Thursday, 22 December 2011

19. Stranger

You know when you grow up and people teach you to be weary of strangers? Your first hear that from parents, then you learn in political discourses, then scientist give you the evolutionary reasons that would have selected for us to have an in-group bias...I have been living fighting these generalisations and trying to be more empirical about people and things.  I try as much I can to go to the houses of those of groups we hear are so different than us. Every single time I go I feel over and over again that if you are respectful, if you try your hardest to be respectable... People know. You obviously always screw up, and break rules that are invisible to you because you have not been socialised in that system but I feel that people always know when you are trying and they are always more generous in forgiving strangers for these transgressions than they are to their own. Of course, we are in these situations like children who do not know.  I have never felt so strongly than now that strangers are the kindest people ever. I feel it is not simply a matter of attributing responsibility. What I mean is this: in many places people feel that people cant be responsible for things they do not know. This is surely true but somehow I feel that we are kinder to strangers because it is so easy to be. It is easier to not attribute to them a secret meaning or motivation for a given action or word. In fact, I think it is the people who are close, those we let in our deepest and darker places who are the most dangerous of all. Those can hurt you like nothing else. But yet we must always open ourselves otherwise what kind of life would we live?

I have been in silence for a while. i always am when the stories that are surrounding me are more mine than others. I always feel they are too boring. Too secret.
But when you end up living a public life like I am doing now I get messages who come from all corners of the world when I disappear for too long.  I feel thankful for each one. and i apologise for having been gone for so long.

I am on my way back. After an open hand and knee, a bus accident, hearing a man die, saying many painful goodbyes, hearing many difficult stories, after breaking lots of things inside, after many dangerous roads, many bus rides, rickshaws, bikes, planes, trains, steps, taxis, cars...Through the hands of a total stranger who took care of me when I most needed help I am making my way back. Strangers always surprise me, and even when i loose this enormous faith in the path, through the help and love of once strangers who are now friends I know I have to keep going. People ask me why ? What am I searching for?  And I have no clear answer. I guess I am here to hear and tell stories. The stories of these strangers.

I was rescued by a sweet stranger these days one that has done more than I could have ever asked for. This stranger took me to a doctor, helped me with bureaucratic situations, gave me food and shelter when I most needed. This stranger gave me a feeling of home with mother and brother and sister, and dog and cat. And when finally this stranger dropped me to fly away as if all of that had not been enough he gave me a little gift.

" It is nothing much. But it has a meaning."

I open my hands and I see a little anchor. I smile.

" You can keep going and when you need you can use an anchor. You will find many anchors on your path. I am one for you."

And like that with my wounds licked by dogs and cats. Like that with messages of support and love coming from all continents I hoped in the plane to make my way back to the land of smiles. Just like that I flew to the land who is supposedly under water to float again in the Mekong. From the world of Tibetans, Indians, Kashmeres, and Israelis back now to the world of Palestinians and Thais. And I who felt so lonely in the past days feel a glimpse of joy in the Horizon. I was going home. My home in Asia. I was after years coming back to the border of Thailand and Laos.

I look at the stranger who now is a friend. And I say thank you. He tells me I should not thank him. I insist. " Does it give you a good feeling to say it?" I explain that it does as gratitude is something so beautiful. He smiles and thanks me for giving him the opportunity to be kind, to be better, the opportunity to feel good.

And like this we agreed that whatever it is that it happens people like us will always encounter each other.

As I walk away I remember my yogi friend who dresses up like an angel in a certain week of the year and gives messages and flowers to strangers. Once in the tube in England he gave a flower to an old lady who broke out in tears and told him her son had just died and that she had not left home since then. That morning she asked for a sign to keep going, she asked God for one sign that life was worth living. My friend dressed in angthat day that sign.

Is there any metaphysical reality to that? Who knows? Does it even matter? As I am pondering about it as I walk the airport I remember another thing. When I had just left hospital I joined a yoga camp.  The first thing we did in that camp was to write our names in a piece of paper and pile them in the middle of the room. Then each one of us took a name. It was decided this way that for that week we would be the secret guardian angel of that person. always paying attention whether he/she was ok. In that playful and lyrical way everybody was being taken care of.

While I walk the airport I realise it is not important whether there is any metaphysical reality to it. We just have to keep going and helping strangers along the way. Maybe eventually this way we might even become malleable, compassionate and flexible enough to also be gentle, and kind to those who are so close.

I land in Udon Thani and as I get out of the gate I see an old friend. he screams " Welcome Back".  I feel enormous joy. Yes I am back. I drive with his sons, and friend back to Nong Khai. I am coming home. There is a room being set up for me. I realise that I do not even remember how good it is to have one stable place for you. I recognise some Thai old familiar faces. At night I make finally my way back to the Gaia the boat that floats in the Mekong. I see the river pass. How many years had I dreamed of being back? And now I am here. " julieta, how long are you going stay for? We ask people to stay for at least 3 months when they coming to work. is that ok?". And inside of me I can say without hesitation that it is ok. That it is great. I finally do not want to run away. I want to learn the inner secrets of a guesthouse that lies in front of the Mekong. I want to learn the stories that are behind Thai and tourist smiles. I want to see the strangers pass in this border town, be their anchors when they need one.  As my new sweet English friend who also works here and I are organising our little house I feel this enormous joy. I know in my whole body that yes I am back.

18.The Inbetweeners, Rajastan

.Natalia my dear friend from the Phd created a blog for us to keep in contact while doing fieldwork. She called it the "Inbetweeners". Although I quit my PhD and I am not doing field work I can really relate to " being in between". There are many of us who usually feel this way nowadays, travelling you are bound to encounter these people all the time. I have written about this before this feeling that crossing borders seems to cause to me. In one side it becomes very evident the humanity that connects us all, on the other it also makes very evident the arbitrariness of systems, beliefs, languages, customs, rituals, practices.

If we were to be trees I imagine the "inbetweeners" to be like mangrove trees. Every now and then the roots become more exposed. You see them so well, and you see other's and yet they still somehow tie you. They are no longer under the earth, you see the absurdity of some but what can you do? If you cut them all you get somehow lost. But you cant burry them either, soemtimes the mud covers it for a while but you know eventually the water goes away and they are again exposed.

I sat yesterday in a cafe in Pushkar, Rajastan. I was with the sweet 22 year old Michal. One of the Israelis I talked about when I wrote the last mail. Her friend had recommend this cafe to her. This place was one of those that catered for Israelis. So i sat once again watching young boys and girls in large groups smoke hash, eat a lot of  arab/israeli food, speak in Hebrew while listening to Israeli music. The young Indian waiter spoke Hebrew too so they did not even have to change language to order their Hummus.

I usually watch them from afar intrigued. What makes them come all the way here and travel like this? There could def be whole anthropological studies on this. My friend and I were staying somewhere else for her this kind of travelling does not do. When the whole group finally left the waiter who turned out to be the owner came to seat with us.

Khalu is 26 and he is a Brahmin. His father is a very religious man who hates tourists for destroying the traditional way of living. " He is happy, he does not know. I am trapped in between". I knew exactly what he was talking about. I had seen my Indian friends who work with tourists in Mc Leod suffer the same fate. Khalu had had an Israeli girlfriend, had gone to Israel for a month to see if he could live there. " I realised quite soon I dont want that kind of life. You in the west stress too much, want too much, complain too much. Here our life is more difficult but is more shanti. So I am trapped I cant just marry someone i barely know now like traditions tells me to. I have seen it differently, but I cant have it. I am in between worlds and there is no solution for me".

Khalu was an exceptionally interesting boy. He had opinions about everything. He hated the fact that Israelis invited him for dinner but then asked him 3 questions in English and then spoke Hebrew the rest of the time. It is a common thing in groups i told him and wondered why did he serve them. " Good business. You do one good dish they tell all of their friends, they seat smoke and eat all day. Europeans eat little and go. Not good for business." He turns to my friend and says "Michal I am sorry to tell you the truth but most of us don't like Israelis. When you come we of course don't say this but we dont like how Israelis behave. there are sellers here who do not even sell to Israelis anymore. They think it is not worth the hassle.  I know you are not like these groups... But this is what they do.... Do you know what we hate the most here in Pushkar? the Bet Habad House!"

Bet Habad Houses are Jewish houses where something like  "missionary Jews" set to help Jews abroad. The are very controversial most of my Israeli friends don't like them either as they tend to be very segregationist, and as some of my secular friends say " they benefit from the fact that these boys and girls are so vulnerable after the army to preach religion.

Indians don't like them for another reason, mainly because they intervene in their business, and are rude to the locals. In Mc Leod Michal was told by some locals that the religious came to a tattoo artist to tell him not to do tattoos to Jews, they also went to a Muslim restaurant owner to enquire why he sold food to Jewish people.

Khalu hated them " I went for Shabat with an Israeli friend of mine and they did not let me in! Can you possibly imagine what would happen if I went to Israel made an Indian House and did not allow Israelis in? They would kill me!  I organise Shabbat dinners every week here and it is much more popular than theirs. A couple years ago someone wanted to bomb that house. The people in the village beg the gov to make them go away. We never had problem with bombs and now we do bc of the Bet Habad, I am sorry Michal to say this to you my friend."

As Michal agreed with it all she just repeated " I feel ashamed of this. I really do".  I gues like me, like Khalu she is also in between...

At night I met two religious Jewish boys. We talked a lot. They explained to me the feeling of being minority. Most of my friends are secular and one way or the other hate religious intervention and the amount of the taxes they have to pay for the religious. One of these boys was absolutely fascinating. As we had a long conversation I felt i could ask him why he felt like he had to observe so many laws, why did he think God ( if it exists) cared about this particular ones.

" well you are talking about two different things. One is belief in existence of god. The other is whether there is any divinity and connection from this divine being and the laws." it takes two leaps of faith. There are even many religious people who are atheists. They follow the laws because they believe this laws make life better. "

I was astonished with the clarity of explanation. "So are you very religious?"

" I was raised religious, but I am still deciding"

There was some kind of beauty to it. He was a bright gentle boy. Talking to him and Khalu brought me back to the little village in the border of Pakistan where children and young people where dazzled by what we advertise when we parade in western clothes, taking pictures. It made me remember the look of the old ladies unconvinced, unimpressed who seem to be able to foretell that their way of living was about to be extinct. These boys seemed less concerned about the divinity of the laws than whether it simply led to a better life. Wether our modern, individualist way is if at all healthy.

I ask Khalu whether he thinks his father was right. " Is traditional life better?" He pauses, thinks about it " He is happier because he does not know. I guess he is right,  I guess it is better but for me is too late now, I am in between".

17- Rishikesh and the Hummus Trail

.Rishiskesh lies in the foothills of the Himalayas. Thousand of Pilgrims and tourists come here every year. I had been here a few years ago and it is always so strange to re step ones steps years later. It is like images and places that you never though about seem to be reencountered in your brain. When I crossed the bridge when I arrived looked down at the Ganga river, saw the sun shining the monkeys sliding through the metal bars in the bridge I was brought back. I was arriving from a 20 hours trip with an accident but somehow seeing the Ganga and the monkeys made me feel home.
Everyday I seat by the bridge and see the festival of colours pass by. Women wearing saris in all shades, Babas, Sadus, painted faces, cows, monkeys, tourists who come looking for enlightenment blessings yoga meditation. I seat there and watch the people wash clothes in the Ganga which now also features tourists rafting. Such a strange combination. Green lush mountains surround us. It looks like Brasil in the nature, but another planet in the constructions and in the people you see.

I remember I used to feel overwhelmed when I first came here in another life time. This time I find it all so gentle, so mild. I wonder is it me, or Rishiskesh? We all know it takes time to really arrive in India. Once you do it is all so somehow..."is". That is what it is kind of feeling. A resignation which is not a feeling of loss. It is more like a feeling of "dasein". Cant put it into words really. So I watch the people, they always ask to take pictures with me. And I must feature in hundreds of pictures around the country now. Some children when they are 3 are scared... their parents want soooo much this picture to be taken. 6 years old like to be next to a total stranger who smiles and says hello. Women hug me in the pictures... me so boringly dressed next to their colourful and never repeated saris. Men probably bring it home to show their friends. I always say yes. I actually enjoy this little encounters and I also find it that it brings some kind of balance to the amount of pictures I take of them.

Rishikesh is also part of  the "Hummus trail", so 80% of the  tourists I meet are Israelis. Some of the people who read this tell me "wow how is it that you always end up with Israelis?". It is truly hard not to. There are so many around. I wrote about them so many times before. Those of you who have been in this list long enough might have read of them in South East Asia and in the middle East. Something strange happened to me here in India. When I left the Middle East I felt somehow defeated, I felt I was privileged to see it all, but that I had no real right to cry in front of the wall as I did. Now I believe I do. That wall belongs to all of us as human beings.

I have been encountering here the most amazing Israelis. I am usually now in the situation where they ask me to tell them about the Palestinians. I have met Israelis who boycott their own state, who have been to Budrus, who knew Juliano Mer. Juliano Mer the Israeli Palestinian who created the Freedom theater in Jenin hoping through art to bring peace. When I encounter these people, who question their own cultural narratives to wonder about the other I always love them. I always cry as I know how hard it is. They want to hear the stories, they cry when I tell about the ordinary encounters I had in Palestine.

Last night I ended up spending hours telling a couple about my Palestinian friends. The girl asked to see my photos. And while we sat by the Ganga this girl went through every single picture I had of the places and the people I ve seen in Palestine. She wanted to hear their stories. She wanted to know more. "it is crazy, they live 20 minutes from me and I have to come all the way to India to really hear about them." There are of course those who repeat the same old lines " They dont want peace. Israel is the only democracy in the middle east. The IDF is the most moral army in the world?" But now I seat with Israelis who reply and say " What does it even mean moral army?".

As I seat with these people I imagine in my head the encounters of those I met and love in Palestine and them. It would be challenging and beautiful but there are people out there who always in the face of  absurdity can just think of the human. Not so long ago I sat with a girl whose father was saved by a Polish blacksmith who taught him how to behave unjewish, who took care of him... so that he could survive the war. 50 years later this man went back to Poland and re-encountered the daughter of this blacksmith. He brought her to see Israel. I cry so much when I hear these stories. They fill me with hope... there will always be these people. People who in front of it all question the system, question their cultural memories, question the power structures to try to really see the other.

People always ask me "Why do I go to these places? Why do you go stay in the house of Kashmeres, or why do you put yourself in unnecessary risks?." And I always say I never believe people can be too different. Maybe they are in the surface but we must scratch it. We must fight our brain tendency to essentialize and categorize and be empirical about things. All the stories I heard, all that I have lived allows me to now understand a bit more about the complexity of this all. My Israeli friends are born having to legitimize their existence.  As the pacifist that I am, I am convinced we are so similar. So I will never be able to accept the creation of a wall. Any wall. I look at these thousands of Israelis who pass my way negotiating their thought to support their military state with love. I know fully well that in the end no one can truly believe in this. With some pain I watch them. But now I watch them next to these brave boys and girls, men and women who as pessimistic as they are about their governments they are hopeful about people.

I know my Palestinian friends read this. I know they see the world though me. They have told me. So I write this post to let you know about this people I encounter here. People as gentle as you. People who take care of me to the same extent you did. By the Ganga next to the sweet Israeli who asks me questions about your lives and has her eyes in tears I am convinced walls will always fall. And reality can only be changed by these brave people who do not fight, rather they unite, they question, they take risks to love the unknown. When I was by the wall in Bethelehem my friend Jaafar consoled me. "It is just governments, we the people want peace. One day we will live together". At the time his hope made me cry even more. Months later I was in Berlin and I saw the wall down. My mom showed me the wall in the map so arbitrarily built. So crazy that someone decides one day to build a wall and people actually agree to it. There was a time where cities where surrounded by walls, there was a time Germany was divided. There was a time apartheid separated people in South Africa. There was a time that slavery was institutionalized and accepted by the vast majority as normality. Now I seat by the Ganga with Germans and Israelis. Now I seat in a Tibetan in exile village with a white South African who gets upset at the white South Africans who complain of racism to them. " They need to wake up these people. We oppressed 80% of population before. Now it is different and it must be. It is getting better. But the powerful never likes loosing power. It is getting better but it takes time" Now I seat with Chinese who defend the Tibetans. There will always be these people. They are minority in the beginning but eventually walls fall.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Bus to Rishikesh

.Stop the bus! Stop the bus! " It is full moon. I have been in Mc Leod for more than a month. I really do not want to leave but it is time. I board the bus with many other people who are now friends. Buses have a narcotic effect on me. I always sleep. The roads no longer scare me. When the rough, hollow sound of a crash happened I did not fully comprehend. I just hear people screaming "Stop the bus! There was an accident". It takes a while for all of us to comprehend. Someone crashed into us. Someone in the back is unconscious and bleeding. There is a turmoil, windows had exploded. Some young girls come shaking forward " We need an ambulance". Israelis move back, they start shouting orders. We need scissors, tissue etc. I also hear the gentle voice of a Canadian inviting the victim to stay, to come back. I cannot look, i do not move I do not want to move out or back. I am just quite amazed by how life is fragile, and how in any circumstance people unite to go beyond themselves to help. I remember my Indian friends telling us not to leave in a a full moon. The moon now shines brightly through the window when we still do not understand the dimensions of our accident.

The Tibetans in the seats next to me seem less impressed. I ponder whether life and death is more natural to them. My thoughts wonder back to Dorjee and Tashi, my Tibetan friends in Mc Leod. Tashi who was a monk for 15 years asks me before i leave to write a message to feature on the table of the restaurant he serves in. I do and lift the table to put under the glass. He follows me removes it and puts on another place. The place where he eats everyday. "I will miss you everyday you know!" I am moved I have tears in my eyes. My friendship with Dorjee is that of jokes in the breakfast. He is not that fluent in English and I understand through time his parents are sick and need his help. Dorjee, who I wrote about before, escaped Tibet as a political refugee. We could never really understand what happened under his smiley eyes. He told me the story of his escape, the two months walking in mountains, about the two children he found crying alone on the way and brought with him. He cant be that old and now he takes care of two children. When we climbed the mountain and he sang mountain up and down collecting the trash tourists left behind I developed this love for Dorjee. This kind of affectionate feeling you have for people who seem so good that they dont seem to feature in the fiction of reality. Couple days ago he was able to contact a friend in Tibet. This friend was able to reach his family. His family is illiterate, and so only now after 4 years did Dorjee hear his 4 sisters and one brother had gotten married. He was so happy, but a happiness that does not explode or modifies too much his natural smile. The following day he is able to talk to to his friend again. This time to find out his father had passed away two years ago. It is so incomprehensible to me the whole notion that I do not know what to say. Dorjee 's eyes change a bit, but he keeps that smile in his face. I wonder what is it that goes behind that smile. I wonder but do not want to intrude. I do not fully comprehend. We all love Dorjee,  his kindness is truly inspiring.

"Let me kiss you, open your mouth" The canadian voice brings me back to the bus. I look the Tibetans and know fully well that face expressions dont truly translate what people feel.  I hear the Canadian voice, of the girl of pink hair who to me right now embodies love. She is a typical new age person. She is there under a man she does not know trying to keep his mind with us. The Israelis use all they learn in the army. I who hate the army find that once in my life I actually was happy to have someone who was a combatant with us. It does not matter to them blood is everywhere, that there is a gash in the head of this till now unknown man. All it matters is that all of us now in the bus can hear he is choking in blood. We all want him to live. As the moon goes away the ambulance arrives. The man is carried out and the girl in pink hair goes with him to hospital. The rest of us stay in a mid nightmare, dream state. The day starts to rise. Outside a Canadian takes the guitar of the man who is now in hospital and starts to sing. We all seat by the road in silence. Somehow united by this tragic event. It could have been much worse is all I think about. The day is beautiful. It always puzzles me how life and death, beauty and tragedy just coexist. And as I seat on that road listening to the music I am able to understand a bit more the smile of Dorjee and Tashi. It is a smile of those who have truly embodied impermanence and compassion.  It is not that the feelings that makes most of us cry and shout don't exist on them. It s more like this awareness that we must keep going and with a song and a smile in the face it is easier to give the next step.


We are in the middle of the clouds. Every step to be there was a bit harder. Every step we ached, complained and laughed a bit more. We cant really see any thing. We don't know for how long it goes. And I cannot contain my joy. We made it to the top of the mountain. Carrying Djembes, guitar, trumpet, ukulele, flute and songs in Hindi, Tibetan and every other language. We are more than 15 people there. Tourists and locals I never thought when I started to organize the trip that all this people would come. Madi, at the time asked if he could join. Madi the owner of the tent I talked about last time. I smiled and said that obviously he could come. He sighs and says he also wanted to be part of the party, not be working but part. So that night the tent would close. I look around on the top of the mountain knowing these clouds would eventually disappear. Maybe at night, maybe in the morning.

We make a fire and we seat around it. Dorge the Tibetan political exiled traditional singer starts the cry of the Tibetans, Simona the beautiful german doll follows on the trumpet I sing in my own rhythm. HOw could I contain all that joy? We are all there? This is no longer tourists being served by Indians. They come not as guides, they come as friends who want to also be part of the music, of the party, of the celebration of humanity. Most of us have spent here almost a month. We know the secrets. The Israeli boy now knows much more bossa nova, and I can sing in Hebrew, and Hindi. The complexity of the relations become more and more wide open. They all come to me. What should they do about this or that? I watch the INdian boy who was forced to marry in a arranged marriage where he met his bride in the wedding fall in love with a foreign girl. I watch her try to rationalise as much as she can. I feel the pain, the pain of their impossible love. The secrets come my way. And the world of traditional societies are worlds of secrets.

I am at the top of the mountain and I cannot contain the joy. I love these people. Sooner or later we all have to leave, it is seeming to be sooner than later. But not that night that night we celebrate. We dance, we chant, we laugh. We wait for the stars, we wait for the sun. As the clouds go, we can see more imponent mountains behind. There are horses, and mules, and it looks like Scotland. The clouds go, but the sun does not dare to show itself. NOt yet. It takes time in India. All takes time. I seat in a rock in the edge of the mountain. The older Waldorf school teacher shows up with his ukulele. He teaches physics but now he sings "here comes the sun". And the sun comes, and bathe us with its beauty. How can I contain so much stories?

Can I pour them down the mountain? Can I pour my feelings ? Instead I close my eyes and try to meditate. There is so much going on. SO many cultures, so many songs, so many stories. I try to empty myself after all I am in the land of Buddhism. I stay for as long as it takes to empty out a  bit more. But then I cant any longer. I hear the music and now I am less in the mood of mountains then I am of people. I come back to them. I come back to life and music and dance. I can empty out later.. now we still have the time to share cultures, to share this friendship built in a month. A month back home is nothing, a month in India travelling feels like a life time. Every feeling travels inside like an explorer. Everything goes deep under the skin. We all know that we will have to take the steps down. In aching legs, swollen feet, and blistered toes. Some jump and run down the mountains others stroll. Dorge sings the Tibetan cry, we imitate. The clouds come back, we stroll through them. They are mysterious they are precious, they used to be confusing.. now they are not. Now I know that behind them lies always the imponent mountain. I take every step with confidence that even when you do not see the path it still lies there. I take every step knowing that in the path we find the way.

Walking in a Different Rhythm, Mc Leod India

To me It feels like a Beduin tent. It is not. The walls a made of bamboo and the roof is in colourful yellow, orange, and red cloth. There is barely no light. We seat in cushions on the floor. We are at the top of my guesthouse. A guesthouse surrounded by many others in a very touristic village. Inside the tent it feels a world apart from the Tibetan in exile village I spend the days in. Three men from Rajastan who seemed to have jumped out of a picture of National Geographic with their long moustaches, their piercing eyes and their traditional instruments seat in the corner. The Israeli boy who studies classical composition in Jerusalem and plays like a Brazilian bossa nova tells me these musicians are amazing. I seat in silence. i look around and notice with some joy that I now know every single face, every Indian, Tibetan or tourist name. They know me too. I feel joy I am in place enough to be able to break the rules. The man who plays this string instrument i have never seen before starts to sing. He stands up and like a character in a fairy tale he sings from within. It sounds like that voice has hundreds of years, that before it comes out like a gypsy cry that it has travelled every corner of his body. The other two men squat next to their traditional drums. The cry is calling for them, so their fingers gently start to caress the leather of the instrument, they move faster and faster and eventually an explosion of music happens.

I feel it inside. I first watch it petrified, in total stillness as if suddenly I was transported to a tale but then the rhythm overtakes me, my body wants to follow that cry, that drum, that tale. I know the place enough, my body knows the faces, we have all laughed together foreigners and locals for enough nights for my body to know that I am allowed to do the unthinkable i stand up and i let it overtake me. i dance. Then comes my beautiful friend Rotem, and then as in a explosion, like in a Kusturica movie foreigners and Indians start a frantic dance that travels the night. You can see through the movements we all come from different countries. Some countries allow for rhythm to go to different parts of the body.

I watch little Ibrach, 6, the son of Madi the owner of the tent, the restaurant, the gentle kind man who everyday cooks whatever i ask him. First I asked from the cushions nowadays from inside the kitchen. That is what time does to you. You get accepted in the secret places. Ibrach is 6 and when i first tried to invite him to dance he shyly runs away. An foreign girl interrupted my gentle invitation. One that had been being built through days, through hiding faces behind veils, saying hellos from far away, eventually shaking hands. While I am there slowly taking the time of Ibrach she grabs him to dance. He runs. She laughs and asks me to help her scare him into dancing. I want to explain her that you cant scare people into music. You have to let the music come within. I know well enough that we just have to wait. I had seen little Ibrach dancing in the corner several times. He would eventually dance... at some point, when time and people would have made it acceptable for his fully formed brain to accept the burning desire to move inside his little body he would come. As more and more people surrended to the music I suddenly see Ibrach in the middle of the Indian men. His body moves like that of a little sahib. Opened arms as if he is already at 6 enclosing the world. I love seeing the people dancing. The indian men go crazy. All that captured tension, all that sexual frustration that rarely finds relief is released in this dance. I love this people i think. I look at Aze, the men who looks like atartuk. The magician of the tabla. He is too contained to jump around like the rest of us. he seats in the cushion moving his fingers to the table in the rhythm. I like Aze a lot he had moved me beyond belief a couple days earlier.

I who through the years had lost my connection with music reencountered in India. Every single night I played a bit more, I sang a little more. Aze, who is an amazing musician, tried to accompany me in the Indian drums. In the chaos of this jam sessions, I little by little tried to encounter the Indians in their time, and they tried to move in brazilian rhythm.

In the official organised jam session, Aze came to tell me he wanted to play with me. I was happy I had observed through the days he was the only person who really listened. he had this kind of relation with music of a life time companionship. I sat and took the guitar, and timidly started to play. Aze brought his tabla, this Israeli enchanting boy who moves in bossa nova rhythm asked me to join us. And so for the following hour we coming from 3 continents walked together. Where is it that we meet?, how is it that I move my internal rhythm a bit more to match theirs. India, middle east and south america. I tried deeper and deeper to walk internally in different steps. My voice sang in different parts of my body, and the whole world seemed to have stopped to exist we just played, we encountered each other in music. When something like this happens it is so hard to put in words. Aze who could be my father told me later he was a tabla professor in university but had not played in 5 years and he had brought his tabla that night to play with me. i was moved. i was shocked. i am not musician I explained. I know so little. " But your music comes from within. Thank you." I had tears in my eyes. This was an older men, a lifetime living in music. That night made me famous in this town. The brazilian girl who sings. So now in the tent I could dance. I had learned to play a different world, and dancing to it was just like one step further in this journey of cultural and human discovery. I looked around aze drumming, Ibrach dancing, Tibetans jumping and the beautiful Israeli boy listening like a real musician does in total stillness. i had no idea what that Rajastani man sang about. it seemed so immaterial. there in this tent I saw all cultures come together, with all the beautiful cultural shades they can come. But what overwhelmed me was to see once again that it takes not much more than watching and listening to encountering our overwhelming fundamental humanity.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Of Gypsies and an Open Hand

I surely should write a book. At least to let the world know about the people I encounter. I cant write much now. I have acquired my first Indian wound, my first Cashmere wound. I fell in the middle of the Kashmir mountains and opened my hand. Not much. Enough to remind one that any disturbance on the normal balance of a body changes it all. Enough to remind you that blood comes out, and alcohol burns like hell even when you think you are much tougher than a child. Enough to make you loose your balance when trekking though the Cashmere mountains.

I have said this before but I will repeat I am no trekker, so every time I do invent to join one the part of me who does not want to be in a situations I cannot get of screams. This voice is however becoming more and more silent and so I joined the trek through the mountains. I slept under the stars, in the plains of a mountain, surrounded by the gypsies with whom I could not do more than smile to, share food, and take pictures of. My abundance of happiness is noted even by them. An older lady held me, and asked to be photographed with me, than she pointed to my mouth than to hers, and drew a smile in the air. I know. I know I smiled I said.

I have been meeting many gipsies as I participated in a distribution of donated clothes through these remote villages of muddy houses. They are so beautiful. Long eyelashes and beautiful smiles. The girls have often short hair till they are ten. They are nomadic and you can see that as the winter is probably about to come they are getting ready to move. I love Kashmir. I finally understood why is it that my friend Maya and her boyfriend Lior insisted so much that I should come. It is not that I love here because the views are stunning, the mountains are full of pines, there is sheep everywhere, horses, lakes, river. The natural beauty is phenomenal. But that is not what I love though. I love that nothing is what you imagine it to be. I love the intricacies. The time that it takes to understand the secrets. You must not be in a hurry. You must not take anything too serious and then you might start to see that secret world of competing loyalties. And once you do, they take care of you. I am invited to the houses, to their privates trips. "Dont go. stay. Dont be like a tourist stay here for at least a month". I smiled thankfully. Shaban my friend and guide told me last night that his dream was to be educated, to go to university, to read books. But the war did not let it happen so he learns through us the travelers. The ones who talk to him. Today as I sat around the plane in the middle of the gipsy settlement. As he gently poured for me, Arwen and him the delicious Kashmir tea he asked me whether I wanted to hear sufi poetry. We did. He took his cel phone and read quotes from poems sent from a friend. They talked of God. The coexistence of a cel phone, God, kashmir tea, in a gipsy settlement made me smile. The world is such a fascinating place.

I for instance travel now with an Israeli guy, and a English girl. I wish I could write a boook so that I could write about them. Arwen, who has the name of an elf, has a life history that is not short of epic. It starts with a grandfather who was black from Barbados and lied to the crew of a sugar cane boat when he was 14 (saying he was 18) to come to England. Collin Jones, was liked by the captain who taught him how to read. Her grandmother, a welsch woman who ran away to marry a black man and was shut from her entirely family. Well, so thought her father, as usual what people say and do is different. So she was shut but Arwens father remembers his whole family :) Collin who was a very ambitious man left to buy milk when Arwen father was 15 and only retruned 16 years later rich and with a new wife. Arwen mother ran away from Cataluna. A story of runaways looking for meaning, and life abroad. I could go on and on, but my muscles in my hand remind me I should speak of Elick as every little nerve is already to tired to type.

Elik is even more fascinating. He who was raised orthodox studying a million hours a day of religion must have read every book in the face of the earth. That is what he did. He read religious books and then literature and philosophy. The laws of Judaism prevent them from doing everything so he lived in books till he could finally have the hardest conversation in his life. He had not faith he had to leave the Yeshiva. The laws made no sense to him anymore. His kindness generosity and enormous knowledge have become my gate into understanding a world I knew nothing about. In fact a world, I was very prejudicial of. So every single question I have from reading books, watching films are now answered as they pop in my mind. The world of the religious, the world of the Yeshivas, the world of Kabalah as well as of traditional Jewish law. The world of Jewish philosophy. But I cant possibly write about this world. I can barely understand it, and something way more mundane prevents me from doing it. My hand hurts. And I have learned that we must respect the religious, the books, the philosophers but also being here has taught me more and more that I must simply hear the internal voice. The one that said to me while I climbed the mountain carrying wood to make a fire. The one that said " climbing is tough enough for you maybe you should respect your level". I did not hear it at that time, I pushed it a bit further, I lost my grip, I lost my attention, the wood went down, my whole body collapsed and my hand in the attempt to stop me open itself a bit... not too much, just enough to remind me that strength and fragility lay hand in hand, and that the deepest knowledge comes from within.

Lots of love,

Mughal Gardens, Srinagar

When Luiza and I separated from Francis in the Mosque in the last day of Ramadan he made a friend. Ulmar, a 26 year old Kashmir boy, fully dressed in white, took Francis to the middle of the thousand of men and taught him how to pray. Francis who is catholic and a strong believer saw our reencounter with Ulmar the following night in the middle of the streets of Srinagar as an auspicious sign. Ulmar's whole family was with him, and we were invited to join them for a meal. Luisa and I declined as we were exhausted, Francis disappeared for 3 hours only to return drank of joy, full of food for us, and an invitation to come see the city with Ulmar the following day.

Ulmar picked us up and first took us to the impressive Jama Masjid Mosque that was built in the 1672 and has room to host thousands of devotees. Luiza and I fully covered to be allowed to enter the place. Inside it was empty, there were but a few people, an enormous courtyard, a beautiful garden, and a couple of children running around. At 12:30 it was lunch time and we were invited by Ulmar to go to his house for this meal. For the second time I met his adorable mother, who the night before in the street had given me a tight hug. They were so happy to have us. I could barely understand why. And so for the second time this week I saw a Kashmir house. It seems to me that they usually do not have that much furniture. This house was beautiful, but every living room had anything but beautiful and confortable carpets and cushions. We sat on the floor. Tea was offered. There was an option between salted or sweet chai. Once again I feasted in the delicious Kashmir infusion. Some cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, saffron and who knows what else. We could only talk to Ulmar and his brother, but the parents were the calmest and friendliest people i have encountered here. Most of the time I find people in Srinagar rather violent. i have lost count how many times i saw parents and children shouting, or children being hit, or playing with plastic uzis, and guns. I have lost count of how many times firecrackers explode from the hands of 6 years old. I have lost count of how much boys parade their masculinity in motorbikes in the streets. So this family, which was sooo calm was something of a relief.

Food was brought and I being a vegetarian was somehow of a disappointment to them. Not that they mentioned it but I could tell, as I would not be able to eat all the variety of meat they had. A plastic towel was set on the floor, a silver jar was brought to wash our hands over a silver recipient, and plates with rice and meat were brought. For me there was rice and some delicious green thing I never even asked what it was. We ate in traditional way, which means we seat on the floor, and ate with our bare hands. It was delicious.
The little 5 year old girl was the joy of the house. She seemed to be hyper active and slightly odd fro her age. The entire time we were there she ran non stop, and turned upside down hysterically happily. Ulmar explained to me that she never went to bed before 1am and that she was always up before 6." She is very special" he said. I was shocked beyond belief, but apparently the whole family seems to have created this space to treat strangeness as normality. They loved her beyond belief.
At some point I was so in place that I wished i could have stayed their forever. We could not, Ulmar had planned to take us to see the famous Mughal Gardens.

I cant possibly explain how incredible that was. I who forgot my camera kept thinking how would i be able to remember this all. A beautiful garden, with enormous flowers, green grass, fountains, going uphill and abundance of colours of the flora and the people. Children, boys and girls, teenagers, adults and the elderly were everywhere. As usual dressed using all of the shades that you can encounter in the world. So many veils, and cloths, and I could hear hear the leaves hum to me about the secret looks between boys and girls, the discrete movement of the veil that allowed for a bit more of hair to be seen, the recognition of one more bloom by the older gardner, the mundane worries of the couple having a picnic, the hopes for a boy of the pregnant lady, the wishes of those who walked in the sacred water, the peacockish dares of the young boys, the sufi poem read under a tree. I could almost hear and see it all, how many secret hopes were growing in that garden made in name of love.

As we sat in the grass we were surrounded by curious eyes. Children who are less shy would come and greet us. Adults would just look. Ulmar and his cousin wanted to know about Brasil. they talked of god, of the difficulty of getting married. They talked of a desire for independence from India and Pakistan, they talked of broken hearts and cried, just like in Palestine they were interested in talking about sexuality. We let them do so. We answered their questions, we were surprised by the lack of information, and once again I was saddened by the feeling of boredom, solitude and hope for love and freedom these youg boys seem to have. Eventually it was time to go, it was time for me to bid farewell to two more travelling companions. Luisa and Francis decided to take up the offer to sleep in Ulmar place as they would fly the morning after and Ulmar kindly offered to drive them. I hesitated whether to follow them or not, but as I was waiting from a little sign from the universe to decide my fate i came back to my guesthouse.

There I met Elic, an Israeli, who is going to places in the countryside i did want to see, but did not want to go alone to. A physicist who had been raised in a religious yeshiva. A jewish religious boy who abandoned religious life in his mid 20s. Within 5 minutes of conversation I knew he would be my new travelling companion based on nothing else than the fact that he talked to me about Alyosha. Sometimes we look for signs in the wrong places, so since Dostoyevski has yet never failed me, i decided to follow my journey a bit deeper into Kashmir with this quite atypical Israeli. It is quite unlikely I will have internet access on the following days, but once I do I ll tell you what I discovered.

Lots of love,

The End of Ramadan, Kashmir

The End of Ramadan

So the last day of Ramadan has come and I am here in Srinagar in Kashmir. We woke up and decided we would go to the the main mosque to see the prayers. Mustapha one of the houseboat owners. Mustapha who cooks better than anyone. He who is the most responsible and serious of all brothers recommend me and Luisa not to go. He thought It could be dangerous as in the last couple of days lots of Kashmere boys have been attacking the police. Yesterday all motorbikes had been confiscated and 300 boys arrested. It was possible that conflicts could arise. He would take Francis, but thought it would be safer for me and Luisa to stay in the boat. I considered the idea for about 10 seconds and then thought: there is no way the whole town is going to pray to celebrate eyd and I will be floating in the Dal lake!

So we went. People along the way told us we would not be allowed in to visit the mosque. Today, they explained, was a very important date for Muslims. Only when I explained I wanted to see the people, the ritual, did they understand we were not simply interested in architecture of the Mosque. So our rickshaw driver took us about 15 km away to Hazratbal Mosque which enshrines Kashmir most precious relic- moi e muqqadas- a hair of the beard of the prophet mohammed.

As we drove the traffic became crazier and crazier. all men were dressed in white, all women dressed in different colourful colours. As we came closer we could see more and more police and army around. Beautiful tall soldiers carrying machine guns. Barbed wires, rikshaws passing through small spaces, motorbikes carrying evem more people than they usually do. Eventually we reached a point we could not go further driving so we got out and started to walk following the multitude of people.

Suddenly we started to see people laying on the floor crippled, with leper, very skinny, burned, dying, not moving begging. Muslims walked giving money at the people. It was a shocking site. i truly felt like in a movie. The closer we got more intense was the begging, the suffering, the touching. As I veiled, and so did Luisa we were not so much held as was the blond blued eyes Francis. We were speechless. We just followed the people not knowing where we would end up.

Eventually we reached the fields that surround the Mosque. There was police, army, metal detectors, thousands of people and only two doors. One for the the women, one for the men. i was convinced they would tell us to come another day. instead they let us in. A tall sikh looking like soldier came to ask us what we were doing there. francis said he would try to pray and I said I wanted to see. He let us in but made us promised we would be back there in 30 minutes. And so we separated, women to one side, men to the other. Luisa and I followed the rainbow of cloth in front of us,till we had to remove our shoes, then we sat next to the women outside. There were tens of thousands of people there. We strolled a bit more, completely fascinated. As we had promised the guard we would be back in half an hour to the entrance we walked back to meet Francis who had gone to the other side.

As he was not there we sat in the middle of the garden watching thousands of men stand. Suddenly the call for prayer started. We saw thousands of men in white, in line stand and then bow, than prostrate and do the whole ritual. We saw that among the soldiers there were sikhs and hindus, and also muslims who ran in the middle of their duty to honour Allah. We watched moved and in silence. When the prayers finished we could feel the tension in the air be substituted by joy. Children played with enormous plastic guns, for the first time since I arrived I could see people now eat during the day.

As we walked out, with the thousands of people we realised we did not know the address to go home. As in magic among 60 thousand people Rafiq found us. Francis climbed the top of a bus and I died to do the same. I knew however i had already done all that i could today so instead i thanked Mustapha and Rafiq for the ride. We came home and they offered us their celebration meal.
Eyd Mubarak to all my Muslim friends!


Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Srinagar, Kashmir

As I left the Internet last night I ran into friends I had met in Leh. With them I walked the streets of Srinagar looking for non spicy food for a french girl. To encounter non spicy food in India is probably just as hard as winning the lotery. We walked and walked and the people greeted us.. They always want to know where is it that we come from. In a huge group of french, italians, Algerian, Russian and Brazilian it is always surprising for them. They always greet me saying shalom, always imagining i am Israeli. After long walk invited by every shop owner to come in, by ever passer by where we are from we found a restaurant where the cook understood no spice for our friend really meant no spice. She was happy. The rest feasted on the orgy of flavours that is India. Being looked at by every single person becomes normality and so it is easier to keep going.

We walked the streets of Srinagar and as Ramadan, the fasting Muslim month is about to end, we hear prayers everywhere. We followed the chant to arrive in an alley that led us to a Mosque. There were lights hanging from the trees. It was late so only men were there. They were intrigued. Where had we come from? What were we doing there. We stood outside while lots of boys came to our rescue. An older man dressed in traditional Muslim style, with an white beard and kind eyes explained we could not go in, but the Italian boys could. First they had to do the ablutions/ We followed them, and watched the gentle old men gently squat and pedagocially teach how is it that one washes himself before entering the sacred realm of a mosque.

It was dark, and as our strange group tried to execute the choreography more and more little sweet boys came our way. were we muslims? Were had we come from? They explained us the women that at that time we could not go in. Maybe we could, maybe they could talk to someone. We explained we had time, we could come any other day, any other time. The Italians went in, we stood outside listening to the chanting. It sounded so beautiful.

At 4:30 am this morning we woke up to visit the vegetable market. It was still night and the shikara ( little wooden boat) came to pick us up. We entered it still half asleep. And as the Kashmere man paddled our little boat through the lake, through the house boats, through the plants, green lotus, and algae that covered the lake we could hear prayers from all over. Al Hamdulillah, Allah Allah. It was not a decision, it was simply natural that we remained all silent floating in the lake. It was dark and it felt so magical and sacred music came from everywhere. We could only hear male voices but they all chanted their faith for hours and hours. It is not a matter of religiosity, it does not matter whether you have any metaphysical beliefs or not, listening a whole town singing their faith while you float through the secret paths of the river touches you within. We watched the lights change, the reflection of the light painting the water every second in a new shade. Once again I felt thankfulness. When the sun rose little boats came from everywhere. They exchanged goods, they prepared for the great celebrations of the end of Ramadan. Simple boats containing flowers, saffron, spices, vegetables, bread, sweet. I bought cinammon to eat like candies. In reality I bought cinammon to see the muslim man weigh it in a middle aged scale, I bought it so that I could talk to him. He explained to me the meaning of Ramandan. The meaning of Id. The man who I bought water from yesterday came to bring today my favorite chocolate. In the streets people recognize and greet me. As I walked the streets on my own my Kashmere friends, and my Canadian travelling companion came to find out where I was. ''You were gone for 3 whole hours, we were concerned''. Incredible, I thought, I am not alone... never alone. in the thought to be one of the most chaotic places of the worlds, I already feel protected. I already have found a little space of my own.

Leh to Srinagar

No matter how much you believe you remember a long local bus ride in India, you just simply dont. It is completely impossible to translate into words what it is like to take a bus that leaves Leh to arrive about 20 hours later in Srinagar. The roads are no longer scary, you get kind of used to the continuous abyss next to you, the incredible confrontations with colorful buses and trucks who come the other side never really deciding before the last second which way they are going to go to. It is also hard to convey how it is that the Indians look at you. You western, you woman. It is somehow this dead fish look, the complete awe. it is impossible to describe how noisy it is the roads, the phones, the conversations, the phones playing music. But in the end of 20 hours even the most annoying person shows up to be somehow naive, and friendly. They smoke inside the bus, heat your chair, touch your hair, but if you seem to be sick, as the sweet Brazilian girl Louisa happen to be they will all come to help. They lend their blankets, change seats, teach ways of avoiding sickness. I slept most of the trip. I ate all that was local, and had enormous pleasure, and absolutely no fear. I start to actually love unknown spicy vegetarian food. Whatever it is i Just take it.

20 hours of ride made me little by little appreciate the vegetation that seemed to reappear. I was thankful for the gompas, the desert like mountains, for the Buddhist temples. But how happy made me the misty weather, the pine trees, the green fields, the rivers. With all of this comes also life. A total abundance of it. Arriving in Srinagar was nothing short of epic. I had already reserved my place in a boat house in the famous lake which has been quite abandoned by foregin tourist because of the continuous conflict in the region. As I met some people in the bus I tried to bring them with me so that they would not have to go with unknow possible touts. The kashmeres who wait in the station to get tourist were furious. It was nothing short of a fight. I knew where I was coming. I had met Mustaq in Leh, and he had reserved for me one of his family boats. I knew Rafiq his cousin would pick me up, so I told him I was bringing three more people with me. The men outside went insane they did not want to let us go. I who am normally patient lost it, and while one of the men tried to fight Rafiq I got out of my Tuk tuk and went there and said we would not leave without our friends. I stood there, feeling the power of a giant. No they are not taking them I said decisively. The men were unhappy but could do nothing and so we came the six of us. My new Brazilian friend Louisa, Francis her Canadias friend, and three Italians.

Arriving at the boat House was nothing short of magical either. The greatest happiness was to reencounter my German friends. I was supposed to come with them a few days earlier but because Liron, the Israeli, could not decided whether she came or not I stayed behind. The boat floats in the Lake, and Mustaq family took care of us. They cooked, told us the history of the place. Their desire for total independence from India and Pakistan, about the 50 thousand people who were killed here in the last 20 years. They told me how they were 5 th generation of houseboat owners. I looked the guestbook that went as back as 1912. They told me family histories of the British here and suddenly as I sat outside in the boat with my German friends, looking at the calmness of it all I thought once again that it was all worth it.

It feels like being in a film. As we seat little boats come by to sells us things. they have food, ice cream, jewelery, handicraft made wonden boxes, lamps, statues, clothes. It is quite magical. We seat and have tea, chai, we play with little Ibraham, hear Kashmere stories. Srinagar is predominantly Muslim and as it is Ramadan during the nights we hear prayers for the entire night. It is nice. In a couple of days it iwll be over. Id will be celebrated. From here when and where I am going I am still not sure.

lots of love,

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Nubra Valley

The stars are all in the sky. I have only seen the sky like this twice in my life. I saw it once in Australia, and the other time sleeping in the Sahara. There are absolutely no lights around so while I look up I am almost convinced that the sky is actually white and here in this remote traditional Muslim village 5 km from Pakistan the black cloth that covers the sky is too worn out to hide the light that emanates from it. It was not easy to arrive here. We road through a treacherous road around the himalayas, crossing occasionally bridges that danced as much as they sang. We had to require a permit to be here, to discover the valley that has been disputed so long by the giant India, and Pakistan. We had to show permissions and passports to kasmirian, nepali, Tibetan, indian, Pakistani , mongolian faces in several check points along the way and ponder how much mixture has happened here too. We had to drive across the highest road pass in the world, pray every single time a truck or a bus came the other side for the road to magically enlarge for a second , it did. And we had to agree to be totally disconnected from the world.

After about 8 hours of driving crossing villages that have been already open to tourism for some years we reached our little village which had not. This muslim village lies between mountains and to reach it we had to go beyond it all, and in the end as the road did not make it there we had to climb the last part. Every single child and adult that passed greeted us. We were the main attractions of the village. I had a mix feeling of joy for being able to see this almost first hand, and the concern that in a couple more years this traditional life style would also seize to exist. We climbed the mountain with our heavy back packs in our backs. The path was so steep that i often thought i would fall backwards. There is something however empowering of arriving so far, and so i denied all offers of people to carry my stuff. Someone once told me we should all carry our own load.

When we made it to the village itself i could not believe my eyes. Could really soooo much beauty be contained like this in a corner of the world? In the middle of the rocky and sandy mountains laid plots and plots of green fields, apricot trees, channels of water and colourfully dressed children and women. They veiled in their own traditional way.
I talked to every child who crossed my path, they greeted me in english i worked on finding out basics of their own language, they were surprised by it. They wanted to sing the hebrew songs israelis had taught them. They wanted to be photographed and then look at themselves on the camera.

As i arrived at our guesthouse I thought of our shampoo, toilet paper and all the junk we tourists bring with us. I decided i d minimise my impact to the bare minimum. None of these items would be used. I walked and walked mesmerised by the natural beauty, by the friendliness of the people and by this strange feeling that we were part of the process that would destroy it all.
It surprised me to realise that lack of option of what to eat made me happy. I never cherished a meal so much. In this remote village silver plates were brought.we had rice, daal, and some vegetable dish that was to die for. As we sat to play cards with a local boy and our driver, a muslim and a Buddhist in a game we had no idea how it worked, i felt happy. Jilmet ,our driver, had never been there but within seconds was friends with the local boy. They spoke now in ladakhi and not in the local language. Another local who spoke fluent english as he has studied in srinagar explained to me that till 1971that was Pakistan. I asked him whether he preferred being part of India or Pakistan and he explained to me that even though he was muslim he preferred being part of India "Pakistan is one military dictatorship after another! ". I asked him whether he did not feel tourism would destroy it all. He disagreed, "nothing changes traditional ways, but we also must meet people who think different then us." I felt happy, not because I believed it, but it made me feel less guilty. I did agree we must encounter different ideas, but feeling like i was seeing the last glimpse of a traditional civilisation, and the feeling that we corrupt with images which are often not so real these places disturbed me. Children ran freely, they climbed trees, climbed mountains without any immediate adult supervision.

So many thoughts went through my mind as i walked the little alleys, as I saw the ladies carrying big stashes of straw in their backs, enormous baskets of apricots. The old ladies were the only ones who seemed wary of us. Like sorcerers that have access to wisdom they were unimpressed by cameras, or us at all. They refrained from being photographed and though they greeted me back when i smiled saying " Salem" they kept going about their own business undisturbed.

My German friends decided we should climb one of the mountain that surrounded us. We had already done half of the climb during the morning. We had encountered on our way where the local boys did their laundry. Climbing half way was hard enough as i had with me water, hat, nepali pants, camera, so for the afternoon, i decided i would not bring anything at all.
I pondered whether it was a good idea for me to climb a steep rocky mountain with a boy who rock climbs, and another who is strong and tall. i am small, and i know nothing of mountains. They told me I should come for as long as i could. So even though that was probably not the wisest idea I did.

I tried to ask locals if it was safe to climb a mountain that seemed to be a pile of rocks waiting to desconstuct any second. The smiled and nodded probably not fully understanding what we meant by it. And so only three of our group of five decided to go. We re did the walk to the " laundry" place and then we started the hardest climb. I am not strong but I am flexible and I have a lot of balance because of all the years of yoga I also carry on my back. I squatted and basically for the whole entire time I crawled the mountain like a spider. It was tricky to chose the right stones, not all of them were really stable. it was a process of continuously balancing, of continuously spreading weight evenly, without a question it allowed me to reach the deepest stage of meditation i ever have. i was fully aware of every muscle, of every breath, any wrong movement meant potentially falling. Retrospectively thinking it was quite dangerous. I did however not do it for the adrenalin, i did not even feel it, i was calm and just going. The first part of the mountain was easy as the rocks were bigger, but the higher we climbed it became more and more loose stones and dirt. At some point we reached some kind of grave yard where laid dozens of carcasses of animals. Usually it would have disturbed me, there it did not, life and death were one and the same. i looked at it. the bones, the carcasses, i looked at it deeply, and kept going. There were some parts i could not have made it without Toby an Paul. It probably meant i should have stopped there as the climb down from these points onward would prove to be challenging. We reached a place were we could comfortably seat. For the first time i looked back and i was impressed. People looked so small, the patches of green as well, and i was astonished by the beauty. The village laid in the middle of several mountains, we could see the Hindus river, the fields, and the blue skies. I wondered which of these mountains separated us from Pakistan, and I was dazzled at realising that km, or time separated us from it. It seemed so arbitrary.
We still went further, but once even the looking like strong stones seemed to be loosing up in our hands, once it became more and more avalanche like of sand and rocks Paul and I decided we had reached our level. Toby was sad he had not ropes, he still tried a bit more, but being a rock climber himself he realised it was stupid and dangerous to do so. So we sat and just enjoyed it. In one more place I meditated. I thanked them for taking me with them. They told me they were impressed with my courage and strength... So was I. If going up was difficult, going down was petrifying. I did not want to be taken up by fear. So I embraced my mortality, my fears, and decided that I respected the mountain, that i was thankful, but that if I arrived safe back down I would never go beyond my limits. I decided as well that I had no regrets. I have lived a good life. From the moment I laid in hospital years ago without knowing what I had in my brain, without knowing whether I could do this all. Whether i d be trapped by a disease. From that moment on I went in a frantic search. There in the mountain I decided I have lived a good life, and were it to end it right there I felt nothing but thankfulness to everything, to myself. It was not that I wanted to die. not at all, it was this awareness that I want to live, but life and death are one and the same and we must embrace it. And so i started my climb down with all the respect i could possibly have for the mountain, for life, and for death. As I reached the bottom of the mountain I realised I was emptied of it all. And so at night when the cloth could not fully cover the light that emanates from the sky. So at night when the milky way and every single star looked back at me I realise I had seen them before and most of their beauty lied in recognition. I realised I could go on traveling more, and see more and more of the world. But if everything could be contained in that one village, because everything is in fact contained in one atom, or quark or i don't know what I did not need anymore to search for meaning all over. Even before I turn 30 I realise I could go on for a bit longer but then I want to stop. Then I will make one place my own and search beauty and meaning daily in the familiar things. That is undoubtedly the greatest journey.


Saturday, 20 August 2011

The River

To leave my whole life in the UK I took almost all of the Piccadilly line to the airport. As I entered the tube (metro) almost in the end of one end of the line to arrive to almost at the end of the other side there was enough room to seat and spread my things around. I took the line mostly in silence. Haiko sat next to me and in my head I apologized for all that I felt I should. In my head I wished him all the joy in the world. As slowly it was downing on me that that was it: it was the end of a phase I had tears that gently washed my face. I really needed that ride. We both did. We were proud of it. The ride was long and it was so in mist of my silent prayers and thoughts that i fell asleep. I slept only to be gently awakened by a lady who asked me whether i could let her older husband have a seat. I was so removed from the whole reality that i had not noticed that the tube had become completely full. I stood up and insisted that they both sat. When there was finally room again in the tube I sat next to her. She looked at my big backpack and asked whether i was going to the airport. I confirmed it, and as she looked south Asian, I did something I usually do not do (out of fear of choosing the wrong nationality). i asked her whether she was from India. She nodded, smiled and said " Is that where you are going to? " It was not so much of a question but more of an affirmation. I smiled and said that I was going to Ladakh". She looked deeply into my eyes, she had dark dark eyes and suddenly said " You are lucky. i have always wanted to go there. I have traveled the world but I still have not arrived in Ladakh. You must go to Man Sabor Lake, it is now in China. I am happy for you. Only those called by god arrive there. You are lucky, and I am happy for you. " She had woken me up, woken me up from my concerns of where would I go now and she was now giving me a path I though. I looked in her eyes and I said she did not understand how much it meant for me for her to say that. She just smiled and said she knew. People around were a bit shocked byt the whole interaction. It was trully strange. Haiko who is an atheist was impressed. She hug me and wish me luck. " Jules, it is like the Universe talks to you. That was incredibly strange." Having Haiko tell me this comforted me even more. " I guess it is true I will be fine. There will be people there, I will be there for others as well.

Today I received a couch surfing message from someone who is in Leh and read my profile. " In case you decide to visit Leh I ll show you around" . I wrote back immediately telling him I was in Leh. My phone does not work here, I dont use a watch, I never have a plan so fixing a meeting seemed so distant. It seemed like something you do in the west. So I did not put much effort on it. Instead I walked with my friends to organise our Nubra Valley trip. As I was walking on the street, I heard someone call my name. I found it strange after all I do not know anyone who drives here. "Jules, it is me from couch surfing. Come I ll show you around." I go. I apologise for my poor ability to fix a meeting. He tells me it does not matter. His uncle owns the most important hotel in town. He starts to tell me all of the projects his family does. they are all modernisation projects. Not even 24 hours earlier I had seen a documentary on Ladakhi culture.

Ladakh is a desert mountain region. Most people are buddhists but there are also muslims and some Hindus here. According to Ladakhi main scholar Ladakhi traditional life style is based on buddhist philosophy. "Everything come into existence through interdependence and relationship". In traditional Ladakhi life style 95%of people own their land. they farm. They collective tend for all animals, and for the land. There is not rubbish, and even though they have an incredibly harsh environment with harsh winters they are able to live and maintain themselves. The documentary focused on how modernisation has been disastrous for the region. it was a classic anthropological critic, it showed the pollution of the area, the rubbish, the disruption of social cohesion, the deligitimazation of local culture, and how much more vulnerable they become when changing into a money economy.

I hear my new friend speak. His plan is to create a factory to produce oxygen. How would it run I ask? On diesel, he explains. I tell him about the documentary and ask his opinion. He, not surprisingly has a very different point of view. He tells me he lived most of his life in Nepal." i was important there, close to the royal family..but then the maoist came. the day the king returns i ll go back." I say nothing. i ask him what he thought of the inequality. " There wasn't any. What have the Maoist done?" I am curiously listening it all.
This conversations takes places in sandy mountains. Every now and then I see a stopa. a horse, and of course mountains. Occasionally there are green patches, mostly it is desert. It is Afghanistan to me. Rocks and rocks. The air dries my nose. How can people survive here? It is a true testimony to human ingenuity. He is polite. I hear his thoughts. I do not agree with his developmental view but I am thankful to hear his thoughts. He stops the car. We are now in a complex with Buddhist colorful flags. it is by a river. I walk towards the river. the sun is unforgiven. It is hot as it never is. I kneel down close to the river and touch the water. I feel it refreshed my hand. As I am in silence listening to the humming of the river my new friend suddenly says: " This water carries too much history. it ends in Pakistan." "Where does it come from" I aks " From a sacred lake in Tibet, it is called Man Sabor".

The Mountain

From the small touristic village of Leh you can always see around you
mountains, some are brown, some are spiked with snow. They surround
you in a strange way. They surround you but you do not feel captive,
instead you feel protected. From wherever you are in the village you
can see in the mountains the Gompa, the tStopa and the Palace. They
seat there powerfully making me feel in Tibet. They look like the
constructions I had seen in films or pictures of Llasa.

We were advised not to climb there in the first two days. We should
first acclimatise to the altitude. So during the first day we ventured
through the streets, the shops, and alleys. 2 out of our 3 German
friends decided to sleep. Olly who is 24 decided to follow us. A
Brazilian and a Israeli woman overwhelm anyone, but specially young
German boys. It took me the whole day to find out that Olli had never
flown out of Europe before. He had never left Germany, Austria and
Denmark. I could not even begin to imagine how it was for such a young
and sensitive boy to land from the saxon-scandinavian world in Delhi.
He did not want to waste a single second. He was dazzled, amazed by
all that, all that that even I having been in so many places am
overwhelmed by.

We all felt intermittently sick. Nothing too bad, just the occasional
reminder that we were used to more oxygen. Whenever these reminders
came i drank coffee, water, salt, and in my own invented potion i felt
better. So much better in fact that we decided to climb the mountain
the following day. I am no trekker, I have no experience in any of
this but I wanted to go. I am not very sure why. It was not that I
wanted to reach the Palace, I just went without much thinking about
it. And so the 5 of us: the three German Tobias, Paul and Olli, and
Liron (Israel) and I started our path. First through the city, than
through the alleys, than through the stairs, until we eventually
reached the palace inthe middle of the mountain. We climbed every
stair we looked at every single view. We were not really trying to
arrive anywhere we were just going and seeing. There was no one in a
hurry, no one who needed to arrive anywhere. We took every view, every
step, every breath. amd word with care.

Inside of the old palace, of old walls, and small doors, with almost
anything inside without any signs we naturally made our way to a
temple. I removed my shoes, went in and I sat in front of the Buddha.
I closed my eyes and had a short meditation. It was nothing dramatic
just a sense of emptiness. We climbed every stair till we reached the
roof. From there we saw the village, the mountain and there in the
distance all the way up in the mountain laid the white and red
constructions of the Gompa.

We went down, the Palace and started our walk towards the Gompa like
mountain goats. We went up in zig zag, climbing slowly the sandy,
arid, dried, rocky mountain. I breathed slowly, deeply, it was for me
a walking meditation, one step at the time, not really concerned with
arriving, I just walked. I walked in silence, as the lack of air and
the place naturally make you do so. One step at the time. It was in th
end not a difficult climb. We took our time. The time of within. So
when I reached thr big Buddha I did not even know I would encounter
inside of the temple I sat down and close my eyes. I meditated, I
prayed, I stood in silence. tears shed through my face. they were not
sad. They were not happy. It was just water.

And then we climbed even more and we sat under the nepali/tibetan
colourful flags. The sun was warm, the wind made them fly over us. I
took a few steps towards the edge of the mountain and alone I sat down
looking at it all. All I could say was thank you. I repeated the word
first in my mind, than slowly they started to come out of my mouth.
My vocal chords vibrated thankfulness. Looking at the mountain I could
not do anything but to repeat several times "thank you". I felt so
much gratitude, and love, and joy. And i wanted to share it with the
world. I wanted to thank the hardship, the difficulties, that which i
did not want that made me have to keep going. I wanted to thank it
all. I thought of all people I love and it overwhelmed me to see how
lucky I am to love so many, to love so much. I felt gratitude for my
travelling companions. For their courage to leave the safety of
Germany, the world they know and suddenly also close their eyes and
meditate. We stood there, and every person we encountered became a
friend. They became someone we shared sometihng special with. We
laid on top of the mountain under the flags looking at the blue sunny
sky and we knew we were forever connected by this. And there I finally
understood that sometimes we need to take time, fight less, struggle
less trust in the path. 7 years ago I became very good friends with
Andrew, an English man who was studying religious studies in Holland.
As the total atheist that I was I condescendingly looked at him and
said "are u a believer?" He hesitated for a second then said " I
guess I am a believer trapped in the body of an atheist" to what I
responded after short consideration " I guess I am an atheist trapped
in the body of a believer". Yesterday as I sat looking at those
mountains. As the air rarefied itself, as I thanked, and thanked and
thanked I finally freed the atheist from my body into the universe, I
realized that I do not want to have a "Ivan" relationship with the
world. In Dostoyevski terms I choose the relationship with the self of

Leh, Ladakh, Iindia

It looked like a gigantic beach full of enormous sand castles. So dry, what I imagined to be Afganistan. Every now and then I could spot a green clearing in the middle of the majestic mountains. So brown, so arid, so devoid of emotion I thought. Something like a relief after the muddy streets in Delhi, the exaggeration of emotions. Maybe I ll dislike it and go back to Delhi, were Manu, my friend bid me farewell in the middle of the night. Maybe is time for me to hear the call of the Mekong. But as soon as the plane landed, as soon as the chilly air hit my face, as soon as i felt the imponence of the mountains, recognised the familiar tibetan and nepali faces my heart filled with joy and all the pain, all the sickness seemed to also depend on higher levels of oxygen to be able to be felt here.
Within seconds I was found by my new Israeli friend. It took seconds for her to find me, like this randomly, she asked me a question and now we share room, trip, stories, and excitement for it all. Like me she has no plans she needs to be nowhere but within. We walked the gorgeous Tibetan like alleys and rejoiced at every traditionally dressed Tibetan woman we saw, at every colourful Pashmina, at every conversation we had with Nepalis, Tibetans, "Kashmirans". We visited the Israeli centre, the Muslim Tibetan who sells a bit of it all, we strolled the streets with newly found german friends. As we sat around a table to have coffee and I spoke of my love for the Israelis and the Palestinians I know I rejoiced at thinking that Germans and Israeli share now the same table.

It all takes time is what Leh seems to be gently murmuring to me. Some things are just slow we need have patience but never loose faith. The most magical moment of my first day in this lovely place was to enter the enchanted music shop of this village. A young boy lets us in in the minuscule cubicle where laid dozens of different instruments. I played a guitar, he took a Kalimba, then a flute, then a clarinet, then an instruments I had never seen. he taught me to blow the clarinet I failed miserably at it. He told me he would play for us the most magical instrument that existed. i expected an Indian citar, or an unknown nepali or Tibetan instrument. To my enormous surprise he played the Didgeridoo.

Most instruments were built by his father. As he blew this Indian made Didgeridoo I thought I were in a fairy tale where a beautiful young boy could make music of all that he touched. We were all fascinated. We were enchantedely kept in this little room that contained music and people of the world. "Music is life, without it we are nothing" he explained. I smiled remembering how for the Nambiquara the flutes are religion itself. What connects us with whatever it is that we connect. In this magic place I felt like this...connected to people through time, through culture, through the creation of these instruments. Connected to some kind of mysterious force in the land of Ladakh in the silence of the morning, in the music of the water, in the mixture of these estrange and yet familiar shop. And now I must go and disconnect because here being connected through the internet seems profane, here the connections must be of the archaic type.

Around the World, Delhi

Delhi 15/08/11

I planned to leave Delhi as soon as I arrived. Every single part of my body made itself present within hours. My soul ached of a pain probably as old as the Vedic texts. I wanted to run away, go to Thailand float in the comfort of the Mekong. India did not let me. India is like this it speaks to you, it screams, it pushes and compresses you and it is better for you to listen fast what it is saying. In fact, it is better for you to understand that she will turn you inside out and it is you who must heal your own wounds.
How could I have not remembered it? I had been here before. I had however but a vague memory of the sensorial overdoses. I had but a vague memory of how it is that India crushes you only to later gently hum, softly talk, mesmerise.

I did not plan to stay here in Delhi but I made friends. And with them I ended up doing things that were not in my plans at all.
I did for instance, spend a night in a club. I danced and danced and danced and when I was absolutely exhausted I decided to rest in the bathroom of the place. I stood there in silence looking at the Delhi's club's bathroom routine. in fact, it was not so different from anywhere else in the world. There are girls who come in to share secrets, girls who put make up on, they use the bathroom, and there are of course also the ones who come because they feel sick. I stood there in the corner just looking, when suddenly a young girl came in. She looked terribly shaken. She immediately took the first available toilet, and as she went in a friend came after her. she took a while. the friend knocked on the door. she did not answer. The friend stood still.She waited. I waited too. I wondered whether she was ok. She came out looking awful, she did not answer any of the hindi questions posed to her. She sometimes would venture to start speaking but she could not. She would point her own throat. I could feel her words had either dried up, or were to wet to come out.

 I looked at her without pretending not to be looking. And after about 10 minutes of silence I asked her whether she was ok. I knew fully well that was not alcohol wrongdoing that was pain as old as time itself. She still took a long time to say anything. I kept looking at her. Kindly, expressing my support. A few minutes later I repeated my question looking deeply into her eyes " are you ok?". Her friend, who turned out to be her sister, remained silent. The girl broke out " My boyfriend just told me I am not good enough for him, and left with another girl and left me here in this club." I wanted to hug her. I wanted to magically take her pain away. I smiled and told her" you will be fine. Do not let anyone undermine your self esteem. He screwed up badly. We all do. Forget it. I know you will not believe me now. But it will pass. Time will heal it. Feel whatever it is that you have to feel, but then after let it go." she looked at me, not very convinced. " I am not like other grils. i speak too much, I am not beautiful like my sister. He left me because he wants a normal girl."

I told her all that I could, I told her about my own life, my ow departure. I just wanted her to know that she was quite special, and she would be fine. She smiled and asked me how old I was. "29" I said. "See I am only 18". I wanted to hug her, I wanted to tell her that pain like this when you are 18 is more painful. It feels like alcohol in a cut. After, with time, the wounds still ache, they throb but it is in a more controllable and familiar way, instead I just smiled, reached her shoulder and held her. She hugged me and broke out in tears. I let her overflow, and in her tears I healed my own wounds. It was a bit like in the legend of Kairos. We were both there in the bathroom of a club supporting each other. Linked by anything but our humanity, our weaknesses and strength.

She dried up her tears, and suddenly said " I am thankful you were in my path. You already did too much for me, but can I ask you one more thing?" I nodded. "Can you dance with me , I want to feel some joy". I smiled, and said that I thought there was no better idea than that. We walked out and in the middle of a club in Delhi. In the middle of Shiks, Hindus, Muslims, foreigners I danced with a 18 year old broken hearted girl our pain away. And there I knew in my whole body, that the struggles would not disappear but I was now thankful and able to deal with them. There I remembered that pain is as