Monthly Archives: December 2011

Not quite Christmas – Calangute, India

This morning I woke to find ants having a party near my head. I don’t know how they got there or why they came but spent the next 20 minutes squashing them all. Everyone knows that there is always that one last straggler that seems to evade the kill. I was on the look out for him for the rest of the hour. I am putting off going to bed tonight because I don’t want a replay. I don’t know if they are bitey ants or not but I don’t want to find out.

After my breakfast, we went to the beach. It’s about fifteen minutes away and I followed closely on my scooter because I still don’t know the area. I am not sure why but my sense of direction is really messed up. I am getting lost all the time. Oh well. I guess I have nothing better to do. Driving on the streets here in the Saligao/Calangute area is not that bad comparatively to other parts in India. I have learned to use my horn profusely and probably more than I should but hey, better to be safe than sorry. There are lots of side street roads that are like mazes and I have yet to see a proper street sign. I am sure they don’t exist.

We finally got to the seaside and parked our scooters alongside the twenty or so others. The sand was soft enough though I did keep a careful eye for any glass among the other stray pieces of trash sticking out. Once we got closer to the water the sand was much cleaner and we plopped ourselves down on some thick padded beach loungers. After negotiating but not too hard, I found myself with a nice bright blue sheer beach cover up for 200 rupees. There are lots of beach touts selling sarongs, massages, handmade jewelery, ice cream, and watersports. I got a massage but it wasn’t half as good as the one I had yesterday at the salon. I decided I wouldn’t make that mistake twice.

I grabbed my iPhone and plugged into some tunage while I powerwalked down the length of the beach. About an hour later, I made it back to my chair where I stripped down to my bikini and headed into the waves. Joy and Cedric wanted to leave but said I had time for a quick dip. I haven’t been in the ocean for a while and felt drawn to it. The water was surprisingly warm yet refreshing. I let myself get carried out past the big waves where I could just float peacefully. That is until a giant renegade wave decided to thump me hard filling my head with the salty brine of the ocean. I went with it and dove in and out of the swell taking full advantage of natures neti pot.

We paid up at the beach shack and used the facilities before heading back to town. I have to say this was the nicest outhouse I have ever seen in my life. Though its walls were flimsy bamboo, had tile floors, a nice western sink and toilet and PAPER! This is a very rare occurrence in India in the best of places…but here, on the beach? How very pleasantly random.

We stopped in the town which was starting to really pick up and I felt the holiday tourist energy in full force. I refilled my phone (I use pay as you go Vodaphone here) which is actually really easy. You just go to any little cornerstore and give them the rupees and they text the amount to your phone. Three hundred rupees (six dollars) lasts me about a month but then again, I don’t have that many friends yet.

I got some more mung beans to sprout and finally found some yogurt after searching through a handful of supermarkets, which are really just tiny little one room mom and pop joints. I finally won the search for postcards after a month and got some really cute ones for my Angel Network who are helping me publish my book. I don’t usually bother with such things as postcards or souvenirs but I have made a special exception for my supporters. Expect some mail soon! But hey, not too soon…I am in India, remember?

After shoving a 80 rupee watermelon in my scooter seat (it fit just perfectly), we sped back to the house. After a shower, I lazed around for a bit. I started feeling down. I don’t usually get lonely often but for some reason, this year has been tough. Cedric is leaving tomorrow for home (he lives in Florida) and I am slightly envious. My sister and her family are also flying into Orlando tomorrow to spend Christmas in the sun. I miss my family. I ate half a watermelon and I still didn’t feel better. I watched the ants parade past me on the balcony with the tangerine sun as a backdrop. As the sun dropped lower it turned a spectacular glowing ball of fuchsia. I was distracted from my melancholy for but a moment.

I moped around for a couple hours waiting until it was late enough to call home. I didn’t know for sure but maybe a talk with Mom would help. It usually doesn’t hurt. In this case, I was right. I still don’t feel happy per say but I had a nice chat and now I am a bit less lonely. However, lonely is still the predominant air around me. Mum thinks I just need a good cry…but I don’t really have anything to cry about. I am actually really lucky and I know that. I think that lots of people get sad around the holidays. I am no exception as I have had several traumatic events happen this time of year. So I curbed my impulse to down a bunch of cookies and made a jar (yes I am drinking in jars now) of tea.

It’s not that I really miss Xmas because I don’t even really believe in the religion behind it. I most certainly don’t miss the commercialism of it and am relieved not to deal with that mad pressure one gets in North America on the day before Christmas. There is always that stress feeling like I have forgotten something even if there is no possible way I haven’t. Because in Canada most things are closed on Christmas, so there is no second chance. But happily, here that is not the case. Here, everything is open tomorrow. In fact, I am going to my local salon to get a massage and pedicure. Sure, there is a part of me that wishes I was hanging out with people I know and sharing traditions. Because to me Christmas isn’t about anything other than family.

The other day I was chatting online with a friend who seemed surprised when I admitted that I was a little lonely.

“YOU don’t get lonely, do you?”

Well, sure I do, but I know that it will pass. I know that I don’t have to be with someone to love them. I would say I am actually pretty good at projecting energy across the planet. I am always amazed at how quickly my mental messages get picked up and answered. I know I am loved. But sometimes its just nice to be reminded. So if you are reading this and are with your loved ones…go and give them an extra hug for those of us who can’t.

Grateful for loneliness.

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Learning from each other – Pune, India

The drive from Mumbai to Pune took several hours though we did stop once for a bite to eat. I had my first real Indian food at a roadside bunch of little stalls. Zarna was careful to make sure I got something pretty safe though I had some tea as well, which may have been what did me in. When we finally arrived at the apartment complex I was knackered. I was able to keep my eyes open for a short time while I got acquainted with Govind and Khushboo (Khushi for short), the other two kids. I watched a bit of Masterchef and drank some tea before heading to sleep.

The next morning I was able to get a better picture of my surroundings. We were high up on the seventh floor which meant I had a great view of a huge field and a skyline of mostly residential apartments. Directly across the road was a large white building with a big green manicured fenced in field in front of it. This, I learned and would learn every other night for the next two weeks, was a wedding/party facility. I could learn a lot about Indian weddings without actually having to crash them. Fantastic!

There was also a fair/carnival/festival being set up if I looked out the balcony. I was excited about it until I learned that one of the attractions was a motordrome (Wall of Death) which would keep me up well into the night. The cement walls seemed to amplify the motorbikes and no amount of earplugs could block that noise.

I spent most of my days writing or reading while the kids were at school. Sometimes I just sat and stared out the window. I was quite ill for the first couple days (first day I barely got out of bed) and I still blame that tea, though who knows. I would usually eat lunch with Zarna, the mom, at around 1 or 2pm. The first couple days I was only allowed bland food but after that it got yummier. I learned that you take roti before rice and if you take rice first it means you don’t want roti. I also learned that a papadom doesn’t need to be fried in oil. I ate lots of homemade yogurt and plenty of daal. There was no meat or eggs allowed in their kitchen but I was very surprised with the variety of vegetarian dishes served. They had a cook, Maharaj, who was quite creative although he was a little taken aback when he saw one of my concoctions. Once when I asked for cinnamon (my limited Hindi) he gave me red pepper instead. He seemed impressed by my improvisational skills. My favorite were the desserts though they were quite sweet, I just plowed through them anyway. Eating time was one of my favorites and we normally all sat down together.

Another one of my favorite times was art sessions with Govind. He is a 9 year old boy who can draw like no other. Not only was he fast, he was quite precise. I was in awe at how well trained his eye was and I let him know. I asked him if he liked painting and he said no. I showed him my painting kit that I had gotten on the ship and gave him my last (and favorite) painting. Somehow this must have inspired him because after that, he painted every day. He would draw (because I suck at drawing) and we would paint them together. I found myself teaching and saying almost exactly the same things David on the ship had told me in class just a couple weeks prior. Ahhh…now I understand what the teacher  meant, I thought to myself as I guided the adorably driven youngster. Sometimes it takes having to teach it to really get it. Anyway, I have never had a little brother but if I did, I would like him to be just like Govind.

Pranov was another breath of fresh air I was honored to learn from. He is a sixteen year old with downs syndrome who has a beautiful nature. Though his language is quite limited, his spirit is quite communicative. He loves to dance and sing and was always watching Bollywood movies on his iPad. When everyone was singing karaoke in the living room, I was shy for the first while, refusing to participate. I busied myself doing manicures and pedicures with Khushi. But after some time, I could help but get drawn in. Pranov’s exuberance was so pure it was infectious. I sang my heart out, and rather badly at times especially when I attempted songs I had never heard before. But it didn’t matter. It was fun and silly! That was the first time done that without having to be coerced with alcohol.

I had some really good heart to hearts with beautiful Khushi who is getting ready to leave home. She wants to go study abroad and is at that pivotal point in her life. I learned that we had a lot in common and wished that I had been more sensible when I was that age. She took me shopping and helped me get a SIM card for my phone. She also waited patiently while I tried on a billion salwar kameez’s before settling on the lemon yellow one. We did all the things girlfriends do including walks, shopping, baking, movies, and going for frozen yogurt. She was fantastic company for me to have in my first few weeks in India and answered all my silly questions without making me feel stupid for asking.

Grateful for innocence of children.

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Ships, Trains, and Auto Rickshaws – Mumbai, India

Today is the day, I thought to myself as I finished my last minute packing. I ran about the ship saying goodbyes and seeyalaters before eating lunch. I was feeling alright but not quite one hundred percent yet. I was painfully aware that just one over exertion and I could spiral back into sicky-ness. I tried to find Lee to say goodbye but my search was fruitless so I ventured out into big bad India by myself. I was going to take a taxi to one of the suburbs but a couple locals suggested that I take the train as it would be 20 ($0.40) rupees as opposed to 1000 ($20) that the cab would cost. Plus the train takes half the time. That sold me. I nervously took their advice confirming twice that there would only be one train and I wouldn’t have to scramble looking for platforms and such. I just wasn’t up to getting lost today.

The taxi driver and his friend, who seemed to be just coming along for the ride, ensured me they would help me. We drove the 5 minutes to Churchgate station where the taximan’s friend jumped out of the car. He slung my pack over his shoulder and gave me a kind smile and a nod to follow him. As we were running across the busy main traffic circle I yelled after him. “Hey, they won’t actually hit me, will they?” When we were stopped momentarily in the middle on the divider just narrowly missing an auto rickshaw, he looked at me incredulously. “YES! Of course they will squash you! These people are MANIACS!” With a bit more prudence, I matched him step for step keeping close to this Frogger pro.

Safely on the other side, we entered the train station which was busier than a hive on honey day. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people swarming around. I tried to keep pace with my guide but before I knew it he was at a counter buying my ticket. I scrambled for my wallet but before I even got the zipper open he had paid for it and was motioning me to follow him once again. The train station was full of older trains chocoblock full of people. He told me that I would ride in this car which was specifically reserved for women. I climbed on and he found me a seat between a couple of young ladies. I begged him to take 50 rupees for his trouble and to cover the ticket. He refused vehemently and assured me this was his pleasure. He flashed me a giant smile and then just like that he disappeared. I let out a big sigh and tried to make sense of what just happened. As the train lurched forward, I realized that I had yet again, experienced another IRAK ( Indian Random Act of Kindness).

A few stops into the train ride, the car became very full of the gentler sex in every color of sari, carrying everything from designer purses to schoolbooks to enormous bags of clothes (laundry?).  The only male in the car was a young man squeezing through the packed aisle selling all sorts of dollar store type items. Most of the women glanced disinterestedly before turning their attention back to their smartphone or closing their weary eyes to catnap. After about twenty minutes the girls sitting around me informed me that I was on the wrong train. They told me I had to get off and get on the next train as they instructed. I didn’t know whatelse to do but believe them. I made my way off giving up my coveted seat which was instantly filled within seconds. Something in me told me to stay put but I didn’t. Instead I hustled out when the train stopped for 1 very short 10 seconds before leaving me standing on the platform with hundreds of other Indians. I glanced around at the hundreds of pairs of dark brown eyes sizing me up and inferred that I was the only white person there. About ten minutes later the next train came and I joined the frantic rush to get on.

Finally I heard “Borvali” called over the intercom along with a bunch of other words I didn’t understand. I checked with the timid girl standing next to me and she confirmed this was my stop. I bartered with an auto rickshaw and after a slight bit of lostness, was delivered to the address I had been clutching in my hand for the last hour. I was greeted by Zarna and Pranov as well as some of their extended family. They offered me a glass of water which I gratefully accepted. Then as soon as I had arrived, we were packing into the truck to make the journey to Pune where I would stay for the next few weeks.

Grateful for cheap trains.

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Never Give Up – Goa, India

I know I haven’t posted for a while. I have been writing and will get up to date here soon. But I just had to tell this story as it has just been the most intense few hours. I was in Pune and had a bit of a stressful time near the end of my visit. I felt pressure to come south so hurriedly cancelled my still wait listed train tickets for Saturday night and Sunday morning in favor of a bus that was supposedly leaving at 6pm. Well obviously that means 8pm so I had a few hours to sit and think while I waited for the mini bus to pick me up to deliver me to the sleeper bus that would take me to Goa.

In that time I thought a lot about how things are not what they seem and how important it is to let go of expectations. It is also important to adapt. Still, as I climbed on the nasty old and very dirty bus that would be my home for the next 12 hours, I cringed. Someone said Paulo Buses were the only way to go and I strongly disagree, although in all honestly I have nothing to compare it to. As soon as I boarded, this bus was a garbage bin and hadn’t been cleaned in probably years. The dirt was caked on so thick you could scratch your initials in the grime.

I climbed up into my top bunk at the very back of the bus and questioned how on earth this could be called a double. There were four single compartments up front but I wasn’t lucky enough to get one. As I was inspecting the scummy mattress for bed bugs, one of the drivers came offered me the compartment to myself for another 400 rupees. Basically he was asking me to pay for two or he was going to put someone with me. I said that was fine as long as it was a woman. He seemed perturbed that I wouldn’t give into his scam but I proceeded to stress for the next two hours waiting for this mystery woman he promised would have to squeeze in with me.

After sometime, I decided to let go of the fact that I was laying in who-knows–what from who-knows-where. I am washable. As are my clothes and I have to get used to the fact that I will get a little dirty now and then. Suck it up sweetheart! I found a somewhat comfortable position using my clothes stuffed bag as a pillow and not their germ infested one covered in mystery stains. I turned myself around so my feet were where the head should be and tried to dismiss the fact that now my head was where all the people’s feet had been. GET OVER IT! I shouted to myself. At least now I was facing the way the bus was going.

As we sped and stopped suddenly then flew over craters in the road, I tried to imagine I was on some new amusement park ride. I bet people would pay big money for a thrill like this! I tried to move away from the idea that I was in a coffin size closed box racing like a bullet on the edge of a cliff side playing chicken with other road monsters in various states of disrepair. I asked the universe to please have provided good brakes and somewhat sane driver. I almost heard it answer back “Sure thing Carmella…but I can’t promise the same for all the other trucks playing chicken with you”. As I drifted into a slumber (yes it happened!) I had dreams of winning the Olympic Luge competition. I got some serious air on some of those bumps! That dream turned into a nightmare of now being in the Skeleton (barebones variation of luge) and losing control, again and again and again…

Just then an abrupt banging on my compartment sliding door roused me. I peeked out to see that we were at a rest stop. I had already decided that I wouldn’t eat or drink anything all night so as not to put extra stress on my system. Do you know how hard it is to “hold it” when you are being thrown around like a rag doll inside a matchbox? So I wearily made my way to the public truck stop bathrooms which were not as bad as I expected . I popped into the first stall which was a western style seatless toilet was soaked but I couldn’t decide in the low light if it was water or urine. I had quickly done my business (you become a speed peer traveling in countries like this) and got back to my coffin, er, I mean bed, only taking about 2 minutes of the allotted 20 we were allowed to stretch our legs. Just get it over with, I thought to myself as I let myself drift off once again.

Luckily I had set my alarm and at exactly 6am I woke with a start. I realized in that second I had made a grave mistake. I first checked where we were stopped and we were only an hour from where I had to get out. Great. That means we are 9 hours from my wallet. With all my credit cards, all my bank cards, my ID (not my passport thankfully) and over 7000 rupees in various currencies. Oh lovely. I had just gone to the bank and usually I disperse my cash among various secret areas of my person and bag so I always have something somewhere no matter what. This time I went to the machine just before getting on the bus. I had so much distraction in the maybe getting a bedmate or having to move or pay more that I forgot. All I had was in one small bright red wallet. And now that was on the ledge of the woman’s toilet in the first stall at the truck stop on the highway between Pune and Goa. (Insert *nasty* swear word here)

To top it off, my phone was almost out of juice. I borrowed a fellow passengers phone and called my friend in Goa (which I memorized at the last second before I got the blank screen) who arranged for me to get picked up since now I had no money to pay an auto rickshaw or even her address which was now lost in my dead phone. I sat sullenly in the morning sun waiting for a strange man to come deliver me to a Couchsurfing friend who I had never met. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t appreciating the spectacular sunrise over this charming small Indian town. I felt like a dark blotch on a pretty painting. I was sad. I was less angry at losing my money and stuff than I was forlorn about my carelessness. Come on! I KNOW better. Seriously. I haven’t lost my wallet in years. Ok, I have lost my wallet in Berlin, Nairobi, Cairo and it always got returned…with everything in it. But that was years ago! The extra angels I had been assigned as a naive green travelers had long expired. I am seasoned now! I am expected to know my shit! That is why I was disappointed in myself. Maybe I have lost my travel savvy, maybe this is the way the travel gods say Go Home! Or maybe I was just getting old and forgetful. But wait, I was young and forgetful and I was fine then!? What does age have to do with it? I refused to continue down that path.

My new friends tried to comfort me with it happens to everyone and we’re all human sentiments but I couldn’t shake the hollow emptiness in my stomach. I ate an orange but it didn’t help. It wasn’t hunger. It was hopelessness. Still, a tiny seed manifested a little voice which offered two itsy bitsy words…But Maybe! My Indian friend Karen looked at me obvious pity and assured me it was more than highly unlikely as she lent me 1000 rupees to tide me over. In fact, everyone I talked to just told me I would have to let it go. EVEN IF someone good had found it, what are the chances that they would know how to get it back to me. This is a rundown bus/truck stop and more modern people take the plane or train…not the lowly bus. They would probably turn it in and then who knows what levels of corruption it would have to get past to get to me. Surely everyone whose hands it passed would take their share. That is how it works. I resigned myself to the fact that the money was gone. But the licence, the cards would be a real problem to replace out here. And it would really screw me now when we are days before Xmas. All my online banking and auto payments would fail…I couldn’t get new PIN’s here. I began thinking about going home.

I called my other friend in Goa who I was staying with and she (her name is Joy, ironically) was very positive. I relayed to her my embarrassingly amateur mistake. A stranger coming to stay with her who suddenly had no money? Suspicious much? She didn’t even flinch when she assured me it was all going to work out and not to let it get to me. She picked me up and introduced my to her boyfriend Cedric who both lightened my mood. They made me breakfast (homemade biscuits! This boy can cook!) while I fawned over the tiny snow white kitten weaving between my legs and squeaking to be picked up. His name is Karma and we became instant best friends. Finally a kitty to play with! This day was getting better by the second.

After eating and laughing a little, I got to work on finding out if anything had been turned in and freezing all my accounts. I had several people on the case and felt supported if not hopeful. I called one of my credit cards and to my shock, found it had already been reported lost. WHAT?! The flicker of hope grew into a fiery optimism as I began to piece together my success story. After several phone calls, I located my wallet, with everything (and every last rupee) intact which is as we speak being delivered to me. I was in a happy state of shock being fueled by an inferno of faith.

As I understand it, a woman from Mumbai on her way south for holiday saw the wallet sitting on the ledge and left it there thinking the owner would retrieve it. She mentioned it to her husband while they ate dinner and afterwards went to check if it was still there. It was. She took it and they waited in the front of the parking lot to see if anyone would coming looking for it. They waited until all the buses had left but they didn’t find me. Instead of turning it in where they could not guarantee what would happen, they took responsibility. The husband contacted my credit cards who left me a note of their contact info so I could get it back. The couple of angels in disguise continued on their trip south (6 hours further than Goa) keeping my stuff safe with them while they waited to hear from me. I finally found them and they just so happened to be with someone who just so happens to be coming back up to my area (literally 15 minutes away) tomorrow. Seriously? If I ever needed a reminder that things will be alright, if I ever needed a boost, if I ever needed to feel that I was on the right path, if I ever needed renewed faith in humanity, and if I ever needed to feel that I am loved…well it couldn’t be more loud and clear.

Joy and Cedric have gone out for the afternoon leaving me to rest with the kitties. The roosters are singing along as the neighbors down the road are blasting old time christmas tunes and the sun is setting over the palm trees. All is well in my world. I am about ready to burst from happiness and gratitude…but I think I’ll take a nap instead. There is supposed to be a party tonight…and I have a lot to celebrate.

Grateful for being blessed by the Travel Gods.

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Bombay Bobble Heads – Mumbai, India

After Porbandar, I fell quite ill. I didn’t want to do anything and lost my appetite as well. I felt worried that I was going to enter India sick as a dog and that I wouldn’t be able to manage. I knew that even though we were docking on Sunday morning, the ship didn’t leave for a few days and I could stay on board until Monday. I hunkered down and willed myself to feel better.

I spent the night and next day in bed drinking tea and sleeping. I skipped a few meals and didn’t even have the energy to take my art down to the exhibition. I got them sent down but never did get a chance to see the whole thing. I heard it went well. As time ticked, I got more and more concerned that I was getting sweaty and hot. I felt a fever coming on.

Sunday morning, I woke and felt that the ship had stopped. I peered out my picture window and took my first look at Mumbai. Bombay. Whatever you want to call it. It seems the name change hasn’t really taken as most people still refer to the richest and most populous city in India as Bombay. I mean really, Bollywood is based here and what would they change that to? Mollywood? Not likely.

I felt somewhat better than the night before even though I still had the sniffles and my throat was killing me. I can handle a cold but my lungs hurt just looking at the smog and pollution hovering over the city. I knew that I would have to man up big time. I decided I would go out just for a spell and get a taste of what I had to prepare for on Monday. Lee wanted to use the internet so we got in a cab with Johnny from Goa and sped through the humongous port to the gates. Johnny from Goa was charming enough that we agreed to go to one of his friends stores. Five minutes later it turned into two stores and I quickly saw where this was going.

I wandered the street while Lee ducked into an internet store where he had to show ID and fill out a whole lot of personal information. I guess they have to be strict here with stuff like this and are extra paranoid since the bombings. Hundreds of people have died as a result of terrorist attacks in 2006, 2008 and as recently as July this year.

We went to the two obligatory stores and had a quick look around. The air conditioning was a nice break from the muggy hot weather though I had doubts about what this would do for my cold. I glanced at the overpriced gold and silks but found the hoards of Asian tourists more fun to watch. I plopped myself in a chair while Lee humored one of the over enthusiastic salesmen. In the next store I let the men wrap me up in a long piece of fabric which they called a sari. To me it looked like drapes on some grandparents front window. I thanked them but politely turned down the hundred-dollar tablecloth that didn’t really seem to fit me anyway.

After we felt like a sufficient time had passed that our friend Johnny would get his credit, we left the store. As we were driving back to the ship, I saw the Gate of India and a lot of our shipmates snapping photos around the tourist laden area. I just wanted to get back to bed. I was feeling worse by the minute and knew I needed to save my strength for tomorrow when I would really be in it.

Passing through security, I was relieved to see no line at the gangway. I asked the young immigration man in military garb how he was doing (as I always do), and he answered shyly with a head bobble “Nice. I am nice.” The older officer behind him whispered loudly in his ear correcting him sternly but also with a more violent head shake, “Good! I am GOOD.”. The younger man just looked at me a little embarrassed and gave me yet another head wobble!

What the heck is that!? It’s kind of like if you were swimming and were trying shake the water out of your ears. Or it’s like Tourette’s or some kind of nervous tic. What it really looks like are those bobble head dolls and it is one of the funniest forms of body language I have ever seen. And by far the most confusing. Does it mean YES? NO? Maybe it means I don’t know? Or is it their way of saying politely without words “Who cares”? Does it mean they need a neck massage? Whatever it means, it’s fascinating. It is most peculiar but very very fascinating. I intend to study this nuance of Indian culture over the next few months. I boarded the ship and went straight my room to practice this curious head wiggle in my bathroom mirror. I wasn’t able to quite get it right but I had a good belly laugh whist trying. I think my neck needs a little (or a lot) of WD-40.

Grateful for body language.

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An Unexpected Helping Hand- Porbandar, India

Just when I didn’t think I could take the stench any longer, we turned out of the port toward the main part of the city. There was still a lot of poverty to be seen but the smells were markedly less intrusive. I couldn’t believe how many cows were wandering around, sleeping on the road and generally acting as if they owned the place. Well, in a way I guess they do. In India, cows are sacred. In fact, you won’t be finding any Big Macs around here. The billboards sport a lovely ad for McAloo Tiki which is in essence a potato burger. Still won’t lure me anywhere near the establishment, I’m afraid.

The curly swirly Hindi writing on all the signs was no help to me so I had to deduct by the wares what they were selling. There seemed to be lots of little specialized tiny shops housing services like tailors, barbers, and tea sellers, to name a few. The stores which lined the road were filled with every color of sari and the fruit carts were piled with apples, pineapples and pomegranates. There were a lot of people just hanging around in small groups sitting on the street curbs or squatting froggy style chatting. It was a very relaxed atmosphere.

There were lots of auto-rickshaws zooming around and just as many bikes weaving in and out. It was organized chaos. There seemed to be some kind of horn language. The different number and length of honking seemed to mean various things. Somehow, though there was a lot of beeping and tooting, there were no accidents and didn’t seem to be any angry road ragers. There was one dilapidated ancient bicycle being ridden around by just as aged old man. They kind of glided along the dirty roads cruising slowly…it was quite a peaceful contrast to all the hustle and bustle around them. I wondered where he was going? Then I realized, probably no where.

Just before we pulled up to the lot where the bus was letting us off, I felt something funny between my toes. I looked down only to discover that my flip flop had broken. My heart sunk. My favorite footwear I have had since Laos had finally seen their day. I thought about getting them fixed and decided I would do what ever came easiest when I got off the bus. As I hobbled down the road, I felt like a gimp and was embarrassed by my dragging foot.

After some seraching, it was clear there was no cobbler around so it was clearly time for a new pair of favorite flipflops. There seemed to be no shops in the area selling anything shoe-like so I ended up tying a shoelace around my foot and the sandal so I could walk better. I amused the young mother in the tangerine colored sari holding her gurgling baby by performing some MacGyver action on my shoe. Once it was good and snugly secured to my foot, I gave a satisfied nod and she beamed me a smile that concurred.

Merely fifty feet away, I discovered Ghandis house. I decided I should stop in for a minute, since I was right there. I encountered my first serious beggars here. It was intense and quite disturbing. The elderly frail senior just kept repeating the same thing and would not let up. I saw some British cruisers obviously distressed by the pressure just give in shoving currency at the persistent street people. It didn’t seem to quell the beggars but just encouraged them to press for more and more. It was really sad.

As I went to enter the three story structure where Ghandi was born in 1869, I learned I had to remove my shoes. I chucked to myself as I unlaced my makeshift shoething. I wandered around the white marble courtyard but wandered right back out minutes later. I am not sure if it was the hoards of tourist crowding the space but I just wasn’t feeling it.

I made my way up and down the streets and alleyways finally discovering a shoe solution. I ended up with a brand new pair of plastic sandals for 45 rupees. I gave the man 50 (one dollar) and he seemed really surprised and grateful when I refused the 5 rupees change. With a new spring in my step, I explored the streets with a new lease on life. It’s amazing how the little things can really make sure a difference.

I was hanging out with Lee and he wanted to find an internet place but after a while, he realized it just wasn’t going to happen. This was not the most advanced area and we were lucky to find drinks that were even cold. They pulled bottles of 10 rupee Slice (mango drink) and Thumbs Up (cola) out of a cooler with ice blocks. It wasn’t all that cold but it wasn’t warm so I gulped it down. I politely refused seconds knowing that finding a toilet would not be a pretty picture.

During the excursion through the colorful streets selling all sorts of everything you could ever want, I made a point to connect with the people. At one point, I bought balloon from the young girl on a bike and later gave it up to a spirited boy in his school uniform.

I was chatting with some shopkeepers when I heard a loud parade passing by. We decided to join in the hundred or so people following the marching band. I had no idea where we were going or what we were celebrating but somehow it didn’t matter. Everyone seemed really excited that I was there and that was enough for me. We ended up in a very obscure alleyway at some tiny shrine in the wall. I was slightly lost as to what I should do but realized I had no idea where we actually were after having being led around for a good 20 minutes.

After some time, we finally found our way back to the original shuttlebus drop off location. I was relieved as my feet were killing me and my bladder was starting to whine. All I could think about was getting back to the ship and collapsing on my bed after a much needed biobreak. Well, that relief lasted for about two seconds. As I looked around, I didn’t see any of the shuttles, any fellow passengers, or any of the guides. In fact, the whole area was dark. I scrambled around frantically looking for some sign of a bus to come. But my efforts were in vain. There was nothing.

Lee wasn’t much help either as he wasn’t taking this whole thing very seriously at all. Frustrated with his lack of preparedness more than once on this trip, I guess I had reached my breaking point. He just kept saying casually that we could just get a taxi back to the ship. No problem, he said confidently and nonchalantly downplaying the situation . Finally I asked him flippantly where the ship was and he looked at me with a blank stare and said nothing. “Exactly!” I snapped at him furiously. I felt the night getting darker by the second.

We were lost for a plan when a young man of about 20 on a motorbike stopped in front of us. “Can I help you?” he asked with a kind smile. I explained him the situation as he listened intently. He thought for a second and told us he knew where “your friends” are. He gave us some directions and we thanked him and tried going that way. After about 15 minutes of walking in exactly the opposite direction, I was getting more and more uneasy. I convinced Lee that we should turn back. If there was a shuttle bus, what if we missed it! I was SURE that was where it dropped us off. And how does this kid know who our friends are anyway?! It was too weird. So we turned back.

We found the vacant lot still empty and no tourists anywhere. Even the locals were becoming more sparse. I was just about to sit down on the dirty curb and cry when our friend on the motorbike showed up again. He sensed my anxiety building and calmly reassured me. “Don’t worry, miss. I’ll take you to your friends.” I searched his eyes for some truth and realized that no matter where he was taking us, it couldn’t get much worse than this. So we piled into a tuktuk and he led us through the streets on his motorbike. Lee said something positive and I dryly muttered a half hearted “yeah” as I looked sullenly at the passing stores which were closing up for the night.

Suddenly we turned a corner and there seemed to be a lot of people and markets in full swing. He hopped off his bike and gestured his hand towards a lot full of buses. “See? Your friends!” he exclaimed proudly as he pointed out our ships logo pasted on the front window of one particular bus. I could have kissed him, I was so relieved. Then, as if saving us wasn’t enough, he paid the tuktuk and absolutely refused to take anything from us except for our email addresses. He even gave Lee a bag from the store he worked in.

I was so touched and blown away by the generosity and kindness of this angel in disguise. I felt bad for having doubted him. More so, I chided myself for losing faith. I, of all people, should know that things always work out. I guess I had forgotten that the travel gods do have ways of making themselves known at just the right moment. I guess somehow I thought my luck had run out. Then I remembered, it has nothing at all to do with luck.

Grateful for guidance.

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Innocent India – Porbandar, India

I didn’t feel like painting or even really doing much of anything all day. I was under the weather and really just wanted to lay in bed which is precisely what I did. When the time came to get off the ship, I mustered up a brave face and made my way up to top of the ship to see our 6 man welcome band play with all their might. They sure did make a big sound considering their number.

As I peered down from the floor to ceiling windows of the Lido deck, I was taken aback by the number of locals who had come to greet the ship. about a hundred thin dark-haired Indians stood together just gazing silently at the cruise ship towering over them. It was very clear by the clothes they were wearing and lack of hygiene that these were people living below the poverty line. They were common working class who had curiously come to see the what the other side looked like.

In one of the port lectures, we were gently reminded that the gap between us and them would be large. Compared to their low standard of living, we were seen as millionaires and royalty. The sun was about to go down and I faltered a bit on my decision to go into town. I am not in tip-top shape and I didn’t want to have my first experience go wrong. After a few minutes of waffling, I bit the bullet and left the sterile air conditioned ship.

The first thing I noticed was the warm thick air enveloping me and new smells I couldn’t quite identify. I know people have spoken about the scent of India, but nothing prepares you for it. I was one of the last passengers off the ship onto the shuttle buses. As I hurried towards the last bus, I felt the weight of a hundred pairs of peering eyes watching my every step. I guess my age sets me apart from the other passengers and is guaranteed to grant me extra attention.

I climbed up onto the rickety very colorful schoolbus style shuttle that would take us into the center of Porbandar. The bus had to pass through a very very poor dockyard community. The stink of rotting fish, sewage, and waste was enough to make my eyes water. There were hairy wild pigs rummaging through mountains of trash and cows lounging in the middle of the road which the driver skillfully drove around like pylons on an obstacle course. He didn’t slow down once.

There were people young and old perched in and around wooden boxes that I think were stores. Small groups locals in every shade of brown would stop and wave at us excitedly to welcome us as we sped by. These people were thin as rails and their clothes were nothing but dirty tattered rags. I was able to catch eye contact with a couple of the kids and saw nothing but joy. That was then the tears started.

There were babies not even able to walk yet absolutely covered in filth crawling through shit filled muck. One tiny undernourished child stopped just long enough to lift her tiny muddy hand and wave. Her toothless smile was so pure and her shiny chocolate-colored eyes bored a hole right into my soul. At this point, I had to contain myself. I could feel the air being sucked out of me. I was completely overwhelmed and wept silently but did not try to stifle my tears.

Some part of me connected and empathized . And it was so confusing to me that here there was no sadness, no despair, no self-pity. I could find nothing but innocence and a powerful zest for life . The strength and will to survive in such living conditions humbled me. I knew that I would not be the same after this. I could actually feel myself shifting in that very moment.

That was my first 10 minutes in India.

Grateful for compassion.

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Delays – Gulf of Oman

I kept myself busy over the next few days painting my heart out. It wasn’t far off until our exhibition and I wanted to make sure I had something good to show for it. In the end I painted: a European town by night, a man from Yemen sitting on a donkey, people walking in a snowy park, a really bad mosque that ended up looking like a submarine or ship but certainly not a mosque nor anything great, and my favorite, a tigerfish (not my choice but a personal challenge by teacher). By the end I had lost my inspiration and had bored myself. I tried to squeeze out one more but it wasn’t happening so I just mounted the ones I had and called it a day.

I attended the lecture I had been waiting for all cruise called “Nomads of the 21st Century” by Dr. Malcolm Hunter. I sat there in awe as his words kept resonating deep within my soul. Sure he was talking about tribes and people from all around the world but they had so much in common with me. For once I felt understood, and it made some kind of sense why I feel so compelled to move. As I gazed into the eyes of the peoples he presented in his slideshow which covered nomads of Africa and Asia, I felt kinship. I related so strongly to what he was talking about I asked him and his wife Jean for lunch afterwards. We shared stories and I promised I would take them up on their invitation to visit them at their Nomadness Ranch in California.

We had so many problems on this voyage with timing and missing ports all together that we weren’t surprised to hear our path altered again. The captain announced that we would be delayed once again delaying our arrival to our next port by about 10 hours. The plus was that we would overnight there but that was little consolation since it really botched our plans. Many people had to cancel their plans and others were concerned about making the trip into the impoverished town at night.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole thing. I guess a part of me was a bit worried about my first impressions of India being compromised. But as long as we arrived in the light, I would be able to convince myself to go out into town. I decided to check out the entertainment which was not something I have been doing. I really enjoyed that the shows are all done in a very small intimate venue as opposed to the huge theatres on other ships. The dancers did quite a lot with their limited amount of space. However I still really enjoy my alone time and quiet space so I usually retire to my room after dinners. I drew a bath and relaxed while I wondered what was waiting for me in India.

Grateful for circumstance.

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