Thursday, December 12, 2013

Arusha first impressions

I've now been in Arusha, Tanzania for four days. It seems to be a medium-small city with a pretty rural feel to it. People keep asking me to compare Arusha and India when I tell them where I've come from though I find this comparison project pretty intractable.

Mostly I am qualified to speak on the relative ease of living for a foreigner with no language skills and general impressions of traffic and food. Some people have been unwilling to accept that I find Arusha quite a bit less chaotic than Mysore in a lot of senses. The traffic is simpler - it is mostly cars and vans as opposed to scooters, motorcycles, rickshaws and animals and people more or less follow lanes and honk only when it is necessary to alert someone to their presence. Tooling around on Klara's motorcycle is extremely enjoyable. When its not cloudy there are beautiful views of country side, Mount Meru and Kilimanjaro. There are also fewer animals wandering around.

I don't know any Swahili which is a bit challenging here. Many people know English but not as consistently as I found in Mysore. Swahili is a little more graspable than Kanada - I can get through greetings and remember words for items on menus. I have also learned the word mzungo which means white person and is sort of a chant that follows me around the city.

The language barrier makes the market here harder for me than the one in Mysore even though it is a little smaller. A bit tangentially - I was struck the first time I went to the market by the powerful and diverse smells. This market has meat! Alive and dead! Also there is a fish section. I never thought about how different the scents of different kinds of dead animals are before now.
Wali Na Maharengei (beans and rice). The other staple starch is ugali which is corn flour paste and tastes like nothing and gives the sensation of eating play dough. Needless to say it is harder to be a vegetarian here but it's not too bad. I do miss the cheapness, plentifulness and tastiness of South Indian food.
One of the luxuries of visiting a friend is that she knows cool people who take care of me. Yesterday Klara's friend Rob who is a guide for people headed up Kilimanjaro and other expeditions called her to tell her that a few of his clients were headed out to a hot spring and I could join if I wanted. So 6 of us jumped on a public bus to Boma Ng'ombe. When we got there we negotiated a half hour taxi ride which turned out to be two rickshaws (not as common here actually) over totally rocky off road terrain terminating at a completely idyllic crystal clear water hole. A few times we had to get out and walk/ push our vehicles over obstacles - I was pretty impressed that we made it but it was totally worth it. The water wasn't hot so much as perfect swimming temperature and the shining attraction was definitely the rope swings. Some of my travelling buddies pulled off some impressive twists and whatnot and I had a blast mostly just swinging around and then dropping like a big splashy rock.
Because I think Rob is fantastic and took Klara and her room-mate on a really nice Saffari and is super passionate about Kilimanjaro and guiding Everlasting Tanzania Travels is his company. More about the Saffari thing later - it's a bit of an odd phenomenon.
Rope Swing

Two of my travel mates swimming around in a little patch of paradise.
Today I am taking advantage of the internet and drinking water at the music school Klara works at which shares a campus with the International School of Moshi mostly attended by the children foreigners. They are getting ready for a concert tomorrow and winding down for the year.
At the school

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Last days in Mysore, first days in Arusha

I arrived in Arusha Sunday afternoon after 24 hours of air travel and queuing for air travel. Just a quick heads up to anyone leaving out of Bangalore - it took me 1.5 hours to get through check in, immigration, and security at 2am. Also I got to go through the women's security line which is faster than the men's. Otherwise the trip was basically smooth and even relaxing in the sense that when I am flying I have zero obligations and can do whatever I want. I had great seat-mates on my flight from Dubai to Uganda and slept most of the way from Bangalore to Dubai.  It turned out that I needed proof of a yellow fever vaccine to get in to Tanzania (this is new I think) even though when I checked before my trip it wasn't required. Fortunately I could buy such proof in Entebbe (erm...)
Me (fresh off the plane) and Klara at the largest Polish cemetery in Africa.  Because what else would be our first stop in Tanzania?

I spent my last day in Mysore going out to Melukote which is a town 50km north of Mysore and home to some famous big temples (of course. temples everywhere) with some of my favorite people from my Mysore times - roommies Beth and Chris, Louise from Brighton and Megan from Montreal. It was gorgeous and a nice way to say good bye to India. Better than sulking around Gokulam and thinking of everything I'm gonna miss.
This isn't Melukote. Megan and are waiting outside the Chamundi hill temple after a sunrise climb and this monkey is stealing peoples offerings. (File under things I will miss)
My last practice was with Saraswathi was a led class on Saturday. It was nice to end with the led class - once a week we go to a class where Saraswathi calls out the counts and the postures and we all practice together. Every other day people do their own practice to their own timing. It's sort of relaxing to go to led class even though there is a risk of being left in hard postures for a long time because you don't have to remember what count you are on or what to do next. You can just sort of let the class sweep you along.
Letema was part of my welcoming party at Kilimanjaro airport. This is him in the Arusha history museum with a picture of President Nyerere who was the first president of independent Tanzania and is a national hero.
With Saraswathi after my last Mysore practice. 
So I'm back to learning a new city and a new currency. Klara seems to have some plans for us. We've been driving around on her motorcycle which is a blast and Letema took his holiday yesterday (independence day) to tour me around and get me oriented. It was really really nice of him. He also told me about his experiences growing up in a Masai boma and moving to the city. As he says - you could write a book about it. I hope he does - he is very unique and incredibly interesting. In the interest of getting this up before I run out of battery I will pause now but more on Arusha later.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The last coconut

So I am leaving Mysore tomorrow night. Some friends and I are taking a day trip to Melukote tomorrow before I take a taxi to Bangalore so today is my last full day in Mysore. From here I go to see a wonderful friend in Tanzania for a week and then I return to the land of dark and raining and potable tap water.
Last night I was thinking about my time here in an over-all sort of way -what I liked, what I didn't like, what questions got answered, what new questions I have, will I come back? when? I had some trouble pulling apart my experience in to good parts and bad parts so instead here is a list of some of the things I do here that I don't do/had not even really imagined doing at home:

1. Wear puffy green pants with elephants on them un-ironically and without ever being asked to explain my fashion choice.
2. Bobble my head back and forth especially when talking to an Indian who is also bobbling (see here)
3. Finish breakfast by eating cookies covered in peanut butter. In general eating something sweet at least once and often multiple times a day. Smoothie for dinner is not uncommon.
4. Grab my ankles every day. Its starting to feel really good. I will really miss Saraswathi's backbending adjustments. I know after I spend some time practicing on my own (which means not grabbing my ankles because I will fall over) coming back to it will be scary again. I feel like I have overcome that fear several times but it comes creeping back. Oh well. I think maybe that process is worth something too.
5. Chant in Sanskrit. And I like it too. That was not expected for me.

So its more or less on to the next place for me. I am a bit sad to go. I have made friends who I will miss and there are aspects of life here that work really well for me. But also I am super excited to see my friend in Tanzania. And I will be happy to come back to Seattle and see my Seattle people and get some work done. Not being able to focus very much on work has reminded me that I really like what I do.
Me with Dr. Jayashree (L) and Sri Narasimhan (R)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Update three weeks in

So I am more than halfway through my time in India. It has gone by so quickly. Slightly less than two more weeks and then a brief week in Tanzania and then home. I will miss it here and am already sort of plotting my way back although I know it will be hard or impossible to get back before I finish my degree.

Not so many developments - more sight seeing and exploring the city. More yoga. More eating. Some work and Sanskrit classes. 

This is what happens if you leave your garbage on the front stoop instead of putting it on the curb.

I have started going to Yoga Sutras chanting with Dr. Jayashree and her brother Sri. Narasimhan which is one of my favorite things I have done here. I wish I had found them earlier - I will only get three weeks there. We go to their house in the city four times a week for about an hour of chanting with Dr. Jayashree and then a philosophy discussion with Sri. Narasimhan afterwords. Dr. Jayashree is incredible but I am not sure I can explain in words what is so amazing. She uses the traditional Indian chanting style with lots of vocal embellishments and has a beautiful voice. We learn the sutras and some other mantras and chants in a format where she sings and we repeat. It's sort of a very active meditation - I am usually very calm and completely exhausted afterwards. Also usually very hungry since we go from 11:30 to 1:30.

My room-mate Chris and I walked up Chamundi Hill which is just south of Mysore. I will definitely definitely try to go again. It's a bit of a climb - I think it is 1000 steps but it is really gorgeous. Lots of monkeys at the top but they are a bit frightening. There is also a temple and a chaotic market/kitsch selling area. After checking your shoes (you cannot carry them in your bag) you can go in the temple which is also sort of frenetic and filled with little stations where you can give money and receive blessings.
Temple at the top of the hill
Man making sugar cane juice about halfway up. With lemon and ginger. mmmm.
Chris took this picture. We are looking at the city from boulder behind a small clump of huts.
Chris and the view from the top
On Sunday we went to see Mysore palace lit up. For 45 minutes on Sunday they turn on a bajillion light bulbs stuck all over Mysore palace (which is basically the biggest thing in the city according to my birds eye-view from the hill). Its sort of a fun excursion because lots of families come to play in the grass and enjoy the evening so its filled with children with glow sticks and school groups and tourists.
So many lights.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Weekend trip to Namdroling Monastary

Yesterday a group of us (people at the yoga school: my two lovely room-mates and five others) rented a car to go visit Bylakuppe which is the second biggest Tibetan settlement in India and home to Namdroling Monastary. Its about 2.5 hours from Mysore and it was my first trip out of town.

I still am really interested in seeing some countryside and/or nature type areas (I think I keep mentioning a bird sanctuary I am really interested in) but there was room in the car so I decided to join in. It was my first trip out of Mysore. The  areas we drove through were basically rolling fields of green grass with patches of trees and farmland. It was a bit cloudy and the UKers in the group kept remarking on how like and English summer it seemed if you sort of unfocused your eyes. There are no uninhabited areas really - every 20 minutes you hit a small town and the road is dotted with animals, mutton stands, small general stores, ox pulled carts, the ubiquitous dosa hotel (food stall) etc.

The monastery itself is quite a tourist attraction for local Indians. It contains a few temples and and some barracks for monk housing as well as some other buildings with religious significance. The statues and wall paintings in the temples are mind-bogglingly elaborate. Tiny details everywhere. According to the sign the 60 foot gold Buddhas in the largest temple we were able to enter are also filled with other smaller statues. The place  is ringed by a wall of prayer wheels which you spin as you walk clockwise. Behind the prayer wheels there was a field draped in Tibetan prayer flags with maybe 40 or so young monks in training playing soccer (football) and some piles of burning trash. A few of the young monks were listening to music or playing games on mobile devices. I think this was my favorite bit of the whole place.
Entrance to the monastery. We couldn't go in that big temple but off to the left is the temple with the giant Buddhas. Also there is a row of jugs of drinking water arranged on the archway over the door - I am not sure what that is for but it looked like it could be an offering maybe. I wish I'd gotten a better picture of the soccer playing monks but it didn't really turn out.

I think besides yoga finding consuming and preparing food takes up most of the morning/afternoon here so I thought I might write a bit about it. Basically most of what I eat here is delicious but there is a lot less variety than we are used to in the U.S. Food out is either Indian or "yogi food" - there are a handful of restaurants - mostly breakfast places, that feed almost exclusively yoga students and serve omelets, plates of steamed veggies with tofu, toast, etc.
Monkeys at Chakra House (one of the yogi food places). I was really excited but they are apparently mean so I will keep my distance.

The most ubiquitous Indian dish here is the dosa which is sort of big fried flat bread with a couple of chutneys on the side (my favorite is onion dosa mmm). Tali is also popular and involves either rice or roti or naan if it is a north Indian tali and four or five small cups of dal, soup, chutney etc. Most of the side dishes are yellow, moderately spiced and sort of runny. These two dishes are tasty but not that exciting - some of the Indian places have a wider variety of North Indian curries. Most places are vegetarian which is extremely convenient.
Happily I can now cook at home with a minimal set-up. There are vegetable and fruit carts all over the place. We eat a lot of bananas and papaya (the bananas are amazing). I make a lot of rice and lentils. Cabbage, peppers, and cauliflower are all readily available but it is hard to find green leafies.
Kitchen set-up at home
I was so pleased that I managed to make a banana bread pudding in our little kitchen that I took a picture of it. Don't judge me. It was delicious and now that I've fed my room-mates desert I feel I am at home.

It was really nice to eat some Tibetan food on our little excursion. We got some sort of stir-fried green, a few types of mo-mo (steamed dumpling) and tingmo which is steamed bread and is delicious.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday November 11, 2013

Visiting the neighbours:

On Saturday evening our neighbours Shilpa and and the border who is staying with Shilpa's family whose name I have already forgotten came over. Shilpa is 18 and in her second year at University and will probably go for barrister because she feels she will have more freedom than trying to go for medicine. She lives next door with her parents, grandparents, siblings and possibly some other relatives. Their border is from Coorg and is in Mysore for temporary work. She is renting a room from Shilpa's family. Shilpa is loquacious and energetic. She told us about the many languages in India and how she learns them from movies and television.She says she has a natural aptitude for languages and is keen to learn a European language like French or German. She asked what languages we knew and I think was disappointed that between the three of us there is only some poorly remembered Spanish and German.

Shilpa invited us to her families house in a way that we couldn't refuse even though it was late and we had been just about to turn in. Nevertheless, it was a good visit and really interesting to see how our neighbours live. They have many family members in one house - living with grandparents is the norm here. Shilpa has (at least) two small siblings - a 2 y/o boy and girl who is maybe 8. Her mother told us that the large ornately carved wooden elephant in the living room was carved by Shilpa's great grandfather from one piece of wood. They fed us little fried potato balls and sweet lime juice which is a speciality in Mysore and which Shilpa had made herself. They threatened to have us over for lunch which I hope very much happens.

On our way back over we encountered our upstairs landlords heading out to a wedding. Our landlords' wife was wearing the most stunning cream and gold dress I have ever seen. She looked unreal.

Sanskrit Class:
On Friday we started Sanskrit class with Lakshmish which is optional but I think will be worth it. I typed up my notes from the first day and will probably keep doing this. I found a Sanskrit Latex package so why not. I think there will be about 10 classes and we meet MWF. The class is half Sanskrit and half Hatha Yoga Pradikipa chanting and exposition. I am definitely more keen on the Sanskrit portion but I am recording all of it. I find the HYP really interesting I just don't know how well I am keeping the thread of Lakshmish's discussion.

Sunday is the day off for Saraswathi's class. It is also the day that Sharath gives a 'conference' which involves about 20 minutes of talking followed by question and answer session. I won't get in to the details here. I felt that some of the answers were interesting and helpful but that a few important questions were either ignored or not answered helpfully.

Today was the beginning of my practice week. I knew I would start intermediate postures today so at the end of my primary postures I paused and waited for Saraswathi to say "You go. You take passasana". My heels are still off the ground in passasana which got me a "No. You sit properly." from Saraswathi. At that point I expected to maybe do a few more intermediate postures and finish. Instead she had me do everything up to pincha mayurasana which is another 40ish minutes. By the end I was so drained I burst in to tears while waiting for someone to come drop me back in to my final back bend after my three drop-back/stand ups. I don't think anyone even noticed because I was already dripping in sweat. After I finished crying Sam who is one of Saraswathi's two assistants came and helped me grab my ankles. After that practice it didn't even seem remarkable. Saraswathi says tomorrow I can start intermediate after only half of primary so I won't have a 2.3 hour practice every day.

Currently I am sitting on my floor drinking coffee from my newly acquired tiny french press. It is wonderful. I am about to dash out the door for chanting at 10:30.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nov. 7 2013
Settling in

New routine (old routine):

I have finally moved in to my apartment where I will stay the rest of my time here and it is starting to feel like home. I think we will have gas for the stove tonight and maybe internet soon. I have two room-mates who are in the same class with me - Beth from NY and Chris from the UK.


There are a lot of yoga students here. Probably a few hundred but that is a guess and could be off by a lot. We are all staying more or less in the Mysore neighborhood where the yoga school is so there is an entire mini-industry around catering to the needs of confused foreign yoga students.

There are restaurants where only yoga students go but also many delicious restaurants that both students and Mysore residents go to but that are popular among students. There are maybe a dozen rickshaw drivers who hang around the shala and know all the places students want to go to and there is a coconut stand whose entire business (at least in the a.m.) is quenching the thirst of sweaty students as they emerge from morning practice. Post practice coconut is sublime. There is sort of a word of mouth map of good places to eat and buy things which has started to become very familiar.
View from down an ally near 1st main and Contour Road in Gokulam. Ahead on the left is a temple I haven't been in. The little three wheled cars on the left are ricksahws. 

The routine here is basically morning practice (usually done by 9) followed by leisurely large breakfast and lunch plus socializing, shopping and errand running. Dinner is light and people go to bed early. This is basically my routine at home with work subbed in for socializing and wandering around town. The differences are mostly that here the early to bed schedule is normal and I am unusual for wanting to work rather than the other way around.
Now that I have fewer errands I hope to get a bit more work done and do more exploring. It is a good change from constant yoga talk plus I have projects I find motivating.

Out and about:
The little yoga safety bubble in Gokulam is nice. The residents aren't surprised to see us and lots of businesses cater to our needs. But I would really like to get out a bit. Mysore University is down the road and I would like to go see it. There is a lake there too which is only open in the morning and afternoon. I hope to get to the main market which is maybe 5km. There is also a bird sanctuary north of Mysore that I really want to see but those plans are a bit more ambitious. I am thinking of trying for it on a moon day (nb: no yoga on full and new moons hence 'moon day'. The next one is Sunday Nov. 17 which Saraswathi takes off anyway so its not a real day off).

Yoga (skip if you don't care):
The quick background to the yoga I practice and why am I even here is that Sri K Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) is the originator the yoga style called Ashtanga. He learned from his teacher Krishnamacharya who also taught BKS Iyengar and Desikachar among other well known yoga teachers and the lineage keeps going back past any really good recorded memory.
Guruji died in 2009 (for more about him look here ) His class at the main shala was taken over by his grandson Sharath and there is also a class down the road taught by his daughter Saraswhathi who is my teacher here.
I have now practiced in Saraswathi's shala three times now. For the first week everyone practices primary series which is the first sequence of postures you learn. She tells me that on Monday I will start doing the postures in intermediate series (I do about half of intermediate back in Seattle). She also says I will grab my ankles in back bending on Monday.

A picture I found here of ankle grabbing. I'm not gonna look like that but you get the idea.

I am happy for the week of primary as I adjust to the new environment. I also know that as I add postures from intermediate the practice will start to get long (and hard) since you keep all of primary as you add in new postures for quite a while.
I think I am almost looking forward to the ankle grabbing. It feels like something that is ready to happen and today I walked my hands in to touch my heels. Saraswathi inspires a lot of trust in me. Backbending is definitely the hardest part psychologically. There is a lot of fear to overcome. The natural reaction (for me and others too I think) in deep backbending is panic. Having a teacher I trust completely is what makes it possible for me. I feel that I can essentially surrender all of my fear to the teacher and just focus on breathing. This is how I feel about my teacher in Seattle. I was worried I wouldn't be as comfortable with Saraswathi since I have just met her but something about her is really incredible. She is both forceful and very caring. She makes me feel that if she asks me to do something then I can do it and trying becomes easier.

Small update at the time of posting: We got gas for the stove and had breakfast and coffee at home for the first time (yay!!!!) . Also I made it to the market (maybe) and have been exploring more. More details coming.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

First day (possibly posted on second day due to lack of internet)
My first day has been hectic but suprisingly easy. I managed to exchange money, register and pay for classes, find somewhere to live and learn to use a bucket shower (actually really nice and relaxing). Also today is the second day of diwali so the streets are filled with firecrackers and honking (though I think the constant honking is normal). I wish I wasn't so tired from the journey so I could enjoy watching some of the festivities.
New Home

The taxi ride from Bangalore to Mysore was really interesting. I saw a lot of the things I expected to see- cows and dogs everywhere, women in stunning colorfull clothing, people living in tents underneath billboards advertising luxury apartments in Goa, chaotic traffic. I am not sure exactly which things were unexpected but I think there were a thousand. Everything looks new to me which is a wonderful feeling - like taking a shower or opening unexpected packages or eating new food.

The first few nights I am staying in a homestay that I found on google maps. They had reviews so I went for it. I think it was a really good choice besides being a bit farther away than I would like - this is what you get when you make reservations the day before you leave. But the water is hot, the wi-fi works (sometimes) and the people are so nice. I felt bad telling them I was going to bed and leaving before breakfast - I think they really want to feed me. I am taking a gamble and drinking the water. I was headed out to buy a bottle and the man whose name I have forgotten (darn. too many names today.) insisted that the water was really good and showed me their fancy filtration machine. He told me French people drank it and liked it. I should probably know by tomorrow if it makes me sick. If not they are getting a killer review.
Bucket shower in lovely homestay. No trough in the new apartment - just a drain in the bathroom floor. 

Tomorrow is my first day of yoga class with Saraswathi. I start at 7:30 M-F and 6:30 on Saturday. Before I left the bank teller who sold me travellers checks asked me what is different between yoga in India and yoga in the US. Honestly I expect it to be mostly like practice at home but in a different place. I will know tomorrow.
Quiet Gokulam street outside of new home. Will try to remember to get some of the commerce areas tomorrow.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Posting from Dubai International Airport...
Finally I am in the air!
I very nearly didn't make it on the plane - Wednesday afternoon my visa was still 'processing at the consulate' in San Francisco. I don't know if the large number of emails I sent or my calls to the not particularly helpful BLS helpline or pure luck carried my papers along but Wednesday evening I was approved and my Aunt/miracle worker swooped in and FedExed it overnight. So my last week in Seattle was filled with uncertainty and worry. Plus putting all my things in boxes, moving my sister in to my apartment and trying to stay productive.

But now I am here - somewhere in Canada according to the large screens at the front of the cabin which obsessively cycle between various representations of our route and current progress. We are on our way north - close to the pole and over to Dubai where I will layover for two hours before continuing to Bangalore. From there a taxi will take me south to Mysore. By the time I get there all of Sunday will have disappeared and I will be well in to Monday morning. I am happy to feel myself swept along through pre-set time points and connections. For the next 14 hours my world consists only of my cozy nest of blankets and electronic devices giving me plenty of time to enjoy the sweet nostalgic moodiness that finds me in the special limbo created by moving unnaturally fast over great distances.