Homeward Bound

March 19, 2010


I’m sittin’ at the railway station
Gotta ticket for my destination…

Home, where my thoughts escape me
Home, where my music’s playin’
Home, where my love lies waiting silently for me…

-Simon and Garfunkel

Yesterday, my brother John, my sister Brigitte, and myself went to the Inkong’s house for lunch. The Inkongs are Jack’s family, and Jack is my sister’s boyfriend. Jack’s mom cooked us a feast since it was my last day on Ko Tao. We had rice, tom yum, spicy shrimp, molded blood cubes (you read that right…), and iced cucumbers to cool everything down. The whole family was there: Jack, his sister Ray, Ray’s baby, and both of Jack’s parents. The Inkong’s care for Brigitte, John and I as if we were their own.

The last few weeks have been amazing. I have been blessed to have spent time with Brigitte and John. We’ve partied, suntanned, shared books, gone swimming, had long talks, laughed, hiked through the jungle, and spent time with friends from around the world. I know it is rare and lucky to be so close to your siblings, and to be able to spend time with them abroad, and for these last few weeks, I am infinitely grateful.

Yesterday, Brigitte and I were talking. I can’t believe your trip is already over! she said, eyes huge. It seems like yesterday that you got here! She shook her head in a fatalistic manner. Before we know it, we’re gonna be sixty! Brigitte is in a continual battle with time. It’s no use assuring her that it is a battle she cannot win, and that she may as well accept it. She insists on playing the game, trying to wrap her mind around something that minds are not able to wrap around: the passage of time. Brigitte, I said. You’ve gotta quit trippin’ about time! She shot me a look and then brooded for a moment. What she said next cracked me up. You like to blog, I like to trip out about time, okay?!

It’s true. While I can’t understand why Brigitte continually frustrates herself by trying to comprehend and compartmentalize time, she cannot understand why I blog. Brig, I say. Blogging is just a way of sharing your writing. It only sounds nerdy because of the name. But she’s not convinced. So we’ve decided to leave each other alone in regards to our individually strange habits.

But I do have to admit: This year has flown by. And I’ve been blogging the whole time 😉 So on this last night of my trip, from steamy, hot, noisy Bangkok, I want to thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Because of you, I had a stage to dance on, a place to practice the art of writing. Your comments, your thoughts, and your personal emails made all the difference in the world. You inspired me to keep writing, because I knew you were reading. And simply by reading, you supported me in doing something that I love, and helped me become better at it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It has been a joy writing for you.

In twenty-four hours, I will be on a plane bound for Seattle. In the past, going home was always a bummer. Leaving the world behind was like returning to school after summer vacation. Returning home after a month abroad with friends, we would pose for pictures looking sad, thumbs turned down. No one wanted to go home. Why would you?

This time, it’s different. Going home is the best part. A year ago, I said goodbye to Seattle, and to someone I loved very much. Drew has supported me one hundred percent during this year away, and also for the year leading up to this trip, as I planned, researched and saved. He’s never asked me to come home, but he’s always let me know that he will be there for me the moment I do. Stay away as long as you can, he says. Don’t come home just because you’re bored, or you miss me. Stay away as long as possible. He knows what’s good for me. And now, what’s good for me is coming home.

In the twelve years I’ve known Drew, he’s always had an uncanny ability to find me. I would get a strange tingling sensation, look up, and see Drew climbing in my window. I would deliberately disappear from a crowded scene or party, and minutes later, Drew would appear, looking concerned. He always seemed to know exactly where I was.

Years ago, a group of us went camping at the Gorge. Drew didn’t have a ticket to the show, so he was going to sneak in. By then, I knew it was useless to ask him how he’d find me in a crowd of forty thousand people- somehow, he always did. Later, dancing on the grassy hill to Tom Petty, I felt someone’s arms go around my waist, and Drew was there, kissing my ear.

Now it is my turn to find him. I know exactly where I’m going. Soon I will be in a sunny apartment in West Seattle, where books line the shelves, plants grow on windowsills, and my love is within comfortable reach. If India was a strange, curried stew with eyeballs floating in it, and Thailand was an ice cream sundae, then Drew is my cherry on top.

So on that mildly strange note, thank you again for being with me this year. You have supported me in ways you couldn’t have imagined. I feel like I’ve connected with many of you in new, surprising ways, and it makes me happy to have done so. I look forward to seeing every one of your smiling faces when I return.

Muchos besos, and follow your dreams!!!

Love,

Sarah

Advertisements

Spiritual Poser

February 16, 2010

Satyam was his “spiritual name.”

Back home in Canada he was probably an awkward Alan or a socially-inept Ian.

But at this Westernized ashram in India, he was Satyam.

At mealtimes, he patrolled the dining hall, ordering people into uniform rows and attempting to squelch all speech.

Um, Om Namah Shivaya, he’d say over the microphone, twisting his ankles and fidgeting.

Hello, Om? Yeah, um, we usually don’t talk in the dining hall during meals, so, could you like, keep silence? Okay, thanks. Om.

His eyes were ice blue, his gaze slightly hostile. Asking him a question invariably resulted in awkward hand fluttering, cutting looks that communicated his displeasure at being bothered, and a final inconclusive answer.

Though Satyam was a cold motherfucker, he was also strangely empty. Zombified. I sometimes wondered if these so-called “spiritual leaders” had been poisoned or hypnotized. On their paths to enlightenment, they had acquired a queer, blank-looked expression in their eyes.

One day, I needed to print some visa documents. The printer in the shop was broken, so the girl at reception directed me to the back office. Stepping into the office, I encountered Satyam. Uh oh. He was sitting in a wheelie chair, intently web-surfing. He looked up, startled.

Hi, I said, noticing the empty computers just waiting to be used. Satyam looked at me with those expressionless blue eyes, and I couldn’t tell if he hated me or was just looking through me. He didn’t utter any encouraging words, so after a moment of silence, I continued.

The printer downstairs is broken, and I was told that I could print out a visa document here. Would that be alright?

He stared at me blankly. After a moment, he seemed to shake himself out and wake up.

He wet his lips and raised an eyebrow. I was clearly infringing on his territory.

They told you WHAT? he asked.

I repeated myself.

He stared coldly.

Then he turned back to the screen and seemed to direct all of his negativity towards it. His lips moved violently, though no sound came out, and I noticed they were very tight and white around the edges.

WHO exactly told you that you could use the printer? he asked, as I took the seat he was so loathe to offer me.

It was the American girl, I said simply. Satya.

I knew that he would instantly figure out the offender’s identity if I didn’t tell him. He made a disgusted sound, and began jabbing at the phone with his bony white finger. He straightened up, put his hand on his hip and waited, tangibly emanating bad vibes in my direction. I was somewhere between mild discomfort and growing annoyance, but I tried to focus on the task at hand. Then his voice broke in.

Um hi, Satya? It’s Satyam.

Tight chuckle.

Um, yeah, there’s a girl in here, and she said that you said she could print some documents…?

Pause…

Um, yeah, well actually, that’s not okay.

He was standing a foot away, speaking directly in my direction.

Oh, the other printer’s broken? Okay, well, yeah, I understand that, but you’ll just have to direct people to the next town over if they want to print things, because we can’t just have students coming back here any time they want and printing stuff, okay?

Silence.

I kept typing.

Yeah, okay, well, I just thought that you should know that. Okay, yeah, thanks. I mean, you’re welcome.

Satyam fumbled on the phone for a moment, his sudden burst of courage and valor draining from him. Then his voice changed and he did something that made me want to laugh and puke at the same time.

Ommmm… he sang sweetly into the phone.

I’d had enough. I stood up, shouldered my bag and walked out the door.

Um, so, did you get to print that document? Satyam called to my retreating back.

I turned.

No, I said. I’ll just do it in the next town over.

He nervously fingered the edge of his white dhoti.

Well, it’s um, okay if you want to print it here, he offered in a small voice. He reminded me of a prissy little brother who has just gotten you in trouble and kind of feels bad.

I shook my head.

No, I’d rather not, I replied, and turned away from his strange, spluttering alien sounds.

Despite the cost and inconvenience of traveling to the next town over, I felt mildly vindicated. I hadn’t taken Satyam’s spiritually-devoid bullshit.

Om.

 


A Diarrhea Moment

February 16, 2010


Travelers in India are notorious for openly discussing their bowel movements. Why? Because India is a land of widespread poverty and poor sanitation. Hand-washing isn’t optional, it’s impossible. Restaurant kitchens often look like war zones. Amoebas, worms, and hostile bacteria inhabit food and water, and foreign travelers in particular are susceptible to these ubiquitous bugs. Our immune systems are wholly unprepared from such an all-out attack.

 

Katherine was a very open woman.

We sat at a seaside café in Goa, and over iced coffees she told me about her fears of professional rejection, how her relationship to Tai Chi had changed over the years, and her plans to write a book titled My Years In America: A Dance With Delusion.

Tears wet her eyes when she recalled her brother’s struggle with morphine addiction, and she snorted out loud when describing her first visit to the gynecologist.

I barely knew Katherine. We had just met.

Her incisor teeth were particularly sharp, wolf-like when she laughed. Her hands were large, square. Now she was recalling a young lover she met on this very beach.

Let’s see, he was… he was about nineteen, and I was… well, gee, I must have been thirty-eight!

She threw back her head and laughed, then slapped the table. I tried not to look surprised.

Oh, what a love affair that was, she continued, sighing and running a hand through her coarse blonde hair. He helped me get in touch with my femininity.  She gazed wistfully at the waves. And I helped him become more masculine.

A moment’s pause.

A light sea breeze.

And then…

A startled look on Katherine’s face. Scrambling feet. Chair scraping against dirt. She stood up so quickly, the chair almost toppled over backwards. She caught it, righted it, and wheeled on me, a wild look in her eyes.

I’m sorry, she said, spinning on her heel, moments from sprinting out the door.

I’m having a diarrhea moment!


The Coconut Thing

February 16, 2010


Goa is where India takes off its sari, swings it over its head, and throws it into the sparkling waters of the Arabian sea.

Hippies abound, and cows are on the menu. Goa is technically a Christian state, so while the rest of Hindu India reveres those holy animals, Goans conk them on the heads, fry them up, and put them on buns.

Dreadlocked Europeans and sunburned Americans roam the streets, girls in tiny bikinis and deliberately torn tee-shirts, and boys on motorbikes, tans deep, tattoos faded.

If the rest of India is old-school, conservative, and intensely curious, Goa is chilled out, kinda proud, and doesn’t give a fuck.

It is a wonderful respite from the rest of the country, and when the sun goes down in the western sky, burning red and unbelievable, hippies dance to bhajans, and naked babies splash at the edge of the playful sea.

I spent ten days in Goa, and never grew tired of the unabashed hippie life that flourished there. The place was simply crawling with hippies. They wore cowboy hats and garnet rings, rolled perfect spliffs with tobacco-stained fingers, twirled hula hoops, juggled rainbow balls, and played guitars, hand-drums, and strange flutes at twilight.

One night, a woman appeared at the water’s edge in a flowing costume of transparent white, bangle bracelets climbing her arms, black hair a ribbon on the breeze. She made love to the sea with fluid limbs and twirling wrists, her ecstatic face turned to the sky.

Other mornings, I watched the hippies race through the palm grove on their motorbikes, colorful batons fastened to their backs. Their hair whipped in the wind and their Ali Baba pants billowed out around their steadfast legs.

Hippie children, their hair corn-rowed and braided, spoke like little adults in a way that was riveting but disturbing.

Young mothers bounced diaper-less babies on their hips.

One particularly sunny morning, I wandered to a hut with dozens of coconuts piled up in front. I ordered a coconut juice and the man selected a large green coconut from the pile. Pulling out a machete, he whacked open the top in three sharp bursts, wrenched the new lid loose, and stuck in a straw. I carried it to the small hut next door, and sat down in the shade.

The coconut juice was delicious, soft and warm and refreshing all at once. I watched a deeply tanned hippie approaching, his wings of hair flapping on the breeze. He strolled up to the coconut man, ordered a juice and paid for it, and sat down. He kicked up his feet, ran a hand over his bare belly, and sucked juice through the straw. Another hippie approached.

Hey man! called the hippie with the coconut. What are you doin’?

The other hippie squinted, and then seemed to recognize his friend. He was wearing tight cut-offs ripped just above his knees, and his bare chest displayed the remnants of florescent body paint, the undeniable remnants of a jungle rave.

Oh, I’m just comin’ down off the Old Monk, he said, referring to the abominable Indian rum that is relevant in those parts. I’m on a mean hangover trip…

Everyone in India seems to be on a trip of some sort, or doing ‘a thing.’ He turned to the coconut hippie. What are you up to, brother?

The coconut hippie took a long, satisfied pull from his straw, and then confirmed the bold statement I just made above.

Oh you know, dude, he said, kicking up his feet and smiling at the sea.

I’m just doin’ the coconut thing.


Thank You, India

February 12, 2010


Thank you, India, for giving me a harder shell, but a softer heart

For Purnima, Jaman, Danny, Sierra, Suniti, Dom, and so many others… friends of solid gold

For the Dalai Lama’s smile, and red bracelet blessings from the Karmapa of Tibet

For teaching me to use profanity freely and at the top of my lungs, whether I was being groped in public, or having my room broken into in the middle of the night by punk-ass, would-be thieves

For Goan sunsets

For giving me dysentery, worms, high fevers, noteworthy nausea… nothin’ scares me anymore 😉

For the remarkable teachers I was meant to have… Swami Mahadevananda, Leila, Sharat, Goenka-ji, Swami-ji…

For waking up the knowledge of yoga within me

For the roar of the lions at Neyyar Dam, and the sky turning pink over palm trees

For spontaneous cups of chai on a stranger’s front porch, high in the mountains of Kullu Valley

Thank you, India, for satisfying an urge I felt for so long

For teaching me a degree of modesty

For showing me how beautiful, pristine, and forward-thinking my side of the world is

For clarifying so many things

For brown skin, and big white smiles

For posh West Bandra, giggling elevator boys and heavy oak doors

For teaching me to wear bright colors and flowers in my hair

Thank you for showers under waterfalls, and wild apple orchards

For colorful washing, hung out to dry

For mists and slippery mud trails

For wild roses

For sneaky joints and strong coffee on Purnima’s patio

For my enchanted hut in Bhagsu, mythical, magical, a fairytale cottage that always seemed to float three feet above the ground

For phantom bears in dew-drop cornfields

Thank you, India, for showing me that the world is my home

For the Himalayas

For your distinct, lilting accent

For your remarkable mastery of English

For deities with blue skin and flowing white robes, cosmic minds and third eyes

For Shiva and Parvati, Krishna and Saraswati

For morning bhajans and tambourines

For stoned holy men who wear their sunglasses at night

For wild marijuana and rushing streams

For the overgrown Beatles ashram, ropy vines, broken windows, rising turrets, and chattering monkeys

Thank you, India, for making me stronger

For being the stage on which I practiced being the person I want to be

For giving me time and space

For braying donkeys, swaying cows, and snorting pigs in the middle of the city

For teaching me to spot a scam a mile a way

For your ancientness, and your deep and lasting connection with Truth

For Swami Sivananda, and Swami Vishnudevananda… may the purity of your teachings move through me with ease

For the icy Ganga in steaming Rishikesh

For your utter chaos- traffic jams and blaring horns, children on bicycles in the middle of the freeway, crazy cows charging foreigners on narrow suspension bridges, wild monkeys flinging themselves at me in unprovoked attack… there was never a dull moment!

For your curiosity- maddening at times, but endearing in retrospect

For your gentle monks and roadside fortune-tellers

For saddhus in loincloths who live in dull mud huts

For the incomparable hippies that are drawn to your land- bare-footed and feather-earringed, ash-smeared and spirit-seeking, fucked up, kneeling and praying, searching, searching, searching… I’ve never seen anything like it

For teaching me to feel my heart, and my blood, and my brain in meditation

For holding me as I fell more deeply in love

For doubled-over laughter, and confessions over coffee

For being the place where I finally grew up

Thank you, India

Thank you, thank you, thank you


Kriyas

February 12, 2010


Kriyas are yogic cleansing exercises.

There are vomiting kriyas, nasal-flossing kriyas, gauze-swallowing, pleghm-removing kriyas, tongue-scraping kriyas, nostril-washing kriyas.

Kriyas cleanse you from the inside out. They are fascinating, and sometimes disgusting.

We learned all the kriyas in one day. And then we practiced them.

But before they let us loose with hot salt water and vomit basins, they taught us how to do the kriyas properly.

When swallowing gauze, you wet it first, so that it goes down your throat more easily. Then you swallow it an inch at a time, to prevent a gag reflex from happening. When you pull out all six feet that have just been ingested into your throat and esophagus, the gauze is saturated with tasty phlegm and unidentifiable speckles of grossness.

When flossing your nasal cavities, gently thread the tiny rubber tube down one nostril and carefully extract it as you feel it beginning to emerge in the back of your throat. Then you can pull it gently back and forth, a miniature game of nasal-tug-o-war, cleaning out clinging snot and persistent mucus.

When vomiting, drink eight to ten glasses of salt water really fast, and then go and stick your fingers down your throat. This is to cleanse your upper digestive tract. But only do it once a week!

Shambu stood up on stage, his chest broad, his presence powerful. Somehow, miraculously, he managed to hold the attention of all one hundred and seventy students for the entire month of the Yoga Teacher Training. But it was never easy.

Now everyone was shouting excitedly as the demonstration took place on stage.

Dude, look at her pulling that tube out of her throat! shouted an excited American guy. He was pointing to the volunteer on stage who was obediently flossing her nasal passages with a rubber tube.

 

Then it was time to demonstrate the vomiting. Shambu was shouting on stage, trying to hold everyone’s attention.

Now everyone keep your eyes up here! he said, waving his arms to keep us focused.

Satya had volunteered to demonstrate, and already she was gulping down glass after glass of warm salt water.

A hush came over the crowd as we watched in anticipation.

One glass, two… four, five… eight, nine…

Nothing happened at first.

Stray eyes wandered over to where Maria from Spain was masterfully swallowing gauze on stage. She looked like a magician inserting blazing fire batons down her throat. Her large breasts heaved as she swallowed another inch, another.

She must be at five feet already, I heard someone say.

And then, a heaving sound.

All heads whipped back to where Satya was now leaning over a huge, empty tub. She grasped one side with her white-knuckled fingers, while the fingers of her other hand were jammed astonishingly far down her throat. Her eyes bulged and purple veins stood out on her forehead as she began vomiting a stream of clear liquid into the basin.

Please direct your attention to this side of the stage! Shambu was shouting, running from Maria’s busty magician antics to stand by Sattya’s side as she gagged.

Now the throwing up process has begun, he narrated, while she heaved and retched, spewing out a spastic stream of salt water into the basin.

Everyone watch Satya as she performs this cleansing kriya! he boomed.

You want to make sure that your fingers are lodged directly in the back of your throat, and that you don’t stop vomiting until you have expelled all of the salt water you ingested!

Meanwhile, Satya’s shoulders were jerking, and involuntary tears were streaming from her red-rimmed eyes. Always the good sport, she held up her fingers in the peace sign and tried to smile through the cascade of salt water that was exploding between her lips.

Later, we were all herded down to the lakeside, where we were given our very own kriya cleansing kits- neti pots for rinsing out our nasal passages, yards of clean gauze to swallow and pull back up our throats, tongue scrapers, red rubber nasal flossing devices. Huge pots of steaming salt water had been set up at the lake’s edge, and already teachers were ladling out nauseating cupfuls to eagerly waiting students.

I started easy. I scraped my tongue, tilted my head from side to side, and poured salt water through my nasal passages. Then I attempted to swallow several feet of gauze, but quickly gagged, and pulled all the gauze up in one go.

I was relatively successful with the nasal flosser. I guided it all the way up my right nostril, and was able to catch hold of it between my fingers as I felt it emerge in my throat. But once I began flossing, the weirdness of what I was doing hit me, and I had to pull it out of my throat as quickly as possible without gagging or vomiting.

When it was time to gulp down the salt water, I looked around and laughed out loud. People were doubled over, hands on knees, heaving, gagging, retching, coughing and spitting. Others had red rubber tubes hanging out of their nostrils, while still others cheered at having successfully swallowed several yards of gauze and then pulled it out again, coated with the sticky, discolored muck that had been living in their throats.

When it was finally over, we made our weary, watery-eyed way back up to the ashram, where many of us crashed on our backs and stared blankly at the ceiling of the Shiva Hall. I was technically “cleansed,” but I felt more exhausted than cleaned out. I decided that the kriyas are a good idea in theory, but that I’m not yet enough of a master yogi to perform them with the chirpy enthusiasm and regularity that our optimistic teachers advised.


Sunrise

February 12, 2010


This little poem is a shout-out to our silent early morning walks to Neyyar Dam.

One hundred and seventy of us yoga students would rise before dawn and make our way up the hill, down the hill, over the splashing dam, and around the western edge of the reflecting lake.

Crickets chirped, and tiny fish leapt out of the water. The palm trees overhead were lush, heavy, and alive, watching us wake up.

We would eventually make our way to the long stone wall that curved around the quiet water. There, we would roll out our mats and look up, watching as dawn crept into the sky. 

Eventually, our meditation was broken by the sound of singing and drums, tambourines and clapping. Our mornings always began with music.

And here, a poem inspired by those mornings.

 

The crescent moon
A sliver of silver
In the blushing dawn sky

Birds chirp in the trees
And mythical alligators
Swim beneath still lake waters

In the jungle
An invisible saint
Walks barefoot through the trees

The sun rises
Stroking the sky
Creating the soft pink morning

Someone picks up a drum
And then a tambourine
Suddenly the morning is filled with music