Saturday, February 25, 2012

PDF: Public Display of Faith

Labor is for the mind what meditation is for the soul.  It calms, soothes, and focuses.  Back in the world of online social networks, career building, and TGIF, I very quickly found myself over-using my mind and turning concepts in my head inside out and outside in, over and over again.  So when I came back home from a quick stint in Utah to see my parents, I stepped out into my sunny San Diego back yard and took to our 400 square foot lawn, which had grown in height to about 8 inches, with a push mower.

Sweating is good for the body, and what is good for the body is often times good for the soul, since the body is the place where the soul resides.  So I cleaned my temple as I pushed and re-pushed the mower over the thick blades of fescue, and I let my wandering thoughts subside to a single subject -- public displays of faith.

This was something that had been tickling my mind for a few weeks.  It started, as things in my life often do these days, with my area of study, Ayurveda.  In Ayurveda, we believe that how you eat is actually more important than what you eat.  We believe in creating food sadhana, or making food and your meal times sacred.  One of the ways in which this is accomplished is by taking a few breaths before your meal and/or saying grace.

Many of us do this everyday.  Many times, groups of family or friends gather before a meal and select someone to say a prayer, to bless the food to be eaten.  For many, this is a natural time of thanks and a process that is so familiar it's almost become mundane.  For me, grace had always been a nice idea, but one that had brought up feelings of resentment, anxiety, and unease.  It reminded me of the high school locker room before a volleyball game, where I was required to bow my head and pray with the others to a very specific god in a very specific way that seemed foreign to me, especially in a school setting.  No one ever asked me if this was my belief, or gave me the option to opt out.  The same was said for meals with extended family, large school groups, and even my high school reunion.  The prayers seemed to take on a stale quality to me, as if they had been repeated too many times, and as if the prayer itself was separate from the person giving it -- as if they had forgotten the reason for the prayer itself.  It didn't work for me, and it still doesn't.

But that doesn't mean that I didn't want to express gratitude to the Great Unknown, or the Universal Spirit, or the Ultimate Complexity, or God (however you want to say it), in my own way.  And so I struggled against this Ayurvedic rule, feeling silly that I didn't know which words to use, and often times simply taking a few deep breaths with the thought, "Thank you," in my mind.

In India, this attitude of gratitude for everything around us was prevalent, especially in the north.  Surrounded by my close Ayurvedic friends and teachers, I became very comfortable with my meal time grace.  I took a cue from a friend I admire (what can I say, I like her style), and rub my hands together to activate my palm chakras, then hover my hands over my food and imagine gold cosmic energy running through my body and into my food.  I give my thanks in a way that feels good to me, and in a way that makes me feel connected.  It feels good, and it does change how meal time feels to me.

On my first flight leaving India, a flight from Kerala to Delhi, I sat next to an older Indian man who didn't seem very talkative, which was fine, as I was lost in my recent memories and fighting against the tears that leaving brought.  The flight attendants served us dinner (yes, in India you still get free meals on flights!), and I had my moment of grace.  I ate, enjoying the spicy food and recognizing that it might be the last Indian food from India that I get.  After I was finished and my tray had been cleared, the man turned towards me and asked me a question.  I don't know remember what he asked, because after a few sentences it was followed with, "I knew that you would be a nice person to speak with because before you ate, you thought of God."

I was flabbergasted.  I mean, I've just made the step to feel comfortable praying in public, or making what I will call a Public Display of Faith, or PDF, and the first person I sit next to besides my good friends notices and strikes up a conversation with me because of it.  Then, not two full days back in San Diego, I take myself out to eat lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant.  The waiter brings my vegetable kabob, and I close my eyes and give my thanks, trying to be just quick enough to feel relaxed and connected.  As soon as my eyes open and I reach for my silverware, a man two tables over shouts, "Hey! Excuse me!  I like that.  I never do that!"  And then he turns to his friends and continues to speak loudly.

I find it interesting what a response this PDF receives, positive or negative.  When I was home in Utah, I continued my practice with my food, and realized afterwards that it was received awkwardly, with hints of hesitation from my family.  It also makes my partner feel awkward and a bit anxious.  I find this interesting, because I, too, have had this kind of reaction to PDF, and still do whenever politicians use faith as an answer to a question that requires logic or intellect instead.  And I've found that in most cases of negative response, the person still likes the idea of giving thanks and giving gratitude, but it just triggers something inside of them in a negative way.  I think I understand, because I've seen it often in myself and my friends -- those seeking asylum outside of a religion that left scars.  I think that sometimes, in the spirit of giving our children a faith to hold onto and to teach them moral codes of conduct, we shove religion down their throats like branding irons and scar their tender flesh of curiosity with fear and false promises.  These scars heal slowly, if at all.

I'm curious as to what others think.  What do you think about public displays of faith, given that they are not targeting you nor requiring your participation in any way, and that they are obviously a conscious effort to connect, not a flashy show of a religious preference?  How do you feel when you see someone give a few moments of silent thanks before a meal, or in another situation?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lessons learned, next steps, and pictures for recap: India, Part 7.

She has left her mark on me, that great country called India.  I spent 30 or so hours traveling on February 6th (it's amazing how one day can stretch into two) and made it back to San Diego safe and sound.  I was proud of myself for getting unpacked, washing clothes, and organizing my imports before falling into bed around 9:30pm.  I slept heavily, but woke completely disoriented several times during the night.  I couldn't remember where I was, because it feels so strange to be back home.

My husband was so excited to see me that he wanted to throw me right back into the world of bills and schedules, taxes and house keeping.  I had to explain that I just wasn't ready for that -- and not just because of the jet lag, but because India taught me how much more simple life could be.  He is learning to be patient with me, for which I am grateful, because as I woke today to realize I really was in the U.S. and not in the sweltering heat of Kerala, I burst into tears.  The travel day came back to me in a big whoosh and I realized just how far away from India I now was.

I can blame the tears on hormones and jet lag, but I can't hide the fact that I feel a huge hole in the center of my chest, like a large part of me is still listening to the monkeys, sitting on the bank of the Ganges, drinking chai with a new friend and riding on the back of a scooter.  The trip transformed me.  I went as someone with fear stored in every crevice of my body, seeking to rid myself of it as I searched to find a sense of belonging and connection in the world.  I left with a new found confidence, a confidence not ego-based but based in the heart, and as I walked the streets of Kerala in that last week I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging.  I felt as though I had finally found myself, like I had finally stepped into the person I was so seeking to become, and even as the heat bore down and caused beads of sweat to pool in my lower back, my soul sighed, "Finally."

The last night I was in Kerala I felt assured and confident that I had learned what I needed to come home and fulfill the tasks awaiting me; to continue to live my dharma.  And that I would be so much stronger along this path because I had been learning what it takes to live with an open heart.  Now that I've traveled back half way around the planet to my home, a new challenge awaits me -- to overcome any grief or sadness from leaving India and to apply this new found heart-confidence into my life here.

I talked a lot in the blog about the sadness that resided inside me, in my heart, which would creep out into the blue-gray pigment of my eyes.  That sadness starting lifting the first night it was brought to my attention, back in Rishikesh, through conscious processing, and with every moment of conscious awareness I let it seep out into the Mother below my feet, and I filled the remaining space with the thriving life force of India and her people.  My first impression of India was of a place in chaos, with people and animals, trash and waste, food and water all mixed together in a way that made no sense in the world that was so carefully constructed back home.  But as I began to watch, and to speak to the people, to accept their generous smiles, and to learn from them, I realized that what I had perceived as chaos was simply a manifestation of so many different souls living together and allowing their differences to exist as they each tried in their separate ways to fulfill their individual path on earth.

One of the many differences between my home and India is that in India, people and their differences seem to tolerate if not embrace each other as they coexist side-by-side, creating colorful and sometimes contradictory living situations.  In my home, survival often means setting aside the eccentric or seemingly mundane in order to fit into a carefully constructed box labeled, "Accepted Existence." For example, in India, a man may carry heavy jars of water, one after the other, all day long, to a tank on the roof of a house so that a tourist may take a shower.  But he is not ashamed -- that is his job, it makes him strong, and he takes money home at the end of the day to feed his family.  He is respected.  At my home, and in my experience, jobs requiring less critical thinking and more brawn are seen as inferior and not strived for.  Heaven forbid I wield a hammer all day long, content, and not strive to become the lead builder.  Heaven forbid I go to college for a degree I find interesting and then choose to serve food for a living.  Or more personally, heaven forbid I go to school for years, accumulating awards that prove how well I over-think the most intricate of scientific topics, and in the end, I teach people how to breath, move, eat, and eliminate properly.

India showed me that either path is okay.  It was something my soul knew, but the fear inside my body kept me from understanding and embracing it because I was so scared that if I chose the path inside my heart, one that may be seen as "inferior" in the world I live in, then I wouldn't be accepted or respected.  India has shown me that the only path to happiness, the only path worth living, is the one that's in my heart.  India embraced me with open arms and showed me that all paths are accepted -- you simply must learn to make sense of the colorful chaos your choices create as they blow up the box around you.  Because that box I am talking about -- that box I find myself in so often at home -- is created by fear of loving what is different.  Those walls of fear are constructed around our hearts so that the ego can take up more space, and say confidently what life should and shouldn't be.  This box created of fear is essentially a creation of life void of an open heart.

I have a lot of work to do.  I don't mean to imply by the words above that my heart has opened and, hallelujah, I can stop working on it now.  The work has just begun, and India showed me glimpses of what the true happiness created from an open heart could feel like all the time.  I had these glimpses as I walked down those streets in Kerala, smiling greetings to those I met; when I rode down narrow streets on a scooter behind a new friend, feeling freedom in every pore of my being; when I looked into the eyes of new, native friends who had never lived a day with walls of fear surrounding him and wondered curiously where mine came from; when I stood on the bank of the Ganges and felt love and spirit swell my heart and I embraced my two soul sisters, now my Ganga sisters; and when I boarded the plane to go home, reluctance in my step and a heaviness in my body, and felt a presence come to me that said, "Go now, it's time for you to learn to live your lesson.  But keep coming back; I will always welcome you."

I'll be posting more pictures on Facebook and on here, and I'm sure I'll be writing more about India as the lessons learned weave their way into my life in San Diego.  Here are some pictures to recap some of the experiences had on the trip.  Enjoy.

 Early in the trip, near Vrindavan at Dr. Gupta's Ayurvedic Center.  Those are his medicinal gardens in the back ground.  Preparing for a sacred fire ceremony or puja.

 Overlooking the Ganges River, second day in Rishikesh.  

 Hand-stamped bindi on the streets of Rishikesh.

 Our friend Puneet, who made my sapphire ring, shared Tulsi tea with us, read our palms, and gave us advice on the meaning and practice of a happy life.

 My blue sapphire ring.  Astrologically, blue sapphire helps to increase energy and heart opening.  The girls were laughing at me, because every time I put this ring on, I punched my fist into the air and sung, "She-rah, princess of power!"  Doesn't it remind you of that?  Haha, maybe I'm getting old.....

 My man, Shiva.  :)  This is the amazing marble Shiva statue along the bank of the Ganges just outside the ashram we stayed at.  He's dressed up here for a ceremony.  Isn't he lovely?

 Our friend at Agarwal Mala Emporium who taught us Tibetian Singing bowl vibrational healing, and who read our chakras very accurately.  We had chai with him many times.

 Scooter ride into the countryside near Kochin, state of Kerala.

 Feeling good in Kerala.

 The girls and I on our last night together in Kerala.

   My friend, who drove me around on a scooter and taught me how to be a proper Kerala girl.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Matters of the Heart: India, Part 6

"Thank you," I say, putting on my sunglasses as I step out of the shadows of the cool shop and onto the hot, muggy street.  I may have just overpaid for silk and silver, but the man at the shop was so friendly to me that I don't really care.  And to my credit, I bargained a full 25% off my total price.

We had driven around the state of Kerala the day before, stopping in the early morning at an elephant training center, where we watched one large and three smaller elephants being scrubbed with coconut husks in the river.  They laid on their sides and allowed the small, strong men to scrub every inch of them.  I enjoyed watching, until I saw the chains on their legs, and how they scratched at them.  After the bath, we followed them to the training center, which looked more like a dusty, deserted girls camp, where we bought a ticket for a few hundred rupees and then stood around confused, trying to figure out what it bought us.  We ended up seeing some baby elephants in cages, staring out at us with big, dark eyes, and I became more and more upset at seeing these graceful animals caged up.  Without the proper language to ask questions, I was at a loss and more than happy to load the car to our next stop, the waterfall.

The ride to the waterfall was bumpy and windy, and the style of Indian driving, with it's jerky, stop and go motion, wasn't helping my breakfast stay down.  But the falls were spectacular, so I'm glad I soldiered on.  A large river plummeted several hundred feet to pools below, and the mist from the drop could be felt from the river's edge, another hundred feet away perhaps.  The short trail let us out at the top of the falls, where we took some pictures and then walked up river, where a lesser current mixed with several tiny waterfalls made a perfect place for a dip.

We were some of the only foreigners at the falls; it seemed more of a destination for locals.  Many of the men and children were already in the cool river water.  Just as we found a space to get in, we watched four local women, giggling as they lowered themselves in the water, fully clothed.  Now came the tricky part.  We had the largest bathing suits found in our country, but it wasn't nearly enough fabric to stop the stares of the locals.  Confidence comes in groups, however, so as a unit we waded into the river and sat down in the shallows, just our heads and shoulders above water.  The coolness was pure heaven.  "Just throw me a beer, will you?" I joked.  Pretty soon, we had an audience.  About 20 of the men found places in the water about 40 feet from where we were, and others gawked from the shore.  Most were shy, but two were brave enough to trample over in their boxer briefs to ask for a picture with us.  We granted one each, then sent them along.  It was an interesting experience, to say the least, and I wouldn't try swimming without the safety of a group. I couldn't help think how tame the scene would seem back home, and what would happen if these men got a taste of, say, a beach in Brazil with all those curvy women in teeny tiny bikinis.

Back to today.  Malas.  I promised my friend that I would bring her back malas and meditation scarves.  Right now, I'm wishing I would have bought them in Rishikesh, where the beaded necklaces hung from every store window and cart.  But I knew I would be flying on a small plane, and that I'd have to pay for every kilo of goodies I bought (as it was, I paid extra for the six kilos my bag weighed over the 25 kilo limit).  I didn't realize that I was stepping out of an area largely Hindu in population (where malas are abundant) and flying to a colony characterized by the Christian faith.  I haven't seen one mala since I got here.  Not one.

The heat is sweltering and I'm just about ready to give up, when I realize I'm lost.  Where was that tea house, the TeaPot?  These streets all fold together in a pattern like origami that looks the same from every direction.  I turn around and walk in the direction that I came.  Maybe I can find my way back to the homestay, at least, I think.  Just then, I come upon a familiar face.  Well, familiar glasses at least.

Two nights ago at dinner, our friend from the north, Danielle, introduced us to her new friend Steve, a local in Kochin.  While we were eating dinner, his two friends showed up to say hello.  I only remember his one friend because his black hair billowed out away from his head in a curly, messy, wind-coiffed afro.  He was wearing standard Western clothes -- baggy jeans and a bright t-shirt, and thick, yellow rimmed sunglasses with yellow lenses.  "I like your hair," I had said.  "And those glasses, they are like the ones that singer from Bollywood wears, right?"  He had smiled shyly and said, "Yes, I think I know what you mean."

Right about now I was just happy to see anything familiar, so I honed in on those glasses like a lighthouse in the fog.  "Hi!" I said to him.  He looked confused, so I continued, "You're Steve's friend; I met you at dinner the other night."  I took off my sunglasses.

"Oh, hello!"  he said.  "I remembers you now.  I remember a your eyes."

"Yes," I said, "They stick out here, don't they."

"No, no, not stick!" he said.  "Very beautiful."

I laughed.  I asked him where I could find a mala.  I explained what one was, because he didn't know what I was talking about, which I found odd, but whatever.  He told me he knows a place that might have one.  "You scooter okay?"  he asked.  Hmmm, I'd seen women riding around on the backs of scooters.  Sometimes, an entire family of five fit on one. The women always sat side saddle.  I was wearing a new, white cotton dress and a gauzy scarf of my friend's.  Well, why not?  I thought.  If I've learned anything here, it's to surrender to what the day has to offer.  "Sure," I said.  "I can ride on your scooter."

I hopped on the back of the white scooter, placed one hand on his shoulder and one hand on the small wrack on the back and we took off.  He took me to a jewelry store similar to the ones I'd been looking in already.  "This place won't have it," I said. "They just have gemstone necklaces."  And I was right.  I tried to explain in more detail what I was looking for, and we scooted along again.  Again, no luck.  I explained some more. "Oh!" he said, and I could see the light bulb go off.  "Like 'shanti shanti'?" he said, and giggled.  I didn't know why it was funny, but replied with an enthusiastic "Yes!" 

"Hmm, not those around here.  But we go to the city.  I drive, you look." 

Again, I climbed on the scooter and off we went.  The Kochin and Fort Kochin area are very similar to San Diego geologically.  They are on the western coast of southern India, and there are many bays that separate different pieces of land from each other.  We rode over many bridges, through wide crowded streets and narrow crowded alleys.  We stopped at many stores, but none had the malas.

We talked as we drove.  I was amazed that someone I ran into on the street would take his afternoon to shuttle me around town, looking for what I needed.  He asked me how my country was different from India, and I replied, "Well, for starters, I don't know many people in America who would have spent the afternoon helping me." 

"Why not help?"  he asked.

"Well, people are busy, I guess.  We have different priorities there, different things are important.  Like people's jobs are very important," I replied.

"But helping people important.  Making happy the people, that is important," he insisted.  "I know that if I help you and you smile and are happy, then God make me happy and show me more the way," he said. "And God not want the people to be sad, He like the smiling the people," he added.

This young man, who I learned later was only 24 years old, understood and lived this truth everyday.  This idea, of fulfilling your dharma or God-appointed service to the world, is one that many of us, me included, are searching for.  To have the courage to live this truth everyday.  Many of us strive to do this, to serve others and to follow the life path that is true in our heart, but so often we are distracted.  We are distracted by all the choices, rules, regulations, and obligations that our culture provides.  For example, if our places had been reversed and it was he who asked my help, chances are I would be obligated to work a certain number of hours, or have an appointment I simply couldn't change, or just not think it's important to help a stranger.  The kindness of his time -- it was a gift, really -- was so moving that I thanked him endlessly, but he only seemed embarrassed by my gratitude.  "I was only doing what is the right," he said.

When we realized there were just no malas to be found, he drove me into the country side to show me authentic Kerala culture.  Here, they've taken a river and separated it into large, man-made ponds that small, sturdy village houses back up to.  He took me to his mother's house and showed me the pond in front where he swims, and the one in back where he fishes.  His family was out, otherwise I would have loved to meet them.

Frightening as it was at times, riding on the scooter was exhilarating and I felt an immense sense of freedom.   Others might think it foolish -- jumping onto a motorbike with a relative stranger, none of my friends aware of my absence, and weaving through dangerous roads -- but I felt so safe and confident in the presence of my new friend that I did not feel afraid at all.

We spoke about a lot of things, that day and the next, when he drove me to the nice beach about 20km away.  "Can I ask you one thing?" he said.

"Sure," I said.  "You can ask me anything at all."

"When I met you before, at the dinner, and now today on the street, and I see ah your eyes.  And your eyes they are very beautiful.  But it is like your eyes are a there is a saddness in them.  In your heart.  Are you sad?"

So he makes three.  Three people here have looked into my eyes, or my chakras, or read my palm and told me they see the sadness that I know is there.  The issue of the sadness aside now, I find it simply incredible that the people here, the good hearts, can see what is truly inside.  I am around people at home everyday -- friends, family, teachers, students -- and no one else sees.  It makes it so easy to disappear when everyone is blind, so easy to become distracted with pretty things and not take the time to fix what's important, what's inside your heart.  That same thing is so very difficult here, because people see.  I almost feel I like I've been transported to Pandora and everyone is walking saying, "I see you."  Because they do here.  Not everyone, surely, and just as surely my soul has drawn these people to me to teach me what I need to grow further spiritually, but these people, who's lives are brilliantly simple and so much less cluttered than ours, have more space in their heads and their hearts to see what we can't.

As I ride on the back of the scooter, people look at me and a smile plays on their lips.  I smile in return, and their lips turn to a grin and they wave.  I wave back and they laugh.  Crowds of boys walking home from school erupt in cheers and laughter at the site of us, and groups of school girls wave and shout.  I feel like a celebrity.  People are so happy to see me riding on the back of a local boy's scooter.  I can't help but think that if he were to come to my country, with his caramel skin, eyes like pools of melted dark chocolate,  and crazy, wind blown hair, people may not take notice.  And if he were to walk down the streets of a small neighborhood in states less liberal, like my home state of Utah, people may shut their doors, afraid of his difference.  And in doing so would miss the best part of my new friend, his heart, which is so good and so pure it almost makes me cry.

He says he has never met a U.S. girl like me before -- one with an honest heart.  I tell him that there are many, many U.S. girls and boys with good hearts, but it's a big country, and often even those with good hearts get distracted by pretty things.  I am wary -- I think he has fallen in love with me, or with his idea of who I am, this boy with a pure heart, and now I must use mine to ease his pain about my departure.  So I tell him that it is part of my dharma -- to come to India, to learn, to grow, to meet new friends and ride on his scooter, and to go back home to share what I have learned.  And I tell him that we shall surly remain great friends, and that whenever people ask me about India, I will tell them what he has taught me about really living -- not just talking about living -- with a selfless and open heart.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

All the little things that matter, India, Part 5

It is about 1 in the morning and I feel as though I am on fire.  My feet, which were so bundled in woolen socks and sturdy shoes in Rishikesh now feel as though they might burst into flames underneath the thin sheet of my bed.  Through the muddled thoughts that come between asleep and really awake, I weigh my options and settle for turning on the fan.  I have just managed to get a couple hours of fitfull sleep when the calls for prayer from the nearby mosque startle me awake at 430 am. 

We finished our last day of class in Rishikesh on Saturday, and on Sunday had to bid farewell to the city we all fell in love with.  I mean absolutely, one hundred percent, will be back next time for three-months, fell in love with.  You could say I drank the Koolaid.  Rishikesh, and more precicely just that area that provides a gateway to the Himalayan Mountains, along the bank of the Ganges River, is a place I will never forget and will always go back to.  Friday morning, our group held its chanting at the bank of the Ganges at sunrise, and the power of that intention plus the serenity of the river gave me an infusion of spiritual energy I had not felt before.  On Sunday, I went to the river at sunrise with just my friend to chant, and pray, and make an offering to the river that had left such an impression on me.  And to say goodbye for now to the huge, sparkling marble Shiva statue that I fondly called My Man.  I spoke in my last blog post about the wonderful people we met while in Rishikesh.  Hence on Saturday night, we had a lot of saying goodbye to do! 

We made the rounds to say goodbye to all of our new Indian friends, as well as the Brazilians we met during the course.  (As a side note, we saw more Brazilians than people of any other nationality.  I told Simone that next time I come to India, I better learn how to speak Portugese).  Locally, we place our hands together in front of our chest and bow to say hello, thank you, and goodbye.  But Brazilians are wonderfully friendly and kiss your cheek and give you a fabulously long hug before saying cio. 

Before we left, we donated some of the warm clothes we brought with us to the local people in need.  We found women tending young, dirty children with big eyes and smiles and gave them warm sweaters.  Cathy bought one small boy lunch one day, and when he saw her later that evening, he threw himself into her arms and thanked her endlessly, and asked that she stay to meet his mother.  We smiled and laughed with them and gave them what we could, until word got out that we were giving and a mob started following us, asking us for more.  We gave what we could, then gently made our escape.

If you want to travel through small airports in India, do not bring a lot of luggage.  If you do bring a lot of luggage, make sure you have a friend who can pitch a really convincing fit about overage fees so that you do not end up paying more for than your entire flight ticket for a few extra kilos. (And as a side note -- America, can we please switch to the metric system already! Trying to figure out how a kilo compares to a pound is like trying to figure out how many oranges fit into a football stadium -- your guess is as good as mine).  And if you do agree to just pay the fee, beware that they do not take credit cards.

We arrived in Fort Kochin at 9pm or so on Sunday night.   Even though it was well past sun down, it was balmy.  I felt like I could drink the air.  Which was good, because I felt a sore throat coming on. When I woke the next morning, that was confirmed.  Luckily, I armed myself with a good herbal pharmacy and throughout the day downed about 40 capsules of various herbs, as well as some tincture and lots of Vitamin C.  I am feeling better today, Tuesday, but not back to 100% yet.

We are staying in a homestay called Noahs Ark, which won the Trip Advisor award for best homestay in 2011.  It is fabulous.  We have a nice room, AC, and two things we havent had the whole trip -- hot water all day long (of course, now that we are in the hottest climate of our trip) and a shower curtain! Really, it is the little things that make us happy. 

Breakfast is served on the ground floor of the three story house between 8 and 10 am.  Diana, the woman in charge, serves us fresh fruit and fruit juice, eggs cooked to order, toast and tea or coffee.  Some days, she offers us tastes of traditional Indian breakfasts as well, such as Dosas with vegetables or rice noodles with a sort of banana concoction.  It is very lovely, and we have made friends with the other guests staying here -- a couple from England, a man from Germany and another from Wales. 

The house is taller than it is wide, and open from the ground level to the top, where a large spiral staircase runs its height.   We step off just one full revolution onto the second floor for our room, and another room or two plus a computer area are on this floor.  The third floor has another room and access to a covered roof area, where I spent the sunrise practicing meditation, chanting, and posture (yoga).

Yesterday, we slept in, then walked aimlessly around the town, trying to get our bearings.  At about 2pm, we found ourselves at the waters edge, watching the locals fish.  I had never seen fishing like this before -- huge nets pulled up by some sort of weight and pulley system.  They let us try it and took lots of pictures.  We continued wandering around, and ran into our friends from Dr. Guptas study, who we planned to meet later for tea.  We had a lovely afternoon and a tasty dinner.  I usually have a very solid internal GPS, but I think because of the headcold, it was not working yesterday and we got lost at night, after dinner.  Luckily, a very nice man on a motorcycle pointed us in the right direction. 

Today, we spent 2.5 Rupees to take a ferry across the bay to a larger city that houses a huge fabric store.  It had six floors -- the first floor had fabric and finishing items, the second had basic saris, the third fancy saris, the fourth ready made salwars . . . we only made it to the fourth floor.  I was on a mission for fabrics for myself and for Mom, a silk Sari, and maybe a salwar (modern wear for Indian females -- a tunic top with pants and a scarf, all matching).  I walked away with all of those things for prices that felt like stealing!  In fact, when the owners of our homestay heard we wanted fabric, they sent us to this place because prices are fixed and we would not get cheated.  The girls who helped us with the saris were so sweet, smiling and asking us our good names, asking if my tatoo was a wipe off, nodding their heads in approval at my nose ring, and bobbing their heads from side to side with smiles when they liked what we chose.

Indian people are known for this famous head bobble.  It only took me a few days to notice it here, but almost a month to try it myself.  When Indian people talk, they wiggle their head from side to side.  I have come to realize that this can be used as a form of acceptance, as in Yes, that is right.  It can also be seen as a simple gesture of peace and friendliness -- so just as I would nod my head and smile at a person on the street, an Indian person would wiggle their head and smile.  I had not had the courage yet to try it myself, but as those young, wonderful girls helped us wrap our saris, asking us questions and answering ours, I found myself trying it.  The response was incredible!  As I smiled and wiggled my head from side to side, their smiles became wider.  It was as if I had finally cracked some secret code.  So, if you want to travel to India but do not know Hindi or any of their other langauges, just work on the head wiggle and a nice, bright smile.

Again, people in Kochin are so wonderfully nice.  I have been trying to count the number of kind acts that have been shown to me just today, and have a hard time remembering.  Our hosts drew us directions on a map to point us in the right direction.  We still got lost trying to find our lunch place, and an older man on a motercycle stopped and asked if we needed help.  He had us follow him as he drove out of his way to show us where to go.  I did not have any small change for the ferry, so the ticket man would not give me a ticket.  A man in line handed me exact change and said, It is no problem, madame.  And those are only the ones I can remember with my stuffy head.

Right now, the girls are out finding dinner and I am in the room, resting.  We did a lot of walking in the hot sun today, and I felt I needed to rest.  They are bringing me a smoothie.  Tomorrow we have a big day also, off to the elephant sanctuary and to see some beautiful waterfalls.  I have three hours of Ayurvedic treatments scheduled for Friday, and a list of gifts to fulfill by the time I leave Saturday night.

I know many of you have  been wanting pictures.  I did not bring my computer, so uploading pics has been a problem.  Here is a link to my Picasa album, where I have put in just a very, very small sampling of pictures to prove that I really am in India.

For more pictures, and for another perspective on the trip, direct your browser for Cathys blog.