19 March 2010

from sadhus to zebras, part 1

Shiva was certainly testing me as I made my way to India this time, and as I later found out, also as I made my way to Africa. It literally took 80 hours for my feet to hit the ground in Chennai.

Due to plane problems, instead of flying American to Brussels, then Jet Airways (an Indian airline that partners with American) to Chennai, I was put on the direct flight from Chicago to Delhi. Seventeen hours later I landed in cold, smoggy, polluted Delhi and spent the next 14 hours in the airport because of more airline problems -- nothing was flying out of Delhi because of the fog/smog.

I left Wednesday night and I was still sitting in Delhi on Friday morning. They finally put us on the plane to Chennai and then we sat. And sat. And sat. For about four hours. I finally made it to Chennai around 3 p.m. Friday afternoon instead of 12:05 a.m. Friday morning as originally scheduled. But at least I made it, bags and all. It could have been worse.

I spent 6 weeks in India, flying from south India to Kolkata in the northeast, taking a train to the state of Orissa (get out your map), flying back to Delhi for a few days before taking the train to Haridwar in the foothills of the Himalayas for the Kumbh Mela (where I would be living in an ashram right now if I did not have to teach in Africa), training it back to Delhi, then flying to Qatar. Or so I thought.

I crossed the Persian Gulf twice in one day. I was in two Middle Eastern countries on two Middle Eastern airlines in one day. Not by choice I assure you. Shiva was testing me yet again.

I was supposed to leave Delhi for Nairobi at 4 am. Ah, yes....that lovely Delhi airport again where I now know the international AND the domestic terminals intimately. For some reason the Qatar flight did not leave on time and by the time we got to Doha, the Nairobi flight had closed its doors.

Thank goodness I had decided to upgrade to business class (solely for the extra baggage allowance -- you really think I was not going to buy anything in India?!?) because if I had been in economy and insisted that they get me to Nairobi by any means necessary THAT DAY, Qatar Air would not have treated me as well as they did.

OK, forget that. I completely lost it when they said the Nairobi flight had closed its doors. Had I not had the airline hassles I experienced getting to Delhi six weeks previously, I probably would not have lost it like I did. As my meltdown was being recorded (I found out later there was a camera behind the desk), Qatar personnel got me on an Emirates flight to Dubai and Dubai to Nairobi. Same day. Allah be praised.

Instead of arriving at the Nairobi hotel at around 2 p.m. as I had originally planned, I arrived at the hotel around 9 p.m., just in time to take a hot bath, sleep, and leave less than 12 hours later for a flight to Zanzibar. The room cost me $190 for less than 12 hours. I should have slept at the Nairobi airport, at least they have free wi-fi.

But I had my bags. They weren't flying over the Persian Gulf somewhere. It could have been worse.

I spent 5 nights off the grid in Zanzibar....

...where I showed some children some asanas one day and they were damn good.

I watched these kids play with pull toy "cars" made out of plastic bottles, using the caps as wheels. They were happy and laughing. I thought about what children their ages back home play with and what they throw away. The garbage of an American child is the toy of a child in Africa or India.

There is nothing on this beach except for a small hotels. No phones. No TVs. No internet. No restaurants to speak of, at least not the type that westerners are used to. Nothing.

Right before I arrived, Zanzibar had just gotten electrical service again after three months. In fact, in the middle of the late afternoon and late at night, the hotel shut off the electricity.

Every day I watched these kids play with plastic bottles or driftwood or using any type of ball as a soccer ball. They were supposed to be in school but they weren't. The local school was supposed to have electricity, but it didn't.

The filmmaker Rick Ray was staying at my hotel and we had dinner one night. He had been in Rwanda filming some survivors of the Rwandan genocide, bearing witness to their stories. He told me the story of a young woman who had been a girl the day her people were put inside a church and massacred. He told me that blood is still on the walls and skulls are still on the floor as a memorial. He told me that it is almost impossible to wrap the mind around stories that are so horrific.

She survived for three days by hiding underneath the bodies of her parents. She escaped, hiding from the murderers who were still killing and raping her village, and she made her way to a swamp where she found her sister. They lived in the swamp for three months surviving on algae and anything else that was edible, finally making their way to a refugee camp.

Ray told me that she told him she forgave the people who changed her life forever. She will never forget, but she forgave. She is happy because what other choice is there? I thought about a question that I heard the Dalai Lama once ask: in a country that has everything compared to many, if not most, parts of the world, why are so many Americans unhappy? He did not understand this. Neither do I. Not when I've seen children in India and Africa play with garbage -- and laugh while they are playing with it.

When I was in Arusha I saw them bringing the Rwandans back to jail after their day in court at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The tribunal has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The United Nations car sped through traffic and my friend told me that the trials have been going on for almost 15 years.

Rick Ray told me that the Rwandans who took part in the genocide are put in front of their village and the people can choose to forgive them for their atrocities.

Sometimes the people who have nothing, have everything.


Brooks Hall said...

Beautiful boy warriors!

Dhana Musil said...

Wow Linda, I am so glad to travel vicariously through you. Those plastic bottles, those atrocities, that beach in Zanzibar. You are a messenger of the highest order.

Anonymous said...

It is always a blessing to be reminded that what we think of as "life" is nothing more than a pattern. We can change because none of those things we consider mandatory really are that.

I love the little warrior boys too, so sweet!

the meditator said...

Welcome back .. and thanks again for reminding us, opening our hearts and minds .. thanks for sharing your journey.

Yogini B said...


Thanks for writing so potently and emotively of life in the "majority world". Once you cross that barrier, truly cross it with your heart-mind, you will never be the same again. Neither will home. As you say, the unhappiness of the West remains a mystery - but is it really so mysterious that those who seek happiness in material wealth and external prestige do not find it? That children who no longer know how to play just with themselves and the world around them become bored, and spoiled?

Not to romanticise the life of hardship that most people on our planet live. Without electricity, what of hospitals? Without education, what prospects do these young boys have when they grow older and seek adventure in the big world? Somewhere in our future, there must be a middle way. Or... well I'd rather not put the alternative into words!

Many countries who have suffered from civil atrocities are forced to make efforts towards forgiveness. Where I live, East Timor, is one of those such countries. Where the scale of what happened is so huge that people have no choice but to "forgive". At least on the surface. At least if there is some hope for justice for the figureheads and the worst perpetrators. If. But that's another story for another day.

I look forward to hearing more of your profound reflections.