When You Bleed, You Think About Life

Hospital bed

Facing Truths

“How long has this been going on?”

I couldn’t see the doctor from my position, on my back, as light pierced my eyes.  The only visible shape was the outline of her body, a white aura bleeding around her face.  Just a disembodied voice tinged with disapproval.

“Six days.”

I lied.  Maybe I just didn’t want to face the truth myself.  It had really been seven days of spotting on and off.

I knew it was stupid to leave the problem so long.  You prolong knowing. I drank too much in my early thirties, smoked a heap of cigarettes.  My age is a factor.  Even my sexual choices cast a shadow.

Somewhere in the recesses of my memories, I kept wondering if this was happening well before my last intimate encounter, and I chose to ignore it.

I had just got in from Udaipur that morning, threw my bags at Mystique Moments, and rushed out again for this dreaded appointment.

The rickshaw driver had no idea where Fortis La Femme was; I was late, then barreled in sweating and exhausted.

With barely time to breathe in the stifling 40-degree weather, she uttered something that woke me from any travel anxiety.

“We need to do some tests, probably an ultrasound to see what might be going on.”

I gulped.

Everything Flashes

As she prepared me for the ultrasound, instructing me to lie down, placing a towel across my stomach, everything rushed at me.

Staph definitely rattled me.  Yet, that can be annihilated with strong antibiotics.

This could be much worse.  I knew it, could not ask her out loud.

This could be the big C.

The specter of my past and future slid in full view.

Have I done everything I’ve wanted to?  Absolutely not. Am I happy?  I’m starting to be.

Then, I thought about all the people I regretted. The lovers I was never fully honest with.  Faces of friends or family appeared to me, how I forgot to express how much I love them. Or forgive those who slighted me.

Buddhists believe that death is always present.  That you should live everyday on the basis that you could die.  Sounds morbid, but what that signifies is opening your world to risk, spontaneity and an untethered existence.  Feeling free, essentially.

Make the most of your earthly time.

Now, Hindus staunchly stick to reincarnation.  There’s a difference between the inner soul and the outer body.   The outer body is viewed as the ‘container’, so upon death, the inner soul will inhabit another body.  After a few reincarnations, and that last container are ashes in a funeral pyre, the soul will rest or join the ultimate soul, known as Para-Athma.

This nudged me into questioning how we live our lives.  Would you squander it if you knew next time you’ll be a whole new human being?

I was a douchebag in this life, body number two I’ll get right.  Plenty of containers for me.

The technician rubbed gel on my abdomen, and then worked the applicator in a circular motion to generate a visual on the screen.

I saw my insides.  It was actually kind of fascinating.  Grainy, grey pixels were fed back to me.  Maybe it was my breathing, but my internal self vibrated off the screen.

“Okay, looks normal here.”

One sigh of relief.

“Hmmm.. there are some fibroids though, will have to examine those under 3-D view.”

I gripped the sides of the examination table, spooked by what that could mean.

Throw the Dice of Life

She told me to relax.  I tried.

The technician captured several more close-ups in 3-D.  Two doctors consulted each other in Hindi, leaving me out of the conversation, this only served to make me panic more; they promised to explain in English.

I waited for the news, surprised at my calmness.

She said not to worry.  They found four fibroids, none of them potentially cancerous, none that were blocking anything significant.

“I’ve sourced the bleeding.  Will give you something to stop that and hopefully the irritation clears up.  I will know more once the rest of the results come in.”

I’m not overly religious, never have been.  Except a fevered reading bout of the bible at age ten.  Big words are hard at age ten.  You try saying Deuteronomy.

If I had to choose, I embrace the Buddha way.

Is everything finite and precious?  I honestly don’t know.  What I do know is the rest of my life, however long that will be, must be lived at full tilt.

That includes joy or pain, encompasses sickness and blushing health.  When I have those scary moments of traveling solo, processing the events I’ve been through.

It does seem like India is killing me.

Sarah MacDonald wrote a searingly funny memoir of her time in India.  I always remember the acknowledgments.  She thanks her husband, Jonathan, for taking her.  Normal enough.  It’s the second sentence that use to strike me as strange.

“And to India, for making me.”

I swim in emotions that were dormant from my former life.  I see so much, excited to discover more.  I understand things against my will.

I like to believe India is putting me back together again.

Photo: 28 misguided souls

This is Why I Love Travel

Just met an amazing South African woman who is involved in education and community development.  She’s helping disadvantaged women who normally work as domestic help in the townships by jump starting cottage industries in honey producing and crafts that sell in Switzerland.  Her and her husband are buying a property to live in and want to convert the existing one into a homestay for backpacker/budget travelers.

YOU CAN WAKE UP TO THE SOUND OF THE OCEAN.  COME VISIT.

Nah, not interested (lie).

She recounted her dream to travel all the places her deceased mother wanted to go.  Next is Israel and Egypt.  What struck a nerve most is when she talked about her family.

“I’m taking care of my brother.  He’s 38, now brain dead and paralyzed.  It was a motorcycle accident.”

Self-pity just got tossed out the window. Her brother will never be able to travel again or ride his free bird (motorcycle).

She called Buenos Aires a cheeky, sexy city.  And is hankering to see Tanzania and Madagascar someday.  She always, always travels solo, leaving her scientist hubby behind.

Claire

Dorm rooms: not always, what you think.

In our daily lives, we thrive on assumptions.  Hell, I use to.

It’s a choice to dismiss talking to that old, boring person.  Don’t dismiss.  Open yourself.

You, too, might end up staying at a house with a full kitchen, a garden and ocean view in a-effing-a South Africa.

Time to adjust my travel plans for 2012.

Nearly Trampled at Ram Navami

Yesterday began normal enough when I set out to visit my doctor in Delhi.

I think his name is Shashi Mohan.  See, I get them mixed up since I’ve seen five doctors in the last two months.

Dr. Mohan’s office is way out in southeast Delhi, a stone’s throw away from Lotus Temple.

After my appointment, I thought I’d slip over to investigate the temple.

High-fives all around because the doctor said I’m 99% well.  Oh, yeah!  And these days my brain is working on all four cylinders for a change.

I was in a good mood and commandeered an auto rickshaw to take me to the temple.

Where I meant to go - Lotus Temple

How strange, the rickshaw got surrounded by a large crowd.   A wall of humans hit us.

“What’s going on?  A festival?”

When I listened past the constant honking of Delhi, another sound distinguished itself.  The ringing of cacophonous voices.

I’ve been so holed up in my hotel room; the outside world has been shut off these days.

“Yes.. some festival.”

We got to Lotus and it was dead.  The fence sealed shut.  A sign hung outside telling me it’s closed on Mondays.

Damn.

I then asked him to take me to the nearest metro, thinking I pushed it too far.  I may be 99%, but that 1% is unknown.

Fully expecting him to drive 10 kilometres, he swiftly turned around and stopped.  A concrete set of tracks rose up in the distance, the metro logo that harkens to London’s underground tube stared me in the face.

Oh, we’re here.

I got out, but kept seeing trickles of people gravitating towards this one spot off the road. And cops.  Men in tan or camouflage uniforms swallowed the area.

Walking towards worship

Roadblock signs with the sober words “Delhi police” barely stopped traffic.  When an Indian wants to get somewhere, nothing stops them.

Hawkers had overtaken the sidewalk.  I saw someone selling peacock feathers.  For what, I wondered. Ice cream and refreshments carts appeared every few meters like weeds.  It had to be 37º C, so the frequency of customers was plentiful.

Fold out tables with steaming pots of dal and plates of crispy puri acted as filling stations.  Hoards of families lined up to grab their portion.  People ate wherever space could be found.  On the curb, sitting cross-legged on the ground.

My feet ducked around disposal plates.  One side a silver color, the other a creamy white.  I felt irreverent and guilty, like I was stepping on my mother’s doilies.

Everyone I encountered was barefoot.  I mean, everyone.  You’re only ever barefoot either by choice or when entering a temple.

I stopped a man in a white shirt, his beige pants rolled up to reveal dirty feet.

“What’s going on?  A festival?”

“Narita. There.”  I kept thinking I heard him wrong, but wasn’t sure.  Sometimes r’s get muddled in translation.

When I came to the entrance, there were full body scanner gates, similar to what you find at an airport.  Police were inside with handheld metal detectors.

I saw nobody giving money or anyone barred from entry.

Fenced in temple

My eyes darted to a pile of dusty flip-flops.  I knew what I had to do.  I took off my shoes, held them, and smiled serenely as I stepped through the gate.  The cops didn’t blink, only smiled back, waving at me to come in.

Let me stress there were no other foreigners.   Let me also stress that what I was walking on was not a swept temple floor.  It was pure pavement, my feet trampling trash and a black, gummy substance stuck into the concrete.

Cattle like gates spilt crowds entering and leaving.  A singe in the air made me feel like I was on the march towards something large.  A bolt of energy was straight ahead. The epicenter of it all was a temple spire.  My instinct told me to get there.

I passed hawker after hawker with puja items for sale.  Bags of rice spilling off their tables, fragrant garlands that stymied the stench of garbage, to stop me from thinking my feet must smell the same by now.  I picked up a coconut; its rough hewn shell always reminds me of straw sewn together tightly.  I put it down, half deciding to not buy puja.

What met me inside

One could easily label this a typical festival day.  It was more.

Worship is alien to me.  It materialized abruptly as a woman in a flower pattern sari with her identity covered lay face first on the pavement.  The deafening noise drowned out any prayers she made, but I knew they were alive in her throat.  She would get up, walk a few inches, and then dive for the pavement again, displaying her devotion inch by inch until she reached the temple.

The swell of the crowd grew in proportion and nosie the closer I got to the temple entrance.  Swarms of people held their bags of offerings, pushing by me, seemingly in a rush.

I hung back and watched, unsure what to do.   That little voice of adventure whispered to me.  Go, go.  Are you crazy? Go!

Impassioned

I awkwardly tried to join the throng.  Rapid-fire dialogue spat out between families.  Nobody paused to stare at me, only intent on emptying their puja bags.  The rush exploded when I stepped inside.  Pictures wouldn’t do, so I switched to video mode.

My body was squished against other sweaty bodies.  The heat of so many swirled and crackled, emitting a curry and perfume odor.  I heard a consistent banging, finally noticing worshippers slamming coconuts against the temple walls.  People were jostling to be the first to get to windows that oddly mimicked a ticket counter, with a clerk on the other side waiting for instructions.  Instead of money, they were collecting offerings. The chanting grew loud, then died, leaving the excited chatter of the crowd as background noise.

I was knee-deep in pandemonium:

I could see a priest through the grilles giving blessings as person after person yielded to him.  The temple entrance alluded me, but what didn’t were the crowds.

Pushing began to intensify, until we were swaying in an unwanted waltz of mob over body.

The headline flashed before me.

Stupid solo traveler in over her head trampled to death.  Haha!

Instead of pushing back or resisting, I ebbed and flowed with the crowd.  My feet weren’t even moving, the crowd dictated where I went next.  Bodies of all shapes and sizes suffocated me.  I felt outlines of hips, the plane of an arm or the arc of a child’s head.

I actually wasn’t scared, feeling no balls of anger hurled at me.  They were just full of unadulterated passion.  What mattered was giving their offering and obtaining blessings.  Squaring more favor with the gods and cheating bad luck.  We all want that.

No breathing room

We moved around and around in a semi-circle until I saw an exit gate.  Uniformed cops faced us, calming down the unruly ones.  A man behind me kept jabbing my backside, speaking in Hindi, pulling his son along.  I could smell his desire to get out.

The gate spat us out. We stood in mild shock, our senses and brains attempting to process the last five minutes, blinking against the late day sun.  That’s when I heard the gong of bells.

Fervent worship was over.

I walked down steps, seeing stalls on either side selling powder for tikka, bangles or cool covers for your mobile.  The whole area was one big worship fair.  What that man called “narita” was only the warm up to Navami.

Oh, my god.

I laughed at what just happened.

ram is happy

And I started at the doctor.  It’s serendipitous how you start at point A, only to turn left, zig zag around a maze, and then end up at point Z.

Destinations, are they nothing or everything?

I am crazy.

It was the most fun I’ve had in two months.

Ram Navami recounts the birth of Lord Rama to King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya of Ayodhya.  The festival falls on the Navami, the ninth day of the month in the Hindu calendar.  Many regions celebrate in a variety of ways.  Some areas stretch the festival over the nine days of Navratras, which includes extensive kirtan, bhajan, and distribution of prasad after puja and aarti is performed.  In south India, ceremonies are performed with small deities to mark the wedding anniversary of Rama and his consort, Sita.  North India (where I am) typically hold fairs in connection with the festival.

By |April 12th, 2011 |Categories: New Delhi |2 Comments

Uh, I’m Sick So…

Sick pig. :(

Okay, I’m officially bored.

Delhi is an uncracked egg and all I can do is sit in my hotel room until staph from hell goes away.

I saw Lodhi Gardens the other day, found a mall with Lush and The Body Shoppe (two in one!), but after a day of flying back and forth on the metro my neck and arm were pissed.

What are you doing??!! We’re itchy!!!

So, I sit here.

What I’ve done so far:

1) Checked flights to Sri Lanka and Thailand.  Indecisive!

2) Cut all my toenails.  Now working on fingernails.

3) Stayed in pyjamas all day.

4) Reading Five Point Someone, released as the Bollywood film 3 Idiots.  The writing is clunky and juvenile.  The White Tiger was 20 times better.

5) Flood my Twitter stream with nonsense.  My followers wonder if I’m crazy.

6) Drink heaps of guava juice.

7) Pretend to nap, but really worried about writing posts or site maintenance.

8) Download movies I missed six months ago.  Currently: Black Swan and The Fighter.

9) Brush my teeth at two in the afternoon.

10) Skype everyone I know.  Hi, how are you?  Entertain meeeeee!

How do you occupy your time when you’re sick?

Photo: Ollie Crafoord

By |April 9th, 2011 |Categories: New Delhi |19 Comments

Photo Essay – New Delhi

The reason why I love cities are the stories they reveal.  Everything from traffic patterns to public behavior or even utilitarian architecture forms a narrative.  Delhi is the epicenter of India.  It’s home to diplomats, entombed kings and the average Indian trying to scrape a living.  In terms of atmosphere, Delhi is a swirling tornado of buzz.  Every corner or alleyway generates just as many questions as answers.  It’s a city that’s actively alive.  This bored, sick person tried to capture that energy on the streets.

Citizens watching the ICC World Cup:

India captured the cup with 6 wickets.  An emotional win, since it’s been a dry 28 years for them!

Garbage sorters:

I can’t escape them!

He was fascinated when I showed him the photo on my camera:

An obvious reason why this is here.  Like a sticker on my forehead:

Can you believe they knelt down and touched my feet after snapping this?

This building took my fancy:

This invokes a simpler time:

Taking a break:

Street side service:

Delhi builds upwards:

I discovered her in a middle class neighbourhood ironing clothes.  I felt horrible, tried to hand her 10 rupees to thank her for the photo, she ironed it and gave it back.

Sunday market in Pitampura:

I love this photo!  Every pixel speaks volumes:

Street food maestro:

Momos and hot sauce (gobbled up shortly after this photo):



By |April 4th, 2011 |Categories: New Delhi |24 Comments

When You’re Down, Someone Will Rescue You

I’m going to die here. Perish in a steamy room that smells like an open sewer, in a city planned by schizophrenics, in a hotel where the only scenery next door is a junkyard for defunct cars.

I opened my eyes, staring at the ceiling fan whirring above.

I survived SARS in Vietnam.

I emerged unscathed from a dengue fever outbreak in Brazil.

H1N1 never came knocking.

I can’t shake this.

After my birthday, it reappeared. The burning hotness on the back of my neck. The fissures forming on my arm.  Dammit, it was time to do something.

But when you’re alone in an unknown country, sometimes you freeze.

I didn’t know what to do.  I come off brazen, an impulsive adventurer who gets on that boat with no lifejacket or hang-glides even though she gets vertigo.

Nah, this time I was scared.

Nothing was right.  By now, I should be in Rishikesh, not waffling in Agra.  By April, I wanted to be in either Sri Lanka or Thailand.  It’s now March 31.

The blog is suffering.  Who has time to craft words under duress?  Shit, no.

Back to panic mode, I did what I know how to do best.  Decided to leave.

I was supposed to stay at a Mystique Moments in Delhi earlier in March, but that got nixed because my Scottish travel companion convinced me to stay in the horrible Pahar Ganji area.  Sure, it’s central.  If you can endure tout after tout badgering you non-stop.

I remember the owner of Mystique oozing with niceness from his previous emails.  I recall his guesthouse being far, far away from skinny Indian boys trying to sell me stuffed tigers.

I emailed him, begging for a room that day, saying I was in pain and needed some medical care in Delhi. Oh, and could you answer in the next half hour before check-out closes in on me?

He replied with only having a queen available and the cost is 1,200 rupees.

My heart plummeted.

I typed: 600 is the most I can do.

He replied back.  No problem.  What matters is getting you healthy.  I know some good doctors here.

And you know why he does?  He is one.  Retired.  And Hostel World gives Dr. Malik’s former practice, now guesthouse an 80% rating.

Tears came.  Maybe it was relief.  Just a reaction to the stinging on my neck or side effects from those weak ass antibiotics I’ve been popping.

I packed up lightening fast, paid my standing hotel bill, lined up a driver to Delhi, because dealing with the train was out of the question.

Just when I felt cornered on all sides, wondering if I paid too much for the car, sucking back worry, my driver turned to me.

“You need anything. Tea, water.. I will stop and we can take our time. “ He is a man of girth, so was his smile.  Broad and welcoming.

When we did stop, he paid for my tea, refusing to take payment when I pressed some rupees into his hand.

He weaved seamlessly, skimming past tractors pushing us against medians, even illegal oncoming cars – our headlights nearly dancing with theirs.  He showed me acres of farmland with thatch huts. A Sikh temple.  A Hindu temple the color of snow, so grand it was tempting to snap pictures. My angry body advised against it.

He handed me a ratty notebook, I didn’t know why.  Inside were glowing reviews from travelers all over the world.  Handwritten, wishing him a happy life, many thanks, with email address tagged on.  This one-man show has driven people as far as Varnasi, as close as Agra.

His name is Balbir and I like him.

I grew drowsy, relaxing a little. The last images before drifting off was the transparency of the blue sky, how impressed I was with the attractive landscaping planted in the median.  This is what runs through an ill person’s mind. Skies and concrete.

Four hours on the Agra-Delhi highway, one hour getting through the city and some mobile calls for directions, we finally found Mystique tucked in Pitampura.

A guesthouse employee stood on the street waiting to take my stupidly large backpack.  I almost crumbled against him with gratitude.

My driver offered his number in case I needed him in a pinch.  I took it happily.  We parted, shaking hands.

By now, my bloody neck was fully throbbing and I was dog-tired.

I climbed a steep staircase and entered Dr. Malik’s office.  He’s a compact man with gray hair, glasses and a rotund belly.  Not the grotesque kind, where your instinct is to censure or look away.  I wanted to poke it affectionately.  A cell phone hung from his neck, which you could easily mistake for a toy.  His smooth, round face lacked any tension. A face you can rely on.

He immediately asked if I was alright.  I blubbered, finally sobbing out the last breath of my tale.

He told me to relax, taking his toy mobile, using a magnifying glass to punch in the numbers.  It was beyond cute.

Within two hours, I had a bed to sleep in, a doctor’s appointment with his med school buddy, and stronger, smarter drugs at a chemist stall down the street.

Yes!  I made it.

But, I couldn’t do it alone.

Solo travelers always gotta prove something.  That we’re indestructible.  That, golly gee, we don’t need anyone.

Sometimes we do.

It’s okay to ask for help.  To let a hand reach out or a smile reassure you.

It’s that feeling of being taken care of.

We all need it.  It shows keenly the interconnectedness of everyone on this planet, bucking culture or the strangeness of a place.

The world is truly small, the human heart big.

By |March 31st, 2011 |Categories: Life, New Delhi |50 Comments