I had the great pleasure of going to Mexico for my very first time this Christmas. The trip was lovely full of hot weather, warm swims, motor boat rides, Mexican moon shine, scorpions, whales, yummy food, walks in the jungle, family and a handful of unexpected friends that I ran into. I diffidently couldn’t ask for much more…
Back in the Jungle…
I’m so excited im going to N.Y.C. next Wednesday for the first time in five years!! My best friend and pretty much brother/gay husband Lyell Rose was sweet enough to buy me a plan ticket to come along with him. I can only imagine all the fun we are going to have!! Of course all of this reminded me of the last time I was in that amazing city and I thought I would share some photos from the trip. Hope you enjoy.
My brother has been traveling around India since January and has sent out a long email of his time for the past few months. I have shared his past emails on here and some photos. I hope you guys enjoy it!
Hello fam and friends
Be forewarned that this email is going to be on the very disjointed side of things. It is the culmination of a few different attempts to write an email that are months apart from each other. I have been meaning to write an email for a very long time but have been unable to make it happen due to the voluptuous volume of work, fun and play which luckily for me have all combined into a single entity. I am writing a travel daily journal which has taken precedence over my email writing. I have written a small paper journal book and have typed over 150 pages of my trip so far and I am still 4 weeks behind. I have been trying to catch up and write a few hours a day but still end up falling further behind. So much has transpired since my last email that I will be reduced to summarizing the events. I am no historian and my recollection of events won’t have the fine toothed comb that I would like to have applied to all that has passed. It is impossible to translate my feelings into words especially when some of the events have long since passed. There is a lot more to a life lived then a life written or a life read. Having said that I will try and shed light and due justice to all that has passed so we can have a life lived a life written and a life read.
My time volunteering at the Hope Project continued to be an absolutely amazing experience. I was able to achieve a very high level of simple yet complete happiness and contentness. Most of you will probably be shocked to hear that I spent most the day smiling. Who would’ve thought old too cool for school himself would be brimming ear to ear for the better part of the day. With the exception of the odd class not going as good as I had hoped I was positively satisfied and content with my life. Up to the point where I didn’t really want to leave and trade it for the paradise beach experience that was waiting. I learned from my students to just enjoy life. They don’t have much in their lives but they certainly know how to smile and have fun. One can’t help but be impressed and inspired by how they live their lives. They possess so much personality. So cheeky and full of life with such a special energy and a genuine sweet innocence. They are so much more outgoing than the stereotype of Muslim girls or any other group of people that I’ve ever met. I really felt that I was able to forge a special relationship with them and have a special fondness for all of the students.
My teaching once again expanded like the population trend of India and increased 3 fold to depending on the day 7-9 classes. My new classes were with the Girls Non Formal School which in a lot of ways is the main part of the Hope Project (I was teaching support classes before students who come from other schools for extra classes) This meant that I found myself teaching an additional 2 more English classes and 2 Math classes. (Who would’ve thought that I would be a math teacher?) Luckily I did always know my times tables well. (There is no system for numbers in Hindi 1-100 are all different numbers with no reoccurring pattern thankfully all the students know the English numbers).
It really was special experience to be the only male in a classroom full of girls. The majority of the students come from conservative Muslim families so school is probably the only place and chance where they really get to express themselves. Where they are free to just be. I realized this early on and decided that them getting to be themselves is just as important if not more important than learning anything from my actual teaching. Sometimes when they were talking and having fun I just joined in and shared their jokes with them. I tried to bring myself to their level and encouraged them to treat me as one of them. I talked to a lot of my students about their lives and everyday routines. This is an example of an average day of one of my evening class students a 12 year old girl. She wakes up at 5am to pray, study, eat and go to school from 8-3. She than goes home and eats and goes to school from 4-7:30 than goes home and does chores studies, eats and watches some T.V and goes to bed. School is Mon-Sat in India. Despite all that school and work she comes to my class happy and full of energy. If she and some of my other classmates are having fun I’m gonna let them have some fun. They certainly deserve it.
I was lucky enough to accompany 35 of the students on a trip to the Taj Mahal. I was once again the only male that went and I couldn’t imagine a better way to have seen the Taj Mahal. Being able to see it with all of them for the first time was a real special experience. I took pictures for alot of them and was able to get them developed and give the pictures to them before I left. Needless to say they were very happy and grateful for the pictures.
I also started to teach a class in a slum outside of where the school is every Tuesday. This was another amazing experience. I taught with the help of one of the other volunteers about 35 students in a small room that was equipped with nothing but the floor and the student’s notebooks or copy books as they call them. A challenging situation proved to be a fun one. They were young and had so much energy excitement and fun to them all of which was very easily contagious. My last class ended with one of the most amazing feelings that I’ve ever experienced. We did a very simple. I am, you are, he/she/it is, they are, we are exercise. We choose happy as our word to use at the end of each sentence. Our class normally follows a pattern of 40 or so minutes of work and 20 or so minutes of fun. For the fun part I beatboxed and we sort of jumped up and down and danced. Towards the end as we were getting ready to leave the students started to yell I’m happy while I beatboxed and they jumped up and down smiling. They ended up following me to the van repeating the phase repeatedly. It was a very powerful and amazing experience one that I will never ever forget.
By far without a doubt the most joy I’ve gotten from teaching was when I teach little kids and they hand me their books to correct. When all is right I write V.Good!!! The look that the kids give after I do this is such an amazing experience. They look at you with such pure unparalleled happiness it’s incredible. Words can’t describe the look or feeling.
I have been to 4 weddings during my time in India and all of them have been action packed and eventful. The first one I went to there was over 700 people. The food was amazing. The women were dressed with so much colour and bling that I was left liking I may have discovered a glimpse of the kind of afterlife I want. There is a very special energy and style of celebration in Indian weddings. It is an important event and everyone goes beyond all out.
I left Delhi and the Hope Project in the Middle of March when I caught a 35 hour train Chennai in the South of India. After arriving I promptly caught a flight to Port Blair the main island of the Andaman Islands. From there I caught a ferry to Havelock a much smaller island than Port Blair but the most developed as far as the beach jungle islands go. I was in the Andamans for almost 3 weeks. My days consisted of staying in a bungalow on the beach waking up and strolling down to the water for a morning swim to properly wake up. I spent a lot of time chilling on the beach, writing, swimming, some snorkeling, lying in hammocks, riding bicycles, and eating fresh ridiculously good fish twice a day. On a clear night the stars were absolutely unbelievable they filled every inch of the sky, There were also a few days of pretty strong storms. The island itself was a mixture of pristine beach and water and jungle that resembled Jurassic Park.
Highlights of the Andaman’s included being there for Holi which is a very fun Indian holiday involving colored powder and dye. (pictures on facebook) The Holiday was celebrated on a small scale due to the size of the island but there was great spirit and energy in the way it was celebrated. Basically you throw and rub powder on anyone and everyone. Any vehicle that tries to pass is promptly stopped by a blockade until the vehicle driver and passengers are powdered. I was also on the Islands when India won the cricket world cup which is an extremely momentous event. The people of India are more passionate about cricket than any sort of sporting event I have ever seen in my life. Every ally or spare space is filled with a cricket game. The semi-final game of India and Pakistan was watched by more than a billion people. The celebration of them winning was conducted in much the same spirit as Holi which is to say not to overwhelming but filled with happiness and spirit. The last time they won the world cup was in 1982.
The other main highlight besides the routine of day to day living involved going on some improvised jungle hikes. Me and a friend bought a machete and blazed our own trail through the jungle. On our first hike we were instantly rewarded by finding a mango plantation. The mangoes were the best I have ever tasted and I wasted no time eating an obscene amount of mangoes in a very short period of time. I was basically double fisting them into my mouth creating a beard coated with Mango juice in the process. We soon continued on and found another batch of Mango trees with 100’s of Mangoes on the ground(the same chain reaction and eating process occurred). We continued up until we reached the top of the jungle. On our return we found the best banana’s I have ever eaten. I once again ate a completely ridiculous amount of bananas. As we were heading down the last bit of the trail we saw a King Cobra in the open that was about 9 feet. We carefully observed it for a few minutes before walking off slowly in the diagonal direction.
From the Andaman’s I took a flight back to Chennai. I had no desire to spend any time in Chennai I found the place very unappealing. I had a friend in Bangalore (Fritz for those of you in the know) so I jumped on an 8 hour or so overnight train. Fritz had quite a nice set up in Bangalore and I wasted no time taking advantage of his ever present generosity. I got a little too comfortable in Bangalore the combination of having a friend that I previously knew, hot water & water pressure, a comfortable bed, wi-fi, extremely pleasant weather, AC, cable, and an easy free place to stay was an appealing one. Bangalore had a very Western feel to it. The high street of the upscale area I was staying in was filled with brand names and lacked personality. I felt as If I could be in any city in the world(besides the cows walking in the street and the endless supplies of tuk-tuk’s) The Indian people that I met in Bangalore were also much more Western. They all talked perfect English, most of them drank, and most of them had similar cultural views to the west when it came to a lot of things. I once again felt as if I could have been anywhere in the world. Because of Fritz I was able to develop a pretty good network of friends. Every Wednesday there would be a big couch surfing member meet up at a bar which normally led to good times. Other than that I wrote a lot while I was in Bangalore and helped Fritz with some of the writing on an App that he is developing called Mr.Awesome.
I used Fritz’s house and Bangalore as a base to explore the surrounding area. With the company of Fritz we took a 8 hour overnight train followed by a 3 hour bus to a hill top station essentially mountain top area called Kodakanal (pictures on facebook) We rented a little house type thing high up on the mountain. We had an unbelievable view and the weather was absolutely crazy. At one point we had an endless supply of clouds rolling through the balcony door into our house. This was followed by a power cut which left us feeling as if we were in a horror movie. At one point it also rained a tremendous amount only on the backside of our roof. Besides relaxing and enjoying all the scenery the main highlight was a long one day hike that we went on. The hike took us down the mountain stopping in a coffee plantation village in the process. There was also a religious ceremony that was going on that was quite interesting. We stopped and played some improvised golf with some of the local children. I naturally assumed they were playing cricket from a distance and was shocked when I came closer and they were playing golf with a stick that was perfectly shaped as a golf club. The ball was a crystal type rock. The hike ended with monkeys and waterfalls. The drive back to our house had some of the most amazing views I have ever seen before a storm started and made for some interesting driving conditions.
From Kodakanal it was back to Bangalore for a bit. My next trip was a solo excursion to Goa a famous beach touristy area normally associated with beach parties. I had a free place to stay due to one of the board members of the hope project I was teaching at having a house there. I didn’t really like my time in Goa. The main tourist season was over the place was filled with Russian tourists and Indian tourists which are two groups of people that I haven’t found a strong way to relate to yet. It was also unbelievably hot and humid to almost unbearable conditions.
From Goa it was back to Bangalore via a 12 hour bus. I once again stayed in Bangalore for a bit before taking an 8 hour or so bus to Hampi. Hampi is an amazing place filled with lots and lots of really old ruins. There are crazy rocks everywhere a river and ruins. I spent the two days in weather of 100* riding a bicycle around and checking out all the ruins. I saw two amazing sunsets. The first one was at the top of a Monkey temple you have to clime like 1500 stairs on the side of a cliff to get there. Once you are there you are obviously high up and have tremendous views of the surrounding area. The second night I climbed to the top of a very large rock hill and watched the sunset with the main ruins as the background. I still need to sort through all my photos and put them on Facebook.
From Hampi it was back to Bangalore on an overnight bus for less than a day. A group of the friends I met in Bangalore and myself hired a van and a driver for the weekend and made a party van drive to a place called Pondicherry about 8 hours away. There were 8 of us in a pretty small van so the ride despite the party atmosphere was uncomfortable. Pondicherry is a part of India that used to be inhabited by the French. The architecture of the town is noticeable different that the rest of India that I have seen. The weather was once again unbearably hot. After eating a fancy meal we decided to drive another few hours to a beach. We got to the beach late at night and partied it up the ocean was perfect for swimming after a long day of driving and parting.
The next day we drove to a place called Auroville. It is known as some kind of international utopian community that was set up by “the mother” the co-head of a really famous Ashram that was started in Pondicherry. We got lunch at a nice restaurant after which I said adieu to my friends as they headed back to Bangalore and I stayed in Auroville. The departure of my friends for all intents and purposes ended any and all of my partying and socializing in India. I stayed in Auroville for a few days. I again opted for bicycle as my preferred mode of transportation. The heat continued to be inescapable more days of sweating all day and night. Auroville was very interesting. It reminded me of a very exaggerated and successful version of the spiritual community that I was born into and grew up around. There were communal meals in a solar kitchen, there were free shops for members only. Money wasn’t used in any of the shops. The center of Auroville is a giant Golden Dome in a park with Banyan trees. Needless to say due to the color I was a fan from the get go. I was able to get a pass to go inside the Golden Orb. The experience left me feeling like I was very much in a futuristic Sci-Fi movie. The inside was made of all white marble and white carpet. We were given socks and lead up a large marble spiral staircase until we made it to the top of the orb. We were than led to a room that had giant white marble pillars. In the center of the room there was a giant crystal ball. There was a small hole in the roof that allowed sunlight to come in and through the crystal ball creating a laser like appearance. Needless to say the place had a very mystical feel to it that was only enhanced by the 20 minutes of silent meditation. After the meditation we went underneath the golden orb to a white lotus marble pond. The light from the crystal at the top of the dome came out and exited in the middle of the pond. It went through the whole dome.
After Auroville I went back to Pondicherry where I spent a few days staying in an Ashram guesthouse. I spent most of the days walking around the town. I went to an elephant Hindu temple where I got blessed by an elephant. Other than that I went to a few meditations at an Ashram. The other main interesting thing about Pondicherry is that it is home to a large amount of Christian churches. The churches were very interesting and decorated in more of a Hindu style as far as figures of Jesus go. The building had a very different feel to them than any other Christian churches that I’ve been to. I also saw the best Graffiti I’ve seen in India.
From Pondicherry I caught a local bus for 4 hours back to Chennai. I got to Chennai took another bus to the train station and bought a ticket back to Delhi for that night. I spent the rest of the day walking around before getting on the train for another 35 hours. I got back to Delhi where the heat was even more intense. Since I was in a slum like area there were flies galore waiting to swarm on you as soon as you stopped moving. I met up with my Volunteer friends and went to a small wedding where I eat more that I could comfortably move with. In the night I ended up getting very sick. I spent the next day laying in a sweat drenched bed. I was still feeling sick the next day but felt a strong desire to leave. The Project didn’t really need my help as the school holidays were approaching.
After leaving Delhi my travels have adapted and undertaken a spiritual tone to them.
I caught a 10 hour train after delays to Rishikesh. Rishikesh in known as the Yoga capital of the world and because of the Ganga River there are lots of Baba’s (holy men that have longs beards and wear orange sheet type clothes) It also has many ashrams and meditations. There are two suspension bridges in Rishikesh. They are narrow and crowded barely able to have traffic going in both directions if people are walking to the best of their ability. Unfortunately this never happened there was always a combination of people stopping to take pictures, motor bikes, cows, dogs, monkeys, and sometimes people without legs pushing themselves along the ground with their hands. I was still off and on sick wise in Rishikesh and ended up staying 10days there. I had a very mixed time in Rishikesh. The highlights were going in/blessing myself in the extremely cold and refreshing Ganga River every day. I also broke into an Ashram that the Beatles used to go to. The Ashram has since closed due to some forest land permits and ownership of the land issues. The Ashram was amazing there were trees growing all around and in it. The buildings were decorated and designed in a really cool manor. I also went into a small hut on the bank of the river that was home to one of the Baba’s. They made me tea as I watched 5 of them smoke lots of hash out of a chillum. At one point the main Baba grabbed a sword pulled out and stretched his penis wrapped it around the sword twice twisted the sword around 360degrees and put it behind his legs before sitting down again. An interesting experience to say the least. There was a really cool sunset meditation done by one of the Ashrams every night on the Ganga River. The meditation consisted of a ceremony with a bit of fire and singing. I also went to a good mediation and there was some amazing street food.
And for the not so good parts of being in Rishikesh. I was sick for some of it which led to me being homesick and tired of traveling for the first time. There were constant power cuts and no power for about 24 hours which made the heat even hotter especially when one tried to sleep at night. I made friends with an Indian guy on the bus who ended up following me around and was the epitome of many of the Indian stereotypes that I can’t stand. Very weird, creepy, obsessive, and rude when it came to Western women. He would play loud music on his phone all the time and would take videos of absolutely everything. He was also very argumenitive and aggressive. The only real downside and bad experience I had in Rishikesh was when I went to a waterfall and got my camera and phone stolen. I put my shorts down for a second and some people emptied the pockets. I had only had nothing but good experiences with Indian people and didn’t thing my belongings were in danger but I was obviously wrong with very shitty consequences.
After Risikesh I caught a 7 hour overnight train to Amritsar with some Isreali friends that I made. Amritsar is home to the Golden Temple the most holy place for Sheiks in the world. Sheiks are the Indians that wear Turbans on their heads. The temple was absolutely amazing. Every Sheik is expected to volunteer there for a week in their life. There is a dorm that tourists can stay at for free. The Sheik religion has a warrior aspect to it so lots of people would walk around with daggers. Sheik temples also give out some sort of free food to people whither you’re a Sheik or not. The Golden temple has a kitchen made up of Volunteers that was open 24hours a day. They serve 80,000 meals of Dal, chapatti, something else everday!!! I decided to sleep on the ground inside and around the Golden Temple. I got to go into the actual golden part of the Temple at about 2:30am after a small special ceremony. It was a really cool experience I was the only tourist. After that I decided to sleep outside of it near the pools of water. There was music playing and lots of Indian people sleeping. I was in the middle of an amazing sleep when I suddenly woke up at about 5am and saw lots of water coming towards me. I quickly looked around and saw that there was nobody else around me I quickly grabbed my blanket and moved before the water came. There was some kind of cleaning ritual that was going on with the water. Lots of people than got into the pool of water. (Larson my Flip-Flops got stolen outside the temple)
I was only in Amritsar for 2days and 1night. The only other notable thing that I did was go to the Indian, Pakistan border. They have some kind of end of day closing ceremony good hearted battle type thing that was pretty bizarre lots of soldiers and marching with some super high stepping. From Amritsar I caught a local bus for 7 hours to Dharmasala in the Mountains. Dharmasala is the exile home of H.H. The Dali Lama and a very large Tibetan community. I sat outside of a building that the Dali Lama gave a lecture at. I listened to the translation of his speech with quite a few people. I saw him walk the red carpet and leave the place. It was a very celebrity like set up. Lots of pictures and flash bulbs going off as he struggled to walk to his waiting Subaru car. Still a pretty neat experience to see him in person. A few days after that I went to an amazing 10day silent meditation and Buddhist philosophy course. The teaching was absolutely top notch and the meditation was an amazing experience. One that I hope to build on. Meditating gave me a new perspective on a lot of things and in some ways I think I learned how to concentrate for the first time. After meditating my handwriting would dramatically improve to a fairly legible level I found myself staring at some of the writing in disbelief of how normal and neat it looked. I didn’t dare try drawling.
I had little time to properly digest and reflect all that I experienced and went through in my meditation. 2 days later I caught an 8 hour overnight bus to Manali a town at the foothills of the Himalayas that arrived at 3:45am. I had arranged to meet my friend and fellow Hope Project Volunteer there. We had decided to go to Kashmir and Leh and to do some Treking/hiking. Little did I know that he had already planned a 7day long hike through the Himalayas. We spent the day buying supplies for the trip before getting up at 2:45 am to catch the bus at 4am. We got to the bus and it was completely crowded so we had to stand for majority of the 10hour bus ride. The condition of the roads was horrendous and we got stuck in a 3 hour traffic jam that had absolutely everything starting with 500 goats and sheep in the middle of the road. We finally got to a place called Kelong where we caught another bus to a place called Darcha. I lost my wallet on the bus. In Darcha we slept in a garage. The next day we set off on our monumental 7 day that turned into 10day hike to a Buddhist Monastery that was 100’s of years old maybe up to 500 and was built into the side of the mountain. The trek was absolutely amazing a definite once in a life time experience. I plan on trying to write a short story 40 or so pages about it. I could call it a bit of a pilgrimage if I want to follow the spiritual theme. I’ll save all the details about the hike for my story but it was incredible and had a bit of everything in it.
When the hike finally ended we ended up in a small mountain town for 3 days waiting to catch a bus to Leh. We were finally able to catch 15 hour bus at 4am to another town that we stayed in before catching another 10hour bus again at 4am to Leh. The roads were unbelievably beautiful but as rough as they get. We could only stay in Leh for 2 days because we had fallen a few days behind schedule. We took a different route back to Kelong yet another 15hour + bus ride over the world’s highest and arguably most scenic filled splendidness road. The roads once again made for a ride that resembled a shaky amusement ride more than a normal drive. We stayed in Kelong for the night got up at 4am and took a 9.5 hour bus back to Manali. We arrived in Manali at around 2pm. We spent the day going to hot springs, eating, and shopping. In the evening we caught a 15hour overnight bus back to Delhi.
That brings u more or less up to date with all my travels and tribulations although without nearly as much detail and insight as they deserve. There is so much that I’ve left out and areas that I could expand on for days. But I figure the sooner I get any sort of email out the better. At least I’ll be able to start anew on my next email.
Sadly I have to leave India on Monday July 11th. I’m gonna spend the rest of the time saying my goodbyes to the Hope Project. I can’t really imagine leaving India. I’ve done so much but I’ve probably only seen about 20% of the amazing country. There is so much to see and do. One could devote a lifetime to traveling India and still not see it all. On the 11th I fly to Bangkok where I plan on going to the Full Moon beach party with 20,000 people on the 17th. After that I plan on flying to Burma/Myanmar on around the 20th for 2 weeks. I will than return to Bangkok and go to Vietnam for a month. After that I am gonna fly to Nepal and meet my dad there at the beginning 1/3 of Sept. I plan on staying in Nepal for a few months. It would be beyond dope if any of you wanted to try and meet up in any of these places. Other than that it would be great to hear from all of you. I plan on being away from America until at least January so in all likelihood it will be quite some time before I see any of you again.
Lots of Love Emon
My brother is still traveling around India and although I havent gotten a detailed email from him for some time of his travels he put some amazing photos up online that I wanted to share with you all on here. It all looks so exotic and beautiful, lucky man. These photos are of his time at the beachand his treks through the jungles where he came across a king cobra..
I thought a sufficient amount of both time and events have taken place to warrant another installment from yours truly. The days have started to accumulate and pass me by at such an accelerated rate that I find myself counting time or more accurately noticing time by weeks instead of days. The quickly passing days have left me feeling stuck between two different time worlds. On one hand everyday seems to be shorter than the previous one. My days are full and I’ve more or less developed and settled into a daily routine. My life here has much more of a living here feeling to it than a visiting or vacation feel. On the other hand I have grown so accustom to being here and the lifestyle that comes with it that I can scarcely remember what my life is like in different conditions. If I was to go back to my every day pre India life I think I would be in for quite a culture shock.
Things have progressed here at a good rate. About as good as I could have hoped for or expected. (although hoped for and expected are two pretty loose words as far as meaning goes here. You can only expect the unexpected) I feel more like myself here than any other place I have been traveling wise. I would go so far as to say I feel more like myself then I did during my recent time in Seattle where I didn’t feel myself at all. (A classic example of impatience and waiting for time to pass so you can do the thing that you want to do) My adaption is almost compete I have even almost mastered the skill of eating all meals with my hands and gotten used to being called Sir all day by all my students. Since my last email my work load has followed the population trend of India and increased rapidly.
I now teach 5 English classes. Every day brings both changes and challenges to my teaching world. I have the unique opportunity to teach English to a group of Imams. (Imams are essentially Koran teachers) The Hope Project has had a bit of shall we say delicate and tense relationship with some of the members of the Muslim community over the years. The fact that they are coming to the project for computer classes and English lesions is a positive and big step for the project and hopefully some of the more conservative members of the community. The group is interesting to teach and they all have very warm personalities but I find it harder to find material to relate to them then I do with my other classes. (There is only so many ways I can use mosque in my examples) Part of this is because the group is older part of it is because I find it harder to teach things that connect to their daily lives. Another part is that most of them have had no schooling whatsoever.
The rest of my classes are for the most part going good. The use of the word good to start my last 2 of 3 paragraphs suggests to me that my language and writing skills are starting to feel the effects of me having to simplify my English vocabulary to a very basic form. I am enjoying my role as a teacher and when I do get my students to understand me it is a special feeling. Some things I do work and some things I do don’t. It is a continuous process of trying. As long as I have ideas I am happy to continue to try. It has been in interesting process teaching English. It has forced me to look at and examine English as a language in a way that I never have before. It is surprising how much of the language and it’s rules become ingrained into you to the point where you do it automatically and are unable to even explain basic rational or reason.
I have noticed that Indian students are very good at reading or copying and that style of learning but seem to struggle when it comes to creative independent thought. A lot of the time I will ask a question and they will all give me a programed answer that they no doubt have repeated for many years. I am trying to get them to express themselves more. I also have started to try and get them to ask me questions. If they only learn how to answer questions and never to ask questions they won’t have much in the way of a conversation.
Without a doubt the most exciting and monumentous event since my last email was a weekend long celebration or Urs of the death of Pir Hazrat Inayat Khan (The day he died instead of when he was born is celebrated) He was a Sufi poet and musician, who brought Sufism to the Western World in a more liberal form and in doing so more or less laid the ground work for me being born (Needless to say a very important person.) My Parents met through and I was born into the Sufi community that his son Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan was the head/founder of. Pir Vilayat was a mentor to my dad and is the founder of the project/school that I am part of. He had a combination of a powerful yet peaceful presence to him and a voice that only enhanced those traits. I will remember his voice from my childhood for long as I live.
The weekend long events were action packed to the point of overstimulation. They took place at the Dargah (place of burial) of Hazrat Inayat Khan. His Dargah is very close to the Hope Project. It was actually where the school for the Hope Project was before it moved to the current building that it is in. The space is very peaceful. There is a ledge that offers two very different views. There is the view of inside the Dargah complex. This offers the rarest of sights as far as the Basti goes. The first thing one notice’s is the calmness of open space. Open space and cleanliness. No trash. There is room for everything to breathe, to live, to just be. The next thing that one notices is healthy green grass probably the only place in the immediate surrounding area that can lay claim to this distinction. The view outside of the Dargah is one of restored order of life in the Basti. Kids running around everywhere, noises competing against each other for the attention of your ear, and the overwhelming combination of animals, dirt, and trash.
Because of teaching I missed most of the events on Friday (luckily for me there wasn’t much to miss on Friday) I was able to help myself to some delicious food. Saturdays events started early and in impressive form with a “Call to Divine” – A musical invocation, by for those of you in the Sufi Know Km, Karunamaiji. For those of you not in the Sufi know an older lady if one was to guess in her 70’s with an unbelievable voice quite the kick off. It’s hard to properly describe her voice and style. I wouldn’t really classify it as singing. We then walked as a group of 40ish to the Dargah of Hazrat Nizumuddin which I believe I informed you about in my last email. Since it is a famous site and holy site the Dargah was quite crowded. A Fateha (A Fateha is a ceremony of blessings and Qawwali (music)) then took place with several Sufi leaders most notably Pir Zia Inayat Khan the son of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan and grandson of Hazrat Inayat Khan and some Sufi leader from Afghanistan who was very sharply dressed. After the the Fateha we walked back to Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Dargah where there was more Qawwali followed by another delicious and free lunch.
After lunch there was a Universal Worship which was actually if truth be told disappointing certainly not the best one that I’ve seen. After tea it was back to the strong point of the celebrations music in the form of drum and flute recitals, Sitar recitals, and Dhrupad a kind of chanting/ singing over instruments. All the performances were exceptional.
Sunday started with a kids programed that contained many different performances. Some of the highlights included but were not limited to kids dressed as a train, some singing and dancing, little kids dressed and singing a song as the 5 different senses. All highly entertaining. Next on the menu was a Sufi Scholar Caravan. There were 3 different Sufi Pir’s in addition to professors of religion. The discussion was interesting and had to do with oneness and unity. A bit idealistic and simplistic but a good message nevertheless. After the Caravan there was lunch followed by a marathon session of impressive music that transcended normal musical boundaries. There was a music program by the Hazrat Inayat Khan Music Academy, A Vocal recital, Rudra Veena recital, Hindustani classical Suri music recital-dinner-Then Qwalli’s by Mohey Rang De- Amosaic of Bhajan & Qawwali and Mehfil-e-Sama.
The Urs celebration not only allowed me but encouraged me to get in touch with the roots of my childhood. I have noticed that the lifestyle I grew up in and around has had an inner effect on the person that I am. There were many people at the Urs who I recognized from different times, parts, and places from my life. Most of them blended together and I wasn’t able to tell where they were from only that I recognized them. I have noticed that I have some common bond when it comes to Sufi’s and Steiner students. I am not quite sure of the reasons why? I guess a simple answer would be that I spent an important and influential part of my life surrounded by both so I can easily identify and relate but I have a feeling that there is some deeper underlining connection. Perhaps it has something to do with my opinion that both of these groups of people tend to be more in-touch with their inner-selves.
I was able to capitalize off my O’Kane last name and meet many people who knew my parents and were fan’s/friends of my dad. I quickly found myself with a new family. I got an invitation to have some cold beers with An American Embassy worker, I got invited to stay at a house in Goa and a house in Kashmir (both of which I would like to do) I got an invitation to and went to a fancy dinner with some of the Hope Project Board members which was a luxurious and highly enjoyable affair. I met the former director of the Hope Project and have developed a nice friendship with her. She is local and knows a lot about Delhi and events that are going on.
The girl’s portion of the school had a science fair that capitalized on the presence of the Urs to create the maximum amount interest and visitors. The fair was had interesting range of different experiments and presentations. The most enjoyable part was the girls’s excitement as they explained their projects in Hindi. (most of the time there was a translation.) I had I’ll loosely use the word helped on one of the projects earlier and I was glad to see the finished product. A lot of the projects were centered around the theme of the environment. I wonder if it will actually have any impact on what the students do with their trash?
I found out that the area I live in has the 2nd most drug use in all of Delhi with the drug of choice being smack although it is not injected. This came as quite the surprise to me. I don’t have any of the feelings that I normally associate with an area of high drug use. I feel completely safe. There is no feeling of lingering violence in the air. I don’t feel the need to have a heightened sense of alertness. There is no feeling of desperation (not a drug induced desperation maybe a poor desperation but even then I don’t think desperation is the right word or feeling) or being surrounded by lost souls all of which I find as common occurrences in drug areas. I think that this serves as further evidence to the special will and remarkability of the people in the Basti. Their community can be struggling with drug use and I don’t even notice.
I was invited to attend a conference on issues for social change that was spearheaded by youthful people empowering themselves. The event was organized and sponsored by the project that the former director of the Hope Project is now a part of. The issues were diverse and offered information about projects ranging from education(schools in very remote villages that the people from the conference started and ran, Wildlife protection, red light district conditions, nomadic people, smoking, helping people who had been displaced from their slum houses by the Government ( the term displace translates to the government bulldozing their houses.) Interestingly but not surprisingly India faces many of the same problems that are present all over the world only on a much more severe scale. I left the event not feeling despondent about the state of India and the world but inspired by the experience of being surrounded by a roomful of young people (20-30) who have and are making real changes and differences in their environment and the lives of countless people. It always seems like such an insurmountable challenge to overcome and make any real difference in the world but these people are living examples that it is possible to start programs and initiate change.
Me and Kilian-one of the German volunteers have been thinking about organizing a fashion photoshoot for the students. He is a bit of a photographer and I think it would be a fun experience for everyone involved. I hope to make it interesting and to try and have different people dress as different events/themes but I don’t know if that will materialize. I don’t know how many different styles of clothes the students have. Women’s clothes are so colorful and interesting that something in the way of photographing them has to be done. I so far have refrained from wearing my intended outfit of all gold silk. Refrained might not be the most accurate word more like unable to attain my intended outfit of all gold silk. I haven’t tried too hard yet my few excursions into the market world or shopping districts have left me feeling confused and overwhelmed. I will no doubt step up my efforts in the coming weeks as I have a wedding to attend that I am excited about. Wedding are quite the social event and I hear the food is unbelievable.
After holding out for the first 3 weeks I finally succumbed to my first bout of sickness. I developed a cold in those first 3 weeks but succeeded at keeping a death like cough which inflicts it wrath on almost everyone I know at bay. I hear the air quality or lack thereof takes 10 years of a lifespan. It is a fact that I certainly believe. My cold eventually evolved to some sort of weird ear/ head pressure combination which was my only form of symptom until I woke up one morning with a very unhappy and loud stomach. I promptly went to the Doctor at the Hope Project and was given an Oral rehydration kit, and 4 different kinds of medicine that I was to take over the next 3 days. The grand total of which accumulated to a massive 50-60cents Not Too Shabby. I took the medicine and after 3 days I was a completely cured and rejuvenated man without even a lingering cold to show for me sickness.
As of writing this email I have only drunken 2 beers in the almost 4 weeks that I have been here. Drinking doesn’t really fit in to the life that I am living. My days are full laden with interest everywhere I go and everywhere I look. There is no boredom here and such energy in the air all of which combine to compensate for the social lubricant that drinking and the social aspect that goes along with it would normally fulfill.
The weather and the seasons seem to be changing. I can feel the hotness coming and I fear it. It is probably about mid 70’s right now but everyday it is getting hotter and I know it is just a matter of time before heat consumes every part of my life and day. Wither it is being unbelievably hot or spending all of my time thinking about how to avoid the heat and how to survive in the heat. In one of my classes I had my students discuss the pro’s and con’s of summer and winter and they all said that summer was too hot to do anything. If that’s the way they feel what’s a fair weathered and skinned boy such as myself gonna think?
I have decided that I have no plans to come back to America in the foreseeable future. So if any of you want to see me possibly for the rest of the year it is on you to come visit me. I have in my head at least (I am sure they will be re-revised many times in the future) revised my plan to the following. To stay, in India for the full 6 months of my tourist visa. There is so much to see and it is cheap, so I want to take full advantage of it and not feel rushed. This also allows me the possibility to come back to The Hope Project for some more Volunteering after I have traveled around. I can’t imagine leaving the project in 3 weeks and not coming back. The only reason I am leaving in mid-march is because the south of India becomes too hot to be habitable by the end of April.
Also, If I leave India to see Nepal and want to come back to India inside the period of my 6 month Visa. I have to be gone for 2 whole months before I can re-enter. The 6 months in India would take me to July. At that point I will travel somewhere for the rest of July, Aug, and at least part of Sept before going to Nepal at the middle or end of Sept. I hear Oct is the best time of year to visit there. Obviously many things can happen between now and then but this is my goal.
Hope all is good with all of you