Thursday, December 31, 2009

Be the Change!

Last day of the year. Last day at the ashram in Rishikesh. I feel this bring about the first leg of my return HOME! I leave at 4 AM by taxi to Haridwar, then the train to Delhi and in the evening return to Indore where the mad rush of packing my last 5 months in India into two suitcases.
Today was a good day. I started out the day assisting a lecture given by a guru at the ashram where the Beatles stayed so, so long ago. Something Swami Dharmanandaji said helped me solve a little of the "Indian Code" that has been puzzling me so much. Don Miguel Ruiz in "The Four Agreements" says in his first agreement "Be impeccable with your word." For a people that is so deeply religious, I could not understand how can Indians be so casual with their words. Many instances where they say one thing and next thing you know they do something totally different. And they never give you the impression of being sorry or ashamed of going back on their agreement with you. Well, the guru said, in India, feeling of guilt does not exist which would then explain why they can change their word on you without feeling any sense of remorse. When I got back home I intended to write some choice words to the management of the hotel where we stayed Laurence, Kahlil and I a couple of weeks ago, for going back on their words without any excuse to us. I realize now, I can save my time! It won't change anything.
After the lecture, I walked over again to Lucksman Jhula for coffee, met a couple of Italians who are also staying at the same ashram and we had a nice discussion on this idea of guilt that we catholics know so well how to harbor!! Can we find a balance?! That would be the ideal!
Tonight at the aarti, Swamiji, the Guru at the Ashram where I've been staying, for the first time during his homily, said a few words in English! Joy, I could finally understand what he was saying! I am paraphrasing here but basically he said, as you are leaving the Ganga, remember to observe yourself first, don't look at others and what they are doing. Talking of the New Year, he said "Be the Change" and don't look at others. These words went straight to my heart, and I thought that would be a great focus for the New Decade!! Now, a day or so ago, a friend on FaceBook was talking about New Year's Resolution and suggested that we should write it down, not just talk about it. So here and now, Telio, I am writing down MY New Year's resolution "Be the Change". This is not going to be just part of my email signature, but also part of my being. In small ways or big. Whatever comes. No looking at what the other is doing. Just what can I do to make this world a better place for me and those around me. Sometimes it will be hard Sometimes I will falter. I will remember then to not beat myself to the ground, but try as best I can to make amends and pick up from there.
OK, more to tell, but it is late and I am freezing!!
There are just three hours left of 2009! It was a good one. It brought me to India where I learned a lot and grew for the better, I think. Mildred said of 2010 "Son equilibre mathematique a comme une promesse." Isn't that beautifully said?! So, wishing all of you a beautiful 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One starfish at a time

At a cafe in Lakshman Jhula, a stone throw away from Rishikesh, where I spent Christmas eve, a group of four young rich, hippy looking Americans just had latte, carrot cake, spinach and corn sandwich, fruit and nut cookies, brownies, mineral water. Why the list of what they ate?... to show they have not only cheese on their bread but also ham (figuratively this one of course, in the Abode of Gods!) As I sit inside having my double espresso (heaven, folks!... still not Bustello! and certainly not a Pantal's cup!) and carrot cake I watch them leave. Outside the door is an old beggar woman so emaciated, you could see through her. She touches their elbows, as they pass, her hand outstretched asking for a few rupees. One of them brush her away, the others walk by not even seeing her. And it strikes me. I do it too. Most of us do it. What motivates us to pass by this immense poverty without any emotion, pity, sadness, disgust, outrage, anger... whatever... something. How can we turn away so readily? How can we not see it? Are we pretending? Do we feel it is not our problem? Do we feel too powerless? So it's been, so it will always be. Whoa! A very well-off Indian I met with whom I was discussing this issue told me, "Don't worry about it, Isabelle. India has plenty food to feed its people." Is that so? I've seen food lines in Rishikesh. But also I see hundreds of people lining up the streets asking for a few rupees of passer-bys.
It is overwhelming here. I feel a weight on my shoulders that is overbearing. There is no putting it down. My favorite quote which I am very hard trying to make my motto "Be the change". What can I do to make a change in this world? Not have that second cup of coffee? What will that accomplish? Give the 30 Rs. or so to the old woman? And then?... Remember the "forward" (I am sure most of you received!) about an old man on a beach with thousands of starfish (or was it turtles?) that were stranded on the sand and he was throwing them back in the ocean one at a time. A passerby asked him what difference what he was doing made with so many to save. He wisely replied as he threw one starfish back in the water "It makes a difference to this one!" The deal here is, you give this one old lady 10 Rs. and you are soon surrounded by 10 outstretched hands! See, here I go already finding excuses!... One outstretched hand at a time, Isabelle!
Eight more days in India, then back in Miami in my pretty pink house with the well manicured lawn in the nice neighborhood where no old lady with an outstretched hand will come in my path. But in my mind's eyes she'll always be there. Because she is not only here in India, she is in Haiti certainly, in Paris (remember, Mildred, the lady in the train the day I arrived last January?) and of course in Miami too, somewhere I'll find her.

This earth has to find a way to feed its people decently. H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, the Guru at this ashram says the solution to poverty is for the whole world to become vegetarian (you hear that, Kap?!) He suggested at the next summit they serve all veg meals!! I think his take is that there is room everywhere to grow all the foods we might need to feed everyone, and as vegetarians we will be in better harmony with each other! Nice idea (and I crassly add, "after my fillet mignon when I get back home!!)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My traveling companion

So, Kahlil is gone back home. I miss him. I miss him. But when I tell you this trip to Rishikesh was a divine intervention... Not only for me but for him too! There isn't a meal that passes by that I don't thank God he isn't with me. You see, we weren't in Indore a week that Kahlil had discovered ALL the non-veg restaurants in town! He had a slew of rickshaw drivers at his beck and call to take him to this or that restaurant. For those of you wondering why would I be so glad he is not here with me, well, for the very simple fact that there is not ONE single place in the state of Uttarakhand, or the Abode of Gods as it is also called, can one find ANY non-veg place to eat! I don't even think they understand the concept! So Kahlil would have had a little problem! His request to Sole and Taro and Antoine was to have a bucket of chicken wings from "Sports Grill" upon his arrival at the airport!

OK, so in the gastronomy department Kahlil would have been rather unhappy. Otherwise, he would have loved it! I have to divert my eyes to all advertisements for white water rafting I pass by. Now that I am a pro at back motorbike riding (I am sure there is no such term, but you get the picture, right?!!) we would have rented a bike for the whole 10 days! (A 100 Rs. a day, folks! that's about $22 for the duration !-)
How was it with Kap for the 4 months here with me? He was the PERFECT companion! A couple of days before he left we were making a bilan of our time here and decided it had been a 97%! For the sake of decency I won't discuss the 3% that wasn't good and it was a trivial point. I feel myself blessed in this son of mine. Even our disagreements were good because they taught me faces of him that are not bad just different from mine. Kahlil had just enough independence that I didn't feel his weight at all. He did his things, I did mine. When we were to be together it was most of the times joyful (except some of the school activities that we had to attend, and even then he gave most of the times most gracefully, and shopping, that a little less gracefully!) Nothing was a problem for Kahlil. Going to the bank to get money for us, get dinner at Wady, dental floss at Treasure Island... no problem! Just jump in his pants, make a call to his auto buddies and off he goes. Eggs and chips across the street at night for dinner, no problem! A last minute trip to Daddy's Kitchen, no problem!

We had great talks. He never complained, nor wanted more than what he had. I loved the way he loved his volunteer job at the Barli Institute. He loved the workers. He spoke fondly of them. We had great laughs together. The second look that we got in the streets was a source of myrth for us! We loved trying to decide which one of us had provoked it, him or I. We kept each other sane when the realities of India were too overwhelming. We were HOME for each other. I have one hope, that he lost some of his shyness in this trip. And I think he did. And I have one regret! He came to India an occasional smoker and found cigarettes so cheap here he left a much heavier smoker! Ha! Ha! You knew I wouldn't miss this one, Kap!!
I love you and I am grateful for you!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Another First

In 28 years of marriage with Pantal, this is the first Christmas we are apart! ...and I tell you it is not a good first! It is not that it was horrible, but it was not Christmas! I have to reiterate again and again, it was a divine inspiration for me to do something so totally out of my normal life, coming here to this ashram. I really just went the whole day never allowing myself to think it was Christmas. Some people wished me a Merry Christmas, I just pretended they were saying "Have a nice day" or something trivial like this. I can not imagine the soldiers onerseas who are so far away from their loved ones in horrible circumstances. I have a new respect for them. For me, I can say 13 days over and over again and know it will be over soon. How do they do it?... Mr. President, bring our troops HOME!
OK, loved one, let's not do this again!

A Christmas not like any other!

My Christmas Eve this year was spent with a group of strangers. It was one beautiful experience. But a side story first! While waiting for the film to start I went down to a cafe on the first floor to have a coffee. A couple is sitting at the table next to mine. The young woman says hello and tells me she was in my yoga class in the morning. Immediately I recognized her! The "Perfect Headstand", I exclaimed! I tell you folks, she could put the lady at the beach in Auroville to shame any day of the week and twice on Sunday (I love that expression! Who said that?... in a movie, romantic, male...?! It will come back!) She came out of that headstand in the most perfect child pose! She was next to me in class and as I can only do "foot stand" ;-( I had plenty of time to watch her elegantly execute her headstand. I remember thinking very foolishly at the time "I will do this one day." I didn't tell her this of course, lest she thinks me a complete lunatic after my performance in class that morning!! Well, she was kind enough to be encouraging and tell me that she was doing yoga two years before she was able to do a headstand. To be so kind, she deserves to do it so well!

So, revenons a nos moutons! So a group of young people who have a yoga school in the town next to mine, decided to have a Christmas celebration of sort by showing a movie called "How Jesus became Christ", offering some chai and cookies, and a sort of meditation called "spiral meditation". To get to Lakshman Jhula, I had to get a taxi called a "jeep" for 5 Rs. I was told. I ended up paying 20 because what I did not understand was that the jeep has to be full with 10 passengers for each one to pay 5 Rs.! Only in India! (Well, maybe not!) It was only a 3 minute drive from Rishikesh. (So tomorrow morning I am actually going to go back to have a cup of REAL coffee at the Indian version of Starbucks, that I saw!)

First we watch the movie. Very interesting film made by an Irish priest, named Miceal Ledwith. He was a professor of Systematic Theology for sixteen years, and the president of Maynooth College in Ireland for ten years. Just what I needed, another one out there trying to answer the big question about Christ and the universe and our role in it. The portion of his research that we viewed had to do with the years in Christ' life between 12 and 30. Very interesting the comparisons he makes between Christ teachings and all the other Masters, Buddha, Krishna... He makes some interesting point and I would recommend watching the movie anyone interested.

After the movie, we had a chai and cookie break then came the meditation. We were 24 total. Everyone was arranged in a spiral in order of the sign of the Zodiac, and holding hands of the persons next to you, we were asked to close our eyes and visualize a picture of Jesus in our mind and with the most soothing and powerful music ever, we stayed like that for what must have been 20 or 30 minutes! Can you imagine standing without any movement eyes closed for 20 minutes? Well we all did it without realizing the time pass. It was really incredible. The image I had the whole time was one of a Puppet of Jesus in a show Sole and Kahlil used to do at Saint John Neuman "Let the Children come"! And I swear to you everyone, the kids were right there with me in that room. In the beginning I had tears running down my face like Peligre (long long ago when there was water there!) and then I just felt great and sort of enjoyed their "presence".
After the meditation, We just sat in a circle and introduce ourselves. That's when I found out eight of us were celebrating Christmas for the first time in their lives! We discussed the movie for a while. One young man had his doubt about miracles. I pointed out to him that just the fact that this weird group of people gathered here on Christmas Eve was a small miracle in itself, it doesn't have to be a walk on water for it to be a miracle. I told everyone the story of the prayer I found on Meli's FaceBook page that she had posted on August 4th, the day of Evna's birthday. That was a miracle.

Then we had a gift exchange. On the announcement posted on the walls they had asked everyone to bring a small gift to exchange. I received a marble cut owl which is a symbol of wisdom! Nice, ne?! There was an American newlywed couple on their honeymoon in India. We were the three from America. The woman had left for a minute as we were picking numbers for the exchange. "Santa" said he would pick a number for her. As he was going to, someone said "wait, here she comes". He puts the number back in his hat and she picks her own number. She ended up getting the present her husband had brought! Now how is that for a "coincidence"!
The evening ended with lots of laughter and hugs.
...well, not quite for me! But I have to go. The aarti is starting. I hear the music.
Will tell the story of how I got home in the morning. (I'll tell the story in the morning, I didn't get home in the morning!!!)


In a country where gods come by the lacks, I find myself often questioning my relationship with God (Thank God we only have ONE to contend with!!!)! The other day at a temple in Mumbai, as I watch some women praying and going through all the rituals they have here, somehow I couldn't bring myself to join them. Not just because I didn't know the proper gestures, but because my relationship with God is a strange one. One, I feel totally and completely grateful and thankful for everything I know and everything I have. And I always send prayers of gratitude to Him. On the other hand, I don't feel I have the right to ask Him for anything. Just then, as I watched these women, I felt deep inside of me that if I asked in prayers to God, to make my knees stronger and more flexible, it would happen. But something stopped me. I felt also very seriously that if I wanted that I had to do it, through diet, through yoga... it is for ME to do it alone. It's as if God is not interested in helping me with my issues. This is a very simple example that I gave here, but this is how I feel about every problem I face. Is it over confidence in what I can do... but then why the gratitude?... or is it a feeling that I am not worth His Almighty's help?
I tell you, in a place where gods come by the lacks, my relationship with my ONE God has been a source of great questioning for me.
...what is one more question in the wave of queries I have been hit with lately!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A beautiful closing to an incredible experience

This trip would deserve a blog all to itself! One must not die without spending a few days in an Ashram in Rishikesh! So I've changed my earlier statement! Quiz time... which blog was this and and which place was I referring to?!!!

A picture is worth a thousand words... so, lots of pictures will be posted on FaceBook once I get back in Indore. I have been here two days after Kahlil and Laurence's departure. This was truly a divine inspiration to come here! It has been so invigorating, the prayers, the chanting, the look on the children's faces, the lighting ceremony called Ganga Aarati (musical offerings to the Mother Ganga, every evening from 5:30 to 6:30), the 4 PM and 5 AM yoga classes (notice how this one comes last?!!)! All have contributed in making this the best way for me to close this incredible journey.

Rishikesh is located at the foot of the Himalayas, some 200 miles North East of Delhi (Note it took he driver who took me here 7 hours and 40 minutes to drive this distance!... don't ask, the cows, goats, dogs, trucks... :-) In a brochure I saw, he state of Uttarakhand is described as he "Land of Celestial Beauty" and I tell you it deserves its name! The calm serenity of the majestic Himalayas everywhere you turn is breathtaking. And the Ganga, this forceful flowing river that seems to draw all life around it is to be reckoned with. When I think the discussion we have, Dannie and I about the Haitian Mass at Christ the King that lasts too long ONCE a week on Sunday and here daily, 365 days a week all along the river life stops for an hour and a half ceremony called an "aarti". In all temples along the river, at the same instant, as the sun sets, this spectacular musical ceremony is performed. Offerings of lamps and flowers are made to the river immediately following this ceremony and it is a moving sight to watch hundreds of miniature lamps float along the river. As promised in the beginning, pictures will follow once I am back in Indore. The Ganga is one of the 6 lacks of gods in India. They call it "Mother Ganga" and nothing is done here without the blessing of the Mother! All the shop keepers have their little reserved container to get some of the water to bless their stands of fruits (guavas!), artisanats of the region, sarees, shawls all throughout the day (what I like best is when they sprinkle some on their cash drawers!)
Life at the ashram. Very quiet! Wake up at 5 AM :-( for yoga, meditation and prayers till 7 AM. Breakfast at 8. Free till 1 PM. I walk a lot, come to the Internet cafe, have a cappuccino (no such thing as a good espresso coffee!) here and there, find a spot by the river, in a sunny spot (it is freezing here!) sit, sleep, read... Back to he ashram around 1. Lunch. Then back to yoga and prayer at 4 until 5:30, when everyone goes to the river for the aarti till 7. Then dinner till 8, and the day is over.
Yesterday was different for Christmas Eve. A new post will come tomorrow or later about his.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Remember the old movie "Papillon" with Steve McQueen, where he is emprisoned and out of hunger in jail, he goes after a roach and eats it?! Now everyone saw this and I am sure we all said, I know I did! NEVER would I eat a roach!!! Well on our journey to Mumbai two days ago I learned a very valuable lesson, NEVER say NEVER!!, I did not eat a roach :-), but I did just as bad :-(. So here is the situation.
As we were boarding the train, there was a couple already in the train all comfortably settled in top and bottom berths in my cabin. I very politely told them that the bottom berth was reserved to me. Both in my tickets and on the travellers list posted outside the wagon my name was clearly printed "Isabelle Camille, Lower Berth 19." He proceeded to inform me in a not so very polite way that I had a problem because he also was assigned seat #19. He would not show his ticket, though, just said he would only show it to the ticket collector. So the train starts pulling out of the station and I am still standing in the aisle, because they have bags and stuffs feeling up the berth. As all the other seats were occupied, I just stood there for a while. After a moment, I said to them "I guess I am going to have stand the whole way to Mumbai. It's OK, I guess, this is India, the incredible!" The young woman took great offense to my comment and want me to take it back! As I am still standing, I ask her under what principle would I feel the need to take it back or even apologize?! Her fiance/husband tries to calm her down, but not an easy task. In the meanwhile I am still standing!! Not the smallest gesture to move their packages so I could at least sit while we're waiting for the ticket collector to settle the situation! Kahlil who was in another compartment comes by, tries to talk to them, no cigar! Now she is even more enraged saying I could have just gone and sat with "my company" (her expression, thought it was cute!) instead of making this comment about India!! Imagine, 15 hours sharing a berth with Kahlil, sitting instead of my nice (I didn't know then what I know now! "Papillon" is coming!) berth by myself, (again, I didn't know then what I know now!!) where I could sleep! Finally the man in the coat arrives! He checks the tickets and as expected, the berth was mine... I won't gloat, and I have a story to get to, so that was settled! Being that it was only about 4PM at that time, I very graciously accepted for them to stay together on the berth with me while I read and when we got ready to sleep one of them would have to move. I am very quietly reading my book while they are watching a movie and talking next to me. Suddenly I feel something pass over my feet. I move them and forget about it. About an hour later, I feel it again. I had a blanket over my legs, so I move the blanket, don't see anything and I continue with my reading... Now it is starting to get dark so I am starting to think about sleeping. So I tell them once their movie is over, we'll go to sleep. They agreed and we continued, me with my book, them with their movie. And folks you will not believe it but a few minutes later a mouse came crawling on my arm stood on its hind leg as if to take a good look at me! I tried to scream, but the breath had been knocked out of my lungs. Finally, I realized she was looking at the thing also and made a very casual comment "A rat, yes, I've even seen one in First Class!" Then I found my lungs, screamed, jumped still in a very composed manner as I realized the audience was not going to be sympathetic! From that moment on, it is as if we had become buddy-buddy, the creature and I!! It just went on in its hunt for food and came back from time to time to check if I was still there! The other two just kept at their movie watching and talking as if nothing.
Well, folks, when it came time to sleep, "Manges-Moi" was just not keeping me awake anymore to chase the creature away, I told them it was time to sleep, she went on to the bunk given to him, which was a lower berth, he climbed to the top berth in our cabin. I stuffed the blanket all around me to fill the holes where my little friend was crawling in, in the hope that it would suffice to deter his visit, and I slept!! I still can't believe it! Kahlil refuses to believe me as I am sure some of you who know my rodent-phobia (is there a term for this?!). Once I realized there was nothing to do about it, they thought it was just a small nuisance, so I wasn't going to get any help from anyone, I just made do! My body was begging for sleep so I did! Incredible! Unbelievable!
By the way, there is a joke in India, that rats here are smarter than rats anywhere else in the world because they travel so much in the trains!! When I was told the joke during our first trip to Khajuraho, I had thought it was funny. Not anymore!
Morale of the story: Il ne faut jamais dire "Fontaine, je ne boirai pas de ton eau!"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Through their windows

When I look into their homes through open doors and windows as the train passes along, I come to wonder about their lives. What do we have that they don’t have? …they have gods by the lacks (that’s 10,000 to us!), they have food, they have water, they have family, they have community, they have a place, no matter how small and précaire where they can put their head down at night and sleep. What do we have that they don’t have? Liberty? …to do what? Dignity? … When I think of the kids in “Slumdog Millionaire” or the ones in the documentary we saw at Daly College once, they were doing the filthiest jobs, by our western standards, but with such grace and joie de vivre, this is dignity! They are doing what they know best in order to survive.
When I look into their homes through open doors and windows as the train pass along, I come to wonder about their lives. What do we have that they don’t have? …Liberty to dream and succeed in moving out of the zone where we were born. Whether we want to or not, the possibility is there. We can formulate the dream. Some succeed some don’t. But the dream can exist. Here, this belief that where you were born is where you must stay is suffocating, to me as a foreigner. What is life without dreams, hopes for knowledge, a better tomorrow for ourselves and our children?
When I look into their homes through open doors and windows as the train pass along, I remember a quote from Nehru that I saw at an exhibit at the Nehru Science Center in Mumbai: “India with all her infinite charm and variety began to grow upon me more and more, and yet the more I saw of her the more I realized how very difficult it was for me and for anyone else to grasp the ideas she has embodied.” I could spend a lifetime in India, I don’t think I would ever fully understand it. I feel frustrated with this idea of "place". My favorite quote of course you all know is Gandhi's words: "Be the Change you want to see in the world." In a small way, I tried to tell everyone I met here if only in the small gesture of saluting them on campus for example that I believe their "place" didn't matter to me. I valued their presence and felt them worth the acknowledgement. I am in awe of the diversity here. My time here has helped me come to term with some of my ideas. I have more questions about my life now (I needed that, right?!). Some I have answered, some are still out there. I know I am more accepting of myself now. I am less afraid of finding myself in new surroundings. I am much less judgmental of other people's ways of responding to life. I try my best to accept that each and everyone of us have different experiences that makes us tick differently.

India, I may not understand you, but I've reveled in your diversity.