Tuesday, April 24, 2012

We got some GOD up in here!

Religion is everywhere here.  All of India really, but especially here in Rishikesh.  The river is holy, the cows are holy, there is a different God for every day of the week. People are fanatically devoted, visiting their deities and temples, ceremonies happening everywhere, everyday, without fail.  Prayers, pujas, mantras, shrines, statues, temples... I cant even begin to describe the mass amounts of iconic religion all around.  The biggest souvenir is the prayer beads, available anywhere you turn your head.  I attended the 5am morning prayer session at my ashram a few days ago. It was a packed house!  So, as you can imagine, my own faith has been scooted up to the top of my current thinking-a-lot-about-this list. 
What is my faith? Hmmm... it’s ambivalent. My childhood was very much Christian.  We went to church, we prayed over our food, we didn’t say the lords name in vain, there was never a drop of alcohol in our house till we girls started sneaking it in as teenagers. I was in Sunday school, and missionettes, and always involved in the church plays.  I can vaguely remember one time having a really intense experience w/ God, where I was just overcome w/ ..somethinggg.  I dont remember much (that I was on the left side of the pews) but I recall it was wonderful.  I was never devout though, I know that for sure. I fully remember these two girls named Breanne Chapman and Joy Ringman (wow, i remember their last names even!), and I was jealous of their faith.  They just seemed so sure of it, where as I knew I didn’t have that. I suppose kind of like a third stringer. Watching all the action before me, technically on the team but never really off the bench. Time passed and boys and alcohol and rebellion happened.  Then (and now) I always did still have God (more my mom as time went by) in the back of my head, keeping me in check. College came and more craziness ensued. One thing about Miami I dearly love is the diversity... not only in ethnicity but religiously. Over the years I made lots of friends...  Jewish, Muslim, Atheist.  I’m not sure when, somewhere in the last five years, I realized that I wasn’t a big fan of having my own specific religion.  All these great friends I have, and they are all supposed to go to hell if they don’t accept JC into their hearts?  Heyyy noowww.... that’s just not right. 
So, I’ve been very content to explain myself as a spiritual person, believing in God, but not needing to claim a religion to do so.  I talk to the big man on occasion, but most of the time I just make wishes. All day long I make wishes actually. Wishes on stars, on 11:11, on dandelions, on pennies on the ground, on yellow lights, on necklace clasps in the front.... all of these are prayers if you’re religious, or simply wishes if you’re not. Then I had this revelation about the movie ”the Secret”.  Switch up the terminology, and in reality, the whole premise and millions of dollars spent and made...  and it is simply about a prayer with the God factor removed. Wow! You ‘send a thought out to the universe’, or you ‘send a prayer out to God’ or you ‘make a wish”. Same Same but different (a popular Indian saying:)!  Wow.. I wish to have an idea like that!!! 

I make wishes,  prayers, or thoughts to the universe everyday.  Same same.
Always colorful and bright for you and me and everyone alive :)

Yesterday I attended the Puja ceremony that celebrated and gives offerings to the Holy River Ganges.  It was a beautiful event, Singing, praying, fire traditions.  I always like to fully delve into whatever I’m involved in, so I was praying and smiling and really having happy, shanti shanti moments. I had my eyes closed a lot, but open a lot too, watching soooo many people fully just worshipping and intensely praying along.  I feel a bit like I’m 10 again, sitting on the bench, watching all the action and wishing I was getting in on it.  Maruti was there, explaining to me some of the songs and traditions. I love hearing about them and try to copy along when people raise their hands or bow or offer a namaste.  I only knew Namaste as a hello, catch-all type greeting, but Maruti tells me it means “I bow to the soul within you”.  Wow, I love that.   Right after we went into, by accident, a question and answer session with the main guru here, Swamiji.  We quietly sat in the back and listened to a beautiful answer about being one drop of water while at the same time being the ocean.  Then all these people were bowing to him and giving gifts and asking for blessings on their prayer beads.   It was all fun to play along but when i got up close and personal with it I really felt ‘unprepared’.  I was to meet with him this night because I trying to do some architectural work for them. The volunteer coordinator takes me to him.  He’s sitting there and I touch my head to the floor like she does and then we sit around him. He’s looking at me and asks how long I will stay and there’s some translation going on and I’m on the verge of sweat, nervous I’m going to say the wrong thing or talk too loud or stare too long. I felt sooooo.... out of place.  My mind started tripping here and Im like, he’s just a guy.  Thank goodness for Maruti. He, Swamiji, is just a guy... but a really good guy who people look up to.... thanking “the soul within him” moreso than the body that we see.  That helps.
We leave, and I have to admit I was SO happy to have Maruti with me.  He’s got this peaceful nature, and like the girls from church 20 years ago, seems so happy and secure in his faith.  Only one full day of hanging together but I feel comfy to divulge my present state. I express that I feel either lost or uncomfortable, not sure which.  We talk about religion some and then he’s asks what I want. I say, hmm, tell me a story.  He says (more/less) “there once was a girl named becky, who became an architect, and one day was beside the creek and found peace.”  
Amen! Such an incredibly simple tale (I think he was even teasing)... but I think he’s totally right.  I don’t need to search for anything or fit in here just because I'm here.  Soon I’ll be in Buddha country and won’t know what to do there either. I felt strange for a while because everything around me was new and I like to fit in and be good at things and I didn’t know what to do and it didn't feel natural. What I do know is that I believe in a God for sure (my late Great Grandpa Chuck I have to thank for that).  Whatever name or form that takes on for me or anyone is irrelevant.  Jesus Christ, Buddha, Lord Shiva, or just the majesty of mother earth.  I love to be surrounded by people that are true and honest. Swamiji wasn’t making me uncomfortable, I was (kindof like how I become shy when in front of a video camera).  What’s true and honest for me is that I'm not sure and that’s okay cuz I dont need to be sure about everything, just being happy is my thang! I believe that whatever you think makes you happy is good, regardless of the norm or if you think it should or shouldn't ... so if having or not having religion makes you happy then thats fantastic and I’m more than happy to feel and be around your happiness wherever it comes from ;) haha. To each their own.   
If one day I have some intense (or maybe minor) experience that makes me want to became a hindu or a jew or an agnostic... I’ll embrace it as need be. Going with the flow!  For now, I’m content with feeling like my God lives in the mountains and waterfalls and creeks... and I for sure need more of that!!   It’s time for some Himalayas folks!!! 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Shanti Shanti

That means peace, rest, calmness, tranquility, or bliss in Sanskrit. It has similiar meanings in Bengali and in Hindi:) .  We used it quite a bit in Kolkata for “just chill” and here in the chantings, the most common being “Om, shanti, shanti, shantiiiii”... I feel like its the way of life here too.. just peaceful.  Im back up in Rishikesh, where Robyn and I came the first of March (here’s that blog). We both really liked it and I knew I wanted to come back. So I’m here, almost two weeks already, being shanti shanti :) 

So perfectly appropriate for India

The majority of the days have been sooooo chill.... not-a-thing-in-the-world-could-bother-me type of days (i have to say most and not all cuz one day I was mmassssively frustrated by hours and hours on the phone with customer service-- think Dell hell! hahah I had to ground myself to my room after that and literally “peace out” ).  I sit. I people watch. I walk. I look for, or just let circumstances happen. They always do :)  It’s crazy easy to meet people here, just randomly walking on the street, the person on the same bench, or a lot of the time in cafes. Many are set up as one big area, seating open on the floor with pillows everywhere. No bars here (recall alchohol is prohibited, and enforced! I tried to find a bootleg bottle of vino one night --no go!), and places close at around 10, so nobody can wait till the wee hours of the morn for liquid courage, just gotta strike up a convo if you want to make pals ;). I like this.  I’ve met so many interesting people and have been more than busy, hence 13 days for a new blog :/. 
Not that Im interested, ewww, but did you know Bud has a non-alcoholic beer??! 

Since I’ve been in India, I’ve really not been traveling solo.  I was with my lovely Robyn first, then w/ Danny, Hemley and pals, so this has been the first real “alone” I’ve been. Oddly enough, I’ve been the most social here because of meeting so many neat people. I guess it's not so odd because you're more approachable solo and I too chat w/ others more. One thing I love the most about traveling is the people. Travelers and Indians alike, typically have either a realllly interesting story or a really neat perspective. There’s Lena, the kind, motherly massage therapist with her 20+ years her elder boyfriend, Isham- ex awesome at everything turned spiritual endorphine seeker. Swami Ken the big white bearded guru with a decent world following and a killer sense of small chat!  Heath the hottie surfer, traveling going on a year, the ultimate in shake face and card tricks :). Danielle, the cali girl with an open-hearted spirit, and ever opening mind; Abrao, the Brazilian but Indian at heart, sadly heading home; Sandeep the simple yet incredibly complex Sadhu; Anika the blissed out yoga girl; Manish the wannabe model/watch-out ladies man; Vicky the sweetheart Indian, loyal, kind, intuitive soul; and Maruti, my pea in the pod, an Irish American turned yogi with incredddible storiesl!  Each one of them has a unique look, talk, body language.  They are all just “a person sitting at another table”, with their own interesting history and stories to tell.  Same as everyone I pass.  Any old babu on the road could be an enlightened guru with loads of wisdom to share. Any kid, woman, man with a healing touch or maybe just one little story that can shiver my spine!  I feel like I’m walking around in one of those undercover shows, where everyone around me holds some magic secret I need to know... I just need to talk to them and find it!!!!  The trouble is just getting past the small chat to get at the heart of each, unfortunately having to narrow down to the ones that I really feel a connection with, while still keeping my individual time to nuture my own individual needs and creativity. Not as easy as it sounds! 

Danny from Isreal, Manish and Vicky from Varanasi, Danielle from Cali, and Heath from Coco Beach, FL! 

This babu seems to have the secret to relaxation :) 

One day a group of us, who met at a cafe in the pic above, rented motorcycles and drove to a hike and waterfall! Yes!!!! As soon as I saw the water, I couldn’t even fathom changing into my “swimsuit” (shorts and tshirt) so just ran in and started climbing up the rocks--- ohhhh my gosh it felt soooo good!!! There were little caves up along the way and the water was really almost like rainfall it was so spread out, and I was right next to two rainbows!!!!!! That was really cool! After, we went to an orphanage where a little kids fair was in full swing.  I tried rhododendron flower juice-- (which was awesome!), got a bollywood dance lesson (for adults, whew!), and Danielle and I got Bollywood makeup! Hottieesss :).  On a side note, Danielle just posted her blog and called me an “intense ball of energy”... so I suppose my shanti shanti is more inwardly happening than externally :) hahah
Me in my happy place :) 

Hhhhhaa Manish's model pose! Gotta admire his confidence ;) 
You can see the rainbow!!
The advertisement said, "Dare to be Beautiful" Bollywood makeup, $1 :)

My fav day has def been the day in nature (surprise!), out in the hills w/ Maruti.  We started at 7am, spent 8 hours traipsing off thru the mountains, along the creeks, up into the highest elevations of the rishikesh mountains.  We spend a good bit of the time completely off trail, “using the original google maps... our intuition” (good one M!) We (he) made a shrine, made videos, sat in waterfalls, posed on fallen limbs, climbed trees, and shared lots of stories--- of which his are increddddible!!! He’s on the fence about writing them into a book-- YES I SAY! I’ll promote :).   This experience and the waterfall again are drilling into my brain that I for sure will settle up in the mountains :) ahhhh, looking forward to that :)
Meet Maruti aka Dennis.  He knew about this trail because he came here a few days before and built this shrine.   He's been here in India (and all over) on a spiritual journey for 4+ years.  He's got incredible stores.  He's pretty much awesome!!

Hot day + cold water= fabulous! 

One of our many awesome views back to the town.  We had the best day! I see a great future friendship for Maruti and I ! 

Everyday consists of at least one yoga class, mostly two.  That shit is powerful! I’m getting very comfy in it and feeling very strong... and bonus, getting some new sweet poses for great photo ops no doubt!!!  At first I was a bit impatient... most of these classes start with at least 1/2 hour of breathing, or simple simple movements like twisting your wrists.  US classes are never like that... we go straight to the “good stuff”.  Ironically, as I’ve realized the benefits and calmness that comes with these exercises, I kick myself (can actaully do that!) for not accepting it sooner!  That’s the thing about india...  Patience training is in full swing everywhere!  2hr wait for a 3 min doctor consulation... (same in US really...You’d think someone could come up w/ a better system :/).  Twenty minutes for a bottle of water? 2 hours for a veggie burger? 2 days for internet service? No Indian seems to mind.  I’m def conditioned for instant gratification coming from the US!  
Utilizing one of my new poses :) 

With all these different groups of people, my days have been full:  Meditating, Temple visiting, off trail climbing, tea breaks, motorcycle rides, secret caves, puja ceremonies (in this case blessing to the holy Ganga River) and lots of cafe time :) We’ve went to the beach, played cards, games, and had a ridiculously hilarious time playing “shake face” (see fb photos to join in the LOL :).  And even in my down time, all sorts of little things happen that make up every magical day (like getting my ears deep-cleaned on the street!!).    

Me and this dude, sharing a moment :) 

At each event (or non event), everything seems so significant I want to write each detail, but 13 days later when I try to sum it up it gets tough! I need more blogs! How is it that I have nothing I have to do but I still need more time in each day?? Geez louise :) Since Im way too behind to detail all the awesomenesses, I think I’ll just write about some interesting observations from here:

1. Everything I’ve learned about eating right goes out the window in India. In US: Avoid packaged/processed foods. Don’t have too many carbs. Eat tons of fruits and veggies, raw being best.  Here is totally opposite! Nothing raw because you don’t know where it’s been, what’s touched it, or with what water it’s been washed. Hmmm... I guess no sushi ;) I was more brave before, but fighting my stomach issues (almost well now, had my first solid poooo in 3 weeks!!) I’m listening to the advice now. Only things that have been cooked are okay to eat. Every meal is 90% carbs, and, it’s better to just eat something you’re sure about...like packaged goods. I’ve taken quite a few liberties with this... I could get used to eating cookies for dinner :) Yummmm 

2. A man’s sexual desire is universal; here, there, or anywhere. Repression is def not the way to go, India. You can tell a man that sex/women/pleasure is bad... but he’s still gonna want it. It’s just natural! The mass majority of men are very respectful, but I’ve had FIVE “hey now” encounters here.  An unprofessional massage(that i paid for!), a sketchy yoga- aka “watch my ass” - lesson (that I left after 3 poses), a surprise va-j-j tap while I was mediating (whoa! from a Sadhu no less!) a dude on the beach just sitting and watching (waiting for my dress to fly up), and even the nurse when I went for stomach issues rubbed waaaay too low!  I can’t say I blame them for trying. There is the general notion that Western women are “easy”.  In general, we’re much more talkative, open to invitations, looking for a unique experience.  Im so guilty of that (being talkative, not easy!), and I suppose in a repressed country, where the native women hardly even acknowledge a man unless they are married, white skin is seen as an invitation to try. I suppose similar to me assuming every latin man is passionate and every black man well packed :) haha.   I haven’t felt nervous or scared for my safely, just a bit shocked or perturbed. I can deal w/ that; in fact, where are the balls on guys I’m actually attracted too? Wink wink!

3. Multitasking is overrated.  One thing Im really liking about India... you don’t see people doing so much mindless multi tasking- like that which has become americas image:  Walking and talking on the phone.  Walking and eating. Walking and talking and smoking and drinking starbucks! hah.  Here, you do what you are doing, you’re present in each thing you do; awareness!  Why not kill two birds with one stone though? When I drive, talk, and eat I’m being efficient, right? Technically, yesssss....  I am the queen of multitasking; it’s easy, its convenient... but is it good?  Am I in the moment? Why always in a rush?  Here, You walk when you walk, simply stated. If I paid more attention to my body when I was walking, maybe I’d feeling my feet and achilles a bit sore, I could walk more on my toes which feels better.  Just eat when you eat?  I’m alwayyys thinking of something else when I eat....sometimes scarfing a whole meal down in an instant, not even tasting anything, and being way overfull after. What was the point? I needed the calories. Well that sucks (and probably why I got a few extra pounds!)  And, most importantly when you talk, you really listen.  I love to talk and do others things... but am i really listening?  Part of my attention is diverted for sure. What is more important at that moment than the person you are talking to? Nothing (unless it’s a sales call) :)  For sure in the future I’ll have to eat my lunch on the go or talk and drive, but it’s good to be reminded how important being in the present moment is, and Im making a conscious effort to think about what Im doing, not always what Im doing next. 

4. Beautiful is always around, some places just harder to see.  One morning I was standing looking out at the field and flowers from my ashram's yoga hall.  It's a beautiful site, obvious they are trying to make an oasis here.  If I compare it to the gardens at Versailles it could hardly be considered noteworthy.  But why compare?  I am here now, and this is beautiful.  Why ever compare?  That’s one thing that gets us in trouble. With relationships, with material things, with our situation... not appreciating what we have because you’ve seen something else “better.”  

The beautiful garden next to the Yoga hall at Parmarth Niketan Ashram :) 
To go even deeper with that thought... why even stress about your surroundings?  Isn’t it all about your inner beauty? Yes it is!  Incredible as India is, the truth of the matter is the place is dirrry dirty- everything is: Roads, animals, seats, walls, doors, water.  The nicest restaurant here is still dirtier than a hole in the wall pub in US.  But you get used to it, and it begins to be less important.  When everywhere is coated w/ a cloud of dirt or dissarray, where do you find the beauty? Inside.  I’ve met soooo many people that are just... good.  The real beauty is in the simple kindnesses.  One day I was in a shop, and the owner starts turning me and calling to his wife.  I’ve got a hole on the top of my shirt I didnt even realize, and he’s so excited to fix it for me. He mentions its good karma for him to repair it (or his wife at least :) Yes it is indeed :).  Another day I asked someone where the ATM was, and they proceeded to give me a ride to it!  I needed new medicine and the doctor hand delivered it!  The fact that every Indian I’ve befriended has made sure to let me know I can call on them if I ever need anything...and knowing they are truly sincere. These little things are the real beauty of India :) 

Getting sewing up in a random little shop :)  ...Where I also had great business idea.
Everything happens for a reason!

Yes yes yes, somebody's got the idea! :)  ...and how courteous of this monkey to
stay put long enough for me to snap the pic :)

A beautiful Puja ceremony, with fire routine, music, offerings to the Holy River Ganges.
Multiple of these happen every single night at different spots along the river! 
India is awesome. It just gets better everyday. In just a few days it will be 2 months I've been here already! Ohhh the woa’s of deciding to stay or go! Your guess as good as mine... we’ll see which way the wind blows tomorrow :) 

Friday, April 13, 2012

111, cricket, kids, famousness ...and a bad haircut :)

Today it’s rainy rainy (Friday the 13th!) and I think it’s a great gift to me, an excuse to stay inside and write .....and recuperate!  India is trying it’s darndest to test out my immune system! This last week I’ve been suffering from a cold and scratchy throat, an ear infection, a sore achilles tendon, an infected cut on my toe, and the perpetual stomach acheI I finally went to the doctor for a stool test yesterday... come to find out I not only have E.coli, but some scary ameobas! No wonder Im hurting! I think this rainy day of rest (and yoga) is good!

I find it a little humorous that the week after I turn 30 I have all these issues-- haha! Getting old? Naaa...I suppose it’s balancing out all the amazingness of the week, which was my birthday trip, my first cricket game, a few heartwarming days with the kids of the Charity, and my acting debut! Do they give Oscar nominations for the 'extra' performances? They should ;) 
First, my birthday!  Which, randomly happened to be the 111th day of my travels (If you’ve seen my travel photo albums on facebook, you know I’ve been labeling them by the day).  I find this to be an amazzzzzing omen!!!!  Maybe it’s doesn’t seem so exciting, but it is to me because I love any kind of sign that I can form into something good, and so day 111 (similar to 11:11, a make-a-wish type #) I think is a symbol of fulfilled wishes to come :)  Yesssirrreee! 

How cute is that? Thanks pals :)
This fantastic day started at 5:30am, early morning being my very favorite time of day. 

Good morning April 2, 2012!

It was all facilitated by Santosh (the most pure of genuine kind hearts) who took me for a sunrise bike ride, a sampling of different indian breakfast foods, and a funky drink (orange fanta with milk) that reminded me of my dad (awww- peach italian sodas he used to make for us girls at home), and one of the most powerful meditations I’ve had.  Why so powerful? Because I was sitting on top of a tank (yes, like a war tank). 

Forever I will remember (and draw from) this bday meditation

It sits as a statue in the cricket fields, and Santosh planted this seed in my head of ‘rising above the turmoil’.  So I sat there in lotus position, a symbol of peace, on top of a symbol of war, and squeezed all the advantages out of this 'peace rising over war' metaphor. My life (and yours) will be full of ups and downs for sure, but always rise above it. Top it. Sit on it. Stand your ground on it.  A truly inspiring moment :)

I got to climb a tree too... bday bonus :)
That set the tone for the rest of the day. We met up w/ the rest of the crew and opted for the local route (over renting a car) which consisted of a taxi to a train to a bike wagon to a boat to another bike cart.  It took about 6 hours to get there and could hardly be described as luxury travel, but I loved it.  We sat face to face on the train and all got to know each other (an Austrian, an Isreali and a South Indian were joining us for the first time). We got jiggled to death on the bike wagons, Vkaaz played guitar and we sang and cheered. We enjoyed the greenery scenery, and a glimpse into the rural life. And bless my pals, they brought me a birthday cake! We had to stop and eat it early on (so as not to melt) in the middle of one bridge, and ended with it all over us :). Who doesnt’ love a good cake fight?!   

A scene on the train.  This little girl wasn't feeling good, but the train was packed, so she laid across Kuttush and Maria's legs. Where else does that happen? Loved it :) 

Bike wagon adventure! Transportation method #2

Hhahahha..... love the expressions :) 

Happy Birthday to me :)

Transportation method #3... HOT boat, can you tell??!

Transportation method #4, the bike cart! Celebrating almost being there :)! 

By the time we arrived-- it was heaven just to flop onto the bed!! :) After a nap, we headed down to the river for a sunset mud bath, which attracted a mass crowd of locals wondering who all the crazy folk were throwing mud on each other :).   

Noam and mid-day, completely necessary, nap :) 

Time for a sunset dip!

Mud fight!!!

Literal interpretation of the term "dirty thirty" :) 
Another very special thing for me was making dinner. Almost always it’s the intimate experiences that I love. Santosh brought all this food to make momo’s (dumplings).  There was a very small, hot, natural kitchen with wood fire mud stove and single gas stove on the floor.  I was there helping in the kitchen w/ the hotel cook, Shathi.  She (like most) was so helpful and sweet.  We took turns putting in and flipping the momos, passing plates and utensils and communicating w/ hand signals :).  She says we are “bandhus” -friends :). Connection, connection, connection, I love connection!  

Group effort!

Making fried (we left the steamer on the train!) momo's!
Afterward, we (we as in the musically talented ones, me not included)  played music and sang up on the hotel roof.  I was pretty stoked the Vkaaz knew how to play Garth Brooks'  If Tomorrow Never Comes!  I love that song!   I made it till 11:15 and then had to pass out.   Def a birthday for the books :) 

The next day we went out for our safari.  It was a lot of lazing around the boat, looking out into the trees for the ever-elusive tiger! ... andddd guess what? we saw one!!!!  Everyone had been prepping me it was so rare, don’t get your hopes up, etc. etc. , but I just kept on with my “ we WILL see one”!!!  I suppose I know it was pure luck, but I like to credit it to the power of positive thinking!  After we saw it, we all had license to be relieved of searching, and so full relaxation and enjoying of the boating breeze ensued. At one point we all congregated towards the front, and bilingual speeches began. Toasts to the trip, good friends, and good times were given in Hindi, Nepali, Hebrew, German, Spanish, and English! That was pretty neat, love being shared via the eyes and tone of voice rather than the words. :)  The guitar came out, and intertwined loungin’ seemed the natural thing to do there in the hot sun.  This was another one those wonderful 'clarity moments' for me.  Laying on the bow of the boat with music, friends, satisfaction, sun... what not to be thankful for?  Just soaking it all in and loving the peaceful bliss :)

19, 25, 26, 29, 29, 30, 36, 60- friends and fun at all ages :) 

I was totally blissed out here :) 

My view, with the India flag above. India has done me well :) 

 Back to Kolkata, the end of my last week was a wonderful start to my new decade.

I got to go to my first cricket game ever!  It was supposed to start at 8pm, but a mass downpour (in which we got  completely saturated!!!!!) caused a delay.  56 thousand people there, all waiting to hear if the game will go on. Finally they announced it would be a 10:30 start time.  The game lasted until 12:45am, and all 56k people stayed the course-- WOW! I think I was more impressed with that than the game! What loyalty! I did enjoy the game... it was so fun, everyone stands up and cheers at every hit-- haha so fun :).  Plus the fact that they do it with no gloves makes it kind of more impressive than baseball!   (I have to say kind of as a fast pitch player myself :)

First Cricket game-- totally drenched and loving it!

56 thousand spectators! Wow! Go Kolkata Knight Riders!

India's colors just happen to be UM's! I feel like I'm at the Orange Bowl!!

Do you want my autograph? You should... cuz I’m, like, a famous actress now :) haa. One day I was skirted off with a handful of foreigners to be an extra in a Bollywood movie. They just so happened to need an american voice, so asked me if I could do a voice over for a character. Okaaayyy, if I must! The director and screen writer and assistant (fancy!) took me to another studio.  I sat, very officially, with the headset on, them in another room behind the glass, talking to me via the headset. I was shown “my scenes” where I tried my best to match the lines to the movement of the actress’ lips. My character had a few action scenes, and I had to get up and act it out in order to get my correct scream on... but then they informed me I needed to stay by the mic. hhaaa! So I stayed on my knees and pretended to pretend I was falling :)  The character’s name was Nicky (who was small and petit and I don’t think my voice matched at all, but hey, it’s all good!) and I had about 20 lines to voice over in 7-8 scenes....enough that they said my name will be in the credits! Swweeeet!!! hahah! And since I got paid ($40!) I think that makes it official.... I'm adding movie star to my repertoire :)  Look for Jole Jungole by Nitish Roy in October!!

The set of "Jole Jongole"... supposed to be a bit hit here!

The night club scene in which we were extras!!

My lines as "Nicky"!!!!

Director and screen writer! They said I did great for my first voiceover... I think they didn't have any other option :) 

I also had a traumatic haircut :(.  For my birthday present to myself, I decided to slurge and bought a shampoo, haircut, blowdry, mani-pedi and massage package for $6. Really splurged :)  It was really nice, the girls were wonderful and sweet, we had nice broken conversations, a zillion smiles. I actually tipped them $12 I liked them so much! The haircut was really my own fault. A combination of assumptions (indian women have long hair, they wont cut it short) and mis-communication, and the next thing you know 8” of my hair is on the floor!!! ohhhhhhhh myyyy gossshhh!  I tried to pretend as hard as I could that it was okay, but I’m transparent like glass... they could see I wasn’t happy and apologized profusely.  I felt terrible that I was making them feel terrible. We ate chocolate together to cheer up :). I look like a 30 year old lady... oh wait, I am. hahah.  I suppose I’ll get used to it... the good thing is I only use like 1/10th the amount of conditioner I used to! :)  

Noam's face better describes my haircut opinion!!! 

Pretty much every day I went to yoga.  Loving it. It's quite different than my US experience, in that they push you harder, lower, farther, more more moreeeee (rather than the general relax yoga). One morning I even went to a Yogathon! I didnt know what it was but caught a ride w/ some filmers of the event. Turns out we were supposed to do 108 sun salutations in a row over an hour...that was massively boring! So I snuck out and went to my real yoga class after :). The process in getting to the yoga studio everyday brought out something, reinforcing that I really do like routine and familiarity.  Everyday I walked to the metro, which I know leaves at 7:48am. I know it costs 4 rupees to Kalighat station, enter on the left but the exit is on the right, then I need 25 mins to walk there.  I’ve started to recognize people along the way and have small chat. If I'm late and want to catch a rickshaw, I know it’s only 6 rupees (not the 25 they try to charge me) and if I hand them a ten while we’re driving it means I know I need change and I can avoid the debate. This gives me good hope for future 'settling'. Change and excitement is good, but so is being “where everybody knows your name.”  :)

There were over 12 thousand people there at 6:30am! Whoa!

Another place everybody knows my name? Char number bridge! Its so great when I go there!  I was there everyday my last week except my movie day (cuz if was 12 hours, ugh!). One afternoon I went solo and played around with all the girls. We painted each others fingers and toes, danced, they taught me their little Indian songs/handshakes/dance moves.  :)

Supposed to be a volunteer meeting, but I was distracted :) 

Im seeing a pattern w/ kids in my lap :) 

Wonderful wonderful day w/ the girls :) 

They kept offering me food (and have done so many times) so finally I agreed. I knew this would be the case, them giving me way too much and me trying to say no and still getting more! It was plain white rice, potatoes with a simple (but delish) sauce, and an egg (which was sssccccarrry green color but I had to eat it!).  There were about 7 kids there, and I was wondering how often they eat just this simple meal :(.   Unfortunately, there are too many here to help everyone, and I’m sensitive about playing favorites (although I did use the food excuse to help this family), so I to remember the Charity is doing the deed, and it could be worse. Luckily we had the opportunity to let 38 of them (34 kids and 4 mothers) forget their daily struggles and enjoy a wonderful day at the Waterpark (haa, yup, my third time there!).
 We had told them they had to be ready by ten and they all had to have shoes on.  I was sooooo impacted by how they received this advice. When I arrived, everyone was dressed in their 'sunday’s best', hair cleaned and combed, girls with makeup and jewelry on, asking me to look at this, or look at that.  Earlier I'd had my doubts about spending the money on this rather than some necessities, but when I saw how excited and happy and what it was meaning for them, I realized it would always be a very special day... for me included :)

The little girl on my left was scared of the water, and the one on the right has TB, so very fragile. I carried the two of them quite a bit throughout the day.  Massssssively sore arms the next day! Best workout ever :) 

Smiles not to be forgotten :)

As my time came to an end, I must realllllly give some thanks for what an incredible time I had in Kolkata.  I ended up being there for 26 days when most guide books say a few is all you need. To Hemley Gonzalez, I owe the most.  He was the original reason I planned to go there, the founder of the Responsible Charity with which I got to have such a great experience and develop connections with the families under it’s wings. He fully invited me into his life, sharing all his friends and connections and knowledge with no reserves. He's well loved here, and for good reason, as evidenced by the pictures of him the families have hanging in their homes. I foresee many future collaborations between Hemley and I :). 
Santosh, in just short of a month, managed to do more for me than most people do for their best friends over years. Tours, school volunteering, a wedding, parties, talks, rides, translations, saving my butt, my bday tour..... and because I know some of you are wondering, NO, it wasn’t a physical thing!  His confidence and generosity was certainly attractive, but he’s mass in love w/ his girlfriend (the topic of many of our talks), and I don’t rock those boats :)  Thank you mi bandhu!!  
Kuttush and Mimi (and their momma!) had me over for multiple dinners and socials, they gifted me a birthday dress and a thoughtful going away present, and showed honest interest and inclusion to me. Anu took me to my first night out dancing in India-- and I had a blast! Everyone dances- love that! Priyanka's just a sweetheart and made such an effort to share love. Good people :0).  Many more interactions as well (including Danny coming to visit!) --- oohhhh I loved Kolkata!  That’s the kind of experience you have that makes you end up staying in a place. One where it just feels good and right.  Clean the city up and promise me no more bad food/water and I could live there... and maybe ban the incessant honking! ;) hehe

I love this! Momma Singh not really wanting in the pic :( hahah
Thanks Santosh, Kuttush, Mimi and Hemley!
I had switched hotels my last week (to $3/night!), and made some friends with whom I would sit and chat with each night.  The last night was the best, 2 Israelis' and I sat by the fish tank and talked life.  They can actually remember, from age 2, bombings of their neighborhood!  Wow. We took turns telling our stories, and when I told mine, I couldn’t help but smile on how I’ve been so lucky, so fortunate, so blessed.  What did I do to deserve it? There is surely some hard work and personal choices in there, but wow, we have no control over our sex, our gender, our nationality, our ethnicity, our family.   Our birth situations are given to us, and it’s up to us to make the best of them once we have the ability to do so.  I feel like I was given a fantastic start, and I capitalized on it too boot, so really it would be an injustice for me to not celebrate life and all that is in it with everything I have.  Here in India, it's all about Karma (maybe I was Martin Luther in my previous life) so it reinforces just being as good as you can be and sharing love and happiness. Okay, I can do that ;)