Why I’m Writing my own Obituary.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal April 1, 2017

I once read that big publications ask journalists to keep obituary drafts on celebrities so that they can quickly publish in the event that one of them meets their ultimate demise.

Although this seems morbid, it’s also practical. I was recently reading a 3,500 plus word obituary published within hours of the death of a public figure in Ireland, and I was struck by how deep and thorough it was. In comparison, the obituaries of beloved local members of my community—oft written by loved ones—were rather shallow and fleeting.

This bothered me.

We’re all a bit voyeuristic. I can’t be the only one who reads obituaries of people I don’t know and have never met. The obituaries that I find most touching are the ones that reveal the humanity and uniqueness of a person.

How did they live in ways like no one before them? What can I learn from their lives? What stories did they embody in flesh and bone that will live on in the memories and hearts of those still here?

I started considering my own life and what I want to be remembered by. There are the basic facts: name, date of birth, age, eventual death details. But aren’t we all more than just dates and numbers?

My brother and I have had a long-standing pact that we will write each other’s obituaries. He has the same infatuation with language that I have, and a keen ability to reveal truths.

But instead of leaving it all up to my brother (and to chance), I decided to draft my own obituary.

Let me be clear: I’m not doing this because I think we should live in a state of fear that death is around every corner; rather, we should live in the knowledge that life is full and…

Read the full article here.

How the Deepest Massage of my Life Brought me Back to my Body.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal March 28, 2017

A month ago in Dubai, I had the deepest massage of my life.

As the massage therapist stretched, pulled, and pressed on my sore exhausted flesh, I immediately knew this massage was different.

Like so many of us, I often walk around somewhere up in my head and barely notice my feet meeting the earth. This tendency to live in my mind is what compelled me to play competitive sports as a child, then find yoga and dance as an adult.

Although my habit is to live up in my comfy cerebral space, my body craves being lived in. Sometimes vigorously, but mostly just actively, even if it happens in fits and spurts. I’ll spend days not doing much intentional movement and then I’ll get the itch and dream of running—sprinting down my street. Or I’ll get the taste of cobwebs on my skin and I need to move. Now. Jump. Stretch. Shimmy. Climb something until my chest heaves and sweat makes dusty rivulets down my legs.

I love massage and I’ve had my fair share of them—in seven different countries. I adore the ritual. I crave the therapeutic benefits. I need the relaxation. I cherish the self-care.

My mother introduced me to the magic of massage when I was a teenager. After getting professional massages together as a birthday treat, my mom decided on a whim to buy a massage table. Her intention was to give me and my brothers all the benefits of massage from the comforts and ease of home.

I can remember one sunny summer day she set the table up in the grass of our backyard and gave each of us a sugar scrub rub that ended with a run through the sprinkler. Unfortunately her dream was…

Read the full article here.

Do we need another Reason to Adore Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38960035

Originally featured on Elephant Journal March 15, 2017

About a month ago, while crossing from the United States into Canada, two men lost almost all fingers to frostbite in their desperation to seek refugee status.

“Asylum seekers are illegally crossing from the US into Canada in growing numbers hoping to receive refugee status. One small prairie town in southern Manitoba has become the nexus point for migrants who have lost hope in the US.

Mohammed says he once viewed the US as a beacon for human rights and a place that welcomed newcomers but ‘when we came, we didn’t see that.’”

Where is our outrage?

Like most Americans, I am ashamed to admit that I’ve become jaded to the plight of refugees. We read about climate refugees fleeing water shortages and famines. We hear about Syrian refugees fleeing bombs and desolation. We see boats filled with children drowning on a weekly basis. Rarely does the latest tragedy pierce our comfortable bubbles and actually force us to stop and think about what is happening outside our families and our homes.

I was horrified—stomach in my mouth, tears streaming down my face—while watching the interview with these two men. Being from Alaska, I grew up with a healthy appreciation of the seriousness of frostbite. But that’s not why. This isn’t happening in Europe or the Mediterranean—this is happening here at home.

Instead of finding the “Land of the Free,” and rather than waiting to see what policy changes come next from the new administration, desperate immigrants are leaving the U.S. and walking across the sometimes frigid, snow-covered border into Canada.

Sound familiar?

Many of the undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico are Central Americans fleeing from violence in their home countries. It’s an ongoing American delusion to think that we have a monopoly on…

Read the full article here.

Mindfulness in the Pediatric Ward.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal Feb. 2, 2017

Being in the hospital gives me PTSD.

Like actual PTSD. My breathing is shallow and fast, I start feeling trapped and claustrophobic. I sweat. The really smelly kind of sweat. My mind fills with a torrent of fear that drowns out all other thoughts.

And to my horror, when I get angry at not being heard, I cry. When the tears burn down my face, I become even angrier that I’m crying and less able to speak up. 

This is why when I told my husband a year ago that we were going to have a baby, I also told him I’d like to have our baby at home. He was already familiar with most of my hospital traumas, including the discovery that I’m allergic to two common medications—after they were pumped into my IV. Twice.

I’ve been rushed into emergency surgery 3,000 miles away from home and I’ve spent a week as a medical test subject. I also have the type of veins phlebotomists dread. It takes three sticks on average for a needle to find a suitable spot. I once sprayed a two foot stream of blood across a wide-eyed nurse. 

After a month or so of petitioning for a home birth, he finally agreed and we found the most extraordinary midwife. We had a healthy pregnancy and a dream birth at home. Six hours of calm in a safe space with no medical intervention and full-on mindful breathing resulted in a healthy, happy, eight pound, 15 ounce bundle of joy.

All of our intentional avoidance of hospitals has now flown right out the window. 

Today is my second day in the pediatric ward hovering over my three month old son as he struggles to breathe. It’s taken me two days, two long exhausting days to wake up. Entering the hospital through the Emergency Room is like being placed on a…

Read the full article here.

Why Does My Baby Smell Like Tapas? And Other Absurd Questions of Motherhood.

“So how’s being a mother?”

To be fair, I’m guilty of it too. Making small talk is awkward and it seems like a harmless question. I know I’ve asked it without any real idea what I was asking.

It’s really an absurd question. Each time I see someone for the first time since having little one, it’s been close to the first thing out of each person’s lips. I don’t blame them. Maybe it’s me. I never know how to answer. I get a goofy smile on my face and say “I love being his momma!”

Which is completely true. I don’t know how I feel about being a mother in general yet, but I love being my little one’s.

After that, I don’t know what to say. I kind of wrap my arms around myself in an imaginary hug of our son, or if I’m actually holding him when they ask, I look down, smile, and give him a squeeze.

Then I sort of wait. Because how do you explain motherhood in a handful of sentences in the same manner as discussing the weather? Most of the time, I get a smile and a “oh that’s wonderful!” Sometimes I get a quick peek into someone else’s crazy postpartum experience. Raw authentic words that cut quick to the heart of the transition from being Not A Mother to being A Mother. Then the moment is gone and we’re back to discussing the actual weather.

It’s absurd.

It feels like a quick dip into the swift underground river passing under all of our feet. Motherhood. We don’t like to get too deep and be whisked away-just enough to feel the force of the river and then back to solid ground. Now that I know it’s there, it’s hard to ignore.

I’m extremely fortunate. I had the dream labor and birth that we planned. A quick, safe, transformative experience. We have a happy healthy (barring colds-damn you colds) little boy. I haven’t experienced any trauma postpartum or PPD. I know a lot of women do. I’d like to find a better way of honoring their experiences with a better question. And the time to actually hear their answers.

So far, motherhood is full of absurd questions. Like, “is the milk stain surrounding my entire nipple area and half my boob super noticeable?” Or “why doesn’t this outfit come in my size?” Or “did you pee on me again?” Or “why does my baby smell like tapas?”

I found myself saying this last one out loud a few weeks ago. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why little one smelled like a hummus platter. I hadn’t eaten anything nearly so delicious for longer than I could remember. So it wasn’t from breast milk. That also means I couldn’t have accidentally spilt anything on him.

The smell slowly dissipated and I forgot all about it. A few hours later the smell came back while little one was practicing jumps and kicks in my lap. He was warm and I was starting to crave flatbread and small plates.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize what was causing the smell. Little one loves bath time. Sometimes I almost think he purposely has poo explosions to get back in the bath. After each bath, I make a nest of towels and give little one a baby massage. With olive oil.

Each time he was getting warm, the olive oil was too. Mystery solved. Go figure. If it’s good enough to eat, it’s good enough to put on the skin.

I blame the delayed realization on the absurdest question of all:

“Is your baby sleeping through the night?”

Bwahahahahahahahaha.

10 Things to Do Instead of Yelling at the News

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few days huffing and rawring at the news. Crying even. All of my sacred cows are being slaughtered in this new administration. I expected to be incensed, but I thought I’d get at least a few days respite in between each time I need to donate or make a phone call to my Senators or get out and protest. Apparently not.

So in order to stay sane since we are only ten days into the next four years, I’m going to commit to doing these ten things when I. Just. Can’t.

  1. Hug my little one. With the overwhelming despair that comes crashing down on my shoulders each time I open BBC News or the NYT or my Facebook feed–I’m recommitting to spending quality time with our three month old. During the day too often I turn to my phone, or CNN, or my laptop for a distraction. After the first few weeks of breast-feeding a newborn at all hours of the night, I stopped turning to my phone while nursing at night. For one, my googling was diagnosing my new baby with all manner of rare disorders and second, I was having a hard time getting back to sleep in between feedings. When your little one eats every hour and a half at night, those few minutes of sleep are precious. I’m fortunate to be able to stay home with our son. Even when I’m exhausted and my nipples are sore, I have been peed on for the second time in two hours, and my hair is a frazzled halo around my head–I’m trying to stop and remember that these precious moments won’t last. I’m savoring them while I have them. No matter what is going on in the world, taking the time to make my little one giggle is good for both of us.
  2. Eat. As a new mom I’m good at forgetting this one. I was good at forgetting this one when I was working before baby came too. Having a small child just compounds the consequences of not putting something in my mouth. Now. I get hangry. Niall is good at gently suggesting food or even better, putting something in front of me when I get so hungry that I think I’m no longer hungry and I feel weepy because the world is a disaster and everything hurts and I just don’t know what to do. Food. Put. It. In. My. Mouth. It’s simple and I guarantee that when I eat, the sun also comes out. The world is easier to handle on a full stomach. Preferably a slowly made, organic, free-range, in season, artisan meal. Or just a pickle. Really, I practically live off of condiments at the moment. That’s what I have time for. Surefire way of waking a sleeping baby? Make a cup of tea.
  3. Watch comedies. Seriously. I read constantly. I read a lot of depressing things. Niall is quick to point that out when I start telling him about all the things I’ve been reading. For my sanity’s sake I watch funny tv, funny movies, funny news shows.  Top of my list at the moment:@ Midnight, Blackish, Modern Family, Sherlock, and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. I also sprinkle in The Daily Show, Top Chef, Project Runway, and lately a healthy dose of turning off the tv. I listen to podcasts too. Mostly Radio Lab, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, and This American Life. Alright, they’re not all comedies, but they do nourish me. Watch, listen, read for nourishment. Laugh. We have to laugh right now. Also, it’s all just filler until the next Outlander season starts.
  4. Surround myself with good people. Sounds obvious right? Spending time with people who bring out the best in me is good for everyone. They can be family, chosen family, even complete strangers in a place you feel welcome. At the Women’s March, I looked around and said “Yes! You are my people.” There were 1000 people marching in our small Palmer and I knew most of the them. It’s a comforting feeling to know that so many of my neighbors share my values. Even the complete strangers were good people. That includes online communities too. Fighting on social media tends to lead to fights in my real life. I take my online frustration out on those nearest my computer or my phone. Laugh with real people in real life. When our little one spit up all over Niall’s face while he was playing “Super baby!” I laughed so I hard I think I added five years to my life. Children are good for laughs. So is The Onion and Waterford Whispers News. 
  5. Make a list of my priorities. I’m not talking about a clean house or groceries or whatnot, I’m talking about my political values. I write them down. I sometimes create a hierarchy when it helps. I also add what I can do about them and organizations I care about to donate my time and money. Also get to know your elected officials so they can enjoy hearing about your priorities. Here are a few of mine:
    1. Reproductive health: Planned Parenthood
    2. Immigration: ACLU
    3. Refugee assistance: RAIS
    4. Community building: Radio Free Palmer
    5. News: NPR
    6. DVSA: Alaska Family Services
    7. Global education: Alaska World Affairs Council
    8. Community gardens: Grow Palmer
  6. Dress up. This is one from my incredibly insightful Momma. When I was sick growing up, her advice (after drinking a glass of water) always included putting something nice on. Something that made me feel good. Because when you look good, surprisingly you feel better. She was unwittingly channeling Chögyam Trungpa and his teachings on personal drala. It’s similar to ‘fake it until you make it’ and I can attest that it works. I always feel better after a shower and putting on an outfit and jewelry that I love. It’s like magic. When I lived alone and I was up in the middle of the night, I’d try on my fanciest clothes just because it felt good to do so. Now, when I can’t possibly drag myself off of the couch and out of my pjs, I put on a cute dress and earrings that hopefully I can a) breast feed in or else I flash whoever else is nearby and b) my baby doesn’t rip out of my ears. Sometimes I can only wear said outfit until the next hungry cry or watery burp, but even those few minutes are enough to shift my mood for the better.
  7. Move. Any kind. When it’s -25 degrees F, I dance around the house with my little one in my arms. Sometimes I ski. Sometimes walking up and down the stairs fifteen times to get another baby outfit or wash another load of baby blankets is enough. When I have a cooperating little one, I practice yoga. With or without the baby sitting on my sternum. I try to get outside as much as possible. Fresh air is almost as important as moving. But not when it’s psycho cold out, that’s what the treadmill is for.
  8. Make something. It can be anything. I excel at approx. 10 rows of stitching. The last thing I knitted to completion was a baby hat two days before our little one was born. The keys to its completion were that I had a pretty fast approaching deadline and that it only took me about an hour. I’m a fan of surrounding myself with pretty things. I like to make journals with old magazines and some cardboard and a lot of blank paper. Sometimes I sketch, mostly I make plans to make something, but when I do–oh the feeling is like a mini victory. Mini because I usually only have time for something small. Sometimes I arrange the magnets on the fridge into a pleasing pattern and that feels like enough.
  9. Clean my ears. This is probably just me, but cleaning my ears with a q-tip is one of my absolute favorite things. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it feels as close to swiping out the cobwebs from my brain as I’d like to get physically. There is something just decadent about cleaning my ears in the middle of the day. I also have to pause and stand still for a moment. I’m not the type to clean on the go. I really savor those few seconds. Especially when I don’t get a whole lot of alone time these days.
  10. Sleep. Haha. This one is a joke. Sleep. Yeah, everyone knows that sleep is necessary/divine/better than sex–elusive. This is wishful thinking on my part. 

I’ll be practicing these ten. They’re good for the soul even without the shadow of the next four years looming.

Gahhhhhhh! I just made the mistake of looking at the news. I’m going to go do #9, #1, and maybe, just maybe #10. Here’s to retaining my sanity and maybe becoming a better person in the process.

 

Whispers

Havelock whiteout

June 2012

In need of a welcome distraction from the heavy law homework I should be completing, I have chosen instead to ruminate on this last year. It has been quite epic. Not an obnoxious exaggeration I’m afraid.

As those who have braved my previous verbose blog entries, or those who have suffered through my long drawn out in-person verbal soliloquies can attest, a lot has happened.

It has been the most simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying year of my nearly quarter of a century.

It began with the serendipitous and charmed introduction of a special someone on a beach in India. A handsome someone. A funny someone. Someone whom I fell madly in love with. After 3 months of heart opening study of Odissi dance, this Irish someone stepped in and captured said heart with ease.

Since this extraordinary moment, we’ve travelled, we’ve laughed, and we’ve cried. We’ve said hello and goodbye too many times to count. We’ve kept track of time zones and schedules, immigration policies and transatlantic flights. We’ve made skype dates and lunch dates. We’ve spent harrowing times apart and blissful moments together. And yet, we keep choosing the efforts of love.

This is despite the interference of immigration and legal authorities. Despite two cancer scares in 6 months and numerous court dates. I have a new constellation of surgical scars scattered across the canvas of my belly and he  sports new grey symbols of a stressful year hidden amongst dark curls.
~

Sometimes the boundaries of the world are deceptively thin. At times I believe I can reach out and touch the confines, beguile the world to reveal her secrets and her charms.

Other days, the world is a positively strange and terrifying place.

Besides the pain or loss of a loved one, my deepest fear is quite simply:

Immigration.

There is nothing more upsetting then being threatened with deportation for multiple hours.

This is after being detained by immigration and threatened with deportation for multiple hours.

So much to write…

Fields of Sunflowers and Morning Spirits Part I

Ok, so I lied. You did have to wait longer for this one. What can I say. Well, a lot as you might imagine.

Much has happened since last I wrote. Of course. Before I get to the new (and oh is there new), I will share my travels to my ancestral homeland in July.

~

Slovakia. Ahh..I love the syllables. Four. I counted. Not the kind of country you can say quickly. You pause. Letting the sounds rest on your tongue. Like savoring a square of deep dark chocolate. Allow it to melt. Contemplate the complexity, appreciate the richness. Finished with a sigh *ahh* on the out breath.

My cousin Roman describes the difference between the Czech and Slovak languages in the way of cadence. Czech is spoken with a continual rise in intonation until the end of a sentence, like climbing to the zenith of a mountain peak, over and over. Slovak is spoken with the cadence of one strolling over the hills and valleys of the Orava region. Picture a sine graph, rising and falling like the gentle sounds of a bubbling brook. In one word, soothing.

Imagine: fields of sunflowers with upturned faces. Rugged mountain peaks. Wide river valleys. Cliff top castles. Alpine cottages. Accordion serenaded garden parties. Central/Eastern European life, post-communism. Roman Catholicism. Slovak. Beautiful family and friends.

Slovaki-wha? Don’t be ashamed if you just looked up Goggle maps to locate this gem of a country. You aren’t the only one.

Niall: “How is Slovenia today?”

Kenni: “You mean Slovakia?”

Niall: “Yeah, that’s what I said, Serbia.”

~

My journey to Slovakia is a complex one, yet fundamentally so simple. A desire to unearth a lost branch of my family.

Last summer (2010) I was conducting family research. Easier said than done when the majority of your family comes from a non-English speaking part of the world. Identity is central to my studies at university (Naropa University, www.naropa.edu). What better place to start than to unravel the multi-colored quilt of my own?

Psenak. Most if not all of you, know how to pronounce my surname. It’s unique (until I found a village of Psenaks in Slovakia, but more on that later). Growing up with an unfamilar surname was a blessing and a burden at times. (Often compounded by being a girl named Kenni. Thanks Mom and Dad. It built character, I’m sure. ) Mispronunciations are common, only to be expected. “Pisshnack?”

But on the brighter side, I can categorically say I am the only Kenni Psenak in the world. I think that’s quite nice, although I was always a little sad when doing name meanings, family crests and such in school.  My teacher would invariably come back with a sympathetic look and “sorry, we can’t find any information on your name.”

But I did.

The next bit is a bit dense. Family trees tend to be that way.

Back to last summer. I had been scouring online for information on my Dad’s family for months when I brought a packet of printed out documents to my Grandfather with information on the birthplace and immigration of his father, John (Jan) Psenak. My Grandfather had always been told that his parents were from Czechoslovakia (Mother) and Austria (Father). After wading through countless ship manifests and naturalization, census and draft records I found my Great Grandfather Psenak. According to the documents, my Great Grandfather Psenak was born in Medzibrogy, Hungary which at the time was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, later found in Czechoslovakia and finally a small village in the Orava region of northern Slovakia. I was elated.

I brought the information to my Grandfather and shared while my cousin was visiting. We began asking my Grandfather more about his elusive Mother’s family, the Pohancenys, the ultimate mystery. All that my Grandfather knew, was that his Mother (Margaret Pohanceny) immigrated to the US with her family from Czechoslovakia. As a teenager in Ohio, she returned home to an empty house and suspected that her father, stepmother, and baby half sister had returned to Czechoslovakia, leaving both her and her younger sister Josephine in Ohio.

My Grandfather also mentioned a cousin Don (son of his Mother’s sister Josephine) that my Great Grandmother briefly raised in Ohio after the death of her beloved sister (Josephine).

Fortified with this new information, my cousin began to search for my Grandfather’s cousin Don (the only one we knew of) somewhere in the US. Serendipitously she found him. Not only did she find Don Sole, she found a newsletter he had written about his search for his mother’s family (my Great Grandmother Margaret Pohanceny’s family). Lo and behold, they were alive and well in the village my Great Grandmother grew up, Medvedzie, Slovakia (once part of Czechoslovakia) a stone’s throw from the village of my Great Grandfather Jan Psenak.

My aunt contacted Don and a whole new family blossomed across the US and Slovakia. My Grandfather’s aunts (including the baby half sister that was born in the US) were recently passed, but the descendants (my Grandfather’s first cousins and children) were living in Slovakia, mostly in or near Medvedzie. Don had been in contact with the family for the past decade, including multiple trips to visit. All that had been missing from Don’s research were the whereabouts of our family, the descendants of Magaret (Margita) Pohanceny (Pohancena). Like the final piece of a jigsaw, the puzzle finally made sense.

I, of course, started to plot.

Not in the sinister evil doer sort of plot (I watched “Despicable Me” for the second time last night), more the “how do I work travelling to Slovakia to visit my family into my studies?” sort of way. As you do. I’m sure everyone has been there.

I found a way.

A year ago, my aunt put me in touch with Don’s family and from there in touch with the family in Slovakia. Specifically, the brilliant Roman. My cousin of the same generation, the sole fluent English speaker of our family in Slovakia. Not only was Roman absolutely indispensable as translator, guide, event coordinator and general wealth of information, we soon found that we had much more in common than mere blood. I could not have asked for a better resource or friend once I reached Slovakia. Thank you Roman.

I spent last fall semester drafting and implementing my master plan:

1) Take Spring 2011 semester to fulfil independent study and Honors Directed Research and Reading credits for my interdisciplinary studies

2)Complete these studies abroad while being enrolled 6 credit hours

3)Spend the semester (Jan-April 2011) studying Odissi Classical Indian and Kalbeliya Gypsy dance in India (independent study of devotional dance and folkloric dance) and Honors Directed Reading of Performance as a Means of Social Change in the Balkans

4)Leave India and follow the Roma migration from India into Eastern Europe conducting research (Honors Directed Research)

5)First stop; Turkey May 2011

6)From Turkey overland into Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and finally Slovakia June 2011

7)Visit family in Slovakia July 2011

8)Return to Boulder Aug 2011

9)Back to Naropa Fall 2011

 

As you might gather from previous posts, steps 6,8 and 9 were a bit compromised by the introduction of a certain tall, dark, handsome Irishman. As he likes to say, “the best laid plans….” (Robert Burns)

Instead of continuing to travel through Turkey and up through the Balkan Peninsula, I found myself in the Channel Islands. Soon to feel unwelcome by the immigration authorities and left with no choice but to leave and resume step 7 of the Master Plan.

Enough background. Feel free to comb through previous posts to fill in any holes. If after that there are still glaring omissions and you are like me and like to know the details……. tough luck.

So there I was, July 6th, 2011 leaving Jersey in the Channel Islands and flying into Bratislava, Slovakia. Completely unprepared. I had been resolute about learning Slovak before reaching Slovakia, yet all I managed to accomplish was the ability to count to 10, say hello and notice the similarities with Russian (which I took a year of). Not even “thank you.” It was a bit pathetic. On top of it all, this was my first venture into continental Europe. I must be in a very select club of North American people whose first taste of Europe is Slovakia.

I was a combustible mixture of terror and elation upon arrival in Slovakia. I felt honored to be the first of my Grandfather Psenak’s family to return. I also felt the weight of that responsibility. In the taxi from the airport to my hotel in down town Bratislava, it was all I could do not to break down into a sobbing basket case in the back seat. Not because I was sad to leave Niall in Jersey (which I was), not because I am scared to travel on my own (which I’m not), not because the driver was playing terrible techno club music (which unfortunately he was) but because I remembered the little girl I had once been. Dreaming of finding family on the other side of the world, about as far away from Palmer, Alaska as you could possibly get.

As I gazed up at the beautiful, rubenesque moon that night, filling the sky above Bratislava with warm lunar light, tears silently escaped the confines of my normally less sentimental tear ducts. Tears for my Great Grandmother Maragret who never knew what became of her parents. Tears for my Grandfather who has never met his family or seen the land of his parents. And tears for the little girl I once naively was. The one who dreamt of one day travelling to the land in her imagination where Psenak is easy to pronounce and family mysteries would be easily revealed. She was soon to discover that she was the one pronouncing Psenak incorrectly and family mysteries only deepen.

As cliche as it sounds, I genuinely could feel the embrace of the land of my ancestors. I knew I was home.

~

I’d like to think it was the spirit of the land and not the familiar stop signs in English. Or cars driving on the right side of the road. Or the friendly hotel clerk looking at my passport in confusion. “You are from Alaska? But you have a Slovak name.”

These were my impressions of Slovakia, night one. I still had another two weeks of exploring Bratislava (attempting to walk to Vienna, not the brightest idea), meeting beautiful family in Orava, eating meat for the first time in over three years (sausage no less), wandering the old church cemetery looking for relatives, drinking whisky at 11 am (quickly followed by being pissed by 3 pm), speaking with gestures and smiles, soaking up the mountains, and learning the essentials of Slovak (pivo, vino, klobasa, dakujem, dobry den: beer, wine, sausage, thank you, and hello respectively sans the appropriate accents. Not necessarily in order of importance).

Well, I’ve written quite a lot without actually saying much. This must mean Part I is finished. In that case, I’ll leave you with a bit of food for thought.

I had a frightening realization while residing at Hotel Kyjev in Bratislava. Although my room was on the 17th floor, I rarely took the elevator. I made a point of taking the stairs. Some would interpret this as a phobia of elevators. If only it was so easy. Unfortunately, it’s a symptom of something much more sinister. *Cue old black and white horror film close up of a woman holding her face and screaming: I am becoming my mother.

I’m beginning to think like her. Don’t take the elevator, take the stairs. It’s good for your butt, she whispers in my ear. Thanks Mom. For those of you who know my Mom, you understand my concern. Just kidding. No really.

Perhaps it was foresight. The next two weeks did consist of large amounts of sausage, beer, gulas (pronounced gulash) and kolace (pronounced kolachies, pastries). I needed all the help I could get to keep those fatty calories off said bum.

But I digress. Next instalment will be sure to cover three very important things:

1) whether Kenni could still fit in her jeans when leaving Slovakia

2) how she lost a new pair of sunglasses the same way as the previous pair in Turkey

3) how absolutely extraordinary it was to finally meet the Pohancenys and the Psenaks

Stay tuned. But don’t hold your breath. Soon, I promise part II will come soon.

Lots of love.

Dovidenia (until we see us again)

The Hazards of Being a Nomad Or Why I Won’t Get Married for a Visa

My gorgeous man

July 19th, 2011

Life as a Bohemian (in the late 19th century Parisian sense as well as being of the land of Bohemia) is not always easy. Exciting, adventurous, soul awakening, and colorful but never easy. Perhaps that’s what draws me to the lifestyle, if I really have a choice in the matter (which I’m beginning to think that I don’t). The ever changing and shifting experiences. Spontaneity. Surprise. I like to think it keeps me sharp. Always ready for what’s next. I get bored easily. I like the challenges. It keeps me alive. It’s also exhausting. Sometimes I wish that I could be content with something easy, normal. Not enough to actually try to live normally, but sometimes it’s a nice thought.

Even my new significant other recognizes the absurdity of my life that I seem to conveniently forget about. After an official Facebook designation of “complicated” in our relationship status, I hesitantly asked him “what exactly do you mean by ‘complicated?’”

He laughed. “Well it is complicated isn’t it? I mean, not how we feel about each other, but we don’t exactly live in the same country, let alone be from the same part of the world. You are travelling as a nomad and I live in one place with a nine-to-five job.”

And my response was “So?”

What I have taken for granted as the continually convoluted ‘of course the universe has a sense of humor’ aspects of my life, such as meeting and falling for a phenomenal man while on an island in India (of course) who just happens to be from another island, Ireland ( of course) but working on yet another small island off of the coast of France (of course) while I am still nomadically travelling (of course) with the intention of heading back to school in Boulder eventually (of course) is not exactly normal as Niall so insightfully pointed out. I won’t let those little hiccups get in the way.

My life is anything but simple. But I am beginning to think I wouldn’t be happy with simple.

Therefore, I won’t get married for a visa.

Yes, I know it’s a bit sensationalist (yet true) and I am missing a great chunk of the narrative. No you have not missed a crucial posting that would explain this new and flabbergasting plunge into the reflections of a Beloved Nomad who obviously abhors the thought of being bullied into a corner by immigration authorities, even nice ones.

This is a brand new chapter of the ever changing plans and journey of my not so simple life.

~

It began during a lightning storm with a gorgeous man on an island in India and it continues in directions and to places that I could never have expected nor dreamed. This is love. It sweeps you up in a great zephyr regardless of what path you had previously been following. It’s exciting. It’s giddy. It’s like being at the top of a rollercoaster when the butterflies decide to come alive in your belly. It’s watching the sky being painted by the rays of the sun rise over the sapphire ocean. It’s dark chilli chocolate after 6 months of Indian milk sweets. It’s a sunset walk on the beach with linked hands. Belly laughs and sore cheeks from face splitting smiles. It’s a field of sunflowers in the countryside of my ancestors. It’s beauty. Laska. Love.

I left India in May in a state of nervous excitement. This new person had made a grand entrance into my already mercurial life. Of course I had plans. I always have plans. I always have a direction. Mostly I know which way I am headed, but I won’t know how I got there until I look back and reflect on the path my feet followed. I let my heart be my guide as much as my head. There must be balance. To follow my impulses while also honouring reason. (I acknowledge my reasoning is probably much different than say, my Dad’s). To me, it all makes sense. Sometimes it takes me a little reflection to make it all make sense for others, but I am genuinely happy with where I have been and where I dream of going.

Back to Niall. Niall. I’m still not quite sure how much I want to share yet. I tend to be a little superstitious. There are some things I refuse to say out loud for fear they will change the outcome of what the future will bring. Knock on wood. Call me old fashioned. Or ridiculous. Please bear with me.

May 2011. I left India for Turkey. While I was still on the beach in Havelock, Niall booked us into a resort in Antalya, Turkey. Five nights in Turkey followed by a long weekend in London. My eyes welled up when he asked if I would want to spend these holidays with him, his treat. I’ve never experienced such generosity. We spent the intermittent month between India and Turkey writing witty (definitely his) emails and making (expensive, again for him) international phone calls. I felt a bit like a love sick teenager.

I was nervous about seeing him again in Turkey. What if he doesn’t feel the same? What if it’s awkward? What if I’m not as attractive as he remembers? What if he’s not as handsome as I remember? What if what if what if?

I arrived at the resort first. Let me just say, wow. I have never stayed in a big resort. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was definitely overwhelmed and a bit culture shocked from the previous 5 months in India. I am sure I am the only person to show up at this resort with a backpack. A dirty one at that. Probably filled with cockroaches from my last train journey. I sure as hell hoped not, I thought. I remembered the ones crawling out of Vanessa’s backpack in Mumbai and I hoped like crazy I didn’t carry similar stowaways. I would be mortified.

I checked into the resort and headed up to the room. Again wow. Ocean views over a big beautiful jacuzzi and balcony looking down at the pool and water slides! Niall picked this one for the slides. What a great qualifier for a good resort. Water slides. I threw my bags down and danced around the room. I felt a little bit like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” except for the whole hooker thing of course. Lowly Indian backpacker, to plush resort in Turkey. I don’t know what I did to deserve this.

All of the fears and what ifs dissolved as soon as Niall walked in. Tall, handsome, smiling, golden eyed Niall. If I can speak for the both of us (I’ll be sure to ask him), the weekend was amazing. We lazed by the pool (I burned while he slept), played on the kiddie slides (why not? There’s no age limit and we met the height requirement), ate copious amounts of food, dived in extraordinarily (compared to the Andamans) boring waters, and laughed, talked, had couples massages, and shagged the days away. (It’s true and it’s my blog, so sue me).

On our last day at the resort together we went diving. The owner of the company after watching us giggling and teasing away and taking photos of each other in our wetsuits, came up and asked if we were newlyweds. Embarrassed, we said no. Then he turned to Niall and said “her eyes glow when she looks at you. This is your chance. You are a lucky man. She is in love. Don’t let her go.” Niall was flustered and I felt caught out. Damn, I’m not very good at hiding my feelings, but what can I say, it was true.

Niall left Antalya the day before I did, to head back to work. The inconveniences of having a job. After the resort stay in Turkey, Niall booked me a round trip flight to London and back to Turkey for the weekend so I could continue my travelling (incredibly generous and thoughtful). I was ridiculously excited for London. The last time I had been, I was 15 and on a school trip. Much different experience I would expect.

Again I left the resort with my backpack and a query about the public bus stand (“you want to take a public bus?”) to get to the airport in another city. Breaking stereotypes and assumptions, that’s me.

I left Turkey with a small hesitant (and a bit presumptuous I was later told by Niall haha) thought that it might be a while before I came back. I knew I had a return ticket but a niggling feeling told me there was a possibility that I might not be on the flight. Just a hunch.

London. Unprepared to answer immigration’s questions about where I was staying while here.

“My boyfriend has the reservation. It’s somewhere on Oxford Street.”

“There are a lot of hotels on Oxford Street. Where is your boyfriend?”

“Getting off another plane….”

“Can you call him?”

“My phone doesn’t work here.”

I whipped out the Lonely Planet and picked a likely one. “Piccadilly Backpackers.”

“You’re staying at Piccadilly Backpackers?” Raised eyebrow.

My most innocent cheerful smile. “Ah, yes.”

Stamp. 6 month visitor visa.

After a brief moment of worry that we wouldn’t find each other at the airport, we were back together again. This time in the official boyfriend, girlfriend sort. Still how strange to say. London through the eyes of someone who has lived here in this great big metropolitan city, was great. I forgot how much I missed being able to understand others. Although, granted there are some English accents that are just as hard to decipher as Hindi or Turkish.

It began to feel a little like normal life. No swimsuits or beaches. Still a holiday, but this one had more clothing involved. (He’s just as handsome in street clothes as swimming trunks, lucky me). The movies, the theatre (Wicked!), pubs, museum days, and meeting friends. You can read a lot about a person by seeing how they interact with their friends. I fall for Niall more each time I see him around those that love him. It’s probably the stronger Irish accent that emerges with drink and friendly banter that gets me.

Over the weekend, Niall asked if I would want to come over to Jersey and stay with him for a bit. I told him I thought there had been a chance that he would ask.

“A bit presumptuous are we,” he smiled while my cheeks burned.

“We could do a one week trial run and see how it goes from there. I know you mentioned you needed to find a job before continuing your travels, so why not do it in Jersey? You would have a place to stay and it will be easy to get a work visa.” (Famous last words as it were).

How could I argue with that logic? Of course I said yes. I did need a job. My original plan was to head back to Turkey and find a job teaching English or being a nanny. Why not go to Jersey? Who was I kidding, I wanted to be near him.

We arrived in Jersey and headed straight to the ER. Niall had contracted a terrible chest infection the last night in London, (not doubt attributed to a little flu bug I picked up in India) and due to his already over taxed immune system from an accident and travelling, developed pneumonia. We holed up in the house for the next 10 days and I played nurse and attempted to tackle his bachelor pad. Beer in the veggie crisper, “you’re suppose to put what there?” “Veggies.” “I heard you, I just don’t know what those are…” haha funny how opposites attract.

The first night he handed me a brand new loofah that he said he bought me. “But you haven’t left the house since we arrived?”

“I bought it before I went to London thinking there was a chance you might come over to Jersey…..” with a shy smile.

“A bit presumptuous are we?” With butterflies in my tummy, I smiled.

~

The one week review came and went with “let’s see how it goes for another week.”

~

I find myself on a small island off of the coast of France. Living the quaint English life. Small streets. Pounds. Celsius. Really having to pay attention before I cross a street. Accents. Pubs. Learning to appreciate tennis. And Niall. This beautiful soul that has opened his home to me and invited me into his life. Wow.

The second weekend we flew to Dublin for a party for one of Niall’s college buddies, or mates (see, I’m learning yet another language). More great friends, more fun, more wandering around museums (Frieda Kahlo exhibit!), and more falling in love. He showed my around the small village he use to live while working in Dublin. He brought me into the local Catholic Church (I didn’t burst into flames, thankfully. That would have been embarrassing) and introduced me to good people. While dancing away in a pub to the last set of a DJ friend of Niall’s, another friend came up and whispered in his ear. I watched his face turn red and of course I asked what had been said. He mumbled at first, feigning nonchalance and said he’d tell me later. (It was loud and hard to have a conversation anyway). So of course the next morning I remembered and asked.

“Damn you and your good memory. He said something to the effect that ‘if you two aren’t in love I don’t know what love is.’” Niall said sheepishly. I just responded with a thoughtful “hmmm.”

~

After we returned to Jersey, I decided it was time to look into the logistics of getting a job. I mean, it can’t be that hard, right? Niall had informed me that Jersey wasn’t part of the EU and that everyone has to have a work permit. Simple.

I walked into the social security office with my inquiry. The lady at the desk politely directed me to the customs house. “Oh you’re American (as if I was from Antarctica) you’ll have to see if you qualify over at customs.” Not knowing what that meant, I walked over to the customs building. Again with my inquiry. “Just a moment and someone from immigration will call you in.” Immigration?

I sat patiently, dressed nicely in Western clothes, well maybe one scarf from India, but no one would know that. And I do have my nose pierced, but my septum ring was tucked up. I didn’t look quite the bohemian that I normally am. “Miss Psenak?” I was brought into a little room and sat at a desk across from two friendly looking immigration officers.

“What brings you in here?”

Sweet, innocent, and naively me. “Well, I’m not sure exactly. I’m trying to figure out what I would need to do to work here. I’m over visiting my boyfriend who works here. Do I need a more permanent visa? The lady from social security sent me.”

“Where are you from?”

“The States.” (Mostly I say Alaska, but I figured they would probably want to know what country. No sense in making them guess if Alaska is part of Canada, its own country, or part of the States).

“May we see your passport?”

“Yeah, sure.” I pull it out and hand it over.

At this point I start to get a little worried. They are taking notes. Well one is taking notes and one is just sitting staring at me silently, smiling occasionally when I look in his direction. Is he the wingman? Am I being videoed? Is this going to turn into good cop bad cop? Did I do something wrong? Does Jersey like Turkey and India? Am I going to be quarantined? I can’t be stripped searched for asking about a work visa right? Right?

I’m asked various questions. How much money do you have? Why are you here? Why do you want to work here? Where does your boyfriend work? How long have you been together? What color are your panties? (Well not really that last one, but it was beginning to feel as intimate).

I answer truthfully, because that’s who I am.

“So, can I get a work visa?”

The two officers look at each other and then the one in charge turns to me. “Have you considered getting married?”

My face flushes, my stomach drops, and I start to sweat. What!? I know I just read “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert, but really, this doesn’t happen in real life.

“Um, uh, what?” I stammer stupidly.

“If you want to stay, your only option is to get married.”

My heart sinks. No way. I’m living in an alternate reality. This isn’t really happening.

“How old are you?”

“I’ll be 24 in September.”

“Ahh.” He looks at me sadly. “I know it’s a bit of a shock (well yeah, just a bit). But it’s the only way you can get a permanent visa because you’re American.” What does that mean?? I’m not a leper. We speak the same language. Granted, we kicked the British out but you can only be sore about it for so long.

He excuses himself and leaves the room with number 2 in tow. I’m left in the room alone. Sad. Now what?

After a short time, (I’m sure if there is a video camera I looked dejected and pathetic) they return and sit down with grim faces. Uh oh.

“So here is the thing, you came in here with a tourist visa asking about work (yeah…) and you’ve stated you have the intention of staying here to work (I was asking if I can…). Now if you had been here for 5 months you would have more clout (but then I would be working illegally..?.) so what we have is your verbal intention to defy your visa limits (my what?! I had a question, just a question!).

At this point I get a knot in my tummy. A hard, knowing, knot.

“I talked to my superior and we are going to have to shorten your visa. When would be a good time for you to go? You’ll have to leave the UK.” What! I understand leaving Jersey, but the UK? You’re not even the same country technically.

Tears start to well up. Now they are no longer being contained. I’m fully fledged crying in the immigration office. I’m not sure what I did wrong. I very rarely feel like I’m in trouble. I don’t remember the last time. Even as a kid I was abnormally well behaved. This time I was following the rules and I got burned. My love sick heart is worried. What’s going to happen now? Am I going to go back to Turkey? WHAT!? Oh god.

I look up and as soon as I can speak I say “September?” as a question. Just give me the summer, I think, then I’ll figure it out.

They leave the room once again and I cry silently. Eat your heart out hidden video camera. A sickening thought strikes me. What about the wedding Niall and I were going to in Northern Ireland? That’s technically the UK. Will that count? But that’s in July so it shouldn’t be a problem. Hopefully.

When they return yet again, I’ve folded my tissue up into squares and sit tear stained. (I’m disturbed by the question of how many people have cried here, that they would have tissues to offer?)

Officer number 1 looks even grimmer. Now what?

Before he starts, I burst out “We are going to a wedding in Belfast in July. I just remembered. That won’t be a problem right?”

He looks pained at me hopeful face. “It seems we can’t give you three months. We’ve given you a month. I’m sorry.” He pushes my freshly stamped passport across the table. July 12th. One month.

The tears flood down my face. No way. This cannot be happening. I am an upstanding person. Any country would be lucky to have me (I needed the pep talk). Why the hell am I being kicked out?

The officer politely asks if he can phone Niall for me. I mumble that he’s at work (polite me, not wanting to bother him).

“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. It’s rather important.”

I say thank you yes. I’m told to wait outside and that I’ll have to bring proof, like a plane ticket, before I leave. I nod and leave the room.

It seems like a blink of an eye and Niall is there. He comes striding into the building looking worried and searching for my face. I stand up and he engulfs me in his arms as I sob into his shoulder. “Baby, what’s wrong?” I try to pull myself together as I realize he’s never seen me cry before. It’s all a bit of a shock for him. I had seen him for lunch just an hour or so before I came to the office. I was confident that I was going to figure it out and hopefully soon have a work visa.

I mumble that I’m being kicked out. “What!? What happened?”

I explain in as brief of a version as possible. He’s angry. So am I, under the confusion. Reluctantly I finally mention the married condition. He gallantly responds with what I am sure is righteous indignation “I’ll marry you for a visa.”

“NO!” I’m horrified. There is no way in hell I’m getting married for a visa.

“Well, I guess you could marry my brother then. He owes me a few favors.” He smiles and I know it will be fine. The universe wouldn’t be that cruel. Something will work out. It always does.

Niall takes the rest of the day off and we go home. We make phone calls to embassies and immigration. Irish, British, and American. We look up the laws, the visa requirements, the parameters. Everything. We start to build up a case. Anything. Anything but getting married for a visa.

One of Niall’s work mates calls. Niall turns to me: Do I want to go to the pub? Hell yes I want to go to the pub. I need a drink. A very alcoholic one.

We explain. Everyone is flabbergasted. I’m still trying to grasp the ramifications.

Over the next few days we each do research. It’s bleak. It’s nigh on impossible to get a work visa in the UK as an American and vice versa. I’m still a student and neither an accountant or a doctor which are apparently highly valued jobs here. Essentially I’m screwed. I’ll be lucky to make enough to eat with my degree. Just kidding Dad.

But seriously. How do countries expect people to stay together? You have to prove that you live together for 2 years before you can be domestic partners, but where are you going to live if one or the other can’t get a work visa? The world doesn’t like nomads. We’re hard to keep track of. We follow the whims of the wind and urges of our feet. Mine brought me to a country and place I had never intended. But that’s the beauty. That’s the spontaneity. That’s how I met this amazing new person, who at this moment in time, I really want to spend time with. Cosmopolitanism brought us together, but geo politics won’t let us watch it grow. There is a great line from “Ever After” with Drew Barrymore. She tells Da Vinci “It’s fine for a fish to love a bird, but where will they live?” He responds with “I will just have to make you wings.” Where are my gills? (Niall is definitely the fish. Pisces that he is and scuba instructor to boot) What do I need to do to swim in the same stream?

Life goes on as it tends to do. Even when you think it’s the end of the world. We brainstormed. We fretted. Well I fretted. Niall was still willing to run with the marriage idea. “If you don’t want to marry my brother, we could do a fake one. Something by a tribal priest, you know. Something on paper…..” Ha.

Niall’s mum came over for a weekend after Ascot. I was nervous. First family member introduction and it’s his mom. Thankfully he has a great relationship with his mom. Akin to what I have with mine. I hope I did well. I made dinner the first night. I was nervous. Did I say that already? I must really like him for me to get nervous about meeting his family. We drove around the island stopping at beautiful look outs. Bittersweet. To be on a beautiful island and know soon, days being count down, that I must leave.

Each weekly review came and went with “Let’s see next week.”

Niall bought me a bike. A beautiful bike. A shiny blue one that I named Blue Steel (Niall introduced me to Derek Zoolander). He was worried I was going to get bored and want to leave not being able to do anything in Jersey. My heart is full. He is such a generous person. I don’t know how to handle it. I love my bike. I love that he worries that I will want to leave. I ride around the island. To the light house. To the castle. Up little hills. Around town. Down the beach. There is nothing like riding along the coast with the ocean breeze at your back on a sunny day.

We make a plan. Back to my original intention. I will visit my family in Slovakia when I have to leave Jersey. I contact my cousin Roman who graciously finds me a room for the right dates. We book the flights. It’s set.

The days flow by. One week. Two. Three. Four. One month. One month living together. One month baking bread, rearranging the living room, sunset walks on the beach, afternoon lunches, pub evenings, reading, watching movies, making dinner, shopping for groceries, driving around the island, laughing, doing laundry, talking about everything and anything, playing guitar hero, explaining the benefits of veggies (“it’s vegetable soup babe” “it’s bloody red!”) falling asleep content. Happy. Gloriously happy. That’s what it’s really all about. I am happy. I hope that he is happy too. I have plans. I always have plans. There are places I’ve yet to go and I still plan to, but I also honor the moment. This moment. Here. With a beautiful person who I can’t wait to introduce to my family and friends. A person I respect, I trust, I banter with, I can discuss economics and global politics, and who teases me about vegetables. We laugh. Oh how we laugh. He’s funny. Way funnier than I am. Witty. Intelligent. And incredibly attractive. He kisses me goodbye every morning as he walks out the door in his suit. Me, with a man in a suit. The universe does have a sense of humor. (He looks damn good in one too).

Which brings us to here. One month later. I leave. I fly to Slovakia. Slovakia. For those that don’t know, this has been central to my original travel plans. We found our family in Slovakia last summer. My Grandfather Psenak has cousins in Slovakia, his aunts just recently have passed. No one in my immediate family has been back to Slovakia since both my great grandparents came over to the states. My thesis work at university is on identity. What better one to study than my own? I am terrified. I am exhilarated. I am hopeful. I am excited to go but anxious to leave. We have plans. I will refrain from mentioning them until they come to pass. Superstition let’s say.

I now sit in Bratislava, Slovakia. Two amazing weeks have passed in this country that rightfully feels like home. I leave tomorrow. For where? Just wait for the next chapter. There is so much to divulge about these last two weeks. I had to play a bit of catch up before I can get to this discovery of family. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait as long for the next instalment. I promise.

Whoa. A long day. I found a lovely cafe that I’ve done my writing in. Sunflowers in the window. On the baby pc that Niall gifted me before I left on this trip. Have I said how amazing he is? His generosity is beyond words. I’ll never know how to properly say thank you. Thank you babe.

After being with family for the last couple of weeks, I am beginning to get a bit home sick. I miss and love you family and friends, scattered over Alaska, Boulder and beyond. Just wanted to say I’ve been thinking of you.

The journey isn’t finished, far from it.  Bohemian that I am, nomad that I am there are bound to be twists and turns and hurdles and streams. I’m ready for them. I have a full heart and the ability to laugh. The world may not like nomads, but I sure as hell love the world.

xxx

 

In London

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last chapter of the Indian Odyssey

*Note, I write this on a Turkish keyboard and I cannot fınd the apostrophe and I occasionally use the wrong i (ı). Forgive me.

I float amidst a dream. A new country, a new adventure, and a new friend.

Before I get to all of the new, I would be remiss not to illustrate the whirlwind the last 6 weeks have been. Enough stimulation for 6 months crammed with physics defying force into the space of less than two lunar cycles. How could I expect anything less, it is India.

Last I wrote, I was on the eve of my exodus from Pushkar. I managed to convince a sick Vanessa that she would love to go to Junagadh, Gujarat with me for 12 hours although the journey there and away consisted of two days and three nights on sleeper trains and a couple of mornings sleeping on the train platform. All in the name of nose rings. What can I say, I’m sweetly convincing and she is a terrific friend.

We left Pushkar the morning of Friday April 8th. We arrived in Junagadh the morning of the 9th in a flurry. I had set my alarm with plenty of extra time to gather our belongings before our eta. Apparently we had the wrong eta. I had slept fitfully on my lower side sleeper bad and happened to roll over and gaze out the window to discover at 4:44 am we had arrived in Junagadh rather than 7:30 am. Purely by chance I looked for the station name we had stopped at. I vaulted out of bed with quite a few curses and woke up Vanessa. We threw our scattered things together in a ridiculously fast and terrified manner hoping to god that the train didn’t decide to leave while we shoved, crammed, and practically flew off the train with our backpacks, small bags and my violin. The adrenaline coursing through us as we pratically hyper ventilated in our rush to get off had no where to go once we were on the train platform. We stood with our mammoth backpacks (mainly mine is the mammoth) and descended into hysterical laughter as we sat down in perplexity. A great way to awake. We spent the next few hours cuddling with our bags on the platform, trying to recapture fleeting dreams.
We left our bags in the cloak room at the station so that I could fulfill my nose ring mission. Poor sick Vanessa was dragged all over Junagadh. First the fort and then nose ring shop after nose ring shop until I was satisfied. With time to kill until our evening train and not many options (code: nothing else to do) we went to the zoo. I know I know. The zoo? A sad depressing place at the best of times, I was still excited to see the tigers and the Asiatic lions. In true India fashion, we gathered more attention (and therefore photos) than the animals. Only appropriate to feel like I’m in the zoo at the zoo.

We boarded our train bound for Ahmedabad that evening. Spent another morning cuddling bags on the train platform and boarded our train to Mumbai.

Ah Mumbai. Indias cosmopolitan splash of color. Our opportunity for comfy beds. After 3 months sleeping on the same ridiculously hard bed, I was beyond excited for a change. We spent the first night in luxory. I felt as though I was being hugged by a cloud. A big fluffy cumulous cloud. It was heaven. Oh India, nothing can be simple or straightforward. The hotel with the cloud beds was unavailable for the next two of the three nights we were to stay in Mumbai. So, we spent each day in Mumbai trekking to yet another hotel, with yet another room. It was worth the effort. One night we treated ourselves to luxory with a hotel on Marine Plaza drive. The winning attraction was an infinity pool gazing out over the ocean that had a clear glass floor that allowed the people in the lobby to be entertained by the antics of the swimmers. Vanessa and I provided free entertainment one morning as we played with my underwater camera.

My impression of Mumbai is overrun by hotel moves, but we did manage to eat delicious food, play tourists at Elephanta Island, search for a bikini (more diffıcult than finding a whole food in the average American diet) and run from a stalker. The stalker was by far the most eventful.

I seem to have an uncanny knack for attracting stalkers. Vanessa says its because I am too nice. I think it is because it is difficult to miss the giant glow in the dark freak. Whatever it is, I found myself yet another in Mumbai. We left the Elephanta Island ferry station with our new French Canadienne friend Rachel. We made plans to eat later after Vanessa and I moved our belongings to a new room yet again. An attractive Rajasthani man named Bharat began chatting me up and asked me to coffee. I declined politely but thought he was pretty cute. Cute in the “I am a young Rajastani man and therefore married and unavailable but full of flattery.”

After we met up with Rachel and began combing the Mumbai streets for the restaurant she was determined to find, who do we happen to run into but Bharat and his wingman. I thought it was a crazy coincidence and treated it as such. Bharat was insistent on taking me for icecream (sounds like the 50s). We found our resturant and rather than join us, Bharat said that he would wait outside for me until we finished. In acknowledgement of the coincidence and as a polite way out of joining for icecream, I gave him my email and said goodbye and told him to please not wait. No icecream for me.

As dinner progressed, Rachel began to convince Vanessa and I that Bharat had followed us. That this was all a sinister plot and that who knows what “icecream” really meant. Groups feed hyseteria. By the end of dinner we had convinced ourselves that we were part of a conspiracy. For what, I am still not sure. But being the responsible single girls that we are, we asked the waiter if there was a back door out of the restaurant. Not understanding what we asked, the man at the table behind us explained our situation for us. Looking back I wonder what he told the waiter. “These three are crazy, just humor them.”

We ducked through the restaurant, very covertly like, and were led through the kitchen. No one should be led through an Indian kitchen. Thankfully we had already ate and thankfully it was remarkably clean in comparison. We exited into an abandoned alley and asked the waiter to call us a taxi over. We thanked him and tipped him for aiding in our escape. We slouched down ın the taxi seats as we passed in front of the restuarant and sure enough, there sat Bharat sprawled out on the grass in front of the restaurant. I felt a little bad, but not enough to see where “icecream” led me.

Doing the only sensible thing women escaping a stalker could think of, we had the taxi take us to a pastry shop where we loaded up on truffles which we promptly took back to the suite that Vanessa and I were comped. Thanks for the adventures Mumbai. In the weeks since, Bharat has emailed me without mention of our exit out the backdoor. I dont think it was a conspiracy plot, but it was fun to pretend.

Vanessa and I bid Adieu to Rachel and boarded a 30 hour train to Allepey, Kerala in the south. We splurged yet again and bought 2 AC sleeper tickets. I had never ridden anything but basic sleeper class. We experienced exactly 15 minutes of bliss and then a family with two screaming children, squeeky toys, squeeky shoes, and terrible tempers entered our compartment. I spent the next 28 hours contemplating not very nice things. Mainly including gags and open windows. I wont go into details.

Kerala. Heat. Humidity. Rain. Papers. Painful emails. Amazing boat trip through the backwaters. These are the highlights. The canoe trip through the backwaters was gorgeous. In the end we got caught ın a storm and torrential down pour. Waves threatened to swamp our lıttle canoe (well maybe not swamp, but at least get us wet) the wind picked up, lıghtenıng crackled, and the rain came down ın sheets. We giggled our way back to the guest house soaked to the bone and skipping through puddles. Allepey for me was the first new place of this trip. We stayed in a heritage guest house for four days up until the 19th when we made our way to Chennai to catch our plane to the Andaman Islands.

One last train journey to Chennai and we flew out to the Andaman Islands on Wednesday Aprıl 20th. We spent two days ın Port Blair while I finished my last finals for the semester (procrastinate much?) and emailed family and friends wıth the news that they could expect not to hear from me for the three weeks I was on Havelock Island. Vanessa and I met a new fantastıc friend Joanna from San Fran and we all boarded a ferry bound for Havelock Island on Friday the 22nd. We arrived and I have never felt my body relax and let go as much as I experienced the moment I stood on the white sand beach and gazed out over the turquoıze crystalıne waters.

*Now I come to the new. This is something I do not know how to do. Write about others. I feel free to divulge all of my secrets onto the page, but I do not yet know how to write about new life experiences that involve new people. It is not their fault they wandered into the life of someone who has been sharing hers with others. How do I honor my own experiences, and protect the privacy of people central to my tales? Please forgive my obliqueness or candidness, depending on who you are reading this. 🙂

We stayed at Dive India, not that we had any intention of diving. We fell in love with the energy of the place, the people, the restaurant, and the beach. Essentially the essentials. The three of us shared a tented cabanna and proceeded to commence our fulfıllıngly lazy days playing in the water and reading on the beach.

Durıng our first day on the beach, while playing fetch in the water (literally fetch, we had a stick and everything) a tall dark handsome man waded through the water with a second skin shirt up around his ears and curly dark hair. He imploringly asked (in a lovely Irish lilt)  if one of us would help him to dress. He explained it was because of his broken arm(from an accident that brought him back to Havelock for a little R&R), not a lack of basic motor skills. I being the closest one, helped him pull his shirt down while he introduced himself as Niall from Belfast. Niall from Belfast went on to swim while Vanessa, Joanna and I took a trip to the jetty and the beach on the other side of the island.

The next day, Sunday the 24th was Easter. Again the girls and I find ourselves on the beach. This time Vanessa is in the water, Joanna is reading, and I am building a sand igloo (a giant blob ın actuality; it had dreams of being an Easter egg or a turtle, but the architect ran out of attention). Nıall the Irishman (half Punjabi Indian through his Mom) again joined us on the beach with the endearing lines that he was a racist and needed therapy. (Not necessarily connected). Suffıce to say the comments caught my attention and the conversation blossomed. Into what, I wasnt sure.

We mentioned off hand that we needed chocolate for the holiday and we were going to venture out to find some. We left Niall to his book on the beach and walked to the village. That evening we sat down to dinner and Nıall joined us bearing three bars of chocolate, one for each of us. I was surprised and delighted at the thought. The evening progressed into a thunder and lightening storm.

Thıs is where the obliqueness enters the picture. Maybe at a later time I will go into details, but suffice to say this was the beginning. Niall and I spent the next week together on Havelock.  After leaving the island, he called me at the resort to ask if I wanted to meet him in Turkey. Turkey being my next destination. I said yes.

I spent the last week of my time on Havelock learning how to dive. Niall use to be a dive instructor at Dive India and gifted the opportunity to explore the great blue under to Vanessa and I (Joanna had already left). It was absolutely amazıng. I am now a certified Advanced Open Water diver thanks to his brilliant generosity. Havelock has become a new home. It was difficult to leave. I will be back. It was breathtakingly gorgeous and the most chılled, relaxed three weeks I can ever expect to have. Not to mention the excitement of meeting someone new.

Vanessa left Havelock to fly back to San Fran 4 days before I. I left Havelock and the Andamans wıth a full heart, a little bit of hesitantcy, but a lot of excitement.

I spent my last week in India on my own. I flew from Port Blair to Calcutta where I took an over night AC chair car train to Delhi. I thought I was going to die of discomfort. That was until a lovely Muslım man sitting behind me kicked the guy in the seat next to me out so “the madam can lıe down.” The florescent lights never were turned off and the bollywood phone music began perkily at 4am. Chai a must.

I arrived in Delhi, spent the afternoon in a stupor and stored my giant bag at the train station. I boarded another over night train to Khajuraho to see the Kama Sutra temples for the next two days. The night was hot, dry, and almost unbearable. Open barred blue windows, sand and boulders flying by, and a packed train compartment. People on every available surface. Floor, sharing beds, aisles, and in front of the toılets. I vaulted off the train as soon as I saw a man selling water sometime in the middle of the night. Again thinking I was going to die.

I arrived in Khajuraho with no idea where I was going to stay and the male harrassment at an all time hıgh. I found a quiet tucked away guest house and holed up and slept the morning away. I ventured out ın the afternoon to the onslaught of “very beautiful” “wıll you be my gırlfriend?” “talk to me” *smooch smooch sounds* you name ıt. I have been all over India and nowhere has the harrassment been worse. Motorcycles pulling up next to my bike with “very beautıful” and slobbery kısses sounds. It got old quickly. I ate most meals at a restaurant that at 6pm every evening became the roost of every parrot ın the area. The cacophony of sound was deafening. Green feathers floating down onto the street below.

I wandered the erotic temples wıth giggles and amazement. It is hard to reconcile the differing sides of India sometimes. I never thought I would hear the combination of “here is dancing girls, anal sex, and oh look Ganesha” come out of the mouth of a small distinguished Indian man. I would have rather wandered the temples on my own. There is something intensely personal about witnessing erotic art (including animal participants, horse for sure and I am pretty sure I found an elephant….) that ıs some how diminished by the ramblings of a well intentioned guide.

My fear of being a dirty perv for wanting to see the erotic temples was alleviated by the realization that the majority of the sculptures were dancers. Dancers in poses that I was all to familiar with from Odissi. It was as if the last piece of the puzzle of my trip fell into place.  A very neat poetic closure to an amazing trıp. I wandered the temples in search of more beautiful dancers. See, I came for research.

On my last day I rented a bicycle and rode down the dusty country lanes wıth the sun high over head and the breeze ın my hair. I felt the immense joy of freedom, as though I had escaped from some devious plot to suffocate my spirit. The world expanded in front of me while I pedalled away on my rıdıculously rusty steel frame bıke. I spent a few hours reading Theory of the Unıverse by Stephen Hawking under the shade of a tree in the courtyard of one of the temples. My lıfe is a poetic portrait of beautiful possibilities.

Another overnıght train to Delhı. This time I was rewarded with a cough in the face sometime during the night that I sure enough developed the next day. Thanks India for the parting thoughtfullness. One last day in Delhı. I received a free rickshaw ride from a driver who kept telling me how beautıful I was and then the moment I was getting out of the rıckshaw, one of my haırs flew into his hand and he said this was enough, bıt creepy I know. Multiple doting Punjabi men (seems to be a common theme) in Delhı and then my flıght to Ankara, Turkey was Wednesday May 18th.

Wow. What can I say. Five months in the heartland and my life gets turned upside down. I love India. I love her and I am sad to leave but I know I will be back soon. It never really ıs goodbye.  It is “thank you for the challenges” and “thank you for the new loves and new passions” but never goodbye.

I have spent awkward moments, fulfıllıng moments, terrıfying moments, and joyous moments here. I lose myself, I fınd myself, and I change. I cry, I vent, I laugh, and I smile. Oh how do I smile. I leave here not the person I was, but not really sure who I will now be. This is the beauty of India. The unknown. The hopes, the dreams, the beauty, and the disgust. If you dont leave India being completely, irresistibly shaken up and confused, then you were never really here. This is where the fertility lies. The craziness, the fear, the possibilities. Leaving India I feel exhausted and rejuvinated all in the same confounding watercolor of emotions. I never know what to expect here and I am never let down.

I will leave it here for now. Reflect and dream of the desert and the beaches of Indıa. Of letting go of the old and letting the new flood in.

I am currently in Dalaman, Turkey awaiting a flight to London to see Niall once again. I just spent a phenomenal weekend at a beach resort with him in Antalya,Turkey but this new chapter will have to wait until next time.

Lots of love and blessings.