Archives for posts with tag: journey
Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

(Two weeks have passed and I finally feel as if my brain cells are lining up again. At least, in a more American, Pacific Standard Time, conventional way. I have been feeling as if I were driving in the fast lane with everyone shooting past at 75mph, my gear shift broken off in second and I’m left maxing out at 30mph. After stumbling around wondering what day it was, and mumbling “amazing” over and over again like a mantra, I am starting to feel as if I am rising from the depths of another world, still somewhat floating and disconnected, but surfacing back into familiar territory. 

This is my attempt to put into words what there may be no words for. This is my leap at calling back a part of myself that will always remain behind.)

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Maybe it was for the best that the trip started out in the most populated and crushingly chaotic city in Nepal. Maybe it was no accident that after a red-eye flight to NY, three non-stop swirling days of intense emotions and conversations with the ghosts of my childhood while I helped bury my grandmother, followed by a layover in a surreal landscape with red chalky dust sprinkled over sparkling silver buildings and a lashing Arabic tongue, that I am dropped onto the bustling streets of Kathmandu. I am met with a city piled high with neatly stacked textiles and copper pots, rows of marigold necklaces and strewn rotting garbage.

 

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

The air is thick with diesel fumes, alluring spices, burning garbage and the occasional assaulting whiff of sewage. Any residual melancholic thoughts that I have are shoved to the back of my being as car horns, the melodic caterwauling of music and police whistles jab their way in. It is the morning of our first day in Nepal and tomorrow is Dipawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In addition to the standard flood of tourists, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, cows, dogs, monkeys (monkeys?!?) and chickens making their way along the streets, extended family members are returning home, and everyone must stop to pick up festival supplies. Colors bleed out of the stalls and doorways. Rickshaws, scooters and mopeds ding, beep and honk as they whiz past close enough for me to feel a breeze on my skin. Kathmandu is a white water stream of demented consciousness and I am riding its mind.

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

We start at the Bazaar in the center of Kathmandu in order to get the full-frontal of what a city enmeshed in festival furor looks like. Movement in this city, whether it is the constant parade of people on the streets and in the alleys, or the transports that cough their way around town, is a study in controlled chaos. As far as I can tell there are no street signs, no traffic lights and yet everyone makes their way to their destination. It reminds me of standing on a bridge as a child and tossing sticks and leaves into the torrent of a bursting springtime creek below. Unseen currents carry the objects here and there, with some getting caught in invisible whirlpools in the center, but eventually everything makes its way downstream.

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

We meander and pick our way past open stalls that spill out wares, as shopkeepers cautiously eye the passersby. Some sellers are engrossed in stitching together flower necklaces for the festival, while others are hawking their best deals. Saris and traditional Nepali menswear hang from intricately carved entranceways, along with fleece pants decorated in Western world cartoon characters, t-shirts that say ‘I (heart) Nepal’ and hilariously misspelled American knockoffs such as “Galvin Klein.”  I try my best to pay attention to my group so that I don’t get lost, but I can’t help but wander around gaping wide-mouthed at the spectacle before me.

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our guide Sahadev (“Dave”) gathers us like the flock of chickens we are and directs us into a curved archway sandwiched between a mountain of copper pots and a curtain of spangly saris. We emerge through the darkened portal blinking with wonder at a spectacular hand-carved Buddhist pagoda-style temple looming above us, a handful of worshippers circling the sanctuary, and a stone-laid ground awash in the constant ebbing tide of a sea of pigeons.

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Having lived in both Boston and NYC, I’ve strolled down many alleyways and through my fair share of random doorways, but this hidden celestial outpost was a shock to my urban consciousness. How can Buddha just pop up any old place? Just feet from a man prostrate before a statue of the Buddha is another hawking plastic necklaces. But isn’t that the lesson? Doesn’t The Divine exist everywhere and shouldn’t we be looking in all the old familiar places?

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

(‘What is the name of this magical temple?’ you must be wondering. And here we have the conundrum of the hosted overseas tour. I spent so much time trying to absorb and photograph, taking for granted the luxury of roaming place to place without having to research or map anything, that I barely ever took notes. Now, weeks later, I can remember the feel of the hand-carved prayer wheel beneath my fingers as I made my way in reflective circumference, but I have no name, no dates, nothing in terms of recorded knowledge that will help me share anything but the ethereal with you. And maybe that is the only way Nepal can be shared.)

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

From the Bazaar we move on to Durbar Square and Hanuman City, the location of the old royal palace and two large temples in tribute to Hindu deities, Durga and Hanuman. As we stop every few feet to discuss architecture, art or the reality TV-like history of the last royal family in power (disgruntled children, illicit love affairs, murderous family members… watch for it to hit cable soon), I notice well-dressed men on their knees in the square, digging out the cracked and crumbling mortar between tiles, their hands, resembling crows feet, curled around tiny sticks, work diligently, reverently to restore what was deteriorating. I try to remember when the last time was that I saw anyone using such crude tools to complete such an enormous task by hand. Or dressed so formally for such a dirty and unassuming chore. I cannot.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourists trickle into the square stumbling about like foreign and confused paparazzi. They mostly stare at the workmen dangling precariously on handmade bamboo scaffolding 30 feet up in the air. One woman, standing almost dead center in the square, digs out her recent purchase: a Nepali singing bowl, an instrument designed to produce vibrations meant to soothe and heal the human spirit. With the plastic shopping bag tucked under her arm, she cradles the bowl in one hand, the striking mallet in the other. Tapping the bowl over and over again, a look of wonder comes over her face and she becomes absorbed in the vibration. Despite the fact that she is standing in a public square, surrounded by a slew of people, this seems to be the most natural and expected thing to do. I stand as close to her as I can get without invading her privacy and seeming like I am about to mug her. I close my eyes and soak up the moment… the sound, the light, the energy of the square… like a sponge. (I’m grateful there is no picture of my face in that moment.)

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

From Durbar Square we move onwards to lunch in a restaurant and B&B tucked back off of some alleyway that I try to memorize but fear I shall never see again. At the head of the alley, a group of men of varying ages stand around a cascading tangle of electric wires, some with exposed ends, watching one individual as he picks up one and touches it to others. Rather than a property of science, electricity still seems to be a matter of alchemy in Nepal. Electric power is illusive. There is no system determining when it is available and when it is not, or even where it can be accessed regularly. In addition to a lack of consistency, there seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Why the Hell Not” as the configuration of wires about the city is reminiscent of abandoned ice picks on the side of Everest.

As we pass, a couple of the members of our traveling group, specifically a retired engineer and a retired director of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), briefly pause to watch… fascinated and horrified.

Lunch is an assortment of traditional Nepali light fare—momos (similar to Japanese shumai or Chinese potstickers, are stuffed with a ground chicken, heavy on the cilantro and a ‘momo masala spice’, served with a tomato-based sauce featuring cumin and ginger), noodles with vegetables and a sampler platter of tastes of Nepal, including a vegetable curry, rice and a mint sauce.

This is the first real exposure to a Nepali meal for my lifelong friend and now foreign traveling companion Elena and myself. The Cliff Bars and tea the night before and the 12′ resort breakfast buffet that morning (featuring everything from yak cheese to waffles) really didn’t count. Prior to that we’d had a questionable experience with lamb wraps on our Fly Dubai flight into Kathmandu (Eating lamb should have been my first warning sign for how out of my mind I was. For a woman who barely eats anything that walks, especially if she hasn’t vetted the farmer first, this was a bold move on my part. Something about the cardboard standup signs set on the seats of the first row of the plane charging $35 to ride in their “first class” section said to me, “You go right ahead and enjoy that tasty adventure!”) and were now ready to take on some authentic food. So, we did what any overzealous and excessive American would do… we order it all.

Lunch is an awkward hour of trying to consume an irrational amount of food for two people in a land where food is lacking, while simultaneously presenting ourselves to our trip-mates, none of whom grossly over-ordered as we had. Faced with the notion of wasting food in a developing country, we force ourselves to finish it all (damn those lamb wraps!) and even sample the bowls of red condiment left on our table. (We quickly realize that this was ketchup and completely irrelevant to any of the food that has been served. The only reason it is there? We’re Americans.)

The whirl of recent events, moving physically across space and time to get to the other side of the globe, the frenetic nature of my surroundings and now the unreasonable amount of food in my stomach is getting to me. I’m losing the ability to move logically from one moment to the next. Our guide gathers us again. Time to go to Patan City.

 

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lifevest

(Journal Entry from October 17, 2014)

My mother-in-law once told me that when you pray for patience, you don’t actually get patience. Instead what you get are experiences that workout your “patience muscles”, helping to expand your ability to remain calm and endure.

I pray. I pray a lot. Every morning I stand at my little makeshift altar…

(Side Note: To the best of my knowledge, there is no “Altars for Dummies” book, so I just made up what sits on mine. It lives right inside our front entranceway. So if you see a candle burning next to a chocolate chip cookie please don’t assume that we pray to the Keebler elves.)

…and I say thanks for all that is in my life. Sometimes I tick off the big ticket items, sometimes I just stand there and wrap myself in a feeling of gratitude. I send blessings to those that I love, those that need assistance and generally all that exist across time and space (didn’t know that you were prayed for every day, did you?). I don’t usually ask for anything specific, mostly just a general, “Hey, thanks for keeping me from doing anything monumentally stupid lately” kind of a prayer, but there is one thing I do pray for, every morning and every night before I go to sleep. I pray that I live a higher life, one that brings me closer to enlightenment (whatever that means), where I live mindfully and in a spirit of abundant love. I pray that I become more aware or “awake” to what is truly unfolding before us, and to have the wisdom and the strength to live in a place of presence and light, so that my light might shine and reveal the way for others.

I really should rethink that prayer and start asking for a road bike or something.

I am currently sitting on an Emirates flight to Dubai, where in another four hours I will get on a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. Yesterday, I was back in NY with my family, burying my grandmother, the matriarch of our family. The past two months of my life have read like the script to a Malick film. I have been consciously breathing through weeks of watching The Universe lay before me life event after life event, one more breathtaking after another, some filled with joy, others with heartbreak, and all filled with grace. I am utterly exhausted and shell shocked, as these events are the kinds that grab you by the collar, shake you back and forth and shout in your face, “Wake the fuck up!”. And now I’m on my way to one of the most sacred and spiritual places on the planet, without my husband or children, but a friend of twenty years, one that has known me through two decades of relationships, bad decisions, and realized dreams. She is on her own quest, which is crazy and inspiring since 15 years ago (almost to the day) she and I were simultaneously in the biggest upheavals of our then just forming adult lives. And here we are again feeling vulnerable and raw and trying hard to stop our knees from knocking as we stand here ready to take whatever comes next.

This is going to be one hell of a trip.

loveletter

We all walk a path. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can see the path shining before us, riddled with potholes and muddy puddles that give us some indication that the going will be slow and arduous, but not impossible. (There are also rainbow bridges attended by handsome Cosmic guides handing out maps, along with soothing cups of mint tea on the path, but we gave up trying to look for them sometime after our college years.)

Then there are the days when everything feels dark and suffocating, and we aren’t even sure the path is in front of us anymore. Hell, we can’t even feel our feet.

It is these times, when we are desperately clawing into the pitch black reaching out to touch anything that will give context and meaning to what we are spiraling through, that we can feel God reaching back. I believe that if we pay close attention, and work hard not to drink in the fear, we can feel Her putting a gentle hand on our head, wiping our tears with Her sleeve and whispering, “Shhh. Take a deep breath. I’m still right here.”

Recently, I was in that sinking hole. I knew that the path was there, but my feet could not stay underneath me, and over and over again I found myself crashing through the air and landing hard on my ass, knocking the breath from my lungs and making my head crackle with fear. And when that happened, I saw stars.

There were the two stars that slipped me unexpected notes filled with love, reminding me that I am brave and strong.

There were the stars that dropped off food for my family as I left them unattended to bury my grandmother, then journey across the globe.

There was the star that took the time to help me get my possessions safely home, at a time when I was having difficulty trying to remember who I was and where I lived.

And there were the stars that called me, one from so very far away, during my darkest hours, just to tell me that they loved me, to hang in there and “You’ve got this.”

There were so many that together these stars carried me out of the darkness. Like the lights on a darkened theatre aisle, I just followed one to the other until I was able to make my way back into the light. Their small moments of kindness rippled my world back towards positivity, and for that I can never repay them. But now that I’m back in the world of “seeing”, I can collect the light, and shine it back for others.

Thank you my stars. Thank you for shining the light of Her grace upon me. Thank you for returning me home.

Recently, a friend asked me, “Why do YOU want to do this challenge?”. Initially, I agreed to participate in this triathlon in order to prepare myself for an epic journey that I will be taking in the fall. This adventure is going to challenge me both physically as well as mentally, so jumping in and accepting this challenge seemed like the promise at gunpoint I needed to make myself actually get off of my ass and do something. Not one to ever feel comfortable wasting money, once I paid my $100+ registration fee, that was it; the deed had been done.

In thinking about her question, I realize that there is so more…

1. I am becoming addicted to being uncomfortable. Sounds totally odd, I know, but I had this realization while pushing out 15 miles on the bike the other day. Moving to California turned our worlds upside down. Plucked from our cozy little farm life in upstate NY, and a lifetime spent on the east coast, we flung ourselves across the country from everyone we knew, and plopped ourselves into a time zone, culture and surroundings that we had very little knowledge or experience with. After the shock and adjustment period was over, we looked around and felt like superheroes. We had done it! We took on Goliath and kicked his ass. We steamrolled over our fears and are now doing the Rocky dance on city hall’s steps. If you have ever attempted rising above a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and find yourself the victor, then you know the feeling of euphoria and immortality that just such an experience casts off. That feeling is addictive, and I wanted more. I wanted another adventure that scared the crap out of me, one that made me feel alive (like I was DOING something) and would push me to see the world differently, awaken me to new perspectives, conquer more of my inner darkness. (A part of that darkness is the ego boost that comes with telling people, “I’m doing [insert exciting adventure here] ,” or bitching about something that makes me seem big and important, and the illumination of how addictive that boost can be. Still working on that one.) I have learned so much more about myself when I was uncomfortable, freaked out and just plain terrified, and from those places I have found more strength, discovered more abilities, and enjoyed more inner peace. Let’s just say that I like pushing out of the cocoon only to learn that I can fly.

2. I want my girls to know that they can conquer anything, and the only way to teach that principle is to live it. I want my girls to grow up saying, “I’ll try”, rather than, “I can’t”. And so, for them, I’m going to push myself to do things I’ve been scared of my entire life and I’m going to be honest about it with them. Essentially, I’m tri’ing.

3. When I was enjoying a recent lament over the training (with a heaping dose of sarcasm, ego and some humor) another friend reminded me that it isn’t that I “have to” do this, it is that I “GET to” do this, and she is right. When I’m out there sucking wind, what an awesome reminder it is that I am blessed enough with the health, the means and the opportunity to challenge myself in this very friendly, easy way. I now carry that gratitude with me and send it back out into the world as best as I can.

4. I’m ready. It is hilarious and pungently ironic for me to type this as the race is 4 days away and I’m ingesting every cold remedy known to man in order to prevent the inevitable race day wake up with blown out sinuses, but I am, I’m ready. I feel that I have finally arrived at a point in my life, where I have acquired the confidence, insight and tools that help me to conquer just about anything tossed my way, and the realization that I can do it with a smile. Doesn’t mean I’m going to LIKE whatever it is that I’m up against, but I highly doubt that it would break me, as it could have or even possibly has in the past. I decide what it means to be in this triathlon, and I’m not only going to rock it, but I’ll be the one sporting Sharpie marker tattoos and glitter from her kids, singing and smiling all the way.

The other day, while on a training ride, I ended up biking amidst runners completing a marathon. At first, I didn’t say anything, and just rode past, handing out the occasional smile but not wanting to intrude on their concentration. Yet it seemed just too serendipitous that I was put in the midst of all of these people pushing themselves to live better lives and not help them along, so I started cheering them on, shouting out, “You go, Ladies!” or “Keep going! You’ve got this!” as I pedaled. Not annoyance, but gratitude is what I got in return, time and time again. After I left them, I continued to shout greetings to the workers in the fields, who all happily replied in turn.

And in that moment, I knew what I would say as I cross the finish line this weekend, and yelled it above the traffic on the highway as I peddled,

 

YAWP!

 

medianplay

“Ok children we are at DEFCON 3! This means you will wash your hands – WITH SOAP! – not only every time before you eat, but everytime you touch anything in the classroom. You will not put your hands near your face, stay away from the water fountains and if you suspect any child of being sick, you go to the opposite side of the room from them! For the next month there will be no ice skating and you will stay off of the monkey bars. It is my job to keep you healthy and out of the emergency room. If you fail to follow instructions and end up sick or hurt – you will be left behind!”

I know what you’re thinking. It is a rather harsh mandate for children, and to be totally honest, rather dramatic on my part. Let me explain myself. Before halfway through January of last year, I had already visited the ER twice and had 2 kids in casts. In 2012 alone, we battled lice, Coxsackie Virus, the flu and chronic athlete’s foot, not to mention countless colds and stomach viruses. Not again and especially not this year. Particularly this year! Because in one month we are flying to Guam.

Again, I know what you’re thinking. You are first wondering if we’ve lost our minds taking a 9 year old and a 6 year old on a trip of such magnitude. Then you’re thinking, “Wait. Where in the Hell IS Guam?”

Guam is a United States territory, a Micronesian island, on the other side of the international date line. It is 3,957.12 miles from Hawaii and 1,550.40 miles from the Phillippines. Guam is not in the forefront of global thinking and often overlooked by many geography classes. Which explains why my friend thought it was an imaginary island made up by Rainbow Brite until she was 16 years old.

To break it down in parenting terms, it will take us 23 hours to get there – and that only allots for 2 hours of layover. Washington D.C. to Tokyo is a 15 hour flight with a 45 minute turnaround to the final flight to Guam – another 4.5 hours.

When I mention it to other parents, their eyes glaze over as they calculate the travel hours [multiplied by] children’s ages [divided by] trips to the bathroom [subtract] the large amounts of sanity. Inevitably their jaw drops, and a slight trickle of drool forms, as they politely as possible ask if I’ve lost my mind. I don’t think so and here’s why…

My children love to travel. I attribute this to how driven my husband can be with his military precision organization, as well as the fact that my oldest daughter was a completely exhausting baby. When she was born we were living in a four room Brooklyn apartment. She cried every hour of every day for the first four months of her life. So I took her out constantly, we went anywhere and everywhere because sitting still meant crying, usually for both of us.

Now she is 9 years old and after next month, she will have traveled to 3 continents, 4 countries and 4 islands, not to mention road tripping across half of the United States. My kids are not only veterans at traveling, they are battle scarred. When the oldest was 5 and the youngest 2, we were in a wedding in the southeast region of France. After a three hour car ride, we embarked on a six hour overnight flight, followed by two hours stuck in Paris traffic and then a ten hour drive to our final destination. Due to some technical difficulties we only had two 30 minute children’s videos and four coloring books as entertainment. Twenty-one straight hours of travel and not one meltdown. (Well, maybe I might have lost it in a rest area bathroom or two.)

Last year we drove to Oklahoma to visit my in-laws and became trapped on a highway in Indiana for four hours due to an oil spill. No big deal, my girls dragged their Playmobiles out into the median to play, and we found a lovely tractor trailer driver who was kind enough to let my little one pee behind his tires. (I could not be so bold and therefore suffered worse than the children.)

I have found that the key to traveling with kids – and really this applies to adults too – is preparation. I just don’t mean packing tons of toys and clothing and trying to concieve of every last hiccup, I mean mental preparations. Yes, there needs to be accoutrements to make any journey easier, but ultimately it is our perception of our comfort and journey that will make or break it for us. This is why getting to the destination is so much more exciting then leaving it.

So, starting this week we start talking about how far away Guam is, what the island is like, what things we will do when we get there. We call our family who lives there to get excited about the trip. We talk about activities we can do on the flights and start looking for projects we want to embark upon. And we start measuring time in travel hours. “This is how long it takes to fly to D.C.” or “When you wake up, it wouldn’t be until after breakfast and onto lunch that we’d be in Tokyo.” I believe that traveling is all about letting go of our expectations and attachments. Expectation is married to disappointment, so if we rigidly hold onto what we believe is going to happen, we are destined to get smacked upside the head with the reality of the situation, and ultimately miss the glory in the journey itself. While it is ideal for adults to be able to grasp the concept of freedom from attachment, though terrifically difficult, I believe that children need context in order to feel safe. Or at least they need to feel like those caring for them understand and are able to navigate within the context of the situation. Therefore I try to spend time not only giving them some idea of what will be happening when we travel, but also helping them to be able to picture how they fit in, by explaining what will be expected of them.

And to help us all get better adjusted, my husband and myself need to be sure that what we expect of them is realistic. For the next few weeks I’ll be paying closer attention to see how they are sleeping and eating to make sure they are getting all that they need for the marathon flights, time change and climate adjustment that we’ll all need to go through. I’ll be sure to notice what they are currently into so that I can incorporate some relevant surprises for our flight to engage their attention and alleviate boredom. And, most importantly, we will start spending more up close and personal time with each of them so that we will have some special things to share on our trip together, rather that me just being the adult that leads them around their adventure.

For myself, I will practice being more aware and flexible. These are the two biggest tools in my belt. I want to be able to adjust on the fly – whether it is delays in flights or loss of a toy – so that I can bounce back and stabilize within the moment. This will help my kids feel safe and that all is okay, no matter the crisis at hand. Not only does letting go of my expectations and readjusting in the moment allow all of us to be free from the endless worry that can bog down and ruin a trip, but also it will open me up to the wonder and joy that comes by the truckload when experiencing new lands and ideas with children.

Is it possible that my children will come home sick with the latest virus right before we are boarding the plane to this adventure of a lifetime? Oh it isn’t possible, it is probable. But if I work within a setting that has malleable walls and surrender to what will be, then trip or not, it will make walking through our lives that much easier.