16 February 2009

My Willow Tree.


It’s funny as I sit in my room with my rucksack completely emptied, all my clothes either spread out on the extra bed or hanging up to dry on the clothes line, I recall a concern that I had months ago where I envisioned myself being trapped in my room at night with nothing to do.

The doors of the Deep Guest House lock at 9:30, and despite not being able to really wander around alone at night, I don’t feel that I am a prisoner in my room at all.
Of course there have been times on this trip where the mini waiting game would play out, the reality of the combination of writing in the journal every night with managing to squeeze in time for reading, playing Sudoku, and meditating, the few moments really of down time that I have are very much welcomed.

In all honesty, I’m just exhausted from the amazing events from each day… even writing in this journal has become very challenging at times as all I want to do is just crash.

I bumped into Mukesh again on the Sujata Bridge, this morning. Biking into Ao Zora, the boys appear to have become used to my morning arrivals, shouting from the balcony ‘Good morning, Brother!’ as soon as they see me approach.

Today was sports day.
Vinod and I got most of the boys out to play a game of soccer, while some of the others just watched on the side lines, tossing around a beat up nerf football-rocket.
The games were abruptly halted, when out of the brush, a small kitten came marching through the dusty field and began rolling around in the sandy dust bowl.
Immediately all the younger boys rushed over and crowded around the tiny skinny animal.
They all lovingly took turns petting the billi while attempting to communicate with it through their chorus of high pitched-squeaking ‘meows!’
Naturally the billi wasn’t interested in making friends and decided it was time to leave, almost as if it were late for an appointment.

With all the stray dogs in India, it’s a wonder that there are cats at all… Vinod and I quickly noticed that the commotion from the children had alerted and gained the attention of several dogs, each with their heads low, fixated on the cat.

Vinod caught up with the small animal, scooping the billi up in one hand, rescuing it from marching into unseen danger. He crossed the field, towards a neighboring fenced property, and placed the cat down.

Game on.

Apparently the kitten had an adventurous death wish, it came crossing out into our field again; it was determined to continue its initial trajectory as each time we carried it away, it would walk back out, often getting the attention of a few more dogs in the process.

Dinesh came running out with a piece of left over Roti and shoved it in the kitten’s face. The tiny animal quickly began gnawing on the flat bread.
Huh… never would have thought of that…

The boys decided that the cat was more fun and interesting than the games as they all rushed back into the school carrying their new friend, thus ending sports day.

I asked Mukesh if they had anything special lined up for the day; I figured I could duck out for a few hours and run some errands.

The electricity was running so I decided to go to the internet center across from the Deep Guest House.
Nikesh has allowed me to borrow his Digital Camera; my first task was to transfer all the pictures from the past two days onto my flash drive. Since I was there, I decided to write an e-mail to everyone, wishing them all a Happy Diwali’ and give them all an update on how I’ve been doing. I attached a photo of me setting off some firecrackers and another one of me with some of the boys. It felt really good to say hello to friends and to read new replies still arriving from my first e-mail.

The second task was to cash some Traveler's cheques; it seemed like a perfect time as any to get the money to pay for my week long stay at the Deep Guest House. I found a nice book store near the Mahabodhi Temple that cashed cheques.

This was convenient, as it was the first time during this trip to Bodh Gaya where I have been close enough to the Mahabodhi Temple… and that’s where I wanted to go to next.

Entering the grounds was just as I had remembered it; there is a still calmness that can be felt in the air, combined with the cold step of the marble ground from walking in your socks.
While it was important and satisfying that I was there, I find it rather interesting that I did not experience the nostalgic energetic rush that I felt in Sarnath.
Maybe it’s because my stop in Sarnath was so last minute and unexpected, or that the shock value of being in a returned setting has started to wear off.

I don’t know.

I paid my respects; bowing three times to the large golden encased statue of the Buddha, housed in the temple, circumambulating the pyramid temple three times, as well as sitting beneath the shade of the Bodhi Tree where Sid had sat.
I felt so far from Brooklyn…
More so, I felt so far away from the noisy horns, the loudness of people, and the smell of cows… I felt so far from India.

After eating lunch, I headed back to Ao Zora.

Prior to leaving, I noticed that ‘Tiger’, the unofficial school-mascot/guard-dog, had taken an interest in the new animal friend that the kids were protecting; I wondered what type of chaos that might have ensued during my absence, as I walked across the long sandy Sujata Bridge.

When I got back, I was asked if I could give a lesson on English and Grammar.
It was odd; never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I’d be teaching English. It was a very different experience from yesterday’s botched-Reading class-attempt, partially due to the fact that I had everyone’s attention, even that of Tinku, Mukesh, and Vinod.

Standing at the blank white board, I had no idea what to talk about…

One of my biggest pet peeves has always been how so many Americans screw up the proper spellings of “your/you’re” and “there/their/they’re”… and I’m not being a snob, it’s just annoying.
So I decided to teach them about contractions, punctuation, and the importance understanding homophones.

Laughter erupted as I explained,
You’re Kids… this is very different from YOUR Kids! Dinesh, do you have kids?”

After the lesson was over, Tinku congratulated me for a job well done. The two of us some how got talking about the game Cricket, and how in the US, we don’t play it, but rather Baseball.
He asked me if I could explain to him how Baseball was played; picking up the dry erase marker, I began drawing the diamond, explaining the positions and how the game is played, who the Redsox and who the Yankees are, and how the ‘world series’ doesn’t actually involve the world… obviously he was confused.
I asked him if he could explain Cricket to me.
Tinku made me promise that he would teach me how to play Cricket in exchange for a game of Baseball. Agreeing to him, as some of the boys began tugging on me to follow them; the boys swooped up the cat and brought it upstairs.
I walked up onto the roof just in time to see them offering the scrawny animal, rice.

Suddenly Dinesh came running out of one of the classrooms, giggling, throwing to the floor, a mouse. The small cat was no longer hungry for Roti or Rice, as its eyes widened and it immediately went into hunting mode.
The cat pounced on the scurrying mouse, caught it, and ran off in to a classroom to eat it.
Watching the kids cheering on the cat and laugh at the death of the mouse was a bit disturbing.

They noticed I didn’t share in their joy.

Almost as if to break the uncomfortable silence, tiny shouts from Santosh, downstairs echoed up, “Brother? Brother? Let’s play Cricket! Brother?”
Sports Day was continued, as they taught me how to play Cricket.
Oh, what a fun game!

After the game, I decided to show them how to hit the ball, “Baseball style”, but instead of using the Cricket Bat, I yanked up out of the ground, one of the wooden stumps. They all laughed at the way I held it over my shoulder.
I instructed Santosh to throw the beat up tennis ball towards me, without running or bouncing it on the ground. Miraculously, on the first pitch, I hit the ball out of the dirt field, all the laughing suddenly ceased and quickly turned into astonished gasps.

“Home Run!”

I dropped the stump and began trotting through the dust bowl, around my imaginary diamond, returning to ‘home plate’ as the coolest kid in town.

(My Willow Tree - Alton Ellis)

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