The first class I tried to go to, I turned around about a block away, chickening out from even going near the studio.
People always think that I am so brave.
Ha. You silly people.
Dear Life –
I’ve been hesitant to write you because I wasn’t sure how I felt about you. I knew believed you were giving me “gifts” – but they sure didn’t feel like gifts – all that struggle and messiness?! Come on now - what kind of gifts are those?!
But now… now I think I’m getting it. And I think that I’m ready to say thank you.
As most of you know, I have taken a job in New York City as an School Designer, working for NYC Outward Bound Schools. Which basically means that I will be supporting schools in NYC that are implementing the Expeditionary Learning Schools model. Does it sound like the dream job for me? Yep, pretty much.
I am used to being stared at. Being a lone female traveling in Asia solicits stares like you wouldn’t believe. There is no way for me to not stand out. I look different. Or when you are negotiating a busy street in Kathmandu with your friend and you are both carrying big backpacks. You get stared at. Or when you are the only white person, not to mention woman, on a bus in a rural area in India. You get stared at.
I am pretty used to it at this point.
At first it bothered me. Made me feel self-conscious and very aware of my actions. But then I started to smile when they stared. Or I said hello (or whatever the culturally appropriate greeting was). But mostly I started to smile at the stare-ers. And usually, it caught them off guard. But, for the most part, I got a smile back. Sometimes that smile started a conversation, sometimes it got me offers for food, got me a cup of chai, sometimes it got me invites to join their family. But most frequently, I got a smile back.
South America is different. Here, I get stared at, though I don’t think I look all that different (especially when I get asked if I am Argentine or Spanish). Here, I get stared at, though I dress fairly conservatively (especially compared to the teenage girls). Here, I get stared at, and I don’t get a smile in return.
I have been surprised. I do not find the people here (so far in Bolivia and Argentina) to be all that warm and friendly. They do not return smiles, instead, quickly averting their eyes (‘what, me? No, I wasn’t looking at you. no, not me.’). Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, my smiles fall on cold faces.
And it is hard. It is hard to not take it personally. It is hard to still feel open. It is hard to feel compassionate and warmth towards the people here. It is hard to keep smiling.
One of my goals on this journey was to open myself up to the world – to not let fear stop me from new experiences and new people. To build bridges and not walls, something I sometimes struggle with. I have been forced to build bridges along the way – to trust strangers and new friends. To make allies where I can and to smile at strangers. To laugh at myself and believe in the inherent goodness of others.
South America is testing me. It is hard to remain open, to want to build bridges, to keep my guard down (and not build walls) and not cocoon myself. The looks I get sometimes, the unfriendly, cold stares — sometimes I feel myself retreating back in — and I want to fight it, but at the same time, I want to protect myself. Sometimes all I want is to go back to where I look different from everyone else – because at least there I got smiles.
and that is not to say that there were not cold looks in asia and there are people here who smile….
So, perhaps this is my test – to learn to stay open to the world, even if they are not open to me…. to remember that it is about me and how I present myself to the world – not about how others react to me.
I get scared each time I do something new.
I get scared when I change countries or take a bus for the first time in a country or when I have to communicate with people and we don’t share the same language or sometimes even when I change towns.
But once I do that new thing, once I take that first bus ride or figure out directions on my own, it as all ok again. Until the next new adventure, of course.
So, the other day when I left Mike and Beth and took a 21 hour bus ride north to Jujuy, I was really nervous. This was my first solo experience in Argentina. My first solo bus trip. My first foray into Spanish. I had been hiding behind Beth big time, on the Spanish front — having her do all my communicating! But now, it was all up to me….
It is the little things – the little steps that feel like big accomplishments. For instance, I had to make a transfer on my bus to get here (Jujuy). I was not sure of what the bus guy said (they speak so damn fast) and so I asked my bus neighbor. I found out I had to transfer buses at that moment.
Another accomplishment: I took the public bus to Lagunas de Yala — these three lakes that I hiked up to. I found the bus, took the bus, asked for directions and caught the bus back. All by myself.
I have gotten food in the market, ordered coffee and translated a whole newspaper article (that took me a long time and had to look up a lot of the words!).
These might not sound like a big deal, but with each success I feel more comfortable and confident. Sometimes traveling by myself, I spend a lot of time by myself and in my own head (especially with the language barrier). It is hard to not psyche myself out sometimes.
So — now I am feeling like I can make it on my own again (of course I knew that I could but…. like I said, sometimes I get scared….).
Tomorrow, I head north to Tilcara which is on the way to Bolivia. It is suppose to be a beautiful area that is just an hour and a halj north of here. I am not sure how long I will stay there, though I imagine that I will make my way into Bolivia around the first of the month. And I am sure that I will get scared once again. But until then, I think I am ready to tackle the challenges in front of me.
Oh, and did I mention that I am here during rainy season?
Every once in awhile, I have a crisis of faith, of wondering what am I doing, being on permanent vacation (is that really what I am doing — being on vacation for 9 months?!)? What am I doing – but going from coffee shop to restaurant to reading my books to eating food? To not having a purpose? To just sight-seeing day after day?
Today is one of those days…
It is raining today. which makes it harder to figure out what to do. Do I sit in my room and read? Do I try and go to a festival that is at a temple somewhere near-ish? Do I just keep eating and spending money as I wander from place to place?
I like having purpose (for evidence, see the past five years of my life) — and sometimes I just am not sure what my purpose is right now… as you might imagine, I am not one of those people who are really good at just sitting on the beach! So, maybe that is my purpose – to learn to just sit. To be here, without a purpose and wait for that purpose to come to me. Or for me to find it. Or to figure out that purpose can mean lots of different things — that it is not all about goals and checkpoints.
But, please, don’t get me wrong — in the grand scheme of things – i feel tremendously blessed and lucky to be here — to witness the world and expand my horizons. But, sometimes when I get caught up in the details of every day life and miss the comfort of home and friends – it is those moments that i wonder what i am doing out here.
Or maybe it was just all the pictures and stories of turkey and thanksgiving food all over facebook that did me in….
I am trying to figure out if I should head out of Kochi, or if I should stay another day and go to the festival, or if I should go elsewhere in Kerala, or if I should go to Hampi, or if I should…. you see the problem? There are so many options… how do I pick the best one? or to not be paralyzed by the multitude of options and just do nothing?
I guess I will go drink a cup of chai and try and figure it all out. or maybe just read my book.
be well friends. thanks for being part of my pupose — to be able to share my thoughts and observations with you all.
hope you can avoid black friday! 🙂 i am doing my part and just shopping locally.
When I tell people about my plans, I usually get one of three responses:
1. Aren’t you scared?
2. Are you traveling by yourself? (which is followed by question number 1)
3. Is this an Eat-Pray-Love thing?
Yes. Yes. No.
Of course I am scared. The list of what-ifs goes on and on….
what if i get malaria? what if i run into a huge snake in southern india? what if i get lonely? what if I get really sick? what if I get abducted? what if I run out of money? what if I get hurt and have to come home early? what if I miss my mommy? what if I get my head chopped off? what if it turns out I don’t like traveling?
as you can see….. the mind can run rampant with these what-if questions (and all of a sudden I am transported to my classroom and how my students love the what if questions and I can understand the 10th grade brain in a whole new way…..)
But, at the same time, I guess I don’t know what I would be missing if I don’t go. I don’t know how lonely or how scary it will be — since right now, I am just imagining the possibilities. But to live it and see it and experience it…. then I will know. And sometimes, the idea of just staying is as scary and lonely as anything else I can imagine….
5 days until I move out of my apartment. Just ask me if I am ready…. come on, just ask! ok, I’ll tell you. um, not ready. nope, not packed.
and as for the eat-pray-love thing…. i mean, i guess because she traveled – there is that similarity. But i am not a writer, not getting paid to travel and not-getting-a-divorce-rebounding-and-breaking-up. So there is that. Nor am I julia roberts. just sayin’