Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What A Difference A Day Makes

That ought to be my mantra for this trip, "What a difference a day makes."  It was certainly true when I was culture shocked last week.  One day, agony, the next day bliss.  It's not so different from, "This too shall pass," which is an old standard in my mantra closet.

I won't apologize for my outburst yesterday, in the spirit of loving kindness towards myself.  But it's very easy for me to recognize in the light of this fresh day how deeply my illness and fatigue were coloring my perceptions.

Not that I'm full up on rest and health today, but I'm inching in the right direction.  Plus, I had good news right off the bat, Leelu had saved the day and convinced Roy not to move me to another hotel.  So I've got a home for another week, a home I like and feel comfortable in.  Not only do Leelu and Roy keep a parental eye out for me, "You are one of the family.  This is your house now."  But Randa, the cleaning lady has taken me under her wing.

Randa is a full foot shorter than me, thin as a rail, looks to be in her sixties, but is probably closer to 50.  She is wiry and feisty and has the kindest eyes I've seen in a long time.  I'll get a picture one of these days and show you.  After Roy taught me a few words in Malayalam yesterday I tried using them with Randa, namely (and this is phonetic, mind you) "Walerae Na-ni" which means, "Thank you most respectfully".  Randa had helped me change rooms.

She was so tickled that I had bothered to learn a little of her native language and, I suspect, that someone thanked her, that she has been speaking Malayalam to me ever since.  Today we had a long conversation.  I didn't know what we were talking about most of the time, but it was lovely none the less.  Eventually I figured out, mostly through sign language, that she was worried about me leaving without a hat on, "the sun is too hot", she gestured.  So, I dutifully put on a hat.  This made Randa very glad and she took my arms and patted them, adding a little squeeze at the end.  Yesterday she substituted the squeeze with a kiss that she placed on her palm and then patted on my cheek.

I ran into Randa several hours after I'd gone out.  She was leaving for the day and she caught me at the corner headed from lunch to do some more sight-seeing in the blazing afternoon heat.  She started telling me, all in Malayalam and sign language, that I needed to go home and sleep.  She wouldn't walk on till she was sure I was following orders.

After my almost successful nap I went up to the roof terrace of my homestay and chanted to my dear friend Ganesha, the remover of obstacles.  As I did, 10 different species of birds flitted in and out of the airspace above my head.  There were black-birds and one bright yellow little guy and a whole host of hawk or eagle type beauties that swerved and danced and played while I thanked Ganesha for making room for me at the inn.

There are so many layers of a place.  Guidebooks really only cover the top one or two.  They sell you towns and buildings and monuments.  They might tell you what cultural differences to be aware of or how to dress, etc.  But guidebooks cannot really capture the magic of the people in a place, people like Mary, my dinner companion again tonight, Randa, Sandosh, Roy, and Leelu.  Or what it will feel like to sit on a terrace and watch birds you've never seen before weave and bob in front of giant trees which are called "Sleeping Trees" because they close their leaves at night.

Yesterday I wanted the town I'd been sold in the guidebook.  I needed it to be manageable and easy and picturesque.  But Fort Cochin, India, LIFE is so much more complicated and interesting than that.

Tonight I went to a Kathakali performance.  It's a ritual dance and music piece.  Highly stylized and uber dramatic.

A true Kathakali is performed in a temple and takes 12 hours, running from dusk till dawn.  I saw a one hour snippet.

The thing I liked most about it was not the show itself, but the hour and a half before hand when the actors put on their make-up while sitting on the stage.  This is quite an intensive project.  Face paint is made out of coconut oil with flakes of different stones or flower petals to create the colors.  It is very thick and bright.  It renders the human face of the actor virtually invisible as a mask of color and geometrical shapes takes it's place.

As you can see in first set of pictures, some of the actors had a second stage of decoration that was applied by someone else.  The actor would lie down and a make-up artist would glue cardboard shapes to their cheeks and chins.  This took some time as glue is made out of rice paste and then painted on around the carefully applied make-up that is already there, then cardboard is shaped to fit the contours of the particular face.  So the guy getting his mask multi-dimsionalized got to lay on the stage, eyes closed for a good 20 minutes, just breathing.

As I watched, I realized that my pulse was slowing.  Time was deliciously suspended.  These guys train for six years to be Kathakali performers, they've learned a thing or two about patience, I suspect.  They applied their make-up with ease and skill and without need to jazz it up for the people sitting out front.

You know, I put make-up on before a show all the time.  I've never felt the kind of peace and sense of relaxation that those gents exhibited tonight, and their make-up was a heck of a lot more complicated than anything I've ever had to do for a show.  I'm always fretting just a little bit about how the show will go and wondering in the back of my mind if the audience will like it and me and us.

Sitting right in front of my seat on a platform was a statue of Ganesha.  It felt auspicious that I would be assigned a seat right at his feet.  I'm pretty sure he was telling me that everything, every activity is an opportunity to meditate, to relax, to slow your pulse.  I know this isn't new news to some of you, or even to me.  Buddhists have been practicing mindfulness for eons.

But, I get caught up in what the "guidebook" says my life should look like and be like.  Traveling heightens the sense of dis-ease inherent in discovering that the ground we walk is always in peril of shaking and throwing us off balance at a moment's notice. Yesterday I let myself by tumbled and tossed by the turmoil both inside and, to my distressed and distracted eye, outside.

I haven't figured out yet if the goal is to learn how to be still in and with the turmoil, or to make peace with the constant pushing and pulling and ups and downs that come with really living in the moment.  Like a pebble caught in the surf, are we meant to make peace with the flow of life rolling us along, sometimes tossing us violently against the shore, sometimes leaving us be to bask in the warm sun for moment or two?

Tomorrow I have decided to leave the haven of Leelu's and go sight-seeing with trusty Sandosh as my guide.  I will start the day with Ragas, a form of musical meditation played with sitar and drums.  I've never meditated for a full hour.  But, I think with a little musical accompaniment, I might just be able to manage.

Each day is, truly, a new day.  They bring, of course, similarities...we go to work, we come home, we brush our teeth, and they offer us opportunities to discover new things, differences that sometimes open our eyes and hearts to whole new cavernous realities or sometimes we just manage to inch forward, or out, or deeper, or in a myriad of directions our soul never thought it could spread.

So, tomorrow I will leave the village limits of Fort Cochin in a Tuk.  Where my soul will go is a mystery I look forward to discovering.


auntiemao said...

Breathe tomorrow. Breathe and visualize something lovely or pleasurable which will lengthen, slow your breaths. No doubt you will have to rearrange yourself a few times so that you won't go numb but you might eventually find the breathing so blissful that you won't want to disturb it and all the noise which has disturbed you so will have disappeared. Try it and be well...xo

Alan said...

I am now officially addicted to your blog posts. Yesterday was a bit of a cliffhanger and this morning I let go a hefty sigh of relief, with a smile. I was disappointed Sandosh had seemed to disappear. He is a character in the narrative and I am pleased he is back in. Your travels & travails have an impact on my day. This day has begun well.
It is fascinating how our 2 dimensional expectations as travelers to a new to us country are expanded & nuanced by feet on the ground reality. I was expecting the Salvador Joan Didion prepared me for. I do not doubt it was there but I was privileged to sit in the wings of the theatre while the San Salvador Symphony Orchestra rehearsed Carmina Burana & then met and interviewed some of the musicians. As an aside, when working/traveling (95% of my international travel is on someone else's dime), for a break from witnessing the effects of poverty 12 hours a day as well as the efforts of ChildFund and others to alleviate, my relief is to seek out though infrequently find "classical" music perfomances, (attending a play is more of a busman's holiday) . The small and imperfect Salvador orchestra is now my image of El Salvador. In Manila after slogging through some of the worst poverty in the world, a woman played marimba with the Manila Symphony. The striking thing to me about so many countries where there is unrelenting poverty and unrelenting un-noticed trash in public places is that deep in the ghettoes there is still pride of place and heroic effort led almost exclusively by the women, the mothers, to keep a clean, sanitary and comfortable home even in a one room shanty, walls of mud or flattened #10 cans. There are colorful flower pots or gardens maybe 3 feet square tended by moms who somehow find the resources and time to bring some beauty to their lives. and the children....the business of kids is play. Close your eyes (and often your nose) the sounds of happy kids at play is universal.
I hope you will get back to the orphanage, or to another one to read to and play with the kids. Keep the reports coming Morgan. You are making me regret deeply not having kept a journal all these years.

Morganna said...

Marianne-I thought of you today and wished you were here. I sat, again, out on the rooftop deck at dusk and watched the most amazing array of birds swoop and dive right over my head and all around. HUGE eagles and tiny bushtits (there's a nest on the veranda!) Wish you could see it!

Alan! What a great comment---I'm so thankful you are along for the ride. You are also omniscient...I just came from a classical music performance when I read your comment! Sitar and drums....the second time today!

Much love to you both!