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...