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Friday, September 5, 2014

Hippie Road Trip – Stop 1 Hervey Bay & 2 Stumpleaf/Agnes Water/1770

When Dhan found out that I was not going to meet up with our mutual friend, Andy, in Sydney for another week she suggested we hire a car so she take me in a hippie road trip to see her friends.   Our first stop was Hervey Bay to crash at her friend, Annie’s place, before we picked up the car the next day.  Annie used to live in Utopia but now lived in seaside city with her daughter and her parents who had retired there.  She talked to me about the benefits of eating raw and drinking kefir, a fermented beverage made with yeast and bacteria that has even better health benefits than yogurt as they contain three times the probiotics and other great things for your body, which I had the pleasure of being introduced to the day before by one of Dhan’s friends in Utopia.  I also learned it is really easy to make and therefore I plan to make for myself when I return to the states. 
The following afternoon, after wandering Hervey Bay Botanic Gardens, their cute little Orchid House and spending two dollars for a cute hummingbird top and another warm sweatshirt at an Op Shop we picked up our upgraded midnight blue VW Golf at the airport to begin our road adventure.   It began with me in the driver seat on the “wrong side” of the car and Dhan reminding me to stay on the left side of the road every time we took a turn.  After a few turns and weird round abouts I got quickly got the hang of it, and found myself trying hard to follow the posted signs and stay a "Sunday Driver" going at most, if I was lucky, 110 km/h the equivalent of only 68 mph;  no wonder it takes people so long to get around the country.  When I did decide I couldn't take the people driving under the speed limit, even a few ks, I revved the little car's engine and gloried in the few moments of passing, even though I freaked a few people out.  With our New South Wales plates, Dhan informed me this was okay, because Queenslanders would think I was a "Mexican" and there for a crazy driver.  I find it hilarious that Queenslanders call those living in the southern states “Mexicans” as they live south of their border, so for one week I thoroughly cherished this title especially with my love for everything Mexican.  Slang, such as this,  was constant conversation on the my entire trip, and I am happy to report Heaps and Full-On are two words I find myself saying constantly and a few people there now call u-turns flipping a bitch.  I also Aussie’s like, even though it can be very confusing that, Aussies like to call things the opposite of what they are.  For example when something is red they say it is blue, which is why the nickname of our second host Josh, a pale ginger dreadlocked hippie, is Brother Blue. 
When Dhan explained to me we were going to being staying with a guy she met wearing fairy wings on the roof of the earthship they were building, I knew I was going to meet someone special, and it couldn't have been more true as he is one in a billion in this universe and the next.  Josh lives a short drive from the center of Agnes Water, a tiny magical town on Discovery Coast, on his friends’ 40 acre property they loving named Stumpleaf.   As we drove past the sign "watch out for naked hippies", Josh and his loyal dog Chelsea greeted us with a whoop, what I soon learned to be his normal happy hello.  He then hopped in our car, with Chelsea chasing us, and directed us down a path more than a road, which really annoyed car as it constantly beeped at us warning of all things (nature) we might run into, to the area he was turning into his home.  As we rocked up, we saw the dam to the left and this amazing canopy area next to a small tent and fire pit.  Josh had only moved on to the property four months before but you could see all the work he had put in.  His plan is to build a house, but there are heaps things on the list (which he still probably needs to write, wink) before that can happen, including renovating an old caravan he and his friends hope to rent out for a little extra money to backpackers in the area.  For now, we shoved a mattress on the floor and stapled green mesh over the windows to keep the mozzies out, so we could be the first inhabitants.
Once the caravan was ready and with the chill of the night starting to set in I thought it was about time to bust out the Bundaberg Rum, I had been carrying around for a week.  I am not usually a rum drinker but since my buddy Mike back in San Diego asked me to bring him home bottle I figured I would give it a try to see if it was as good as he made me to believe; and it is if you like the taste of whiskey, because for some reason, at least to me it tastes more like that then any rum I have tried.  Despite it not being my favorite, I continued to drink it as it helped keep me warm.  I was soon grateful Josh was cooking a meal full of delicious vegetables to slow down the affects since I only had a couple of beers here and there since I had left Seattle, a month and half ago.  The crispy salted chips he made for everyone, quickly and rather selfishly became a meal for one as I waited for the other food.  With all the singing, talking, chanting, and finally the other food it seemed like no one cared too much.  As the night went Josh brought out his Hapi drum to play, a round steel slit/tongue drum that he had fashioned from an old propane tank. The name perfectly fitting his persona and the sound being produced a gate way to his soul. I couldn't stop myself from trying, and quickly found the gentle touch required very difficult, and made me admire his talent even more. 
At some we all fell asleep to be awoken with steam radiating from our mouths and the dam by Josh’s phone alarm happily signing "Good Morning!” over and over.  If I hadn’t been too busy laughing at how this piece technology also managed to mirror Josh’s personality, I would have been a bit put off, just like I was in college when my cheerleader friend greeted me as we opened the bagel at 4:30am – she a ball of happy energy excited to start the day and me ever so slowly letting in gently wake me.  He quickly made some coffee on the coals left from last night, and jumped in car telling us he hoped to knock off by 2pm.  When I could no longer see his car I, a bit guiltily, burrowed back into the blankets and drifted back to sleep.
         Around 10 am I finally awoke craving ice cream, and since I am an adult and could eat ice-cream for breakfast Dhan I headed in search of some.  Before you could blink we were through Agnes, not finding fulfillment, and on our way to the sleepy town of 1770, where Captain Cook, to the determent of the aborigines made his second landing in Australia for his counterparts back in Europe.  It has a Florida Keys feel, even though it is quite a bit smaller than any key that I had been too.  We took in the coast line until the road dead ended at a scenic point, and since we were there we decided to get out and take in the view.  Heaps of blue tiger butterflies, which I called blue monarchs at the time, because instead of orange filling the gaps between the black pattern it was lite blue, floated about as we made our way to an overlook of a beautiful beach, that would have been the perfect canvas for the artist, Andres Amador, as the sand laid smooth and untouched from any footprints.  If I had any ambition that morning, I would have made the beach adeptly named Butterfly Beach my own canvas, but two locals reminded me of my morning mission and told me where I could find the ice cream my belly so desperately wanted.  They said we should try Mammino the infamous local brand of ice-cream which you could find just down the road at the Agnes information center of all places.  When we arrived at the information center the lady gave us a strange look when I asked for ice cream but Dhan pointed to the small sign displaying the "famous" ice cream brand that actually came from another town two hours down the road.  She told us she wasn't sure if they any but she would check. When she came back she was holding two canisters, both chocolate peppermint, I was disappointed not to try the cashew flavor the ladies said was the best, but decided to still give it a try.  With all the buildup, I was quickly disappointed, the "ice cream" tasted more like yogurt frozen, then even frozen yogurt.  The good thing being I would never want to eat this brand again, and therefore not miss it when I left the area.  After my ice cream adventure we decided to grab lunch, and wouldn't you know it the place sold scooped ice-cream, which I probably would have been more satisfied with.  Oh well.
With our bellies full we headed across the street to Sol Foods, this amazing organic food and shop, where Dhan's friend, Shelley, the owner with her partner Bob of the first earthship in Australia, was the cook at. She came out to say hello with big hugs, inviting us to visit her home the next day, but telling us to meet her and her friends at the local pub that night for a chance to play Jackpot Jokers a  raffle she planned winning and buying a new car with.   With a few hours to spare before Josh got home, we headed to one of the charming deserted beaches, this one being where Dhan had celebrated at with her earthship mates.  It was basically empty with the chilly wind and prickly ocean water, but it didn't stop me from stripping to my bikini and taking a nice nap. 
When we got back to Stumpleaf I chilled while Dhan took a nap in the shade, until Josh pulled up.  As soon as he opened the door Chelsea and his cat, Pus, came trotting out of the woods for a hello.  Josh quickly got down on the ground and gave them both tons of love and attention.  You could tell it was a daily ritual.  Josh took a quick nap and then took out his Hapi to play in the sun.  As played we both went in and out of meditation, the perfect blend of man, music, and nature.  Time rolled on until it was time for us to head back into town.
         After a few quick turns, because Josh is a TERRIble navigator, we arrived at the local watering hole aptly named Agnes Water Tavern which is located on Tavern Road, you have to love small towns.  The Tavern had the feeling of a gaming hall with a stage out the way, and a really nice outside patio.  I was impressed.  As we were running late, the first thing we did, even before getting drinks, was get in line to purchase “Jackpot Joker” raffle tickets, an ongoing raffle where in a locked cabinet are 53 cards, where at the start of the game they are all face down and amongst the cards is a joker.  Each week raffle tickets are sold for £1 each, and also include chances to spin the prize wheel, win meat, or find the joker for the pot of cash that has been building up.  If no one finds the joker the card stays face up and the money rolls over to the next week.  As the weeks go by the odds and the pot get better and better, this week’s pot was $9,600 and there were only 6 cards left to find the joker from.  The three of us not wanting to win over a local decided to split a set of tickets.  We then ran into Shelley, and her two friends, Karli and Alex, this amazing couple who met in Thailand at massage school and where now traveling through Karli's home country and then onto Alex's in France next.  The funny thing about Alex is she half Greek and half French, which we predicted we were going to meet when Josh's phone turned to a language which we not certain of. We also said we were going to meet a pirate, and there was a local man who has to wear a patch, but who gets royally pissed when you call him a pirate - so we decided Josh should be the pirate instead.  Despite Shelley giving all of our tickets good juju by rubbing them on her chest, and Alex's determination to pay attention to the mayhem we did not win anything.   
It was okay as The Mason Rack Band was to celebrate with instead. They were really good, especially the drummer, despite all being extremely cocky.  It felt as if they played to be rock stars not because of the love of the music.  We danced until one of their breaks, when Josh was dared to dump a wine bucket of ice and water over his head.  Without hesitation he stripped off his shirt and dumped the contents over his head as Alex videoed.  The bouncers, of course, were not too happy, but because the ice bucket challenge had been going on around Facebook they let it slide.  We danced a bit more and ate Josh's take away, until sleepiness caught up to the group. 
The early part of our second day was spent chatting around the fire, until it was time to get ready for the local festival.  Let's just say it took Josh a bit longer then the ladies, it wasn't his attire he was just wearing some cotton drawstring pant, no shirt, his turquoise necklace, and a hat. It was  all the stuff he brought, a jug of water, his Hapi, another drum, trumpet, pillows, blankets, beer in his cooler named Pete, a shirt, and who knows what else.  But as he happily bounced around like Tigger collecting it all you couldn't help but shake your head, it just Josh being Josh.  Finally we all packed in the car, a few reverses we stopped at Shelley's, who was not at home, we found out later was nursing her hangover from the night before with Kristi and Alex.  Off to find grub instead, Josh brought us to his first place of employment, but under new better management by his friend’s cafe, that actually just opened that day.  You could tell the food was made with love because it was amazing! Back into the woods, Josh driving a caravan, me following behind, we headed to Bustard Bay one of only four places on the East Coast of Australia where you can watch the sun rise and set over the ocean.  I must say it is harder to follow Josh driving a vehicle then his directions while sitting in your car.
The 1770 festival was put on for all the visiting cyclists, but by the time we got there it was more of a local thing.  On the beach to the west you could try out dragon boating if you wanted, which I thought was ironic as my mom as in Italy at that exact moment cheering on my aunt and one of her best friends in a world dragon boat competition and the fact I had never heard about it outside my hometown. In the park area there were some stalls and awesome live music, the reason for us being there.  Josh jammed with his buddy Dave, Jayson Kokles aka "Gypsy" the roaming didgeridoo player, and some cat on harmonica.  They were good but I much rather hear Josh play and sing by himself, especially when it’s a private show in the middle of nature.  After they played we put to my surprise Josh's blankets and pillows to use watching the other bands until Jack and the BOM played.  Jack is this amazing 16 year old musician who played solo for a while until he decided to get some of the rest of his musical family involved.  On the night we saw him the neck broke on his dads bass so it was just him and his 12 year old sister on Frea on drums.  They are amazing, so much talent and love in one family, who also have a cool story.  Mama Blandford told us they travel around Australia for years, until one day they decided as a family to put down roots in Agnes.  You can tell they are each other's best friends and love being with each other, not something you see with many families these days.  With the sun setting behind Jack and the BOM it was amazing experience until it was time to pack up and do a few turns on the way to my first drive through bottle shop and onto Josh’s mate’s, who was not having a BBQ but was still nice of enough to let us in and tell us about the drinking game wizards.  Wizards is where you stack your beers into a staff, you are an apprentice until your staff is as tall as you, then once it is you are a wizard and can break other people's staffs.   I was glad we only learned about it as I was dd and would have wanted to participate. 
With the following day being Dhan and my last’s we decided to head over to Shelley’s once again, so I could hopefully have a tour of her earthship that both Dhan and Josh volunteered to help build and that I had heard so much about.  An earthship is a passive solar house made of natural and recycled materials, such as rammed-earth tires and glass bottle walls.  The way they are built also allows for minimum, if any, need for public utilities and fossil fuels making it one of the greenest ways to build and live. I have to say it is an amazing work of architecture, and I can’t wait to see when it is 100% and they are living in it. Until then I’ll just watch the docos and be thankfully for Shelley allowing me a visit.   After our tour, we all decided to head to the outskirts of Agnes for a good bye lunch, despite it being Australian Father’s Day, at the tantalizing Get-Away Garden CafĂ©.  The food and the company was magical just like my entire hippie road trip thus far.  We made one final stop at the area Josh’s friends were going to build their house in Stumpleaf, and got out of the car to wrap our arms around a giant tree.  Yes, I was being a stereotypical tree hugger with total hippies, but I couldn't have been happier especially because I knew in a few minutes I would have to say goodbye. 
When the time finally came there were tears in my eyes especially when Josh presented me with his turquoise necklace.  I was a bit speechless at such a thoughtful gift, but managed to squeak out a thank you and you shouldn't have.  The first few hours of our drive I kept touching each stone like a mantra, until I thought I might wear them out, so I put it around my neck where it is not only safer, but where it has been basically since.  I am such a lucky girl to always meet such amazing people, even though I know I will begin missing a short time later.  But as Josh says you shouldn't miss them, just cherish them until the next time you meet again.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Visiting Dhan's Utopia

I met Dhaniella (Dhan) three years ago in Japan on Project Tohoku, where just by looking at her dreads and how she dressed knew that she was a hippie. It was not until after talking to her though that I learned she was living off the grid three and half hours outside of Brisbane in the community of Utopia.  When I decided I was going to take the monetary plunge and head to Australia I knew she had to be one of my stops, which happened to line up with her rain water tank raising party.  Since she doesn't drive and obviously no buses go to where she lives she arranged a ride for me with her friends George and Mel.  They are the type of people that you feel like you know for ages after knowing them a few hours.
We arrived on Dhan's land in the dead of night, with only her solar powered rainbow lights and a sliver of a moon giving me any clue of what I had gotten myself too.  I quickly asked for something warmer to wear even as we settled in around the fire with beers in our hands.  Dhan provided me one of her well worn house coats, a bright blue silk lined with fleece.  It became a trusted combatant against the falls nights during the duration of the stay.  The first night I squeezed in Dhan's caravan with her so Mel and George could sleep in Dhan's summer tent under the mango so they didn't have to put using headlights.
When I woke with the sunlight the next morning with a Rudolph nose, I finally got to see the home Dhan created.  The huge mango tree not ready to bear fruit, but covered with enough leaves to provided extra protection of a four man tent (now mine for the rest of my stay) from the cold nights and warm days.  The "toxic" teepee, where you went number two in a hole that Dhan dug earlier in the year, which actually was quite magnificent.  You sat on a toilette seat attached to a milk crate, with the teepee and pirate flag guarding you from human eyes, while facing nature's glory.  I know this is t.m.i. but night poops soon became my favorite, where I could enjoy the release of one of our amazing meals while wishing upon stars.  It you could replace the milk carton with a Japanese heated toilet, I might have never left that space.  The tin shed used as a kitchen with a new added refrigerator  and gas  burner stove that you have to be careful doesn't go to crazy and burn the roof.  Then of course Dhan's caravan, and the creation from her last party, raise the roof overhead, which added an extra layer against the elements, a better place to collect solar, and soon to be rainwater collector/director to the water tank we were building.
 
One of the main things you need in life is drinkable water.  Off the grid you can water your gardens, wash dishes, and take showers in dam water, but to drink even after boiling was not a great idea, so instead of buying water from town, borrowing from friends, Dhan thought it was time to build a rainwater collection tank.  One of the many tasks on her list of comfortably living away from societally conveniences and the annoyances that come with them.  When we arrived she had already dug and leveled the base for the foundation, we were going to build with recycled tires.  We found the tires that would provided the best base and started filling them with dirt and gravel, and then we packed it until we thought it was sturdy with our feet and sledgehammers, but of course it wasn't. So we repeated this process for about 5 hours, quickly finding what make tires so great to build with with, their side walls our nemesis, as that is the hardest place to pack the dirt in. Finally we took all the bounce out of the first layer of tires, and were able to level it with dirt and dancing.  The next day we completed another layer, but only taking half the time with the lessons we had learned from the day before, pack the sides first as when you fill the center expecting it to move to the sides, it won't work.  Duh, it's a dry substance not a liquid.  Unfortunately people had to leave before the last layer of tires and rendering was complete, so Dhan will have to have another party which I will not be able to attend.  I can't wait to hear how the rest of the job goes, and see pictures of Dhan drinking water from everyone's work. 
There were a lot of great times in Utopia but I want to share the two most memorable.
One afternoon Dhan and I choose to relax by taking the hour walk through her community to the neighboring national park, Mount Walsh. While there we hiked through more open forests and grassy woodlands to Waterfall Creek, which due to lack of rainfall was at a trickle.  Even still the natural rock pools that have potholed into the granite by years of water erosion where still breathtaking.  Dhan enticed by the fresh water decided to plunge in, after 30 seconds, enough to get one layer of red dirt off she was back out, where as I was happy just dangle my feet in and see watch the baby crawfish try to bite my toes. 
One night we decided to pass the time by watching movies on laptop charged earlier by sunlight, next to Dhan's potbelly wood stove, drinking hot chocolate under the stars.  For what we choose to watch you really couldn't be in a better setting or set-up. We watched Waking Life an animated movie is centered on a young man (the kid from Dazed and Confused) who wanders through his dreams encountering numerous individuals who willingly engage in insightful philosophical discussions including but not limited to, how can one distinguish dream life from waking life and do dreams have any sort of hidden significance or purpose?  The second movie we watched was Into The Wild based on the travels of Christopher McCandless across North America and his life spent in the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1990s, even with the tragic ending, the movie was the perfect choice for the setting we were in and the hippie road trip we were about to embark on as it mirrored the lives of many of the people I was about to meet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Delhi's Puppet Colony

Please note that below is not hard facts, but instead based on what I found on the web, from those living in Kathpulti, and my short experience visiting the colony. I apologize for any misinformation.

Kathputli Colony is stuck between the metro and railways lines in the Shadipur Depot area of Delhi, just a few miles away from Connaught Place and its fancy shops. Named after the centuries—old wooden string puppets of India’s Rajasthan state, Kathputli Colony is said to be the biggest single concentration of traditional street artists in the world. About 800 families have settled here since India's Independence from Great Britain.
Its narrow lanes and teetering brick houses are home over 600 artists who have represented India in fairs and festivals in countries near and far.  They are dancers, sword-swallowers, singers, fire–eaters, magicians, snake charmers, musicians, acrobats, jugglers, sculptors, mimes, artists, puppeteers, folk singers, bear handlers, monkey trainers, ribbon dancers, and other practitioners of fasts disappearing traditional arts. 

The colony began organically in the 1950's.  Performers from all the different regions and artistic tribes from the country would come to Delhi to perform, and then they would go back on their routes. However, as T.V. and radio became available in the rural villages, their was less money to be had, so they had to move into the city, where people would still pay to witness their talents.  They settled upon a scrubby woodland area on what was the edge of town at the time, and started making homes with their own hands and resources.  More and more people came, so more and more was built, to present day where there are around 40,000 people living in Kathputli.  As the colony grew so did India's capital, which makes the colony relatively central now, only 15 minute metro ride from parliament, fancy shops and hotels, museums, ministries and the central business district. What once was scrubby forest is now some of the most valuable land in the area.

So is Kathputli Colony a slum?  It's alleys are strewn with garbage and sometimes feces, as there is no proper sewer system or garbage system. Children paddle in stinking black drains, not realizing how unhealthy it is for them, instead simply thinking how nice the cool mixture feels. Electricity supply, "borrowed" from the nearest pole is basically a constant, powering fans, swamp coolers, color tv's and even a colony arcade with four games.  Water is supplied by the government to the areas that are lucky enough to be hooked up to the system, but as it runs through old pipes and tubes, it is constantly contaminated. For those not lucky enough to be hooked up to the main system, those who are not pay 3-7 rs. depending on the size container they have to those who share. With lack of access to water, also means not everyone has a bathroom, and there are only five public bathrooms for the entire colony and they cost a small fee per use. Most have a gas cooking stove to boil water and cook food throughly, but some do not. Within the colony some are defiantly better off than other, poor, really poor, desperate.  

Kathputli Colony's 6.5 acres is broken up into different areas based on religion, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, etc. and by which Indian state they come such as Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, UP, Bihar and Gujarat, with 11 different languages spoken.  This may lead one to believe there is a lot tension, but in fact, the community is closely knit, centered around family and each other.  Families live together for years, sometimes 6 families living in only four rooms. When you literally live on top of each other you have to find a way to make it work.   
As one walks it's is easy to get lost with so many many criss-crossing pathways, surrounded by dilapidated hovels, shanties, pucca houses, cemented dwellings, and mud huts, but as you do you also notice that there is a beauty to it.  It's hard to explain to an outsider, but I will attempt.  Walls are painted in painted in bright colors, children play with homemade toys, and women hustle around carrying water, making food, and washing clothes in their colorful sarees.  Besides the constant buzz of mosquitoes and flies, you can hears musicians and singers practice their craft, and the jingling of their silver anklets and glass bangles creates a fine music.

Rent averages at about 1,000 rupees ($17) per month and can be as low as 185 rupees ($3.50) per month.  Besides making money as performers,some make money as rickshaw drivers, cleaning houses for the affluent down the street, selling sweets, mending clothes, others in the lower class resort to trash picking and sometimes prostitution.  Government schools are technically free in India, but there is a cost for uniforms and supplies, which means quite a few children go without, with the girls usually being pulled out first. 

The harsh conditions make for some of the toughest, most creative, and thrifty people in one area.  So yes, Kathpulti Colony, is officially defined as a slum, but at its core it’s an artist community with people making the best life they can.  There is a sort of dignity to it all.  

I encourage you to visit it and it's in habitants and also make up your own mind as words, especially mine, will never be able to fully describe its complexity.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tushita - finding happiness.

 
 
About three months ago when I decided to go to India, I decided to look into Buddhism courses, as the county is home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama while he is in exile from Tibet, I figured it be one of the best places to learn about more about this religion/ philosophy, something I had wanted to learn more about since my brief time teaching English to monks at Rigon Choeling Tashi monastery in Nepal, the fact that I believe the Dahlia Lama is the happiest person on the planet, and I want to be happy too and help others to be happy. Using good ole Google, I came upon Tushita, located in the hills only a 10 minutes from his home, which focuses on teaching Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. Twice each month they offer a 10 day residential "Introduction to Buddhism" course for a nominal fee (enough to cover food and shelter) to whoever was interested in learning.  It seemed perfect, except for one catch, the course was to be done in silence, but not 100% silence as you could ask questions during lectures and in the organized discussion groups. After some pondering and some discussions with family and friends (no I would not shave my head and become a monk...well unless I really thought it would make me happy) it came down to two thoughts I really wanted to learn and that some monks do this for years so I surely could survive 10 days.
 
I finally arrived on Saturday, August 9th, my mom's birthday. There were 51 other people, from around the world, with different cultural and religious backgrounds taking the course with me. The only surface things we had in common was English, an interest in Buddhism, and that we had to follow the same rules during our stay.  In addition to being silent we all had to follow the first five monastic vows: do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, remain celibate, and do not use intoxicants.  Since they cooked amazing vegetarian meals for us, kept us pretty busy; first meditation at 6:45 am, then breakfast, two lectures on Buddhist , lunch, karma yoga job (mine was washing windows which I finished in one day), discussion groups, another lecture, tea, meditation, dinner, meditation and expected us to stay on Tushita grounds for the duration, what I internally called the safety net during my course, they were pretty easy to keep. The hardest part was forgetting my good habits, saying bless you, please, thank you, and keeping "noble silence," not looking at people in the eye or smiling at them.  Also because everyone was supposed to be in silence it was hard for me to be patient with those who were not, I constantly had to tell myself to act compassionately, something Buddhism holds at its core, for those who found it difficult. 
 
Besides compassion another thing I really like about Buddhism / H.H. Dahlia Lama is my understanding that they want everyone (emphasis on everyone) to be happy aka reach nirvana and do not think the Buddhist path is the only way, just the way, they believe, to be the fastest.  For example during the first lecture we were given two pieces of information: first, that we may treat Buddhism as a supermarket, by picking out the pieces of the teachings that we find most useful; and second, that (as the first Buddha himself said), it is absolutely necessary that we do not take anything on faith alone. We must be cautious buyers, such as a goldsmith buying gold, you must check each nugget of data with our own rational minds before accepting it as to be true.  This approach hands the controls to the individual, which is both a curse and a blessing.  You are allowed to deal with our own doubts and difficulties in our own individual ways, but it also means you have to make up your own mind on what is good for you and the planet as there are no  absolutes.      
 
To teach the above Buddhist philosophy and more, the course was a mixture of lecture and meditation.  This combination gave us space and time to work through any challenging material and to put the lessons into practice. I never knew there we different kinds of mediations, I thought meditation was simply a mind empty of thoughts.  I found out their are a variety of types and our course would focus on "mindfulness" meditation and guided "analytical" meditation.   Mindfulness meditation is essentially a practice in focus; one chooses a single object, often the sensation of the breath or a mental or physical image, and attempts to single-pointedly observe that object without distraction. The idea is that, when mindfulness practiced in meditation is applied to the rest of life, we are more aware and in control of our own thoughts, emotions and actions.  This is the one I have an extremely hard time with during the course and the one I will need to practice and not give up on because in the long term I think it will be super beneficial to me and my sleep. On the other hand, analytical meditations are meant to bring the knowledge from the lectures or anything we comprehend intellectually, to a deeper level of understanding.  This understanding provides an easier path to put into to practice or accepting, as it is for you and no one else.  These mediations were a bit easier for me and not only helped me better understand thing, but were also extremely healing.
 
An example of this teaching is one of the lessons about the Buddhist view of "emptiness." I put emptiness in quotes because it is the Buddhist view of it and not our traditional view of the word. Basically, the idea is that everything that we see, experience, perceive, exists only through the filter of our own minds; nothing has an inherent existence without its relation to something else; without good there could be no bad, without many colors there could be no yellow. Because of this reasoning, we must understand that any attachment or aversion that we hold towards these pieces of the world is only a construct of our own minds as well. Thus, the emotional responses that we habitually fall into because of these attachments are aversions are in our own control. For example, using this thought process, if a person says something that I find irritating, I can recognize that the person is not inherently irritating, nor are the words inherently irritating, instead these "realities / irritations" are created by own mind alone, and through this knowledge I can avoid being irritated.  This simple shift in perception of reality puts a person in control of their own experiences and their own emotions, and gives one the full power to be happy.  Having this knowledge is the first step, now putting into to practice, against old habits, shared customs, ignorance is the hard part, and something I will struggle with until the day I die. 
 
Speaking of death, we talked about it a lot and even meditated on it, since Buddhist philosophy not only teaches emptiness it also teaches impermanence. The metaphor for it being a river.  From moment to moment, second to second, a river is always changing, not just the water but the animals, the trees, the world, and of course us. This constant changes means eventual death and is one of the easiest ways to gain an understanding of impermanence and our resistance to accepting it. Each second, we are getting closer to this moment and even though we all know it is going to happen to us all one day, we still tend to deny it. So we talked about it instead of leaving it down deep and had an amazing, yet heartbreaking, we at least for me, meditation about it. Again we all know we are going to die, but most of us don't know, unless the doctors give us an estimate, so the guided meditation instructor told us three weeks and walked us through the days, asking what we would do, who we would have to say goodbye to and the tears in the room started to flow.  I didn't cry for the physical things I would not have the chance to do since I have led an amazing life, but it did remind me I better keeping living each day the best I can and to the fullest. I did cry about the lost friends and the ones that deserve my forgiveness or I need to ask forgiveness of.  Mainly, I cried at the goodbyes not wanting them to happen, but knowing no matter what that someday they would have to happen. Facing this heartbreaking reality, through meditation, was a way to start conquering the fear of death (for me the goodbyes) and one of many tools that will help me be prepared for when they are certain to happen.  Crap, I'm crying now just as I reflect, so you can imagine a room full of people meditating on them, sounds of tears running and sniffles in every direction, which may sound strange and uncomfortable, but in fact was the opposite, because it reminded everyone you are not alone as we all face death and the things that come with it.  Another reason to be kind to those you love, those you hate, those who are strangers.  Also even in facing death there is a world going on around you that you can care for, so in this meditation not only we were facing our own impermanence and the worlds, we were able to help each other through it - you could feel the love and warmth in the room, which in turn made it a safe place to deal with even deeper things.  
 
Tantra in Buddhism is the combination of wisdom and compassion, which is exactly what we received with our teachers. Our very insightful dharma teacher (wisdom) was Venerable Tenzin Legtsok, who has a very interesting story on how he ended up finding Buddhism and deciding to be a monk. In a nut shell, he grew up Catholic going to Catholic schools in Vermont, to a mom who was working to become a nun and a father working to become a priest until the found each other and love and decided to marry instead of being ordained. In turn they had a son and daughter. The son, Brian, would question the idea of a creator God, fight cancer and some how end up in India finding the answers he searched for in Buddhism. He has been living and studying at Sera Monastery, and takes breaks to help others find answers by teaching at Tushita.  I wanted to hear more but decided my short time at Tushita was better spent focusing on self (aka why we took the vow of silence anyways).   Our meditation teacher (compassion) was Richard, a former yoga center owner and teacher from Holland now who volunteers, basically full time, at Tushita where he lives inside a gompa of all places.  Even with his dedication, I find it interesting that his guru (Buddhism teacher) advised him not to become a monk.  He was so kind and compassionate, and as you read before, led the group on some amazing meditations.  To my head he is a bit out there, but as life goes on I have been learning to believe in the maybes and more importantly not to dismiss someone's belief (unless they hurt them or someone else), especially since I might actually be the one who is wrong (kind of like, the majority of people thinking the world was flat for centuries).  They make him happy, so why not. 
 
Thinking about Richard and his thoughts on energy and spirits made me think of other things I used to close my mind off to but now think maybe.  Such as reincarnation, which is a big part of Buddhism and also Hinduism, and how both religions explain karma.  I believe in its existence because of one of the monks I taught English to being a reincarnation that has memories of his past life.  Hearing stories about him and seeing with my own eyes how age old wisdom would flash into his eyes, made be believe it was true for him and maybe others. Since I'm still wrapping my brain around it, I plan on reading Ian Stevenson's, a University of Vermont professor, "20 Cases Indicating Rebirth," to learn more.  I told my discussion group I believe that when we die we each make our own decision on where we end up, if we believe we are going to hell, we go to hell, if we believe we will be reincarnated as a hungry ghost we will be reborn as a hungry ghost, if we believe we end up as worm food and only have one chance then the circle of life it is for us.  The part I'm struggling with is for those who don't know, don't believe, which includes myself.  They joked I should start my own religion, I joked back my parents though I might be joining a cult by taking this class but in actuality they should be afraid I might be starting my own.  Another "maybe" I explored while in McLeod Ganj, was reiki (energy healing).  My classmate was taking courses and her teacher could fit me in before I had to hop on the night bus back to Delhi.  After the intense 10 days I thought this might help with the transition back to reality.  I have no idea if it helped or not, as it is hard to differentiate with all that I learned and the amazing full body massage I had for $10 after, all I know is that directly I didn't feel a thing. My friend assures it takes a few times to notice, which combined with my lack of belief might means it might take longer.  My western need for immediatance and the fact the same treatment back in the states is triple the cost has me thinking this one will always be a maybe.  Lastly one of my Tushita classmates, who throughout the course seemed the most dedicated to the Buddhist path, is a hypnotherapist.  I have seen the shows where people act like they are having babies, stripping every time they hear "I am sexy and I know it" and feeling like they are being tickled every time they are gently touched but always thought it was a elaborate entertainment hoax, until my new trusted friend explained and demonstrated on our fellow classmates.  Seeing him practice it and how they literally couldn't remember their name, become stiff as a board, and their reactions after the fact made me a believer and also a bit freaked out knowing it actually works...especially when another classmate blurted he wanted to know how to control people.  At least my new friend the hypnotist, assured me that he only works toward better the person he is hypnotizing.  I'm still not ready to try myself though, as I can still believe it will be hard for me to put under, one of the few benefits of me not being able to relax and let go. 
 
There are so many things that made an impression on me but the last one I want to be sure to mention was the affect of coming out of silence had on me. On our last day after our first meditation we no longer had to follow the rules, the only one some people seemed to stop following instantly was silence, which freaked me out, the easiest way to explain it is labelling it as culture shock. I wasn't ready for the idle chatter, to open my mind back to the reality outside Tushita, and having to decide when to talk/make noise again.  The weirdest thing was over the course of the day, during certain intervals I couldn't talk I could only cry, I was extremely overwhelmed.  I have stopped crying but feel like I have been a lot quieter since, which has been awesome as it is making me a better listener. I only hope it continues as I settle back in to my life.  
 
This blog is just one small drop out of the ocean of wisdom I  was granted over my time at Tushita. I came out of Tushita brimming with warmth, a sense of calmness, better able to focus on the present, and what my happiness, not society's or anyone else's looks like. I can only hope, I don't slip into my past bad behaviors and remain friends with the beautiful people I met.....this post is dedicated to you! 

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Birthday in India

On the morning of my 33rd Birthday, I woke up thinking, "Oh crap" I hadn't taken my malaria medicine the night before, so I popped a doxycycline in my mouth and started checking Facebook, and found quite a free people had already written on my wall.  As I shuffled through the wonderful messages my stomached started feeling funny, I tried to lay back down and sleep it off, but my body had other ideas I was going to get sick, and in a very disgusting toilette, at that.  As I leaned over the toilette that had not been cleaned in at least 6 months, except maybe the seat, I thought between heaves, "Happy Birthday, Terri this is great way to start the next year of your life." I got the nasty green pill up and out and then proceeded to dry heave because it was all so disgusting.  With some more self talking, this time, "Terri, this is NOT how you are going to spend your birthday." I pushed myself off the floor and washed my face, being careful to keep my mouth shut, from the bucket for bucket showers sitting next me.  I slowly got up and made it back to my bed, where I slowly feel back to sleep. 

About an a hour later I woke up for the second time on my birthday, with both of my roommates gone, I was a bit grateful as was a bit embarrassed about my  the first start of my day.  I decided to take a shower, using the bucket I had filled before.  I needed to restart my day.  About ten minutes in there was a brisk knock on the door, "Terri, when are you going to be finished?"  Oh, crap my roommates had returned and probably thought I was getting sick again.  "In about 10 minutes," I replied to Shiva.  I finished up and walked out of the bathroom and instead of finding two grossed out faces, I found big smiles and a a small chocolate cake with three candles on top.  They laughed asked if I was okay, and when I smiled proceeded to sing me happy birthday.  It turns out when they left in the morning it was not because they were grossed out, but instead to get me a cake which we all had for breakfast.  Shiva eating three pieces, Andoni two, and I one, I was still a little weary.  It was a great gesture and I couldn't help having a few tears come to my eyes, which would be the first of many that day.


We had a slum walk for 5 people that day, a student from Mexico, an intern from Germany, and a family from Britain which included a mom wearing heels. Chunky heels, not stilettos but heels non the less.  This was going to be an interesting group.  As we walked towards one one of the new places on my favorite places in the world list, I reflected on some on my past birthdays.  Last year's crying over an idiot boy and my roommate brining me tiramisu to cheer me up, the year before that convincing my mom, her best friend / my 2nd mom, and my best guy friend to go to burlesque show that was complete crap so we left in the middle, my 30th in Seattle with amazing friends including one who shares the same day, a stripper class for another, one I spent in a train, plane, automobile and bus, the one I dragged everyone back to the Ye Olde Plank in Imperial Beach for.  I have been pretty blessed. And now I am in India playing real life frogger, with me as the frog and cars as logs, the tuk tusk as lily pads.

I tried to keep my birthday on the down low because I didn't t want to take away from the guests experience but my new friends had other plans. As we walked in to Kathpulti Colony to the usually hellos and handshakes, their were a few Happy Birthdays mixed in thanks to Laxmi.

Our first stop was the kindergarten, but with the large group and the fact that their are typically 15-20 tiny bodies, 2 teachers smashed into a tiny room that is equivalent to a sauna Jhon, one of the guides and I decided to hang out on the Main Street.  Suddenly arms were thrown around me, and for a moment I stood there shocked, this had never had to me in the slum before, until I heard a giggle and a Happy Birthday whispered in my ear, it was Arti, one of the vocational school girls. I couldn't help but join in her laughter and also laugh at myself.  She then led me to the vocational school where I was greeted with more hugs, happy birthdays, and two home made cards, drawn by two of the talented girls, who just a few days earlier proudly showed me their handiwork.

We had some chai and biscuits and then went on to weave through the streets and faces that were finally becoming familiar to me.  This was the punjabi area where my favorite puppeteer and his family lived, this is the Muslim area where a family had crammed a different tour group and myself in their tiny room to serve us chai and a tapioca pudding mixture in celebration of one of their many festivals, around the corner is the school where the fortunate children if the slum go, a short walk from their you can find the ladies cutting strings off jeans for a rupee a piece, through the recycling area, and to a new surprise five spider monkeys.  I had seen a monkey in the slum before, just one, and knew it was for the monkey show, but this time a few yards from that monkey their were five, with one ready with his butt towards the group ready to spray!  I am happy to report that it is the almost getting sprayed and not actually getting sprayed that I will remember from the monkey with giant gonads on this crazy birthday.

Onto an area where puppets are painted on the wall and where the kids know I will play the hand slapping game I know from my childhood with them.  It was an area some of the musicians knew to find the tour group if they wanted to make a few extra rupees.  On this particular day, they put on a show using traditional instruments, singing traditional songs, with one girl in a beautiful bright pink dress with silver edging and beadwork dancing along.   On a previous trip they had used things, such as styrofoam, boxes, pans, they had found in the street or had at home.

As we came out of the house where they had performed for us, we came face to face with one of the vocational girl's, secret boyfriend, that I had meet earlier in the week.  He heard it was my birthday and asked the whole group and I into his tiny home to put on a special " free, no charge" show, as he was a great musician.  Five foreigners, two volunteers, two guides, seven or eight family members in a space a little bigger than a Cali king bed. He pulled out his harmonium, a mixture between an accordion and a tiny piano, and proceeded to sing us a welcome song.

His father, an older weathered gentleman with a great moustache dressed in a thin undershirt and sarong, heard all the commotion and decided to join us.  A moment after we found a spot for him on the crowded floor called for a dohl, a type of drum for his son so he could take over the harmonium.  The welcome song was replayed, a few more, and then they were singing me their version of "Happy Birthday!" As the family serenaded me, I couldn't hold back the tears as they happily fell down my face.  The funny thing being another son filmed the whole thing, so some where out there is a video of me crying on my Birthday, the bright side being that anyone who could identify me in wouldn't be surprised.  Another song was played and a grandson dressed in his best joined in with a traditional dance.  He asked us all to join and soon enough were all doing our best Indian dance interpretations.  The family asked us to join them for a meal chai, part of me would have happily stayed, but the western part said no thank you they already had given me so much.  As we left the old man hugged me, which doesn't happen to much in India, adult males hugging females, at least in my experience, and said something my English only ears couldn't understand.  Laxmi quickly translated and said you are now a daughter and welcome any time you want.  I thanked him the best I could, with a huge smile and a promise that I would never forget him and his family.

As we proceeded with the rest of the tour, I apologized to the rest of the group for the side tour and extra time, they all said no problem and were grateful for the unique experience.  The German intern saying it even brought a tear to his eye.

My birthday was capped off with me reading more birthday messages via the internet and opening a card from my parents that had been waiting in my bag since I had left home.  Inside was a ten dollar bill, typical daddy-o, and a note that they were proud of me, loved me, and to have a great time. We did a quick skype call where I told about my special quirky special birthday and they reiterated the same things that they had in the card. I am so lucky to be born such amazing parents.

Only a month before I had thought about delaying my trip until after my birthday, I was afraid I might be alone.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would be the most heartfelt and warm one I would ever have.  I only hope I can learn to be as generous as my new friends, savor the joy of giving, and rock heels anywhere like the British lady.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

India, What Did I Get Myself Into? Part 2


I was dead tired after traveling for 28 hours, getting on and off sleep, and being in a time zone 14.5 hours ahead of my home in Wisconsin, but when Andoni, the volunteer from Spain, who rescued me earlier, and Laxmi, the proud staff member, asked me if I wanted to visit the slum an hour after I arrived, I of course said yes.  This is why I had to come to volunteer, to see and try to understand what slum living is, and if there is anything I could do to "help". 


 We walked down the road, and I started soaking everything in literally and figuratively, the 104 degree Fahrenheit heat, the pollution making me wrinkle my nose, the smells of piss and feces, mixed with frying food, the way everything looked so used and abused, the bright colors from the saris of the few women I saw walking by, the abundance of men, the dirt between my toes, and thought to myself I am not sure, not sure at all if I am going to like this place.  I made idle chit chat, but more than anything I observed and tried really hard not to get ran over by the motor bikes, tuk tuks, rickshaw, taxis, cars, trucks that whizzed on by honking their horn.  At first I thought they we aiming at the foreigners, as they were within inches of our group, but soon realized the honk was for everyone, the language of the street; sometimes a tap to say, "Hey, I’m right next you.”  Sometimes an angry long honk, saying, "You idiot why did you just cut in front me, you know I can kill you, and I just might next time."  A super loud honk, saying, "Ha Ha, I made you jump."  Because the noise is constant, and not just during rush hour, it is 10 times worse than New York, but somehow you find a way to tune it out.

A small left turn after a few shops on the side of the road, and Laxmi, suddenly turns to me and says, "Terri, you are now entering the slum."  I didn't know what to expect, you have images in your head from movies, books, and what people describe, but at the same time you have no clue.  All I can say is that it was different than the roads we were on before, and everyone saying hello and wanting to shake your hand.  I literally walked two feet and shook more hands than I had in three months.  The children were dirty, some with sores, some with clothes, some without, but the thing I remember most was their smiles and the true delight in "meeting" you.  Yes, a few asked for money, and some boys were rude, touching my butt and pointing and laughing, but then that can happen anywhere in the world.  I was cautious, unsure, but my new friends kept walking so I went too and kept shaking hands, saying "Hello."


I was lead into one of structures and was told it was one of P.E.T.E.'s schools, Nirvana Kindergarten.  The front was a small area where the cooked one meal a day for the 35 students, and back was a 14x14ft room filled with children ages 2 to 10 years old and their teacher and a helper.  The students were children of men and women who worked all day in the slum, the kids would get some basic education and learn a bit hygiene, but mostly it was a place for the children to see an adult eat some food, as most of the kids don't have an adult watching over them during the day.  The oldest brother/sister/cousin would kind of watch over them, but they just did what they did, coming and going as they pleased.  After distributing some clothes, that Air France had donated a few days before, we headed to P.E.T.E's other school, a women's vocational school based out of one families home. 

This home was a bit nicer then the school we had to just a few minutes before.  It had running water from a tap in their "courtyard", a bathroom/washing area of sorts, and the house was 22x22 ft.  The best thing being it at an air conditioner of sorts, basically a fan that blew over cool water into the side of the house, so it is actually pretty comfortable place to be, especially when it was crowded with students, like it was on my first visit. 

I was invited in and asked to sit, and since I was new I had to sit on one of the small stools (we would have used it as a foot stool in the states) while everyone else sat on the floor.  Soon the beauty teacher arrived, who also lives in the slum, but also has another job at a salon.  This is not the norm for women of the slum, the majority of women have house cleaning jobs, or their husband won't let them leave the slum to work. So why is there a women's vocational school in the slum then, because with a skill/trade the women could make a little extra income from their neighbors, friends, etc.  The slum is truly its own thriving community.   

 As beauty shop stereotypes go, before we got started we had to gossip first.  I was introduced to everyone, asked where I was from, how old I was, and the most interesting question to them, was I married?   I told them, that I wasn't and they laughed asked, "Boyfriend, then?"   I replied, "Nope, no boyfriend either."  They looked at me in disbelief, and I added, "Maybe, someday."  To them this is a huge deal as they are typically are married off around the age of 16, through an arranged marriage.  All the girls confided that they had the same choice I had. 

After getting the necessities out of the way, they moved on to the day's lesson, manicures and pedicures, and asked if I would I like to be their example.  I easily agreed and soon found myself with my feet in a bucket, which felt amazing after the trip I just had.  A good soak and then two teenage girls each had one of my ugly feet in their lap.  They scrubbed away the dirt that had been collected and then pulled out the lotion.  I had two people massaging my feet at the same time, I about died in luxury, except I had twenty faces staring at me.  Then they moved onto my hands and I received the same treatment but from two other girls. They painted my finger nails a brilliant red with pink sparkles, they were going to do my toes too, but didn't have any nail polish remover to remove my 4th of July paint job from two weeks earlier.  So, in my first day in India, in the slum no less, I was receiving a mani and pedi.  I guess this place is not too bad after all. 

Following beauty class is sewing class, two new teachers arrive and they pull four out hand propelled machines.  Here the girls are taught how to patch, alter and sew new clothes; another useful skill in the slum.  Sadly this was the time I started falling asleep on my little stool, until few giggles woke me up.  Laxmi and Andoni were nice enough to ask if I wanted to go, a bit embarrassed I said, yes, please.  They assured me we go back tomorrow and this was only the beginning. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

India, What Did I Get Myself Into?

I left Seattle, Thursday evening, and finally arrived in New Delhi 28 hours later on Saturday morning.  Walking off the plane I was grateful to find that the airport was actually pretty quiet, so I could find my bearings and leisurely go through my tasks ahead; picking up my bag, finding my power adapter, that I should have carried in my carry on so I could have used it in London, where I should have also used the internet to get the latest currency exchange rates as I had to pull out cash at the ATM and didn't know exactly what I wanted to get.  I finally just went with the maximum amount of 10,000 Indian rupees (rs.) about 160 US dollars.

After getting situated it was off to find a taxi, as I had decided not to use P.E.T.E's welcome service so I could find my travel legs and, lets be honest here, because I am cheap.  Being this way can cause some anxiety and today was no different. My mind was running with the words of my friends telling me that Dehli was unsafe, and that I had also read that the local cab companies, including the prepaid service ran by the Indian Police, will try and scam you, which I'm not completely sure if they tried on me or not. I'll let you decide.

I had learned online that the fares usually cost about 350 rs. and that when you give them a 500 rs. note they distract you and then tell you that you only gave then a 100 rs. note.  They told me my fare would be 400 rs. and I was okay with it as I figure the prices might have risen since what was posted online, and if they had not they were only scamming me out of the equivalent of a US dollar.  So I handed the booth attendant 500 rs. note and then he asked me the exact address where I was going, somewhere in the shuffle a 100 rs. note appeared. It was then I said I had given him 500 rs. note and he quickly said in his Indian accent, balance, I repeated, that I had given him 500 rs. and he showed me my 500 rs. note and said the 100 rs. was the remaining balance.  I laughed realizing he meant balanced owed not balance due, and I told him where I come from we tend to use the word change.  I believe I am the one that truly screwed up, but who knows.


That uneasy feeling stayed with me as I got in the taxi.  I had no idea where I was really going, I could read some of the signs but it felt more like maze, and this awful thought that they could take me anywhere and say I had arrived or worse...damn why was I cheap?  Signs, finally, started showing up for Patel Nagar the part of the city where I wanted to go, and then we turned in one of many bustling neighbors off the main road, where my cap driver asked again for the exact address, and I wondered how he could now in this entire city where I needed to go, but it turned out he didn't.  He knew what area but not the exact location, so he asked some police men who gave them a general direction, then he asked a rickshaw driver who gave him more directions, and soon we were driving in some sort of circle trying to figure out this areas address system.  It was then I realized if he was going to this much trouble, I must be safe and worse come to worse if we couldn't find it, I would just have him drive me back to the safety of the airport where I could figure out a plan B.

Instead he asked me if I had the number for the place I was going.  It took three calls, but finally a volunteer at P.E.T.E decided to meet us at a "main" intersection (they basically all looked the same to me) and we would go from there.  Finally a western looking man walked by, and I hoped it would be the person that could make this part of my journey finally end, but he walked on by just thinking my driver was just trying to offer his services.  After a little commotion and him finally seeing the driver's cab with a western, aka white, girl sitting inside it did turn out he was my literally my "white" knight for the day.  He helped me gather my things and I decided to give my driver an extra 100 rupees for going, to what seemed to me, the extra mile for getting me to the correct place.  So with all that I saved about 10 usd.  However, my travel legs felt a bit better, and I quietly reminded myself people are inherently good, not angelic good aka they might hustle you, but good none the less.

Extra information: I found out, after the fact, that the driver was complaining to the PETE manager, that we called for help, that I would not get out of his taxi. He was right I was not going to get out until I knew if I would be safe, lol. I gave foreigners a bad name in his book while he gave locals a good name in mine. LOL

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