A Few Fuck-Yous…


…Brought to you by international air and train travel.

1. Fuck you for wearing your skunk perfume on a plane (also on the train…I’m looking at you, passengers of renfe who showered in old man cologne). I’m glad you’re making an effort to smell good but we’re all hurtling through the sky in a coke can so everyone can smell everyone else a little too well and I will sneeze on you.

2. Fuck you for wearing your nicest heels and jewels through the security line. I’m glad you’re wealthy and old, but there’s really no reason to hold up the line with your nonsense just so you can stick your fake nose a little higher in the air.

3. Fuck you for looking nice on an airplane, honestly. This isn’t so much of a fuck you as it is a how is this possible? I look like a gremlin who was caught in a flood and a tornado and a hornets nest. It’s just rude to look so much better than me, and to make it all look so effortless. I’m wearing socks with sandals, goddamn it, because I’m tired, these shoes were too heavy to check through, and my toes get cold. I’m a wreck. This is a PSA.

4. Fuck the system. Or…yeah. Fuck this whole first class business class nonsense. I get it, because I, too, would like to actually be able to stretch my (very long) legs out whilst flying. But I can’t, because I don’t have money flying off of trees and landing in my wallet.

5. Speaking of first class, fuck the stupid curtain. “Okay so what we’ll do is take the rich people and put them up front and then keep the plebs away from them with a mesh curtain.”

6. Fuck airports that don’t have free unlimited wifi. Sorry I have a six hour layover and wanted to write on my laptop but only had 30 minutes to do it, JFK. Sorry. So sorry I refuse to pay $5 an hour for shitty wifi. On that note, fuck writing a blog post on your cell phone whilst using data.

7. Fuck. I’m so fucking tired. I’m in that mood where nothing matters so I don’t understand why people put any effort into anything non-essential. Also I broke a nail and I’m annoyingly emotional about it.

8. 12 hours down, 8 to go. There’s no place like home. Fuck everywhere else.

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Chapter 2: In Which Everything is Overwelming and I Lose My Mind But in a Good Way


21688163_130984047636455_2539152691532689769_oY’all, I’m tiiiiiired. Or at least I was a few days ago. My jet lag set in after 5 days, which was later than I’d expected. It sucks. I think it’s gone now, as I’ve been here for 8 days and my sleep schedule is finally back to normal.

I’ll tell you this for free, though: it’s awkward realizing you did not try hard enough in your college Spanish classes, and winning the foreign language award for your high school’s graduating class in 2011 does not a fluent Spanish speaker make.

So yep. I’m tired. And I like the food but it’s also so strange? And they eat so much of it at lunch, which is at 2:30 in the afternoon…so I suddenly understand why siestas are a thing. After eating ninety potatoes, who wouldn’t need to rest? Can I just have a permanent beach siesta, please? I don’t want to walk. I don’t even want to breathe. I just want to lay here and listen to the little Spanish children running around in the street saying things I don’t understand. I like doing this, because I don’t have to try to understand them. Their words just float through one ear and land gently in my brain before floating out the other.

But honestly, I’m having a good time. I get to see the ocean every day, and I can actually swim in it. I’m taking a break from being vegetarian so I can try new foods, and I’m accidentally remembering how much I like chicken. Oops. I’ve always kinda hated palm trees, but they look nice here, and some of them are super short and squat and it’s adorable. There are old, beautiful, colorful tiles on some of the buildings and in the parks, and even the pigeons look different here. The dogs here are goofy, sometimes — I saw one man walking 8 chihuahuas at once the other night and took a photo because I’m the biggest tourist ever. I had the song California Dreamin’ stuck in my head all morning, and this afternoon someone drove by blasting it. A few days ago, some random woman was holding a bunny in her arms and yelling across the street at her friends. God knows why, but now I want to move here and start a bunny commune with my friends. This morning, I watched a man hardcore reel in a fish off the pier whilst smoking a cigar. All the flies in this entire country have decided they love me and want to make little fly houses in my hair, on my arms, and in my water glasses. Every. Single. Fly. Yesterday, one day after I’d mentioned I’d never been pooped on by a bird, a little tiny one decided to make my left arm its toilet. I guess I’ll try anything once, but I’d rate the experience 2/10, would not recommend.

holaaaaaa


sunset 9:12Here I am, sitting in the dining room of a small Spanish grandmother, looking at a silver plaque of “La Ultima Cena de Jesus” (The Last Supper) whilst a cool breeze blows across my shoulders. It’s bright out — surprisingly less humid than the past four days — and I can hear the neighbors chatting over the lazy sounds of the occasional car passing by. Concha (who, judging by the many many many depictions of Jesus around here, is Catholic) is in Jerez visiting her sister and has left us her home for the next few weeks. Here. In Cadiz, Spain.

It still doesn’t feel real, honestly, that I’ll be in this city for another two weeks before heading up to Barcelona, then to Brussels. My mediocre Spanish skills, however, are very real. I studied the language until I was 20, but that was four years ago, and it’s disappointing how little of it stuck. But every moment I spend here, with my brother-in-law’s family, I improve. It’s out of necessity, really, since their English skills are worse than my Spanish ones. It’s like everyone says: I understand much more Spanish than I can speak, which results in me understanding entire conversations but being able to add very little. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the only words I know are “sí” and “me gusta.”

I’ve spent two of the past four days at the beach. Or, more accurately, floating in the ocean for as long as I can until the sun sets and I get cold. I’m so used to the frigid waters of Pacific Ocean on the Oregon and Washington coasts, so actually getting in the ocean is such a treat, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna waste it. It tastes sooo salty (fun fact: I got some up my nose and it hurt like hell but suddenly my sinuses were very clear, so there’s an upside to everything) but all that extra salt makes me buoyant, and I’m getting a kick out of watching the sun set over the Atlantic whilst I prop my feet up over the salt water. The sunsets here, y’all. The sunsets.

So much has happened, so here’s a synopsis: eggs, potatoes, smoked paprika, white fish, gelato, humidity, a store called la cucaracha, tinto de verano, mediocre (and shy) Spanish, broken English, beach, sunset, more beach, boats, more sunset, mangoes, more mangoes (fun fact: the mangoes they sell here are almost as good as the ones we bought off the street in India, but I think these come from Brazil), and just a touch of jet lag.

I’d forgotten how exhausting it can be to live in another country for a while, but I think my Spanish is improving daily and I’m honestly enjoying not really knowing what’s going on anyway. This entire world is catching fire (both literally and figuratively) lately, so I’m allowing myself to ignore all of that at least a little bit and just enjoy my time abroad.

And now, I head to the beach once more. ¡Adios!

Mingbin, Gaga and Me


I do not want to get on this plane.  I want to stay in this state of airport gate-waiting for eternity.

I’m not afraid to fly. I don’t particularly like it, and usually I feel a little ill when I fly, but it’s only an hour flight and I have good music and a book about George Harrison (my travel buddy) so I should be set.

No, I want to stay here because this is the first time I’ve felt a sense of calm in the past several days. I got a tea, put on a travel playlist my friend made me, and set up to write this blog. It’s nice to stop, to breathe, to pause this state of existential dread.

I want to stay here and think about how adorable my Lyft driver, Mingbin, was. He was a tiny Asian man, probably 70 years old, driving a Mazda with a dancing flower attached to the dash. After a few minutes of pleasantries, he switched on a CD and suddenly I was back in my sophomore year of high school listening to Just Dance by Lady Gaga.

I have so many questions.

Did he make the CD for himself or was it given to him? It’s clearly a mix of Gaga songs spanning several records, and some are remixes. Is he playing it because he thinks I will like it? Or is Mingbin a Little Monster himself? One can only hope.

I watched the little plastic dash flower dance along to Born This Way as we passed an IKEA and I remember thinking about how much I’d rather re-live the 24 hours of travel to India (turbulence and airplane food-induced diarrhea included) than set foot in an IKEA for an hour. That place is like a maze, set up to destroy and feast on the souls of new homeowners.

I miss Mingbin. He didn’t try to make small talk, which is good since I didn’t really want to talk and also couldn’t understand him very well. He drove like a little old man,  thankfully, because I’ve clung on for dear life in the back seat of many a car in my day. He just played a ridiculous amount of Lady Gaga while I alternated between giggling and singing along.

So Merry Christmas everyone! Happy Hannukah, Happy New Year, congratulations on your new baby, have a nice time at the gym today, happy winter. I hope we can all be just as adorable as Mingbin this holiday season, or as he described it “this long weekend.”

xo

I Have Arrived


Everyone in this city is the friendliest person I’ve ever met. They’re all so happy, and each person is nicer than the next, and I don’t understand. I’m almost always in a good mood, at least around strangers, but I’d thought I was in the minority on that front. But nooooo, everyone here is so stoked on life and has been drinking so much Yerba Mate that they’re basically high on life (and quite a few of them might be actually high, as well).

And they’re so attractive here! The men have excellently groomed beards and the women are like little flower children and I swear to god I’m in heaven. I haven’t worn makeup in days, I feel like I could “forget” to shave my armpits for the rest of my life and someone would be super into it and date me solely for that reason, and my awkwardly growing out short haircut probably looks like a purposeful style choice.

It’s amazing. My roommate and I are constantly trying to figure out whether people want to be our friends or are just ridiculously  nice…I’d like to err on the side of friendship, because why not? I started training for my new job yesterday, and all of my coworkers are fabulous and I’m going to marry all of them. That’s probably relatively acceptable here, too, right?

I keep walking outside and breathing in so deeply that I practically pass out. I’m sitting in front of the open window looking outside at all the trees and listening to the traffic (it’s rather loud, which is new, but I’m getting used to hearing sirens once every few hours) and….it’s like the sun smells good.

I love it here, you guys. I’m so happy. I feel no stress. I feel like myself. I’m so, so happy.

xo

I Live in Mist


What is it about weather that inspires us to write? More specifically, why are we always moved by rain? I suppose rain symbolizes new beginnings as it cleans the streets and helps the crops and flowers grow. I think there’s something more, some other reason that we like to write poems and songs and entire novels about rain. But I have a feeling that by the end of this particular post, that reason will remain a mystery to me.

It’s absolutely pouring here. Monsoon status rain outside my window…and I don’t take monsoon rains lightly, having been caught in several during my stay in India…but I don’t think I’ve ever seen rain this powerful in this tiny little town, and I just love it. All my windows are open, and I went outside on my tiny porch to feel the mist on my face. It’s just…wonderful. It made me write.

I’m scared and anxious lately because I move out of my college town in three days, and within a few weeks will be living in Portland. I want everything to be for sure: I want a nice, cheap apartment in a good part of town. I want a job (literally any job). I want to be happy there. I want to know things about my future in Portland, but unfortunately that’s the weird part about making plans for the future…you never really know anything until it becomes the present. It’s exciting, all those unknowns, but in another sense it’s really really not. It’s just terrifying.

I went to India basically on a whim. I mean, I was heavily invested in going, and I researched a lot, but there’s no way to be prepared for what India presents you with. I just sort of showed up, very white and very naive, with a lot of sunscreen and Pepto Bismol in my suitcase. And I was fine. I survived. I got e. Coli, which was absolutely horrific and not really an experience I’d recommend to a friend, but I totally survived. And I loved my time in India. Every experience was new and exciting, every conversation challenging and beautiful.

So I guess I just need to pretend that this massive new step in my life is like traveling to India. It’ll probably be easier, now that I think of it. I’m relocating from one town in the Pacific Northwest to another (albeit much larger) city. My apartment was dingy, plain, and randomly full of tiny lizards in India…wherever I live in Oregon will be a step up. I’ll have my health. I’ll have a fantastic roommate who cares about me and will look out for me if needed. I’ll have every new opportunity I could ever imaging presenting itself to me, all while wearing the cool vibe of Portlandia…

I’m still terrified. But maybe I can be terrified in a way that at least puts things into perspective. I had this same mini-panic a few weeks before I went to India…this time last year, actually. I just sat there and thought, “I cannot do this.” But I did it. I’m kinda awesome.

It’ll be more than fine. This new part of my life is going to be epic. 

You guys, I figured it out. Just now, totally unexpectedly as a breeze ran through the window I’m sitting next to: it’s rain smell. Rain smell, combined with all those other cleansing qualities and new opportunities that rain represents. It’s rain smell that inspires us, with its woody, green notes and crisp coldness. No matter where I travel, rain smells like the Pacific Northwest. Even when I was in India, rain brought me home.

Henrietta


henrietta letters

Oh yeah, and I got some pretty sweet cat salt and pepper shakers, too. You’re welcome.

I’d never liked antiquing before — my mother half-dragging me around rooms full of musty nonsense that nobody wanted, my feet tired, my nose stinging a little from all that dust and “history.” History in quotes, of course, because much of it seems to be weird plastic crap from the 1970s that got tossed out of someone’s basement and somehow landed in a shop dubbed as an “antique.” But my family took a trip to a little town on the river and found an amazing shop with proper, beautiful antiques. Vases, gorgeous old pipes, well-preserved powder blue suitcases, lamps, a strangely huge collection of salt and pepper shakers and finally…a stack of old letters spanning from 1913 to 1935 chronicling the life of Henrietta, a woman from California whose husband died of influenza in 1918, whose children grew up and sent her postcards from their trips throughout the state, whose sister and disabled brother sent her darling letters, drawings, and times tables. My favorite envelope simply contains a newspaper clipping of a burned-down building, with the words “our old playgrounds are ruined” in thick pencil-scrawled cursive.

I hadn’t written or been inspired to write since I left India. Life has felt like a blur, and a not-so-pleasant one at that, since I returned. I miss my life in Bangalore, miss the way people treated me and loved me and randomly took photos with me, miss the bizarre hole-ridden sidewalks and too-strong milk in bags, miss the food (oh, the food), miss rickshaw rides through monsoons. I often find myself up at night wishing I were back there, even though I love being home in the states, where it’s actually quiet at night and I don’t have to wear long pants in 90 degrees with 80% humidity. I’m glad I don’t have E. coli anymore, which finally ended its long romp inside my intestines after 4 weeks of the most impressive diarrhea imaginable. But I want to go back. It’s particularly hard because I was supposed to be there for 10 weeks and left after 4 instead, so in my mind I’m supposed to be there, not here doing yard work at 7 a.m. or living in the country with only a few friends around. I got used to never being alone, always having something to look at or taste or laugh about (so many goats), and writing is such a solitary activity that I think I’ve been avoiding it.

But then…Henrietta. Henrietta has a story to tell, and I’ve been researching her family tree and census records, trying to get a timeline so I can imagine her life and recreate it on paper. She came to me on old, yellowed paper, wrapped in a pink ribbon, and it’s my job, my duty even, to do her justice. You’ll see the results. Not tomorrow, maybe not next year, but someday you’ll meet Henrietta.

Many thanks to my reader Hans, whose kind words and constant reassurance always add a little joy to my day! (Basically, he was like “Why don’t you write anymore” and I was like “Good question” and that was like…that.)

Bye Bye Bangalore, Bangalore Goodbye…


I’m leaving early. I’m leaving early, after one session instead of two, and it’s so bittersweet, because there are things I love about this country — the food, the constant respect I receive, the way everything lights up and twinkles at night — and things I truly despise — the sheer number of people and cars, the heat and dust, the fact that I can’t even drink the purified water without feeling sick. I’m leaving in 4 days, because it’s hard to exist far from home when your intestines are screaming and E. coli seems to have taken over your body. I’m leaving because it’s time to leave.

I’m leaving the wonderful friends I’ve made through my program, leaving the office aide Saraswati who has become my surrogate mother during this trip, leaving the temples and villages and mango carts. I’m leaving aloo gobi from my favorite “fast food” restaurant, the market on the corner that sells ice cream. The nights when we stay in and watch Bollywood music videos and laugh until we feel sick. The trips out of the city to feed elephants and see Tibetan monks and buy spices. Leaving rickshaw rides in monsoons, calls to prayer, sari fabric that must’ve come straight from god, and the most handsome boys at the cake shop down the street.

village

But I’m returning, too. Returning home, where I’ll hopefully rid myself of E. coli and get to hug my mother, breathe in her scent, sleep with my cat, take care of my father after his knee replacement, and drink tap water. With ice. Home, where I can actually eat fresh vegetables without worrying. Home, where people move too fast and worry too much and live with so much fear even when there’s no danger around the corner. There are downsides to every place you go.

Sometimes we forget that India isn’t some mystical land of wisdom and perfection. It’s seriously flawed; overpopulated, often undereducated, and still developing. That’s not a criticism. It’s a fact. And if I stayed here simply because I thought India was somehow going to heal me from within, to thoroughly cleanse me spiritually so I would come home a different person…well that would just be a dangerous illusion. To stay because I’m afraid to quit, because I’m “supposed” to stay, because I’m afraid of judgment…I won’t do that. I need to take care of myself, just as I would at home, and right now that means I need to be home. India has a spirit and mind of it’s own, that’s for sure, and right now our spirits are at odds.

I’ll miss this beautiful, terrible place. Truly I will. But I’ll be back, India. Tujh mein rab dikhtah hai. I see my god in you.

Good.


I never know how to explain this place to people when they ask, so I always just awkwardly say “good.” I thought maybe I hated it before, which was mostly due to the fact that I was basically living on a toilet dealing with some serious E. coli. But now, since my stomach is no longer rebelling against me, I understand India.

It’s hot here. People eat hot food and drink hot drinks, which at first defies all logic until you realize that the hotter the food is, the less likely it is to poison you.

It’s dusty and dirty and there’s trash on the road and cow pies everywhere and huge man-holes in the sidewalk…but they just keep me on my toes. Every day I survive is a small accomplishment, especially when I cross the street.

Everyone here stares at me, but it’s less weird now that it’s been happening for about 2 weeks. I’m tall, very pale, and blonde with blue eyes. I think I’ve seen one or two other people here who fit that description, so for once in my life I’m kind of exotic…it’s weird. Weird but kind of awesome. When we were stuck in traffic the other day, an entire family rolled down their windows to wave at me and a friend and ask us how we were doing. Sometimes it’s creepy, like when motorcycle drivers pull up next to us and lock us in solid, abnormal-for-America eye contact, but usually it’s borne from an intense curiosity and genuine interest. I’ll never mind.

I don’t know what it is…someone told me India is not love at first sight, but it grows on you. I think they might be right. Sometimes it feels awful living in this city, where everything smells a bit like decomposing trash, a bit like incense, and a bit like spicy food…where the rickshaws honk, the motorcycles beep, the buses basically sound like elephants…I live in the middle of fields back in the states. Cities are hard.

But then we go to villages and meet little children and fall in love and almost cry when we leave them behind. I see pictures of myself looking so exceedingly happy, so completely blissful, and I remember that the negative is only temporary, and I’ll miss this place when I’m gone. I go to Hindu temples, places I’ve only ever dreamed of experiencing, and am blessed by a little man in the corner, kneeling and bowing before him as he touches my head and sings something I’ll never understand but can feel within my soul, and I can still feel his fingertips on my head and the cold beneath my knees. I bow before Ganesh and ask him to help me, touch Shiva’s feet and let water run across my face and over my head, participate in traditions I didn’t even know existed. I give a priest an offering and am painted vermillion and it looks like a little head wound when I accidentally scratch it but in the most perfect sort of way, and I’m happy.

It’s good here.

I’m Not Dead…


…I just have E. Coli. So that’s been fun. Almost better though! 

I know you were all worried (pff) so I thought I’d post here quickly. We went to a village yesterday and I wanted to stay forever. And I had aloo gobi for the first time yesterday and again today, and…India is much better when you can actually eat the food. 

I’ll write more soon since I haven’t in several days, but we have to leave early to tour temples tomorrow so I should sleeeeeep.

xo