I've been back home officially for a month now, during which I've had time to reflect on the life changing experience, not only from traveling through India, but from traveling alone.
Jumping back into NYC life has been an adventure on it's own... While it wasn't my original intention, through sharing and telling my city friends about my adventures, I decided that I would transcribe and blog my journal that I kept with me.
Before I begin posting the entries, I thought it would be fitting to share two posts from my old blog, on my first trip to India... both of which help set the tone for what's to follow.
(B A Select Start - Curl Up And Die)
*19 April 2007:*
Nothing Dreadful Ever Happens.
"Mos Eisley spaceport: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious." - Obi-Wan Kenobi
As I write this I can't help but chuckle as I am reminded of my Mother warning me, 'my student's Mother says the town where the Buddha was enlightened is a very dangerous place. Are you sure you want to go there?"
Often referred to as the land of lawlessness, the states of Bihar and Jharkhand have a reputation for having the unexpected happen. While it isn't as dangerous as my Mother's warning made it out to be, it goes without saying I wasn't surprised that this happened to us.
It was supposed to be a three-hour ride from Sarnath to Bodh Gaya. The passing rain storms brought with it the dense moisture which clung to the windshield as our fearless driver skillfully maneuvered the van through the seemingly endless road of ditches and dirt pot holes; by the 10th hour of being trapped in the van, we were all starting to get more than a little antsy… I was trying desperately to lie still in the seat that I had become car sick in, anticipating the slow rocking feel of the next dip in the road.
I opened my eyes and realized I had dozed off and we were still driving. The interior of the van had that worn out look, as the passing headlights of on coming traffic, provided briefly a dim illumination, enough to see how stretched thin we all looked.
The road disappeared from our line of sight instantly as the driver turned off the main road to exit.
The once again bumpy road shook the van, but this time the driver couldn't see anything. The fog from the rain was so thick that the headlights did nothing… except making us visible to the waiting car on the side of the road; it was like something out of a camp fire ghost story.
The van became full of panicked shouts to the driver as he slowly pulled up to the jeep on the side of the road; the fog cleared and the headlights revealed four men holding machine guns. Naxalites, the Moaist extremists that have caused problems for the Indian government, are often feared for their unpredictable nature.
One of the men approached the side of the van to speak with the driver, while another one methodically walked in front of the van, the lights shining on him almost too purposefully, showing all of us his rifle.
The van jerked forward and suddenly stopped, angry shouting from the men followed by three loud cold palm slaps echoed from the side of van; they wanted something and we weren't going anywhere until they got it.
I took a deep breath and slowly looked around at my friends. With his eyes closed and his lips silently moving, I knew immediately that my teacher was reciting a mantra chant. Some were intently watching the windshield as if it were a television show gone horribly wrong, while others were huddled over in the bent fetal position as we had been instructed to in case of a plane crash. Fear came over me, as the thought of my friends being potentially harmed flashed in my head.
The driver, being shouted at by the armed men, reached into his pocket and handed them something and began driving again.
Like an old western cowboy movie, we were being held up by armed men. The Naxalites were demanding money, a toll to continue down a free road; the driver gave them what they asked for… 50 Rupees, which is the equivalent of about $1.00 US.
When the van emptied out, and was safely parked in front of The Deep Guest House, I glanced over and saw the driver, his head in his arms against the steering wheel… completely crushed.
(Nothing Dreadful Ever Happens - Every Time I Die)
I Will Follow You Into The Dark.
The four of us quickly walked towards the Sujata Bridge as the sun began to set on our last night in Bodh Gaya. The soft step of sand, blown up from the dried river below, covered the narrow bridge making it feel like I was walking on carpet.
I turned to Craig asking him questions about how this trip had differed from the last time he was here, and discussing the political nature of the country from what we had both observed thus far. Suddenly we looked over and saw we had curious friend walking next to us.
The little boy glanced up and with a big smile and said, 'hello!' followed by a joyful giggle. He was maybe 8 or 9-years old, confident of his curiosity and yet humble with his approach; Craig asked him if he knew where to find the Sujata Stupa, the boy acknowledged saying he could bring us.
The sun had retired and quickly the small village we were walking through was blanketed in darkness. Craig and I pulled out our mini flashlights to assist in the journey.
To walk down a street at night without the secure comfort of electric street lamps is something that westerners rarely have to endure; we are conditioned to fear the dark and the many unseen dangers we imagine lay waiting for us.
The association of that, clashed with the sudden understanding that this was a normal nightly routine for the people we slowly passed.
Bending the corner of the tiny village revealed an open field, brightly lit by the large moon above; we stood in awe at the silhouette of the stupa and the lone Bodhi tree that rested on top.
Craig was in utter shock as the large ancient structure we gazed upon was not what he remembered it to be when he was here 7 years ago. The little boy explained that they started excavation of the large mound of dirt 4 years ago, slowly unearthing the amazing preserved site.
Walking around the base of the stupa, we noticed we had picked up two new friends, another little boy and a tiny puppy.
Asking questions about where he lived, I could see that our guide's curiosity was tightly fixated on my flashlight. I detached the intense small pocket LED light from my keychain and handed it to him, showing him how to turn it on and off; he quickly began shinning the beam of light everywhere, illuminating the puppy that was prancing around our group.
Feeling satisfied with our night tour of the ancient stupa, we decided to start heading back to the guest house. Following the dirt village road, our friend asked us if we wanted to see where he goes to school.
Seeing the warm glow of light radiating out of the sturdy barn sized building ahead of us, I somehow knew instantly that this was his school. As we stepped inside, we were literally greeted in song; roughly 12 children stood standing on wooden beds that were pushed together to form a makeshift stage and were in the middle of singing a song. The expression of unexpected joy overtook each child as the singing suddenly halted, their eyes turning bright while smiles and laughter filled the small room.
The universal crayoned markings depicting people of stick figured decent playing in outdoor green fields with the smiling sun guarding them from above, proudly papered the brick walls. The Teachers welcomed us to The Ao Zora School and briefly explained that the children here at night, were orphans and cared for directly by the school.
The soft tiny whispers of secret gossip abruptly stopped as I cautiously approached the now giggling children. I decided to sit down next to a little boy who immediately began asking me questions of where I was from. He proudly and eagerly began to read to me his English work book, each word clearly enunciated as he matched the verbs and nouns to the appropriate matching pictures; a forgotten memory flashed in my head as I started remembering how much I loved The Weekly Reader and the lessons from Buddy Bear, in Ms. Thomas' 1st grade class; this transitioned into remembering how much I used to love drawing on my hands in her class.
I asked if he could write his favorite word on my hand. Almost surprised that an adult would know of such a playground secret, I assured him it would be ok. He carefully began drawing on my left palm, the symbol Aum. On my right palm he began drawing the Swastika.
Even still at that point, knowing full well that the Swastika means peace and well-being life, it was very difficult for me to have the conditioned symbol of death, placed on me without pulling away.
To ease my emotional discomfort, I asked him what they both meant to him. I found it rather interesting that I needed him to reassure me and to tell me what I already knew, so I didn't feel bad.
Almost if he were asking for a return favor, the boy asked me if I could write my name in his notebook; upon doing so I realized he wanted to remember me.
(photo by: Silke Tudor)
I glanced at my beat up watch; it was getting close to our departure time. I stood up to tell Craig and the others, and turned back to the boy. He thanked me and upon doing so, I reached over and gave him a big hug. Suddenly I found myself being hugged by all the students, even those whom I didn't get to talk to. Thanking the Teachers, I signed their guest book and accepted graciously the business card.
Stepping back out into the darkness, I turned on my flashlight to allow my eyes to readjust. Our young tour guide reappeared as we began walking back across the bridge, thanking us for coming. As we reached midway, he stopped and told us that he should be getting back. We all began thanking him for his genuine outgoing friendship; as I went to hug him goodbye, I handed him my flashlight. He took it and turned it on and off and gave it back to me, almost as if he were showing me that he still remembered what I had taught him.
I told him that I wanted him to have it.
He said no.
I told him it was a present for helping us and for being so friendly. Even in the dark, I could see in his eyes that he had never received a gift before and that while he wanted it very much, he didn't know how to accept it.
Again, giving him a hug, I confirmed that I truly wanted him to have it. He hugged me back, confirming the acceptance of the gift… thanking me and waved goodbye, he turned running off into the dark; the flashlight turning on and off.
(I Will Follow You Into The Dark - Death Cab For Cutie)