Saturday, March 31, 2012

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Sawadee kha from Chiang Mai!

This week I started my Massage Therapist training course.  So, for the last week, I've been learning Traditional Thai Massage.  Class itself is from 8:30-5pm Monday through Saturday.  I usually get up at 6:45 though because I've been teaching yoga to some of the other students before breakfast.  It's almost funny to me how quickly that happened.  I moved into a dormitory Saturday night with 4 other Japanese girls.  One of them saw my mat and asked if I do yoga.  I told her I did and was just trained as a teacher in Rishikesh.  Her eyes lit up and she asked if I would teach her.  I said sure, we'd start Monday morning.  Well word spread fast because by Monday morning, there were 3 other people wanting to join in.  Luckily, we managed to find an empty room at the school we can use, so every day from 7-8am, I teach yoga to a bunch of incredibly supportive and sweet Japanese girls (and one boy).  It's been great!  Here's a picture of my girls.



After daily classes we are free to do whatever, but most people just eat dinner and practice what they've learned that day.  At least, until the weekend.  Apparently, the tradition here is to go to dinner Saturday night and then go dancing after.  (Score!)  So Saturday night we went out to an area of town that is just lined with small pubs blasting music of every sort and variety - most of it, live and local bands.  There were a lot of people from the school, and most of us spent the evening enjoying the sound of a Thai reggae band.  It was awesome.  I never pictured myself dancing like crazy to reggae let alone an Asian reggae band, but they had a great sound, and the lead singer was excellent.  He was great at involving the crowd in performance, and when he started singing Santaria by Sublime, I couldn't help myself.  I ran up on stage and started singing it with him.

If teaching Japanese people how to dance to reggae is fun, singing it to them is flipping fantastic.  Everybody started cheering and screaming "Wooo Kansas!"  (The nickname the Spaniard of the group gave me).  When the song was over, I went to get some water to soothe my aching vocal chords (hey if you're going to sing you gotta give it your all right?).  As I'm taking my first swig off the bottle, one of the Romanian guys from the school looks at me in utter disbelief and says "What is this?"  I was confused by what he meant at first, but figured it out after he gestured to my drink.  I explained that I don't drink alcohol, but he was still quite skeptical.  Being aware that my flagrant singing and uninhibited dancing throughout the night were not doing me any favors in convincing him, I told him, "I've never needed it.  I unwind quite well on my own."  He still seemed shocked, but accepted my oxymoronic sobriety.  He even added that if I told him I were a virgin, he'd actually believe that as well (Is it strange to anybody else that he correlated the two so closely?).  Haha, well he may have believed me, but he was obviously still shocked by that too. 

The next day I planned on going to the ward here in Chiang Mai, but the building locator on my phone failed on me, so that didn't work out.  Instead, I wandered around the city for a while and went to another temple up in the mountains near Chiang Mai (it's interesting to me how many of these major temples are up in or on top of nearby mountains).  There were a lot of statues and a lot of gold, but the best part by far was the traditional dancing done by some of the local kids.  Here's a taste.

video


I wouldn't have minded more time to explore the area, but classes started Monday.  Thus, instead of wandering all around Chiang Mai, most of my time has been spent squeezing, twisting, and contorting other peoples flesh.  I've been learning a ton though, and I'm excited to utilize some of my newly acquired skill.  To all my friends back home though - beware.  My hands have actually gotten stronger and I'm not quite used to it, so I may hurt some people in the process.  Be massaged at your own risk.

Outside of class, I've been spending most of my evenings hunting for clothing.  You see, in my rush to get out of Delhi, I had to leave almost all of my clothes behind (they were at the cleaners).  Klara was kind enough to mail them to me, but a few days after doing so, the DHL dealer told her the package somehow increased in weight and would cost another $40 to send.  Klara called me and asked what I should do.  I told her to forget about my clothes and get her money back cuz the guy was obviously lying through his teeth.  This is probably my biggest problem with India.  There doesn't seem to be much discouragement on lying in general, but lying to tourists for the sake of squeezing more money out of them is almost encouraged.  I have a low tolerance for liars, so as inconvenient as it may be, this guy not getting paid was worth the sacrifice of me not getting my clothes.  Besides, he wanted to charge another $40 on top of the initial $80.  All of my clothes combined would only be worth about $100.  You do the math.

So Tuesday I went to the market with a couple of the other girls to hunt for clothes.  We ate Vietnamese food and I walked around looking for SOMETHING that would fit me.  I didn't have much luck at this one, but this market was a great example of the stark contrast between Thailand and India.  It was far more modern, clean, and organized than anything I've ever seen in India.  And in India, you have to be able to barter or you'll get taken.  Thai people are much nicer, but also much worse at negotiating.  I almost feel bad negotiating a lower price......lol almost.  But the best thing about the market is the food.  They have a ton of local vendors cooking everything from chicken nuggets to crickets.  The worst thing I've seen thus far is probably the cooked clots they serve in certain curries.  It's similar in concept to the black pudding I had in Scotland, minus any added flavors or oats.  Yes, that's right.  It's just clotted blood, cooked and cut up into cubes......blech.  I had a hard time stomaching that one.  But most of the food has been somewhere between 'quite good' and 'absolutely delicious.'  That reminds me though, I think I have a problem.

Hi, my name is Cherie, and I am a mango addict.  I realized this Wednesday as I went hunting for mangoes after class like a junkie looking for a fix.  I pandered to every shop nearby but either they didn't have them (lol or they didn't understand me).  To make matters worse, I saw mangoes EVERYWHERE.  They're in season and the tree's that fill people's back yards are stocked.  But fences separated me and that delicious fruit wherever I looked.  One did dangle right above my head on the path I was walking, but was just out of my reach.  Bah.  Finally, I resorted to visiting one of the locals I've become friends with.  Her name is P Kan and she's a tuk tuk driver that lives nearby and runs a shop out of her house.  She's an incredibly funny and sweet, with a bubbly yet sassy personality.  It was a long shot, but I asked her if she has just one mango in stock.  She shook her head apologetically, and then offered to let me borrow her motor bike to go to the market.  I thank her for the incredibly generous offer, but since I don't know how to drive one, have to turn it down. Feeling quite defeated, I head back toward my house.  I don't get too far before P Kan is calling after me though.  Turning around, I am greeted by her beaming smile and 2 beautiful mangoes.  She hands them to me, says she forgot she had a couple in her kitchen, refuses to let me pay her for them, and sends me on my way.  What a beautiful woman!

Upon my triumphant return to the house, I find out we also have a few mango trees in our backyard.  There wasn't anything ripe yet, so my journey wasn't really in vain, but I now that I know, I'll be checking those trees daily.  Mmmmmm mangoes.  I may have a problem, but I figure it's one I'm allowed to have as long as I'm here.  Part of me justifies it by telling myself it's better for me than cookies....lol but in reality there's probably more sugar in the mango than a cookie.  Haha and I may or may not have made cookies Friday night so that's probably irrelevant.

In my defense though, I made them for Yukari.  Yukari is one of my roommates and graduated from the course today.  I promised her last week that I would make my crack cookies (oatmeal, toffee, chocolate chip, coconut cookies).  Thanks to the amount of expats in Thailand, I did find all the ingredients, and even made a double batch.  But I soon realized I had a problem.  The only oven known to exist in the neighborhood doesn't actually work.

An oven...something I had taken for granted as existing in most homes.  Not so here in Chiang Mai.  It makes sense I guess.  It's already hot enough here, and Thai cooking is all done on an open flame.  Who would want something as costly and hot as an oven in their house?  Luckily, crack cookie dough is almost as good as crack cookies (sometimes better if you're in the mood), so I just rolled the dough up in to little balls and served them chilled at the communal dinner we threw for Yukari's last day of school.  Needless to say, with such a hodgepodge of people and culture, dinner itself was quite the production.  The appetizer - Japanese pizza.  The main course - Spanish omlette.  The dessert - American crack cookies.  Yum....

Oh, and to top the whole evening off, Julia (one of the French students) brought her Ecuadorian husband to dinner.  He's a great salsa dancer, and I actually got to dance some salsa with him.  Salsa dancing in Thailand...life is soooooo good.

Well that brings me up to last night.  This week we went to The Riverside for dinner on a catamaran.  There were 14 of us in total, so the majority of passengers were from our party.  I wish I could capture that memory in my mind forever.  Candle lit dinner, great ambiance, delicious food, and wonderful people all in a wonderful mood.  Even before leaving the dock, we saw a bunch of Chinese lanterns were released across the river and watching them float up up and away reminded me of the light ceremony in Tangled.  Just gorgeous.  Oh, and there is that high I experience from just being out on the water (another nice bonus). 

Despite overeating, we did go out dancing afterward.  14 people in a taxi is an experience I thought I left in India...I thought wrong.  We basically piled into the back of a truck, body to body, and went to the same dance halls as last week.  The variety in such a small area still impresses me.  I'm a little in love with one of the DJ's music selection at Zoe's so I spent most of my time there, but there was a rock band this week, a Golden oldies band, more reggae awesomeness, house music, and of course some more modern Top 40 kind of stuff.  I love the lack of pretentiousness in these clubs.  They played songs I haven't heard in years and mixed them in perfectly with the more recent hits.  If it's a good song, it gets played, no matter how outdated it may be.  I absolutely love it.

Well I think that brings us up to date.  I was going to give my final assessment on India, but this post is long enough already - so I'll save that for next week.  Till then....sawadee!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Extreme India

Well, that's it for India. Phase one is complete.

I've just spent the last week or so enjoying the vast extremes India has to offer.  After leaving Rishikesh, I took the train with Deepa and Klara to Ajmer to meet Deepa's family.  They are all wonderful people with good hearts and a lot of love to share.  Her mom was lovely and wow - what a cook!  And though I will always love being fed, I'm even more glad I got the chance to see that family dynamic.  I've been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out what makes India so special, and I think that's it.  They have an incredibly strong and yet somehow broad sense of what family is, as well as a natural way of showing affection toward their relatives.  It has been wonderful for me to have the chance to experience it.

So while in Ajmer, I finally got myself a saree.  It's beautiful and I can't wait to put it on display this coming Halloween.  We also went to a huge and very sacred Mosque in Ajmer and walked around the Muslim equivalent of the Holy of Holies.  We were told if we wished something upon the covered alter, it would be fulfilled.  Watching everyone move around this thing was probably more fascinating to me than the alter itself.  You could see the fervent nature of their prayers.  There was desperation, faith, and longing in their eyes.  The chaos that ensued from so many people seeking something, was cacophonous, and I was a little confused when Alook (Deepa's 'brother') asked us if we felt the peace he experienced inside.  Peace?  Amongst all that?  Perhaps I could have if I weren't so distracted by the yelling and shoving.  It made me grateful, once again, for modern-day temples.  But besides the craziness and unfamiliarity of everything in the mosque, it was fascinating to see the similarities between this mosque and the Judeaic temples I've learned about previously.  Simply fascinating.

After the Mosque we went to Pushkar with Deepa's other brother Ravi. It's a very small town up in the mountains near Ajmer and is home to the 'only' Brahman temple in the world. I say 'only' because there are others, but legend has it that Brahmas wife cursed him because he created a second wife while she was running late to Puja (sacred ceremony) and he needed a companion.  When she arrived and found him with his second wife, she cursed him that this temple would be the only place where people could worship him for all time. It's not a big temple, but it is built on a bluff that overseas the whole town and surrounding dessert. This is Pushkar - stunning right?


Oh, and before I forget.  Besides temples and scenery, Pushkar is also a great place to go camel back riding.  I can officially say I've ridden a camel, and I must say they are some funny creatures.  Here's mine taking a break - his name was Ram.  And yes, that's my water bottle under his head.  Apparently it makes a decent pillow.



After the camel ride we headed back to Ajmer where we caught a bus to Jaipur.  I wish I had taken a picture of the bus because there is no way to accurately describe what it looks like otherwise.  Lets just say, that between the vomit stains outside the window, the sticky film on everything, and the interesting odor that permeates most of India, I was in bad need of a shower by the time we reached Jaipur.  Thankfully, Deepa also had some friends find us a nice hotel in Jaipur, and shower we did.

The next morning, Ravi joined us again and we went all sorts of touristy on Jaipur.  We rented a taxi for the day (only about $30), and hit up all the major sites in the area.  We saw the Palace of the Winds, the British Museum, Amber fort, Jal Mahal (palace built on the water),  Jantar Mantar, and the Birla Mandir Temple.  Along the way we saw these charming fellows (pun intended).  Yuk.



Jantar Mantar was a very interesting place.  It was built to measure astrological bodies and even Deepa was fascinated at how advanced it all was for the time period it was built in.  Just goes to show that people can do anything well if they invest enough passion into it.  And India is passionate about their astrology.  This is Deepa and I with our statue (Scorpio).  Interesting fact - Deepa and I share a birthday!


Oh, and this is a picture of the GIANT sundial used to track everything.  Because I had already been yelled at for climbing where I wasn't supposed to be, Klara and I resorted to some more...original ways to pose.


To top our our day of tourism, we went shopping for Indian suits and shoes.  Lets just say, I did not leave empty handed.


At 6am the next morning, Klara and I said goodbye to Deepa and caught the train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.  Surprisingly, the train ride was probably one of the best experiences I've had in India.  We were unable to get tickets for the A/C car and the condition of the train was pretty similar to our bus to Jaipur.  It was interesting to see how alive the caste system is in Indian transportation.  I've known it's still a part of Indian culture because of some conversations I've had with Deepa.  Klara was even once asked what caste system she was in.  But seeing that amount of self segregation on such a large scale, such as you do on the train, is heart wrenching.

There's 4 classes of cars.  1st class AC, 2nd class AC, 2nd class non AC, 3rd class (non AC), and general seating.  Of course expense is the difference between them all, but we are only talking about a few rupees difference.  And having traveled now in a few of them, you can tell the people are the ones separating themselves.  For instance, the difference between 2nd class AC and non-AC is drastic, both in population and quality.  The AC car was full of mostly businessmen and wealthier families.  The non-AC car was 10X more dirty, and you could tell the people were much more impoverished.  With that poverty has apparently come with it a certain level isolation, because I've also noticed how many more stares I get from that population. 

So that morning, we rode 2nd class non-AC.  And while there were a lot of stares in my direction, we actually met some wonderful men.  They spoke very little English, but enough to get by.  Klara was sick, and I was pretty tired, but they made the 5 hour train ride much more fun than it would have been otherwise.  We sang songs for one another, got their life stories (as much as we could understand), and even showed them pictures of our 'husbands.'  They asked if we were married, and because I've learned months ago to always answer 'yes' to that question, they insisted on seeing pictures of both of our husbands.  Luckily, I had this random stalker picture of a guy from a party I went to right before I left Salt Lake.  I only took the picture because I thought he was uncommonly handsome and wanted proof that such a thing existed.  Little did I know how much help that picture would be to me later.  Serendipitous really.  Oh, and here's a video of them singing for us.  I'm telling you, these guys were a riot.


...............................
Needless to say, arriving in Agra was a big moment for me and Klara.  We had saved the Taj Mahal for last because - well it's the Taj Mahal.  After checking our bags into a dingy storage cell, we grabbed a taxi and were off.  I can honestly say, though all the hype and expectations, the Taj Mahal does not disappoint.  It is by far the most beautiful building I have ever seen in my life.  The fact that it was built for love is just a nice touch.  Klara and I spent a few hours just touring the grounds and taking pictures.  Every time I turned to look a the Taj it took my breath away.  Stunning.  Simply stunning.

There was one....issue....with our tour though.  This is a big tourist spot for both Indian and foreign visitors.  I could tell that for some of the Indian tourists, I was probably the first white person they've ever seen.  Combine that with my height, my blonde hair, and my blue eyes - and I was getting pestered every 2 minutes to take a picture with somebody.  By now I've gotten rather used to it.  If it's women who ask I usually oblige, but most of the time it's men - and selfish men at that.  Klara took on the role of my bulldog and started shooing them away or telling them it would cost them 100 rupees to take the picture.  Of course that didn't stop them from taking one, but they usually stopped pestering me to be in the picture with them.  Then a school of teenagers showed up and just started following me around constantly asking for 'just one photo.'  Wanting to finally get rid of them, I told them I'd take one picture with everybody.  The boys tried to insist that they take that 'one photo' with them, but I just said "nay nay nay - everybody."  This is the ensuing riot that occurred.
  

After the shots, everybody started cheering and clapping, and finally dispersed.  I'm still not sure if they think I'm famous or perhaps just a novelty.  Is it racist to wish there were other white people around?  I'm not really sure, but all that picture taking is something I will not miss.

 After the Taj, Klara and I took a taxi back to Delhi and checked into our room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel there.  It was kind of a last minute decision, but where else will I get the chance to stay in such accommodations for $150/night?  It lived up to all of its expectations too.  I declared Klara and I princesses for the day, and proceeded to order room service, spend time at the spa, get my hair done, and do a little shopping in the meantime.

That evening, I was checking on the flight I was supposed to take the next morning, I realized I had written the time incorrectly.  I thought I was flying to Bangkok at 3pm, but apparently, my flight left at 3am.  I realized this about 9pm.  6 hours before my flight.  Yikes.  I attempted to see if I could get a later one, but no luck there.  So I packed up quickly, grabbed something to eat, and headed to the airport.  Though I was very sad to loose 12 hours of my time as a princess, I was glad the Lord was looking out for me and inspired me to look up my ticket before it was too late.  That was a close call.

So here I am, writing this entry from Bangkok, waiting to catch my flight to Chaing Mai this afternoon where I will be trained as a massage therapist.  Though I haven't been here long, I can tell it's a whole different world from India.  For one, everything is clean.  For two, everyone is incredibly friendly, For three, hardly anybody speaks English fluently.  I found this out as I tried to master the public transit system they have here.  It's a great system.  Easy, convenient, and very modern.  As long as I have something with the station name on it, I feel pretty comfortable getting around.  With that confidence, I decided to make up for my time lost as princess and went to a spa last night.  It was one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life.  4 hours of scalp, foot, and thai massage with one of the cutest ladies I've ever met.  She was so sweet and rather hilarious.  At one point, she was helping me get dressed and told me she was my Mama.  At first I thought I misunderstood her, but then she went on to explain that I was her baby because I was so young, and then proceeded to pinch my cheeks.  The maternal nature of the gesture combined with the fact that I am at LEAST a foot taller than her, just endeared her to me completely.  To top it off, she was incredibly skilled and very good at what she does.  It totally geared me up for my massage courses in Chiang Mai.  I think it's pretty safe to say that this is going to be a good month! 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

You know that dream where you're naked in front of a crowd?

Wow.  Stage 1...complete.  It's a bit surreal to think I now have a piece of paper that says I can teach yoga.  I still can't believe it's already been 6 weeks.  But though everything and everybody has been amazing, I am ready for stage 2.  I do have one more week in India where I'll be traveling around with Klara and Deepa, and from there I'm heading to Thailand.  Crazy...crazy good.

So this week started off with a cleanse.  It was a yogic cleans called shatkarma where you drink 15 glasses of salt water, do some asanas, and clear out everything in your bowels within a few hours.  Now I've never been one to buy into the bowel cleansers and this experience has pretty much solidified that choice for me.  Pooping water - not fun.  Pooping water on a squat toilet - even less fun.  I'll stick to cleaning out all those 'toxins' with my good 'ol fashioned high fiber diet.  And because I usually do eat a lot of fiber, I didn't notice feeling any different after the cleanse.  I did take the opportunity to adjust my bowel flora by eating tons of yogurt after the clearing, and I did give up sugar for the rest of the week in order to make sure the flora growing process went the way I desired.  But enough about my bowel...

After the cleansing, we burned the drawings we had been working on for 5 weeks.  I can't say was terribly attached to mine, even if I was surprisingly proud of how well they turned out, so I didn't mind them going up in flames.  But some people created complete works of art, and it was difficult to see those go.  After the fire, we were supposed to collect some of the ash and offer it up to the Ganges along with something else more internal we wished to let go of.  I did do this offering and it was a great experience.  It's interesting to me how a physical ritual really can help support a spiritual sacrifice or decision.        


The next day we started classes again with one of the other students giving a lecture on the Bhakti doctrines of hinduism.  It was an incredibly interesting talk, and afterward, I got into a discussion with Roshan about whether or not those who are enlightened would have the capacity for a physical body.  While discussing this, he invited me to teach a class just talking about the things I know.  I thought he was joking and just laughed at him.  Immediately after this invitation, I got into a rather lengthy discussion about religion with Roshan and a few other women in the group.  I mentioned that I was Mormon and Roshan just had this look of utter shock on his face.  Pramila, an older Indian woman that lives in Canada mentioned she was familiar with the church due to some good friends being Mormon.  I was glad to hear she had a good impression.  I asked her if she saw the similarities I saw between Hinduism and Mormonism.  She confirmed that I am not the only one seeing those 'coincidences.'  Roshan then again proposed that I teach a class, and again I just laughed at him.  I was sure the last thing a large group of liberal minded free spirits would not want to hear about one of the most conservative Christian churches in the world.

That night I didn't sleep at all, and I knew why.  The Lord had basically handed me a golden opportunity to share and strengthen my testimony, and I laughed at it.  So, the next day, I told Roshan I'd teach.  I knew it was what I should do, but so much of me was terrified at the thought.  I worried I would muck it up and be completely incoherent.  I worried about possible hostilities and contention that might arise in discussion.  But mostly, I worried about the fact that I would probably be the only exposure the majority of people in that room had to Mormonism, and I didn't want my shortcomings to incite loathing Mormonism for the rest of their lives.  So, I did what I always do when I feel under pressure.  I called my mom and asked her to pray for me.  I love my Momma.  And I have an INCREDIBLY strong testimony of the power of prayer.  In particular - my momma's prayers lol.

Being the wonderful mother she is, she said she would, let me use her as a sounding board for what I thought I would teach on, and then put me to bed via skype with a bedtime story from the Gitta (hindu scripture) because it has some stark similarities to the war in heaven.  Haha I love my family.

The next day I stood up in front of those 50 people and gave a lesson on The Plan of Salvation.  I drew the diagram, explained the cycle, and explained Christ's role in the whole thing.  Surprisingly, everybody was incredibly curious and receptive to the whole thing.  They did ask a ton of difficult questions and actually seemed satisfied with my rather difficult answers.  I feel comfortable saying that the Spirit was definitely present in that room, in particular with the people listening to me.  I was figuratively naked in front of this crowd, and they were nothing but wonderful to me.  My faith is a very vulnerable subject for me because it's so close to my heart, and it's something I rarely discuss unless someone really wants to know.  The thing that probably most surprised me, was how much they wanted to know.  In just under an hour, I fielded a vast array of questions.  Everything from "Are you Christian?" to "Is homosexuality considered a sin?"  One girl even asked me if I would consider myself a liberal Mormon.  I had to kind of laugh because I wasn't really sure what that meant.  But then I thought of all the hours I've put into searching the scriptures, praying for answers, attending the temple, and reading modern day revelation.  Without really knowing what she was asking, I just responded with "No, I'm about as Mormon as you can get."

That was a self-identifying moment for me.  I've always felt the church was true, and I've never been ashamed to be Mormon, but I don't know if I've ever really owned how "mormon" I am.  Perhaps it's because the colloquial context of being "super religious" usually means being anti-social, judgmental, and weird.  But I suppose that's the beauty of this Gospel.  I can honestly say I am EXTREMELY religious, and not feel ashamed about it because the more you understand about the Gospel, the easier it is to love, interact with, and see the divinity in others.  Anybody who struggles with seeing the potential in everyone around them has a lot to learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter how Christian they may claim themselves to be.  And as different as their beliefs, choices, and lives may be from mine, those people in that room are absolutely brimming with divine potential.  I'm excited to see what they do with it. 

After the lecture everyone was incredibly sweet.  They kept telling me how brave I was and how they really enjoyed the lecture because they really didn't know anything about Mormonism - well other than what you hear in the media - and that it was nice to finally understand where our beliefs came from.  Many mentioned how they really liked how the diagram clarified things.  My friend Lesley even asked me to check the diagram she had copied into her notebook because she really wanted to make sure she understood it all.  Several other people said they thought the whole thing was brilliant and really liked how it correlated so well with everything we'd been discussing for the past 5 weeks.  It was nice to get that confirmation from so many others.  As nervous as I was about it, I can honestly say that this was a fantastic experience for me.  Thank you to Roshan.  He has done more for me than I think he will ever know.

That evening, it was my turn to teach a yoga class.  After the afternoon's adventures, teaching yoga seemed like a cakewalk.  I started class by teaching everyone how to move their hips like Shakira.  It was a great ice breaker and a good chance to go over something several people had been bugging me about since the talent show.  The rest of class was mostly core work, followed by a very long relaxation, and ended with some breathing exercises.  The great thing was there was only 10 people in my class because half of the students were sick with Giardia.  Ok so maybe it wasn't so great for them, but I really enjoyed my small class. 

The next day we watched Baraka.  It's a movie/documentary of foreign lands/people/animals with music, but no words.  As always, my hands needed some preoccupation and my friend Erin offered to oblige me.  As I started to play with her hair, she mentioned some bumps she had from brain surgery and said she never gets head massages because the bumps freak other people out.  Considering how many hours of back scratches and scalp massages I've given and received over the years, this kind of broke my heart.  Erin is an incredibly sensitive soul with a heart of gold and a generous nature.  I couldn't stand the idea of someone denying her something as simply pleasant as a scalp massage just because she's had brain surgery that left some scar tissue  She's definitely one of those with magnanimous amounts of potential that is glaringly obvious to everyone except her.  I hope she one day sees how powerful she is as clearly as I do.

That night, I went to Oasis to break my sugar fast with some dessert.  Chandra caught me on the way and mentioned how much she appreciated my lecture that week that week.  She apparently had no idea I was Mormon and mentioned she was a little worried because she had had this impression that I was going to marry a black man, but she didn't think black Mormon men existed.  I tried to convince her there is such a thing, but she still didn't believe me until I showed her pictures. Haha I'm telling you, that woman makes me laugh. 
 
And that leads me up to today.  We had our last class this morning on the banks of the Ganges.  I was actually able to do a headstand on the sand - so I feel super cool about it.  It was a great class and a great way to end the course.  That afternoon we did a feedback session that really turned into more of a thankamony/testimony meeting.  Then I went into town for some shopping and lunch.  Serendipitously, I ran into Karen right before.  She had tea while I got some food, and again I lost track of time as we expounded about the world, life, and the future ahead.  We barely made it back in time for pictures and the evening's ceremony, but we did make it.

A ritual, a sitar concert, and countless pictures later, I receive my teacher training certificate.  After some chocolate cake Deeno made us for the graduation, I started packing.  Goodbye Rishikesh! It's been great.

  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Holi Raft Dance!

Phew, what a week!  I guess it's true that time flies when you're having fun though.  I'm happy to report, I'm starting to recover.  My shoulders are no longer killing me, I'm able to sleep through the night, and my stomach has finally found a happy medium.  Even my hips are starting to loosen up a little and allowing me to do more than I've been able to in weeks.  Things are definitely looking up.

So this week started off with a trip to the ashram they're building in the nearby mountains.  The idea was to give us an opportunity to do some karma yoga (service) by moving some small rocks.  Most of me really just wanted to stay in bed that whole day and give my body a break, but because of this little voice that kept reminding me how important service is, I decided to go.  Being the first Sunday of the month, I had decided to fast, and since moving small rocks hardly sounded difficult (and it wasn't), I decided not to break my fast early.  When they mentioned it involved a short hike to reach the site, I thought they meant a 10 min walk from the main road.  Haha I don't think I could have been more wrong.  That 'short hike' was 45 minutes of walking straight up a mountain.  That was rough.  Luckily, Klara was very considerate of my fasting state and kept reminding me to just go slowly.  Though my heart felt like it was going to pound it's way out of my chest the whole time, we did make it, and I even got to move rocks (much easier than the hike for sure).  On the way back, we visited this waterfall.  I will always be a sucker for water in all of it's beautiful forms, but waterfalls have and will always be a particular soft spot.  So this was a particularly welcomed reprieve after such an intense afternoon.  You can see why.


So after this refreshing break, we headed back to the taxis.  They actually only let the proper amount of people into them this time, so everybody had a seat.  While climbing in, one of the drivers walks up to my friend Chandra, and asks for her shoes.  His English was not so good, and she was incredibly confused by the whole interaction - so much so that she actually took them off and gave them to him.  He takes off his sandals, puts her shoes on, jumps in the drivers seat, and we're off.  The whole ride she's just flabbergasted that this guy had her shoes on.  And since Chandra is a hilarious black woman from Tennessee, you can imagine how entertaining she was about it.

It's wasn't until we were stopped and were inspected by some traffic cops at a check point (didn't even know Rishikesh had cops or checkpoints until this moment) that it clicked why they didn't overfill the vehicle as well as why this guy had to borrow her shoes.  Apparently the driver caught wind of this 'surprise' check point and since it's illegal to drive with flip flops or have more people in the vehicle than seats, he was trying to avoid a ticket.  Good laws I dare say, but within 200 ft of clearing the checkpoint, the driver stops the car, gives Chandra her shoes back, and stuffs 3 more people into the vehicle.  Haha how's that for effective law enforcement?  But hey, that's driving in India.  It's always a good reminder to me of what happens when people have no internal respect or regard for laws - traffic or otherwise.  So as much as I'm a "spirit of the law" kind of a girl, I must admit the letter definitely has it's place. 

Anyway, classes started Monday, and since I haven't posted similarities in a while, here are some things I've 'learned in class' this week. 
1.) We all have an astral body, separate from our physical body, and spiritual in nature.
2.) When we die, our astral bodies are still under the power of whatever energy influenced us in life.  Those that lived negatively are trapped in a sort of spiritual prison created by whatever ignorance kept them from attaining enlightenment during their physical life.
3.) Oh, and my favorite!  The following was given as the answer to "What is the purpose of life?"
      • To learn wisdom, have peace and happiness (joy), and to realize your existence as an eternal being.  All this, combined, is the way to become one with the greater consciousness (God). 
Awesome right?  I don't know if I've mentioned this here before or not, but considering how old Hinduism is, it's a great testimony to me of how old the gospel is, even if the church itself is still quite young.  In a round about way, it has also strengthened my testimony of something I've struggled with for a long time -- Joseph Smith.  Because what are the chances that an ignorant boy from rural Bible saturated New York state would be able to 'make up' a system of beliefs that has existed on the opposite side of the world for several millenia?  He was either divinely appointed or at least heavily inspired.  And, though I can't say I've had some sort of spiritual transformation while I'm here, I do feel a LOT more clear about my relationship with God, the eternities, and all that that entails.  It has truly been an amazing experience.
 
So besides teaching and dealing with my endless questions, Roshan also brought in a new teacher to teach us how to teach this week.  His name is Shankara (aka Lou).  He's a old French guy who has been teaching yoga for 40+ years.  He's incredibly blunt and rather intimidating at first, but great guy if you ask me.  The first day of class, he called me up to demonstrate a pose, studies my face a bit and asks "You're Michelle's sister aren't you?"  I had to laugh a bit because everybody who remembers Michelle always asks me that.  Ever since I told Roshan the first day that I'm Michelle's sister, at least one person a week asks me that very same question.  "So you're Michelle's sister huh?"  Apparently my big sis made such an impression that everybody remembers her, and since we look so much alike, everybody knows I'm her sister even if they don't know my name.  The other students have picked up on this and keep asking me how she made such a strong impression.  Haha if they only knew her - they'd know why.

Wow, I just realized how long this post has gotten, and I haven't even gotten to the best part!  (sorry for the rambling - this is going to be a long one). 

This week we got to celebrate Holi!  Now those in Provo are probably familiar with the Holi festival in Spanish fork every year.  It's roughly the same idea, but vastly different in execution.  Instead of the concert, cloud of color, and dancing, it's more like a stealthy, deranged, but friendly paintball war.

I started Holi at my favorite restaurant for breakfast.  The guy who runs the place is named Deeno and because it's my favorite restaurant, he and I have become very tight.  I don't know what it is, but I seem to form emotional attachments to anybody who feeds me regularly.  I guess it's the foodie in me.  Anyway, I get to breakfast and realized all the other shops are closed and I don't have a way of purchasing any colors.  So what does Dino do?  He hands me one of his bags of color, a few water balloons, and says "Happy Holi, Cherie."  I respond with a "Happy Holi, Dino" and proceed to chuck some of the color on him.  Mwahahahaha....

Before it turned into an all out war, my friend Heather shows up with some locals and invites us out with them to a celebration.  Well, of course I go with them, but not before expending one of the balloons on one of the guys while he was wishing me a happy Holi and giving me a hug.  I'm telling you, this is my kind of holiday!  So we set off for the celebration, and the journey involved walking down one of the foot paths lined with buildings.  It was eerily quiet except for one of the guys phone blasting some Punjabi music.  Then I look up and see a small head dodge and disappear.  I look down the narrow foot path, blocked in on both sides by buildings, and realize how trapped we are.  Then, the air assault begins.  Buckets of water, bottles of paint, and powder guns are being dumped on us from above.  The balconies are lined with small children, armed and ready.  The guy I attacked with the balloon earlier just yells "RUN!" and we book it down the gauntlet at full speed.      

Somehow, we made it out alive and arrived at the celebration with only minor 'injuries'.  We eat some sweet form of a pancake, dance a little bit, and pose for some pictures.  But before long, the balcony children have found us, and the assault begins again.  Ill prepared, I chuck some powder at them, and run again - this time, in the direction of home.  By the time I get back to Krishna Cottage (where I'm staying), I'm already a mess of color, but of course, everyone keeps adding to it.  They start playing music, dancing in the courtyard, and throwing water everywhere.  This turns the dirt courtyard into a muddy dance floor, and the mess that ensued was epic.  In order to cope with said mess and "wash everybody off," the staff takes us white water rafting.  To do so, we have to walk across town, and by the time we arrived at the shuttles, I was completely covered.  As you can see...(ps..this picture was taken AFTER swimming in the Ganges and white water rafting, so you'll just have to imagine how bad it was before)


But anyway, white water rafting ROCKED!  The Ganges is truly an amazing river and I can easily see why it is such an integral part of Indian culture.  It is a strange mix of calm, serene, and dangerously chaotic (haha kind of like Indians).  The rapids that day were HUGE because it rained, but as most people know, rafting down a cold river on a cold day can be awful.  We were already wet from that mornings festivities and about half way through the trip I was so cold I actually thought it would be warmer to swim along side the boat for a bit rather than continue to be subjected to the evaporation and the wind.  Haha oh boy was I wrong.  I've only swam in colder waters one other time - and that was in a glacial lake in Alaska. Brrrrr.

But in spite of the cold, those in my raft maintained high spirits.  I was with a group of very tough, warrior-like women and every single one took on the waves like paddling was the only way to get to tomorrow.  Like I said, the rapids were AMAZING, and every time we went through one it felt like we had just cheated death.  Turns out, adrenaline is a great mood booster.  Combine that with classic hits from the 80's and 90's being belted out at the top of our lungs, and we were having one rocking good time.  I think we frustrated our guide in the process because he had to keep yelling to be heard over our combined voice.  Oh well, it was worth it. :)

That night Klara and I went to Little Buddha cafe.  It's an adorable restaurant with a great view of the valley.  We sat there for hours and just chatted about life.  I think talking to people and getting to ask them questions about themselves, their views, and their lives is probably my #1 favorite activity to do (possibly tied with dancing and right above singing in my car).  And when you travel you find the most interesting people with the best stories, so I often ask a lot of questions.  We also met a lovely gentleman from Belgium that evening.  He was well spoken, funny, and quite handsome (a small, but welcomed perk).  I dare say, that was a great night.  It was all very chill and intimate, but full of good laughs and positive vibes. 

The next night was another great one, though the conversation was with my friend Karen this time and vastly different in subject matter from the previous night.  Little background, Karen is an Irish lass in her early 30's with a sharp mind and a heart of gold.  She's has a great understanding of people and politics (enhanced by her EXTENSIVE travel experience), and I find her to be incredibly objective, interesting, engaging, funny, sassy, and sweet.  Any time we start discussing broad concepts like people, cultures, religions, or politics I find myself completely enthralled for hours.  She's witty, calm, intellectually curious, and incredibly deep.  And because we have such vastly different perspectives (politically, religiously, culturally, etc), our conversations always morph and evolve into these verbal explorations of the universe and all it's ambiguous beauty. 

It's a ton of fun for me, and she's a great sport about it.  Random as this may sound, I really hope she comes to visit me in the States and gets the chance to meet my family some day.  I know it's a bit strange, but those of you who know my family will totally understand why I would LOVE to have her meet them.  Not only do I think she'd be vastly entertained, but I also think she'd be a fantastic edition to our family discussions.  In fact, if I ever got her around a dinner table with my mom and all of my sisters (by birth and law), I'm pretty sure the conversation would never end. 

Anyway, last night was our last class (sort of), and marked the end of the first 5 weeks.  Our last week will be filled with students teaching students.  (My night to teach is Thursday night -- I'm kind of excited for it.)  So to mark this transition, we held a talent show.  I thought about what kind of talent I could do, and as usual, came up with nothing.  I thought about dancing, but I didn't really feel confident enough to choreograph something.  Then it hit me.  My talent is not dancing, but my lack of inhibition when I do it.  It may be the one talent I'm secure enough to display. So I put a bunch of songs in a playlist, had Karen hit 'next' every 30 seconds or so.....and here is what came out. 


 
I know you can't really hear the music too well, but the order goes like this. 
1.) Gonna Make you Sweat
2.) Bad Romance
3.) Lose Control
4.) Hips Don't Lie
5.) Can't touch this

As you can kind of see, the reaction to this was - a little over the top.  Apparently, nobody saw that coming.  One girl told me it completely blew up her previous perception of me.  Another actually said it humbled her to see what I was capable of because even while announcing my talent, she didn't think I could really do it.  But Chandra's response was, by far, my favorite reaction.  She was actually speechless - and that's a big deal for Chandra.  Later she walks up and is telling me how shocked she was that "this sister can move!"  Good to know I've retained my Uh-Oh Oreo status.

But amongst all the compliments and shock, I'm actually just puzzled, because these people have seen me dance before.  They saw me dance at Holi and they've seen me dance at parties we've had.  I was no less uninhibited at these times, though there were more people around me.  It wasn't until this afternoon that I managed to make sense of it.  I'm an introvert in an extroverted world here, and I'm beginning to see how extroverts don't really invest their attention in introverts unless they have to.  Don't get me wrong, I love the extroverts.  They allow introverts like myself to just sit back, listen, watch, and enjoy.  Often, I'm surrounded by introverts, and in that setting, I do become more extroverted to help maintain balance.  However, I definitely lose energy in the process and always require some alone time after to recover.  I guess I don't mind attention, but it is draining and I'd rather just be paying attention to someone else.  So the fact that there are so many extroverts here has basically nudged me further into my comfy introverted spot without me even realizing it.  And while I've spent weeks getting to know and trying to understand several of these extroverts, few have really invested in getting to know me.  That's not a complaint at all.  I'm the one directing those conversations by asking them so many questions, and I'm completely satisfied with all of the conversations I've had.  I just didn't realize how many of them were rather clueless as to who I really am.

That was until after the talent show.  Apparently, even though they've seen me dance before, everyone's perception of me was a basically a curious and religious nerd.  I'm not saying that perception is wrong (especially since that's half of the subtitle of my blog lol).  It's just...narrow.  And I'm pretty sure that entire perception was created because of the questions I ask (in class and to people personally).  Coincidentally, asking questions is about the only time I'm being more extroverted and calling attention to myself.  And I guess I should specify, it was only the extroverts who were really that shocked by my dancing.  The introverts I've gotten to know were impressed, but not nearly as surprised.  I admit, I find this pattern very interesting, and it has helped me better understand some of those psychological concepts I've spent so much time with my sisters discussing.

I'm beginning to see how introverted people are better at picking up a broader understanding of others.  It's because they see the subtle.  They watch for the subtle.  I bet that's why they form such intimate friendships.  They perceive more than could ever be said.  Whereas extroverts are better at gathering the attention of others because it's from that external viewpoint that they are able to understand others and their environment.  Based on my experience being the extrovert, it is more difficult to pick up on subtle when you're busy gathering attention.  But likewise, as an introvert, it's difficult to effectively gather attention when you're busy paying so much attention to subtle.  I can easily see the importance of both on a personal, professional, political, and even spiritual level.  And personally, I think the goal should be a happy, highly adaptable, medium.  At least, that's my goal.  Based on my time here I obviously still have a preference for introversion, but the more I learn, experience, and grow, the more comfortable I am being the extrovert.  Yay. :)

Oh, and one more thing.  I've often joked with Olya about how I only get dates with guys after they've seen me dance.  Well the trend still holds.  After the show I was starving because I skipped dinner.  I talked to Deepa and her boyfriend and they offered to go get food with me and a friend of theirs.  Haha well this 'friend' of theirs was on staff and therefore at the talent show.  On the way to find food, he kept expressing how amazing my dancing was, and proceeded to try and hold my hand, several times.  lol weird.  Oh, and just an interesting tidbit.  While getting food, they made me wear this guys hoodie because apparently it's illegal for foreigners to be out with locals late at night.  Funny that they didn't tell me that until they tried to make me go incognito.  Can't say my glowing white skin and blonde eyebrows were very helpful to the endeavor, but oh well.  Namaste!




Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pure love. It's like heroin, but better.

Phew...I can't believe I just finished the 4th week here.  That one flew by.  We started off the week by visiting a cave by the Ganga that is famous for the guru's that have lived in it over the years.  It is a interesting place (dark, dank, and smelly, but interesting). I still don't understand why one must hole themselves up in a cave to achieve enlightenment.  But the beach by the Ganga was beautiful.  This is a view from the cave meant for the guru's wife. 


That is one thing I also have a difficult time with.  Roshan has mentioned we will get into it, but I'm really struggling to figure out the role of women in hindu society.  I'm wondering if the wives of these guru's achieve enlightenment or if it's even a priority for them.  Do women just get it without going through all of these rituals and sacrifices?  I don't know, but I'm sure curious to find out.

So to catch everybody up, my physical health is still waning, but spiritually, I couldn't be happier.  In the first week of classes, we learned about a concept that basically says "you are not your body."  We talked about pain and how your body may perceive pain, but you don't have to.  Admittedly, this was one of those things I wrote down with a good amount of skepticism.  Thinking back on it...I'm wondering if that's why all of the injuries started happening.  Well, I'm happy to report - I get it.

After the last post, things kept getting worse.  Not only was my shoulders, hips, and hamstrings completely locked up, but I was nauseated after every meal, PMSing, and unable to sleep at all.  By Tuesday, I hit my breaking point.  We were in class, I was completely miserable, but still trying to do what I could.  It was blazing hot and there was no air movement in the room thanks to a Polish couple who preferred it that way.

Trying to compromise, I talked with them and asked them to at least turn on the fans.  "No no no no, but you can open the window next to you."  Ok, so I did.  15 mins later, the guy moves over by me (fight with the girlfriend?...I don't really know why), and then begs for me to shut my window.  I oblige, attempt to work through the nausea and the heat, but decide its too much, so I move to his old spot to open a window.  I hang my head outside for a bit to try and breathe through the nausea, and it seems to help.  Unfortunately, immediately after I pull my head in, this guys girlfriend comes over, shuts the window and says "It's too cold." (It was probably 85 degrees in that room).  The moment she does this I have this overwhelming urge to deck her, but since violence is not really my thing, this just causes my whole body to tense up.  That tension just lead to more pressure on a nauseated gut, which turned into me feeling like I was going to vomit right there - so I ran out of the room as fast as I could.

Halfway down the stairway Deepa caught me and asked me what's wrong.  I fell apart.  Just a blubbering mess of rage, pain, complaints, and frustration.  I was sick, I was tired, I was hormonal, and I was sore...and for the first time since I've arrived, I just wanted be done with yoga.  Deepa tried to be positive and helpful, but I wasn't really having it.  I knew she was right, but I was past caring about right.  I just wanted relief.  So that night I drugged myself with some Unisom, and for the first time in almost two weeks, I slept through the night, (and into the next morning).

It has always been funny to me just how much sleeps helps me process things.  The next morning I felt like a different person.  My body still ached and my stomach still seemed irritated, but none of that bothered me.  I knew I was going to get past it.  I knew it was a state of being I could observe and learn from instead of just suffering through it.  I accepted the pain, I felt optimistic about my progress, and I felt overwhelmingly calm about everything.  And since then, I've started receiving tons of love and help from everyone.  One girl is a physical therapist and gave me some exercises and stretches to do.  Another gave me some tips on my technique.  But the one that takes the cake is this girl below....Ari. 

She is a masseuse for an exclusive resort in the Seychelles islands.  This girl has worked on anyone who is anyone, from Brad Pitt to Prince William and his wife, and now she's been working on me every morning.  But in spite of her high-end work, she is incredibly kind, humble, sweet, and funny.  I absolutely adore her, and she does wonders to some of the knots in my hips/thighs.  It's incredibly painful - but helpful.  And that combined with all the other help I've been getting has really helped me to feel an overwhelming sense of love toward everybody and everything.

So with my renewed optimism, I decided to walk into town on Wednesday with Clara and somehow ended up in a Palm Reader/Astrologists store.  She had wanted to go to him for a while, but while waiting for him to finish up with another client, got scared and asked me to go instead.  I was surprised by her sudden reluctance, and I didn't really feel a need to get a reading, but told her if she wanted me to I would.  I even told her she could stay and listen if she wanted, but she said she'd feel uncomfortable listening to something so personal.  With that she took off, and it was me and BP Uniyal - an 'ex-scientist' who decided to enter the world of Astrological signs and palm readings.  He had me fill out a paper that had my birth date, place, and time, name, and current occupation.  With that he grabbed my palm and started telling me all about my life.  Some things were very general, some specific, but my overall impression of the experience was one of interesting and perhaps humorous coincidence.  Minus the dates and some other specifics (like # of children), he didn't tell me anything that wasn't already in my patriarchal blessing.  Funny right?

Now that might seem disturbing to some, but I just found great humor in it.  Because of my astrologically inclined sisters, I've had enough education in the stuff to recognize there is some truth in it, just not perfect truth.  And perhaps there is a pure form of astrology somewhere, but I'm pretty positive the stuff here has been mingled with the philosophies of men to such a degree as to undermine its potential integrity.  And besides that, predicting the future doesn't do me any favors.  It just makes me anxious, impatient, and unhappy - and I think that's where the danger of astrology lies.  It's not 100%, and it's not inspired.  If people let the stars dictate their choices, than they never get in tune with their own revelatory capacities, and they remain dependent on something external that is fallible and offers no real peace.      

Therefore, I kind of look at it this way - why would I want tainted water that requires a filter, if I have access to pure water?  Why would I put weight in the word of a man who needs charts, maps, and physical characteristics to calculate my path when I have the words spoken by a patriarch needing nothing more than his priesthood authority and the Spirit.  And in my case, he really had nothing more.  You see, my patriarch didn't know who I was before giving me the blessing.  Only that my name was Cherie and I was a Chemistry major at BYU-Idaho.  That was 6 years ago, and since then, experience has definitely helped me gain a solid testimony of that blessing.  So though it was nice to have a second witness of the path that has already been revealed to me, I'll still be relying on my blessing when looking for any further direction.

So anyway, Clara came back after and asked how everything went.  I told her about the my blessing and the similarity between the two.  It actually turned into a good missionary opportunity because I got to tell her I was Mormon and explain what patriarchal blessings were.  I also told her to not be freaked out by the palm reading.  I tried to explain that it's only dangerous if you trust it over your own personal revelation.  I mentioned that there are many methods of choice, but the best one is to always choose by what feels peaceful, clear, and right, because she will know what's right for her better than a palm reader/astrologist (or anybody else who might try to tell you what to do for that matter).  This is something I believe very deeply.  Even when it comes to priesthood revelation, I feel very strongly that each of us must make sure that revelation resonates clearly within us for a few reasons.

1.) Because those who hold the priesthood are still men and therefore possibly fallible in reception AND communication.  Perhaps they understood their impression wrong, perhaps they just didn't understand how to communicate it.  Either way, you have access to the Spirit of confirmation, and it is our privilege....no, it's our responsibility to use it.  Which brings me to my next reason.

2.) We need to take responsibility for our actions, and blind obedience always undermines our ability to choose.  If we do not confirm that the revelation given was also received by us internally, (and therefore our choice) then as humans, we are prone to blame others and lose faith when things do not work out as predicted.  Once we do this we've clouded our relationship with the Spirit and made it more difficult to understand an already difficult situation.

3.) Last, but definitely not least, we need to practice our own communication with the Spirit.  Just like speaking any language, if you don't practice, you won't learn.  Priesthood direction can give us the opportunity to check in with the Spirit with a simple "yes" or "no."  As we practice that simple language, we become more adept at interpreting the more intricate impressions.  This is vital to our individual spiritual development and essential to the creation of any Zion-like community.

Tangent...sorry...back to Rishikesh.

The day after the reading I went with shopping with some friends, and in the process, visited a guru for some pain relief.  Since I'm out of range for a priesthood blessing, I figured this was the next best thing.  I hoped this guy was one of those with the gift of healing cuz I sure needed it.  He sat me down, moved his hands over the areas that were hurting and recited some mantras in the process.  I definitely felt him moving some of the energy around, and initially, there was some relief.  But within a few minutes it returned.  Bummer.  The girls told me I might have to go back a few times.  We'll see if I feel inclined to do so.

On the way back, Clara and I decided to grab a cab.  I should first explain that cabs in Rishikesh are more like buses in the form of a jeep.   They pick up people along the main road and drop them where they wish along that road.  So we flag one down, and it's already full of women.  The driver says "no, one in front, one in back."  So Clara jumps in the back and I move around to the front passenger side where there are already two women in that front seat.  They kindly move over for me, but it only leaves about 6 inches for me to fit.  As I'm trying to navigate my way into the spot, the driver takes off.  So here I am, butt hanging out the side of a jeep, hanging on for dear life to these ladies I've never met.  I know I should have been at least a little frightened, but all I could do was laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.

To make matters just a little more ridiculous, Clara was in the back taking pictures of my state, the women in the middle row were trying to get pictures taken with me, and the older women I had my arm around were busy hugging me, kissing me, and asking me if I was happy.  It was one of single most bizarre and beautiful moments of my life.  When we got to our spot, all of the ladies in the vehicle jumped out and asked for a picture with us.  We were swarmed as everybody tried to get in contact with us for this picture.  My neck, shoulders, arms, and waist were all covered in hands, and after the picture I was swarmed with hugs and thank yous.  I've never received that much affection from strangers in my life, let alone all at once from so many women.  Clara and I walked away just dazed.  As the last woman walked away Clara looks at me, laughs, and says "Sometimes, India just happens to you."  Nuff said.