Monday, April 13, 2009

a perfect distraction.

I have to write a 15 page paper for tomorrow and i am choosing to update this instead.  I thought i would leave my last minute homework tendencies at home... apparently not. 


So, I am back in Dharamsala and living in a hotel with the rest of the group... it is basically a frat house and i am loving it.  It's brilliant.  I am saying that "i am back" because i just got back from my spring break.  I traveled with my friends Allie, Josh, Stacey, and Becky.. the first two go to Columbia and the latter two are students at Emory. We first went to Agra for 14 hours (which was definitely enough time in that city) to see the Taj Mahal.  It is as beautiful and incredible as you think it would be... it is huge, beautifully white, and clean... just lovely.  They charge Indians 10Rs. to get in and foreigners must pay 700Rs.  isn't that insane?  Apparently it cost about 2,000Rs. a few months ago but anyways, I tried to be Indian when i bought the tickets but it didn't work... so yes, i was scammed and paid too much money to see the Taj Mahal. I don't regret it though- it truly was incredible.  Agra, on the other hand, not so much.  The sections of the city are either 147% filled with tourists and thus annoying and unnecessarily expensive OR they are completely untouched by tourists which is fun but also intense.  I saw my first Indian elephant and camel which put all of the Israeli camels and American elephants I have seen to shame.  I NEVER KNEW ELEPHANTS AND CAMELS COULD BE THAT BIG!!  I was in a rickshaw and turned the corner to see this MASSIVE elephant walking down the street being ridden by this man ON the main road.. the elephant's face was painted pink and yellow and its feet were painted so it looked like it was wearing shoes... it was adorable.  Definitely the biggest adorable thing i have ever seen in my life.  I saw camel-drawn carriages holding 7 people... THAT attests to how big the camels were... really my understanding of a camel's size drastically changed.  We roamed the more untouched streets which was fun... intense... and fun.... and we actually got caught in a parade and all of the Indian men grabbed my friend Josh and pulled him into the center where everyone was dancing... then he grabbed me and the rest of the girls and gave us flower necklaces, food and bandanas and made us dance.  I am so glad that I was traveling with a boy because if i was alone that would NEVER happen.  Women are never included in the street festivals- one will only see men dancing... but I guess the men felt more comfortable bringing us in because Josh was with us. Speaking of that male-comfort when we went to restaurants or got onto trains or had any questions or walked into shops everyone would only talk to Josh.... "sir, what will you all be ordering?" "sir, the train is coming in ten minutes" "sir, where are you all from?"... it was pretty interesting.  I felt like i had a secretary. Thanks Josh. 

So, while we were caught up in the little parade i noticed this very flamboyant man getting pushed around and I just watched... he was not getting beaten up, men were pushing him away because he was getting very close to them and touching them.  The man was definitely gay and I could tell that he was marginalized in the crowd.  It was really sad because i could see that he adopted that place in society and was very loud and pulled his pants down and asked men to spank him and he was kind of just running around like the town's clown.  I am not really sure how homosexuality is accepted in India but it is interesting because, and i think i mentioned this earlier, the men walk around holding hands and are really affectionate with one another because PDA with women is strictly forbidden.  Something i have to ask about.  I'll let you know. 


So after Agra we went to Varanasi.  


VARANASI... what an incredible city!! Not that i have seen much of India at all... but if i can recommend one place to go, Varanasi is it.  I definitely cannot sum up the city on a blog and so i will just say a few things and just hope that you can go there soon...  So, first and foremost... the Ganga! The Ganges River! I have to first clarify to all of those who did not believe me... THE GOONCH LIVES! But, in Hindi they call it Rohoo Bakur... so take that all of you nonbelievers.  It lives at the bottom of the river and eats the bodies that are tossed into the river... not everyone is allowed to be cremated and so they are thrown into the river with a brick attached to their ankle.... I spent a lot of time sitting at the burning ghat (where they cremate the bodies) and it was surprisingly not as shocking as i believed.  A body burning doesn't scare me as much as i thought it would.  It's a body that can't be used anymore (again, easy to say when i dont know any of the people getting cremated).  I've been more aware of how I have been trained to fear death growing up in the West and I am just feeling less so now that i have recognized the ridiculousness of such a fear.  I think it was Shakespeare who said that is is funny that we fear the one thing that is inevitable in life... very true. Thank you Shakespeare.  Anyways, the burning ghats were incredible to see- everything is so systematic.  200 bodies are cremated every day and it is open 24/7. When walking through the city one will hear people chanting and turn around to see a group of men walking holding a stretcher made out of bamboo with a body of a family member on it- they chant "Truth is God. God is Truth" in Hindi.  Very matter-of-fact. Very natural.  Varanasi is such an ancient and beautiful and rich city... not money rich even though it was more modern than most of the places i have been in India, but rich with energy  (oh god....  i'm sounding more and more like a philosophy hippy no? .. kidding) but yes, the energy... the colors... the religious energy... the kindness of the people... it's just incredible.  So, we stayed for a few days and then planned to leave for Rajasthan.  PLANNED.  I ended up getting Shigella ... fabulous.  My friends went on to Rajasthan and I checked into a really nice hotel (cost $16 a night... and it was super fancy- I LOVE THIS COUNTRY). I ended up finding out that i had to check into a hospital and if you saw the hospital in Varanasi you would understand why i just caught the next flight to Delhi and checked myself in there... so i spent the last few days of my spring break in a clinic room stuck to an IV watching Hindi music videos and Bollywood movies in Hindi... least to say, if my friend Courtney weren't in Delhi and didn't come to visit me i would go crazy...  It wasn't that bad though- it is incredible how easily one can adapt.  Time passes and then these things that sound so horrific are over and it is a new day.  

While in the hospital i fell in love with India.  I fucking LOVE this country.  There are so many people and everything is extreme here... i have smelled the most incredible smells of my life here and then i have smelled the absolute worst/ nose-breaking smells.  I have seen the most incredible mountains and the most beautiful cities... i have seen the most lively and rich faces and i have seen dead people.... i have seen animals roaming the streets and then on the plates next to me... i have seen BMWs and one porsche and have seen people living in shacks...  I have taken a beautiful 45 minute flight from one city to the next and have spent 20 hours at a time on busy busy claustrophobic trains... I have seen the most corrupt police and the most honest shop owners... I have been scared and utterly calm... I have felt and been absolutely dirty and.... yeah... i guess i haven't actually felt clean yet... oh speaking of... when i checked into the brilliant hotel in Varanasi i took a shower without a bucket and the water was coming down on me from the shower head... that was the first time since january 14th.  That makes me laugh.  SO... with all of these extremes the one thing that connects all of the people here seems to be their love of this country-  I cannot tell you how many locals have said "WELCOME TO INDIA" or "India welcomes you!" "I hope you enjoy my country".... I am only that proud when in New York City but i dont think of the USA as MY country... I am not that overjoyed by it nor do i feel any connection to it.. I am American but don't feel proud of America... weird right?  That just doesn't make sense.  I know that i take my life in America for granted but anyways, I dont feel part of an "Americanness"... 


Oh, something else about Varanasi- EVERY INDIAN IN VARANASI SPEAKS HEBREW!! You know a lot of Israelis travel somewhere when... 

It was insane.. i would walk down the street and everyone would say "shalom! ma kore??" my jaw was on the floor the entire time... probably not a good idea because water buffalo roam the streets like squirrel do in new york city... a few of them charged down an alley when my friend Stacey and i were walking and let me just say that I was a fool and just stood there because it was my first time witnessing a large mammal charging and i simply didn't know what to do... a shop owner ended up shoving me and Stacey into a wall which saved us. Dhanyavad/Thank you shop owner. 


RANDOM: A little something to think about... so... what makes Elinor Elinor?  I would say my mind and my body... right? the two come together to make "me".  So why is it that i point to my heart when i talk about myself?  Think about it... if someone just said "YOU are the one who stole the money!" Wouldn't you point to your heart and say "ME?"... 

another random thing that I have been thinking about... so have you ever been in a situation where someone was just not being themselves or if someone is just not paying attention and caught yourself saying "where did you just go?" or have you ever heard someone say that to you? Isn't that a weird phrase to naturally say given the fact that we said Elinor is her mind and body...i dont know if that made sense but it does in my head... if i dont resolve this by the time i leave here we can talk about it when i get back... sorry for that stream of thought... 


So, I left the clinic in Delhi just in time to arrive in Dharamsala and catch the Nechung Oracle go into trance back at Sarah.  What does that mean?  Well, the oracle is this man through whom Nechung, the spirit, enters and gives advice to the world... or in this case to the reincarnate of Gen Lopsang Gyatso... again, i am not so sure how i feel about all of these ideas of reincarnates and spirits but i must say that it was incredible to see how all of the believers reacted.  Actually, even if i do eventually believe in reincarnations i dont think that it is fair to take a boy when he is 8 years old and tell him that he used to be someone else... most children don't have personal agency at that age but i find it to be extremely limiting and unfair to tell a child that he was someone else in his last life and that it is his duty to carry on the life that "he started" in his past life... i dont think it is fair or healthy.  So this all must sound so ridiculous right?  Reincarnations of people who have passed... worldly spirits entering into a mans body to give information to those residing in this realm... protection mantras... lucky grains of rice...  crazy eh? 

Well.. I am not sure what i believe in but yeah, I think some of this sounds pretty out of this world.  This week was a beautiful week though because I went from having this oracle experience on Monday to going to the Chabad house for the second seder on Thursday night and yeah... religion is pretty out of this world and crazy... the Rabbi let it be known that studying the Torah is THE way to happiness and THE way to figuring out the truth... he mocked me for finding truth in some Buddhist philosophy and I just laughed.  Why? Well... because i think it is really funny that some hold their truth to be THE truth... their god to be THE god... their tradition to be THE way... and their texts to be THE texts.  I am not condemning religion but i am condemning some peoples' inability to open their eyes and be interested in the different ways people choose to gain knowledge and gain a better understanding of themselves and who they are and why we are all here and what we are all doing.... I have found this intolerance within some of the Buddhist communities i have stepped into and definitely was saddened to see it in the Chabad house.  The members of the Chabad house were uninterested in hearing about what i am learning and they were completely incurious about Dharamsala and the exiled Tibetan community living here... and in the Buddhist circle i have been hearing people tell me that i am "just not ready" to become a Buddhist because i told them that i was not interested in taking the refuge vows (taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (the buddhist community of realized beings))... there is this weird detachment between believers in a faith (whether it be judaism or buddhism) and the nonbelievers.  Its really unfortunate though because we all have a lot to learn from each other... and if our eyes are SO CLOSED that we cannot look past our group of black hat black coat wearers or the red robe wearers... we are going to remain ignorant for a long long long time. 

As far as i am concerned, and please tell me if i am wrong, no one REALLY knows what we are doing here and why we are here... some of us have found truth in certain philosophies and answers provided by different religions and some of us have come up with our own answers and reasons and some of us don't even think about it... so, how does one have the right to tell someone else that their reason is wrong?  For me... THAT is the craziest of all... crazier than a spirit coming into ones body... crazier than some believing that the Messiah is back.  Do you know why? because i can't 100% say that the spirit isn't there and i cannot 100% say that the man with the white beard isn't the Messiah... i just don't know. But what i do know is that if we cannot find space and time to respect all people for their infinite answers and reasons to these inexplicable questions we are fucked.  


On that note... i am going to write my paper. Sending Indian love and Shigella to all 5 of you who read this... hi mom and dad!! ;) 

ps. remember how i spoke about how the Tibetan language is very in line with the Tibetan mentality and Buddhist philosophy? WELL... they have a word "shemshock" that means finding the truth with the power of the heart... I wonder if there is aWestern language that would have a word for such a concept.