Home?

Prius filled concrete capital covers my culture shocked head ache. Billboards advertise with money signs, eyeing for blinded minds. I avoid it all. Inside I hide. Assembling another round of chai for my family.

How the hell did I get here? I was just meditating in the Himalayas and now I am inhaling LA traffic, sitting beside a plastic bag of constant confusion and subdued depression.

Let’s backtrack a few weeks to Nagarkot, a small mountain village where I stayed with Suman, a free-spirited musician and painter. I found a haven in his incredible restaurant/bar/hang-out spot where I was well-fed, taught Nepali, and inspired to write even more songs. Everything was free. Everything was fine. I was set to teach English to Nepali kids and receive a stipend in return. Classes would resume in a week, so I seized the opportunity to travel.

I ventured six hours to Pokhara, sitting backwards between locals in the aisle of another hellacious bus ride. When I arrived, I had no plan. Dressed in loneliness  I wandered the streets and mingled with other white faces, sharing cold beers while shooting pool. A mild-mannered Frenchman mentioned he would play a round of golf the following morning. My ears shot up like a street dog’s.

Albeit poorly maintained, The Himalayan Golf Course was gorgeous. Set in a gorge beneath stunning mountains (the largest in the world), we tee’d off with a caddie boy and hopefully enough balls to get us through 18. The course was completely ours.

But… I struggled….bad. Sickness weighed on me like a rock. My stomach ached, and my head was heavy with dizziness beneath the blistering sun. 9 holes later we sat alongside the green, peering out in sheer silence. Then, it happened.

I ran to the river, desecrating the rushing waters with diarrhea and vomit. It was up-down-up-down before I returned to my partner. I struggled up the gorge before I had to throw up again. I could barely stand.

Three days ill. Shut off from the world in my overpriced hotel room. Pale faced and lonely. It was awful. I never felt so sick in my entire life. My heart slowly shrank in my pain-stained chest. Moreover, my grandma had recently passed away. It was no shock. She had suffered from Alzheimers for many years in a slow descent towards death. I contemplated a return to the States, yet it seemed so abstract, far away. I couldn’t fathom it. Furthermore, my opportunities in Asia were growing. I was set on working in Cambodia, where I had a good job lined up on the south beach as a bartender. My family encouraged me to make my own decision. And it wasn’t until I fell into a haze of gastric confusion that things became crystal clear.

When you know – you just know. It was my time to go home.

I surprised my family with a Thanksgiving miracle and attended a beautiful memorial service for my grandma. I wrote and recited a poem, and it was nice to remember the old times – and have some closure. I am very glad to be back with my family, recharge my batteries, and cook some mean Indian meals. I lost 17 pounds in less than 3 months traveling India/Nepal and have been eating vegetarian too. Things here are…. different, but I am enjoying the western luxuries: hot showers, clean water, electricity, yada yada. However, cabin fever is creeping in and my rambling shoes are still tied tight. I better make money fast if I want to conquer Mexico by bike and take a ferry to Cuba. Call me a dreamer, but anything’s possible.

My home is in my head.

Shanti.

 

Me and Suman

The golf course I desecrated

Flying over California

Stop Me From Stopping

The cold wind tears tears from my stimuli sabotaged eyes.

The motorbike on which I ride roars through Jaipur.

Elephant prints are pounded into my memories.

Jeeps carry colors on the trash splashed asphalt.

I helped her shovel the buffalo shit with my hands.

An old man in a dirty white robe rolls a giant black tire down the highway.

His toes are crusted like rust on a rickshaw.

I walk through the primordial primate temple.

Tasting fear.

 

A photograph can never capture the fleeting feeling

Of the heart behind the camera.

Or stares that penetrate the soul.

A dusty haze sprays a veil over my vision.

Stop me from stopping.

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Typical Jaipur

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My Couch Surfing hosts

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Grandma

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Street shave – 50 cents

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Monkey Temple (flooded with primates)

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Outside Shiv Temple

Leaps of faith into an ancient pool (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was shot here)

Original paintings

Amber Palace

Good Things Take Time

The blood red sun sets on Tibetan prayer flags beneath Himalayan snow peaks. Buddhist monks walk in crimson robes holding iPhones. Low season. High mountains. Am I still in India?

McLeod Ganj has been the center of the Tibetan government in-exile, home to the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees for the past 50 years. Surrounded by lush mountains, draped in prayer flags, and filled with the celestial smell of street momos and thukpa, this place feels like a mini-Tibet. But why here?

Ever since China ‘liberated’ Tibet in 1950, Tibetans have experienced an ongoing nightmare. Over a million Tibetans have been murdered,  thousands of women have been sterilized,  countless others have been physically or mentally tortured, and over 6,000 Buddhist monasteries have been destroyed. Furthermore, Tibetan natural resources have been hijacked by Chinese economic greed. The Chinese have perpetuated mass deforestation and redirected Tibetan water sources towards China. They dump nuclear waste in the Tibetan wilderness and have endangered many exotic animals, such as the red panda.

I’ve seen FREE TIBET around the US but never quite understood its meaning or impact until now. In Tibet, it is illegal to say or promote a FREE TIBET in any way. Anyone that does so will be locked up and suffer hellish consequences. If one is found with a photo of the Dalai Lama, then he too will be sent to jail. The last big demonstration in Tibet occurred in 2008, and let’s just say it didn’t end so well. Over the years, fifty-four Tibetans have self-immolated themselves – set themselves on fire. This action is an extreme form of protest, in order to die for their country and draw attention to the matter. However, no one in the West hears about these things. Another self-immolation occurred last week. Did you hear about it? Probably not…

Now here I am, completely surrounded by Tibetans living peaceful content lives.  They miss their homeland, but with the situation at hand, I think this is a good alternative. Getting here is another story. Thousands of men, women, children and grandparents make the difficult two week trek across the highest mountains in the world in order to experience this freedom.  Many get sick, others die. I am sure it is happening right now.

In McLeod Ganj, there are tons of NGOs, constant activities that promote Tibetan culture, and insightful films played around town. When I arrived, I followed a German girl to LIT (Learning and Ideas for Tibet), an NGO where she had been teaching German for three weeks. Immediately I made the decision to dedicate myself to teaching beginner’s English to adults. This experience refueled my passion for teaching, and I’m sure the students have appreciated my enthusiasm. I have also been giving private English lessons to a Buddhist monk.  We sit in a cafe and he reads me an Introduction to Buddhism book, practicing pronunciation, reading comprehension,  and uncovering new vocabulary. For me, I play the role of teacher and student. I have had the pleasure learning Buddhist philosophy with such clarity. My mind is as fresh as the cool mountain air. My stomach is doing back flips… Typical India.

McLeod Ganj carries a special energy. I have never been more musically inspired in my whole life; in six days I wrote three songs, and have started playing the flute. Knowing that India can never be covered in one trip, I am perfectly content with sticking around and nurturing this experience so it can fully ripen.

Good things take time.

My class

At the cafe for our private lesson

Playing at the bus station

Working hard

Hardly working

Outside the Dalai Lama Temple

Sunset

The River Speaks

Amidst chaotic city street sanity-tearing intensity, I knew I needed some solitude in nature. Astonishingly, an ashram was awaiting for me in Rishikesh. Possessing the power to trek 20 hours via train, I endured the elements of ‘sleeper class’ and passed a multitude of villages along an endless day. I arrived with a chai in search for Sadhvi, an American who’s been living and giving lectures in Rishikesh for the past 16 years! I was welcomed into the ashram community but things were not aligned with my chi. I attended a few classes, but couldn’t grasp any sense of pleasure. Downing chai after chai, I wondered why I wasnt digging this scene. An intensive yoga mentality surrounded constantly by Indian tourists forced me into a serious grind. My mind ached as I sank into the dark void of my soul. An existential crisis ensued, and I nearly bought a plane ticket home.

Spilling my sorrows all over her office, I sowed negativity sincerely on Sadhvi’s shanti. She helped me by calling a friend uptown, or rather upriver, and delivered me to her doorstep. I confessed my chaotic mental state to Pharavati, a wise world-traveler whose been there and done that. She said quite flat that I needed to find a waterfall and meditate, get the hell out of the ashram and come stay by her organic cafe/orphanage for a few days. I did just that.

Since I moved upriver past Lachsman Jhula, I have been following omens that have brought amazing moments: from peeling hundreds of pears with 4 Indian women to meditating on a rock in the middle of the Ganges; from unwinding with westerners at the Freedom Cafe to conversing with sadhus – I see Rishikesh with freshness.  It’s funny how living in one area of a town can truly bring you down, but right up the road is a whole new state of mind waiting to be discovered.

There is no hurry. There is only the wind that moves us where we are meant to be.

Train from Varanasi

Shanti

Varanasi

Ashes of the eternal flame of Shiva

Are pressed upon my third eye

To my side

Heads of families’

Heads are shaved

 

I climb the stairs and stare

These eyes watch bodies burn

My mind melts with eight corpses

While black smoke fills my lungs

 

Fire and tears

Life and death

A circle cycle spinning

With no end nor beginning

 

Death is life in Varanasi. There is nothing to hide here. For thousands and thousands of years, the fire at the Manikarnika Ghat has never stopped burning – an ancient ritual ongoing. Families carry families through winding blue alleyways. Corpses covered in silk and orange flowers. Singing. Shouting. Burning.

Nothing is permanent. Everything ends. Or rather changes into something new. If I have learned anything from this, it is to live. Live with truth. Live with your heart. Live with love. Karma Consciousness Reincarnation.

Sleep is a short death, and death is a long sleep.

Today I returned and saw a cow standing on a scorching pile of embers.

This… is India.

Welcome to India

Sweat pours down my face as I wander the nameless streets of South Delhi. It is my first day and I am completely lost. My plane landed on another planet. Here, cows eat plastic trash, old men bathe in the street, and swarms of transvestites beg for your rupees. The honking of cars, motorcycles, and rickshaws is so loud I feel I as if am trapped in the middle of a free jazz orchestral cacophony. As this continues, exhaust fumes permeate my nose where a blend of urine and incense has settled. My mind is on fire.

Welcome to India.

That was over a week ago. Still, these images reappear daily, but to more acceptance and enjoyment on my part. Besides, I have been quite busy to get caught up in it all. After a nightmarish arrival in Dehli, I made contact with Dil Se, an organization that shelters street kids throughout the city. They stationed me at Ummeed, a large refuge bordering the Qutub Minar complex – one of India’s most fascinating historic relics. I volunteered at Ummeed for eight full days teaching English, playing games, and giving endless love to nearly one hundred 6-16 year-old boys. These children come from extremely harsh backgrounds: from homelessness, begging, and drugs to psychical abuse and parents in distressed conditions. Others ran away from home. As awful as this may seem, the kids are now in a much better environment where they receive food, shelter, and an education daily. They have huge hearts and are incredibly intelligent. Some of them had only spoken English for 6 months but were able to converse with me almost perfectly. As curious as I was about their culture and language, they balanced my curiosity with countless questions about life in The States.  I loved volunteering at Ummed. I was constantly teaching while constantly learning.

My sleeping situation was a clear view of reality in South Delhi. I slept on the floor of a two-bedroom apartment with fourteen other people. Running water was inconsistent, electrical problems constant, and mosquitoes galore. But, my experience there was great because the people were amazing – a hilarious group of 17-20 year old’s who made me feel part of a family. We played music, danced, laughed and ate together all while I constantly corrected their English and gave personal attention to each of their studies. I will never forget my time there. I am forever grateful.

Saying goodbye to the Dil Se group was bittersweet, but I felt I needed a change. And what I got was a complete 180. I am currently staying with a family friend who teaches at an international school and lives in the American embassy! This place has the whole western works: hot showers, powerful AC, drinkable tap water, a maid, a cook, beer, even toilet paper! I arrived here in complete culture-shock, even greater than the feeling when I arrived in Delhi. It was as if I was thrown in an emotional ice bath – my brain constantly doing back flips. Since then, I have eased into the perks of this living situation and am absorbing all of its western benefits.

This experience has really opened my eyes to how blessed I am. Sometimes I feel I don’t deserve the life I was given. And the only way I can feel justified is by being a good person and helping others – like I did at Dil Se. Whenever I feel sad or down, I know there is someone else out there that is going through a much harder time than me. And that’s the truth.

Ummeed

Boys at Ummeed

Dinner

Me and some of the older boys