A Travellerspoint blog



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.



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:

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.

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

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.

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.




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

During this time I usually take a nap or go for a walk around the grounds of the center then take a nap.




3:30- 3:45

Mediate again

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!



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!

you guessed it... Mediate


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)


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!


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;-)

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.

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


Within a Hearbeat

With a heavy heart I report that my time as a school teacher has come to an end. Last Friday was my final day and I sadly left my host family the following Saturday afternoon. The hostel boys, Vatsala's brother Ananja and Deven's sister Deepa all saw me to the taxi stand. Everyone bid me farewell with love and gratitude and I felt my heart tugging at the thought of leaving and possibly never seeing this village or it's beautiful people again.

I am still grappling with the idea of altruistic volunteering. I can now honestly say that the choice to volunteer was more for self serving reasons than a pure desire to improve the lives of a village's school children. And I am okay with that. It is what I needed and what I wanted. So without much unnecessary thought I followed the Polka Dotted Unicorn into the forest. If I return to the school, which I have all desires and intentions to do, maybe then I can say my volunteering has been elevated to a more altruistic place. Otherwise, it all becomes a memory.

The other grapple : Was my work effective? I'm sure somewhat. But teaching is HARD and takes more planning than I ever thought. Props to all the teachers reading and all my teachers who molded my adolescent years. Our last lesson was creating a school newspaper for the older kids and rewriting fairy tales for the younger kids. They did amazing work and I think they learned a few things.



Rewriting Fairytales

Rewriting Fairytales

school newspaper

school newspaper

school newspaper

school newspaper

I attempted with all my lessons to challenge their thinking. Ask them questions they have never been asked and pose ideas that life in a hill station will not ordinarily offer. But with only 5 weeks (4 weeks after all the holidays) of 40 minute classes (30 minutes on Fridays), I think I was a mostly a break from the norm. I was a strange creature that provided a peek into life outside their village.

Class 6 surprised me and EACH gave me homemade cards! I was floored. Some of them even cried. Not for me though. I think just to see if they could cry on command. When you're 10 and your friend cries there is peer pressure for you to cry. So one drama queen started to cry and before I knew it all the children had these sad faces as they tried to get their tear ducts to work! It was the cutest thing. Of course I told them to knock it off and come outside to the playground with me!

I also got pens, a teddy bear, Nepali scarves which they give to guests kind of like Hawaiians give leis, and this vase.


Yeah, imagine me trying to stuff that in my backpack. Somehow I did though. Couldn't leave it behind. Tovah I think it should go in your room ;-). By the way, my backpack now weighs about 25kgs. I started with about 13. The ever growing:


I am now off to month 3 of my journey. A brief stop in Kolkata. A plane ride to Bangalore where I will enjoy some much needed 5 star R&R with a friend and then a 10 day silent Vipassana Meditation retreat. I know! What about the beach right? Travel takes unexpected twists and turns. I'm happily enjoying the ride. Not to worry. I will see the beach...even if it is monsoon season ;-)

Before I sign off here are a few of my favorite pics from my time here:






IMG_20140423_223518.jpgMORNING PRAYERS






Advaitya: the golden child

Advaitya: the golden child











Ended in a heartbeat. Memory until forever.
Thank you Magno Vale.

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 00:20 Archived in India Comments (3)


Getting my hair "did" in India

rain 68 °F

So, it's been 2 months and I was eager to get my eyebrows threaded. There's never much to thread because my hair is fine hair and grows at a snails pace but I really wanted to say that I paid 25 Rupees - the equivalent of 45¢ - instead of the American price of $10 for threading. When I asked my host Mom, Vatsala if she could recommend a place she suggested I get a hair treatment too.

A hair treatment? I'm intrigued! And what exactly does that entail? Who cares? Of course I want an Indian hair treatment.

I am always complaining to Vatsala that my short hair won't grow long enough or fast enough. I long for something I'll never have which is long, thick beautiful locks like her, her sister, mother-in-law and every other woman in India. But she said no, it IS possible. You just have to get the hair treatment. Whatever you say girl! If you do it to your hair I want to do to mine!

So we planned the excursion for the first of May because school was out in celebration of May Day. Within one month of teaching, the kids had 5 days off because of holidays. Did you know India celebrates Good Friday, Palm Sunday and Easter?! The death and rebirth of Jesus is a National holiday in a Hindu country. Good stuff.

Back to it...Monsoon season doesn't start til June but the way it rained on May Day you could have fooled me. Pouring buckets! The rain began just at the end of band practice for the students. Magno Vale Academy is the village marching band champion and practices just started for the competition approaching in August. Even on a day off from school they are expected to attend practice. The girls play recorders, the boys have a full drum line (not like an ATL, historically black, college drum line but you know, like a village one) and this year they are adding the bag pipes to seal in First Place!

When I showed up for the practice, I was shocked at how good they were. Tears began to well up in my eyes as the girls played the school song in unison on their recorders, all the while marching with their blue and white uniforms and perfectly braided pigtails complete with white bows and barrettes bouncing up and down as they marched around the school yard. It was tooooo much!!! How was this even happening in a small village town on the side of a mountain!


Practice ended early because the rain started to fall and everyone has to walk back on an unpaved dirt road back to town. I headed back to the house for another delicious lunch with the family and then off to the beauty parlor with Vatsala. Because of the rain there was the extra chance that the power, which already goes out at random in India, (my head lamp has come in handy NUMEROUS times), would not be available. As we were about to leave, Vatsala told me to wait so she could check if the beauty shop's power was on. You would think she had to go to the beauty parlor to check, right? So I sat down to read the paper while I waited but she was back in 5 seconds saying we were all good. That scenario still doesn't make sense to me but sometimes in India I don't ask questions, I just go with the flow.

We walked all of 1 minute and 30 seconds sharing and umbrella to the local beauty parlor. It was a tiny 2 chair shop with an extra chair connected to a big hair dryer in the corner. The size of everything made me feel like Will Ferrell in Santa's workshop in the movie Elf. I was so tall and everything seemed to be so small...the people, the chairs, the shop. There were mirrors all around and posters of Asain faces with hairstyles from long and wavy to bobs to edgy variations on the mullet. There were 2 women in the shop and a little boy about 4 years old who attends Magno Vale's nursery school located on the basement floor of my home stay. We waited about 10 minutes for them to call the owner of the shop who was pregnant and probably somewhere with her feet up not thinking anyone would come in with the rain coming down as it was.

She arrived and got started on my eyebrows. Vatsala told me she used to have a shop in Dubai which I guess signifies her worth as an aesthetician. Then came the fun part... The power went out! There we all sat in the dark , me holding my eyebrows like they have you do, an assistant shinning a flashlight on my face and the owner carefully threading away unbothered by the circumstances.

I have not learned to speak Nepali, the local language, but I have learned to figure out what is going on through context clues and the random English words that have no Nepali translation. I was able to deduce that because there was no power, the "hair dryer" would not work and they would have to "steam dry" my hair instead. And so the process began. One of the assistants heated a bowl full of olive oil and began applying it to my scalp with cotton balls. She did this to every inch of my scalp. Then came the best part - THE MASSAGE! For at least 10 minutes she rubbed my scalp, tugged on my hair, kneaded my temples, ears and nape. She massaged up, down, in circles, diaganals, figure 8s. It was maddness and there was a clear method to her madness. It felt so good and with a little bit of hurt too. When it was over I felt like going to sleep right in her chair. But no time for that because the owner then came over and began her version of the same head massage! Altogether 20 minutes of heaven at a beauty parlor in India -actually it could have been only 5 minutes but with her hands and the sounds of rain outside the window, I was transported somewhere free of space and time.

After she finished and I returned back to my body, she began coating my hair with a white conditioner. Then the steam portion. Who needs an electrical dryer when you have a bucket of boiling hot water and a towel? She placed the towel in the hot water, wrung it out and placed it over my head. She left it for about 20 seconds just until the heat began to turn lukewarm and then repeated and repeated and repeated again and again and again. Then the rinse... I was wondering how this was going to go because there were no sinks or running water in the shop. Yet, with as many bucket showers as I've taken thus far, I should have known better than to look for water in any other place than a bucket. She brought over the water and gestured for me to dive in. I covered my face and dunked my head and 4 hands rinsed my hair of the oil and conditioner.


And then what happened? They repeated the whole thing from the oil and cotton to the bucket rinse! How thorough is that?! My only complaint was at the very end when they towel dried my hair not realizing that curly hair just turns into a frizzy Afro when you rub a towel back and forth through it. But they didn't know what to do with my short curly do. They were not used to hair that is not long, straight and thick so no love lost. Besides, my locks were soft as baby's hair by the time the whole process was finished.

So that is my story of the Little Beauty Parlor that Could. A tale of a tiny, non-fancy salon, in a village in Darjeeling, with 2 chairs and no electricity. They treated me to my finest hair treatment. A service that would cost at least $80 at any salon in the States and I got it for the bargain price of 300 rupees ($5) including the eyebrow threading and a tip. Thanking youuuu!

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 19:32 Archived in India Tagged beauty darjeeling parlor Comments (3)

A Day in the Life of an American Volunteer School Teacher

...and yet another toilet situation

all seasons in one day 58 °F

A Day in the Life of an American Volunteer School Teacher

5:30am- I am awaken by pigeons on the roof rehearsing their tap routine. I roll my eyes and go back to sleep

6am - Grandma goes downstairs and rings the bell to wake up the hostel boys and inadvertently me. She then starts the music... Religious Hindi mantras dedicated to Ganesh, Shiva and Laxmi coming from a small but mighty speaker in the kitchen. I actually enjoy the mantras and lay in my bed contemplating getting up but it's so cold outside of these covers I think to myself. I decide to stay a little longer.

6:30am - The man from the Hindu temple next door to my bedroom window begins chanting "Om Namah Shivaya namah Shivaya namah Shivaya namah Shivaya." This goes on for about 10 minutes EVERY morning. I am fully awake now.

6:30ish am - I begin my own Yoga practice in the small but sufficient space of my bedroom.

7:45am - If the sun is shining and I am not freezing cold I take a shower. In reality this ends up being every 2 days. Showers don't happen everyday here and when I found out the hostel boys only shower once a week, I didn't want to be the greedy American asking for a bucket of hot water every morning. Yes, I said a bucket of hot water. What do I do with that? A shower silly! It's actually quite nice and I have gotten used to it. My favorite part is at the end when I dump the remaining water over my head and it all comes rushing over me like I'm under a warm waterfall!

The one part of the no running water in the bathroom situation (there is running water in the kitchen) that I have yet to get accustomed to is the toilet. Another toilet situation right? I know! So as you can see from the picture there are 3 buckets of water. Those are used to flush the toilet... but only for going #2 because it is too much work for #1. We just let #1s build up until a #2 comes along for the big flush.

The big flush: You take the top off the back of the toilet where all the inner workings of the toilet live (you know, the parts you hope to never have to bother with) and you pour in one of the buckets of water at the same time you push the lever to flush the toilet. Seems easy right? Well it's the most difficult task I have all day! Things get quite precarious because a bucket full of water is heavy! Holding the bucket, I try to figure out the best way to hoist it over the back of the toilet and not spill all the water when I begin to pour. I need both hands to pour because it's so heavy but I also need another hand to flush the toilet because it all has to happen at once. At this point I am wishing I was one of those Indian deities with extra sets of arms. Velocity is the key here so I have to pour enough water, with enough force, and flush at just the right time to get everything to go down the toilet.
I'm 0-20 folks. Every morning, I leave the bathroom embarrassed and hoping no one is waiting behind me because I can never get it all to flush. Most of it goes down but never all of it. You only get one shot at this game because (1) you don't want to waste a whole other bucket of water and (2) it's just like a regular toilet that doesn't flush back to back. That second flush is always weaker. Soooo...gross fact...there's always a little something extra floating after Ivorie leaves the bathroom.

8am - Breakfast!
Everyday is different. Some days, Cornflakes and warm milk which I surprisingly love. It's very chilly here so every liquid is served hot. Other days, eggs and toast with jelly and a cream cheese spread that I make into an egg sandwich. Sometimes however, just a plate full of bread, biscuits and cookies. Yesterday...chopatis filled with veggies and potatoes. And of course Chai tea.


Not quite sure who I am these days... I don't like eggs or excessive carbs but I do not want to complain so I just eat.

8:35am - 8 minute walk to school

8:45am - Morning ritual of school song, school prayer lead by the school captains in the front yard of the school. Then one person from each class comes up and gives their fact of the day- some current or historical fact ranging from a short Ghandi or George Washington bio to last night's Cricket score.

on Fridays morning stretches are added

on Fridays morning stretches are added

9:00- 10:20am - Classes 5 and 8 (all classes 40 minutes each)

10:30-11:45 - BREAK
I have tea of course, check emails, plan weekend trips or prepare lessons for my afternoon classes.

11:50- 12:30pm - Class 10 (my highest level class)
For my USA week, while the younger students worked on the maps, we talked US politics. Dem vs Rep and debated issues polarizing the 2 sides i.e. gun control, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, etc. Very hard to tackle these issues in a language that's not native and they did a great job.

12:30- 1:05pm - LUNCH
I walk back home for lunch. It should be noted that when I walk through the town EVERYONE stares at me as if I was doing grand jetes through the streets. They can't quite figure me out... She's brown enough to be Indian but too tall... maybe her parents are Indian? Indian American? And she's definitely not dressed like an Indian. (While my sense of style is not lost, there's not a whole lot of options in my backpack, so right now my style is a mix between a librarian and a hippie. Not dressing to impress these days.)

1:10- 3:10pm - Classes 6, 7 and 9

3:30pm - Back home for tea and biscuits. Read the paper and my latest book, plan my classes for the following day and play with Advaita, my host family's son.

6:00 - 7:30pm - TUTORING
After school tutoring for Classes 9 and 10 in the hostel students' homework space at the my homestay. Class 10 is prepping for final exams which will place them in a junior college in the bigger city of Darjeeling so Sir Devin insists they do extra tutoring. Class 9 will become Class 10 which takes on the responsibility of being the leaders of the school so Sir Devin feels they need the extra time as well.

8pm - DINNER
I must mention how amazing all the food is! I have not had a bad meal yet! When I travel on the weekends, I find that some restaurants are no comparison to my home cooked meals. The women of course prepare the meals- that's Grandma, Sister and Wifey. They are so cute because for the first week they cooked an American version of every meal for me that was less spicy. Now my taste buds are adapting and I'm asking for them to pass the chutneys!

My host family teaching me secrets of their kitchen

My host family teaching me secrets of their kitchen

Cooking lesaons

Cooking lesaons

We have meat three times a week. Yes, I've been eating meat and eggs and there's no almond milk so I'm drinking cows milk, no quinoa so white rice it is, you saw the carb situation at breakfast and of course I'm eating lots of potatoes. Who am I? And how have I not gained 15 lbs?! My theory is that the food is prepared with love and I eat it with gratitude so the pranic value is high. My gluten free section of Whole Foods will be waiting for me when I return to LA. And Tovah got me excited because she just vsent me a Snapchat of my favorite Brown Rice Tortillas now available at our local Ralph's!!

8:45pm - Yoga Private with Advaita :-)

9:30pm - Fight sleep until it's useless and lights out

Weekends - On most weekends I take time to travel to places nearby. So far I have travelled to:

Kalimpong where I spent time with some other volunteers and visited my first Buddhist monastery,


Darjeeling where I walked through the tea plantations and pretended i was Julie Andrews while singing The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music.
this funny lady runs the tea cafe outside the tea plantation

this funny lady runs the tea cafe outside the tea plantation

And just this weekend, Gangtok, Sikkim (get your maps out folks because if you're not Indian, I'm sure you have no idea where that is)
Sikkim is a magical place even cleaner and prettier than Darjeeling. On a clear day Mt Everest is visible. This is a sign on Mahatma Ghandi road in the center of town.

And here I finally had my 5 Star "Treat-yo-self" weekend.
I stayed 2 nights at this place with lots of wealthy Indian families

view from balcony

view from balcony

Then 1 night at this place, Hotel Pandim, with my other Budget travellers.

IMG_20140419_171303.jpgview from balcony

view from balcony

All that complaining about my 5 Star and I think I prefer the later!

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 21:02 Archived in India Comments (3)


Yes I am Still Here!

all seasons in one day 55 °F

After leaving Varanasi, I travelled 17 hours on yet another train to West Bengal to begin Part 3 of my Indian Soul Travel. India and I were back together and stronger than ever after a beautiful visit in Varanasi. So strong in fact, that she was able to convince me to travel Sleeper Class (as in 2nd class, as in not First Class) on this trip.

The first 10 hours were a breeze. I boarded @6am and it wasn't until nightfall when the roaches decided to wallpaper the train and seats that I had to use every Yogic bone in my body to not jump off the moving train.

"Roaches are really interesting creatures" I lied to myself. "They must be important to the ecological function of this world because they've been on Earth for so long. Without roaches something would be amis."

Thoughts like this were my mantra for the remaining hours of my ride. I did have some comic relief to take my mind off the roaches whenever the trannies passed through the train car. Every 2 hours or so, at least 5-6 transgendered Indians, dressed like they were on their way to Tuesday Night Drag Queen Bingo, stormed through the aisle of the train with antics straight off an episode of Ru Paul's Drag Race.  They used their feminine charm on all the single men to ask for money....Maybe the down payment for that final sex change surgery????

No, in all seriousness, at the time of writing this, transgendered Indians won a Supreme Court battle which makes India the first country to recognize transgenders as a "third gender!" The win grants them eligibility for government assistance with jobs, education and social services. text to link here...

I really wanted to "kiki" with them; get a pic, have a Chai and a mind's eye but I was too afraid to ask (they aren't as friendly to women and in their defense the vice versa is true) so you'll have to use your imaginations as to what that scenario looked like.  Anyway, with the help of the trannies and my Roach Mantras I made it to the other side of my train journey.

I arrived late in the evening, so I waited till morning to ride 5 hours North into the mountains with at least 17 people in a 10 passenger Jeep towards Darjeeling, my new home for the next month. We passed this sign on the way and I had to laugh out loud as I looked to the back of the Jeep to see 16 other bodies squashed atop each other.


I am happy to report that in this part of India the trash has been reduced in half and there is still littering in the the streets but in nicer, neater piles.


The rickshaws have been replaced by Jeeps to better face to mountainous terrain.


The mountain air is so much cleaner! Although India doesn't believe in Smog Checks so when riding in the Jeeps you still suffer from the toxic smell of car exhaust. The faces have changed from brown in color with sharp noses and brow bones to fairer, flatter Mongolian features.



Buddhist prayer flag color the hill stations.


Bamboo trees are everywhere and every view is spectacular!


Unfortunately, it is FREEZING! Okay, maybe not freezing, but I live in LA now and Las Vegas before that, so anything below 65 degrees is pushing it. I suppose this is my Karma for sending all those beach and palm tree Snapchats to my friends and family suffering through Chicago winters. By Day 2 in Sukhia Pokhri I was sick and borrowing winter clothes of my host family.


But I was taken care of! Mothers in every country know exactly what you need!
Soup and Chopati for the Soul!

Soup and Chopati for the Soul!

All in all, relative to any other city I've visited in India, there is a much calmer, cleaner and more serene pace to life... and the boys are cuter! The men unfortunately, not so much. Somehow after 30, many age into haggered versions of their younger selves complete with bellies anywhere from 4-9 months pregnant.

SO WHY AM I HERE? Since I am now a teacher we will break it down into the 5 Ws:

WHERE: A small, mountainside village called Sukhia Pokhri.
40 min outside Darjeeling city in the state of West Bengal.
Next to Nepal's Eastern border.

WHEN: I am here until the beginning of May for a total of 5 weeks.

WHO: I am staying in the home of the school's headmaster called by the children, Sir Devin. Sir Devin started the school with only 2 classes in his home over 10 years ago. It has since become a staple for the town of Sukhia Pokhri serving around 200 children from Nursery age up to Class X (age 16). Below is a picture of the school which is undergoing construction of an additional level, a new roof and western toilets for both children and staff.


As you know, it is tradition that Indian families all live together generation upon generation, which means I am living in a full house! There is Devin's mother, the spicy Grandmother who basically runs the show,  his wife Vatsala, his sister Deepa, the wife's brother Ananga and the heir to it all, Devin and Vatsala's son. He's a 5 year old, adorable, spoiled only child who makes me give him Yoga privates every night before bed.
But wait! There's more. On the first floor lives 10 boys ages 6-16 who board at the house year round because the school is too far for them to commute everyday. The family feeds, tutors and cares for them everyday. And there is a cat who just gave birth to 2 kittens. There is never a dull moment in this house.

Me and the hostel boys!

Me and the hostel boys!

WHAT: I am a volunteer teacher for grades 5-10 ages 9-16. I teach 6 classes a day 9am-3pm. And what am i teaching? I ask myself that everyday! We all know that I am nobody's school teacher but I can teach Yoga, I've taught dance to kids, I did my time at a University and I've lived a pretty interesting life thus far that has taught me many a lesson. So I figured I could wrap all of that up nicely and my new students might buy. 

There was no initiation or training period for me either. Devin just gave me a day with each class- ALONE - and the next day told me to go teach! Luckily I spent a day with 2 British volunteers, one of whom is a certified teacher, and left me with tons of great ideas and supplies as their volunteer month had just come to an end.

Don't laugh. Here is my very first chalk board lesson inspired by our discussion on how America and India both have the British in common.


Then we did a week on USA (what other country would I have chosen?) Geography, neighboring countries, foods and major industries culminating with these beautiful works of smart art!

each class 5-8 made one!

each class 5-8 made one!

Class 7

Class 7

Next week - GRAPHS!
Does the tallest Magno Vale student have the biggest feet?

WHY? Why am I doing this?
To help out the kids?....Sure.
To be of service to someone other than myself?.... Why, of course!
Because I feel guilty about being privileged enough to take a 3 month trip half way across the World?.... Uh, mostly.

And this leads me to a larger discussion on the subject of altruism. Is it really possible for humans to do a nice deed with absolutely no self-interest? Is not everything we do somehow fulfilling some subconscious desire? A fellow Yogi I met in Rishikesh says NO and that even the most compassionate acts of service are related in some way to duty, guilt or that great feeling you get when you make someone's load a little lighter. I cannot speak for all, but I can say with certainty that the work I am doing with these amazing kids is doing me more good than it is doing them. And I must also be honest and admit that I knew this would be the case before I even arrived. Not to diminish my service but subconsciously, I had a need and in providing for other's needs I managed to meet some of my own. Not a coincidence.

Posted by Ivoriejenkins 01:53 Archived in India Comments (3)

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