I feel like I have barely written my post about my first month in India, and now it has been two months today already !
Since last time, I calmed down about some things that annoyed me most, but some others annoyances are getting worse. Many events have occurred over these last four weeks. Amma has left the Ashram, I went on a couple of girlie escapes from there too, I went swimming in the Ocean and made some new Indian friends. My project started happening, the 500 and 1000 rupee notes have been declared illegal and Trump got elected. I started working again on some projects from back home, I moved into a new room and new students arrived.
Project Time in Coimbatore
One month after starting my project, the designing session was over, and we started production. If you’re curious about the manufacturing, have a look over here.
The manufacture workshop we were working in is located on another campus, 300 kilometres away. Don’t be fooled by the “short” distance, it actually takes 10 hours to get there. In my new flat, I was happily surprised by finding two Dutch students in the living room. They were also doing a project here and it was nice to meet some new friends, and watch movies in the evening.
Since Amma has gone, the Ashram is calmer, there are less people around but also less activities and shops closed most of the time. The swimming pool has been closed for technical problems. One day, after meditation, Amma scolded her swamis and devotees who arrived late, and sent them to run around the meditation as a punishment. Since then, devotees walk or run around the hall “for fitness”, because Amma told them to do so and her intention makes the action stronger. I find it hilarious to see the Indians in shirt and dhoti (“skirt”) run around the hall barefeet. But I joined them by doing 10 laps every few days followed by strengthening exercises, and it is a soothing practise. I hope to heal my knee who hasn’t recovered from the unexpected marathon in June (Run24Dorigny).
New friends arrive, and old friends left. We have been playing music after dinner, eating loads of cake to finish our food cards and eating enough watermelon with Chris to carry baby watermelons in our full stomachs.
Don’t ask me why I hadn’t escaped the Ashram earlier. Once I did it I was asking myself the same question. Part of the answer comes from numerous bank holidays and strikes we were not told of, otherwise we would definitely have gone on a week-end somewhere!
Houseboat in Alleppey
With 3 other girls from the Ashram, we decided to take 2 days off from spiritual life and go on a houseboat tour. The backwaters of Kerala are a very famous network of canals and lakes where houseboats can be rented overnight.
Beach time in Varkala
Another escape from the Ashram, just a few days ago, was to the beach in Varkala. My new friend Khan had told me about a music and arts festival he was organising, and as I was coming back from Coimbatore it would be the occasion to visit this beach resort.
Trump, feminism, shitty feelings, etc.
When the US elections were going on, I was in the workshop in Coimbatore. I was looking at the ongoing results with fear. When Trump was declared next president, I didn’t know what to think about the situation. I was in shock.
“To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” Douglas Adams (thanks Johann!)
I didn’t think Clinton was the best candidate, but I believed she was infinitely better than that misogynist, racist and islamophobic guy. I felt terrible because as a women, I felt personally attacked by his repeated offences on women. I felt terrible because society didn’t care that much about sexual assault, and thought it was ok to have a president who could do such things to women. I felt like crawling in my bed and crying, waiting for the storm to go by.
I felt terrible because these elections were bringing up bad memories of harassment I had tried burying deep inside, and I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Women were hurt all around the planet. I felt hurt not only because of the guy I feared, but also because I somehow identified as the woman I realised I admired, because she came so far and a white man less qualified got the job: “I cried because it does things to you to always come second.”
The only thing I hold to know, is the hope that you sometimes need to take a great fall to get back on your legs. Lets do this together.
Just the day before Trump became president, we had another piece of bad news. It was after dinner, the Dutch and I were watching a movie. Jelmer suddely rises and pauses the movie: “Guys, are you ready for this?!” and he reads the news about the new money situation. The government had suddenly declared that all notes of 500 and 2000 rupees (approx 8 and 30€) were worthless pieces of paper, from midnight the same day.
Our first reaction was: “Should we get a taxi to Coimbatore and get drunk?”. But we quickly resumed our movie, confident that we would soon be able to change our old notes into new and withdraw money from the ATM.
That was, we were thinking in our European mindsets. We didn’t expect banks to be locked down for 2 days and ATMs empty for a week. We didn’t expect the banks to refuse to serve foreigners. And we definitely didn’t expect a maximum amount of 2000 rupees (15€) to be withdrawn per day.
Luckily, at the university and Ashram, we didn’t have to pay for anything, and the situation could’ve been far worse. I couldn’t imagine being travelling around or having to pay for my stay somewhere and catch a plane with no money. We even managed to escape to Varkala with almost nothing, as we heard that the tourist spots accepted old bills. We also hoped that the money situation would be better in a city than in a village: it wasn’t.
In Varkala it became a joke: “No money!” we told the vendors, “No money no problem!” they answered, “come tomorrow!”. When I couldn’t afford soap, it was suddenly less fun.
With Amma gone, the spiritual vibe of the place lessened. With all this travelling around and a new flatmate, I was practising less meditation and yoga. Now, with more uni students around, the conversations are more about fun facts about India rather than spiritual discoveries. I have read a few great books that helped me understand what is going on, and I’m looking forward to Amma’s return to get back into spiritual mood.
Not “Finding myself in India”
So many people talk about “finding themselves in India”. I was feeling like I lost myself. With all the rules from uni I didn’t dare break, and all the fear instilled in me by people who had never been to India themselves, I didn’t recognize me in my habits. Add to that the discovery of spiritual stuff and I was getting lost, not found.
I walked in the street gazing down, afraid of the disgusting dirty looks I once noticed when I walked past Indian men. I was staying in familiar places, not even trying to explore. I was locked by a fear that wasn’t mine, the fear people had for me when I said I was going to India. Just like in Brazil, I wasn’t scared, but people made me feel insecure.
Where did my inner explorer go? Where is the crazy girl who keeps running away on adventures? I haven’t even climbed up the highest building of the Ashram, and that’s a mere elevator ride.
When we went outside for the first time, and I could pull out the GPS on my phone to check the directions or train stop, I was back into my normal self. Not lost, confident, and having loads of fun. It was a great way to prove myself that I could do it, I could travel India with my friends and I could do it alone. These baby steps proved me that India wasn’t that different from countries I’ve travelled, I know how to be safe, and I’m not afraid.