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Friday, January 27, 2012

Pondering Freedom

I’m learning to change my way of thinking by telling myself; if a job doesn’t appear, then nothing bad is going to happen, it doesn’t mean the end of the world or of my freedom… Freedom is created by the mind… just like imprisonment. We can barricade ourselves by the way we think, or we can free ourselves. Barricading is the easy way to go, and freeing ourselves is the challenge. I’ve never been shy of any challenge, so I choose to free myself. Because it then becomes irrelevant where I’m residing in the world.

For example: in the past I’ve been imprisoned in the one place on earth I believed would guarantee me freedom: India. Only months ago I was imprisoning myself by the way I was thinking… in the country I love so dear! On the other hand, I’ve been as free as a bird in the one country I believed I’d never feel happy: Ireland. Freedom isn’t through physical movement. The physical movement I seem to have ‘committed’ myself to, seems to be in aid of realizing this truth; that moving from one place to the next, doesn’t mean we are free. It will appear to the majority that we are, because people will only see the exterior actions, they’ll only see what’s happening on the outside; what the person is doing, where they are going and how they are moving. But really, it’s about what approach the traveler has towards the movement that will indicate whether or not a person is free.

To specify; if a person saw me 2 months ago for the first time and tomorrow for the second time, they would see no change. They still see Niamh, smiling, and loving life, in the same position; teaching in India. But, holy smoke, how wrong would their interpretation of my ‘unaltered’ state of mind and position in life be! If only they were to look inside, they’d realize the change that has taken place; the outlook of the world has broadened and the limitations have disappeared from my mind, and it’s been life changing. My approach towards movement, physically, is changing as the perception of the world changes around me.

Once upon a time, my movement was only to be on the road and to appear (on the outside) as being the traveler… even if I was imprisoned by a certain way of thinking. Now though, I’m moving to put this new piece of information into practice, I need to experience how it works: the fact that no matter how much or how little I move, freedom is created by the mind and I can never blame the outside world and my surroundings for the barriers that can exist between myself and the world.

When we tend to blame the people and society, that’s when we’ve lost touch with ourselves and we’re not strong enough – in our own truth – to speak this truth and simply say: ‘this place isn’t where I want or need to be right now’. If we’re in touch with our truth, we’d have the strength to witness barriers arising (that leads to unhappiness) and this would be giving ourselves ‘permission’ to wholeheartedly move on and to learn from the experience. If we witness either our instant connection with a place or our instant disconnection with ourselves (whilst being in a place), we then choose whether to stay or go, and we’ll carry out what we need to do in order to keep moving forward (either physically or not). And it will never be the wrong thing – because it’s ‘right’ according to OUR SELVES, our own truth. We’ll still have our freedom. And the place that we could’ve blamed for imprisoning us, wouldn’t damage us because we’ve take responsibility for our own mind and realized that the only thing that can damage us, as we move from one place to the next, is ourselves, if we’ve taken the ‘wrong’ approach (and by ‘wrong’ I mean: lying to ourselves and trying to convince ourselves we’re something other than we are).

So, the conclusion to this rant of freedom (I could type forever) is that I’m finally learning why I’ve been, and still am, so committed to traveling. As I’ve been moving, and blogging, and journaling, and meditating and spending so many hours alone, I’m in continuous reflection-mode. This means I’m learning all the time from the actions I’ve taken. And now it’s starting to make even more sense why I’ve traveled the way I’ve traveled. The depth behind my travels is changing… it’s not to see the touristy places, it never has been and it probably never will be. But it’s to find the real meaning behind the word freedom, and to be an expression of that word.

Man oh man, I could write a book… there’s so much movement in my life right now, just as I’m sitting on the laptop sharing my thoughts of today… this is amazing.

One last notion, in relation to the topic of freedom and ‘me-time’: Only this morning I met a young 19 year old girl here in the hostel, a student who lives nearby. We were chatting and she then wanted to know my ambition. I said: to be a writer… then I paused and said (shocking myself as I spoke): Actually, I already am a writer. She then said: ‘Ah… yes! because you are alone so much, you’ll always be thinking and thinking and then you need to write. Writers are always single and alone’. It was the strangest thing for somebody, a young girl who I’d only just met, to recognize this. She could see how and why a person devotes so much time to writing; the need to write is increased because of the ‘alone time’ I have; in this ‘alone time’ I’m learning everything I need to know, so I can write.

So, I’m a loner?! That doesn’t matter, not if these are the revelations that come to me, not if I’m becoming more conscious of what I’m doing and why I’m doing these things. Not if these breakthroughs are letting me feel as though this really is only the start of my journeys and ventures. I obviously needed to be away from western people for 4 months; here in India the language has given me some limits in regards to connecting with people around me, but it’s given me unlimited access to connecting with myself. Wouw… life is truly amazing… and how blessed I am to have these options, to have an open road… with or without a job to move towards, with or without an abundant stash of cash in the bottom of my backpack. I have many things that I can put my hand to in the world and whatever I’m meant to do next, it will happen.

Only 2 more weeks… I’m savouring this part of the journey so so much. School is great, lessons are flying (up and down all the time) and the coconuts will be probably be coming out of my ears by the time I leave… my body is telling me to eat more, because, once I’m gone, I’ll be surely missing the flavoursome coconut dishes.

Where to next?

Just a few thoughts… to mark the moment… The clock is ticking and where am I considering going, once the date to leave arrives? For weeks, even months, I’ve been thinking of Nepal. I have this vision of sitting at the foot of the Himalayas, with the snowy peaks in the background, writing a book. All swell, all flowing, and totally calm…without any worries. There’s also a Buddhist munk in this vision, by the way, who motivates me to meditate… Yay! ;)

It’s great to dream! But being practical is apart of travels too… yes, it can all (and most likely would) be amazing, but… it’s the end of winter, up in the north. For the past 8 months I’ve been in temperatures of around 30 degrees (my last 2 months in China were just as hot as it is here now, even if it was a different kind of heat). In Nepal it’s around 13 degrees at the moment, and that’s in the warmest and most southern place.

Hummm…. Still being practical (even if I would love to follow that dream): I’ve no winter clothes, I’ve no shoes, no socks, no jumpers… Nothing! I’m not prepared at all for a climate change that will lead to me changing the entire contents of my backpack – overnight! I’d need to go on a full shopping spree to cloth myself, up in Delhi before crossing the boarder… and then what to do with the clothes I’ve got? Dump them? Send them home? And then…? when I’m fully clothed and I stay for around 2 months, it will start warming-up again… And again, this will lead to a change in the contents of my backpack?! What a hassle… To add to that, I don’t even know if it will work out when I get there… I’ve done no research (no time) and don’t know where exactly to go. It might all be for nothing. I might not want to stay…

There are a lot of ifs, buts and maybes, with this upcoming move. Most will say these are silly reasons and are easily solved. Yes that’s true. But, considering I’m not really in the financial position to be country-hopping like there’s no tomorrow, I do need to be practical…

So, this led to me to think about finding a teaching job for 3 months; just one more teaching position before going home. I’ve been surfing online, looking at what’s available and it’s felt quite liberating… I don’t feel any pressure at all when I’m searching (since the news of the book getting published, my whole outlook has changed, and the world is even more open to me; everything feels so easy and light!). Yesterday I updated my cv. It’s been ages since I even looked at it and it was exciting to jot down the new teaching and travel experiences I’ve gained over the past year and a half. I even wrote a cover letter to send to different agencies. (As soon as I tear myself away from emailing and blogging, I should get on with that…)

As you can tell, for the past week I’ve been trying to find answers and ways to move. Options in Vietnam came up, then in Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia… and China, China, China. The amount of jobs I could have in a jiffy… is unreal (in China I mean). I must admit, I was tempted to apply. But after serious contemplation and with this recent shift of thinking, I can see and think further than China. If I were to go back, it would only be because it’s easy to get there. For no other reason at all. I’d be taking the ‘easy’ option – even if it’s a difficult country to live in, as a western. Thankfully I’m seeing so many more opportunities and if I really want, I can have another teaching experience before returning home in May. I have to believe it, if I really want it. And if I don’t fully believe, well then maybe it’s a sign that I, instead, DO want and need to sit somewhere - anywhere in the world - and write a book. Or maybe it’s a sign that I should go back to Ireland even sooner than May…

There were other places that came to mind… Sri Lanka, Maladives… and… Spain??? Where that notion came from, I’ve not got a clue. But it’s the only place I’d be willing to go in Europe, if there were a job. Maybe it’s because I could learn the language and then be guided onwards to South America… haha… where I’ll be able to communicate with the people, in my future fluent Spanish! Wouw… that’s really going ‘far’… I guess nothing is impossible!

The way I’m talking, anyone would swear I’m loaded with a stash of cash hidden in the bottom of my backpack. But really, this is very far from the truth. The main reason I can move and travel, is because of the jobs. Otherwise I’d not be able to do any of this. And, at the moment, if I want to keep moving, I have to have something of a job lined-up. Does it worry me, when it’s not yet happening? Like now, when I need to move, but the next step hasn’t been set and a job has not yet come my way? In the past I would’ve been worried, stressed and it would keep me awake at night. Now, hummm… of course it occupies my mind, and I over-think things, I contemplate and I wonder. But, I’m not scared that not finding anything will mean the end of my free moving and traveling. Right now, I’m actually excited to think that I don’t know where my next step is heading and I have to love the fact that I don’t know where my next pay check will be coming from.

So I shall ponder freedom....

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Breaking news - concluded

So, we set a date on skype and one week later, we connect… only chatting (as in; typing back and forth, not actually talking, due to the bad connection)… I can see her, the video works, but she can’t see me… And the first thing I think when I see her: ‘wouw… how nice it is, to see an Irish lady!’ Man, I feel so at home… the ‘Irishness’ oozes off her! (at the moment the Irishness will ooze out of every Irish person I see, as it’s been so long since I’ve had any contact!) Yes, it’s great to feel homely, but I still don’t know why she wants to talk. She’s a business woman and of course I can rely on her to not beat around the bush and to get straight to the point… She wants to know if and when I’m game to do interviews and if I can be actively involved in PR. WHAT WHAT WHAT???

Thank god we aren’t actually speaking; so I have some thinking and breathing time in between the messages to give a proper and ‘professional’ response… Hummm… I’m confused and oh so stupidly innocent and blind. But also, I’m honest, so I tell her that I’m not sure if her positive feedback actually means she wants to work with the book. Does she actually want to publish???? And, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world, I get the response… ‘Yes, it’s a book that comes from the heart and tells real truth, which is how such a story should be told’. Again, I’m so lucky she couldn’t see me or hear me… because I sit behind the computer, in a stinking hot and dirty little booth with the fan blowing in my face, crying tears of excitement, joy and relief… wouw… she actually wants my book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The search is suddenly over and a new chapter in my life feels to open!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This happened last week Thursday. The conversation went on for quite some time until, after an hour, the power cuts and the computer shuts down. We got the chance to discuss some details and the most important being: she will write the contract and if we’re both comfortable with it, the publishing will start! I couldn’t believe it… that news gave me so many answers about my whole life… and where I’m going and what I need to focus on next. It’s unreal how everything suddenly fell into place without forcing anything! That’s always a true sign that these things are meant to be…

When our conversation ended… I sent my mother a text message to ring me on my mobile asap. I had to tell her first… this was the biggest news I’ve ever had, in my entire life! She called straight away… and I’m in tears, screeching down the phone that the publisher has accepted my ‘baby’! That news instantly made me speak the words that I’ll be coming home to do the PR and whatever else is involved. Wouw… End of Spring is when she would need to be in Ireland… and end of Spring is when Ma had hoped me to be back, because that’s also when my little niece Kayla is getting christened (and it’s turning into quite a big event). I didn’t think I’d be coming back for it… I hadn’t a clue what exact direction I was heading in, not until last week Thursday. The world has made the decision for me! And it all fits so nicely together. Perfect!

While I was chatting on skype and speaking with ma, I felt as though the world had temporarily stopped spinning. It’s hard to explain… it’s like when you receive devastating news, you can’t comprehend that the world and its people are still living their lives, as if nothing big has happened or changed. I felt this same feeling, but then not because of devastation but of a huge break through. After speaking with Mam, I stepped outside onto the busy street. I had this new piece of information and my life would never be the same again! However the man who is selling fruit, is still having his afternoon nap behind his stall and the shopkeeper next door, is still sitting in the same place as 2 hours previous… whereas I had just received the biggest news of my life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s so silly that I was thinking like this, but it just shows how big a thing this is for me, which sent me onto a cloud and this world around me, felt so unimportant… But life does continue of course, so on the way home, I stopped for some groceries in the local store, just to be asked my salary by the shopkeeper!!!!!
(Sorry, just had to share that tiny piece of info – as a reflection of how much people here wish to know about you!!!!!!!)

So, back on track… I wasn’t too sure what to do with this news… was I to tell others? Hummm… I only told ma on that same day… and the next morning I was going to tell some teachers who I’m close to at school, but once I arrived, I got absorbed in lessons and I didn’t even think about my big news. So I’ve not told anybody here, and only sent a few emails to the sisters and only now am I spreading it through this post. At first the news felt surreal, but now it feels more safe… if that makes sense. Even though I’ve not yet seen the contract and it’s still a verbal agreement. But I feel it’s okay to spread the news. Because it simply going to happen.

This news has brought a tremendous amount of excitement, relief and clarity and it’s answering many questions. These answers are opening up more doors than I could’ve imagined and it feels safe and secure to know that something is being done ‘out there’ with my book. I once feared I’d need to stop travelling in order to publish, but this news is proof that I don’t need to stop, it’s happening. It’s such a blessing and gives me enormous peace of mind and freedom. There’s no more feeling of neglect and I feel more able to focus on the teaching. This job feels more ‘right’ than ‘wrong’, now that the book is being published… that sounds so strange I know. But teaching always felt wrong, because of the ‘self-publishing work’ I otherwise could’ve been doing. But I don’t need to consider that anymore. Many things are making more sense. And I’m more inspired to start another book, without force and without fear of it being in aid of ‘nothing’.

So, I await her following email with good news and something in writing attached, so I can confirm that she will be bringing my writing to print…sometime in 2012. We will have to seal this deal! Until then, life continues as normal, I’ll plan my onwards travels, spend some time with the students and cherish this new beginning.

Breaking news

(Just a short note before you start reading this... At the moment, I can't find the time to tell the people I'm closest to this amazing news that I recently received. I can't find the time to personally send everyone emails. So please forgive me for spreading this news so 'massively' in one go. I'd have loved nothing more than to sit and type personal messages to all my closest family and friends... But for that I simply have no time right now. So, I'm sharing it through my blog, because I simply need to let you all know. I hope nobody feels this is too impersonal or is offended...)

At the moment, I’m still absorbed in teaching and in India. I have been ever since I took on this job. Occasionally, over the past 4 months, I’ve had short and intense panic attacks, whenever I’d think about the book I’ve written and that’s waiting to be published. Being here, in this teaching situation, has often made me feel bad for ‘neglecting’ the process of publishing. I’d feel guilty for the fact that the teaching has taken-over and that I wasn’t actively searching for a means through which I could get the book to the reader.

In October, when I had free time, I had a notion to set-up my own website so as to publish the book myself. That was during my time in Chennai. I worked hard to suss out what I needed to do and was eager to set things in motion… I was so desperate to share my story. After Chennai, what I’d hoped to do… I was unable. I’d hoped that I could teach daily and work on self-publishing in my spare time. But that never happened… Lack of time, lack of internet connection and, more importantly, lack of physical energy. I also felt it a shame to be diving into a world of books, when there was a whole different world to explore just outside Lekha’s back door. So I accepted the fact that I had chosen to teach and that I was only able to do so much. I’ve learned that when we try to focus on too many different tasks and jobs at one, the work we then do in all areas will never receive the right amount of energy and the quality will never be as high as when we put attention only on one task at a time. So I distanced myself from the job I’d put upon myself; self-publishing and I worked as hard as I could to teach the kids some English and to teach myself some teaching skills. All was working great… and it’s still ongoing.

But something changed as a result of a connection that seemed insignificant at the time. On one day back in early December, when I was teaching in Sasthavattom, I checked my email and received a message from Julie, a close family friend from back home. She told me about a publisher she’d personally met. She’d spoken to her about the book I’d written and this lady was interested in such stories. So Julie sent her contact details to me in that one very ‘insignificant’ email.

When I first read the email, I was startled… because I hadn’t actually considered approaching publishers, as I was going to (eventually, when time, energy and internet connection would permit) do the work myself. Also I was startled to think that on the other side of the world, close friends and family still remembered that I’d written a book and still supported my dream and my passion so much. Because here, in this environment, nobody has a clue of my passion (or they may know that I write, but have no idea how much it means to me) nor do they have a clue of my past… Here in my ‘little Indian bubble’ I’ve often forgotten just how much work I once put into writing that book… Except for days when the little panic attacks would hit and I’d be struck by a bout of desperation to get the book on the shelves NOW… then I’d be at a loss as to what to do… whilst being ‘stuck in my Indian bubble’. I had no clue how I’d get it out there…

So on that day when I got the email, I was startled, then excited and anxious. There wasn’t really anybody I could share this news with. Because, as I said, nobody really knew. In my mind I was racing ahead, thinking of where this new, and oh so random, connection could lead. But, as well, after learning from previous rejections by other publishers, I knew the chances of her liking it, were ever so tiny. And if she WERE to like it, the odds of her actually publishing it, were even slimmer. So I tried not to get my hopes up when I emailed the manuscript, after being so tempted to edit the whole thing just one more time or to at least read it, scrutinize it and scrap some ‘not so strong parts’. Thankfully I resisted temptation and trusted that if she was going to like the story, some editing wouldn’t stop her from wanting to work with it. So I attached it, wished it well and didn’t expect to be bedazzled at anytime in the near future. This all happened around 2 weeks before Christmas.

Then, 3 weeks into the new year, sitting in the internet cafĂ© in Kayamkulam, this is what happens: I open my email and there’s one in particular that gives me flutters in my stomach. It’s from this lady, the publisher. At first I’m a little apprehensive to open it… but… I have to know what her thoughts are, even if she’s going to disregard it… I tell myself not to be struck down or disheartened by her rejection; it’s nothing personal, everyone will have a different opinion and all publishers and agencies are searching for a certain type of writer… it’s all part of the tough book publishing world.

However, fear shouldn’t be near! Because, there it is… for the first time since writing the book, I receive positive feed-back from somebody other than my family… Yes yes yes! Finally, some happy words about my book! She’s positive, she likes it a lot and feels it has a good flow and a sincere message to spread. The comment blows me away… and it’s followed by: ‘can we chat on skype?’ By this point, I have tears running down my face, but I don’t know what she actually wants to discuss. I simply cry for the fact that she likes it – whether or not it leads to anything.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What India can do - 2

But food isn’t the only topic. The other one is talking about how much I enjoy Kerala. Everyone wants to hear only praise about this southern state (I guess every person in the world is proud of where they’re from and will only want to hear outsiders speak highly of it). And the praise they wish to receive regarding Kerala is not only about the beauty of its nature, but also about the food (because it differs so much from the rest of India). So I give them the praise they wish to receive, because, even if I’m complaining a little, this place DOES deserve it. Really… and the sooner my time comes to leave, the more I’m seeing how gorgeous it is, how bright, green and light… Also the thought that in 4 weeks time I won’t have the regular taste of coconut in just about every dish I eat, saddens me a little. So I happily praise Kerala for its nature and food…

Besides being interested in food and Kerala, they’re so eager to find out my fathers name…! Hummm… sweet that they want to know this, but what does it matter what my fathers name is??? If I tell them Jacob, Anthony, Peter or (his actual name) Gerry… what difference does it make! They’ll still say: “wouw… how nice!” This just proves their innocence I guess. Then, after hearing his name, they want to know my mothers name, how many brothers and sisters I have, and what they are all doing… To make things less complicated and not to startle most people (about the fact that my sisters are living together with men and have babies, but AREN’T married) I tell them that all my sisters are married with beautiful children. And that always leads to them wondering (and sometimes looking at me in horror): ‘so…. If you’re sisters are all married, what on earth are you doing here in India, unmarried and ALONE at the age of 28??!!!!! Niamh, you must be so unhappy!’ (a few weeks ago I was even told I was an old spinster!!!!!) But I smile to it all and tell them I’m happy to be alone… and when I talk of how much I love to be in India and I love the food, they are relieved again… so the horror vanishes and a smile reappears.

Man oh man… the Indian ways can be so funny. If I’m on top of life, I smile at it all, and happily repeat the answers I’ve already spoken for the 100th time. But if I’m not full of the right amount of energy, I answer in a way that will keep the conversation brief and deep down I give sup and sigh… Oops! I don’t mean to offend anybody, by saying this but I’m just being totally honest here. Because it can be tiring at the best of times. Does it mean I think less of every inquisitive person I come across (which is actually every person)? No way! I probably appreciate them for it; they only want to get to know me. The ‘problem’ is that I can’t always give to them what they want and when I sup and sigh deep down, I know I’m in need of some kind of a break; either a break from being seen as the foreigner or a break from India. I’m not too sure.

I guess the reason I sup and sigh is because there’s no balance between real conversation and superficial talk about Indian food, my fathers name and my unmarried status. The only time I get to use my voice is to give my classes OR to answer such questions. So… this is what I’m lacking; a balance in the different ways we can communicate. The emails have been my saving grace, just like this blog, just like my journal – it gives me expression. But, no matter how much I love writing, sometimes a person needs to actually speak. And last night, speaking so freely, made a huge difference. To actually hear myself saying the words I’ve been writing about over and over again, was quite confronting and refreshing, all at once. It reconnects me with me, and with home, strangely enough… I’ll probably be doing it again soon! Yay! (how ‘sad’ that I’m excited by such little things…haha)

So, on that note, I’ll just add these freaky fleeting moments I’ve been having. On occasions I’ve looked at my hands and my arms and actually have been shocked by the whiteness of my skin. Sometimes I forget my skin colour is so different from those around me. I’m not an Indian, but I’m learning that the longer I surround myself only by Indians, the more I can feel to become one!!! Hahaha… But no… I’ve simply been absorbed in this lifestyle, and I’m grateful for it all, but now I’m coming out of it, slowly… Because the road is open and the world is at my dirty feet (with their black souls that I cannot properly - because of teaching in my bare feet everyday… it’s always nice to feel the earth beneath me, but tricky to keep them shining ‘white’…).

Either way, all is well, as you can clearly tell. A lot is happening and time is moving, as will I, shortly. I don’t know where just yet. Will keep you updated!

What India can do - 1

Last night, probably out of desperation (and totally unplanned) I was sitting in my hostel room and took out my camera and started filming. There’s nothing really exciting to see in my room, but I started anyhow. To make it more exciting, I started talking… and talking… and talking… Once I started, I couldn’t stop and before I knew it, I was having a full blown heart-to-heart with myself and the camera. I could have gone on and on for hours… but suddenly the camera blacked-out after 25 minutes… It just stopped and started beeping… and it said on the screen: battery EXHAUSTED! It was quite a funny moment: my talking had exhausted the camera… the battery didn’t simply need recharging… nope, it needed to recuperate…

Anyhow, this little event was a first for me. I’ve never sat and chatted to a camera, for no apparent reason, without having anything exciting going on around me. But it was probably out of desperation to talk freely. Over the past weeks I’ve been struggling with the lack of flowing and fluent conversations I can engage in, with the people around me. It’s almost impossible. Of course I talk… but most times I have to hold back, because they won’t understand… They either won’t understand my literal language – if I talk freely and flowingly – or they won’t understand what I mean. There are 2 different types of understanding when it comes to communicating. And with the daily connections I have, the conversations will be missing 1,5 of the understanding I ‘need’ from the listener if I wish to connect with this person or simply express myself, my thoughts, my days, my feelings.

I also realized that it’s been since the end of September since I’ve sat face-to-face with a western person who understands me fully. To speak without having to adjust my speech, is what I needed last night when I turned on the camera. And I did. Wouw… it was so nice. I could hear my voice, as though it was on the radio. I could hear my Irish accent, which I’ve had to lighten quite a bit, since teaching (they’d never understand me if I were to go into class speaking in a ‘broad’ Arklow accent – not that my accent was ever that broad… but you get my drift).

Anyhow, I was speaking freely and it was so nice. It was only babble babble babble… nothing of much significance, but it made me open up again. Because in my speech I’ve been limited. For weeks, or months even, I’ve only been speaking the same things over and over again to those around me (except for when I was living with Lekha, she was the only one I could speak freely with). People I meet in the street and teachers will ask the same questions all the time, because it’s the foundation of their English communication skills. And so, conversing has been mostly about what I’ve eaten today and yesterday… this will sound so ridiculous, I know, but it’s truly the main topic Indians can speak about and are interested in hearing when they come across a foreigner… And I must admit I’m tired of telling people what has passed through my stomach, EVERYDAY, at least 10 times over…even if they mean so well. I know it’s the Indian way, it’s their caring which is expressed mainly through the amount of food they can offer you and the amount that you can consume.

My rant on the weather

Wednesday the 18th. It’s an unexpected strike today. The Indians have once again managed to find a legitimate reason for bringing life to a standstill for 24 hours, just to prove a point; the people of Kerala are disagreeing with something or other… so the strike means everything is closed; buses aren’t running, shops are shut and schools are closed. No school and all are happy; students are delighted and teachers are feeling lighter. As for me, it doesn’t make too much of a difference one way or another.

January is flying by. Sometimes I totally loose track of what month it actually is. And it’s hard to think of people experiencing the ‘normal January blues’ at home; the majority will be wishing for the Spring to arrive, waiting for the brighter days and projecting their visions into February… the shortest month that will fly by and promptly bring on the Spring. At this moment, I don’t think I could be experiencing anything more different from that world back at home or in Europe. I guess now that I’m nearing the end of my visa, I’m seeing this place even brighter and lighter than before, it’s feeling it to be warmer in many different ways.

Touching the subject of ‘warmth’ opens up a topic. The Keralites (who are the citizens of this state) say it’s winter right now. That’s fine. I can agree with the fact that January is one of the months of Winter. But what gets me is that they claim it’s so cold and that we’ve experienced a big ‘climate-change’ (which is also apparently the reason for so many students and teachers to have had the flu over the past months, of which I was one). If this talk I’ve been hearing around me is anything to go by, I’d have sworn the temperature had dropped by 20 degrees in the space of a few weeks! This really isn’t what I experienced. To me, this ‘climate change’ was so subtle that I hardly noticed it at all and had to laugh when they were complaining about this ‘huge’ difference and the ‘cold’ winter we’re having!

I’ll clarify: in October it was hot and humid, all the time… above 30 degrees. Then in November the rain came and the nights and early mornings were cooler (maybe by 5 degrees), but the days were still warm, with temperatures in the high twenties (I’m sounding like a weather reporter here!) Anyhow, this instability lasted up until the end of December. And now there’s no more rain, but the nights and early mornings are still ‘cool’… (it never drops below 20 degrees) and the days are still soaring around 30 degrees. The climate is more stable. And those around me say it’s winter and it’s cold.

Hummmmm… Not too sure about that… because I still sweat buckets when I’m teaching in the 30 degree heat, I still use the fan in the evenings before sleep, I still wish for an umbrella when I walk in the afternoon sun after finishing school (I haven’t purchased one for some unknown reason…) and I still fear what the short ride to school in the commodore does to my skin, because of the sun beating down on untainted windows. So… this is Winter… The people here have no idea how lucky they are… they most likely would shrivel if they were placed in Ireland, or anywhere else for that matter where a ‘real winter’ can be experienced. Ah no… I know it’s not fair of me to talk like this, and I’m well aware that the labels we give to our surroundings are based on our own personal experiences and memories… But I still needed to let this out…

And I’ll just add that this little rant probably has done my country of origin proud… because the Irish will always talk and complain about the weather… oops… sorry to offend… but it’s true… Hummmm… then again I think people do it everywhere in the world, because here in the south of India they’re complaining too! The conclusion of my little rant: the majority is never happy with the climate; it will always be too hot, too cold, too sunny, too cloudy, too wet, too windy… no matter where the person is AND what a persons interprets as warm in one part of the world will never be the same as what another person elsewhere interprets as being warm… Right, enough reportings and complaints about the weather from this end… Because I DO have more interesting things to share 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Unexpected cremation 2

After I walked away, of course I was instantly comparing cremations and funerals in the east to those in the west. And I couldn’t get over how open and normal it feels here. At home it’s dark, gloomy, depressing. But here, as I was looking around at the faces - there were people simply chatting, smiling even… (no laughter of course) but it all seemed fine. Many would say, it’s disrespectful smile when such has tragedy has only just taken place. But here it’s probably more appreciated than anything else. At home, if people are to smile anywhere near a funeral, they’re easily considered heartless. I didn’t feel I had to put a sad face on… (of course that face inevitably came when I was near the body, but once I stepped away, I didn’t feel I had to keep a frown on my face) even when saying goodbye to Unnithan sir. Maybe it’s the difference in religion… I don’t know… but I felt that he, and his children, would appreciate a smile of encouragement instead of a frown of misery, when I went on my way.

So I left after the rituals had taken place. I only stayed for 45 minutes. I knew what was going to happen pretty soon after leaving, and that was something I didn’t need or want to see. The cremation itself. And this is the thing that DID throw me: having the cremation in the very same spot – 3 meters from the back door of the house. Wouw… I couldn’t believe it. There was a pile of wood stacked high, just beside her body, waiting to be put on the fire that her son was going to light. This is all apart of their traditions… having the person cremated in the garden, close to the house, so the spirit remains with the family. Then the ashes and bones are gathered after a certain amount of days and for a whole year the family will bless the remainings each day before they’re finally sent out to sea.

The thought of the son having to light the fire – was a little hard for me to swallow. I never knew any of this… So I couldn’t help but constantly compare it to home… we see nothing of the cremations and we do our best not to think of what will happen to the body. And here, it’s so open… simply disposing of a carcass that held her mind and her soul for 60 years.

After leaving, and arriving back at the hostel, I thought I’d be quite upset about the whole thing… but I was nothing of the kind. I was actually relieved, happy and at peace. To see a body with no life made me feel safe, it didn’t fill me with fear. It made me feel blessed. Why? Because I realized suddenly how fragile and precious life is and that it’s a gift to have it, right here and now. I was feeling so intensely that this is the only time we have. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring… And because of this uncertainty, I now know I have follow certain things through in my life, things that my mind tells me are ‘undoable’ and ‘out of reach’. My mind tells me it’s best to forget them. But why should I? Life is way too short… I have to at least try what it my heart is telling me to do, whether or not my mind fills me with lies stating I can’t do these things and that I’m doomed to fail. I know I’ll be a bigger failure if I don’t give these things a go, especially now that I’m so close. Because, yes, I find myself at a crossroads on the journey and this happening on Sunday was a huge lesson… and I obviously needed it, to choose what turning to take in the most focussed way with as little effort as possible. I’ll let this set for now and continue later. Thank you for reading.

Unexpected cremation 1

This is something I just need to write about, before it slips away unrecorded…

Early Sunday morning I got news from the head mistress at school that the wife of a senior staff member (Unnithan sir) had passed away on Saturday. So to pay my respects to him and his wife, I said I would ‘stop by’ for the funeral/cremation on Sunday afternoon. It was quite a change in atmosphere, after just arriving back from the annual day celebrations. But I wanted to go. Even though I’d only ever had brief connections with Unnithan sir, I highly appreciate and respect him.

So, Sunday afternoon I suddenly found myself standing with maybe 100 others, around the corps of a lady I’d met only once. It was the strangest thing. The rituals are ones I’ve only ever read about, never actually seen in action – until Sunday.

I’ll paint a picture of what was going on. The ceremony, followed by the cremation, took place at his house. Only 3 meters from the backdoor, her body was wrapped in bright orange cloth. The scene around the body resembled very much the same as those back home in graveyards. But the feel was totally different, as was the setting (of course). Here, nothing felt grey or dull… nobody was dressed in black, there was no rain, there were no clouds. I felt the atmosphere sad, but not depressing. There was no hole in the ground, there was no priest… It was all so… what’s the word I’m looking for… special and warm and bright.

The sons and grandchildren were the ones performing the rituals and giving her a special send-off. There aren’t any blessings spoken, it’s only performed. For example, her grandchildren put rice and milk on her mouth – so that she’s well-fed before her journey onwards. Also bright pink flowers - that had all received blessings from relatives and close friends - were sprinkled on her bright orange ‘wrapping’.

For me, this was only the 2nd body I’d ever seen, without life inside. At first I was reluctant to go close. But then – just after she had been given her last portion of rice and her last drops of milk by her grandchildren - one of the staff members from school said I could give her my blessings, it was like I’d been given permission… What a strange thing… me… a foreigner – not of the same religion and not having known this woman at all - was ‘allowed’ or kindly asked to walk around the body and bless her in my own way (with 100 Indians watching (and most likely judging) how the only foreigner was going to bless her farewell). I said no at first. But then, the way in which I was asked to go near her, even if it was just to look at her face, was so friendly and warm and open. Almost like they wanted me to see her, to bless her and not be afraid. It’s all very hard to put into words. But everything felt to be the most natural and special thing in the world.

So I walked up and saw her face, with bits of rice sprinkled on her mouth. And I felt so…. What’s the word… I felt so at peace to see her like that. I know she had suffered from cancer before passing and I could feel something so calm around the whole scene – even with the sadness of her family being so near.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Annual day Mayhem 2

The overall show was a huge success. It was said by the managing staff from school as well as from the parents that it had been the best annual day so far – apparently because of one foreign teacher who came and spiced-up the program, with ideas that others – apparently – would never have come up with. At the end, I received so much credit. More so than any of the other teachers. But I didn’t feel it justified… not at all! Not when I look back at how differently I could’ve organized things. I guess those who praised me with such credit didn’t realize just how much I was kicking myself for not doing things differently and more controlled. All they saw was how well all my little stars did on stage... So credit I received I passed on to all of those little stars. Because they all did fantastic when the curtain finally raised and the time came for them to shine. I was so proud of them.

My last act was also the final act of the night. It was the yoga demonstration. All was calm, the audience was thinning and my stresses had vanished, as if by magic. Afterwards my group left the stage and suddenly everything was over, the school was emptying and the kids were going home, just before coming to say: ‘Happy journey Niamh teacher!’ How sweet is that!

And before I got the chance to yawn and take-in the fact that I wouldn’t be going back to that school ever again, I was sitting at Lekha’s kitchen table (the lady I’d been living with before) having a cup of tea before bed and excitedly discussing the whole event.

What a day… and I can’t believe how much I learned from the whole experience – so many things that I can now start applying in Kayamkulam school… because guess what… they too have an annual planned in the next few weeks! Ooohhhhhh…. And who will be teaching drama… it’s got to be me! Yay!!!!!!!!!!!

For now though, as far as Sasthavattom school goes, my time is over. I won’t say I’ll never be going back. I’ll keep in contact with some of the teachers, especially Lekha – who I got quite close to over the months. She’s probably one of the people I got closest to, since arriving in India in September… Staying in her home again, felt as though I was returning to my Indian home…! So I’ll go back to visit before I leave, which will be pretty soon – because, even with all of the haste and commotions at the schools, time is still ticking and still I’ve a decision to make… where to go and what to do… keep you updated as soon as the answers come falling!

Annual day Mayhem 1

Saturday the 7th was the big day. The day I’d been working towards, since the end of October. Preparing, stressing, worrying, practicing and doing arts and crafts like never before… and finally the day arrived: Annual day!

I went back to the school in Sasthavattom on Friday (the 6th). I didn’t really want to go back for the festival. I don’t know why… it actually all felt like so much effort… ooops! Anyhow, I had to get on with it, whether I wanted to go back or not. Because my 4 ‘performances’ needed me - or so I was told by the teachers at the school who were eagerly waiting for me to come back.

Arriving at the school was everything I didn’t expect it to be. Once I got out of the rickshaw and walked towards the office, the kids all came running out of the classrooms, shouting my name, giving me hugs and telling me how much they’d missed me. They were handing me cards and pictures they’d been making for me… Man oh man. I never expected that at all. Quite overwhelming… I’d only been gone for 3 weeks! I guess I never realized how much they really DID want me back… or didn’t want me to leave in the first place.

This was on Friday. That was purely a day of rehearsals. I thought I'd be stressed out to get everything set for the following day. But I took off all the pressure and decided I wasn’t going to be pushing the kids anymore, for any kind of perfection in their performances. I’d done all I could, before leaving and however they now were performing and acting, was as it was going to be on the day – whether it pleased me or not. But they were doing brilliant! I could see during rehearsals that all the kids I’d been working closely with during my 2 months, had continued to work hard, whilst I was gone. They probably still remembered how much I’d been pushing them before I left… and how hard they had to work to please me… oops! But, then again, I mustn’t have been that bad or else they wouldn’t have welcomed me back with open arms.

Anyhow, enough about that… Saturday itself was many things… exciting, stressful, fun, long, tiring, and, most importantly, a day I’ll never forget. The show started at 3pm Indian time – meaning 4pm normal time (Indians are the worst time-keepers I’ve ever come across) and it went on until 9pm… 5 hours of speeches, dance acts, singing performances, demonstrations and (my) dramas. I didn’t get to see any of the other performances because I was either back stage, or on the stage itself, or announcing on the mic.

The mayhem around it all was huge… but the 1000 people in the audience (hopefully) didn't realize the chaos. To paint a picture of the commotion that was going on back backstage - as the show was in full-swing: 250 students spread out over only a few classrooms, all sorting their own costumes (but of course needing the teacher to do it for them), all in need of make-up, all as excited and nervous as can be and just as stressed as the teachers. Trying to keep them nicely contained was almost impossible, even with nearly 20 teachers to do the job. But it all worked out brilliantly.

I’ve never played such part in a show like that before. And to be honest, there were times when I thought all the work I’d put in over 2 months, was going to be in aid of very little… especially when last minute things didn’t fall into place easily and the audience of nearly 1000 people were sitting in their seats eagerly waiting for the curtains to rise and for their own little child to appear being the brightest little star of the school. Hummm… is it any wonder I was quite stressed at times and that when the stage manager would shout the question: ‘Niamh, is your act ready to go’, the only thing I could reply was ‘no’… (which had to be a ‘yes’… whether they my little stars were ready or not). Needless to say, my first 3 acts stressed me out to the max, and what made it worse was that I was participating too. This only meant I had more work. But things happened and it appeared all so smoothly to the audience… in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The art of planning and travels

Making plans though, can be tough. I’ve told myself so many times, they shouldn’t be made, I don’t need them, and I can flow with life going from one place to the next, from one experience to the next. To travel so freely… isn’t that what life is all about? Well, I’ve learned that we can go with the flow… to a certain extent. But, no, it’s not only what life is about.

I know of travelers, and am quite close to some, who will always go with the flow. They DO plan, but the plans are always changing. Is this a problem? Not when the traveler doesn’t have to take a lot of practicalities into account – such as work and finances, visiting the family and fulfilling certain ‘duties’ simply for the sake of health and sanity. I’m not a traveler who DOESN’T have to take these things into consideration. Because I DO have to be practical. I DO need to have regular work lined-up… how else can I support myself? And, yes, of course I DO miss my family and I DO need to continuously work on myself, at the same time as giving priority to all these things that are important to me and my life.

I’m continuously reminding myself, as the time to move onwards slowly approaches, that making plans doesn’t have to take away my freedom. But past experiences have proved this to be true; going to China, I planned to stay a year, and was trapped, isolated and miserable (of course I don’t know if that’s because of the contract I had or the actual place and situation). But I’m getting somewhat scared of planning for fear of recreating past experiences. But I have to plan, because I have to move. Also, being practical keeps me in touch with the real world – otherwise I float too much and become disconnected from life. Plans can always change, and that too is fine… I don’t need to feel trapped by making choices and taking action. I don’t need to feel that I’m closing the door to so many other experiences, by giving priority to certain things in life. The things I do and the things that have my priority and therefore are my responsibility, are the things that make me happy… so why would I feel that plans and actions and practicalities will burden me, isolate me and stop me from moving? If anything, they will keep me moving and experiencing. And that’s what I want.

There’s another thing that offers me HUGE relief… the fact that I NO LONGER believe that I must do EVERYTHING NOW… By feeling that everything needs to happen asap, it can be almost impossible to feel a plan or decision is the right one. I’m learning though that this life is a journey that will be ongoing forever… And all the things I love to do in life will always be coming to me, at different times along the way, depending on what I focus on at that particular time. There’s a time and place for everything. And I can’t have and do and be everything all at once. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work!

Looking back on how I’ve been moving, I see that it will continue, if that’s what I want. So the experiences will still be had, they won’t happen all simultaneously… that’s impossible. But by focusing on what I love, they will come to me, eventually. All in due time… I’m only 28… I have all the time IN the world as I keep on moving THROUGH this world. So there’s no rush to do everything and there shouldn’t be any fear that making a decision will be the wrong one. Because, always, things will work out. I’ll always have work, because of being so lucky that I love teaching (even if I’m not properly qualified) and I’ll always have the support of my family, who will never force me to come back – even if they miss me.

You might be catching-on to the fact that, now that I’m at a point where my next 6 weeks are planned and the road after that is open, I’m somewhat afraid of taking the next step wrongly, or of becoming trapped, isolated and miserable. But, like I’ve already stated in this post, nothing will ever be wrong. I can change my plans, if it doesn’t work. Whatever I choose to do or wherever I choose to go, I’ll always have the power to change my circumstances – something I learned in China.

I guess what I’m trying to establish and set straight, once and for all… is that by making plans, I’m not imprisoned. But being a traveler, doesn’t guarantee that every move will be easy or that it will give me a sense of freedom. However the experience itself will always be needed, so as to learn that we CAN be free living, regardless of the country we’re in or the job we’re doing. We’ll also need that experience so we can move on to the next chapter and place – either weeks, months or even years after first arriving in a foreign place.

Man oh man…. All of this rambling, about freedom and travel… I should know by now that I don’t need to be on the move, just to have a free life. But old ways of thinking are hard to fully break away from. And it’s only natural, with the move on the horizon, for the past to be brought to the surface. And that’s fine. I’ll just trust that all is well and I’ll continue trying to put my words into practise as I slowly plan and gradually move onwards.

Something new

New beginnings. We all say it’s a time for new resolutions. It’s a time to better ourselves as we try doing things that will make out lives happier. But, I’m not going to suddenly start changing my ways. I’ve already been doing that and so I’m going to continue as I was before, always trying to learn life’s lessons, no matter what time of year it may be. It should always be a time to be conscious of how we live and of the reasons for our actions and the changes we wish to make and then to follow them through.

So, on that note… it’s January 1st. Is it a coincidence that from tomorrow onwards a new chapter starts for me? It’s the start of my ‘proper’ classes in Kayamkulam school. For the past 2 weeks, yes I’ve been teaching, but it was only to the small groups and the weaker students, also I’ve only been there for half days and simply warming up, meeting the kids and getting into the swing of things. From tomorrow onwards, a routine will start. I’ll be there full-time (6 days a week) with a proper schedule and I’ll be apart of the school – even if it is only for 6 weeks.

I’m happy to be here. I’ve settled into this spacious hostel – after having some ‘starting problems’ that became the cause of some mental turmoil. But hey-ho, I’m stable again and my health is back on track. So I’m willing to make the next 6 weeks into a new experience, even if it’s not the first time for me to be teaching in Kayamkulam.

For the past 2 months I’ve been hugely caught-up in ONLY the experience at Sasthavattom school, forgetting a lot about other things. So I never properly realized just how fast time is moving. But, now with more clarity and strength, I see that the next 6 weeks of teaching, could very well be the last time for me to ever be working in India. Because my mind has changed; I once thought I’d want to come back as soon as possible after I leave in Feb. But I’ve heard myself saying to most people, that I don’t want to come back or even try to renew my visa. Not anytime in the near future anyhow. This was quite a shock, when I heard myself say it to the owner of the hostel. It just flopped out of my mouth! What a turn around! To have gone from hoping I could stay a full year to now saying; ‘nope, I’m happily moving onwards…’ it’s quite big. I didn’t even sit and over think it… I didn’t need to, for some reason. I don’t even know when I decided. Just one day last week I said it and I didn’t feel sad nor did I feel to be insulting the Indians around me, by saying I was happy to leave their country! I’m realizing, that so suddenly it’s time for something new, a new place, a new experience.

Happy New Year!!!

New Years Day. 2012. Yesterday I sat down to do some updating, but the only thing that came out were ‘pity notes’ about the fact that I wasn’t celebrating the turning of the year, because of being in a town that does little to mark the occasion and also because of living in a hostel with only 3 other women, who all would be in bed by 10pm, after watching some bad Indian television and eating 3 different spicy curries only 10 minutes before saying goodnight. This is exactly what happened and I participated. And that concluded my celebration.

Yesterday afternoon, I was doom and gloom. It had been monsooning non-stop for nearly 2 full days – that could’ve affected me a little. I went on the internet, but didn’t want to email, or blog… so I only rang home and winged a little to my mother on skype… (oops!). But I was just feeling quite strange about everything – I’d been giving classes on New Years Eve and I didn’t have a feeling that it was December 31st at all nor did I really have anybody to celebrate with. Really it wasn’t the end of the world, but still I felt to have reached a stage in my life that usually is only reached once the children have moved out and they aren’t bothered to come to see their mother and give her a hug when the clock strikes 12! But, this makes no sense at all! I’m only 28! Not 88…! and I don’t have any kids! and I’m not immobile! And, it’s by my own choice that I didn’t celebrate this year! So what on earth was going through my mind yesterday!? Now, I can see how silly it all was, but yesterday nothing of my reality was clear, only my mind was playing games and those were what mattered to me (you can clearly tell that I was – as often is the case – way too much inside my own head, and not on the positive side of things!) So, yes, I admit it, I was feeling a little down last night. I went to bed in that same low mood (which actually never happens to me). Because it was so rare, I then was convinced that if I’d go to sleep feeling so low in 2011, I’d inevitably wake-up in 2012 feeling the same thing and the start of the new year would continue on a low note… and my life would be only doom and gloom!

So I wished and wished and wished for it to lift… I fell asleep hoping for ‘me and the new year’ NOT to start on bad terms… I then woke up at 11.58pm. Everything was so quiet. There wasn’t a sound in the hostel, all was dark. Outside, not a peep… not a firecracker to be heard… Nothing… then I dosed and woke only 15 minutes later, I checked the time… and wished myself a happy new year. And that was that! I turned over and continued sleeping until around 04.30am. I then woke and the text messages started coming in… it was around that time when most of my dearest were starting their night of celebrations and gatherings. I stayed awake, feeling on edge, restless… felt as though I should be doing something. But then I realized, even with the uneasiness, I was happy again! I was feeling human again! What a relief that the self-pity had subsided and I didn’t care that at that very moment most of my friends and family were all doing something special together and I wasn’t a part of it. It didn’t bother me that I’d been sleeping my way through the turning of the new year and I was happy to open the window and see that I was in India. Yes!!!!!!!

The whole festive season of 2011 has been quite a difficult one; being sick for most of it, continuing to work throughout, and feeling quite lonely at times. But this morning, none of that mattered anymore. It’s all in the past now… It’s a new beginning…

With such clarity I fine to continue life as normal and doing the things I do that get me off to a good start, no matter what day it is… the things that make me feel human and well… meditation, yoga, breathing exercises… then I had breakfast with the 2 other women, I washed my clothes outside on the stone in the hot morning sun (which I was delighted to do, because it meant that finally my strength and energy had returned after the flu took away for nearly 2 weeks. Man, how happy I was that I could be something of a domestic goddess for a few hours).

And now I’m updating with a spirit that’s high again. Only today I’m realizing that it’s been quite some weeks since I’ve been feeling like this. With this spirit it also feels a lot better to wish everybody all the love, light, peace and laughter to come their way, this New Year. Posting a blog here yesterday and saying the same, would only have felt halfhearted… so I’m delighted I didn’t go on my blog! Yay… Okay enough about that… Even if this has been the quietest and most boring new year celebration of my life, I sincerely hope that everyone had a memorable night, with at least one person around them, to hug when the clock struck 12. Be well, be safe, be happy and, most importantly, be healthy throughout it all…