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Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Christmas day

In between this crazy week of commotions, emotions and flu, Christmas did of course come and go. Did I celebrate? Well, if you call going to a ladies house from 09.30 in the morning till 7.00 at night, resting for most of the day and then watching Home Alone 2 with her 91 year old mother, at the same time as feeling sick for the amount of food I’d eaten… then I most certainly did celebrate! The food was ‘massive…’ No surprises there then!

The feast started the moment I walked in the door, 09.30 am: spicy chicken curry, cake and sweets. The second even spicier chicken curry was brought to me, after I’d been nursing my fever and headache for 2 hours. This time the curry was served with a fried egg, fried crisps and a portion of fried rice that would’ve been enough for 4 people, but that I, alone, had been demanded to eat... The lady of the house and the cook were both standing above me, watching my every bite and movement and not attempting to help me eat my way through the meal, nor to sit down and enjoy the meal with me nor keep me company (this is a very typical thing they do here; whenever there’s a guest, the women will never sit down and share the meal, if there are men, they’ll sit, but on this occasion, it was only 3 ladies). Also, they’ll be waiting to hear how delicious Indian food is and be on guard to serve the 2nd, 3rd, and hopefully the 4th helping of food.

So, at the Christmas dinner table I sat alone and when she realized that I was full, she kindly demanded that I sit for 4 whole hours if I needed, but no matter how long it would take, I wasn’t leaving the table until the rice was gone! ‘Holy smoke’, is the only thing that went through my mind.

But luckily, I was saved by my mobile that started ringing! My Mam called from Ireland! Yay! This was the perfect excuse for me to jump up from the dinner table in delight and spend a half an hour in the garden, talking to all the family back home. It also gave the lady enough time to realize that I wasn’t going to clear the 4-portioned size plate of fried rice… and luckily for my stomach, she did! Because - just like magic - after 30 minutes I walked back inside, and the table was cleared! The only thing that was left was a bowl of pudding… And a lady who wasn’t too happy that I didn’t keep feeding myself until I exploded… but I didn’t feel too bad, cause I’d just connected properly with home! Yay… that was the best Christmas gift I could’ve asked for! And regarding the food I couldn’t finish – in India I’ve learnt the hard way that you will never be able to eat the portion sizes of food that will make the cook smile. For me, personally, I know I will never be able to make any Indian happy, if that smile only depends on the amount of food they wish for me to eat. I’ve had to learn the hard way… haha…

Anyhow, after Christmas lunch, I was back in bed, not only nursing a cough and some general aches and pains, but also a sore gut… Okay enough about my Christmas day. It’s come and gone for another year. Even though it was quiet, it was definitely a memorable one. My first, and maybe my last, Indian Christmas…

P.s. It may sound as though I’m ungrateful to the lady who invited me to her home, but I’m not… it was just quite the spectacle to see how different my Christmas was, especially when you know – almost like clockwork – everything that’s going on back home. Also, it was all a little bit much because I wasn’t feeling 100% on top of life. But she did all she could to accommodate the fussy and flu-ish girl from ‘outside’…

Sorting the problem - Hostel move

On my last note, I was in the hostel from Hell. On this note, I’m in a much nicer place. A week ago, I came close to leaving Kayamkulam, and I was even seriously contemplating leaving India – all because of the hostel I was meant to stay at (if school had their way), for the next 8 weeks.

After sleeping in that place for the first 2 nights of being back in Kayamkulam, I went to school on Monday morning (the 19th). It was my first day, but I was a wreck. I’d already made a deal with myself: I wasn’t going to teach any classes, until the accommodation was sorted. So, arriving at school, I went straight to the head mistress and told her that if there weren’t going to be any changes in accommodation then I’d be leaving. I wasn’t snotty about it, I was calm, honest and… desperate for a way out of ‘prison’. They were so helpful, they listened to me… and saw my desperation as I sat there in the office, almost depressed… I didn’t know what was happening. I couldn’t put on a smile and I didn’t want to see the kids – who were way too interested in seeing the foreign teacher again. Nothing made me want to smile… I just wanted to hide and I wasn’t even ashamed for the fact that I was having such a strong negative reaction and ‘becoming a problem’ for the school. Because, in my confused daze, my mind was already leaving Kayamkulam and I didn’t care what others were saying or thinking.

But, but but… they weren’t going to let me go, just like that! Nope. They were finding a solution for me… I didn’t know if that made me happy to stay or if I would’ve been happier to go. At that point, all I knew was, I had to move, that very same day. The management discussed eagerly in Malayalam what to do and where to put me. They probably also were trying to figure out why I had gone temporarily loopy (I don’t understand the language, but I can only imagine their disbelief). Anyhow, after some discussions and phone calls, suddenly they were able to offer me something better! Which was a shock, because on the first day they told me that there was no other hostel in town, and that the hellish hostel was the only place for me. And now, that I was about to leave, they suddenly had received news of a better place… Humm… I’m not too sure if that was really the case or if they remembered me as being the ‘push over’ – 18 months ago – who would always say that everything was good, fine and dandy, whether or not good, fine and dandy were the feelings she was feeling. Maybe they remembered her, and had presumed/hoped she’d not have changed. But, to be honest, I haven’t a clue what they were thinking about me or about the hostel. All I can say is that they got their act together and sorted the accommodation. And half an hour later, I was brought to see another place and instantly jumped at the chance of having my own room in a new hostel, that’s bright, fresh, clean and spacious. The warden (who is the lady who manages the hostel) is actually the same lady who was in the hellish hostel, 18 months ago! She was working there when I was ‘suffering in grime’ last year. She’d quit from ‘hell’ and had moved herself to something that was starting to resemble ‘heaven’ to me. It was nice to see a familiar face…

That same day (still the 19th), I moved my stuff from one hostel to the other and I couldn’t believe how relieved I felt. Life was light again, I could smile, I could see clearly. And, even now, I can’t quite explain how or why that first hostel sent me so crazy inside my head… and I’m unable to grasp what happened to me, between leaving Sasthavattom school on the 17th and arriving at the new hostel in Kayamkulam on Monday the 19th. But trying to find reasons and answers, was, and still is, only tempting to disturb the peace that has returned, ever since settling into my new home. Instead of seeking answers, I was finding myself trying to focus on teaching classes that I hadn’t been able to prepare, whilst having high fever and a massive cough.

Because, of course, the emotional stress brought the virus back, - the one I thought to have beaten, before leaving Sasthavattom. It was trying to knock me down – but it failed. Because I struggled onwards and continued to go from class to class, for the remainder of the week. I needed to make the best first impression I could – and I wasn’t willing to become known as the ‘foreigner who is a constant problem’. I didn’t go to the doctor again. I was reluctant to take anything… Until my voice nearly disappeared after 3 days. Then I gave-in. I accepted medicine and just wished to rest…

From Friday onwards, thankfully I got the chance to wind down, to put the whole emotional fiasco into perspective and to settle into my new home, and beat the flu and cough at the same time. That’s when our Christmas holidays started… I was to have 10 days leave apparently… With that notion in mind, I was adamant to spend the full week in bed so I’d be fresh and fighting fit, from the 2nd onwards (which is also when school reopens). But what happened? Instead of spending 10 days in bed, I spent 2 days (the 25th and the 26th) resting… UNTIL the phone rang on Monday night, at 7.30pm. I was told I’d be teaching vacation classes from the following morning and the classes would last for the remainder of the holidays! Noooooo!!!!!!!!!!!! I couldn’t believe it… I hadn’t prepared anything, I hadn’t expected that at all and my health was not in anyway fit to think about teaching and jumping around with a group of kids who expected me to be the fun and active teacher that would make their Christmas vacation classes a lot brighter.

Well… What could I say, only: “Okay, it’s fine…” And that was that – after all they’d done for me the previous week, how could I let them down? So, I’d just grin and bear it… Then it was simply up to me to get my head into gear and my body filled with some extra energy and teach as best as I could and fight the bug at the same time.

At first, I wasn’t too sure if I could do it. But, so far so good… Because I’m doing it! I just proves that, of course, when we seriously put our minds to doing something, we can always overcome anything that’s an ‘obstacle’. Something will always click and we can get on with the job (simply by telling ourselves to stop being such a ‘winge-bag’ and do the duty we promised we would do). Those are the more harsh words that we (or I) can use, if the obstacle is more of a challenge to get passed.

Anyhow, back to what’s going on now… For this week, there’ll be no rest. And now I’m only hoping that I’ll start feeling better, before next week, because then I’ll have a busier schedule. Otherwise I’m not too sure what will happen… Some doubts are in my mind, in regards to what to do ‘long term’, if I can’t get passed this. For now though, I’ll soldier on...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

...arriving at the next...????

Just before getting into the car to be driven to my new home, they told me it was the same place… OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I couldn’t believe it! How had this happened?! My face probably dropped a few inches when they told me. But I wasn’t going to get on my ‘high horse’ and demand some place else. Nope. They said that the management had changed, the food had changed, and I’d get a single room.

Hummm… I was sceptical, but willing to see if there really was any change. I’d know within a day if I’d be comfortable to stay. So I was brought to my room, the door opened, and I had a déjà vu… I'd already played a part in this scene - 18 months ago! A wooden frame for a bed, without any ‘dressing’ or mattrass’ and a dinky little childrens desk in the corner, grubby walls that hadn’t seen a coat of paint for… 20 years? barricaded Windows and an ‘en-suite’ bathroom with 5 years of grime gathered on the nicely yellow stained tiles that were actually blue underneath. I can only describe the dirt as the accumulation of human flith, fungus, dust and grime that grows and expands so easily in a damp and hot climate, creating the perfect breathing-zone for any kind of bacteria to live and get into the pours of the person who is sleeping and living only 1 meter away. The toilet was blue ceramic, but that also had turned yellow… it was of course good old fashioned dirt, both inside and outside the bowl… Such complaints I have… sorry, But adding some exaggerations is probably painting a clearer picture.

What happened after the déjà vu ended? Niamh smiled and said: ‘it’s fine’. The housewife (who is also the manager) was happy to hear, but not happy to give me a mattress, a pillow, a bedsheet… Nothing. So the staff at school managed to arrange something. But if I’d have been Pinocchio, my nose would’ve been so long! Because, of course I wasn’t happy! I wasn’t happy at all! I was standing there on the only thing that was clean in the whole building – the floor (I suppose that’s something big in itself) – and saying outloud to myself, appearing to be a mad woman: ‘It’s happening again, I’ve been here before…how is this possible?'

The déjà vu wasn’t only a vision. But it brought the exact same feelings with it too! I was overcome with the same wave, on Saturday afternoon, as the wave I was overcome by, 18 months before… It was the wave of… imprisonment and desperation to flee. I was left in the room alone. And really I couldn’t believe how this had happened… When I left India last year, I promised myself that if If I ever landed myself in a living situation that didn't feel right from the start, then I wasn't going to force myself to stay and suffer – just for fear of failing in the eyes of others or for fear of showing weakness. I told myself I wouldn’t do this again. I also gave my request to the school, before coming to Kayamkulam, that I wasn't going to stay in the same hostel, but I've learnt the hard way that good communication isn't an easy thing to come by, when arranging anything, either on a personal level or professional level… so, there I was; Saturday afternoon, literally the 'victim of bad communication!'

So, now, I’m sitting on the wooden bedframe (that thankfully does have a mattress on it and some nice new sheets), with my back against a wall that used to be a lovely soft pink, but sadly has turned many different shades of… brown. I spent last night in despair. Almost depressed… lying on the bed, in need of sleep, but not able to get any, because I was trying to figure out: how on earth this had happened? A place I said I would NEVER return to… Did I go wrong somewhere and why such punishment? All night I was awake… tormenting myself.

At times I've felt as though the past 4 months of my travels have been so high-flying that the tiniest ‘bump’ will feel huge and I’ll see myself falling back down to earth and landing with a bang in a place that my mind will class as a prison and therefore - with this powerful thought – my spirit will feel that thought: trapped and unable to escape… I felt so lost last night. It was like apart of me wasn’t here and only my body needed to be here in this hostel as some kind of a test… But I’m not too sure what it could be. Maybe for me to see if I'm strong enough to speak up and tell the management at school how awful I feel here… OR maybe it’s for me to challenge myself again, grin and bare what I've been given? I know I can do both. I can choose either option. But I don’t know which one is the best. Who would I be letting down, if I leave Kayamkulam because of the accommodation? If it’s myself, then I’ll have to grin and bare. If it’s only the school I'm letting down, then I can leave. If I’m letting myself down by staying… then I can leave… right?

Only after speaking-up about the fact that a change needs to be made, and so taking action and acting maturely instead of running away without even trying to solve anything, then I can make a decision. So I won’t jump the gun and flee nor will I bury my misery and pretend I’m happy with the living situation. I can do this, without sounding like a ‘spoilt foreign girl’ who is too demanding and massively high maintenance - which is often, and unfortunately inevitably, how people can label foreigners, as soon as they ask for change.

If I were to leave though, I wouldn’t instantly know where to go. I haven’t thought that far ahead. I’ve not had the time! To be totally honest, a larger part of me wants to leave and apart of me does want this experience at the school. I’m just wondering, what could all of this be in aid of? From heaven to … hell??? Can I say that, without offending anybody? Hummmm… Sasthavattom feels like a lifetime ago. It's only 36 hours since I left! Oh god… tomorrow I’ll be talking with management… and most like also teaching with a smile - I hope. Keep you informed!

Leaving one home...

My last day at school in Sathavattom was quite the emotional one. It was Friday the 16th and I never expected that I’d show all the kids just how much it affected me that I was going. I wasn’t ready at all to be leaving. Maybe it was because my work wasn’t done. The annual day event still hadn’t taken place, so I was leaving with the rehearsals for my acts still unfinished (over the next 3 weeks the students will be doing everything without me, and I have to trust that they’ll keep putting in the effort to rehearse by themselves, and perform as best as they can when the day finally comes… (7th of Jan) I guess it’s all out of my hands now, I have little control over what happens, and that’s why I wasn’t ready to go.

It didn’t help matters that I became somewhat ill on the Wednesday night - 3 days before leaving. To make the chaotic days a little lighter, I started popping pills for the flu and some other aches and pains on Thursday night; 5 different pills at a time, 3 times a day!! For someone who never pops even an aspirin, this felt to be a huge amount – but I was reassured that the doctor only prescribed the best... Needless to say, such an amount really did work.

But even still, my last day (Friday the 26th) was hard. I was wrecked, stressed, and was eager to spread as much of myself as I could. But there wasn’t enough to go round. I didn’t even get the chance to properly prepare myself for the new school. Too much was happening, it was going too fast, and because I wasn’t well, it was a great struggle to keep up the pace. I did though, until the last hour. That's when we had a satsang (this is when the students will sit together for 30 minutes, making music and chanting songs). I wanted to say a proper goodbye on the mic during that hour, but I was too emotional (on hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have spoken!). I tried to do it without tears, but nope, it didn’t work, and of course I CRIED… In front of the whole school and all the teachers! I wanted to say so much to them all, but I only managed a few lines. Man oh man… how frustrating and what a soppy old one I’m turning into! The poor kids didn’t know what was happening… seeing ‘Niamh Ma’m’ in tears. I must have traumatised them all…oops… what a way to leave!

I thought they were only happy tears, but on reflection, I really don’t think they were. Yes, I’d had a brilliant experience, both at school and whilst living with Lekha. So I simply didn’t want to go. I wanted to be more apart of that school and of the childrens days. I felt to be leaving without having done half of what I could’ve done… Also, I became far too attached to them. Or they became attached to me, and then I simply let myself get carried away. It’s strange to think that I’ve been travelling for years, on and off, and whenever it comes to saying goodbye, I never cry… when I leave my family, I don’t sob… but when I leave these kids… I cry! Last year also, when I left the kids in Kayankulam, I cried on the mic… And it happened again here! Man oh man… I could apologize for my weakness, but I won’t. I believe it’s not a weakness but a different kind of strength when showing we’re vulnerable. It shows we’re only human. So no apologies from me! It is as it is...

Anyhow, on the way home in the car (still Friday), I suddenly had to start making the shift from Sasthavattom school to Kayankulam school. As well I still had to pack and round-up more bits and pieces and say more goodbyes that evening. But I was still weak, dizzy and flu-ish, emotional and in need of catching-up on the sleep I’d been loosing, because of having fever. Exhaustion reached its peak when I was trying to sort something out with the tailor. I was telling her about one of the costume designs for something for annual day. Suddenly I started having one of those ‘out of body’ experiences. I was talking, but I was outside of myself. I could hear myself speaking, but I had no control over what was coming out of my mouth. I was on auto-pilot and my voice sounded like the recorded version; the one that everybody else always hears, but not the one that I hear inside myself… if that makes sense ;)

Anyhoooos… I was freaked out, got home, went straight to bed. 10 min later, out of bed, trying to sort my life, but couldn’t speak for ages and just sat at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of milk, trying to grasp reality (I knew I had so much to organize within a few hours, but felt I had nothing to organize it with – there was no life inside!)… WHAAAAA…. I sat and sat and sat and waited for the drive to come, so I could start speaking again… then I sat and sat and sat and waited patiently for the drive to come, so I could start moving, eating, washing, folding, packing… And it did all happen… eventually. I can’t hardly remember how I did all that I needed to do, in the tiny space of time that I had and the small dosage of energy – but I did it.

Saturday morning, the day of leaving, I had to be in Sasthavattom school one last time. From there I left, with ‘my life’ in my backpack, at 11am. I said goodbye to Lekha, I took a rickshaw with 2 teachers and we bumped our way to the station. I waited for an hour with this lovely lady, not really thinking that I needed any mental preparation for what was to come. So I happily hopped on the train and by 3pm I was in Kayankulam. The driver of the schoolbus was there to pick me up – the same guy who would always collect me every morning last year! I jumped in, as if we’d only seen each other last week and off we went. I hoped he’d bring me straight to my new home – even though I didn’t know where it would be, but I was in need of a bed. We didn’t go near my ‘new home’. First we were off to school!

Oh god… I was looking like hell! I didn’t want everybody to see me for the first time in a year and a half looking like somebody who has just been to the wars! (after travelling on hot, smelly Indian trains - even if it’s only for an hour - anyone will look unattractive and in need of a bath) Either way, all the teachers were waiting. The children weren’t there… thankfully. So, I put on a big smile, I met everyone again - some new faces, some nicely familiar. Meeting everyone only took a short time.

Then I waited for a lift ‘home’. I was getting more and more curious… where would I be staying? They’d promised that it would be better than last year. I only hoped so, because I wasn’t really keen on staying in the same place again… Surely I wouldn’t be so unlucky and end-up back in the hostel that I classed as being one of the worst ‘long term stays’ I’ve had during that trip in India? It wouldn’t be that same hostel where mice were in my backpack, cockroaches were visiting daily and where my first impression made me break down in tears in the toilet - 18 months ago…??? It can’t be same place????? Well… it certainly can!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Small change of plan

Change of plan and a change of school from next week. On Saturday the 17th I leave Sasthavattom, after 8 weeks of being here. Annual day, the big festival for which I’ve been teaching drama and yoga, has been postponed to the 7th of January. It was meant to be on the 19th (next week Monday) and I was meant to go to a school in Kollam after that date. But instead, I’m now going to Kayankulam before the Annual day performances. But I’ll be back just for the big day, in 3 weeks time.

The school I’ll be teaching at, from next week onwards, is the same school as last year. It’s actually the first school I was ever teaching for! I never thought I’d be teaching there again… and 1,5 years later, here I am preparing to be there for the remainder of my stay in India.

It’s almost like I’m coming full-circle. When I left Kayankulam last year, the school wanted me to stay, but I’d already made other arrangements so I travelled onwards and never thought I’d be back. Now, after travelling almost half way around the world, I’ll be finding myself in the place I started out. I wasn’t too sure of how I felt about going back, when I first heard the news a few days ago. Part of me wanted a new experience, a different school, a different town. But another part found it quite comforting and challenging at the same time. Comforting in its familiarity and challenging as I’ll be seeing myself in the same place, but with a different outlook and at a different stage in my life.

I must admit that lately I’ve been wondering if I’m somehow trying to recreate my past experiences. Witnessing a pattern of reoccurring places I visit throughout my travels is making me question why I seem to end up in most places twice (at least). For example Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, and now India. And each time I return, it’s always to the same route I follow! Is it that I’m trying to relive my past or is it that, in my past I didn’t take the time to fully engage in the country and its people - not in the manner I should’ve done? Am I drawn back to the same places so I can experience it ‘properly and wholeheartedly’? I think it could be for the reason that – when I first visit to a country - I either don’t take the time, I’m too distracted or I’m dealing with other stuff in my head, so I fail whilst trying to see clearly where I am and what I’m actually doing in life. And by returning to a place, I’m wishing to see the same place with the same people, buildings and environment, but through different eyes (hopefully those that are clearer, to present me with deeper vision, so I can appreciate the reoccurring experience even more). Yes, that’s it. And even though my mind will tell me that by returning I’m clinging to safety and not living and travelling fully, because the place isn’t ‘new’, I know that I’m not here to experience the same things as before.

Sometimes people think that by returning to a place that once had made their lives so exciting, it will be the same. Maybe they hope to feel the same degree of happiness, regardless of how much time has passed by in between both visits or how much the person who is returning has changed or the people living in that place. I’m well aware that 2 experiences, in the same place, can never be the same. I don’t expect both experiences to be, nor do I want them to be. When I returned to Oz, they weren’t, to Thailand, they weren’t. And so far, the experiences in India haven’t been nearly the same as before – even though the exact same places are appearing on the path.

Hummm… how exciting. So, it’s Kayankulam for the next 2 months. Then it’s onwards and upwards. I’ll be leaving India before the 16th of Feb. I don’t know where to, or what I’ll be doing but the options are endless and the road is open… or so I’ll keep telling myself – just to be sure ;)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Time for some plans...

It’s been just over 3 months since I arrived in India. Can’t believe how short it’s been and how much has happened. I only realized the other day that it’s time for me to start thinking ahead. My visa expires in only 10 weeks time. How did that happen? I haven’t got a clue… wouw… 10 weeks to go… Feb the 17th I have to leave… And have I thought about what I want to do or where I want to go? Hell no! I’ve been too swamped at school to start planning ahead. There’s been no space in my days… and little space in my head.

Actually, I could be using the haste at school as an excuse… maybe I’ve purposely been putting off making any plans; I don’t want to have to think about moving away from India. I don’t even want to think about moving away from this school – which is meant to be happening in 2 weeks time; if everything goes to plan (I’ll be placed in a different school, only an hour or so up the road). I’ve been hoping that will happen, something that will permit me to stay longer than the 6 months. I could renew my visa for another 6 months. But I’d first have to leave the country, apply for it from outside of India, wait for approval and re-enter 2 months after leaving. Doing this isn’t a guarantee that I’ll be permitted to come back so soon after leaving (especially as it would be my 3rd tourist visa in the space of 2 years – the government is getting stricter with the foreigners and their regular visits, especially if it’s purely for ‘vacating’ for months on end!). I don’t reckon this is what I’ll be planning on doing. Too risky.

So, now I’m secretly hoping for these schools to help me out with getting a volunteer visa that’s valid for a year. Then I can stay working for them, and I’d not have to leave in Feb… or for the following 12 months! The thoughts of this, has made me wonder if I’d want to commit myself to a full year of teaching here, from Feb onwards. I’m not too clear on the answer yet. At the moment I’m loving it. But I don’t know if that’s because I know this position is only temporary, or if it’s because I truly feel at home and at ease here. I’m not too sure if suddenly my feelings towards teaching for these schools would change, if this job became something more ‘permanent’. I guess that’s only something I’ll know, by trying… With everything we do, and every decision, there’s a risk of it not working out the way we’d hoped… and only by following something through and taking the risk, will we find the answer. To not follow through, we’re left wondering…

I might be jumping the gun a little, but I’m just weighing up my options. Because it could be on offer – there’s been some talk… but no definite or concrete ‘proposals’ on their behalf. I guess, at the moment, I just have to wait and see if they’re willing to arrange a volunteer visa, so I can stay longer. And only then can I decide if it’s what I want.

It’s so nice to get the time right now, to be throwing these ideas around in my head. It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance and time moves so fast, without properly realizing. I need to start planning something… Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, after the way I left India last year… it’s that I DO need a plan of some sort; especially if I want to return. Without any proper plan, whilst being on the road, a person can suddenly find themselves on the way home, with or without wanting to. It’s what happened last year: I left India, wanted to come back as soon as I could but I didn’t really think it through. That’s why it took me 13 months, instead of 2, to come back (don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any regrets about where I chose to spend my time in between the 2 experiences I’ve had in India… because eventually I DID make it back to India…that’s what’s most important!!!!).

So now, within 10 weeks I’ve to suss out what I want and I’ve to make it happen. Maybe I can sit back and do nothing, except for work my ass off at school and hope that that deed alone will be the thing to keep me here in India… maybe I can trust that if I’m meant to stay, without having to do a ‘2 months visa run’, then I will… maybe I can trust that if nothing permits me to stay, then obviously I’m meant to move onwards… Maybe I can trust that there’s another teaching job in a different Asian country waiting for me… Perhaps… China??? Haha… Ah no, best not to head to land of dragons… not just yet. It doesn’t put a smile on my face.

I know I must trust that whatever is meant to be, will be. As long as I’m giving myself the time of day to keep clear in my mind what it is that I want and where I’d like to be, whilst keeping my priorities in order, then everything will always be well… People have been asking me, when I’m going back to Ireland. And all I say I can say is… Not yet. I can’t… not unless something regarding my book, calls me home. That’s when I’ll be going… Humm… I’ll not go into that subject for now and I’ll continue when I’ve some more clarity :)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Teaching update

I’ve been here 4 weeks now, and things have changed quite a bit. Last week I mentioned that I started teaching the drama classes… and it’s going great; quite a challenge but so satisfying, especially when I see how the work is paying off and how the ‘play’ is starting to come together. But along with the drama and Spoken English classes, I’ve also been appointed to give morning presentations to the whole school. For the past week and half, I’ve been talking on the microphone, for around 20 to 30 minutes – in lecture form – to the whole school. I’m teaching nearly 300 students pronunciation, accent reduction, general morals, inspirational thoughts for the day and general knowledge on Ireland and Europe (something they’re extremely eager to learn about).

This new form of teaching I was asked to do last week by Lekha (the senior staff member who I’m also living with). She wanted my being here to have more of an impact on the other teachers as well as all the kids. At first these presentations weren’t meant to be so structured, so important, so extensive or so regular. But they’ve suddenly become something that everyone depends on.

To be honest I was quite nervous when I was first asked to speak. I didn’t really know if I’d have anything to say. But after 2 mornings the nerves had gone and I realized that I DO have stuff to say, and a lot at that! Even though I’m not a professional teacher or speaker and I haven’t trained to do any of this, still, what I do seems to work. The kids are happy, they’re engaged, they’re learning and I’m on a role. And now I’m at a point where I don’t really want those 20 to 30 minutes to end. Putting down the mic is like: Oh no, I have to put it down, switch it off and stop talking? Yes Niamh, you do! Okay… so of course I do, but my silence doesn’t last for long. I’m becoming more and more apart of this school and it’s like, everyday, I come up with something different I can contribute.

Like yesterday; I came up with the idea to give a yoga demonstration on Annual day (this is the festival on the 19th of December, the one I’m preparing and teaching the drama classes for). The school supports my idea. And to do so this demonstration, I now have started giving a yoga class in the morning. I’ve selected a small group of kids who I can work with, and I’m putting the performance together, with their help. Even though the kids do yoga every morning, for 20 minutes, they don’t give it enough attention or importance. So, I found that doing the demonstration would motivate all the students to practise their daily poses, with more concentration, so they can benefit more. As well, I found it could be an opportunity for me to see if I’m able to teach yoga myself. I’m not a professional, far from it. But I’ve realized since arriving that I can teach them more than they already know and it’s something the school is lacking; somebody who has the ‘time’ and most importantly, the WILL and passion to improve their daily practise.

This week, it already happened. I’ve been giving some short classes, with basic instructions to small groups. It’s so different to be working with kids like this. But I love it so much. I’ve only done a few classes, but it’s so rewarding to give these kids this kind of attention. There’s little lesson planning involved, only my own yoga practise, which I do in the mornings before going to school. And even though my time here is short and my own yoga ‘knowledge’ is only minimal, this ‘tiny’ step feels like something huge. I feel relieved and grateful that school is giving me the time to do this. I can learn a lot from this… And I’ve only got 4 more weeks left, before it’s time to move on to the next school… How the time is flying… but everyday is so full and action packed, that it feels like I’ve been here forever and that my time here won’t end… sounding very corny, I’ll leave this post for now!

A funny moment in class...

There have been a few moments here at school. This is one have to share…

Last Friday, during class, I was answering some general questions about Ireland. And suddenly the bell rang. The kids got excited, because their lunch was waiting, but still they had so many questions for me. So, as they were running around, they all started firing 20 questions at me: are there lions in Ireland? Do you have elephants? Where are the tigers? How many coconut trees are there? Do you all eat your own bananas? It was the funniest thing, when I managed to quieten everybody down with as loud a voice as possible, I shouted: “there are no lions, tigers, bears, coconuts or banana trees in Ireland!” They didn’t stay quiet for very long. So shocked they were, especially when I stressed the fact that THERE ARE NO ELEPHANTS OR COCONUTS IN IRELAND… Then the chubbiest little 10 year old of the class stood up in disbelief, raising his hands and shouted above the noise and excitement: “Do you even have any FORESTS?????????????? It was hilarious. Nobody could fathom how there could be forests in Ireland, if the contents was missing!!!! But, it was the contents of Indian forests that was missing in Ireland. These little kids of course presumed forests too would be missing. They found it all very confusing. But I thought it was the funniest thing.

What I was thinking of afterwards, was that if I were to tell the kids in Ireland about the contents of Indian forests, they’d probably react in the exact same way. This just made me realize how alien it can sound to either the kids Ireland or the kids here; the fact that there’s a place on earth that differs so much for what children consider to be the normal world. And, once upon a time, I too was one of them.

Then I thought, it must be quite strange for the kids to now have a teacher, who is from such a place… without any elephants or coconuts!!! It would probably not only let them think of Ireland as being an alien place, but also it’s people – of which they class me as being one. Man, how I love the innocence in children.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A step forward

What a crazy turn-out this is. I can’t believe my luck at times… When I look back on the life I wished for when I was in China and when I now recall what I was missing both in that particular job as well as outside the job; everything is now coming to me. And it’s because of this job I’ve been given. I can see so clearly, as I take to my ‘new temporary settlement’ here in Sashtavattom that if this position hadn’t been offered to me (or if I hadn’t offered my services) when I was still in Jinzhou, I’d probably not have come back to India, so easily and so ‘quickly’. The fact I knew I was able to start teaching here in Kerala, meant I had a secure position to move towards. So I came and gave myself 7 weeks between both jobs, to focus on other things, besides teaching.

In between leaving China on the 1st of September and starting here at the school on the 24th of October, I’ve learnt so much. Only today I realized that this situation is giving me so many opportunities and I can work on everything I set in motion since leaving China. I thought that maybe things would stop, once the teaching started. But nothing has, and ‘freedom’ hasn’t been taken. Life hasn’t become dull just because I’m working and teaching. On the contrary; life has become more colourful.

During the first 7 weeks in India, I had times when I felt to still be missing something. I’ve felt alone but was convinced that was fine… I didn’t want to fully open up to others and I believed that I didn’t need too many people around me. I thought that it’s what a writer was meant to experience, ALL THE TIME. Such isolation I believed would serve all parts of me and my life. I know that by thinking along these lines, I’ve become the prisoner of my own mind, in the past, and it all was of my own making.

But because I know this now, I’ll be more cautious not to let myself become trapped again, in these thoughts. And stepping back into school has been apart of me opening up again. This environment is showing me that such isolation is not what I, as a person, need. I need to be with the kids, because it gives me expression of the life inside. I realize there’s only so much energy and power I can pour into my writing – when my book or other writings aren’t yet being shared in the way I’d want them to be.

Having a ‘book in waiting’ has felt like my source of imprisonment and frustration at the best of times. This could be hard for others to understand… But this is how it is, for me; all the work, power and energy that’s injected into just one simple book – can lead a person to feel like… nothing, when words aren't being shared yet, or when one fails to practise patience; patience when waiting for the right time, the right person and the right way to come along so the story reach others. Only when the story reaches others, only then is the energy and power being experienced by the reader and one minor but special part of the writer is being recognized. But what about the other parts? What happens to those parts, while they’re waiting to share their passion, excitement and energy?

A person has so many ways in which they can place themselves in the world. A person who knows this shouldn’t sit in isolation and wait for recognition to come from that one particular piece of work (in my case, a book). A person shouldn’t put their journey on hold, and keep their energy contained, letting it go to waste when it could be put to good use, through a different outlet. A person can make themselves be recognized as being whatever they so wish to be, in whatever moment, in whatever situation. So I know that I need this time. I also know that the time will come where others can read me. And, strangely enough, this place lets me feel closer to my book. I feel like I’ve got more options than I did a few weeks ago. I don’t know why… But I know for sure that something is going to happen and the book will be out there and I’ll still be happily teaching.

Before I started this job, I was afraid I’d be turning away from something. But actually, I’m turning towards so much more. I’m not losing my drive or inspiration to write – which was a fear. But this will never happen. I just am now aware that I do need the teaching, because I need that expression of something more, something other than writing. I’ve too much to give, at this point, to keep it all to myself. And these schools will bring out certain parts of me I forgot I had.

In China I wished to connect with people, I wished to be with kids who I could get to know, who I could communicate with. I wished to do yoga and to learn meditation (even though I was doing both, it wasn’t from the heart, it was forced and felt like a chore). I wished to be in a warm climate (like most who live in colder areas...haha), I wanted greenery around me and a life I could live in the open air. I wished to be open to experiences so I could grow and be free to be me and unharmed by others who would judge me. And here it’s happening. I'm seeing things coming together, all in one setting. And I know it's the beginning of something. Don't know what though...

But for now, back to school; and he kids are everything. Really they are. I can get to know them, I can chat with them, I can speak freely to everyone, and I feel people are truly seeing me… For the first time I feel recognition for what I'm doing, at work. This isn't something I"ve wnated for the sake of an inflated ego, but instead it's for me to feel that others are seeing my potential, which means I'm seeing the positive effects. I'm reminded of what I'm doing and I realize how much more I could contribute and progress. And to do this, I'll always need and want to do more than my best.. So it all continues...!!!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

English & Drama

Sunday afternoon. It’s hot… I’m not going to start complaining. This is just an ‘FYI’ and something to share… I was looking for a place to sit outside so I could do some updating, but I wasn’t able… cause it’s 2pm and the heat is at its peak. And the fact that I can’t walk around with sleeveless tops or shorts EVER - as it’s inappropriate and makes others as well as myself feel uncomfortable - doesn’t help cool me down much… But anyhooosss… not to worry.

All is well here in this little spot. I’ve got 4 full free days this week due to a vehicle strike and a Muslim festival – yet again. It’s crazy the amount of days off people get here! I’ve only been working for 2 full weeks at the school and already there have been 3 free days for a festival, 1 for a strike and 1 because an important politician passed away. 5 days in total!!!! It’s any wonder they get things done here in this country… Last year when I was here it was the same thing; there was always a reason for the schools to close their doors for the day. All apart of the good life I guess… and the kids love it of course. So I won’t complain. It actually gives me some space and time to catch up on lesson plans and other bits and bobs. Because getting a grip on things here in the ‘teaching game’ has been pretty full-on… even with the days-off in between. For some reason I’ve been wrecked and everyday has brought something big along with it.

In one of my last updates I mentioned that I’m teaching ‘Spoken English’. This means I’ve to give English classes that are only focused on talking, communicating, accent reduction and pronunciation. All well and good and I’m pretty happy with it. In this school, just like the others where I was teaching (apart from China) I’ve no guidelines. Management has left it up to me, to approach the lessons in whatever way I feel best. It’s giving me ‘total freedom’. Good most times, and other times there’s a sense of being lost, overwhelmed and confused. But I get over it pretty quickly… and I just get the job done.

Now though, alongside these Spoken English classes, I’ve been assigned to do something extra. When I first arrived at the school I was told I had to write a play or a drama. Actually I was told to write 2; 1 for the small kids and one for the bigger. This assignment/drama was to be for the kids to perform on the annual day of the school (this is for their anniversary). On that day, there’ll be a festival with songs, dances and drama performances. The school puts so much effort into this day, months of preparation (at the moment – from what I can understand of the language around me - it seems to be the only thing everyone is talking about…) There are around 500 people (including the kids) expected to attend as well as some very ‘important’ people who are linked to the school and linked to the Art of Living Association. So there’s quite some pressure for every performance to be ‘top notch’. And the singing and dancing, will no doubt be next to perfect. The drama’s? Hummm…. If the only 2 dramas that will be performed are the ones that are written by the foreign teacher named Neev - who will have worked for 2 whole months teaching the 277 kids of the school proper Spoken English - then time will only tell! Yes, the only 2 dramas that will be performed are the ones I was assigned to write and teach. And the work I’m putting in right now, and will continue to put in over the following 6 weeks, will be shown on that day – the 19th of December.

Needless to say, the past week and a half the position of ‘Spoken English’ teacher has slightly turned: half of my time I’m ‘chatting’ with the children, in my normal classes and the other half I’m working on teaching the kids I selected (after very informal auditions) the dramas/plays that I’ve since written. Both dramas took quite some time to create and write – it was something I’d never done before, but I’m so excited by what it’s become. And I’m actually delighted that I’m now giving more importance to the 10 classes of drama that I’m teaching each week – when there aren’t any strikes, deaths or festivals – instead of the other 15 classes of English…

I’ve never been giving drama classes before… Well, in China I tried, I succeeded and I absolutely LOVED IT! I remember how much I wanted to be teaching kids to act, instead of speaking English… oops!!! A little confession slipped in there! How cool it is though, that I wanted to do it then, and now, in this school, it’s happening! Yay!

Also, judging by how the teachers and management are more concerned about the drama classes instead of the spoken English classes, it’s like I came here MAINLY to give the drama classes. And the fact that, after Annual day, I’ll be placed in a different school for another 6 or 8 weeks, only confirms that they wanted me here, in this particular place, to do these drama classes, at this particular time.

So on the 19th of December - after the little actors I’ve selected have performed the magic I’m trying to teach them (ahum) - I’m due to leave and will be placed in a different school of the same association (Art of Living). This gives me another 6 weeks to work with the ‘stars’ I’ve selected. I’m so eager to find out how they’ll do… and how I’ll do!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Class dismissed - for now :)

This particular school and the kids have had quite some exposure to foreign teachers in the past, but still, the way they respond to me is still with utter amazement (I’ll give them another week, and the novelty will have worn off!). The first few days were quite overwhelming. It was as if I was being pounced on by everybody but at the same time, I was still trying to get my head around the fact that I was working and teaching again, after having had 2 months of doing ‘nothing’.

Before I started, I made a promise to myself… I was going to be totally honest when it came to answering the question: am I happy to stay in this situation and do I want to teach, yes or no… I wasn’t going to force myself to stay, if it didn’t feel good to be in front of class again. To stay aware of this was quite a challenge especially as I was thrown in the deep-end from Monday onwards. But, luckily I’m able to swim. And as I went into the first class, knackered, overwhelmed and ill prepared, I was testing the water and swimming, all at once. I felt so at ease with the ‘pressure’ that was being put on me, which was such a great sign.

On Wednesday we didn’t have classes because of a national festival. And it was a day from hell, in my head. For some reason I was struck by something awful and I seriously thought I had to leave. After 3 full days!!!!!!!!!!!! But I questioned some more, I wondered, I looked at the bigger picture, and I knew that if I already felt ease during the very first lesson of teaching in India again, then that ease would only increase with time. I knew I couldn’t leave, I knew I’d only be letting myself down, if I did. What a relief that, for once, I wasn’t scared of letting others down by leaving (which was the case in China). Nope. Now it was ME who I’d be disappointing, by going.

I've since realized that this style of teaching and this particular environment is far more than just 'teaching'. It hardly feels like a job or a chore. It’s not to fill my time nor is it for the reason of not having any other options. Not at all. I’ve so many, but I know this is what I want to be doing for now. Even when panic attacks come out of nowhere (like on Wednesday), I know it’s okay. I won’t pack my bags…

By Thursday everything settled and I was flying. I was a ball of energy in the classroom and I was finding those parts of myself that had been put to rest for 2 months. I was coming alive in a different way and it was such a great feeling to get the kids on board so easily. I can’t even begin to describe how different it feels to be teaching here, than it did to be teaching in China, or even the boarding school I was at, before leaving India last year... Wouw…

Just a small note I’d like to add about the place I’m staying… Well, one of the senior staff members from school, Lekha, has taken me in. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be staying in this ‘mansion’. It’s outside of any towns and away from villages. It's on a huge plot of land, with coconut trees just outside the kitchen window. As well as the banana trees and the papaya, guava and cinnamon trees… There’s pineapple plants and a well for the water… Passion fruit, basil, aloe vera, curry, henna plants are growing and every morning there are workers out planting tapioca (a type of potato). The other morning I was greeted by a woodpecker, when I was having some tea sitting on the porch!

I can’t believe this paradise I’m in. I’ve got my own room and Lekha is so accommodating. A little too much at times, but that’s apart of their culture and I have to accept it. I’ll always appreciate it more than I can say.

Anyhow, I'm feeling quite settled at the moment, I’m here to the best I can and I know I’m going to learn so much. Right, I’ll stop the ranting for now and I’ll tune-in again soon. Love you all.

School time again!

One week of teaching later… And here I’m sitting. It’s a Saturday night again, I’m in a different room again, in a different part of Kerala again, surrounded by different people again, in a different situation, again, starting a different chapter again.

It’s only 6 days since I arrived and it feels like a lifetime. I’m in a tiny little place called Sashtavattom, 30 km north of Keralas’ capital Trivandrum. What can I say so far? If I were to spill all, it would be way too much. So I won’t. I’ll keep it ‘brief’ (sometimes I’m not too sure if I actually know what the meaning of the word ‘brief’ is, when it comes to tapping away on these keys, but that’s beside the point).

Monday morning I was picked up by my ‘saving grace’; Mr Suresh Sir, the manager of the schools of the Art of Living Association in Kerala. He was the one I contacted when I was in China and looking for something to ‘run’ to. When I was still in Jinzhou he offered me several positions in the different schools located around this state. Last year I’d already worked for the school in Kayankulam, teaching ‘Spoken English’. This is term, by the way, a common in India, and it’s used to differentiate between ‘normal’ English lessons and English lessons that are solely focused on speaking. The teaching I started on Monday would also require me to only be giving ‘Spoken English’.

So, what I’d be wishing to happen and been wishing to pursue, when I was China, suddenly became real from Monday onwards. I was picked up by the manager, from Allepey and we headed to the school where I’d be placed for the next 2 months. Meeting him again, was like seeing an old friend. I feel to know this person so well, and for so long. But in reality, I’ve only ever seen him twice. The 3 hour drive to Sasthavattom was strange; sitting in the car with this kind man again, 15 months after I first met him and I realized I was coming ‘full circle’… or maybe I could describe it as to feel as though he’d been ‘following’ me ever since I left India last Summer. First to Ireland (by calling me on several occasions, asking for me to come back to India to teach) and then to China (by me contacting him to see if he still needed/wanted me to teach). And finally it was happening; I was starting again to teach ‘Spoken English’ in an environment that’s warm, open, accepting, homing and more welcoming than any other school environment I’ve been in before.

When I arrived, within 10 minutes, there was a small ceremony being performed to give me a blessing, also called a pooja. As this is a Hindu school, by tradition, they take to practicing certain rituals, by singing and giving offerings of fruits and flowers to the guru, on special occasions. It can be for anniversaries or festivals. However this particular occasion was to bless me during my time at the school. It was so sweet. I couldn’t believe that it was only for me. The kids were giving me giving me flowers and at one stage they were even kissing my feet. Well… this has never happened to me before in all my life. I felt it was way too much. I was almost tempted to tell them to stand up and never ever feel that I was ‘so much more than they were’ just because I’m a teacher, just because I’m not from India. Man oh man… but I couldn’t say that of course, so I instead felt amazed at where I’d landed myself and overwhelmed by the whole thing.

The school itself is quite tiny, with only 240 students. It’s located in the most peaceful area, so rural, so open, so much space. It’s gorgeous. As I mentioned, it’s a school of the Art of Living Association, which means its one of the 14 schools in Kerala that’s been set-up by the Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has his main ashram in Bangalore, but at the same time has many other ashrams and centres throughout the world, where yoga and meditation are being taught.

Because of this, these schools are really quite different. Even though it wasn’t my first time to be at one of these schools, I’d forgotten just how positive the affect of their practises is on the kids and the whole environment. Every morning they (or should I say ‘we’, because I’m apart of the school now too…!!!) do yoga and meditation. The whole school together, at the same time! There’s chanting and singing and the kids are so free, so open and allowed to totally be THEMSELVES, instead of the school trying to control, drill and mould them into being and behaving only in a certain way (which is something that happens in many schools, especially in India: kids aren’t always seen and respected for their individuality). Here the kids are free and accepted and at the same time they have enormous respect for their teachers (hence kissing the feet…). This doesn’t mean to say they’re NOT rowdy or disruptive and full of energy… they’re kids after all, and it’s how they’re meant to be… Actually, the yoga only increases their level of energy, making life on the teacher a little tougher, as the kids are more difficult to control. But because the schools beliefs are focused on their freedom and on the acceptance of others AS THEY ARE, there’s never is a great deal of punishment from the teachers side… The teacher simply has to practise the art of patience. A challenge at the best of times…

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mallapally -- Allepey -- Moving on

Thursday morning I contacted the chairman of the schools. He was delighted to hear that I wanted to start work earlier… a week sooner than planned. I decided for this speed, once I got to Riyas house. I suddenly realized I was tired of contemplating the whole teaching-thing. I was almost sick of waiting and I didn’t want to be curious anymore about whether or not I’d feel comfortable in front of the class. As well, I was getting more eager to put into practise the following: teaching full-time and alongside, doing what I can so as to keep the publishing ongoing, along with other bits and bobs.

And if I can be totally frank right now:… I’m just tired… FULL STOP. Being in Riyas house made me realize even more, just how much I’d love to put my bags down, for a couple of months. I want to ‘settle’… I want a routine for a while… I know that a routine can be boring, but at least it gives you… REST and the chance to work on things, at a regular and steady pace, with more energy and focus…

I’m feeling that everything I’ve been learning since coming back to India… like the yoga, the meditation, and the publishing, I can only properly use as tools in my life so I can do what I want/need to do, IF and WHEN I’m living according to a routine for a while. Only then will I benefit and see the results in my life. Having a disciplined routine frees up so much more energy that can be put into creating things that will move me forward in other ways, instead of putting that energy into the planning, trekking, adjusting, acquainting, acclimatizing and actually dealing with all the emotions that come along with every upheaval. I make it sound as though I dislike travel… But the thing is, I love it so much, that I want to be fully THERE when I’m doing it… and I have been so far… but if I wish to continue to be fully THERE, I first need some ‘settlement’ for a short while.

So, after saying goodbye to Riya and her family, and thanking them at least a thousand times, this morning (Saturday the 22nd) I got on a bus from the nearby town of Changanacherry. I was unsure when I’d be starting work, but I knew that it would be within days. In the meantime, I needed some me-time before diving into the job. I needed to write, I needed to get on the net, I needed to just be by myself for at least a day or 2… Cause, let’s face it… I still don’t know what kind of situation I’ll be landing myself in, or who I’ll be living with, or how heavy or light the work load will be, or how my weekly schedule will be. So, a day or 2 to myself, I don’t think is too much of a crime to commit.

Hopping on the bus was the most amazing feeling. Man, it was probably the best bus journey I’ve had in India… It only lasted 45 min, but boy-oh-boy, it was GORGEOUS… I’d never been to this particular area of Kerala before. I’d been so close, but never actually exploring it… I’d heard about it so often; all the locals would always recommend every foreigner to visit… And now I understand why. Those sights this morning on the bus are some the prettiest I’ve seen. Canals, canals and more canals… and green, green, green everywhere with countless coconut trees and bamboo houseboats sitting on the waters. In between there were the local women balancing fresh produce on their heads wearing colourful sari’s, standing out from the greenery… I wasn’t able to shoot some pictures but I’ll never forget the images. They totally brought home just how lucky I am: Here I was, sitting on the bumpy bus in paradise… in the south of India… not just passing through. But actually on my way to a job… so easily, so normally, on a Saturday morning, ‘just like that’… as if it’s nothing… I’m so able to ‘settle’ so close to such amazing sights! All I have to do is pick up the phone and I’ve got a job… and the best part of it all; it’s never a job I despise or one that’s mundane or unrewarding… because it’s teaching… because it’s kids and because it’s India. I felt, and still feel, like the luckiest girl in the world.

When I got off the bus and wasn’t being bombarded by Indian men wanting to sell me their services… I felt even better still… This place is soooo easy… People are so relaxed… and they’ll hear my ‘no’ and they leave me alone! It’s heaven almost. There’s something about this place, a certain feel that I’ve not experienced before, in other tourist areas in Kerala (nor in the Chennai region)… By far, it’s my favourite… I found great accommodation, only 10 minutes walk from the beach… It’s absolutely gorgeous, both the hut as well as the beach… I hoped so so much that I’d get to spend a full day here, before moving to the job… and YES!!! Tomorrow (Sunday) is totally my own time, to rest, to explore, and to slowly get myself into teaching mode…because Monday morning at 7am I’ll be picked up and brought to the new school, near Trivandrum. It’s a 3 hour journey from here. I’ve no idea what to expect… Only that Monday will by my ‘introduction day’… and I’ll receive a blessing and ceremony to welcome me to the school, and after that… the teaching shall commence. I’m excited 

Hope to get connected, so I keep updating!

Mallapally -- Giving without end

It’s Saturday night and I’m in Allepey. A coastal village in Kerala, that’s famous for the ‘backwaters’ (another name for canals). I arrived this afternoon after spending 3 days in a tiny village called Mallapally, with a former ‘teacher-friend’ Riya.

I find it hard to fathom how intense the days have been, ever since leaving Chennai on Tuesday afternoon. The 16 hour bus journey was a ‘breeze’ by the way, even though it was lashing for a few hours (and because the windows wouldn’t shut properly, we were getting a little… wet and rained-on for a while). Either way, it was nice to be moving away from a busy city. I only realized just how tiring the city pace can be, once I stopped dead in my tracks when I reached Riya’s house on Wednesday morning. Suddenly it was peace and quiet surrounding the cute little lilac house that was standing on top of a hill, with 8 family members inside, making it into a cosy home. There were her parents, grandmother, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, her own husband (they’re only newly wed) and Riya herself.

Even though it wasn’t my first visit, I was overwhelmed by the welcome I received. Really, it was so… MUCH. I never realized the impact my turning-up would have on the whole family. Really, I was quite shocked. They did everything for me. And if I’d have let them, they’d have done more… if I’d have asked them to wipe my backside (sorry for the details), they’d all have jumped at once to help!

I’m inclined to compare this experience with the experiences I’ve had in Jayanthis’ home. But that’s impossible. Just because they both are good friends of mine, and they both live with their families, and they’re both Indian, doesn’t mean to say that the experiences would be in any way shape or form similar to each other. They’re all different people, from different states, speaking different languages, following different religions and beliefs, in different homely set-ups, with different aspirations in life and appreciating different ways of living. However, one similarity there is: Indian hospitality never ceases to amaze me. Wouw… is all I can say…

Both Jayanthis and Riyas family gave me more than I could ever have asked for; a place to rest, a place to refuel, a place to experience India up close and personal (rather than from a distance… which is what happens in the tourist spots)… They both have offered me a long term home to be apart of, they wished for me to live-in with them. This was, and still is, huge to me… But they have no clue, no matter how often I tell them. They see it as nothing… they only want to give me more and will take nothing from me at all… Never can I part with anything, and all I hear when I try to give, is that my presence is worth more than anything else. Whether this is spoken in such words or not, it seems to be the only explanation and the only ‘thing’ I actually DO: just being there is more than enough… It can be a little frustrating at times; never letting ME show THEM my OWN appreciation for the fact that they’ve opened up their homes to me. Instead, it’s the other way around… they show me their appreciation for me being there, by giving to me…!!!! What a crazy world this is!

Either ways, back to Riyas house. I was definitely THERE, in their home, for 3 full days. And the entire family and village knew about it! When I say family, I don’t mean just the sister, brother, father, mother… Nope, I mean the whole entire family tree – that branched out in directions I never knew existed. At one stage I felt like I was trying to solve riddles, when I was being introduced to, for example, the child of the wife of the brother of her sister-in-laws mother (who just so happens to be married to her neighbours’ second cousin). How that would work? I haven’t got a clue… It’s just shows how close-knit AND extended their family is. However, even though it’s so extensive, they’re STILL all living within a 5km radius of the little lilac home, standing on top of a hill with coconut and banana trees all around… It was so funny. Quite tiring too, I must admit. Everyone wanted a piece of me, so I kept on giving and in return they kept on feeding me their Indian dishes.

And, just a brief note on the Indian food: At this point, the richness of the Indian food is quite – powerful and has been the cause of harsh and painful indigestion. I’d also like to vent, while I’m on this topic - that every time I’m in Kerala, it seems to happen that my body odour changes…I start to smell of the same ‘scent’ that I get whiffs of when I’m on an overcrowded bus and the ladies are bearing their armpits, as they hold-on to the railing for dear life… It’s not so much a bad smell, it’s just very distinct and one I’ve only every smelt from the ladies in Kerala (not that I’ve been travelling much elsewhere in India, but in Chennai I’d never smell it…) It seems to be a mix of…coconut (quite yummy), but mixed with spice and something… sour… !!?? It’s very strange… When I started smelling if off me, for the first time in the ashram… I was quite… ALARMED… But I heard from other female travellers that they had the same ‘problem’. That was a little relieving and all the more reason to stock up on some more body spray and perfumed powder (an Indian way to ‘naturally’ conceal odours that don’t make us smile!). I guess it’s only normal for India to be SEEPING THROUGH MY VERY POURS… at this stage of my travels. Hummm… Not too sure what to make of that! Anyhow, I’ll be taking to western food for a few days I reckon… only for breakfast and lunch though… cause for dinner I’ll still prefer Indian to western. On that note, I’d also like to add how much of a difference I felt, when one day last week I had some western takeaway; Italian to be precise… And I couldn’t believe how little I enjoyed it and how unwholesome it felt. So, still with the indigestion and the scent, I’ll give a thumbs-up to Indian dishes.

Okay, getting a little side-tracked… Back to what I was saying about the family… It was all very overwhelming in many ways… their ‘giving’ knows no limits… And when I was forced to say ‘no’– by feeling my own limits - it was like I was rejecting their hospitality, their home, their care. So I had to speak with them about it. Or, at least I sat down with Riya and her mom, and Riya translated what I was trying to say: just because I couldn’t take absolutely everything everybody was offering me, it didn’t mean to say I wasn’t appreciating everything they were doing and giving me. They understood my concern, and still her mom smiled that big white smile, and offered for me to stay as long as I wanted whilst holding a plate of fried rice balls stuffed with sweet fruits and coconut…

What did I do? I returned a smile and stuck my ground… saying that they’ve done too much already and that I needed to keep ‘moving things along’. It would have been too easy for me to have stayed there, being looked after like that… One day could’ve easily slipped into the other and another – without nothing really happening. So I got this urge on day 2 (Thursday) to get the next step into action… the teaching! I needed to speed things along…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Negative Nancy

A short recap of the daytrip ‘from hell’: I was there by 8am and already it was roasting hot. I walked only 50m and already the rickshaw drivers, the tour guides, the restaurant owners were bombarding me; the first western girl of the day, who was alone and ‘obviously’ easily to coax into overspending on services she ‘must be in need of’… Well, they were after the wrong girl! Because I ignored, I walked away, I scowled and tried to be unaffected. I was going to do the ‘tourist thing’ all by myself, without needing contact with anybody!!!! Hummm…

This was quite possible, but it wasn’t really the way to make my day a happy one… Because, man, what was I full of hatred towards the people and the whole place…!!!!! It only increased when I went to buy a ticket to explore the temples and read the sign that said Indians: 10 rupees per person, ALL OTHERS 250 rupees per person!!!!!!!! Well, never have I seen so blatantly advertised in black and white, just how much foreigners are being overcharged. It wasn’t just twice or three times the price – something I would’ve swallowed a lot easier. But it was 25 TIMES THE PRICE!!!!!!!! I couldn’t believe the cheek of these Indians!!! At that moment, my hatred wasn’t only growing towards the Indians in that particular town. Oh no, it was now towards the entire state. Nevertheless, I paid, even with huge disgust… And of course, things didn’t really brighten from that point onwards (no matter how bright the sky was or how severely that sun was shining). I was walking around the sculptures and temples, trying to be interested, forcing myself to enjoy and trying to ignore the local Indian men who were hanging around the ‘western girl who was alone’. But, I was miserable! It got hotter, I got more agitated… I didn’t have proper sunscreen, so I was using an umbrella (at first it was only as protection from the sun, but soon it was to avoid anybody seeing my face of thunder - it worked a treat by the way!) And then, to make matters worse… The battery of my camera died!!!! Just when I thought that by taking cool pictures, I’d feel better and at least have something to show for the miserable hours I was forcing myself to spend in that town… But even that didn’t work!!!! Whhhaaaa…!!!!!!!!!!! By 10am I was so ready and willing to leave. My battery was exhausted… and it wasn’t only the one in my camera, it was my own personal one too. I needed to recharge, but given the environment, it was impossible; there was hardly no shelter, the umbrella for protection was a menace, and suddenly I didn’t care if the world of Mamallupuram was a witness of my anger expression… My head too felt to spontaneously nearly combust, due to the heat and my feet were on fire.

It was so strange to hate everything so much. I was walking around, wondering what the hell I was doing and getting more frustrated that I couldn’t shake my mood. The fact was, I simply didn’t want to be there and I probably didn’t even want to go in the first place. I realized I don’t have an interest in archaeology… The only things that sparked something off were the monkeys, the cows, the goats and the trees…

Anyhow, by 11.30am I was done… Most tourists would take a full day to properly explore and get a feel for the history. But, 3 hours after hopping off the bus, I was jumping back onboard! And only then, when I was sitting comfortably by the window and the bus started moving, did I start to smile again. The relief I felt to be getting out of that place, was huge.

So I sat, and I let my thoughts float and couldn’t help but laugh at the whole morning, or laugh at my spoilt behaviour and my anger. Then I suddenly was loving India again. I loved that I was on the bumpy bus, I loved that the windows wouldn’t shut and that I was being blown to smithereens almost, as we raced around every bend, at high speed. I didn’t care about the stares from fellow passengers, or about the different smells coming from outside. I didn’t care about the heat, or about the men doing their business so openly along the roadside. I didn’t care that the lady next me had a sticky arm, that was sticking to my sticky arm and that when I gave her a smile, she returned one and revealed dirty red stained teeth from chewing paan. Non of these things disgusted or irritated me. And I was delighted to be feeling fine with everything again! What a crazy morning…

Once I was back at the house, I spilled my thoughts of the temple town of Mamallapuram… And they weren’t positive. But I didn’t care. It’s how I personally experienced it and I don’t have to claim something was something it wasn’t, just for ‘needing to always be the positive Polly’. I’m only human, which means I too can be a ‘negative Nancy’. And I reckon that being either one doesn’t make me good or bad, right or wrong… it makes me simply… me.

Time to pack up

This is my last update from Chennai; I’m moving on tomorrow afternoon (the 18th); I’m taking a 16 hour bus journey back to state of Kerala. I came from there, 17 days ago… I left from the main city Trivandrum. Now I’m going to a smaller town; Kottayam. I initially thought I’d be around Chennai and exploring the coast, up until the end of the month. But nope… the situation here at Jayanthis’ house has changed; her brother is arriving from Delhi and there’ll be a lack of space. They never asked me to leave, but I know when it’s my cue… And that’s cool…

Friday I started making plans and around the same time I was contacted by a teacher, Riya, who I worked with and became quite close to, when I was teaching at the boarding school last year. She called me and wanted me to visit her as soon as I got the chance. So, the timing was perfect and we arranged for me to move onwards to her place. Wednesday morning, after a bumpy bus ride, I’ll arrive in Kottayam where she’ll be picking me up. She lives with the whole family (extensions and all) who I’ve already met. I stayed there last year too for a weekend. It’ll be brilliant to catch up with her again and I love the settings of their home – out along the ‘jungle like’ country roads of Kerala… Cool! I’ll stay for a few days only, and after that I’m not too sure what will happen. I’m waiting for a few things to fall into place, with the teaching job that will be starting soon. Once I know more about that, I’ll know more about where I’ll be heading. But for now, I’m just taking it a few days at a time.

Knowing that I was be leaving this area and not knowing if I’d be back, I figured it was time for me to do some exploring on my last full day here. I’d heard about the tourist spots outside the city, and figured I ‘needed’ to take a daytrip. So I headed out this morning, by myself at 06.30am (Jayanthi was swamped with work). It was the crack of dawn and I hopped on the bus to a nearby temple town called Mamallapuram. It’s famous for archaeological excavations of temples, caves and sculptures. I’d been meaning to visit the place last year too. So finally I was branching out and being a real tourist for a day! This meant I should’ve been happy, curious to explore and excited to see some real history of India. Well… do you think I was any of these things? Hell no… I was nothing of the kind! I went there, in such an angry, annoyed and total frustrated state. Don’t ask me why… wasn’t able to figure it out…haha…

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book rant over... for now :)

Oops is what I say, when thinking of teaching… I’ve become so absorbed in the book that I’ve been distancing myself more and more from teaching – it’s probably only natural by the way… and it feels brilliant! But… this of course gets me wondering about the whole ‘teaching thing’… I think I’ve sussed it out already though. Teaching may not be my passion, it’s not my career… but yes, I can do it and be happy. It’s temporary, it’s a one-off experience, and only 3 months of my entire life. So why would I even consider giving in to the temptations I have to complain about it? How spoilt am I to want to complain, when everything is feeling so great!?

Such a need someone can have to ALWAYS WANT MORE PERFECTION IN LIFE! Do I suddenly think that, just for stepping into the world all fresh, fully recharged and with so much inspiration and motivation to get things into motion, that I can be granted permission from whoever it is that’s permitting me to live my life, AND DO WHAT I WANT???!!!!! Do I feel that I’ve suddenly got the right to put my own energy and focus into work I feel is more satisfying and rewarding than anything I’ve ever done in my life??? Actually, I’ll take retrace what I just said: I don’t think there’s one particular individual who’s currently handing out permits to the residents of the world, stating what one can and can’t do throughout the course of their own lives. No, I know for a fact there’s nobody! It’s only US… (and I’m not referring to the United States, no matter how powerful they may feel to be in the world, but I mean OURSELVES).

Humm… I’m getting to the bottom of something here. If I want to say, do and, most importantly, FEEL that I can continue to be apart of the book world, EVEN WHEN I’M TEACHING, THEN I WILL… If choose to believe that I literally AM the creator of my life, then I’ll continue making choices based on ‘the permit I’m applying for’. I’ll grant myself the permission to reside in the world of books so I can do and be in life, in whatever way, shape or form I feel is right for me, no matter what situation comes my way.

So, if the goals, visions and prospects of what is to come – when I stick to my guns (which I happily will do) AND stand my ground (that I’ve only just found my feet to be standing so firmly on) – then time is so UNimportant. It doesn’t matter one bit how long it takes or hard the road gets… it will happen either way. The book will reach the reader! And what’s the best thing about it? I’m not afraid anymore to admit when I’ve made a wrong decision, a wrong choice…

Because I’m new to this territory, this road I’m heading down, the one that’s pointing me in the direction of becoming an Indie writer; which is the abbreviation of an independent writer – someone who publishes themselves, markets/promotes themselves and has total freedom to create, write and express their writing in whatever manner THEY THEMSELVES wish, without having to answer to others. Could a person experience more freedom than this? In my eyes, it’s impossible.… This process however is challenging, daunting, overwhelming. Wrong decisions and f*ck-ups can be made (excuse the language). But at the same time, lessons can (and most definitely will) be learnt. And guess what; that’s what I’m here for! I’m here to learn and I can only do so by putting things into practise and gaining experience. I know I’m a student again and, by seeing how the world is moving and changing at lightning speed, in every which way possible, I’ll probably remain a student for the rest of my life… and will never EVER attend a graduation ceremony. But I don’t care. I’ve never been one for giving importance to certificates anyhow…

And, with that, I’ll leave this little rant of mine for what it is: just a rant… I’m hearing the amazingly chaotic Indian city just outside the front door calling for me to take a walk in the blistering afternoon sun. So I’ll hold an umbrella for protection and buy some fruit and veg from the stall up the road and I’ll be sure to tell the cows I meet along the way (as they eat their lunch from the roadside garbage) that you send your kindest regards… that should put a smile on their faces! What a wonderful world…

Book rant

So, what’s been ‘going down’, here in good ol’ Chennai? Well, I’ve thrown myself into the book world!!!! The freedom I have in this particular set-up, is only pushing for me to work on getting my book to the reader. Yes, it’s going to be a slow process and - for the moment - a full-time job. But, no, I’m not going to let that stop me from re-starting what I’d put to one side when I was in China (namely: publishing). I know that every hour of study, research and preparation I put into the ‘DIY-publishing’ (or ‘self-publishing’ as it’s more commonly known) will be worth it.

For the past week, I’ve been working my ass off… Every day I’ve been reading online, comparing options, contacting people, getting more computer- and web-wise… And after many severe moments of dazed confusion, I’ve forced myself to put my pride to one side, admit to my ignorance and ask questions. Luckily, I’ve always found the answers. How? By connecting with online experts in the field of writing, with buddies who understand how much this means to me, with my family, with my mam and most importantly, with myself.

This brings me to ‘short’ and (as always) reflective rant… sorry… (feel free to tune-out at any time, I won’t be offended)… When I was on the meditation course and in that zone, I was living and breathing my book. I knew and felt so strongly that it was the only thing in the world I needed to do. I’m not going to go too deep into just how powerful this urgency was, or what sacrifices I was willing to never be fazed to make, just for the sake of my book reaching readers wherever in the world, through whatever means necessary - this isn’t the time or the place to go ‘there’. If we meet in person, I’ll be happy to share ;)

Anyhow… back on track. In my last post I briefly spoke of not knowing how to place myself in the world – just after the course ended. And now, I can see that I was ‘starting a fresh’ and feeling like a lost child for a while. BUT, since starting to work with so much excitement and passion on my book, I’m finding my feet again. I’m finding a way to place myself in the world, simply by being apart of the book world. At the moment, it doesn’t even matter how insignificant a role I’m playing, I’m joining in and I’m apart of the game. I’m absorbed and I feel apart of life more so than ever before… Hummmm… Is this a slight exaggeration here on my behalf? It doesn’t feel as if it is… it’s the only way I can describe what’s going on right now. I guess, to put it less extravagant: I’m more clear of my place in the world – and I’m not referring to India, to Ireland, to China, to Australia, to Africa, to America (going a little extreme again) Nope… I’m referring to NONE of these places; it doesn’t matter where I am. Because I’m doing what I need to be doing, and it’s something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. I’m loving every minute.

So, I dumped all of my teaching stuff from my mind, when I was in 10 days of silence and over these past 2 weeks I’ve been putting into practise what I saw before me. Again, I don’t care if this is sounding airy-fairy to anybody… you’re still free to tune-out! I’m gonna keep on typing… Yes! I’m continuing to use my clear mind to keep my long-term goals clear (from which I’ll remain detached, by the way). With this clarity I can learn, envision and create as much as I like, before I have to start accumulating teaching stuff once again. Oh oh!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is where it gets tricky!!!!!!

Why? Because, on the 1st of November I’m due to start teaching again… Ooops…

Thursday, October 6, 2011

REAL LIFE concluded

I remember during one of the last meditations: I was struck by a fear when thinking of the outside world; I didn’t know how I’d experience it. I didn’t want to face the changes. I didn’t want to take off the glasses I’d been wearing – that had always made me blind and ignorant to any suffering inside of myself as well as outside. But I’d by going into silence, I’d started the process of truly opening my eyes. And reality first needs to be witnessed inside, only then can it be witnessed it outside. So I was wary because I felt the change. But I had no choice. I had to be apart of the world; which was/is India.

But, hang on! Hadn’t I desperately needed to be here, when I was in China??!!! Yes I had… So why suddenly reject an awaiting world of which I should want to apart of? Well, thankfully, with reality comes clarity and I’m able to put it into perspective. In China, only India would’ve made me happy. Why? Well… whilst being unhappy in a situation, we’ll always force ourselves to move mountains and reach a place that, once upon a time, had been magical, in the hope that the chosen place of refuge will offer all that we desire, once again.

And to me personally, India always represented magic. So I believed I could only have a life of magic, whilst being ONLY here. So, I came. And ended up on the meditation course, where I was faced with my own reality. This is the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Because it’s leading me to witness the reality in this part of the world; India. And this in turn, this truth of this present place, has released so much of pressure. Suddenly I can happily accept the dualities I’m faced with and I feel there’s no need to cling to India and this experience, for dear life (which is what I did last year and was trying to do from the beginning of this trip too - so terrified I was that something would happen and I’d need to leave and my world would crash, for not being in this magical spot). Because it’s changing. Or I’m changing. I know that magic and excitement can be experienced, but so can tragedy and heartache.

Does this mean I’m no more an optimist but instead a pessimist? Not at all! Does this mean I’m going to hop on a plane and head back to Ireland? Nope. What does it mean? It means I can start letting-go of the need to ALWAYS see magic. There’s no NEED for this! If I see, feel, hear or taste it, then so be it. If I don’t, I don’t! I don’t need to search India for it. I don’t need to search the world for it. Because for all the magic I can experience, I know there’s just as much misery. And by forcing myself to only see and feel bliss, I’m blind to pain. But in this blind-sighted ignorance, pain isn’t resolved. If the pain arose and wasn’t dealt with, it won’t disappear. It will still be there, simmering, brewing, stewing. But not being attended to… My natural tendency to always be optimistic can smother a painful truth that could be harmful in the long run. And…. Voila! This is exactly what happened in China!!!! Wouw… yes yes yes… What a lesson I’m learning, just as I’m typing this! So, to come to a conclusion: If magic appears, I embrace it. If darkness appears, I embrace it. In both cases, I thank my lucky stars because I’m here to experience and to be inspired by it.

What I’d hoped to gain from meditation really is happening. A slow process, but it’s starting. I’d said, before entering the 10 days of silence, that I wanted become grounded in my travels. Meaning; I wanted to stop pushing to be elsewhere, which is a push that comes from my urgency to search and experience magic. We believe it’s always somewhere else and never in the present situation… As a result we always wish to be some place else. It’s the search for a perfect world. But… it doesn’t exsist! If we search for perfection in the world, and are guided by the LIE that there is such a place, then life will present one struggle after another. One collision with dreams and reality will follow the next… A person would never stop and smell the roses or smell the urine!!! Depending on where they are…

I see so clearly that this is exactly what I’ve been doing. But I wished for it not to be so, before entering silence… I wished to become more grounded, or to at least find something that would offer me even the tiniest of degrees of grounding so I could start living in this present situation, accepting that these are the choices I’ve made, and be fully responsible for my actions, without feeling that to move would be better the already amazing situation I’d place myself in. I wished to settle into a lifestyle that gradually takes me all over and that’s here and now, for however long I want it to last, without a time limit attached. When we see that something will end, we cling to it, if it’s good, and we wish it away, if it’s bad. But if travel is my life, and life can present us with both good and bad, then I don’t have to cling to the place I’m in, or crave for the place I’m going to. Every situation is will always change, magic comes and goes, as does misery.

Every stop is only temporary… For every place, there’s a time to arrive and a time to leave… It’s so simple, so logical, but only truly truly truly clear, when it’s being lived. And a person can only realize if it’s being lived, by taking a step back and reflecting. Those reflections are then taken forward as the next venture is embarked on… Yes… and this is my reason for blogging!!!! This is so grounding, this is so real… this is life. Wouw… Thank you so so much for reading… forever grateful...


Taking a 15 hour bus journey from Kerala and rocking-up in Chennai on Saturday afternoon (the 1st of October), brought me back to a place so familiar. Instantly being in this huge city, with approximately 10 million people, felt so normal. Forgotten memories came flooding back, when I was sitting on the local bus, stuck in traffic, sweating bullets, cramped on a seat with a sweating mother and child and trying for my baggage and me, not to get in the way of the 30 other passengers. It was as if I’d never left…. The joys of city life!

When I was in China, the place I thought most about, when wishing to be in India, was Chennai. I wanted so desperately to return to the base I’d found when I was here last year. The base being at Jayanthis house. And here I am, being given the chance, once again, to be apart of their lives and apart of this city life, just for a short while. This step has made me realize just how easy and comfortable it’s gotten for me to be apart of peoples lives, even after time has passed. I rest easily, in places that aren’t native to me. I put my bags down, for however long we both feel it’s comfortable. And no matter how far I travel or where I may go or what challenges may occur along the way, there are always people I can turn to, those who I’ve met along the way, who I know will always be there in their place of residence. I happily let myself be absorbed in their lives and give all I can, in many different ways. And just as easily as I approach them for help, I easily accept their rejection, should my time of knocking not be the right one. And the only way to know if there’s comfort and ease on both sides, is by being honest. I figure, it’s all I can be, so as to maintain the balance in our friendship. And I can only hope that it’s happening right now, in my current situation.

So… for now, I’m placed in Chennai. It had been such an important place for me, during my trip last year. And I think it’s only normal for me to automatically witness the changes in myself just by being placed in the same place and a similar situation.

After the meditation course ended, I wondered how I’d see life. I wondered if there’d be any huge differences in me. And now in Chennai, I can notice the affects. The course really has opened my eyes. I see REALITY so REAL now… And Chennai is the perfect place to be confronted with the truth of India. Being here, and looking back on my China experience, I see that life can’t always be magical, amazing or ‘out of this world’. We can’t always be flying high on excitement. The amount of pressure a person is put under (which is self inflicted) when this ‘LIE’ (of always needing to be flying high on life or else a life is wasted) feels like such a TRUTH. BUT TRUTH BE KNOWN: it’s harmful to live life in such a way. We think that by seeking and moving towards amazement, we’re bound to be happy and successful in all that we do. But how can happiness and success come when we’re secretly forcing ourselves to be ecstatic in every single situation. When life isn’t like that?!

I see it so clearly now: when I was in China, India was magic. When I was Ireland, India was magic. When I was India last year, India was magic. And how is India now? India is… REAL. Yes it’s mystical, but it’s also harsh. It’s colourful, but it’s dirty. It can smell of jasmine flowers but of urine too. It’s full of warm hearted people, but of people who possess corrupted warped minds too.

Where has this come from? Well, during the 10 silent and secluded days - which could’ve taken place anywhere in the world - I got so in touch with the reality of ME: I saw light and dark together. And I happily saw that I’m no where near being a saint, just for the fact that I can easily be a devil. Good and bad are inside. And that’s so nice, real and true. After experiencing this truth so closely in my physical body, and coming out of meditation mode, it was only natural for me to be forced to see that same reality in the world around me; good and bad side by side.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Vipassana 2

After the first half of the week, my facial muscles had weakened… for not having smiled for so long. My legs were wobbly, for not having walked or moved much. On the moments when I spoke with the teacher (who was always willing to answer any questions and help us when we needed), I found my voice to sound so different. It was like it wasn’t me who was speaking… It was a voice from somebody or some place else. Actually, it was as if I could hear my voice the way people outside can hear me (like when you hear your own voice being recorded). The strangest sound… Anyhow, the good physical developments were that my back was becoming stronger, my backside was forming callus (making it easier to sit on a hard floor) and my eyes were getting brighter. I became lighter and lighter in my heart, as I was disposing myself of any emotional garbage I’d been carrying around with me. At one stage I felt to be travelling and every time I’d walk into the meditation hall, it was like I was going to work; heading into my own self once again, to discover what needed to be attended to, what I needed to fix or to soothe. The teacher described this type of meditation as one of the deepest forms there is. It’s like open heart surgery, where we, ourselves, are the surgeons… and by setting to work, we would repair anything that had become damaged at some stage in our life, due to our way of dealing with external factors (without ‘advertising’, for more information look it up on dhamma.org …haha)

The days passed by, time became a strange concept, yet, as the end came closer, I felt each meditation session to become a little bit more precious; because it meant the time that was left to practise the technique, before stepping back into society, was running out. I felt I needed to develop the skills as much as I could, so I’d ‘easily’ apply them in my daily life.

The final day suddenly arrived. And when it came to speaking, smiling, making eye contact and mingling… I didn’t really feel any explosion or huge relief. I just felt so lucky to have had the experience. I felt so liberated for having realized that I can do something so intense, without crumbling in self-pity or misery. I took my time before opening myself up to others… half an hour to be exact… then I needed to come to life. But I didn’t know what I wanted my ‘first words’ to be… or who to speak them to. So I kept quiet until I bumped into Anna, and I screeched some quiet noises of joy and said, ‘I’m speechless! It’s so amazing” We hugged and that was that… The silence had been broken.

The final afternoon felt like graduation… There was such a strange feeling in the air. I still had to ease myself back into the ‘normality’ of communication. It was tricky. I really noticed that my brain hadn’t been used for anything else other than observation of breath. Having a conversation that didn’t sound scattered and dazed, was a little hard and thinking of practical life, like travel arrangements, money, work, internet, emails… was almost impossible. It was such a force and everything felt so fake, unnecessary and a massive hassle. But that was something I was, of course, forced to come to terms with very quickly, because we were due to leave the site, the morning after the silence had ended. I knew couldn’t start rejecting the Indian world (or any other part of it, for that matter). I had one brief moment of panic when I realized I had no choice; the ‘game of life’ was waiting to be played and I needed to partake. And when the panic subsided, I was excited.

On the last day, sharing experiences with the girls on the course, and becoming quite close in such a short space of time, was the best way to close the chapter. They were such lovely people. And for the fact that we’d all been through such a huge experience, through such a life-changing transformation almost, there was an instant connection. Apart from Anna, I felt particularly close to Alila from South-Africa and Claire from Australia. There were other great girls too of course who stood out for the peace and ease they practised during their own ‘open heart surgery’. But these 3 girls stood tall and strong in their own personal journey through vipassana and I was strangely proud of their determination.

Wednesday morning we took a rickshaw together, back to the nearest town. We hopped on a train, headed south to Trivandrum and still were very much in our own bubble of ‘positivity and wonderment’. We were talking and learning from each other up until the moment came for our individual paths to head in different directions. Except for me and Anna; we went back to the guest house where we’d been staying before we went on the course. I needed a day or 2 to ease myself into the land of the living and to arrange my next step.

At the moment, I’m still in the guesthouse. And tonight I’m heading to Chennai. Yes, I booked an overnight bus, leaving from Trivandrum at 8pm to arrive in Chennai at 11am tomorrow morning. I’m going to visit Jayanthi! I met her on the English teaching course last year and stayed with her and her family for a month in March during my first Indian chapter. And now it’s time to catch-up again. I can’t wait. Yesterday, when I was buying the ticket and I felt strangely light, independent and free. A great way to temporarily move on from Kerala. The end of October will see me back here again, but for now, it’s time to go and to see how the 10 days of silence effects me, in one of India's biggest cities... Yay (I think...)!