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YET ANOTHER FAREWELL

My Turkey TOP TEN Most Memorable Moments

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As unfiltered honesty has been a request from me this summer, I must say that, at first, I dug reeeeeeeeal deep to write this post. Furthermore, I have actually been digging deep since my last post 2 months ago to write about anything I've experienced during the eternity (uh, I mean the 3 1/2 months), that I've lived here in Belek, Turkey. This job has had its difficulties. Yet, I did not want this space, where Polka Dotted Unicorns and all other fantastical creatures roam free, to become a place of frustration, complaints and judgement.

Working and living in Turkey, with the threat of ISIS and U.S. Air strikes in my backyard and the sickening reality of countless Israeli-Palestinian deaths in my front yard, made me long for the oblivious serenity of my California Palm trees. But, come on! Reading the above news as I am being paid to enjoy all the amenities of a 5 star resort while doing only 1 show a night ! I couldn't dare bring myself to complain. That is to anyone besides my sister Tovah and BFF Makeda...and sometimes Mom and Dad....okay, and a little to 'MiVida' Silvia...and well, always to my roommate India. Well I didn't want to keep all bottled in!....you get ulcers that way ;-) As my mother Sharon "Shay-Shay" Collins would say: "if you don't have anything good to say then don't say anything at all." So heeding this advice my Blog has been dry the past months.

Yet, now my job at Maxx Royal is (FINALLY) coming to an end, and the feeling that I SHOULD write something whispered to me. So I began looking back, taking stock of the memories I've made, the adventures I've embarked on and the incredible souls who have come across my path. The memories were plenty and it was clear that I had much more good to say about my time here than bad. So one night, while waiting in between dance sets, I began writing and the flood gates rushed opened. There were so many memories to choose from! So many moments of joy and laughter. As always in my life, hind sight is 20/20 and now, I can see clearly what an amazing Summer Turkey blessed me with. The list grew so long that for your sake I edited it to include only the top ten of my favorite and most memorable moments since arriving in Turkey on June 19th. They are in no particular order as all were as enjoyable as the next:

MY TOP TEN MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS IN TURKEY

10. Sharing Bunkbeds in a Tree House in Olympus
Felt like summer camp circa 1995 but so good to be a kid again! Picture 5 giggling girls in one room, all the contents of our hotel mini bar, 2 bunk beds, one extra mattress on the floor and a tree trunk at the Turkey hippie haven Kadir's Tree House. http://m.kadirstreehouses.com/
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9. Hiking a mountain to the Eternal Flames aka Chimeras

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After dinner at the tree house, the girls and I hiked about 2 miles uphill on a rocky stone path to the most fascinating natural phenomenon: about a dozen flames burning from the side of the mountain with no apparent fuel to sustain them. The flames are burning a sort of methane gas that has been venting from the earth for thousands of years. FUN FACT: According to Homer's Iliad, the hero Bellerophon did battle with the mythical Chimera, an immortal monstrosity usually depicted as a fire-breathing hybrid of snake, goat and lion that laid waste to large parts of the region. Some claim that the flames erupting from the mountain today are proof that the creature still lives within!

Again we were just 5 giggling girls roasting marshmallows over the Eternal Flames, while overlooking the shimmer of a full moon on the Mediterranean. A magical moment. Then came the reality of hiking down the mountain, at night, in my sandals (didn't think that one through) and having to stop and pee at a tree. I'm thinking my roomie India was being a friend by shining a light for me when in fact it was just the flash from her snapping this embarrassing pic!
Indiaaaaaaaa!!!!! Wtf!! You little wanker!

Indiaaaaaaaa!!!!! Wtf!! You little wanker!

8. Our Villa Pool Parties!

Every morning, like children on Christmas Day, the girls and I would wake up and go to our balconies to see if that huge hole in the ground in the shape of a pool was finally filled with water. After 2 months of waiting the day finally came! From that day on, we made the most of that hole in the ground with birthday pool parties, daytime sunbathing, late night skinny dipping, backyard BBQs, etc.
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7. Stage Rehearsals

For the first 2 months, at 6pm, we had rehearsal on stage with the ocean in view, the sun beginning its decent and fruity (virgin) smoothies served to us by our friends behind the bar. After which I would jump in the sea (not the ocean, I've been corrected, but the sea) for a salty swim.
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6. Turkey Moons

This post describes perfectly how I feel about attempting to take pictures of the moons in Turkey! They are magnificent yet none of my photos could do them justice

This post describes perfectly how I feel about attempting to take pictures of the moons in Turkey! They are magnificent yet none of my photos could do them justice

Have you ever watched a moon set into the horizon and truly understood the movement of Earth and its place in the solar system?
Turkey granted me that gift. The moons were absolutely stunning.
Sometimes orange as a tangerine.
Sometimes a bright white light.
Sometimes the perfect crescent.
Sometimes so big you really believe you might be able to reach out and touch it.
Their shimmer over the Mediterranean is soothing to the most troubled souls. I was captivated every night.
Here is my best shot:
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5. White Water Rafting with my partner in crime Alejandro!
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I am NOT featured in the above photo because my rafting partner, Alejandro and I, were about a 1/2 mile behind everyone else struggling to catch up for the entire 2 hour rafting tour. We thought we would be a great team and high fived each other as we jumped into the raft. But that was not the case. Alejandro and I were probably the most awful rafting couple in the history of this river! He was rowing upstream and I was rowing downstream. For some reason we just couldn't synch up with each other. And what was so strange is that NO ONE else seemed to be having ANY trouble. I looked ahead and watched India and Yessi chillin in their boats taking in the scenery, pointing at birds, the clouds and other interesting wildlife. Who had time for that?! Courtney even looked a bit bored and Yessi was barely even rowing, although to be fair she did choose one of the guides as her partner.
Things got so bad for Alejandro and I that the guide actually roped our raft to his! Definitely an embarrassing moment for team IvorieAlejandro but I could care less cause my arms were dying. He then told Alejandro to get into his raft while I sat behind them in the raft alone...finally a moment to chill. But not for long, because as soon as I got comfortable, a rapid capsized my raft and threw me into the freezing river! There I was on the Super Spin Cycle, watching boulders pass inches away from me, wondering if you lose consciousness before feeling the pain of one knocking into your skull. Not to worry Mom and Dad, within seconds, I felt a strong grip on my life jacket and as if I weighed as much as a puppy, my guide scooped me right out mid cycle! Once back in the raft I looked up at Alejandro and I burst out laughing. And as if he had been waiting to make sure it was appropriate to laugh, so did he! We continued on, of course the last ones to make it to the end, but laughing the entire way. From then on we vowed to always be adventure partners. For better for worse.
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4. Banana boat with girls

Five girls in bikinis convinced the water sport guys to give us a free ride on the Banana Boat! I'm assuming 5 girls falling on and off their phallic shaped Banana Boat was worth giving it to us for free. Nonetheless, I've never laughed so hard! Slippery when wet so every time we fell off it would take us no less than 10 minutes to get back on!
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3. Getting my Nipples Pierced with my roommate India!

Gasp! Mom I know! Wtf?! But to be fair, It's been on my to-pierce list for some time and for some reason when you're in another country the phrase YOLO is always there to make all your bad ideas seem absolutely fantastic! So one Saturday afternoon, India, Kaela and I took the bus into town. We did some sightseeing in the markets of Old Town Antalya, then to a harbor with some pirate ships, then to some observatory with a nice view of the harbor...basically all we could to distract us from the fact that we pinky swore that today was the day. So after lunch and 2 tequila shots we walked the plank. Kaela stood behind us the entire way to make sure we did not chicken out and she also asked all the necessary questions regarding price, sanitation and healing that India and I were too dazed to ask.
Did it hurt? Emphatically YES! Am I happy I did it? YOLO! Best part: Kaela and India being there to hold my hand, giggle, cry, and scream with.
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2. Paragliding in Oludeniz

This entire day was incredible! Two rental cars filled with new friends, a boat ride to a cave, jumping off a cliff into the sea, a sunset dinner with the most hospitable Turkish man I've met thus far...but all of that came second to what you see in the pictures below. I was literally on top of the world this day.
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1. 7 o'clock Dinner with my Turkish Delights!

I know I said they were not in order but I did save the best for last. Almost every evening for the past 3 1/2 months I sat down to dinner with the Turkish Delights (as we liked to call ourselves): Courtney from Texas, India (my beloved roommate) from South Hampton, England, Kaela from Ohio, and Laura from Argentina (Messi!!)...and for the first 6 weeks with Yessi from Cuba.

At 7ish, we would sit, eat, talk, laugh, gossip, complain, check out every guy in the restaurant and check our Instagram. Then after the plates were cleared, and the tea and/or hot chocolate arrived, we would do it all over again! This was our ritual. Rituals are becoming more and more important to my life, and so even on days when I thought the time would be better spent FaceTiming, I had the sense to know this was a special moment. A moment that could never be recreated and would be gone in an instant.

I adore each of these girls and our time here will forever hold a special place in my heart. I think they would all agree that if we didn't like each other as much as we do, the past months would have been impossible and we would never have made it to see the end. Most of the memories flooding my mind were of our shenanigans. The day at the Water park. The Bubble bath in the Kemer Jacuzzi after I attempted to a dive into the pool and dived so hard that I hit my head on the bottom only to resurface with my bikini bottoms missing! Playing King's Cup at 3a.m. in the living room but spending an hour on the the bit where you pass the card from mouth to mouth. The Midnight jump off the pier with most of our clothes@ India. Almost getting fired and having no regrets. Playing Egyptian Rat Screw or SLAP as I know it, between sets. Movie marathons. The time they got me to watch Frozen- an animated film (don't know why but don't like em'). Kemrrrrr. Damnit Janet! Kindaaaa. "Oh....ok cool.""You got this." "Mmmmmm"@Courtney. "Can I have an essspresssso...a double?" Hola chica! "Do I look like I care? Cause I doooon't."
Okay, the list goes on but now I'm just speaking in code to my TDs so I'll spare you.

Thank you beauties for the Summer of 2014. It was unforgettable and so are each of you. Wherever I am you are forever welcome.

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And so the end is here. We have 2 more shows and a most anticipated departure on Wednesday October 1st. From there, I have plans to travel Turkey for a couple weeks. See some more sights. Get back on the Unicorn. Although I really do feel full and I am intensely missing home and the goodness that awaits me there so still contemplating an early return. Therefore, my next post will either be me in Ephesus at Apostle Paul's old stomping grounds or back in LaLaLand.

Until then....

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 06:41 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkish delights Comments (3)

TURKEY: WHERE & WHY

THE GIG

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Happy to write that I am traveling again. Not quite Soul Travel since I'm being paid to be here and Turkey was not even on my bucket list. Yet, by the end of this, I have a feeling I will recommend that it be on yours.

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See the red dot called Belek? This is the place I have called home for the past month, and the immediate conclusion I've come to is that, my theme of 2014 must be extremes. Extremes as in one or the other with not much in between. Allow me to explain: I went from the austerity of Ashram living in Rishikesh and toilets without running water in Darjeeling to extravagant Turkish resorts and 3 ply toilet paper. I went from from carrying my my own bedding in case of dodgy hotel sheets to a villa apartment with a maid I've never seen who changes my sheets and towels every 3rd day and leaves Godiva chocolate on my bed; from befriending poor Indian families who sleep either on the streets or 5 to one room to performing for uber rich Russians paying $1000 a week, per person to be a guest at the resort with separate accommodations for the British tutor who teaches their children English during the summer holiday; from roach infested Sleeper Trains to a luxury Mercedes Van complete with leather seats and glass water bottles that picks me up and drops me off everyday. I went from not dancing in three months to performing 6 nights a week; from meditating 8 hours a day in silence to rehearsing 8 hours a day to all the annoying summer electronic dance music hits that will be the bain of my existence come the end of September when this contract ends.

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THE GIG: I perform 6 nights a week from 10pm - 1:30am at the hotel's newly constructed Beach Club known as Quis. Think Nikki Beach, Miami. Villas, cabanas, lots of white, waiters in linen button downs, fruity cocktails, men in crisp, bright colored khaki shorts and Bally calfskin boat shoes, and women in the newest resort wear collections, all overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We are 5 girls total - 2 LA girls (not including myself), 1 Brit and 1 Vegas girl with a thick Cuban accent. We perform (4) 15 minute, choreographed shows a night scheduled in between singers, a saxophone player, Euro DJ sets and live bands. If I reduce this job to its lowest terms, even though it puts knots in my stomach, it is basically hotel entertainment. We parade in cool, crazy costumes and headpieces and dance meaningless choreography to encourage Mommy and Daddy to leave the kids in the suite with the Grandma or the Nanny and come out to play. We are there to do 3 things: (1) get them dancing, (2) remind them that youth is still within reach, and (3) encourage them to have as good a time as we are pretending to have.

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I hate that my years of training. sweat, blisters, pulled muscles, broken egos, and love for the art of movement can be reduced to mere entertainment for the wealthy but, the saying "do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do" brings me some ease. I love performing, no matter the venue, and if hotel entertainment is the means for me to travel to all of the far off lands on my dream list then, I suppose, I surrender.

THE RESORT: Maxx Royal is beyond anything I've ever seen. It's steroidal. There's a number of boutique clothing shops, a water park, arcade, cinema, bowling alley, 2 gyms, a chocolate shop that I spend way too much time in, 4-5 restaurants, a Macaroon sweet shop, an Olympic sized outdoor pool, a golf course, a performance hall, spa, and a dinosaur park.

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The BUFFET: grossly gratuitous , decadent, overindulgent, abundant, outrageously extravagant...shall I go on??

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Russians make up the majority of the hotel guests sprinkled in with a few Brits. Spaniards and Italians are hired to work the restaurants for the summer. The owners, managers and DJs of the hotel are European jet setters who travel from Milan to Istanbul like we travel from New York to Miami. They are the ones whose lives I think are so cool when reading W magazine about people who hop from one foreign, white, sandy beach to the next. They open this new, fancy hotel or that hip, fusion restaurant. It seems like a life of luxury and decadence and in many ways it is, but up close, off the glossy magazine pages, they are all stressed, lacking sleep, and addicted to caffeine and cigarettes. Most of the Beach Club staff, including myself, are here to make some summer cash and then return to their lives in the US, Italy, Spain, Ukraine with the means to pursue whatever or whomever was left behind when agreeing to come to Turkey.

The Gig is pretty easy and I often harbor guilty feelings Skyping and Snapchating friends and family with the view of the Beach Club, pictured below, as my background. I am working hard some days and other days, hardly working. It is not very challenging work or life changing or even artistic. The hardest thing I have to do is deal with is the Turkish lackadaisical manner of doing business which has delayed small issues like paychecks and work visas (sarcasm) and staging dance numbers in the 95 degree heat and humidity on the outdoor stage. But, even then, the Mediterranean Sea is in clear view the entire time so how can I even begin to open my mouth to complain?

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Yessi, the Cuban dancer with the thick accent, says she feels similar knowing that her family in Cuba has never seen wealth like this. Just as the feelings of guilt begin to water down our Mojitos, my roommate India, the Brit, makes us both feel better when she reminds us that we don't tell our friends back home the whole story. "We don't Instagram pics in our cramped dressing room which doubles as the wait staffs' bathroom! To be fair," she says, "there's five of us in a dressing room and they only give us four chairs!" And there it is...truth. Instantly my Mojito tastes better.

I have only been here one month but, so far, nothing about Turkey has touched me the way India has. The excessiveness of the resort is just a constant reminder of how uneven life's playing field can be. Every time I circle the buffet trying to choose what to eat, I think of how little the people in India, or any poor place in the world, need to sustain a life. And unfortunately for those reading, there are very little embarrassingly, funny stories that I can relate back to you in such a squeaky clean, 5 star setting. Sometimes, I cringe sitting in the airy lobby of Maxx Royal, reading the International New York Times about the latest Gaza Strip-Israeli and Ukraine-Russia catastrophes, knowing the hardest decision that the guests surrounding me have to make during their day is by which pool to lay or in which restaurant to dine. And that is not a judgement on those who live that life. Perhaps worse than living life oblivious to the world's problems, is being me, the voyeur in the middle wondering which side to choose; wondering whether to start a non-profit benefiting the Left or take a joy ride with the rich man in the Aston Martin on the Right.

As this travel is a learning experience about myself, I can safely say that I am leaning Left. Even with the grandiosity surrounding my day to day, the most beautiful thing I've seen so far are these women.
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It was a photo I took while at the newly constructed Maxx Royal in the sister resort city of Kemer. Kemer stands about an hour and a half West of Belek on the Turkish Riviera. The resort just opened last week and is as decadent and massive as the one I've described in this post. We will begin shows at both locations once the hotel is up and running. We came here last week to perform for VIP guests invited to celebrate the hotel's pending Grand Opening.

When we arrived, the hotel looked as if it was no where near being ready! A total construction site...as in we should have been given hard hats walking in some areas. Our rooms, while beautiful, had no electricity and dust everywhere. But for the first time, I felt like I was in Turkey (from the construction worker B.O., it smelled like I was in Turkey too)! There were locals everywhere, carrying bricks, sod, rocks, towels, granite to and from. From my 3 story balcony, the scene looked like a colony of ants creating a masterpiece. I snapped this picture while walking to the Beach Club where I was to perform. The women were so beautiful; too beautiful to be lugging rocks in a wheel barrow. They were kind spirits and they were intrigued by me as well and so they were more than happy to stop their labor and pose for me. Looking at their faces, I wanted to know everything about each of them. Their stories, hopes, dreams, fears and all that lead them to end up in front of my camera phone while holding a pickaxe.

I immediately finalized my request to the producer to change my return date to a few weeks after our contract ends on September 31st. So from October 1-16th, I will hop back on my Polka Dotted Unicorn and travel! There is no way I can come to this part of the earth and not! I mean, Turkey is like the beginnings of the world! And it's right next door to Jordan, Isreal, Greece, Egypt....I figure more photos like the one of the women above await me in a country so rich in history. The idea of another 3 month Soul Travel adventure dances back and forth through my mind Tempting . So tempting. But I want to return to the states for my 10 year college reunion at Northwestern. Although, I don't think anyone who knows me would be surprised if I pay the airline change fee to extend my return date and hope that the 11th year reunion will be just as good!

Will write more soon...but as a not-so-side note...

This post is dedicated to my Father, Jacob Collins, in celebration of his 70th birthday. His own travels have taught me so much and and all of our kitchen table debates have allowed me to see the world with open eyes.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!!!

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 23:37 Archived in Turkey Comments (4)

TURKEY - MY REBOUND LOVER

An Unexpected Continuation of Soul Travel 2014

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Namaste Everyone!

So I am back here again; on an international flight, pen in hand, the first page of an empty journal staring up at me and the unexpected awaiting me in a country I have never even thought of visiting. Unlike India, this trip is completely unplanned. Yet, I like to think of it as an unexpected gift from my Travel Gods. At the end of my Final Farewell to India post, http://ivoriejenkins.travellerspoint.com/30/ , I asked for the continued opportunity to nurture my Polka Dotted Unicorn with continued travel and wonder. Well, ask and ye shall receive because as of 3 weeks ago, I have picked up my life, yet again, to spend the next 3 1/2 months in Belek, Turkey.

Of course the immediate gratification I am experiencing is not always the case. There are many times I've asked and the Universe must have confused my order with someone else because what I received was just all wrong! But with time comes wisdom and wisdom tells me that when what you are asking for aligns with "your path" (not easy figure out what that is btw), the Universe tends to get the orders right more often which leads to that wonderful feeling of everything falling into place.

So how did I end up in Turkey?: Well, first, I cried to my Mom during the car ride to take her to LAX airport (she came to visit after I returned home!) about how to construct a world post India in LaLaLand. I was beyond happy to be home and see those 100 foot Palm trees that adorn my neighborhood in Victoria Park but talk about contrast and culture shock! How did these Palm trees fit in with the sacred Banyan trees of India? - a tree with roots that grow so wildly and branches that intertwine high above your head to create a canopy wrapping under and over and around so many times that you are not sure how many trees your eyes are seeing! Was one tree better than the other? Were my neighborhood Palm trees, which I heard from a reputable source were imported from Indonesia, any less sacred than the Indian Banyan tree? Or were they relative to me since both are way bigger, older, and wiser than I will ever become? Could I learn just as much from LA Palms as I could from the Banyan that Hindus use as a sight of holy recognition?

How could I make sense of all I witnessed in India without becoming a recluse who meditates and burns incense all day in between watching Hindi films and reading books on Ghandi and Osho?! How to honor both worlds while giving both proper homage and respect?

Well, before I even got the chance to answer the above, literally, one week after returning from India, and two days after crying to my Mom, I received a message from a director of a production company looking for dancers for a show at the Maxx Royal hotel in Belek, Turkey, a resort town on the Turkish Riviera. I was uncertain at first. The dancers had already completed over two weeks of rehearsal so the contract was to begin ASAP- as in the director sent me the message on a Friday hoping to book my flight for the following Monday!

Inner Dialogue: Should I go? Of course you should! When have you ever passed up a travel opportunity? But I just got back home to my Palm trees, my sis, my roomies! Turkey isn't even on my bucket travel list! What about my new love? My India? Hmmmm.....isn't the best way to get over a lost love to find a new lover. Turkey and I don't have to fall in love but who doesn't fancy a good rebound? And if I don't like it, I can always come home. Turkey??.... Yes! Sure! Why the fuck not?!

So, instead of figuring out how to reintegrate into life in LA, I decided that this opportunity to travel was too fortuitous to pass along. I am a master procrastinator anyway therefore, I had no problems letting the the above reintegration musings wait until I return to LA in October.

The director and I compromised on a Wednesday departure.

Longest flight ever: LAX --- Detroit --- Amsterdam --- Istanbul ---Belek

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Turkey here I come!

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 17:20 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey Comments (6)

THE FINAL FAREWELL

Mixed Emotions

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It is Sunday afternoon, June 8th, 5 days after arriving home from the most fulfilling travel experience of my life thus far. When I originally left for India, I was sure that after 3 long months of traveling, I would drop to my knees and kiss the ground upon arrival at LAX. Not the case at all. Yes, I was happy to know that there was a toilet with running water and fluffy, 2 ply toilet paper waiting at home for me, a bed with 800 thread count sheets, a pillow top mattress as well as a box spring!, stop lights and stop signs where cars actually stop, garbage cans that citizens actually use and best of all, my sister waiting for me at the International Terminal (she wore her most exotic outfit that she got in Morocco, I think, in effort to ease my culture shock). All these things were comforting but I am a girl in love! I fell in love with an entire country and culture and there is no amount of Quilted Northern to fill that void.

Below is a excerpt from my final entry into my Indian Soul Travel Journal written on my flight from Dubai to Los Angeles with tears streaming down my face as the woman next to me pretended not to notice my sobbing which was pretty difficult because it was my ugly cry.... You know the cry with the snot, shortness of breath, restless legs, etc.

Why the tears?

I am crying for the docu-movie about the incredible life story of Indian Olympic runner Milkha Singh which I just finished watching on the plane.
I cry for the two small beggar girls and their homeless father whom I met and shared lychees with on my final night in India, at the historic landmark the Gateway to India in Mumbai.
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I cry for the memories I made which now pass through my mind like a slideshow, some bright and some already beginning to fade. I cry for the lessons in humanity that India never ceased teaching. I am crying because I found my Polka Dotted Unicorn alive and well in India. The PDU and I became very close with one another and I fear this plan ride back to LA could separate us.

India is a Motherland. I thought Mother Africa was the one and only one Motherland but I was mistaken. India is big and vast and she holds her arms out for so many to feel her embrace (1.27billion to be exact). She embraced me and I felt so at home that I embraced her right back with no fear. She swept me off my feet so fiercely that I felt like I was in an exotic whirlwind that I did not want to be rescued from. She stole my heart but gave it back to me full....so much more full than when I arrived.

I have fallen so deep in love. I am in love with the people, the temples, the land, culture, traditions, food, the rituals, Gods, Goddesses and Ganga, the children, and the unrelenting spirit that drives the country at full speed day after day. In my 32 years of life, I have never been so in awe. India was a full length mirror to my big S higher Self and my little s lower self. She showed me high truths as well as the gravitational pull of my lower self. She gave me sights in which to marvel and feel deep sadness at the same time. Every single day she showed me grace, sometimes in the smallest moments.

The Mother that is India treated me like all good Mothers know how. She eased me into her rhythms in Rishikesh using my familiarity with Yoga to make me feel safe and at home. She knew my deepest longings for truth and spirituality so she met me on that level and engulfed me into her mystical rituals. She sang to me at the Aartis and beckoned for me to place my fears at the bank of Maha Ganga. Her rivers comforted me in knowing they flowed without pause...every moment a chance for renewal...a place to rinse away the past.

In Rishikesh, she also gave me knowledge. A lot. So much I wasn't even ready to handle. But a good Mother is a teacher and good teachers understand when to give a student more than they can handle. The fact is, they know very well that you can handle it. A good Mother just waits patiently for you to realize it.

Then we left the comforts of campus and she took me into her 'real world.' We ventured out onto trains, into rickshaws and to the streets to feel her fullness and richness. Here, under some extreme circumstances, I met myself and not being an overbearing Mother, she gave me the space to do so. All the while, I still felt like I was under her wing. She was taking me to her depths but keeping me protected from her dangers.

As we furthered on the journey to Darjeeling, she even allowed me to be the teacher. She let me lead others and share the little bit of knowledge I had to give to her children. But even then, as I was outpouring she was still filling me up. Filling me with new traditions and new faces to brand into my memory, filling me with new lessons specifically in duty, family and community. I got to see first hand what truly makes the Indian joint family something to be honored. Generations, all living under one roof, everyday the same ritual of working, worshiping, eating, laughing and cooperating together to promote the family unit. I finally understood the word duty and the honor I never realized associated with that word. In America, our duty is to the individual. In India, the duty is promoting family and using the family to promote the community. Our goals are my goals. My goals, our goals. No need for a Social Security system and Senior Citizen homes when an entire family unit has invested in each other.

We kept moving and my meditation lesson of impermanence reigned Queen because like Maha Ganga, each face and each new experience kept moving whether I protested or not.

I feel so full. Overwhelmed is now a word I truly understand. It's like the tears have to fall and my nose has to run because there is just too much water in my bucket. I am physically overflowing! I think of my original gang of the 3 amigos in Delhi who I thought were going to 'stick me for my paper.' I remember Maria, the lovely spirit that was my roommate in Rishikesh and whom I know call friend.
Maria in her HOLI glory

Maria in her HOLI glory


I remember the little beggar boy outside the Taj Mahal in Agra who counted from 1 to 100 to tell me that 100 Rupees is all I had to pay for 3 snow globes he was selling with the Taj Mahal inside.
I should have bought it!

I should have bought it!

I think of the fortuitous train meeting of me and the German, Oliver and how Varanasi would not have been the same without him and the Frenchies.
New Friends

New Friends

A taste of France, Germany and America

A taste of France, Germany and America


I recall the remarkable hospitality of my home stay family in Darjeeling. I close my eyes and the children's faces of Magno Vale Academy shine so bright!
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I think of my driver Haresh in Bangalore who followed me around the markets to make sure I was safe when I wore an outfit he thought was inappropriate. I think of my Japanese roomie Tomo whom I got to know and love even though we only spoke to each other 2 out of 10 days during Vipassana.
post 10 day meditation meal

post 10 day meditation meal

I think of Amyth, the guy who often occupied my thoughts while I tried to meditate. Sorry for the cliff hanger at the end of my last entry.
For the record: Yes, I did get his number and my daydreams of him going to Goa with me actually became a reality! Thoughts really do become things! Now those daydreams are the sweetest of memories.
EAT, PRAY, then WHAT?

EAT, PRAY, then WHAT?

I remember the Ashtanga Yogis with whom I shared a Sunday morning in Rishikesh involving a Netti Pot, a rubber tube that was supposed to pass from our nose to our throat, and liters of salt water for an internal cleanse which eventually led me the toilet on the roof of a Yoga studio! (Wow! I really did have a lot of 'toilet situations.')
Morning Cleanse

Morning Cleanse

My list of supporting characters on this journey is too vast to list yet each is unforgettable. All of these souls, without doing anything other than being themselves, has brought my life to a new level. They have enriched me without any thoughts of money. They opened my eyes to new worlds and possibilities of ways to live this so called life.

Now, I know that India is a Mother to billions. I am a single grain of sand on her beach. I have met tons of other travelers who came for their first time and booked the return flight before even leaving the country. Many others found love at that first rickshaw ride like I did. I am one of many but I tell you, I couldn't feel more special. I think she has made me feel more like myself therefore I can't help but feel special. I trust myself more. I am more sensitive to that small, still voice of intuition...which I realize is my PDU.

There are so many places in the world I want to visit but the next place I want to go is still India. Never been in love like this...because it's just me loving myself.
I AM FULL.
THANK YOU MOTHER INDIA.

And that was my home bound plane entry. A little dramatic, I know. Intense due to the circumstances of leaving a lover, a small cabin floating 30,000 miles above ground and the return to the reality of LA looming.

I miss India everyday and I think there may be a slight withdrawal happening. My first day back, I went to dinner with my sister and my roomies. They asked what kind of food I wanted and naturally I said Indian. They were confused how after 3 months of curry I could ask for more!!! Yesterday, I searched Yelp for a good Indian restaurant because I wanted some authentic Chai...mine is still not quite perfected. I'm not sure but it may have something to do with the Almond Milk....just a thought. I'm trying to invent a Vegan LA Chai but it's just not cutting it. Anyway, I ate my curry and then as I was driving home, I found an Indian grocery store stocked full of every brand I'd become so familiar with! I bought fresh chopati made by a local Indian lady, mustard seed oil, buscuits for my tea and dosa mix. Then, the owner told me about a sweet and chaat (street food) shop just next door! I was so excited!! I practically skipped next door to discover the perfect Indian hole in the wall. It was just grimmy enough to feel authentic. There were sweets, Samosas, Pouri and a bunch of other things I recognized but never learned the name for...and to top it off, on the weekends they serve Masala Dosa which is my most favorite Indian meal. I would have ordered one right then but I unfortunately already ate so I went back today for a Sunday Masala Dosa brunch!

I am trying my best to reacclimatize and not sound like the "this one time in band camp" girl from American Pie where I relate everything to another tale from my Indian travel journal. I just started to wake up before noon and go to sleep before 3a.m. Only mediated once since being back and only practiced Yoga twice. But I am not judging any of it as good, bad or otherwise. Everyday is different and so my Yoga practice has been focused on observing and adjusting to all I notice without judgement or fear that I am not 'doing' enough....aka EQUANIMITY. As far as what's next?...I am reintegrating slowly and working to figure that out...so don't ask me because it gives me anxiety.

My friend Willis (whom I mentioned in my very first post as a soul who inspired this trip) said I need a Post India Reintegration Plan! Willis and I performed together for 2 years with Cirque du Soleil's VIVA ELVIS show in Las Vegas. I fell out in laughter because 'reintegration' was a Cirque du Soleil term we all heard very often when an artist was returning after an injury. Before any artist could come back to performing shows, they had to sit down and have a serious meeting with our Performance Medicine department, Artistic Director and Coaches to make a solid plan for how to reintegrate into the show without re-injury. The plan started us out slow. "Shadow" the shows backstage at first. Then, one show a night performing only 2 out of 8-10 numbers. Then 2 shows a night still performing only 20% of your work load. Then, if all is going well, you get to do 5 numbers. Then finally, after a couple weeks and a couple more meetings, if all is progressing well you can go back to your originally dance track. I think Willis is right! I need something slow and meticulous like this so I don't re-injure myself or accidentally use my credit card and buy a random plane ticket back to Mumbai!

Since this is my last post for "some time," I must thank all of you for reading, commenting and following my journey. Apologies to those who commented to no response from me. I, of course, read ALL the comments and was overjoyed at receiving each one because it meant that someone besides my parents were reading (and actually it took them a couple weeks to even find my Blog online so I thought I was writing to myself for awhile)! However, writing was already time consuming enough so I chose not to spend the time commenting but instead, getting back out there to experience more to write more. Thank you also to my family for being so supportive of my decision to take this trip. It helped to know you were all in my corner and only a Skype call away if I was in need.

It was such a joy to write and know that all I was experiencing I would eventually be able to share with those I care for. One of the worst things when you travel solo is experiencing something so mind bowing and looking to your left and then to your right only to realize that you have no one to share it with. This Blog was a way for me to share and feel surrounded by community. And I actually really like doing this travel and writing thing! I am seriously considering how I can include it in my professional life. If anyone is looking or knows someone who might be looking for an opinionated yet open-minded female who doesn't get sick off local, third world food, to travel exotic lands and document the journey, my passport and I are ready! For serious.

Now back to my regularly scheduled life in California but with an upgraded internal antenna for more channels and better reception and of course with a direct link to my Polka Dotted Unicorn..."the free spirit that frolicks the forest with an innocence that is actually protection from fear and a freedom of expression unusual among the regular, non-polka dotted unicorns. " I will not lose this link. And if the connection becomes bad I thankfully have this Blog as a reminder of where my unicorn lives.

NAMASTE.

SOUL TRAVEL STATS

LENGTH OF JOURNEY: 101 days
MILES FROM LAX TO NEW DELHI: 7,986
MILES FROM MUMBAI TO LAX: 8,688
INDIAN STATES VISITED: 9
INDIAN CITIES VISITED: 14
MILES TRAVELLED DOMESTICALLY: 4,057.3
TRAIN JOURNEYS: 5
BUS JOURNEYS: 2
DOMESTIC FLIGHTS: 2
TEMPLES VISITED: lost count
HOTEL STAYED IN: 14
ASHRAMS: 3
BEST HOTEL: The Paul in Bangalore
SHITTIEST HOTEL: Sai Palace in Agra (the word Palace was used loosely)
TIMES I GOT SICK: ONCE but only for 8 hours!

For previous Blog stories : www.travellerspoint.com/ivoriejenkins

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 05:24 Archived in USA Tagged home Comments (4)

Shhhhhhhh! I'M TRYING TO MEDITATE!

NOBLE SILENCE - A 10 Day Vipassana Meditation Retreat

sunny 90 °F

Apologies for the delay and apologies for the extreme length...10 days no talking so now I have a lot to say!

Well folks, I did it and it is done! And with full ego I am patting myself on the back for doing so because 10 days of no talking and 8 hours of mediation a day "ain't no crystal stair."

On May 14th at 8pm, I, Ivorie Nicole Jenkins, of sane mind and healthy body, enrolled myself into a 10 day Vipassana Meditation Course. I state the above affirmation because after about three days I began looking for someone to blame for this torture and asking myself questions like: Who would willingly put themselves through this mindf#*k? Why on earth would someone CHOOSE to do this? Certainly there has to be ransom or a gun involved. Yet, I would not be able to place blame because the choice was mine and mine alone.

I arrived from Mysore (the city where the late and famed Yoga master Patabi Jois tried to get me to pay 1500 Rupees for a yoga class! That's more than a class in Santa Monica, California!) via a 3 hour train to Bangalore and then a city bus about an hour and a half to the outskirts of Bangalore to Dhamma Papullha Vippasana Meditation Center. Dhamma meaning truth and Paphulla meaning cheerfulness.

I arrived to no greeting...maybe silence already started? The grounds of the campus were dry and looked like the backyard of a foreclosed Las Vegas house. You know the ones that haven't seen a gardener or a water hose in a couple of seasons. I was a little disappointed as I had pictured rolling hills of green, wild flowers and wide meadows surrounding the place where I would find enlightenment. But I figured my eyes would be closed most of the time so the hell with landscaping.

Silence had not yet begun because when I reached the Women's Residence Hall, I was immediately scolded for indecent dress. I had on loose fitting, boy shorts that came down to my knees but no shorts of any kind are allowed. Of course I knew this already because they sent all the rules in an introductory email but it was hot as Satan's big toe nail that day and I am a self proclaimed "Habitual Line Stepper" so I went ahead with the shorts anyway.

Ladies Residence Hall Vipassana

Ladies Residence Hall Vipassana

A lady in a Saree with her belly hanging out the side asked if I had "more appropriate" pants to change into. I said yes but made no sudden moves to go change. She have me a look that clearly meant "now." The brat living inside me wanted to ask how my calves and ankles were more inappropriate than the rolls on the left side of her stomach hanging out over her Saree. Of course I refrained.

I completed the sign in process and was assigned to a room with an Indian woman named Sashi. I liked her right away and so was disappointed when they switched her with a Japanese girl named Tomo. Tomo and I were the only non-Indians females. There were only 2 other non-Indian men, one from California and one from Spain (the Spainard left after Day 2 btw). Foreigners need to be together was their logic. I've been in India too long to need the company of a fellow foreigner said my ego. I would quickly realize that this was the best decision made for me by someone else.

Tomo was amazing! She was just a little younger than me, living in Bangalore studying Yoga and Martial Arts. Her boyfriend is from Florida of all places but lives and works in Japan. Tie that off with the oh so romantic detail that they met in spirit-filled land of Rishikesh, India. So she was familiar with American culture and her English close to perfect. We hit it off right away especially knowing that our time left to talk was quickly ticking away!

Our room

Our room

At 5pm we went together to turn in all sensory objects. That meant books, journals, pens and pencils, iPads and Pods and of course cell phones. They told us that these objects would become tempting as the course progressed. They weren't lying either! Around Day 5, I noticed that there was newspaper lining my shelves. When I saw it that part in the brain that is overactive in drug addicts lit right up! And like a fein I got on my tippy toes and crooked my neck to see if i could get a sentence, a headline, a photo, a word, anything!

Outside of the office where we dropped off our links to the outside world, people stood around having their last words before the much anticipated oath of silence. This is where I met what would be my mind's first distraction.

His name was Amyth...I know a boy right?! Too cliche. He was young, tall, Indian, kinda cute and had this Indian swag about him that struck me right away. Tomo and I began talking to him and learned that he spent his childhood in the UK which explained the accent and the perfect English. But I detected some American influence as well because his slang was something I had not heard in 3 months of Indian travel.

This was his second time to the course. The previous time was 9 months ago but he left on Day 7. He said "Day 6 is the worst man! I started seeing shit... hallucinations and what not." This information didn't really assuage any fears Tomo and I were carrying. Why was he telling this to us anyway?! Was he just trying to prepare us for the worst? Was he oblivious that we were Vippasana Virgins and preferred our blissful ignorance to his frightening past reality? Nonetheless, he was back for a second try to fight off the Day 6 hallucinations and finish the full 10 days.

We continued talking a little bit longer and I found my body language turning the conversation from Tomo, Amyth and I to just Amyth and I. Was I crushing on an Indian boy????? And 20 minutes before I wouldn't be able to talk to him for 10 days but I would still know he's there in the same hall meditating with me. Great! Just great! My mind was going to have a field day with this brand new stimuli.

And so then it began. We were given some general rules the biggest one being Noble Silence.

NOBLE SILENCE

NOBLE SILENCE


We were then shown into the Meditation Hall where our cushions were neatly arranged with attached name tags. I was female #34. There we did our first one hour meditation from 8-9pm before returning back to our dorms for sleep because tomorrow was an early morning.

Time schedule for the next 10 days went something like this:

4AM
one of three Sevas (volunteers) walks past each room and rings a little evil bell. Every morning, i consider how i might sneak in her room during the day, steal the bell and burying it somewhere she would never find.
I don't even move. It is a 2 minute walk to the Meditation Hall so there is no reason for me to be up 30 minutes before...unless I am an Indian woman and I want to wrap a Saree, rebraid my hair and put on all my gold jewelry before leaving my room.

4:15AM
the evil bells rings again this time with a little more fervor. I moan and put the pillow over my head and sleep another 11 minutes.

4:26 AM
I literally roll out of bed, grab my water bottle and head out the door. I defiantly choose to not brush my teeth or wash my face! I tell myself that the key word is silence so its not like anyone will be smelling my morning breath.

4:30 - 6:30AM
Meditation

6:30AM
BREAKFAST
which was either a spicy rice pilaf, spicy wheat, cous-cous-like pilaf or Thalis (fluffy rice patties) - with a spicy cocunut chutney sauce and of course Chai. There was also fruit but only for the returning students. They only eat 2 meals a day the second one being lunch. No food after 12noon! Glad I wasn't a returning student.

7-8AM
BREAK
During this time I would do one of three things as options for activities were limited: Sleep, Yoga or Laundry. Before silence began, Tomo and I decided our laundry day would be Day 3 and Day 7. We had to figure out logistical things like this before hand so we wouldn't have to break noble silence later on.

8-9AM
Mediation

9-9:15AM
BREAK

9:30-11AM
Meditation

11AM
LUNCH
Seems early but not when you consider I've been up since 4! Lunch was the largest meal of day served buffet style. This moment of the day always made me feel like I was a female convict in an episode of Orange is the New Black which I renamed Sarees are the New Jumpsuit, being in India and all. The metal plates and cups, the way the Sevas sloped the heaps of white rice onto plates, starring at a white wall while
eating because the 4 window seats were already taken or looking at a room full of unsmiling women eat lunch really gave off that prison vibe.

Lunch tastes good though. There are usually 2 types of a raw vegetable, chopati, white rice and red rice, a curry or 2, and a very thin watered down curd (yoghurt) which is served in a metal cup like it's a glass of milk. Usually curd is thick like either buttermilk or yoghurt but I guess since it has to feed 100 people they make it go the distance with a little water.

ladies dining hall

ladies dining hall

12-1PM
BREAK
During this time I usually take a nap or go for a walk around the grounds of the center then take a nap.

1-2:15PM
Meditate

2:15-2:30
BREAK

2:30-3:30
Meditate

3:30- 3:45
BREAK

3:45-5:00
Mediate again

5-6:00
DINNER BREAK
And by dinner break I mean snack break. It is difficult to meditate on a full stomach and what you eat the night before affects your practice the following morning so they only feed us a puffed rice and peanut mix, a piece of fruit (watermelon, papaya or banana) and of course Chai. But don't feel bad for me because the returning students who got the fruit in the morning only get lemon water at dinner!

6-7:00
Meditate

7-7:15
BREAK

7:15- 8:30
Discourse on Meditation
This is my favorite part of the day! We all sit in the meditation hall and for the first time of the day our senses are stimulated. A big projection screen shows a video of S.N. Goenka, the guy who made Vipassana accessible to the masses by opening centers for mediation around the globe. He is a long time practitioner of Vipassana and a scholar of Buddha, his writings and teachings. He is a jolly fellow who, for one hour, transports us away from our cushions. He explains exactly why we are doing what we are doing in the way we are doing it. He has a fable for everything and he could really make us laugh!

8:30-9:00
you guessed it... Mediate

9:30PM
LIGHTS OUT

Day 1 and 2 were pretty peaceful. I was happy to be there. The meditation was going well. Some other meditators were having trouble with the physicality of staying in one position for so long but I was used to this sort of torture from years of dance training. My mentor and dance guru Homer Bryant would make us hold our arms in a la seconde for 5 minutes straight! That means holding your arms out to the side as if you were hugging a giant beach ball. When our arms started to falter or we began to moan he would shout "It does not hurt, it's slightly uncomfortable!" And now my Yoga teacher, Annie Carpenter also a former dancer, is no kinder. She says hold plank position and I am clear i should get real comfy with plank pose because we are going to be there awhile! All this to say, I am no stranger to holding uncomfortable positions and training my mind to go somewhere other than the pain.

My difficulty: shutting my mind up!

The first 3 days our only job was to focus on breathing. Follow the breath in and notice the sensation of the breath passing out. Simple enough. But remember, my Indian crush is sitting on the other side of the aisle about three rows behind me. Therefore my meditation goes something like this:

Inhale... Breath is warm...i feel it seep into my brain... Cooling exhale .. sensation of breath is passing gently over my upper lip.. ..Again... steady breath...Inhale...He's only three rows behind... Am I in his line of eyesight?... Maybe he's watching me!... Wouldn't that be funny if he's watching me mediate about him?!... Ivorie! Pull it together.... Exhale...sensation of breath on upper lip....Inhale... Sensation of breath on nose hairs... He did say he lived in Goa for 6 months. And I am going to Goa the day i get out of here... should I ask him to go with me?... Ivorie! Girl focus! ... Inhale... What if he's married with like 2 kids? You know Indians start early. Yeah he probably is. But no, i know a married man with kids when i see one. I didn't get that vibe... Ivorie!!! Okay okay....serious this time... Exhale....inhale...exhale...inhale...exhale...inhale....exhale...do I smell incense? Who has time to lite incense at 4am... maybe it's perfume... Incense inspired Indian fragrances... Is that patented already? If not it should be... Maybe that's what I could do to keep me in India. How am I gonna get back here? My knee is slightly uncomfortable... What time is it in LA? I wonder if any celebrities have done a 10 Vipassana course... Probably like Matthew McConaughey or Johnny Depp. They are wierd enough. Am i wierd? Maybe Brad and Angelina.... Uggh..I hate when celebrities invade my brain.... Back to my Indian man... if we got married we could totally have a cool Indian-American fusion wedding... And I would get to wear those beautiful flowers the women put in their hair... A ton of them... My hair would need to be longer though... Doesn't work with short hair...Why won't my hair grow longer anyway... Everyday I use that Indian hair oil and still all I got is this Jew fro curly mess. I should just buy more scarves before I leave. Will he want too wear a crazy Rajasthani turban at the wedding?... That might be to much. But our babies!! Tooooo cute! Now I won't have to abduct an Indian baby before I leave. I can just have one of my own. She will be so cute. I hope it's a girl! Wow!!!!! I've gone off the deep end...Did I just marry him and have a baby???! Wtf? Ivorie you are supposed to be here for YOU. How long has it been? Are we almost done?..Inhale... I wish I had a watch. I should get a watch from Commercial street before I leave Bangalore....

And so it was variations of the above all day long. This was the everyday battle between me and my thoughts. I would tell them to be quiet, they would quiet for 2.5 seconds and return and I would have to push them side again.

Go ahead! You try it! See how many breaths you can focus on before some utterly ridiculous thought breaks your concentration.
I'll wait.
I'm guessing max 5 breaths or about 20 second right?

But this is the practice of training the mind to becoming of aware of thought patterns as well as our subconscious automatic reactions to these thoughts. And for the first 4 days we practiced mostly this. The thought appears, I observe but do not judge, be it good or bad... Even if I did just have a baby with a man I've know for only 30 minutes. I still push the thought aside and begin again. Over and over until slowly...very slowly the thoughts become less and instead of being distracted 30 times it is only 20 times.

My mind becomes steadier more concentrated and II am able to witness the surprisingly simplistic pattern of my thoughts. They are mostly the same damn thoughts over and over! Am I really this simple minded I think. Here I am thinking I am this complicated woman who needed India to help me figure myself out. But when I become the observer I see that my thoughts are on a loop. It's as if someone tricked me and put my minds' video on repeat to keep me from digging any deeper.

After Day 4 we began the actual Vipassana technique which involves observing the body's sensations. We sat meditating 8 times a day but now 3 of those times it became mandatory that you do not leave the Hall and that you actually try your hardest to not move a muscle. Of course torturing oneself is not encouraged. If you need to change positions, so be it. But the point is to observe why you need to move your legs and before you move your legs investigate. What am I feeling? Is it really pain or just an itching sensation? If I wait a moment will it subside? Do I have to react to every sensation that passes through my body? Or can I remain the witness and begin to understand that ALL sensations whether pleasant or unpleasant will undeniably pass away. So in these hour long mediation sessions all 100 or so of us would pan our bodies from head to toe observing sensations but not looking or waiting for the sensations because that would infer that you are no longer in the present moment. You are in fact anticipating a moment in the future.

I was surprised to find that within an hour or so of receiving these instructions I felt a current like flow of energy through my whole body! It was so cool. It felt like a natural high. I even reached a point where gravity no longer lived. I felt the feeling of floating with no separation between me the floor or the air around me. It was magical and I didn't want the feeling too end. But ahhhaaa! Now comes the second half of the Vippasana technique. Equanimity. Whatever feeling arises, be it pain or pleasure, can you remain equanimous? Dispassionate? Unattached? For me this concept seemed simple when dealing with pain but pleasure? Who wants pleasure to leave? And if it does have to go home or re charge, what time can it be available tomorrow and where should we meet?!

I understood the danger of this attachment on Day 5. As I searched my body for that surge of energy and waited for the floating feeling to return I got nada. The only sensation I was feeling was my ass was firmly attached to my cushion and my sit bones on fire from this 40 hour meditation marathon! And it felt like with each hour I sat my ass was spreading! No exercise besides a measly walk around a field of dead grass and too much rice and chopati was not a good look for the waist line. I decreased my breakfast and lunch intake immediately. Not like I needed the calories for meditation.

And top it all off guess what else happened on Day 5? My Indian boyfriend left! He didn't even make it to his past score of 6 days! What a punk for leaving me here! How were we going to have the amazing conversation about our new states of enlightenment over fish curry on the beach in Goa if he was gone already? Ugggghh. Maybe he is just sick and missing only the morning mediation. He'll be back for the video discourse in the evening, I lied to myself. He told Tomo and I the discourse was his favorite part of the day and whenever I would sneak a peak at him, there he sat on his cushion listening intensely with a big grin on his face. But he wasn't there in the evening either :-( and reality struck when they removed his cushion from the row. Sad day. He was gone and so were my Indian babies. My only hope was that he left his number for me so I could call him when I broke out of this joint. Then I had to reel myself in again. I was witnessing the attachment and watching the sorrow it was causing me all because I created some fake scenario in my mind with someone I hardly knew.

I wouldn't be able to tell him but he was wrong about Day 6, I saw no hallucinations and actually had a pretty good day. And the course was already half way through! The only mishap on Day 6, I locked Tomo in the room before our 4:30 am meditation! It was a complete accident. I wasn't present and locked the combination lock we shared after I left. But she was still in the room!. It was talking her a little longer to get up that day... She is usually up and out the door before me which is why I'm used to locking the door behind me. And I didn't even realize it until one of the Sevas came and told me that she had to break Tomo out of her own room that morning. She completely missed the 2 hour morning mediation... Seemed like I did her a favor is what that brat in the back of my mind said.

But then I did it again on Day 8!!! This was my worst day. The end seemed so near but so far away. Day 10 is a full day and we even have the 4:30 morning meditation on Day 11 before being released so the end was like a mirage tautening me all of Day 8. My mind must have been in this place of misery because instead of locking Tomo in with the combination lock I locked her in from the lock on the outside of the door. There is an inside lock to lock when you are inside and an outside lock to lock when you are outside. However, you only lock the outside lock if everyone in the room is outside otherwise they are locked in. I was specifically trying to be mindful not to repeat Day 6 so I left the combo lock on her bed but didn't think twice about locking the outside lock. What an idiot. I came back to the room wondering if she left meditation early because I didn't see her at her cushion which is behind me in the hall. It didn't even dawn on me that I could have repeated the mistake. But once again, the Seva came knocking on my door to break the bad news that I am an idiot! I broke noble silence when Tomo came in and with my hands in the Namaste position I mouthed the words I am so sorry over and over again. Of course she was so and gracious and told me not to worry.

On Day 9 Tomo and I broke Noble Silence and we broke it with laughter! She hates bugs, sleeping with no AC and general uncleanliness. I have been watching her battle the bugs all week. We are situated in a very remote area and so bugs are a reality. I actually broke Noble silence on Day 2 when a roach crawled out of my toothbrush holder...with my toothbrush still inside! Luckily I still had my Air Emirates toothbrush to save the day...love that airline! She also broke Noble Silence on Day 4ish as she screamed at a bug that invaded her suitcase! But we never talked with each other only screamed to ourselves.

Night 9 was hotter than usual because no rain had come that day. We were both snuggled in our mosquito netted beds waiting for sleep and waiting for Day 10 at 10 am when we were allowed to break Noble silence and speak to each other. After tossing and turning for some time, I opened my eyes frustrated that sleep was no where in sight. I opened my eyes to a huge flying beetle starring me in my face! But it was almost Day 10 and I was high on mediation. The word EQUANIMITY had been downloaded several hundred times into my brain and so my only reaction was observation. "Was this bug on the inside or the outside of this netting? Wow this bug is really big. It's wings are such a beautiful shade of blue."

I slowly got up so not to disturb the fellow in case it was sleeping. I turned on the light to see that Tomo was also no where near sleep. I tried to do a gesture dance to explain the situation but she just flat out asked me "a bug?! You don't want to kill it right?" I said no and she brought over a container and together we managed the fellow into the container and dropped him outside. Then we just went for it. I told her I couldn't sleep she said her neither. I tried to turn up the fan but ended up breaking the knob causing the fan to totally shut off. We tried all of our MacGyver skills to get it to work but in the end it was still broken. This was unacceptable to Tomo! First no AC and now no fan! No no no. She suggested we go find one of the Sevas to help. It was well past Lights Out but they were still up...on FB actually. I guess volunteers get to keep their cell phones. The Seva said "wait for some time" and she would be back with a wrench.

"Wait for some time" is a beautiful Indian expression used when you are not quite sure how long something will take but you don't want commit to estimating a time frame. It could be minutes, hours, days. It's perfect for people like me who are always running late. "I'll be there in some time." But infuriating if you are waiting for someone or something.

'Some time' I'm this case ended up being about 10 minutes. Ten minutes of Tomo and I laughing about the last 30 minutes of us being roommates... I also apologized again for locking her out. Gosh it was so nice to talk even if just for 10 minutes! The fan was fixed and we even said "goodnight" to each other. A roommate first.

On Day 10 the excitement was palpable. We finished our morning meditation breakfast and our first stillness meditation in silence. Then we watched a video about all the other Vipassana Centers opened by Goenka throughout the world. If interested find yours here http://www.dhamma.org

Then we were free...almost. We still had to complete two more meditation hours and we were not allowed to speak in the Meditation Hall but other than that we got our phones and personal items back and got to put voices to all the faces we saw each day. By this day 12 students had already left. 10 men and 2 women. I would love to see a statistic of which sex generally leaves before the 10 days are through. I have a hunch that women stick it out longer. Maybe there's a built in pain tolerance meant for childbirth that allows us to go the distance. Could be nonsense but worth the investigation.

Speaking of free - all should be pleased to know that [b]the entirety of this course is free. The lodging, the food and the knowledge. They ask for a donation of whatever you feel the course was worth to you and your bank account at the end. They only want you to know that your place at the course was made possible by a previous students' donation. So honorable right?

Everyone was so nice when they were allowed to smile. We all ate lunch over great conversation much of which were questions about my hair scarves. Someone asked if it was part of my religion. Someone else said she thought I was African. Lol! Naw ladies! Just too many bad hair days!

we spoke!

we spoke!

So did my Indian boyfriend leave a note for me? It was the moment of truth as I walked up to the front desk to ask. When I inquired, I tried to sound professional or spiritual or something other than desperate for a boy's phone number after 10 days of practicing equanimity. And I really had to practice equanimity when I found out that NO he left nothing for me! As if? I thought we had something!

I know what you're thinking...or at least I know what I would be thinking if I was the reader instead of the writer. Did my 10 days of intense self reflection boil down to a story about a boy and whether we lived happily ever after or not? Of course not. It really just makes for a good thread to keep you interested in such a long post.

In all honesty, I was relieved when Amyth left. Not for him but purely for my own selfish reasons. He was a distraction and I really did come to this course with the intention to dig deeper into the practice of meditation which I would like to become more intimate with. I wanted to get to know myself under extreme circumstances. I wanted the teachings of a technique which I could root firmly in and take back to my home in LA to develop further. I am drawn to spirituality but I don't care for religion or sects or religious dogma of any kind. I don't want someone else, who is just as unenlightened as I, telling me how to get to heaven or making me fear going to hell. So while the rest of you find peace and truth at church or mosque or temple, I also want to be able to have a spiritual place which to abide. I want a practice that is developed for me and by what I know to be true at this stage in my life with all I have come to experience as truth. I want to use all my doubts on religion and spirituality as signs of intelligence that the path is not yet clear and I still have work to make it so.

But the mind will find distraction no matter what and if it had not been this boy, perhaps I would have fixated on an ex-boyfriend or even thoughts of why I have no boyfriend. If it is not one thing it will be another. Therefore I do not mind ending this post with such a frivolous story of a me liking a boy. I did like him and even though he didn't leave me his number it didn't mean I couldn't be the aggressor and ask the front desk for his! The beaches in Goa would be so much better with a friend ;-)

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 09:02 Archived in India Tagged vipassana Comments (2)

KOLKATA - THE INDIAN NYC

Musings on 'THE CITY OF JOY'

sunny 98 °F

Oh Kolkata! Yes, I mean it that way too but I'm actually talking about the name of a restaurant where I am sitting as I write this post. A fancy, Bengali restaurant. Bengali being of West Bengal, the state where the once capital of India, Kolkata lives. My previous home of Darjeeling lives in West Bengal also. Although, the two couldn't be father away from each other in likeness - this being part of the reason why Darjeeling is fighting to become there own state known as Ghorkhaland.

This weird guy from my train ride told me about Oh Kolkata! He was a young, educated, middle class, single guy in the upper sleeping birth across from me. The only ones traveling solo, so we struck up a nice conversation. I find that this generation of modern Indians are in an interesting place in Indian development. They seem to be roaming around in the middle somewhere - reminds me of the title of a favorite ballet of mine by Wiliam Forsythe called "In the Middle Somewhat Elevated."

They are caught in the middle between Indian traditional way of living and the Western supposed ideal way of living. Somewhat elevated from the poverty of their parents but not to the degree of their Western counterparts. Less consumed with religion but still going through the motions of holy rituals for their parents sake or out of habit. More concerned with making money, most taking over their family businesses but taking it up a notch by making it global or viral; moving away from arranged marriage to find love like all the Bollywood movies say is possible; yet finding that love difficult to find because the majority of the country still favors arranged marriages so the pool of lovers to choose from is shallow. See my FB picture of the Indian Marriage Classifieds for a dose of reality. 'Seeking fair, thin woman. Educated not necessary.'

I happened to run into Oh Kolkata! While checking out the Forum Mall. A decent mall. I bought some pants that I love from Global Desi, the only Indian shop in the mall. The rest were English and U.S. stores selling clothes from 3 seasons ago. I stood looking over the menu and a Sikkimese guy recommended I go in. He had just finished eating and said it was delicious and you get a free King Fisher beer with the buffet. We talked about how fortuitous our meeting was- 2 people -one who just visited Sikkim (me) and the other from Sikkim (him) meeting in Kolkata over Bengali food. He later reappeared, in the middle of my meal, with a friend, I think trying to arrange a "friendly" hang out. But I have my Bengali cooking class in 2 hours and I won't be late! Besides I have mastered the art of eating alone. Don't even take out a book most times.

He was right about the food. It is delicious. The clientele are all upper class Indians. Couples and big families sitting around large circular tables with fancy white tablecloths. The staff seems like they are pretending in their stiff black and white uniforms. Pretending to be sophisticated , quiet, orderly Indians. Yet, I have seen their cousins, uncles and sisters all throughout the streets of this town today and so I know who they really are, from where they came and probably where they are returning to tonight after work.

So far, I absolutely adore this city! I realize it has barely been 24 hours but in that little time I know. I think part of the reason I like Kolkata so much is because of its' resemblance to NYC.

Maybe it's the sea of yellow cabs that flood the streets.
71st and Amsterdam?

71st and Amsterdam?

Or the Subway
from the ACE to the 1 Tran?

from the ACE to the 1 Tran?

Maybe the tree lined streets with buildings that resemble the coveted Pre-War real estate in Manhattan. Or perhaps the energy- people moving to and fro as if headed somewhere very important. And yet others, lounging on counters in front of shops talking, laughing or arguing with friends.

IMG_20140504_140513.jpgKolkata architecture and laundry day

Kolkata architecture and laundry day

I arrived here on last Sunday morning (Blog a bit behind) around 7am. The train station was busy with drivers, rickshaws and cycles trying to make some early morning cash. I offered to share a taxi with the weird guy from the upper birth (who didn't get weird until now) because we were headed in the same direction. He said something that made no sense about it being too expensive for him so he'll catch a taxi outside the train station. So it is okay for me to pay the expensive fare buddy?!?! That was the point of us splitting it weirdo!! Whatever. I paid the overpriced 250Rupees ($4.20) to the cabbie. He dropped me off and had the nerve to ask for a tip! I gave the Indian head wobble and mumbled to myself "I got yo tip brother. Stop chewing that masala betel root! Your teeth are rotting and your breath smells!"

Outside the train station taxi madness, the streets were quiet. Still honking of course but there was a quiet that felt unusual, like the city was still sleeping. As i began to walk around, I could see that they were still sleeping. Literally! As in, they were sleeping on the streets. It wasn't just my vivid imagination, I was actually bearing witness.

I checked into my guesthouse - GUESTHOUSE has taken on new meaning since traveling to India. I used to think of it as a coach house on the grounds of a nicer, larger residence. Small, quaint, charming. Now when I search Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor for a guesthouse, I know what I'm really asking for is a place that is too shitty to be called a hotel but not shitty enough to be called a hostel.

I did not complain. It was a room with a bed and a decent bathroom and only one night umtil I made it Bangalore where I knew my family friend Noelle wouldn't be caught dead staying anywhere like this. Furthermore, as my funds alloted for this trip come closer and closer to $0 so do my bourgeois standards. My champagne tastes can't be supported by my beer bottle pockets! Haa! Jai Ms. Eartha Kitt!

I washed the overnight train off in a lukewarm shower which came in handy because it was hot and humid and the AC unit hadn't yet cooled the room. Kolkata had just broken some weather records the previous week with temps over 40 °C/104F. Today it was around 37 °C/98F. I didn't have any plans for the day except my Bengali cooking class and drinks with a friend of a friend from Kolkata. My day was free to roam. I love roaming!

I walked the streets with all intentions of getting lost. I found bookstores, an amazing at gallery, the aforementioned mall complete with a theater, United Colors of Benetton and a Yogurtland. This is also where I found Oh Kolkata! I saw parks with children playing cricket, I experienced the subway system which didn't start running until 2pm. I asked why and a man said "because it is Sunday!" as if it was a dumb question. I also saw this family which warmed and broke my heart all at the same time. They were sitting across the street from the park under a bus stop. The streets were clearly their home but they were laughing and talking with other as if over brunch at Pastis.

Sunday afternoon with a Bengali family

Sunday afternoon with a Bengali family

When I said Kolkata wakes up slow on Sundays I meant reeeeeeaaaal slow. The whole city looked as if they partied too hard the night before and were now suffering from a most painful hangover. Men were sprawled half naked on the counters of their chai and coconut shops. Some laid on blankets and newspapers, some on their cars or just skin to pavement. By 11am a few were starting to set up their shops hanging t-shirts, sunglasses and random electronics for sale. But not one was in a hurry or really even appeared to caste of they sold one item today. I must have missed a fantastic party last night!

Even on Monday-which was significantly busier than Sunday- I found a shop that I needed to buy something from that was still not open at 10:30am. The man trying to make a commission by showing be around the market said "come back in 30 minutes. Yesterday was Sunday so not open yet.". I laughed out loud! Yesterday was the day spent nursing a hangover therefore it's tough getting to work early on Monday. Definitely been there a time or two. Sounds logical to me.

My cooking class was the highlight of the day. I took the subway to a woman's house named Rajashi. She met me on the main street and walked me a couple blocks to her house which was a 5 story, walk-up apartment that felt like so many walk-ups in Harlem. It was a lesson but also dinner for the family- her mother-in-law, husband and son. Therefore, she did more of the cooking than me. She only handed the spatula to me for foolproof instructions. Stir this, hand me that.

When I arrived she served me the most delicious drink to ever come across my lips! It was a Mango Cooler for lack of a better name. She took green unripe mangoes, charred them over the stove-top flame until burnt, peeled the burnt skin, put the mango flesh in a blender with fresh lime juice and sugar and serves. You can actually taste that the mango has been roasted! It was so refreshing. A definite repeat with our Mexican mangoes in Cali! My roommates are in for some culinary treats!!

The menu:

Bengali dal which is the most flavorful I've tasted in all of India! Dal is basically lentil soup and the staple of an Indian meal. With my host family in Darjeeling we had it single everyday, without fail. Because it is a staple sometimes it can be a bit bland. Not in Bengal!

Bengali Dal

Bengali Dal

Bhindi or okra- not usually a fan but she sauteed it in mustard seed oil and then topped it with a homemade yogurt sauce. The yogurt was homemade y'all! In her house by her! So easy to make she says!

IMG_20140504_183646_016.jpg

Pouri - a fried dough that I can't really explain except to say it's fried dough so it's delicious! We made the dough, rolled it out and popped it on veg oil. As Ina would say "how easy is that?!" Only my foodies will pick up on that one;-)

IMG_20140504_185826_877.jpg
cooking class finale

cooking class finale


Where's the meat I can hear from halfway across the globe?! I requested a Veg Meal. Schoking I know.

She finished it all within an hour and we sat down to the above dinner and wonderful conversation. After this experience I was in love...again! This place felt so familiar. These felt like my kind of people....Interested in art, culture, education and food. Kolkata is not only known as the City of Joy but as the cultural and intellectual hub of India. When I entered Rajashi's home, there was a huge bookshelf made by her architecture husband filled with books...which she had read! Our dinner conversation revolved around the upcoming elections, Indian politics, communism, mother-in-laws, women and children, feminism, Ayuurveda and food of course. And this was no rich family. Middle classes with stable work putting their children through college on scholarships. I almost forgot to pay her because it felt like coming over a friends house for wine and dinner! She reminded me of coure ;-)

And to put the cherry atop my Indian sundae, Kolkata even has Maha (Mother) Ganga! From Kolkata, Ganga flows into the Bay of Bengal and then the Indian Ocean. My flight to Bangalore took off at dusk from Kolkata's airport. Pink skies and contrasting clouds framed the river. I had never seen her from above! From here I could see her shape. The full flaunt of her figure. The twists, the curves. Her expansiveness. How small I am and how big she is. So clear now why she is considered a Goddess by her people. From up here you don't see her trash, ashes or floating bodies. In contrast, you understand why you go to her to get clean. Only her beauty is visible from here.

Thank you Kolkata. I will return so we may get better acquainted.

***I am really behind on my posts (actually I'm always behind but its never mattered til now). I have to tell you all about Bangalore because 1: it wasn't India, it was L.A. and 2: because Noelle did me proper in that city!! But it will have to wait because beginning tomorrow I will officially be IN SILENCE. 10 days people! Pray for me. My Mom told me that my beloved Nanny, Lucille, used to say "that baby talks...she talks so much she gone run out of things to say when she gets older!" Well Lucille ;-) here we are. Signing off until then.
NAMASTE.

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 06:51 Archived in India Tagged kolkata: bengali Comments (2)

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