Monday, December 11, 2017

Arriving in Nepal.

“Why, oh why, did I choose Nepal?” I was asking myself when stranded in the airport.

I can’t trek — or as I say to those who ask if I’m doing the Anna Purna Circuit— “My trekking days are over.” Makes me sound a little less feeble with these gimpy knees that actually have trekked for 40 years.

Well, my good friend Elwood in Florida had stated he was going to Nepal, sharing part of his time there with a friend, but that he’d enjoy having me along. Since he and I are both independent, I doubted if we’d spend the whole month doing the same things, but he made it a possibility in my mind. Initially Kathmandu sounded too foreign and a little scary. But knowing he’d be in the same country allayed my fears. Plus, every Nepali I’d met in the States was just so nice! Sort of like my reason for going to Portugal. Full of nice people.

Then when he had to cancel because of some minor surgery, it was already a done deal. Plus I had an air ticket, a hotel in Kathmandu and a promise from Govinda Sharma at Hasera Farm that I could volunteer there. It was a beginning.

But first to get there. 

When people complain about long flights I just glibly reply, “Well, it’s easier than a stage coach.” This one promised to be an ordeal — three airplanes— but if you want to go to Kathmandu you just suck it up and go. 

But where exactly were we exchanging planes? Yes, I got the Lisbon to Madrid connection. But the next leg said DOHA. I assumed that was an abbreviation for an airport but which city, which country? I really didn’t care when I booked it as long as I got to Nepal. So, as intelligently as I could, I asked the gentleman next to me — Where are we going? To Doha. OK, and what is Doha? It is the capital of Qatar. And what is Qatar? A country. At this point I had no shame in my ignorance…

I read the Qatar flight magazine and was looking forward to meeting a Sheik. Or seeing desert or the beach.  We couldn’t see much in the dark and no sheiks! But I did meet Nepali’s working in the airport. And yes they were nice. 

The big tip-off that I wasn’t in Europe anymore were these lines from the Koran scrolling behind security. 

Then the flight to Nepal was made absolutely wonderful by my companion Sanjeev Pandey, a Nepali who had spent a lot of time in the US and patiently answered my questions about their culture, religion etc… even inviting me to call to if there were problems. 

And here are the impressive Himalayas!

Then the loud speaker asked if there was a Dr. in the house. There was, me, but 16 years out of practice! The first class patient was sweating profusely and having seizures with her eyes open. A little atypical. No medical ID. The medical resident who also showed up opened the carry-on luggage and found insulin. Hypoglycemic seizures! And fortunately a vial of glucagon for bringing the sugar back to normal. I injected it and the lady recovered, embarrassed, promising to wear her ID  and not fall asleep and miss breakfast again.

Evidently Qatar Airlines wanted to show their appreciation (a ticket would have been nice) so my companion asked for some fresh fruit from first class. Upon landing he did look out for me through customs but left when I said the hotel would have a driver out front for me.

Here is Nepal welcoming us!

Well, Nepal is not Portugal. And Portugal is not Norway. 

I was working my way down the reliability qualities of countries. All nice but Nepal is not always reliable. Was there a driver waiting for me, my name on a placard. Nope. After awhile the line of drivers started feeling sorry for me as I wandered back and forth muttering, “Nobody wants me,” and advised me to call the hotel. My fancy Google Project Fi phone didn’t work in Nepal. First time in five months. Then I was advised by these sincere men to pay for a taxi myself. I didn’t have money! And the ATM didn’t work!!! I was close to tears at this point. I’d just saved a woman’s life and the hotel couldn’t honor their email? Someone called the hotel for me, speaking to the hotel driver, who was away at his village for festival and said he’d call the hotel. But the line of drivers just shook their heads, knowing Nepal better than I did, invited a taxi friend to drive me, and told me to tell the hotel to just pay up.

They did. And when I gave the hotel just a little bit of heck they gave me the best room and treated me with profound respect the three times I stayed there. You can’t count on anything during festival!

First meal in Nepal at Hotel Encounter Nepal.

An inauspicious beginning? Nope just Nepal — exotic, different, and yes, kind.

I took my companion up on his offer. They invited me to dinner at their lovely apartment with his extended family.  Introduced me to yak cheese.

And here is their nine year old, Samvavi Pandey, proudly attending a Catholic school, reading Maya Angelou and learning English. She had been disturbed by reports of female infanticide in India and wrote this as a response, spoken from the fears of a little girl fetus. Quoting the attributes of the female Hindu goddesses. She says it is anonymous, but I think she means the child is anonymous.  She wrote it! 

Yes, this child will go far— the new Nepal. (This video deserves to go viral, don’t you think.)

I had arrived! And I was ready to explore, even if I couldn’t understand this amazing country of Nepal. Thank you Elwood!


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Quinta da Mizarela

How did I end up here? 

The community of The Awakened Life Project kept asking me that. Who knows? Two permaculture places I found on-line in Portugal didn’t need me but suggested this and and the Mount of Oaks. I had to cancel the Mount of Oaks because of needing to stay near wifi because of the hurricane and came here early instead.

It’s been an interesting experience, as intentional communities always are. It turns out that all the permaculture had been done and all I could do was some weeding of the vegetable beds. And of my own mind.

The primary focus is meditation and personal transformation – an Awakened Life. Mostly it is about exploring  the non-dual state in which all is perfect, there is no problem, and no need for anxiety. The path to freedom. And then how to live in this world of illusion.

I’ll summarize the schedule as: meditation twice a day, lots of silence, work twice a day, vegan healthy meals, interesting people with very non-standard lives ... and terraces.

Ahh,,, the terraces.

If I had to draw the levels, stairs and paths they would resemble an Escher Diagram. Remember his drawings, described as multiple viewpoints and impossible stairs? 

These ways to navigate up and down were  mind-bending in the beginning and totally impossible for a beginner at night. Which is what I was faced in getting to my tent in the valley floor. It was lovely with the sound of the brook and not-too far off waterfalls.

 But boy was it cold!

My lodging in the valley lasted two days. It was a good thing too or I could have fallen off the tall uneven slate stairs, multi-leveled of course, that led down – in the dark!! Unfortunately I caught a cold and they let me stay higher and warmer up the mountain. A room built into the rock!

I needed a map of this place, much less the rules!! And the terms. P and P meant something— where the dry food, brooms and dirty linens were stored. The Aquarium was where the old clothes and shoes – the thrift store—resided. It was above and past the meditation hall. 

The washing machine was below and to the left down a dusty path. One shower was way up, to be used only if there was no water shortage, and the yurt shower, fueled by fire, was in the valley. And in the valley the hammocks were to the right, the waterfall on the left and the path to town up and over the raspberry patch.

And I’d rather forget discussing the pee and poo places.

OK, to get graphic, one had to reeducate one’s sphincters, because the various excretions were disposed of in different ways, all environmentally friendly. I had to ask my body parts, “OK who wants to open now?. And who can wait?” Pee was in bidet by the kitchen and poo in Casa de Banho down the terraces, where you were assured “Your deposit is safe with us.”

Peeing in bushes was OK but where to go at 5 AM from a sudden urge to poo from the incredibly high fiber diet? Outside, down tricky stairs with no railing, no lighting and me with contact lenses out? Quite a dlilemna.. But folks, actually it wasn’t  that much worse than camping… For sure it was a meditation on body awareness!

Part of the discipline of self-reflection was to be off electronic devices. 

That was fine unless I needed to post a blog or book a bus, hostel or plane ticket to Nepal.. Wifi required a 45 minute walk each way along a goat path with lovely views to a cafe in a tiny town. 

There I  admired a man cutting grapes from his vine canopy. I think I said “Bonito”  which I think meant “nice.” He was confused until I touched my heart and lips, whereupon  he motioned for me to wait, cut an enormous clump for me and would not let me eat from it until he went into his garage and washed it. 

Like I said, the Portuguese are nice and generous! And in the cafe the villageers waved to my ipad whenever I got on Skype and showed my relatives the view!

I know this blog is a bit of a hodge-podge... 

... like the terraces and physical and electronic challenges. But I’m glad I came here, however I got here, to this very sincere out-of-the ordinary place with special  people and an awakened vision.

I left with hugs and inspiration from these dear ones.

Now, back back to Lisbon and onward to a finally booked ticket to Kathmandu!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I Have Arrived! Awakened Life Project, Portugal

“I have arrived. I am home. In the here and in the now.”

These are words of a song by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh which I learned in Plum Village, France. And boy, do they apply when you end up somewhere, somehow, and don’t really know why you are there! I have learned to get grounded in myself and in the moment, wherever I am.

From Porto I took two trains. This is a challenge because in Portugal they post the train-track by the final destination, not by the stops along the way. You have to ask some kind person where to board. 

Then one taxi in Coimbra, the University town, from the train station to the bus station. It turned out for a fee the driver would show me the sights of this famous university town. See the poetry inscriptions that look like tombstones. 

Then a bus to Catrayia— really just a metal shed by the side of the road, where Katje picked me up to go to Quinta

We had arranged this by email but I was working on faith that someone would be there for me, in the middle of nowhere. “Where is Quinta?” I asked her. I thought that was the final destination. “Quinta means farm. That’s where we live.” Oh.

The ride went fine until we stopped in a village to get money and for me to pee.

Then when we tried to get back into the car the doors wouldn’t unlock. “OK … What’s with me and transportation today?” I thought.

The rear trunk door did open so she crawled through it. But what to do about me and my inflexible knees? I crawled head first through the front door window and laughing we were off, mystified as to the problem, but I’m sure she was relieved that it wasn’t her car or just her responsibility. This is one advantage of living in community!!

And all was fine until we had to reverse the process, including my “too much luggage.” She saw the possibility where I only saw the obstacle. We each crawled out  the window – first one leg then the other. I have a picture of her laughing! And the luggage? Easy, bend forward all the seats we could, empty most of the bag, crush it and push it through the window and then pile stuff back in. A case in point for a duffel, for sure!

But enough criticism about “too much luggage.” Here I had to sleep in a very cold tent where I needed  my sleeping bag and pillow!

And now I have arrived. 

Down a very dusty path to a community on many levels. Literally. Houses and pee stalls and meditation areas and decks and vegetable  patches and raspberry lanes… I despaired of keeping it all straight! 

In fact I got lost the first time I had to go back up the levels by myself in daylight! Forget night time! I ended up under the deck of the kitchen but not knowing how to go up. “Help,” I called. And waved my walking stick into the trees so they could see where I was. And while Katje was finding me I noticed a plump ripe grape above my head. 

Yes! Like the Buddhist allegory of a man holding onto a bending branch on a cliff while above a tiger loomed and below a tiger salivated. Right then he noticed a juicy strawberry and totally tasted it. Ahhh… I also said...

At this Awakened Life Project I have a chance to stop, to arrive, to enjoy the international participants, to just be... It is vegan so I’ll have abundant fruits and vegetables and sprouted grains three times a day. 

And even a non-vegan treat of gnocchi!

With meditation twice a day I’ll have a chance to look inside myself. Not at problems at home. Not forward to the next place. Not even at an churches and museums. But stopping here, now, arriving, in dusty fragrant, abundant rural Portugal.

I pick a yellow raspberry and slurp down a green fig. Rest in a hammock. I am at home with myself.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Buying a Shawl in Porto: A Good Try at Communication

Communication is iffy at best in a strange country. 

After a few weeks in Portugal I know enough to say “Thank you.” And maybe, “Good afternoon.” That’s all! “Toilet” works in all languages. WC is a universal sign.

I actually do reasonably well in Germany and in Spanish speaking countries, at least for survival. And I can ask for the check in French after declaring that I don’t speak French so they don’t make assumptions. But I have actually given up in Czech, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Norway if the clerk or direction giver doesn’t speak English. It would be polite of me to try harder, I know, and I did try when I traveled the world 50 years ago. But it’s just too hard now…

Yet, you have to give me credit for giving it a good try this afternoon in Porto, Portugal.
And because this blog is about words, no pictures!

 I’m on my way to an Eco-Village somewhere in the center of Portugal. Honestly folks, it’s not even on the map! This journey will require one train to another train, a taxi, a bus and then suposedly Katja will be there by car to pick me up. Arrgh! Also AARGH is that just two days ago they sent out the helpful info for the meditation retreat, namely that it’s going to be cold at night and that I might need a shawl for morning meditation. Arrgh again! I left my jacket in stored luggage in Lisbon (since Portugal has been sweaty hot) and no shawl!

So, outside the train station I stopped at the shawl vendor. Actually I had stopped there two days before when the news of Hurricane Irma’s threat on my home was imminent. My kids and dog had evacuated so it didn’t look like there would be loss of limb, but there could be loss of my house and 30 fruit trees. Loss of rental income and loss of world-wide adventure. Egads! So I was more than stressed. I had no control whatsoever and could only watch the whirling winds and projected cone from the phone. Not knowing what in the heck was going to happen, and having lived through 7 months of reconstruction with Hurricane Jeanne, I needed an emotional fix. So, shopping therapy!

I was feeling quite dowdy in camping clothes for 3 months while other tourists in Porto looked quite fancy with their scarves. Nope, I’d left my multicolered scarf from Ireland home, wanting to travel “light.” (Ha!) When what did I see but a lovely blowing in the traffic-breeze light blue nylon scarf with happy yellow butterflies and pink- blooming roses. Such a metaphorical lift of new life, after maybe destruction.

Forgetting my ineptness at Portuguese, I excitedly told the clerk that this was my hurricane antidote (wide gestures of hurricane, my home with heart pointing and tears diagramed, heart expanding due to scarf and flitting creatures.) I really didn’t care if he cared, I just had to share my little lift of happiness with someone!

I paid the 1.5 euro and left, feeling prettier. This didn’t work as well as the port tasting the day before but it was cheaper and lasted longer.

So, tonight when I was belatedly informed I’d need a shawl I stopped at the same stand for a warm Pashmi article. Cashmere, right? I hoped.  Same lack of communication with this clerk. Some of the scarves said Pashmi, some said cashmere, some just said from Kashmir (all with flimsy peal-off stickers, not sewn on.) None of them felt warm.

Trying my luck I asked him the fabric make. Puzzled look. Animal or plant? Nope. “Baa?” Blank look. He took me to the boss who was equally unversed in English. Aha, I thought! Google translate! I typed in “wool” in English on the phone and it typed back the Portugues for wool. Still blank looks. They tried, I tried, I gave up.

When who should appear but the scarf clerk. He remembered me and the hurricane! “How is your house?” In English. “Scarf make you happy?” In English. Then he pointed to a map of Bangladesh, his home. He didn’t know any more about fabric than his colleagues but now it all made sense. They didn’t understand Google translate because they spoke Bengali, not Portuguese!

Well, we all gave it a good try, didn’t we? 

And in the end that’s all you can say for communication — that it comes from the heart.