyed the last piece of plated pumpkin pie disappear into the hands of the Buddhist monk in front of them.

Our pie, Lydia whimpered.

The monk turned. Come sit!

The weary travelers joined the monk. As they drooled over the pie, the monk spoke in broken English asking them about their travels while sharing his own.

One month it took, he said. But in snow, feels like five! He laughed while recalling his escape from Tibet over the Himalaya into India.

But! He smiled, wiggling his ten fingers.

Marcus understood. You kept all your fingers.

The monk nodded.

And your toes? Lydia asked. Any frostbite on your toes?

He grinned. Yes.

The monk pushed the pie in front of them. But here, I have pie.

Lydia and Marcus took a bite of pie and together the three enjoyed the peace of the present moment. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

BlogFestivus Day Two: Daniel and Mami

Daniel made a third attempt to clear a plate and for the third time, Mami stopped him.

Leave, leave. In our culture, the guest is God. Mami said.

When he set out for a year abroad in Asia, his buddy, Ramdas, had offered him a respite from travel with a stay with his relatives in India whenever he needed it. Daniel had expected all the challenges that come with travel. What he hadn’t anticipated was the loneliness he would feel come Christmas.

I don’t even get this treatment from my own family! He chuckled. Ramdas’s mother laughed before picking up the plate and disappearing into the kitchen again, leaving him once more with Mami.

We are all family. All the same, she said. Roti, Kapda, Makan.

Roti…food? He guessed.

She nodded. Food, Clothing, Shelter - what we are all chasing behind.

He sipped his chai. And family?

It is as it has always been. We have known each other before. That is why you came here to visit. Mami said.

And with that Daniel felt the weight of his isolation lift, disappearing into the full moon night he was sharing with his entire family, past and present, bodies and souls. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ingrid and The Hindu: BlogFestivus 2013 - Day One!

It's the return of Blogdramedy's annual BlogFestivus! This year's Holiday writing challenge is based on Dickens's classic, A Christmas Carol. Five days, five characters (Scrooge, the Three Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, Future, and Tiny Tim), 200 words each and the stories have to be in 2013. Every year, this writing challenge spreads wonderful and wicked holiday cheer created by several talented bloggers (which you can find here).

(To check out my previous BlogFestivus stories you can find The Twelve Days of Christmas HERE and Nine Reindeer and the Pursuit of Redemption HERE!)

And with that I give you Day One....Ingrid and The Hindu

It had been nine weeks and two rounds of antibiotics since Ingrid had left for India. Her soles were wearing thin, her patience thinner. She had had enough of traveling, enough of haggling, but most of all, she had had enough of saying the words, “thank you” directly following the word “No.” For weeks she had kept her composure with the touts, the shopkeepers, and the rickshaw drivers.

Rickshaw, madam?

No, thank you.

Come look my shop!

No, thank you.


No, thank you.

Hello! Excuse me, miss!

No, thank you!

Her bag was heavy, her heart hard. She counted the days until boarding a flight to Bali: three. If she could just make it two more nights in Deli without exploding-

Hello, ma’am.

NO!!! Ingrid screamed. As she turned around an elderly man with an orange tika and a confused smile shook his head from side to side. He pulled from a paper bag a handful of roasted peanuts and dropped them in her hand.

For a happy Christmas…ma’am.
Ingrid let the heat from the peanuts warm her hand and felt a tiny frog creep into her throat.

And a happy new year to you, she said. Happy 2014.