Thursday, February 16, 2006

February 14, 2006. 6:30 AM.

The walls are shaking. The ground is moving. Nothing seems in focus. Before I can even realize what's going on it all seems to drift away. Did that really just happen or was I dreaming? Was that an earthquake? Before I can even figure out what is going on a knock is at my door and Becca is standing there with wet hair and no shoes checking to see if I'm alright. I nod. I don't know if I do it because I'm so shocked I can't think of anything else to do, or if I'm really ok. I'm not bleeding. I'm not hurt. "It's all going to be alright..." I tell myself over and over again trying to sound convincing. Maybe if I say it with enough authority then I'll really believe that I'm not scared out of my mind. We make our way up the stairs to see who else is awake. Before we get up two flights we are joined by the rest of the gang and escorted outside to "safety". Well, I guess everything is relative. I figure outside is safe compared to the concrete structures built into the side of the mountain...but really thinking about it we are still standing under power cords draped accross tree tops on the edge of flat ground. Considering how typical landslides are just from rain I can't say that I'm too thrilled to be out here right after a major earthquake. I guess I don't really have a choice though. When in India...right?

It is funny--looking back-- how people deal with scary situations. First we check to make sure nobody is hurt... and then we laugh. I laughed at my fear as I stood on the roadside outside the Hotel Pomra. I laughed because it was the only thing that I could do to comfort myself. I laughed because I had no idea what was coming next. I just laughed. And then I waited...and waited... and waited...and then just continued on with my life.

The past month of my life I have spent learning about the Buddhist way of looking at things. I guess it is really seeping in. The first thing that I thought once I finally got my wits back was..."I wonder who just obtained enlightenment?" I couldn't help picturing Buddha sitting by his tree with Mara fluttering around him trying to break the concentration. "Why do you get to be the Buddha?" Mara asked in trickery. Instead of answering, he simply touched the ground...and the whole place shook. I lived history today. Nothing fell. Nobody was hurt. But someone, somewhere (I am convinced) realized truth.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Weekend Away

"SILIGURI! SILIGUIRI!" It seemed as if every taxi owner, friend of taxi owner, and young kid wanting to mess with us was determined to take us there. The screams followed us throughout the shared jeep lot as we made our way across town trying to find a hotel. Welcome to West Bengal!

Although the site of a bustling market, crowded streets, and colorful shops is nothing new to me, this city called Darjeeling was like entering another world. It was as if someone had taken Gangtok, moved it 90 kilometers, and doubled the population. It was an entirely new maze of alleys, of people, and of things to explore. Before any exploration could take place though it was necessary to find a problem right? Yeah, that's what I would have thought to. After our fun four hour excersion crammed in the back of a jeep holding 11 people that should have held no more then 7, we were practically tossed into the middle of downtown Darjeeling with no idea of which way to go, or who to talk to. I'm sure it didn't help that there was no place we could stand where we didn't completely stick out. So, we just started walking...the wrong way of course. Eventually we found a hotel that looked "liveable" only to find out that the rooms that were promised to us were actually under construction and no guests could problem, there are tons of other hotels in Darjeeling. So we began walking again, this time with our own personal tour guide who was supposedly taking us to a nice hotel for the same price--the only catch-- he didn't speak a word of English. We climbed a couple stairways, wound through some back alleys and eventually ended up at a hotel named Snowcapped Mountain (in Nepali of course!)

So we made our way up... let's just say you get what you pay for...150 rupees a night (roughly 3 dollars) gets you a room with no running water, a hard bed with stains and an overly friendly landlord. We thought getting there was an adventure. Little did we know how the rest of the evening would go.

I've learned the the language barrier can not only lead to potentially offensive situations but also quite funny ones. While trying to find a place where we could go listen to music at night, our landlord somehow got the impression that we wanted to hear loud music at night. He interpreted this to mean that when we got back from dinner and were trying to go to sleep it would be a perfect opportunity to blast Nepali dance music on the newly installed speakers that were set right outside our door. Of course he was completely lost and offended when we asked him to turn it off! God I love India! Oh, did I forget to mention the power that had the tendency to go off for long periods of time. I think most of our time at the hotel was spent hold candles so that we could see. Thank god all we had to do was sleep there.

Anyways, after dropping our stuff off we decided to head out and explore the town. We wound our way through the neverending bazaars, smiled at a couple of little kids, and turned down quite a few beggars. Saturday morning we woke up early and walked up to the Himalayan Mountain Institute only to find out that the price for foriegners was five times more then the price for locals. A little pissed off Becca and I decided to walk down into the tea fields that surround the entire city. It was the best decision that I've made all trip. After a couple of minutes down hill the city seemed to melt behind us. The honking of horns that never ends on the main road faded into the distance behind us. Eventually it was just us, surrounded by tea fields and butterflies. So we sat. And we watched. And we talked. And life went on around us, barely noticing we were there. What a nice change...I don't think there has been a moment where we have just blended in since we entered India. But like normally, all good things must come to an end. Eventually we had to rejoin the rest of humanity up in the madness called Darjeeling.

The rest of the weekend was anything but planned. We originally wanted to spend two nights there but Jess (the other Jessica) got sick and needed to come back. We caught the last jeep we could out of town and returned to Gangtok early. That jeep ride was even better then the last one. Five hours seems pretty long when the girl sitting next to you is vommitting up breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can't blame her though...she was really really sick...we ended up taking her to the hospital the next night. Besides, I'm starting to believe that everything happens for a reason. If she hadn't gotten sick, we wouldn't have left Darjeeling on Saturday, and then we wouldn't have been in the jeep when the driver had to pay off the policeman who was going to write him a ticket for having an extra person. It was truly an India experience! =)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Musically Inclined...or not

India Tabla: A beautiful instrument that sounds as good as it looks when the right person is playing it. The right person: certainly not me. Today was my first Indian Tabla class...if the fact that I haven't played an instrument since fifth grade doesn't say enough then I'll be forward. I am what one would call "musically challenged". It's not that I don't like music...I do...really. It's just that I can't really hear it all that well, I don't pick it up quickly, and given the chance to "jam" I think I'd have most people running for the door. I don't think it is necessary to rehash all of the two hours that Jessica and I (no I'm not suddenly refering to myself as two people- there really is another Jessica) spent with out teacher Guru Gee. Most of it was us trying to place our hands correctly on the drums- or at least close enough to get some sort of sound. The real story was the run down the mountain, weaving through countless stairways, frantically trying not to lose him. Ever run down a hill before? Yeah me either...till today...and let me tell you the broken concrete slabs soaked in sewage water aren't really condusive to bounding. We finally made it to his little house tucked away at the bottom of Derali, hidden behind stairways and mud piles after a very stressful fifteen minutes. Wow...what a crazy man...what a crazy class...what a crazy land. I guess I should just throw my hands in the air and say c'est la vie. That is life right? People completely surprising the heck out of you and then turning around and doing it again. I never would have expected my teacher to lead me through falling down tin houses in the middle of Northern India to go sit on a cold floor and be served fried veggies and chiiya. I never expected that somebody with such great talent could live in a two room house with little furniture, a curtain for a door, and a mat for a table. I never expected a lot of the things that I've seen here...but isn't that the point. Hopefully I'll get better at this thing I claim to be drumming. Hopefully this will be something that I can take with me back to the states as a memory of my time here. And hopefully in the process I can brighten the day of his little six year old boy at least twice a week =) because isn't that what its all about?