Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Farewell, faraway land!

Whoa...where did it all go?

Just I minute ago I had freshly returned to Mysore, and now it's my last day here.

It's been a normal day here so far: Started out with early rising. Making myself a wee cup of coffee with just a little sugar that I drink out of a small metal chai cup. (Helps get me going for all the asanas!) It's primary series and second series in class with guruji. Sweating all over the place. Trying to push and pull and lift my body into the new, challenging asanas I've been practicing. After practice, I put my super sweaty clothes with the other dirties in a plastic bucket, fill it up with water, and proceed to scrub them with my blue detergent bar, squatting on the floor of the bathroom. Singing little songs to myself. It's still reaaally early in the morning. A shower to wash off all the sweat and the more sweat, hanging my clothes on the line up on the rooftop (from which I look down and see the little temple across the small street, and the early stirrings of the day on the main road that is just a jaunt from the shala), and then I'm fresh and so ready to go out! I hopped on my scooter and drove to Shivaprasad, one of my favorite restaurants here. And there I ordered some delicious foods you've probably never even heard of unless you've spent time in south India. And then to the internet cafe, arriving just as soon as it opens, like usual! Oh, I'm a sucker for my e-correspondence and social networking! It's actually been really amazing to be able to keep that up here. Makes me feel a little less detached from everything in my life.

Today I'm feeling good and full of happy energy. Maybe it's my impending departure. Maybe that, combined with the excitement of an upcoming adventure in San Francisco on my way back to Seattle. Maybe it was the really good practice I did this morning. Maybe I'm just happy. (Yes, yes I am!) And maybe all of this feels extra great because it's one million times better than how I felt the other day...

Day before yesterday I woke feeling funky, so I skipped practice and went back to sleep for a while. A little bit after waking, the trouble began. Yes, you guessed it: trouble of the intestinal variety. Trouble, oh trouble, that persisted every 5 minutes or so for hours and hours. So frequently that I was scared to go to the doctor, because of the time in between one toilet and another. Oh man. I've been sick a couple times here, but this was the most extreme. I was between bed and toilet all day. In the early evening, a friend came and got me in a rickshaw and we went to the hospital together. I waited for a painfully long time, and finally talked to a doctor who thought I was fine, I just needed to drink a lot of fluids. And he prescribed antibiotics to take just in case it didn't stop. And after that night it did stop. Thank the lord! But while I was at the hospital I left a "sample" so they could check to make sure I won't be taking any parasites home with me in my guts. And wow. Filling that little plastic cup with my special 'stuff' was a nasty little adventure. Heheh. Gross!

Well, the time has come for me to pack up and get ready to leave! I can't believe it! I'm pretty much thrilled to go. I don't think I'll miss it here for a while. But I'm grateful for every moment of my experiences. For serious!

This is a place that is easy to love and hate simultaneously. This is a place of extremes. This is a place of contradictions that make you laugh and cry and stand agape in wonder. This place, with beauty juxtaposed with utter filth everywhere. This place, where magic is real and reality is more brutal than you could have imagined. This place! I will miss it someday. I will come back to it someday.

Yes, I can say lots of things that sound cliche about my experiences here. Eye-opening. Life-changing. Etc. And it's all true. And I'm sure I'll have even more insightful things to say after I've been away and 'digested' it all for a while. This place gives you so much to digest - physically, mentally, and emotionally. I can't keep up! But I'm working on it!

And this place has a way of dredging up those things that you need to face, and probably don't want to. It reaches its slippery hands inside your gut and pulls out what it finds there - maybe something you don't want to see - and throws it right in your face. For everyone else to stare at, while you figure out how to deal with it and, hopefully, wipe it all away. You know the work you need to do. Baby steps or big steps. India teaches you lessons AND gives you homework.

I've had plenty more special genderqueer moments. Lots of questions, and staring and sometimes laughing. It doesn't really phase me, though it can be exhausting after a while. I have a friend here from Iceland who is an amputee (and a power-yogi! Yes!) and wears a prosthetic leg below one knee. People stare and point and laugh and talk to her about it constantly. They don't let differences go unnoticed or unremarked or undiscussed here. But to them, that doesn't seem to be disrespectful. Cultural differences. It's been on my mind lately. I think it's because privacy hardly exists here. For starters, there are so many people in this country. There really isn't space to have the 'space' that we Westerners value so greatly. With poverty so great and nearly everyone reproducing, personal space is severely limited, and seems to be nonexistent for many people here. People are together all the time - the women working at home together, with little kids running around in packs, the men out on the streets in grimy clusters. Young and old alike - rarely alone, in public or home. There's a system here. A social order, chaotic as it seems, that keeps it all (keeps them all) in place. And they seem to keep each other in it quite well. Anything that strays from the norm is immediately noticed, scrutinized, criticized, gawked at, etc.
Have you read "The White Tiger?" I read it since I've been here in Mysore. It's a great book, and it talks about the "rooster coop" being India's best (and possibly only) innovative contribution to the world. Not just the metal cage that holds the chickens in, but the invisible societal cage that holds everyone in their places. And each guards the others, from the inside, so that no one can get out.

I feel sooooooo privileged.

Yes, I could go on and on about all the ways in which this travel experience has reminded me of my many privileges in this life. But I don't have all day! (and, well, I've already spent hours of my day at this computer, to be honest!) India throws another thing in your face that I neglected to mention before: all your blessings in this life. Yes, mine were apparent to me before, but it's all so much clearer now. My life is amazing! And the gratitude I feel...whoa. I can't even begin to tell you. Instead of telling you, I'll make it my goal to express it in every action I perform in this world. To you, to strangers, to no one in particular. Through the grace of the god inside. God (whatever you call that, however you see or understand it) is truly in everyone of us. And "this place" throws that right in your face too, with everything else. Hang on to that one.

Mysore, let's spend one last amazing, hilarious day together! (For now...)

India, it's been REAL. Thanks for...everything.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

exhaustion hits me like the raindrops

I've been back in Mysore for a week now. And I'm exhausted.

So many things here are exhausting. The polluted air and polluted everything outside...the people staring and laughing and asking where you're from and what your name is as you walk past, and sometimes giving you dirty looks and often trying to sell you everything and trying to rip you off all the time...the overstimulating markets...the overstimulating smells and sounds everywhere and all the time. The garbage, the poop, the dirtiness. The sweltering heat. The feeling like an alien outsider all the time. The language barrier. The same food and same stuff everywhere you go, in little stores and restaurants that are all pretty much the same. The vermin everywhere and mosquitoes biting you and the itching and the scratching. The men peeing on the streets wherever they please and I have to walk past them everyday! The cultural differences that are so hard to get accustomed to. The digestive "adventures." Oh, such adventures!

Don't get me wrong - I'm still enjoying myself.

But all of these things in the outside world here are so much more exhausting right now, because my 'inside' world is so exhausting. I've started the second series of the Ashtanga Vinyasa asanas, and it's kicking my butt a little. You wouldn't think holding a handful of extra poses for about 30 seconds each would make that much of a difference, but strangely it does. And I'm taking pranayama classes with the guruji too. You might not think that a little extra breathing would take that much energy, but strangely it does. It's 7:30 pm now and I'm totally pooped.

It's nice to be back in Mysore again, with some familiar faces and places. But I feel some emptiness being here without Wren now. This is the town she knew and introduced me to and showed me around. And we lived in a little apartment together. And I miss her a lot now. Things are back to being wonderful with us now, I would say. And this is a huge relief. Though now we have to miss each other and pine away a little bit. Again. Like before. But only a couple more weeks this time! And we are so lucky to have the internet and skype! Skyping has been a godsend.

Yes, I'm feeling ready to be home. Not crazy or unhappy, just ready to be home. Enjoying what I do here, for the most part, and still feeling so very lucky to have this experience. But I miss my people - my family and friends, my sweetie, and my Seattle with it's familiar beloved places. I miss feeling comfortable and relaxed when I'm out walking around. I miss being able to walk around without being stared at and talked about. I miss being openly friendly and kind to strangers without awkwardness because of such huge cultural and language differences. I miss being able to walk around without being stared at and talked about. I miss toilet paper and soap in public restrooms. I miss cleanliness around me. I miss washing machines. I miss health food stores with organic foods I want to buy and cook for myself. I'm SO spoiled! Yes, I'm very aware of the priveleges of my U.S. life now. So very aware.

I also miss being vegan. I recognized that it would be torturously hard to be vegan here, having to eat out at restaurants where there is ghee in nearly everything and the people barely speak enough English to even take your simple orders sometimes. So I've relaxed my normal standards. I don't eat blatant dairy, and I have no desire to. Just some ghee here and there, mostly. And I still eat eggs every now and then, these days. I still crave them sometimes. It's such a different diet here, and I have much less control and fewer options for what I can eat to fulfill my nutritional needs. Good news: I've started eating wheat again and it seems to be going fine. Yes!!!

Today I rented another moped. I have been only walking around for the last week, but I'm so tired all the time! And for about a buck a day I think it's totally worth it. (And yes, everyone, that includes a rental helmet!) I'm very happy to be scooting around again!

As awkward as it was sometimes, I rather enjoyed being seen as a boy in other parts of India. Here in Mysore, I am a "madam" again. That's how they address female people here. You walk past a store front: "Yes, madam! What do you want?" It's a little abrasive, the way they say it. And oh man. I never want to be called madam, ever. Never ever in my life!

It's been raining here in the evenings. I think the monsoon season is just about to start. I've been rained on a couple times on the way home. I've sat out back at the shala with my friend and watched beautiful brilliant lightning shows. I got totally drenched the other night on the way back to the shala with my takeout dinner. I was smiling as I trudged through puddles in my flipflops, until I thought about the puddles - the rainwater swishing around and steeping all the garbage and shit on the streets. Lovely! But it was still kind of fun. And luckily there is a hot shower at the shala (amazing!) so I could wash it all off.

Yes, wash it all off. That will be my first order of business when I'm back in the states. I will retain all the magic and beauty and spirit and flavor and wonderfulness I've experienced here, and the rest I'll wash off. Like dirty poopy puddle water! I can't wait to be clean.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mysore muscles! (GET IT?!)

Oh man. Where to begin?

I left you last in Calicut. Wren and I did hardly anything there, though we stayed for several days. Just wallowed around in the luxury of our nice hotel with its super-comfy bed and cable tv and room service. (And hot water and toilet paper! YES!) We saw half of an Indian movie in a theater (we left at intermission - we had seen enough of it and couldn't understand the dialogue anyway...but the dance scenes are always fun). I got my haircut at the man "saloon" and though I got busted for it by another customer, it was a lovely experience all around. There was a little shopping (I bought myself some super-sweet man shirts!), and a lot of relationship woes/fallout. And processing. Things were pretty low with us by the time we were leaving Calicut.

Trying to keep our chins up, we proceeded to Kalpetta, a little town in the mountains. The bus ride there was intense and super fun. Packed full of people, and we were standing the whole time, with our big bags in everyone's way in the aisle. Crying babies next to Wren, which made me laugh, in that "of course" sort of a way. We scaled the mountainside, going a little too fast for comfort sometimes on the steep road with its hairpin turns. It was a blast. Worth standing up for hours and sweating like a pig.

We weren't super active in Kalpetta either, but we did manage some sight-seeing. And continued our yoga practice in our hotel room. And discovered a tiny and amazingly delicious "hotel" (and by this they mean "restaurant"), which ended up being one of our favorite places of our whole trip. (Best waiter, too!) We saw a beautiful little lake, and the next day a little island area that we had to wade over to with hiked-up britches. We visited a mountain temple (though it was not majestic or exciting as I thought it might be. It's just an important one to the Hindi people). My favorite adventure we had there was visiting Edakkal Caves, where we marveled at 6,000 year old etchings on the walls. Amazing! They were intricate and so beautiful. And we had to climb, climb, climb up rocks and little metal ladders to get there. Something you would never experience at a tourist spot in the U.S. It seems like there is an unspoken "use/enter at your own risk" understanding here. They just don't go out of their way with safety precautions like Americans do. Probably because people here aren't lawsuit-crazy like us 'mericans.

Though we had a rough start there (some pretty emo moments/days), things between me and Wren were on the mend and felt much much better by the end of the week in Kalpetta. We certainly have a very special connection, and acknowledged that. I think we will always have special places in each other's lives, regardless of what the 'label' on our relationship might be. No expectations for the future of things, but no worries either. Though things between us might be different than I thought they might be, I feel like no matter what, we "made it." In our way. And I feel so much stronger for it.

Kerala is full of Christians and meat. Way more churches and meat eateries than the other places we've been. And the people continued to be forward with their questioning of our backgrounds, our travel plans, my relationship with Wren, and my sex/gender, in hilarious ways... "Are you brother and sister?"... To Wren: "He is your brother? Son?" (That one was reeeeeally a stretch!)... "Are you two girls, or one boy/one girl?" (To which I answered, "Yes!")..."You are coming from?" - "U.S.A." - "Boy or girl?" - "Both." - "Ah, boy. Yes, boy."

I've noticed how much less attention I get when I'm walking around on my own here. Like I almost blend in, and only the people who really look at me seem to notice ways in which I stand out. It seems that I'm like an anonymous boy on the streets to them here. Which is kind of nice. Wren got a lot of attention because of her fairness, which greatly contrasts most of the population here. And that gets a whole range of interesting responses, from excited children to giggling teens to creepy leering men to older people who just stare, stare, stare. Just before leaving the Edakkal Caves area, we were bombarded by a whole busload full of laughing teenagers, who immediately started taking photos of us (and with us), like a wee and totally silly paparazzi. It was intense and really amusing all at once.

This whole country is SO INTENSE. Really, everything. Sometimes I really miss the U.S., where a person can usually be clean and left-alone if they want to be. But really I'm quite content here, still. Having good times, and feeling comfortable in India in general, despite the great differences in culture. (Though I have to admit that the thought of returning home in a few weeks is getting more and more exciting...)

Our first attempt to leave Kalpetta turned into a terrible karma travel day. It involved being misinformed many, many times about bus departures. A nasty little town called Mepaddi, which was full of creepy and unhelpful "helpful" men. A hotel that turned us down when we tried to think of a plan B. I ripped off half of a toenail with my rolly-bag, and it ached and bled. We waited for hours. We had planned to go to Ooty as our last stop before Wren's return home. We made a plan C. Ended up going back to Kalpetta, to the very same hotel we had left earlier that day (after trying, and failing, to find a room somewhere else). We got the last available room. All the people there laughed at us. I think they found us entertaining the entire time, but most especially when we came crawling back with our tails between our legs, weary from the day's hardships. But all in all, we enjoyed ourselves in spite of things. It was one of the best bad days I've ever had. We found joy in complaining about India's many exasperating things, and laughing about all the lousy things that happened to us. Ended the day with a memorably delicious dinner, and enjoyed that mediocre hotel more than ever.

The next day we got on a bus back to Calicut, where we went to the railway station. Took a train to Kannur and transferred towards Bangalore. We thought it would be a 6 or 7 hour ride, judging by the number of kilometers. But our estimate was WAY off! It ended up being about 16 hours long, overnight. And because we weren't aware of this, we didn't purchase "sleeper" tickets. So we tried to sleep in our "Second Class" train car, which ended up being packed with Indian people, who slept in piles with each other on the seats, luggage racks, and ALL over the floor. It was amazing and hideous and a little bit sweet and definitely overwhelming. You couldn't get up to go to the bathroom without stepping on sleeping people, as much as you tried to be careful. We were all really packed in there. Luckily, Wren and I had secured seats. But unfortunately, we had to sit next to and across from some large men with bad breath who leaned over to sleep on me with all their weight (that's what the guys do with the other guys...without asking) and passive aggressively groped Wren with elbows and dirty bare feet while feigning sleep. Etc. Eew! It was a great feeling to get off that train. Though I was grateful that I got to witness it. Not grateful for the nastiness Wren had to deal with, but she handled it quite gracefully, considering. We had some coffee and decompression time at the train station before finding a hotel.

It was another nice one. Another comfy bed and cable TV and all of that. And we felt we deserved a nice experience, after that! We were determined to enjoy Wren's last few days in India. And enjoy we did! We hung out mostly in a commercial district in Bangalore. Some shopping, natch. Drinking coffee with soymilk (Yes! Finally!) at some of Bangalore's many Western-style coffee shops (those are not common or even existent in the other places we've been). Enjoying good food, a nice hotel, and each other. A lot. Realizing that we would have to spend the next few weeks so far away from each other, after everything we'd been through, made us really appreciate the time we had left together.

My favorite thing we did in Bangalore was visit a GAY BAR! Yes, really! OMG! We had been to a couple bars in little towns before, which were dark, shady, dirty rooms full of only men. Not really even any young men. But this place was different. No dance floor (to my dismay! And even a sign on the wall that said "NO DANCING," which I thought was quite funny, though it disappointed me) but they were playing some great dancable music. It's called NASA and it looked like a spaceship inside. The waiters were dressed like captains. It was full of mostly well-dressed, young men. I drank several whiskeys, with gusto. (I've hardly been drinking since I've been here, so I was pretty excited about that!) Men made eyes at me from across the room, and I loved it. They stared and smiled and seemed to be trying to figure out what my relationship with Wren might be. And maybe trying to determine my gender. It was kind of like getting to be a gay boy for an evening. Well, sort of. Whatever it was, I had a lot of fun. I avoided using the bathroom there, to avoid awkward gender moments. Using either bathroom is awkward for me here, when they are separated by gender. After we left I scooted into a fancy coffee shop next door, and quickly slipped into the ladies' room. But before I reached a stall, a young lady came in to inform me that I was in the wrong place. I nodded with understanding and left. Used the "Gents" room, with a smile on my face.

I was sad to see Wren leave! I knew I would miss her (and I have been!) I went with her to the airport, but I wasn't allowed inside at all, so we had our moment of socially unacceptable PDA (not that we were being inappropriate by American standards...it's just that almost any PDA is unacceptable here) and she headed off. I took a taxi home and enjoyed one more night in the nice hotel, but this time strangely, all-of-a-sudden alone.

I spent the next day visiting Ethan again, because he and the students in his program from Auroville were staying at a farm outside of Bangalore. I had a great time hanging out with all of them again - they're nice and funny and bright young college students. And Ethan is an amazing friend. The couple who own the farm (a Bangalore native and her American husband, who she met in Auroville) were so lovely and hospitable and welcomed me to their home and fed me delicious food. They had 2 kittens and a 3-week-old baby calf named Nandi. So beautiful! And the mama cow licked my sweaty arms all over with her rough scratchy tongue while I laughed and laughed. I saw her get milked, and had a couple of tiny cups of masala chai that were made with her fresh milk. And I enjoyed it and didn't feel ethically opposed. We slept on a raised platform under the stars. I woke up a couple times and enjoyed seeing the moon directly above me for little moments before I drifted back to sleep.

The Auroville kids and I had to go our separate ways the next day. I left Bangalore with the intent (and the ticket) to go to Mysore, where I am spending the last few weeks of my trip to learn more asanas (the Ashtanga second series!) and pranayama (yogic breathing exercise to control the 'life force') with my beloved guruji. I got on the train at the platform the displays told me to go to. Didn't ask anyone about it, because I had gone to the right one, right?

Wrong. I somehow got on the wrong train. I'm still not quite sure why that happened. After several hours, some kind people asked me where I was going, and when I said Mysore, they kindly informed me that I was not on the Mysore train. I didn't know where I was. Somewhere not on the map I had. And they couldn't even point to the area on the map. And all of a sudden I had almost everyone on the train car gathered around me, speaking to me adamantly in languages I couldn't understand. At all. And it was really intense, but also really funny, and I did a lot of smiling and shrugging and shaking my head and saying "Only English." And they repeated that to each other: "English, english, english"...like the telephone game without the whispering. Only one of them could really speak any of it. And they were all talking about me (which was embarrassing and kind of fun at the same time!) and, luckily, trying to help me. And they did. I wasn't sure how things would turn out (having experienced some very unhelpful "help" recently), but they were just fine. I got off in a little town called Arsikere that was charming and lively, even though it was after 9pm. I could've caught the last bus of the day to Mysore from there, but instead decided to stay the night and leave in the morning, rather than arrive at 1 am.

I got myself a small, dirty, and slightly creepy hotel room. The whole place seemed to be staffed entirely by two 12-year-old boys, one of which wouldn't get off his cell phone, and the other of which had some serious boundary issues (at least in my opinion... But it seems like most of the people at the hotels here do. Even at the nice ones, they don't know how to leave you alone!). Because of its location next to the train station, the room was overpriced for what it was, but cost me a little less than 5 U.S. dollars. I endured (and appreciated, on some level) the creepiness and grossness, and even managed to practice my yoga in the morning, before stepping out to have a fresh coconut and an amaaaazing breakfast, and no one tried to rip me off in that town, like a lot of people do in a lot of places here. (This was especially nice after Bangalore, where everyone tried to rip me off SO much!).

I finally made it to Mysore! Took a bus here (after bad luck on the last couple train rides), and happily arrived at the yoga shala, where I am staying for most of my last few weeks here. It's been nice staying there so far and I've made a few new friends already, without even trying. And we've been doing fun things together. I haven't even had time to be lonely, even if I wanted to be! I still miss Wren a lot, though. So strange to go from 2 intense months of togetherness (almost 24-hrs a day, the whole time!) to being on opposite sides of the world again, with only email communication. But I am enjoying myself a lot so far - enjoying new people, enjoying practicing with my guruji again, and enjoying a little bit of alone time. (though not even that much so far...)

This place is extremely intense. This country, and its people, are extremely beautiful. And a lot of other things, extremely. And these things are challenging and wonderful all the time.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

un chico en la playa

I forgot to mention that, while I was back in Auroville, I buzzed off all my hair. Well I guess buzzed is not the appropriate word, though it is kiwi-short. But the barber at the "saloon" (that's what they call barbershops here. And they call restaurants "hotels." Go figure.) used the comb and rapidly-snipping scissors method. The old fashioned way. It was an entertaining experience; I couldn't believe how fast he could snip, and the sound was interesting and pleasant in its way. Tiny snippets of hair rained down all over me, and stuck fast to the skin on my sweaty neck and chest. And he powdered my neck at the end, which was also awkward because of the sweatiness. And I walked around all day with hair all over me. They sweep all the cut hair into a pile, so when you walk in you can see it all there - a big pile of hair like a lazy little monster in the corner, black black black with just a little gray here an there. And the handiwork of the barber was just a bit uneven, which made my head look a little lopsided for a while...but that's cool, I guess. Right, guys? The whole thing cost about sixty cents. I think I'll visit Boy's, the men's hair salon a couple doors down, after this. Time for a trim.

I look quite different now in a number of ways, actually. I'm so brown from all this intense sun - much different than my multi-year Seattle resident color. I've halted some of my personal grooming habits, such as eyebrow maintainance. They are thick and bushy as the tropical jungle around me. My physique has changed a bit from the yoga practice. I've been wearing beaded necklaces and manskirts (things I never would wear in Seattle...) All that combined with the shaved head. Wren sometimes notes how different I look now than I did in Seattle.

It's a little crazy to see myself in the mirror now. We're staying in a fancy hotel right now in Calicut. There are big mirrors in the room. Most of the places we've been have teeny tiny mirrors or no mirrors at all - something I've gotten quite used to. And now it's strange to see so much of myself reflected back to me.

We didn't intend to stay at a fancy place here. We didn't really intend on spending time in Calicut. It was just a good stopping point between Appelley (the last place we were staying) and Kalpetta (our next stop). We arrived from a 7-hour train ride last night and tried to find a cheap room for the night, with the help of some friendly young men (they are Indian filmmakers) who we met on the train. For the first time, we were turned away for being foreign. And again. And again and again and again. Everyplace we went. There was apparently some terrorist activity around here, so hotels have to register foreign guests through the police, and the small hotels don't want to go through the hassle. After lots of attempts to find a cheap room and lots of failures (all this in an auto rickshaw with speedy maneuvers through traffic and small spaces that felt like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride), we came to a big fancy hotel that had a room for us. Expensive for here, but only about $40 per night. And it feels like total luxury. We had the first hot showers we've had in weeks. And it's clean and there's a TV with weird and entertaining Indian programming and I didn't wake up itching like crazy from nighttime mosquito bites. I got the first really good night of sleep I've had in weeks, too. Sank into the giant, super cozy, clean bed, under the covers (which I haven't used in ages, because it's normally so hot I don't want to sleep in or under anything at all), and slept con los angelitos panzones. It felt like the first real break from my waking life that I've had in a while. (I've been struggling with some unusual sleeping problems for the last few weeks. But they are gradually lessening.) Also, the free hotel breakfast here is delicious Indian food. Not like the super lame American hotel breakfasts.

The Indian people in Kerala are very friendly. More friendly than the people in any other area we've been. Sometimes it feels really extreme, like they don't know how to respect an individual's private space in the way Americans generally do. At the place we stayed at in Alleppey, the hotel people were always hanging around and talking to us, which was annoying at times. Sometimes you just want to lie in your hammock in a moment of solitary peace. Ya know? But they were very nice people, for the most part. The people here are also often very forward with their questions, and comfortable talking about things like personal bodily things in a way the Americans generally aren't. And because my gender presentation and sex are very confusing to people, they often think they've made mistakes in interpreting my gender. And instead of blushing but not saying anything, or apologizing profusely like Americans tend to do (I hate that!), they laugh and tell you about it. Like, "You look like a man. I saw you and thought man. Until you talking I thought you were man. Haha!" And then I usually say something like, "Kind of man. Man/lady, lady/man. Both. Same-same." And sometimes they seem to understand, and sometimes maybe not. Gender neutrality is confusing to people everywhere I go. But the Indians don't seem weirded out by anything. Just curious and interested, and they like to talk about it. Though it's hard to articulate thing well when they only understand some English. (Same-same is a phrase that I've picked up here, and enjoy quite a lot).

It's interesting to be read as a boy more often now. In public, men touch me sometimes (like to move me out of the way) and push me around to get ahead in line, like all the other men push each other around. (They don't touch women, because it's not culturally appropriate) It was weird for me at first, but I'm more used to it now. I've been laughed at and yelled at to get out of ladies-only spaces. (which I myself thought was pretty funny). The other day, as I was walking out of the ocean in Alleppey, a young boy invited me to play cricket on the beach with a group of young boys. He thought I was a young boy too. I smiled and shook my head and walked on, feeling amused, though grateful. And I watched the game for a while from a platform above the hammocks at our beach hotel, and there was something so perfectly sweet about it. A beautiful setting to see such picturesque joy of youth.

We stayed in a little hut in Alleppey. Only a small stone wall between us and the beachfront. Hammocks outside to lounge in. The sound of the waves at night was soothing and lovely. But in the very early morning (still dark) after our first night there, I was laying half awake and heard a small sound at the window that was by the head of the bed. It's a small window with vertical bars and no screen. I looked up and saw the black silhouette of a man's head and shoulders. I put my head back down, and it was then I realized how creepy it was. I looked back and he was gone. But I didn't feel like our safety was compromised, so I went back to sleep. The next night, I hung one of my lungis (manskirts) up across the window, to try to prevent anyone from seeing in. Around the same time the next morning, I looked up and saw a similar silhouette, meaning the man had reached in far enough to move the fabric out of the way. I said "Go away!" and he immediately did. And I spent the day feeling grossed out about a peeping tom. Later, when we were packing to leave Alleppey, I noticed that a small bag of half-eaten snacks that I had left near the window was missing. Turns out the perv was actually a theif. Or perhaps a combination of both. But he only made off with some Indian sweets already bitten into. Maybe he needed them more than we did. A slightly creepy experience, but neither Wren nor I were really phased by it. Just momentarily disappointed we didn't get to finish those sweets, but we bought more today and they were delicious.

Before Alleppey was our houseboat ride from Kollam, through Kerala's beautiful backwaters. The highlight of the experience was walking through the little village that we spent the night docked beside with our cook from the boat, whose family and friends lived in the village. It was a sweet and quiet little village with fields of rice and some cashew, almond, and jackfruit trees. The cook introduced us to everyone, and they were friendly and sweet and the children were very interested in us and very shy. A group of young men convinced Wren to play her uke and sing for them, which she did. And one of them showed us his impressive Michael Jackson moves. All in all, the boat ride was a lovely and super-relaxing (i.e. lazy) experience, if a bit overpriced.

Next, we leave beach for mountains...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wow. So much has been happening since my last update...

At this very moment I'm in Varkala, in the state of Kerala. It's a beautiful beach town on India's west coast. Wren and I haven't yet spent any time in the actual Indian village here - we're staying near the beach, a short walk from a clifftop full of places for Western tourists (there are LOTS of them here) with a long set of switch-back steps that lead down to the beach below. The beach here is surprisingly clean for an Indian place. But you have to pass by heaps and heaps of garbage to the side of the stairs on the way to and from the shore.

I'm even more tan now. Just a little burned. The sun here is fierce, but I love it. The waves are strong, and being near the ocean is magical, as always. The Western tourists here like to wear really skimpy swim clothes on the beach, and some Western women sunbathe topless (something I find quite rude, considering this country's feelings about body exposure in public). Some of the Indian men swim in trunks, but many of the Indian people I've seen in the water are fully clothed in their day clothes. Women in beautiful full saris, soaked in sea water, laughing and holding hand with their friends. Circles of little children in wet clothes, gleefully enjoying the waves. It's lovely to see.

We arrived here on train from Kanyakumari, the little town on the southernmost tip of India. We spent only a couple days there. I wanted to go there to watch the sunset (we never made it out to watch it rise, as i thought we might), at the point where three bodies of water meet: the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea. It is a small place teeming with Indian tourists. Much different from the expensive, Western-tourist places and vibes here. We took a short ferry ride (which was rocky and exhilarating and the women squealed and Wren got drenched in sea water, even though we were sitting in the middle of the boat) to a little tiny island (or rather, a very large rock) out in the water, on which we visited a temple and a memorial to Sri Vivekanda, who is said to have swam out to the rock long ago, where he sat for days in meditation. We visited an ancient temple on the mainland near the water. It was the oldest place I've been here so far. Over 1,000 years old. The energy inside was powerful and wonderful and intense. And the energy in Kanyakumari in general was good and healing, though the people were not the most kind and the touristy-ness was quite annoying at times. Still, I enjoyed it greatly. The train from there to here got so crowded that there was at least one man hanging out of the door the whole way. Wren and I had luckily secured seats before it got so crowded, and we were right inside the door, so I could see the people spilling out of the train just beyond Wren's head as we traveled.

Train travel here is fun fun fun! Dirty and sweaty, sure. But fun. Beautiful scenery and interesting sights flashing by, usually with a moat of garbage between the train and anything it passes. Everyone just throws it out of the windows. The locals encouraged us to do so. And the toilets on the trains (some Western, some squat-style) are basically just holes through to the ground below. It's kind of fun to see the tracks rushing by below when the train is moving. And I understood why many of the train station platforms smell like poop. And pee. And garbage. And gross. But what a fun adventure to travel this way! We've had 2 overnight train journeys on our travels so far. There are small, vinyl-covered 3-tiered bed platforms (the middle ones fold down during the day for seating) to sleep on. They are hard and a little dingy, but it was fun to sleep on them, in a summer camp sort of a way. Wren and I made some friends on a train ride. An Indian mother/son pair. They talked to us a lot and looked through my sketchbook and made Wren play her ukelele and sing and seemed to be fascinated and entertained by everything we did. For hours. Evening and the next morning. When it was time to sleep, Helen (the mother) decided "little children on the top" (even though I told her how old we were....), and so Wren and I gladly climbed to the top bunks. Ooh, and also, the snacks on the train are good. Men pass by every now and then, selling chai, coffee, fried Indian goodies, dosas, etc.

We've been in Varkala for a week now. The time is really flying! We left Mysore about 2 weeks ago, hopped on a train to Pondicherry (a very French-influenced city on the east coast), and then an auto rickshaw into Auroville, to visit my dear friend Ethan. Wren wrote a lovely blog entry about the place and our experences there, if you want to read more about it. (The Wiki article is worth checking out too.) Some highlights of our stay there: the 3 of us riding around together on a tiny moped, eating Western hippie foods (tofu, kombucha, raw Indian food, salads, etc. omg!), hanging out on the beach, visiting an energetically inspiring Ashram in Pondicherry, singing in an OM choir (yes, all we 'sang' was om) (this experience was made all the more interesting and poignant for me by the addition of some intense intestinal cramps that began to occur during the singing....oh, India....), seeing the Matrimandir (which looks like the Indian Epcot), watching DVDs that we bought for 25 rupees each (just over 50 cents) on Ethan's laptop (Wren was especially overjoyed to watch New Moon), singing songs with Ethan on the guitar... etc. Auroville itself is such a fascinating place. An experiment in human unity. I felt a strong connection to the ideals and founding principles of the place, though I'm not sure how I feel about the reality of it all in practice. It seems just a little cultish and odd, and the Westerners there seem quite unfriendly to outsiders. Still, quite an interesting place to experience. We were only there long enough to get a little taste of it.

I don't think we planned on being in Varkala for so long. It just kind of happened. It's easy to be lazy here. Back and forth between out hotel and the cliffside business and the beach. Eating lots of good food, playing and lounging on the hot hot beach. Yeah, that's about all we've been doing. We found a hotel room with a ton of space in which we can do our asanas in the morning. Wren had been helping me with some of my practice. She's naturally quite a good teacher. I've started to do dropbacks (from standing) into backbends, with her assistance. I don't think it will take me too long to be able to do them on my own. And since I've been here I've been doing headstands without the help of the wall, finally. I was quite pleased with myself! :D

Wren and I have made some spontaneous friends here and there on our journeys. I had an especially great time with a French man named Bruno who I met on the beach. He and I immediately hit it off, and spent a lot of time together before he had to leave to go back to France. We were super silly and playful together and laughed a lot and played on the beach, jumping into waves and building things in the sand (like a mermaid tail for Wren, after we dug her a hole to sit in...and then she haggled with the lady who walked by selling fruit, and bought us mangos that she and I ate side by side on the beach, all while she was a mermaid. Ha!). Bruno's presence was like a breath of fresh air for me. It felt like one of those serendipitous meetings of spirits that happens just at the moment you need it and feels like a gift from god. For serious. What fun we had!

Tomorrow morning Wren and I are leaving Varkala to take a trip through Kerala's backwaters on a houseboat. It will be just the two of us, plus the driver and a cook, who will prepare us all of our meals. Two days and one overnight. I'm so excited to be on the water! And excited to leave Varkala as well. Time to go!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

la luna llena y muchos colores

If you're enjoying the India bloggin', you should check out Wren's blog too!

Today is Holi, a festival of colors in India. The festivities began for some people yesterday. You could see people out and about, covered in splashes of brightly colored powder on their clothes, and even all over their faces. We haven't ventured out yet today - so far just asana practice and a relaxing breakfast/internet time at another yoga shala close to our apartment. But Wren and I have dressed in clothes we don't mind getting stained all over, in preparation. We'll see what happens...

The moped gave up today. She was going just fine, until last night when she began to lag and lurch as I was driving me and Wren home last night. This morning we had to leave her outside of our shala and walk away. Only about four more days in Mysore, so we may just go without our own scooter for the rest of our time here. We can take the little auto rickshaws around for cheap, and hoof it sometimes. (heh heh)

The past weekend was full of full-moon celebrations. A hilarious going-away dinner for an Australian friend of ours at a fancy restaurant on a patio beneath the stars. A full-moon party on Saturday night. Wren played fer little red uke and sang for a sizeable rooftop audience at one point during the party. People listened quietly and respectfully for quite a while, enjoying her music. And then dissovled back into their drunken banter. Low-key, mellow yoga student banter. We have been to a couple of parties since I've been here. And (no offense to the westerners here) I probably should have brought a book! Ha. The yoga people don't party like my people party. They sit around talking, maybe a little tipsy and probably a little high (or very...) No dancing. They liveliest thing I've seen them do was a pretty mellow jam session with some good vocals, and some folk music performances. The other night I was struggling to fight off sleep. Not my idea of a festive atmosphere, but good spirits nonetheless. And we have some friends here who are a blast to hang out with and talk to.

Our "western" friends here are from all over the place. Hardly any of them American. The people we hang out with the most are British and Australian. We make fun of each other's accents. And teach each other how to say special things in our own special ways. Wren is quite good at imitating their accents, and has even picked up many phrases and lilts from "the Queen's English." And so I find myself doing it too sometimes, unintentionally. It cracks both of us up.

We spent both days of the weekend at two different pools. Full of sunshine and luxury. How lucky we are!

I've been quite creative since I've been here. Still having vivid dreams, still seeing things I've never seen before, making music in my head, and drawing a lot for the first time in years. Sketching all sorts of things. I love drawing people the most (including myself), and one of my favorite pastimes here is sketching Wren while she is engaging in her own creative activities - like playing the uke, knitting, etc. I especially love the challenge of capturing the energy and movement of her quick, nimble, clever little hands. When I'm back in the states I want to start painting portraits again, with renewed inspiration and verve.

I love how full of spirit and magic and divine inspiration and faith everyone and everything is here. The other day I saw a man walking his tiny white dog, and even the dog had the little spot over its third eye. Love it. It really is a magic, tragic place here. I'm so excited to venture around and see more of India! Only a few more days, and then we're off!

And yes, I am still happy and doing well. Very happy, and quite well, to be precise. :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

suenos y faldas

It's getting hotter and hotter here! I think all the sweating alone has been great for my system - from the asanas, the pranayama, doing laundry, eating...really everything I do here makes me sweaty. I feel like my body is doing some serious detoxing. It makes me feel great sometimes and exhausted at other times. And I'm quite happy to be tan again. And every now and then I admire my own biceps, which have grown. (Just like you, Bronco!) Sweet!

I've gotten really into lungies. They are the traditional Indian man-skirts. Wren loves them and wears them all the time. Which seems totally normal to me, but is probably weird and funny to everyone from here, because she's so lovely and femme and wearing man clothes. And I'm used to wearing man clothes all the time, but it's been years and years since I wore anything skirt-like that wasn't in jest (like special dress-up drag moments in Indigo's costume room, etc). Anyway, it's freakin' hot here and the lungies are nice & breezy underneath. And the lungies come in super-sweet colors and patterns. I actually have a little bit of a collection of them now. Ha! I had no idea I would come to India and start wearing "skirts!" And in public! Whoa.

I have really intense dreams every night here. Normally, in my daily life in the U.S., I rarely remember my dreams. But since I've been here I've been having wildly intenso dreams every night, and remembering them at least fairly well. Sometimes very vividly. I've been keeping a journal, and I write about my dreams in it everyday. I find that the process of putting the weird dream images into words helps me gain clarity and understanding. They are all meaningful. I haven't had meaningful dreams every night like this, well, ever. It's kind of cool and strange all at once. Sometimes I wake up feeling not very rested; my mind has little rest here. So much learning, growing, changing, and considering lots of things.

Wren and I are on our way to book the first of our train tickets for the travel portion of the trip. We are going to go see my friend Ethan in Auroville first, and then head to Kerala for a while, then Goa, Hampi, and then back to Bangalore to send Wren home. I will have 3 weeks after she leaves before I fly out. Haven't decided what to do yet. I'm excited about traveling, but getting a little sad to leave Mysore. Just as I'm starting to get used to things here! Isn't that the way it goes?