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Sunday, February 26, 2012


Friday- I was a little low and too absorbed in the internet and ‘sorting’ things. My energy was being zapped and I still hadn’t caught up on the 2 manic weeks of travels. So Saturday was painful. I hit a slump and negativity started to creep in, doubts about being here were racing through my mind and I was taking on vibes that weren’t serving a purpose at all! It was simply due to being tired… STILL… So I needed rest; everything had caught up with me and I was drained…

(just a note in between… I know I’m going to get side-tracked here, but so be it!) I seem to write these words a lot: drained, tired, energy… Is that a sign? Or not really a sign, but it’s my clarity that I’m low on what I need, so as to keep up with myself. Physically I mean. An ongoing problem has been the following: a spirit so full of life, but not always having a body that can carry this spirit in the manner desired… (this is also my reason for not yet heading to Nepal).

As a result of this regular reoccurring weakness, I’m very much up and down… unbalanced. And Saturday was a perfect example. I was lower than Thurday, but higher than Friday, then a few hours later I was lower than Friday, then an hour later I was just as high as Thursday! Whaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you keep up? I can’t… haha… All I can say is that I’m seeing how ‘all over the place’ I’ve been. I guess that’s the start of bringing the balance back into my days. And last night I started… How did I choose to rebalance? By lying flat on my back in my little homely and clean box room, that has incense burning and my Indian sari (dress material) on the window, with my eyes shut, in silence, for hours… (after talking the ears off ma for I don’t know how long, about my excitement for life, about the people I’ve met, about what I’m learning, creating, envisioning).

So, eventually I was lying down for hours, no music, no sound… nothing only my own head. And man oh man, it was heaven! I ended up dosing for ages, and the travels were whirling through my mind; I was starting to see my current position and how far I’ve come since lying on that same bed, a year ago.

Then my mam comes in: ‘Niamh, there’s someone on the phone from England!’ I wondered who would call on my mams mobile, looking for me… It actually wasn’t anybody from England at all, but from Australia! It was Jason (the guy I spent 6 months travelling and working with, back in 2009). I hadn’t spoken to him for 2 years! And it ‘just so happened’ that he calls my mam, on my 4th day back, looking for me! How cool is that!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear his voice again. We’ve been texting each other ever since we split. But talking is always different than jotting down a few lines in a text message. And this was special… Man oh man…

I’m not going to say it was a coincidence for him to have rung. I don’t believe in coincidences anymore. But I know everything happens for a reason and so-called ‘coincidences’ aren’t to be brushed aside, as if being unimportant. Nope… And, as for his call, I don’t know what it meant, but it sure as hell felt great!

Wouw… this made me realize just how much we can move and meet new people, but the old ones, will never forget and connections don’t always wear thin. We travel and more and more people enter our lives, making it richer.

Since being back I can honestly say, even in my unbalanced state, that I feel closer to all the people who I’ve been privileged to cross paths with, over the past years. I feel everyone is ‘here’. I feel open to the world and to new experiences. How strange for this to happen, when I’m NOT actually moving and lying on my bed in a cute little box room! Crazy is this life…

Still I'm walking through Arklow!

Still I’m walking around on Thursday morning, I’m seeing familiar faces and chatting with those who had heard about the book… and also with those who played an important role in helping me get my book to where it now is. People were congratulating me… When I was here last time, everyone knew I was writing it. Because it’s all I talked about… it was the main thing I got myself absorbed in. Also they knew of my past, of my writing and now they know that the next stage is starting to happen. I can’t say how good it feels to be so close to ‘it’ again. To be in the place where it all started; where I lived through the illness, where I wrote about it, and now, where I’m publishing it. It’s so REAL to return and hear from others that it hasn’t stopped happening, but that it’s only continuing to unfold as it should. It’s quite special. I feel as though everyone has been supporting me, even when I was on the other side of the world.

When I was in India, I knew it was happening, yet it felt surreal. There was nobody I could really express my happiness with, when it came to this topic. Or I could, but nobody shared that sense of happiness with me, because they didn’t know my story or how much it meant to me. But now that I’ve followed my book back to Ireland, I can share everything. Yes, this was the right thing for me to do and I’m only hoping that my being here will speed up the process of getting it to the reader… I guess it’s still too early to say.

Anyhow, I’m still walking around the town. Happy as Larry. I stepped into the local coffee shop, where I used to sit for hours drinking tea and coffee and writing my heart out… On Thursday afternoon I was greeted as if I’d only been there the day before. They remembered me… And, as if I’d only been there yesterday, I found the table I’d usually sit at and I set up my stuff and started writing.

Then, something freaky happened. As I was absorbed in journaling and going deep into the publishing process and what it could mean for my future, I was interrupted by a member of staff. He said I’d dropped some money underneath the table. He picked it up, gave it to me: 0,01 cent. I smiled when he said ‘it’s the first of your millions’. But then alarm bells started going off. Because this exact same scenario is one I’ve read about before! I was reading a book about success (nearly a year and a half ago) and it was about how to create the life of your dreams. In that book there was a short story of a lady who was aspiring and working hard to become a writer. She was sitting in a café, journaling about her writing career, and a staff member did the exact same thing! He picked up a cent that was under her seat, telling her it was the first of her millions. And she held onto that cent and went on to write and publish books… This is a true story! As is mine; this happened to me on Thursday afternoon! It was like one of those moments when something happens and you instantly question reality, in a flash… HOLY SMOKE….what????????!!!!!!!!!!! I was so excited once I realized why it freaked me out so much! Someone lived this experience before and that someone DID reach her readers! I wonder if the same will happen to me…

Anyhow, I don’t want to blabber too long about that little incident… maybe I’m reading too much into it. But it was definitely an omen in my eyes!

Afterwards, I’m walking back home… high on life… and to a dinner I'd been craving for nearly 6 months: a fillet of salmon!!!!!!!!!!!!! man oh man, I was in heaven!

Walking through Arklow

I’m in Arklow; day 4. And it feels like a lot longer. Depending on how you look at it, this could be good or bad. But, for me, I know this is a good thing and I’ve slotted into my own space without any problems. The only ‘problem’ I’ve had is the heavy mind, but my heart feels light, so I know everything is okay.

The first day back, I was on such a high. I woke up and 5 minutes later I was unpacking my backpack… 20 minutes later I was down stairs, drinking tea out of my old teapot and eating the regular breakfast I’d been craving for, for the past months. I was full of beans, felt my life was happening so fast and I had to get up and partake… How else would my life continue to evolve? I felt as if there was a whole world waiting for me!

So I put on my boots (no more ‘chapels’ – as flipflops are called in India), my snugly cardigan, gloves, and scarf. I walked down the street, off to do my own thing and I felt to be walking on air. Everything felt so familiar, but new at the same time. I was seeing this place with different eyes again. Many will understand that this happens when you’ve been away for a while… but this is the 3rd time now for me to be here after ‘extensive’ travels, and still my perception has changed and it’s only for the better. I guess that means I’ve changed too… for the better??? Hummm…

Anyhow… Thursday morning still, it was warm; 15degrees…the hottest day this year so far, for Ireland. (Even though I’ve been in 30 degree temperatures for the past 8 months, I feel this climate to be really nice… I can breathe and it feels healthy, the sea air is also increasing my appetite… which is a good thing!). So I’m walking along ON the WELL MAINTAINED FOOTPATHS and there were no worries about tripping up or getting knocked down. There was no honking and no extreme pressure in my head caused by the passing traffic. Cars even stopped for me at the zebra crossing! I say ‘for me’ but of course, they’re not stopping because it’s ME… but because it’s the rules of the road! Haha… Such a shock I got though, when the first car actually came to a halt! Wouw! What a welcome surprise. Life is so civil here and people are naturally courteous. Strangers smile and say hello; and it’s not because I’m foreign, it’s not because of having a different appearance, YAY!!!! But it’s out of pure kindness and a sense of unity within society.

Hearing the English language around me and the strong Irish accents (especially the kids…so cute) felt so warm. In the shops, people were holding the door open, as they were leaving before me, instead of letting it slam in my face! And everyone was waiting in line! Nobody was jammy or pushy or forcefully focussed on getting what they want, no matter who they knocked down… They didn’t fight to get things done sooner than the person standing in front of them. I know in overcrowded countries it’s their way, due to the amount of people. And there’s even a saying that goes: ‘only the quickest survive’… and it’s true, so it’s how they approach life; fighting and forcing to see to themselves ONLY. They wouldn’t realize it though, nor would they be doing it to harm anybody. I found that when you’re there, it becomes inevitable for a pushy approach to also become your way of being, whilst amongst the people. Or else you’ll literally get walked on. Here it’s their way to preferably let others go before you… or so it seems at the moment. Maybe my perspective will change… who knows. But for now this is how I’m seeing it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Surprising Home - 2

4pm approached and I was in the arrival hall. There weren’t a lot of people waiting so I had full view of the gates and the entrance doors. I knew that within minutes the family would walk out and at the same time my brother-in-laws would walk in the entrance doors. And I’m standing there, sweating buckets (even though it was only 5 degrees). I was having hot flushes and was dying to tell everyone that I was about to surprise the family by coming home after a year of being on the road, unannounced. But I didn’t. I just waited and waited and jumped for joy inside.

And then it happened. My mam walked out, I left my luggage unattended (oops) and ran towards her, hugging and hugging her for ages… My little sister didn’t know what was happening, and the brother-in-laws – who had also just arrived - were even more confused… ‘Where did you come from?!?!? Weren’t you supposed to be in… some place in Asia???’ There was so much happening, so much explaining, so much hugging, so many people… all quite overwhelming.

We drove to Hulst and in the car, I felt to be vomiting words… I talked and talked and talked… it was all just ‘bla bla’… and, on reflection, this showed that I hadn’t been chatting freely with people for quite a few months. Everyone just let me chat and chat… without interrupting… Wouw such ‘freedom of speech’ was the biggest treat! Once I’d surprised the sisters - who were shocked and even shed some tears of joy - I started to run out of steam. Come to think of it, I didn’t arrive with a huge amount of energy to start with, after travelling continuously and having passed through various timezones. I was more frazzled than I’ve been in a long long time… I didn’t know what day it was, or what time it was supposed to be according to my bodyclock. Everything was ‘out of whack’…

Needless to say that being apart of a family, with 14 members, was quite a big adjustment. I didn’t expect to get so absorbed in their lives. Or, actually, I did, but I didn’t expect for it to take its toll on me so much. At times I struggled when dealing with the amount of people around me, who I was able to understand and communicate freely with. My head spun on many an occasion as I tried to keep up with the haste of their days. I became apart of only their world and because I wasn’t on top of the jetlag and not full of a huge amount of energy, I felt distant from my own world. I was overwhelmed many times and I felt to be losing myself. I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t on my blog… why not? Due to a frazzled head that couldn’t think properly. Nor did that head dare to make sense of the events that had come to pass. The time in Holland was really like being in transition… I knew it was only temporary and a sense of ‘me’ would soon return. So I did all I could to keep ‘with it’. I spent precious time with my nieces and nephews, with my sisters, with the family. I shared the most important things with them before it was time to move onwards to Ireland.

On Wednesday it was time for me to leave. It’s always sad to say goodbye to my sisters and their kids of course. But I needed to move forward, because movement felt to have stopped whilst I was there. I knew that there were things waiting for me in Ireland. I needed space to clear my head and to get passed the jetlag. I needed to focus my mind again on the things that would bring me towards new experiences. I needed to get to the place where everything felt to be happening for me. And that was Arklow in county Wicklow, Ireland. I never ever thought I’d hear my speak these words, or write them… but it’s how it is right now; this is where I need to be and it feels amazing.

Surprising Home!

Holland: I’ve been and gone… but still the journey beforehand and the stop itself needs to be jotted down.

It only took me 6 days to get from Kayamkulam to Hulst (which is the town in Holland where my sisters live): 2 nights on a train, 1 night in a hostel, 1 night in an airport, 1 night in something of a 5 star hotel and on day 6 I arrived at the airport in Brussels, Belgium (which is only an hour from Hulst). To summarize it differently; 40 hours on a train, 36 hours in Mumbai, 12 hours at the airport, 6 hours on a plane, 22 hours in Egypt, 5 hours on a plane… and Brussels ‘suddenly’ greeted me.

The most memorable parts of this whole 6 day journey were when I had 2 separate conversations at Mumbai airport, with an Indian man and a Chinese man. With both I ended up chatting for ages about my Indian experiences, my Chinese experiences, my likes, my dislikes, together with the comparisons and annoyances that I’d come to deal with in both countries. It was the perfect way to spend my last few hours in India; summarizing the past year (almost to the exact date) - with 2 men who were native to each country. As well it was good for me to hear myself speak about the adventures. Because sometimes, most times, I wouldn’t realize just how much has happened and how much my life has changed since leaving home nearly 365 days ago.

Another highlight of the trip was on Thursday. I had a stop over in Cairo, Egypt. I expected to be waiting at the airport for 22 hours for my connecting flight to Brussels the following morning. I expected to be sleeping on bench in the waiting hall. But nope! The airline was offering a hotel for the night, to all passengers who were in transit… COMPLEMENTARY! Wouw… and what a hotel this was… it was huge, not too sure how many stars… but judging by the customers and the service that was provided… holy moly… it must have been at least 5 stars! To me, it felt to be luxury of the highest degree… (all organized by Egypt Air!!!!) I had a private room, clean sheets, double bed, en-suite bathroom (with a bathtub!!!), internet, movies and 3 meals included (a buffet serving the most delicious fresh foods…all you can eat). I was in heaven… moving onwards to Holland.

But still nobody knew of my whereabouts. I hadn’t written about my exact plan of action on my blog, as I wanted to surprise everyone. By Thursday I knew I couldn’t keep my mam in the dark any longer. She was getting worried; she knew my visa was expiring the following day. It’s only natural for her to – literally – be wondering where on earth Niamh is! So from that place, on Thursday afternoon, I decided to finally contact her and tell her I’d be seeing her in 24 hours time!

I was full of so much excitement, squealing down the laptop: ‘I’m in Egypt!’ This was quite an unexpected place for me to be (especially when I’d only been talking of travelling to Nepal or South East Asia). But once I ran through my plans and the route of my trip, things started to make sense. Cool… my mother was ecstatic, and she only told my younger brother. She kept my sisters in the dark. The following day, my mam, brother, sister and nephew, were flying from Dublin to Brussels too (coincidentally they were flying into the same airport). They were visiting my sisters in Holland for the christening of my niece. I knew this was a big celebration and it was the reason for stopping in Holland before heading onwards to Ireland. But I didn’t know the ‘brady brunch’ from Ireland would be landing in the same airport only 2 hours after my flight was to arrive. Brilliant!

The thoughts of seeing the family again, got me so excited and I couldn’t believe I was going to be returning unannounced again… The last time I came back (in July 2010), nobody knew about it either. I rocked up on the doorstep, shocking the life out of my 2 sisters in Holland. This was going to be a dejavu! Yes!

The night at the hotel was so nice, even though I had a hard time getting proper rest (so much was happening and racing through my mind - I felt it hard to contain myself). The next morning, I had the 5 hour flight and onboard I was already feeling the ease that comes when being in the west. I was hearing European languages around me, I was blending in with the crowds and was free from the stares… How nice! I landed at 2pm and had 2 hours to wait before the others would land. They (aswell as I) were being collected by my 2 brother in laws…

So I waited in excitement. I sat and had my first cappuccino in a café and was excitedly doing some writing. I was nervous too. But it wasn’t only for seeing the family again. It was for realizing that by heading to Ireland I was taking the risk I’d been so scared of actually facing. The fear of actually doing what I need; totally focussing on writing, I was facing it. But the nerves and excitement made me feel alive. I wasn’t worried at all. I knew, as I sat in that café with my cappuccino, that I was at the start of something big.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Some last notes from India - goodbye for now

Another thing I noticed was that there are so many men!!!!! Today I’ve seen thousands and thousands and thousands of male Indians, but I spotted only a handful of women! What a strange thing. Where are they all? Are they safely at home, cooking, cleaning and looking after the kids, while the men work hard out on the streets, trying to earn a few rupees by either scamming the tourists, or maintaining the roads, or sweeping the dirt, or pushing carts, or making their greasy delicacies??? I guess so…

I must admit I felt this to be a real mans world, this Mumbai. But it didn’t bother me too much and I wasn’t phased by their harsh approach that dominates absolutely everything in the city. I wasn’t daunted by their glares and I didn’t get annoyed once. I didn’t feel the way I’ve felt on a daily basis in Kerala, when the stares would come. Nope. Today I found it normal for them to look. I could understand why the men would be appalled to see a ‘young’ foreign girl ON HER OWN, wandering the streets of Mumbai, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. I can understand the disgust of these men, towards me. I know it’s nothing personal… and I know it’s because their own wives and daughters would never ever be permitted such freedom. So, I was fine, I was wary and yes, I felt that the stares were justified, so I wasn’t frustrated. And because most of the men were all very tough, harsh and unable to speak English, I became more friendly and appreciative when some of them DID have some friendliness to share with me. Yes, it was a very different experience. Maybe because it’s my last day, maybe it’s because I realize how inexperienced I really am. Yes, I realize how little I know about countries, about travel, about customs, and about the religions that dominate the minds of the millions and millions of people.

After today and my short encounter with Mumbai, I can’t say I’ve lost any love for India at all. Instead I’ve probably gained more inspiration for the diversity that’s here and more of a willingness to learn, to see, to experience and to document their lives (for some strange reason). Today has made me want to return of course and to explore beyond Kerala. Today has also made me want to connect with people again from other places other than India.

So I’m feeling better about leaving, compared to the last time. I don’t mind moving on, and I know for a fact I’ll return. I also know for a fact that now it’s time to leave. So I’m happy. I took the last rickshaw from the station to the airport. He overcharged me, but I didn’t care… I loved every minute of the ride and when I paid him, I didn’t throw the money at him (like I did to the rickshaw driver back in July 2010 who also overcharged me for the same ride). Nope. I gave it to him and thanked him, I told him how much I loved his country and that I would be back. He didn’t understand English, but I think he got my drift…

So this was my goodbye to India for the 2nd time round… I wonder when the next time will be. I’ll never stop looking forward.

Some last notes from India

Still sitting at the airport (the 15th)...

Today I was taking on the street-life of Mumbai. I checked out of the guest house this morning at 9am, I had no choice but to roam the city for the day. And holy smoke, what a city this is! Without any map, or any plans or any lists of what tourist sights I should be seeing, I started roaming and the day turned out to be a long, tiring and oh so revealing one. I stayed in the same neighbourhood of the guest house, just to avoid getting lost, as I didn’t have a map (I’m not even sure what part of the city I was in) By roaming in such a purposeless manner, I was presented with a different side of India. I felt as though I was in another country that just so happened to have the same name as the country I was in only 3 days ago.

I know this city is huge and different areas will have a different feel and will be known for different things. But by plainly wandering, I really got a proper look at how the people of Mumbai live their lives from day to day. And I’m shocked! I thought I’d seen the harshness of life before, meaning beggars, homeless people, dodgy tradesmen, grubby eating joints and general grime and dirt. But before visiting this particular part of Mumbai, this quote reflects my ignorance: ‘you aint seen nothing yet!’ Up until today everything I thought was harsh city life, was only a sample of how rough the lives of some people can be. As for the dirt; before today I’d only seen superficial dirt… now I’ve been the witness to DEEP DIRT…

Man oh man… My compassion came to the surface on fleeting moments for some individuals. My stomach did quite a few summer salts on other occasions, when the mountains of chicken guts on the roadside made me deviate from the unknown path I was following. The sights I was seeing, I couldn’t take them all in at once. I wanted to get my camera and start shooting pics like mad… but I didn’t know where to start! I wanted to record all of these sightings. I felt this area of the city to show me everything most people (who haven’t been to India) believe it to be; poor, dirty, ‘out of this world’… I was too tempted to put all of it on camera, just to show people at home what it’s like. But then something stopped me; violating their privacy? Making their lives out to be something of a spectacle… because it’s so different from the ‘norm’? When really it’s their ‘norm’, so why should it be put on display to the rest of the world? So I only took a few snaps, as if I was the jolly tourist; this made them smile.

It’s definitely one of the craziest places I’ve been. It’s like the city is stuck in the 1940s. Also, it’s as if they’ve taken all the farm animals from outside of the city and placed them amongst the buildings, the dirt and the traffic. Or maybe the animals were there before the city expanded? Or was the city there and then the people moved from the countryside with their chickens, horses and goats? Somehow, I don’t think there was any planning involved… and probably nobody would be able to answer the question: what was there first: the farm animals or the city? In chaotic India it’s anybody’s guess!

Reporting from Mumbai Airport

The evening of Wednesday the 15th: walking into Mumbai airport and taking a seat in the waiting area… Wouw: I’m shocked and feel brilliant at the same time. I’m seeing so many different people and nationalities all together! Wouw… The Europeans, the Asians, the Africans. I can’t help but feel so light and relieved to see more of the world, just by seeing different faces… Yes yes yes! So happy I am to hear people who natively speak English… or even to hear European English! Wouw… I never expected to feel so fresh just to see a group of German women sitting together, laughing freely, chatting, wearing the clothes they wish to wear and being expressive individuals. Man oh man… how excited I am.

It’s nearly 12 hours before my flight. Why am I so early? Well, I basically wasn’t willing to be overcharged 2 nights in a row by the man from the guesthouse and I didn’t have the energy to search for another clean hostel in the city. So, yes, there she is; the stingy (and slightly drained) traveller who was taken for a ride and now she’s spending the night sleeping in the airport.

But honestly, I don’t mind that I’m here so early. It’s now 22.45, I can check in at 5.50 in the morning (of the 16th). So it’s not too bad, it toughens me up if I’m ‘sleeping rough’. I’ve done it before. Actually it was here in this exact same place back in July 2010. Then I also had an early flight so I hung out in this same waiting hall for 15 hours!!!! That was a bit longer, a bit more strenuous.

I feel so much better compared to the last time I left India. When I look back now, I was almost running from here. I felt so negative towards the difficulties that travelling in India can bring about; the haste, the haggling, the dirt, the stares… I needed to get out. But I missed it straight away once I’d left! (that’s always the way; we push away what we have and then when it’s gone, we wish for it back again!) Anyhow, this time, I feel entirely different. Now I’m moving onwards with a smile towards India. I’m so grateful for everything and I have more of an understanding for the things that made me frustrated, during my last visit.

I understand their haggling; of course they’ll try to make money! I’m a ‘rich tourist’ in their eyes, so of course they’ll try to scam. To protect myself, I have to haggle and I can do this with a smile. It’s not that they’re out to get me, Niamh Keoghan, personally! It’s their way of life. It’s all the result of their circumstances. As for the stares, of course I stand out from the crowd! I’m white remember! It’s normal… And no matter how at home I feel here, or how absorbed I get or how long I stay, I’m still NOT AN INDIAN, I’ll never look or be one! And that will always lead to stares that can feel to be curious ones, or judgemental ones, or envious ones or simply friendly ones. I have to be fine with this, it’s something I have to accept. How else can I move freely around countries that aren’t western? Acceptance is the only answer.

As for the dirt; what do I expect?!?! There’s over 1 billion people living in this country and if the dirt has always been there, it’s not going to disappear over night. If the majority of the population hasn’t been exposed to environments that are treated with respect by the people living their, then how can they know the difference? How can they change their ways, if they haven’t been taught any better? As for the haste: millions of people thrown on top of each other, trying to live their lives… of course life will be fast in the city! So, I leave India, with far more acceptance for their ways.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Keeping track of the days

My last day at school ended on quite a high. There was a festival at a temple and a group of students had to give a concert, chanting songs. All the teachers had to be there too. They needed to be on stage, sitting like Buddha’s just like the kids, singing, swaying, clapping, chanting. It was quite an experience; the energy their volume and sound created, was massive. It felt like a perfect way for me to end my time at the school. There was also an audience of a few hundred people and an elephant was the star guest. Afterwards all the students and teachers were on such a high, as was I. We were brought back home in the schoolbus. Making our way through the tiny village roads there were more elephants being walked along the roads through the dark. Man, I was having those moments of awe: realizing… that YES I’m in India! I was then dropped back at the hostel, I said farewell to them all, gave them my best and funniest Malayalam and phrases (the local language), they all roared with laughter, I jumped out of the bus, skipped off down the lane to the hostel, only to hear the teachers shouting out of the window for me to come back soon. It was quite an exit… But I felt so great.

So, Saturday was the last full day in Kayamkulam. I was packing, posting, meeting, washing, ‘netting’ (online) and whatever else I needed to be doing. Sunday morning I set off to the trainstation. And I didn’t think twice about the fact that I was moving on. It was so strange. Leaving Kayamkulam didn’t feel like I was closing any doors. I just… left, without too much reflection or contemplation or sadness. All I heard myself saying was: ‘I’m moving onwards to bigger and better circumstances and accomplishments’. So how could a person be sad? I know if I miss Kerala and want to come back, the school will take me in an instant. I know how easily I can make it happen. Nothing is impossible and if I’m meant to return, then it will be.

Anyhow, I got the train to Kottayam on Sunday morning, to make a short stop. I was meeting with a teacher friend, from the second school I was working in during my first time in India (Ebenezer). I hadn’t seen her since leaving the school, but we’ve had a lot of contact on facebook and to meet her again on my last day in Kerala was quite a special ending. Having such connections will always be one of the things that will draw me back sooner or later. After our short but very sweet meeting I boarded the train; 40 hours of sitting and starting out the window, lay ahead of me. And wouw, what a trip it was! It was actually one of the most memorable ones I’ve had. I felt so calm and everything became so clear to me, as I gazed out the window, happy to do absolutely nothing for hours and hours on end – except for reflect and gaze at the scenery and people. It was quite a ride… I didn’t really sleep too much. Because the temperature dropped quite a bit during the night, and I was without a blanket. But, nevertheless, it was great. Coming into Mumbai at 5am, after a few sleepless nights, was something I wasn’t really looking forward to.

Actually, secretly I was dreading being in Mumbai. I didn’t want to be hanging around the city for 2 full days. I hadn’t even booked anywhere to stay. And I knew how much of a hassle it can be, trying to find a place to stay with 25 kilos of luggage weighing me down whilst trying to keep the men at bay who would be forcing overpriced taxi’s and hotels on me.

This morning, walking out of the station so early, the drivers jumped on me and I didn’t fight them off. I didn’t have the energy. So I went along with an offer one of the drivers gave me. He wasn’t totally honest and upfront and sprung some hidden charges on me, once we were in the guest house. These were charges he so conveniently ‘forgot’ to mention when we were getting into the taxi. But that’s my own fault and a lesson learnt for the next time. I’m over it. And I’m getting my moneys worth! Because, now that I’m sitting here, in a place that’s clean and quiet and permitting me to write (not like the other place I’d considered spending 36 hours – meaning the bench in the middle of Mumbai Central Station). And I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

Nobody from home knows of my plans. I’ve not had the time to contact them properly. And I’ve not known whether or not to surprise them… There’s one in the family who I’ll keep my homecoming from, and I might give the rest a little notice… But I know my mother has her suspicions… she knows me too well! haha… Either way… It’s all good, I’ll be welcomed with open arms and whole lot of love!

How nice to know I’ll soon be able to hug so many people who are close to me! I’ve missed it so much…

Still I'll justify

So in my heart I know exactly where to go. I know this step is the right one. Because I’m going where I’m guaranteed peace, I’m guaranteed support, I’m guaranteed a bed, I’m guaranteed inspiration, and green surroundings. I’m guaranteed to be with people who recognize me as being me, who let me do what I need and who I never need to explain myself to. I’m also guaranteed connection with certain people who inspire me and who know me inside out. I’m guaranteed not to be the object of observation and I’m guaranteed a daily dose of green tea (without sugar) made in a teapot that’s clean!

Even whilst talking so clearly, I still had the same mental barriers I needed to overcome, once again: the old fears stating that I’m a failure for going home. Yes, this was one of the biggest fears of my life (I’m only recently starting to realize), even if I know it will be for a short period, even if I knew it was going to happen sooner or later, even if the memories of my previous 6 months in Ireland are quite amazing and I treasure them dearly, even if this time round it’s for the sake of supporting my biggest dream that’s currently coming true, even if returning is also for the sake of writing another book and creating (hopefully) some kind of magic that I can share with others. Man oh man… and my mind tells me I’m a failure for returning… what a ‘lieing little toe-rag!’

This shows that, just because we face a fear once, it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. It can still reappear. Maybe it won’t be as strong and overcoming the fear once makes us more able to overcome it again; but faster, with less stress and frustration. But still it can arise again and last week, I faced it once more. And I needed to deal. This is what happened: whilst I was on the internet booking these flights; over and over the statement was being repeated in my mind; ‘failure for going home, failure for returning, you’re going backwards by going home, not moving forward, you’re showing weakness.’ But I managed to ignore it. I told that voice to stick its advice where the sun doesn’t shine, because if following my heart means I’m a failure and weak, then I’ll happily be the biggest loser and the weakest spirit in town! I managed to focus on how positive this step is for me. I won’t say ‘could be for me’ because I know there’s no ifs buts or maybe’s about it. This is going to lead me to better places and experiences. Really. I feel it so strongly.

Sorry… I keep getting sidetracked… When I was booking the flights, I’m sitting there in the cubicle. I started having panic attacks after booking 2 of the 3 tickets. Man oh man… I was having hot flushes. I wanted to scream, I was angry and I wanted to run. I got as far as booking the final leg, I was ready to confirm, ready to book. But it suddenly got too much. I shut down the internet within a minute, I got my bag, threw the money on the counter (usually I consider this to be rude, but here they do it whether they’re panicked or not…) and I ran out into the street. I felt as though my world had changed and the sightings around me were different… just because I’d booked the most important leg of the journey: my flight out of India and back to Europe. There was no turning back, I had to move things forward, into the unknown… and India – for the time being the known – I was leaving behind. Man oh man… I walked along that scorching piece of the road and felt so sad. I wanted to go and hug all these Indians. Then I wanted to shout in desperation for not being able to continue travelling. I wondered if I’d ever feel okay with the decision I’d made and the action I’d just taken. I was terrified, felt sick to my stomach for a while and trapped…

Slowly everything became a little calmer and I was able to reason with myself: Niamh, the visa is running out anyhow, and you have to be somewhere in the world! And if you’d already decided that Nepal was showing too many obstacles, when it came to going there purely for writing purposes, then why doubt your decision so intensely?!?! You have to do something with your time! Don’t be such a drama queen, you know what you want, you know your reasons for doing this and you know you’ll be able to finally express the writing you’ve been forced to suppress due to the teaching positions you’ve had over the past year. You know you wouldn’t appreciate travel and teaching, if your need to write is becoming an obsession almost… and most importantly, you know you don’t need to justify your actions to anybody!’ Quite funny for me to say this, because justifying is exactly what I’m doing, as if I need everyone to approve of my decision. Man oh man, niamh, lighten up…

And soon it happened. I lightened up… Only an hour after my panic attack and my silent screams. I was able to truly feel happy whilst telling the girls at the hostel that I’m going back for a while. To those around me, this was the most logical step. Nobody was shocked or delighted for me. Of course they didn’t understand how big a deal this is; they don’t know me that well at all. But I feel this is huge. It’s changing my whole perception of the road ahead. I guess a changing vision of the world will lead to more changes in my life. Wouw… I know I’ve been working hard for my life to head in this direction (the world of writing) but I never thought it would actually happen so suddenly, nor did I expect for it to feel so good. Wouw… finally what I’m meant to be doing, is going to happen… this is amazing.

With the visions before me of going home to write, I wasn’t saddened at all to leave the school. I was grateful for my time, I was happy I stayed and followed through what I’d committed myself to. My last day didn’t feel like the ending of anything, it felt like the start of a new adventure and I felt somewhat relieved that I no longer needed to be forcing or pretending.

Why oh why... some more

And as for the dream of writing a book in Nepal; yes it would be amazing. But realistically if I seek for a writing spot in any foreign place, it would take time for the much needed sense of grounding and connection to come, due to the inevitable need to familiarize, adjust, acclimatize, search, move and eventually find, within the new culture. Choosing to do this in Nepal at this moment in time, is too much of ‘faffing about’… I’d waste so much time seeking the perfect place – when I know where I have that perfection and where instantly the writing can start. Using courage to follow my heart and to go onwards to that place only means I don’t need to waste precious time.

I also know for a fact that if I’m seeking perfection only outside of myself so I can write, then every single place I were to consider, would have some fault or another; maybe the climate would be too cold, or the rent would be too high, or the contact would be too little, or the stares and feeling of alienation would be too much, or the visa would be too short, or the worries about money would be too great, or the tourist distractions would be too tempting due to the scenery being too beautiful! So Niamh would be far too unsettled to actually get the flow going…

You see, this is what I was finding as I was searching for answers in my indecisiveness. Knowing that I’ve already found a great little spot and remembering the process I went through to find that spot, tells me I’ve already been on a search for that place of perfection. Why would I start the search again? Just to be more independent and free and to prove that I can make a dream real? Hummm… I don’t know. But I do know that when I was in Ireland back in 2010, it took me up to 2 months before I found the perfect place to write in a flow. I only reached that flow once I overcame barriers in the mind – those were barriers that were telling me Ireland was wrong and I should be in a foreign place. Also whilst I was working on taking down those mental barriers, I was trying to write in many different locations around the town and every single place felt wrong; libraries and café’s mainly. This is only a logical chain reaction: the places around me felt wrong, because my mind was unsettled and still feeling out of place and ‘wrong’ in Ireland. I still needed to connect properly to myself and to my surroundings. And by holding on to the will to write that book (which connected me to ME) the place became perfect and all obstacles vanished. The flow properly started and I never felt closer to Ireland or the people than I ever have done in all of my life. And as a result of these 6 precious months, now, whenever people ask me where I’m from, I’ll happily say Ireland. No longer is it with a negative feeling. I’ve even been told by others that my eyes light up when I say where I’m from. It just goes to show what can happen when we properly connect with ourselves in a certain place; whether it’s our native country or a country we just so happen to find pieces of ourselves in… Oh, and by the way, the place of perfection in Ireland was the desk in my little bro’s room… And for this I’m extremely grateful. Yes… it’s brilliant. And I reckon it’s waiting for me (If my mam hasn’t disposed of it…haha)

Why oh why

So, my last note ended on the 9th. And the 12th has come and gone. It’s now already the 14th. And the days have just flown by. Where am I sitting now? I’m in Mumbai, in a tiny space in a guesthouse. I’m sitting on the bed in a single room, with clean sheets and towels, a flat screen tv on the wall, a private bathroom with hot water and constant supply of drinking water. And, the most important thing: peace for 24 hours.

Since the 9th, I’ve said goodbye to the school, the kids and the teachers (which happened on Friday evening, the 10th), I’ve said goodbye to Kayamkulam and I’ve boarded a train to take me on a 40 hour journey from there to here (this journey started on the 12th). This morning I arrived here in Mumbai (the 14th). I’ll be spending the next 24 hours chilling, gearing myself up for the next leg of the journey; I’ve to checkout of the guest house tomorrow morning, store my luggage, roam this chaotic city for 12 hours, get the train to the airport, wait there for around 7 hours and then on the 16th I’ll board the plane that’s leaving India and heading for… Europe!

Okay that was quite a lot of info to spill all in one go. I’ll rewind back to the 9th, which is when I was able to pluck up the courage and book a trip heading home. This has been the change of plan that has scared me quite a bit. It felt to be huge, drastic and too sudden… and that’s why I was wrecking my head when making the decision.

I first was so willing to go onwards to Nepal, or any other place that was different from India, different from Europe. So what happened to me following these ideas through? Well, the biggest break through of my life; the book getting publishing. When I first heard of the publishing, I’d initially said that May would see me back in Ireland; as it’s not until then that the publisher needs me to be home.

In the meantime, I thought I could pick-up a quick teaching job for 3 months, just to see me through. But the urge to write increased (I posted quite some words about this topic here on my blog last week). And the will to teach was becoming less and less. I couldn’t keep my mind on teaching anymore here in the job I just finished, so there was no way I was going to force myself to properly jobhunt and then actually follow a new teaching position through for another (long) 3 months. I know it can seem like a short length of time, but when you know the job is not what you (wholeheartedly) want (even before taking it on) and you know what you actually SHOULD be doing and, most importantly, you know that you CAN do it… then 3 months can feel like forever. And I didn’t want to waste that time… because that’s what it honestly would’ve felt like. I’d still be suppressing the urge to write, and I wouldn’t be happy. If I were to have chosen to go to South East Asia and teach, my mind wouldn’t have been there. I wouldn’t appreciate it because I’d only have taken the job as a time-filler. And time is too precious. So I couldn’t go in that direction. It felt wrong. Maybe it will feel right again… but it’s too soon to say.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

09-02-2012 My Kerala Bubble

09-02-2012 My Kerala bubble

Now that I’m leaving, I’m starting to distance myself from here and the world is opening up. Only now it’s becoming clear that I’ve been in bubble for some months. I’ve been away from ‘normality’ creating my own sense of ‘normality’ in India. I’ve had to… otherwise every single thing I see, smell, taste and think, as a result of where I am, would make me drive myself mental… (I won’t blame the place for going insane, because insanity is always created by the own mind, regardless of where a person is). Without having placed myself in a subconscious bubble, I’d be analyzing the people, their mannerisms and I’d be continuously annoyed by their bad habits and angry for the filth and grime they’ve accumulated here on this piece of the planet they claim to love so dearly, this piece that’s so luscious and rich but so spoilt by the people who ‘own’ it. I’d wreck my brain knowing this truth and it would wreck my head even more by simultaneously seeing the love in the eyes of every single person, if I’d be so willing to return every gaze that is thrown my way in every single moment whilst being out in the chaos of this ‘tiny’ village. I’ve not been willing to gaze back or to continuously smile or to forever say ‘hello’ to all the friendly people. Without my bubble I’d be wanting to know their thoughts, their reasons for judging me and staring. I’d be wrecking my head trying to make sense of what’s normal, of what’s fair, of what’s right and wrong. I’d wreck my head wondering if I’m approaching India in the right manner, if I’m learning enough from this experience, if I’m savouring it, appreciating it and not rejecting the goodness it’s offering me. I’d be continuously wondering if I’m giving enough smiles and if I’m refraining sufficiently from judging and criticising them and the bubble I feel THEY live in. So I placed myself in MY own bubble; the location of the bubble is Kerala. But what’s inside the bubble is my own world.

That bubble isn’t going to pop, now that I’m leaving. Nope, it’s going to change its location and its size. Usually it only takes a pin to ‘pop’ the bubble. But there’s no pin! My bubble in Kerala will expand. It will become bigger and bigger… The world is becoming bigger and what I’ve created here in my Kerala bubble will go with me as I move onwards and find the courage to take action.

So I’ve come to a point where I need to use my courage and strength to let what I’ve been creating inside, arise. The time has come to ACT. This is the inevitable flow of life, but the torture I’ve been making myself endure can also mean it’s the hardest part: to let life flow… to let the life inside flow to the surface. To be real, to be me… even if it means facing fears that were suppressed.

Time ticks, one day roles into the next and plans need to be made. A person needs to be somewhere in this world… and where to go, what to choose? Who to listen to?

For the past week, I’ve been sitting in the internet café almost daily. After school, I’d walk along the road in the scorching sun, making my way there. I’d greet the lady behind the counter who has been working there for the past 2 years and who remembered me from my last visit. I’d sit there for one or two hours in a little cubicle trying desperately to plan my life. I’d be checking buses, flights, jobs (in between writing and reading emails). I’ve had many different experiences in that cubicle, by the way; I’ve sat there in tears, when I heard of the book getting published, I’ve sat there in anger when the power would fail, I’ve sat there with nerves when I first spoke on skype with the publisher, I’ve sat there in fear when a cockroach had set up home on the wall, and for the past 2 days I’ve sat there with building desperation for knowing in what direction I must head but not having the guts to actually DO IT!

It was quite frustrating, because when I’ve been away from the internet, I’d know exactly what I’d want and where I should be going. But then once I get online… LOST! The world is too big, the options are too many… And I know it’s because the mind is tempted to go in 100 different ways (preferably all at once).

On a few instances over the past days, I’ve let my feelings guide me through cyber space. Then I know it’s the right thing. So, I’ve been sitting there in that stinking hot cubicle, with everything right there in front of me on the screen: the tickets, the connecting times, the different legs of the journey, everything fitting so perfectly. BUT STILL I’VE BEEN AT A LOSS! So I’d be waiting for a sign. I’d be waiting for somebody to tell me it’s okay to book this route (I’ve actually wanted somebody to BOOK IT FOR ME). When you’re travelling alone, there’s nobody else to turn to… only towards YOU… it sounds so simple (and 99.9% of the time it is) but I can tell you, that for 0.1% of the time, it can be the hardest thing to do. This realization – of it ONLY BEING ME - wasn’t enough to stop me from wishing for advice from outside of myself and to be hoping for somebody to maybe only listen to my rambles, just as a sounding board…

However, as I said, time ticks and one day roles into the next… and suddenly yesterday (the 8th) was the day to ACT. I knew I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. 2 days in a row, the signs actually did come whilst I was on the net wishing for them: on day 1 it was a call on my mobile from my mother; which only happens when it’s urgent. And her urgency was to ask me what my plans were. On day 2 it was an email that came through, whilst I was online… from the publisher, regarding the contract, the book cover and my plans. So… did I act? Yes I did… It’s going to start happening, in the next 3 days… from the 12th onwards…

08-02-2012 ...To find the courage

The past 2 weeks or so, teaching has been painful at times. This is because I simply can’t do my best. My energy is going into something else. How can I be satisfied with what I’m doing, if I know the job isn’t giving me the chance to excel as a person? Because I feel there’s so much more life inside of me… and teaching isn’t giving me the outlet. Man oh man, even the past few days I’ve actually been having an aching heart, dizzy spells and I’ve been drained. It’s very strange. This work doesn’t feel as real anymore and I honestly feel as though I’m waiting to finally start doing the proper work; which is work that will serve others as well as myself.

My writing moments force me into another world where I hope to find answers, to find clarity, to find strength… Sometimes I think I’ve found it: I think I’ve found the courage to follow through and take the risk and stand up and just to be REAL and to be MY SELF. Sometimes I think I’m doing it: I’m standing strong and being myself by simply speaking my truth and not pretending. Sometimes I think I’m faking it; I’m not really writing (because there is no book I can touch) and I’m not really teaching (because there are no lessons that are properly being taught), I’m not really traveling (because I’m stationed in the one spot).

Do the feelings I’ve been having towards school mean I no longer want to teach? No they don’t. They just mean that, AT THE MOMENT, I can’t teach properly. And being the witness of this is hurting me. Yes, that’s it. I want to sit and write a book, and I’m hurting for not being able to AND I’m hurting because the teaching is suffering as a result. But of course, I love my students, I love it when I’m fully focussed, I love it when I’m in a school environment… I love so many things about teaching… but the love for something else is growing stronger.

How bad can this all be? Really it’s not. I accept this experience and I need it. I need to go through this present period of transition, this shift. Because going through this change, whilst being here in India, only means the work will happen faster and with no effort at all… It will happen so soon; it will become real once I’m lifted onwards to the next place. So I’m grateful for it all. I don’t wish for my Indian time to end, I don’t wish to say goodbye to the kids and the school. It will happen either way. This change has got nothing to do with India. It just so happens that I’m going through it in one of the places I love so much. The change, instead, has got everything to do with me and writing; it’s not about location.

In regards to the job; the circumstances right now aren’t permitting me to continue teaching, which probably is a blessing (if this aching heart is anything to go by). The visa relieves me from this job and the publisher pulls me towards a new one. The publisher is coaxing me to be what I need to be. So what’s the problem, you’ll be asking yourself. It’s my fear of my geographical location being a reflection of the person I am. How can I forever be the traveler, if I permit myself to sit and write?! Am I traveling now though? Isn’t traveling the same as moving? I’m not physically traveling anywhere, I’m not moving… I’m creating my own world, is one of the most tropical places in India! So that raises the question: what is traveling anyway? Living in a country that’s not your own – whether you’re on the road or have set up a home? Or is it ONLY physically moving from one place to the next, which could just as easily be done in your native country? That’s something for I could ponder for hours…

Anyway, my fear has always been that Ireland would stop me from traveling and I’d become imprisoned. And now, my book (either the first or the second) is slowly pulling me home, and I’m giving way to it. I want it to. But at the same time, I’m terrified.

Right now, I have to trust in the uncertainty of life. I can’t make concrete plans, I can’t promise people I’ll be here, there or yonder. I can’t promise myself I’ll be here, there or yonder. All I can do is make a promise to myself that I won’t ignore what I know I must do. I won’t let my fears stop me. They will try, of course. It’s normal. But life is too short for them to hold me back and this is the only time to live and to make a difference in our own lives as well as the lives of others.

08-02-2012 By the roadside she stood...

So, Kayamkulam school; once again it’s nearly time to bid the kids and the teachers farewell. Everyone wants me to stay; even the principal and the other senior staff members (which took me very much by surprise). There’s talk (again) of getting me a more permanent visa. But I don’t know if it’s possible. And I don’t know if I want one.

Things have changed so much ever since I heard the news of my book getting published. My mind has been gearing itself up for such a different direction and for the past 4 weeks I don’t know HOW I’ve actually been able to keep my focus on the classes I’ve been teaching. And for this reason, I’ve felt like the bad teacher; not giving my 100% due to my mind being elsewhere. And, I also must admit, I’ve felt the strain quite a bit – of being here in body but elsewhere in mind… and partially in spirit.

I see how I’m pushing myself away from this job, either with or without willing to… How so? With every chance I’ll be getting and every moment of peace I’ll be having, I’ll be placing myself in my own little bubble of writing, analyzing and creating; so clarity will come… It’s become such a habit that I’ve started to become scared I’ll waste time and loose moments of writing in between classes or at break time. I’ll be scared that something amazing could’ve been written down, in moments when I’ve been sitting (or standing) and waiting for something to happen (which is a normal part of life in India… haha).

Just to give you a small example of how my days are starting to evolve: every morning when I’m waiting for the schoolbus to pick me up – so as to avoid wasting 5, 10 or sometimes 15 minutes of precious time - I’ll stand by the roadside, not impatiently looking in the direction from where the bus is supposed to arrive, but instead with my tiny notebook and pen in hand and I’ll be writing small notes… At times I think this looks bonkers. The same villagers who pass by day after day see me standing there at the same time, day after day, doing the same thing: putting something in that tiny pink little notebook… But what do I care what these villagers think of me – because the only thing that matters is that I don’t let those thoughts slip! And in their eyes, I’m a freak either way, because I’m different with or without my notebook that lets me escape into my own space.

It sounds very much like I’m off on another planet and to be honest I have been, and at the best of times I still am. It’s because of this shift that’s happening and I can’t go against it. Since hearing of getting published it’s like I’m coaxing myself away from teaching and encouraging myself to think bigger than before. All these precious notes I’ve been taking, as I’m standing on the side of these small village roads, are telling me that I have to stop being scared of failing. I have to stop torturing myself…

Continuously, for the past year, all I’ve wanted to do is write. I’ve written about it extensively for months and months, in my journal. Sometimes I’ve wondered just how much I could’ve created FOR OTHERS TO READ with all the energy I’ve put into my journaling… And this is not the first time it’s happened. Before I wrote my book, I went through the same thing: writing about writing... And I’m doing it again! Maybe I’ll always be writing about writing, whether I’m writing a book or not… because even when I finally did start writing my book, I was writing about what I was writing… Man oh man… I seem obsessed…

Anyhow… back to the point I’m trying to make (if there is one). I’ve been teaching for a year and what I’ve been wishing for, is to be writing. It’s increased since I heard my biggest news of course. Before that I was able to contain myself, I pushed it away. Especially because of being in India and for being ‘handed’ the teaching position; which was the main thing that brought me back here.

But now, the urge is rising again and I’m forcing myself to move onwards and to take another risk. I feel the teaching option is the safe route… I know I can have a job if I really want it. I know I could be ‘safe’. But if I were to head in that direction, at this stage in the game, I wouldn’t be happy. The reassuring thing about teaching is that I know I can make it happen, whenever I want and need it to. It’s one of the many things I learnt in China. And, if the time is right and the writing has been given preference, THEN I can let myself get absorbed in the teaching, without feeling as though I’m turning my back on something far more important. But at this moment in time, I’m not absorbed in the teaching even though I’m teaching. Other stuff is rising.

So, one last short note on choosing the ‘safe’ option: it can happen when writing has been done. Does this mean writing doesn’t feel safe? Sitting down to create doesn’t feel secure? It doesn’t when I take the economic climate into account or how the ‘world’ would say I’m mad for not choosing financial stability.

In regards to MYSELF, writing and creating feels like the closest I can get to being me… it feels the closest I can get to being real… it feels to be the best work I can do in this world and it feels to be the way I can give the most to others. So, within myself, I find extreme security if I’m working on a book. So why would I say it’s unsafe and unsure? Why would I fear it? Because it’s an unknown route and an unknown world within me that can be brought to life…

I have no clue how it will all turn out, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that I can’t do it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A face full of happiness

This is where I now stand (or sit): On a stool with a full belly of fried rice, sweat dripping down my back, a jug of warm cumin water beside me and glasses on my nose that are sliding down my face. It’s 20.18pm on the 5th of Feb and I just spent the weekend at a friends house (Riya). This was the second time for me to visit her and her family, during this visit to India. I went in October to say ‘hi’. And now I went to say ‘bye’. It’s one of the last weekends here in India and by going to her place, I managed to spend it in a most traditional Indian manner; once again by being welcomed into a home with 4 generations so as to be given MORE, MORE and even MORE than I needed. Unlike other times, I didn’t feel overwhelmed; I knew what to expect and I also knew it would be the last time… so I appreciated it more. And instead of feeling it all to be too much, I just felt so lucky to be there. I realized, that for no reason whatsoever, these people treat me like one of their own…

When I was leaving, I was asked more than 20 times, when I was coming back to stay for good. I wasn’t being asked IF… no… I was being asked WHEN… and all I could answer was: ‘I don’t know’. And even when giving such uncertainty, they were still sure to tell me that WHEN I come back, I have to bring the WHOLE FAMILY with me… mother, father, sisters… everybody! ‘Bring them all Niamh!’ I love it when they do that, it’s so innocent and sweet, because in reality, there’s no room for the whole family to stay! Just as well I’d never follow it through and never take the offer seriously; they’d be in for quite a shock! This family actually isn’t the only one who has invited ALL OF MY FAMILY… nope, nearly every family I’ve visited in the past 5 months (I can’t tell you how many) has said the same thing. It just shows how big their hearts are; even if their cute homes aren’t…

On the note of Indian hospitality, I wrote an article about it last year, when I was back in Ireland. It got published on an internet travel magazine. When I left Ireland for China I made a copy of it and put it in my portfolio along with some other articles. I traveled with it thinking I might need it along the way. And last week, I opened up the folder and saw this article again about Indian hospitality. When it was getting published, I added some pictures I’d taken in this school in Kayamkulam, back in 2010. One was taken with a teacher who is still at the school now. So I showed it to her last week and her reaction was one I didn’t expect. She said she felt privileged and honored that I chose her picture… when really I felt this particular picture so dear to me, because it reflected an amazing time that I was able to share with people who had never been in touch with India before.

Also, when I was writing this article and choosing the pictures, I never thought I’d ever be sitting with that particular teacher again and showing her the piece of work. But it happened only a few days ago; I sat and reflected on the experience I had in 2010 in regards to hospitality, with a teacher who I then was quite close to, and still am, as a result of the time we spent teaching together. How crazy it is, the way we can come full-circle, without any plan or intention. Suddenly chapters that were left open can feel more complete.

This article shows the people who I have great memories with, that these ‘short’ experiences DO have an everlasting impression on me. People I’ve become close to in India (and China also) have said many times, that I’ll forget them once I leave… and then comes their subtle request for me to come back. I’d always reassure that I’ll never forget the time we spent together. However the question will always remain, if I do or don’t come back. Nothing planned and if the circle is left open, a time will always have to come, for it to become full.

By the way, just to add to the whole ‘hospitality’ thing; I’ve experienced that side of India in a different way than last time… last time it scared the life out of me and I didn’t want to fully appreciate it and I kept a subconscious distance (something I’m only seeing now, as I compare both experiences). This time, I didn’t have much choice but to engage because I was living with Lekha for 2 months – the most caring woman in the country – and because of the people here in the hostel as well as at school, they do more than their best to provide me with more than I need. From October onwards (which is when I moved in with Lekha) I first worked on getting passed the fear of their giving and caring nature, then it became nourishing, homing, still occasionally frustrating with small touches of annoyances – and I mean that in the nicest way possible!

This is a topic I could go on and on about, but I’ll keep that for a later date. Let’s just say that I needed such a homing feeling and such nourishment. And judging by what those around me are saying, it’s done me the world of good. Because all I hear is how the Indian food, the climate and their life style, along with the school environment, have filled my face with colour, with healthy cheeks and with happiness…