This Small Thing

Cross walkThis small thing came flying by and my heart stopped. I’m not exactly sure what it was that went whizzing by my face, but it caused me to turn my head quickly and that was when I saw him. I saw him standing in front of a parked black Lexus. His Ray Ban aviator glasses hung from the button of his light blue shirt that was neatly tucked into white loose trousers fitting  his body perfectly. In that moment I realized he was staring at me. Had he been staring at me long? Had we met before?

I wasn’t sure and the more I tried to focus on his face, the more I realized I was staring at him. His dark, wavy hair, the small sharp nose and chiseled feature of his chin. We stood there for what felt like 10 minutes but couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds, just looking at each other in wonder. For a moment I felt frozen in time. As if I couldn’t move or speak and whatever I was thinking about before that moment was gone. All thoughts vanished. The only thing running through my mind was, “Is he going to walk away? Is he going to just leave me here?”

He didn’t walk away and he didn’t leave me there as I started to cross the street. At that moment the light turned green, people started moving quickly, cars stopped at the intersection and I began to move with them. Gracefully putting one foot in front of the other I walked towards the black Lexus. As I gently brushed away the tingling feeling from whatever whizzed by my cheek I saw him smile. He gave me a big, wide, warm smile and I noticed he hadn’t shaved. He had a rough five o’clock shadow and he was grinning from ear to ear. My stomach felt tense, my movements stiff and there was energy, a connection that seemed to be pulling me in his direction. I could feel myself in a current. The green man on the stoplight started blinking and I felt myself relax as I walked closer and noticed his outstretched hand waving and his bright, infectious smile. I stood in front I him and he was laughing nervously as he said, “You must be Jen. I’m Sam. I wasn’t expecting us to meet like this. I thought we’d meet tomorrow when I had some time to recover from travelling.”

And we laughed together. It was the first of many times in our lives we would laugh like that. It has been said an indication of transformation taking place within you is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life. More and more synchronicities, which accelerate to the point where you actually experience the miraculous. It took many months of getting to know each other, only to realize, it was all in that initial feeling we had when we ran into each other on the street, the day before we had been set up to meet for the first time. That moment of knowing how sweet it felt the first time he said, “This is the first time I’ve met a woman who is more beautiful than her pictures. You’re more beautiful than your pictures you know; they don’t nearly capture your deep, rich laugh.”

Flirting While Flying

Have you heard about Virgin America’s new twist on the mile high club?

Now once the seat belt sign is turned off and you can move about the cabin freely, you can send a drink, snack or meal to someone who caught your eye via their new “seat to seat service.”  You get a little help to grease the wheels for some in flight flirting.

Sir Richard Branson’s latest social service to launch this is a video called, “Sir Richard Branson’s Guide to Getting Lucky.” I remember when a guy I liked once asked me  if I was a member of the “mile high club”. I was so naive I didn’t know what it was so I faked it and said, “No, not yet.” Soon the mile high club will have card-carrying members with Virgin America!

You can read more about this in the Huff Post article, Virgin America’s Seat to Seat Service will Send Drinks to Your Crush, Help You Flirt While Flying.

Parachuting In – AJWS Global Circle in India

Bikharipurwa Village

Bikharipurwa Village

As a group of 12 young, professional women we arrived in Bikharipurwa village outside of Lucknow to volunteer for one day. Roughly 200 of the Scheduled Castes (Dalits), the lowest castes in India, live there. The day had been arranged by Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra (SSK), an organization working to empower economically impoverished communities by promoting their participation in self governance and positive social change. In contrast to more remote villages, Bikharipurwa had access to water through pumps but they had no working drainage system. In June 2012 SSK had coordinated a group of AJWS (American Jewish World Service) volunteers to stay and work in the village for six weeks. They installed new drains, maintained the road and worked on the school house. When we arrived for a two day visit, I felt like we “parachuted in” just to maintain the groundwork. We smoothed over the school yard, laid bricks and planted trees. The village had asked for these minor things. In a few months another volunteer group was coming for 10 days to help them with more work. By the end of the day I began to see how our day of manual labour was actually part of a bigger picture. I began to understand how connected we were to the group before us in the hearts and memories of the people who lived there. We maintained their connections and hard work as well as smoothing the ground for the next set of volunteers to come.

Wearing Northface and Lucy style travel pants and cozy long sleeved shirts, our early morning conversations revolved around when to take Pepto Bismal or Imodium and using bug spray. By the end of the day, our conversation shifted to whether doing manual labour for one day was benefiting the villagers or whether we were just patting ourselves on the back trying to feel good. As we sat around a conference table with the SSK staff after we left the village, I began thinking about this idea of “parachuting in”. I recalled how each day after visiting AJWS partners, hearing their personal stories of courage and strength while facing, discrimination, poverty and even abuse, we’d find ourselves back in our comfortable air conditioned bus. At times I spaced out, staring out the window as neighbourhood after neighbourhood of slums, naakas (central meeting points were people can be recognized as day labour and pick up work), cows and water buffalo passed by. Those street scenes felt like movie sets. I experienced a disconnect between my perception of how I feel about my life and the way of life in India.  ” Productive Discomfort” is the jargon AJWS uses to describe the feeling. It means we’re uncomfortable with what we see and don’t know how to react. Most days after meeting with an AJWS partner we would talk about this as a group. What could we do with the discomfort and questions that came from these meeting? Did we have unrealistic expectations that we could make a positive impact after such a brief encounter?

Celebrity Alanna

Celebrity Alanna

When we arrived at Bikharipurwa we were given the warmest welcome, as if we were honoured guests. Little kids ran up to us yelling, ” Alanna! Alanna!”, and we were all confused why they were so excited to see our lovely Alanna. She was a celebrity. Then someone explained that in the last volunteer group a there was an Alana and she became like a daughter to some of the elder woman in the village. They cried when she left. Everyone assumed that because we were from AJWS, we knew their friends. They were excited to see us because of their perception that we were connected to those people they loved and trusted. If we were friends with them, we must be good people.

Sunita

Sunita

Sunita, our AJWS India country representative explained some of the social nuances and changes she noticed that day. With her wide, warm smile and her voice of years of experience she explained that even the moment when one of the elder woman from a higher caste joined everyone for lunch and sat with “the lower castes”because of foreign visitors, was a subtle yet significant shift. She described the attitudes people held that certain jobs were for the “lower castes”, such as cleaning drains. Seeing foreigners come and do menial jobs happily was creating a shift. Little by little attitudes were changing and people were feeling more empowered to maintain the drain system their American friends had installed, or sit and have lunch with the whole community when visitors came. She gave us a small insight into the long and difficult process of creating social change in India. It made me think how much we’re all connected and that showing up for one day, when it supports Sunita and SSK’s long term goals, was valuable. I left feeling respect and admiration for the change we were all creating, very slowly, very methodically, one day at a time, one activist group at a time.

Bikharipurwa Village

Bikharipurwa Boy

Ariel at Bikharipurwa

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Lily planting trees

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water pump photo

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AJWS Sistahood Trip

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A group of twelve women, all professional, well educated, funny and not all Jewish. Thanks to Jamie’s adventurous spirit we had an honorary member of the tribe. We met in Mumbai and started our seven day whirlwind tour of Mumbai, Lucknow, Agra & Delhi, meeting with AJWS (American Jewish World Service) partner organizations in Mumbai and Lucknow. Just outside of Lucknow we volunteered for a day in a village called Bhikharipur. In India, AJWS support reaches tribal, Dalit and Muslim communities through advocacy campaigns on land and labor rights, and sustainable livelihood training.

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Each day we met innovative and courageous activists working hard towards social change and we were mesmerized listening to their compelling personal stories. Certain groups specifically asked us not to write about them to keep their work confidential.

One visionary who shared his story with us was Shubhranshul Choudhary. He’s Indian and worked for over twenty years as a journalist with the BBC and the Guardian. He left journalism to devote his time to an experiment which creates a model for democratic media. In the process he has created the world’s first community radio using mobile phones. It allows people in remote villages to access local news and events, connecting them to what’s happening in the other remote communities around them.

As we parted in Delhi I felt like it was ending too soon. Two of the talented sisterhood, Jesse and Julia, wrote a song for Bharat, our tour guide, to the tune of the Beatles, “all you need is love.” They titled it, “All You Need is Bharat.” We sang it to him at our last lunch together and I’ve never seen a man so completely shocked, moved and speechless all at once. He was serenaded by a group of beautiful women. That moment reminded me that laughter is one way to digest the difficult issues we became aware of about life in India.

With Bharat

With Bharat

At the end of the trip a few of us admitted we were curious about what it would be like travelling with all women.  It can be a hit or miss experience without the male energy to balance things out. Luckily Bharat sealed the deal, as he was a pro at managing our time, our shopping and our different needs and wants. I was reminded that in the midst of a tight schedule with heavy personal stories and meetings to process, a group of women can always fit in a little power shopping and keep the laughter going with their warm sense of humour.

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Taj J and J

Flashback

With Sukri in the kitchen

With Sukri in the kitchen

Flashback to the beginning of January when I’ve been living at the Ratu Bagus Ashram for a month.  This Ashram is in East Bali and Ratu Bagus teaches an ancient shamanic shaking practice. Everyday we shake for an hour and a half, three times a day to a whole range of music from techno/trance, to pop or chanting. We do this to raise our energetic vibration for health and well being, as a spiritual practice and as a healing practice. With Ratu’s guidance people have healed themselves of Cancer, Hep C, and other fatal and chronic diseases. Some people are on the spiritual path and others are cleansing and healing themselves of drug and alcohol addiction. Initially, I came to write an article but over time I realized I’m on the spiritual path and I’ve stayed because I love the people and I’m learning how to love myself and laugh again. That’s what Ratu actually teaches. He brings out  that deep spontaneous belly laugh that babies do naturally. For so long I had lost my laughter. Life wasn’t funny  any more and I lost my sense of humour about it all.  I realized how much I needed to laugh and how much I wanted to laugh. Laugh at myself, laugh at my ridiculous thoughts and all the wild things I do.

By the beginning of January I found my laughter again, so it felt strange that as my laughter was coming back and I was happy at the Ashram,  I kept getting this powerful feeling that it’s time to go to India & Nepal. At the same time I got an email about an AJWS (American Jewish World Service) trip to India. About six years ago I went on a volunteer trip to a village in Mexico with AJWS and it was a fantastic experience. Their mission is to empower people throughout the world (not only in Jewish communities) to achieve justice and self-sufficiency through the promotion of human rights, education, economic development, healthcare and sustainable agriculture.  This  trip was designed for younger donors and the itinerary consisted of one week of going to three cities in India primarily to meet a few of the partners who were receiving money and support. I knew it would give me access to people and experiences in India that I wouldn’t be able to have on my own. When I arrived at the Ashram in November I wanted to go to Burma and now I was definitely getting the pull to go to India & Nepal.

I can hear you…please stop saying, “This is sounding more and more like Eat, Pray, Love everyday…”

India has not been on my radar and I don’t write like Elizabeth Gilbert! I admit I had moments of serious doubt before I left. No men signed up for the AJWS trip so it was going to be a “sisterhood trip” and that made me hesitate for a moment. Some very cool and very wise women quickly talked me out of that negative self-talk.

Then slowly it started to come together. First Bangkok for a few days to brush up on my photography. Then, Chennai & Pondicherry for a week before I met up with the AJWS group in Mumbai. After that it was just going with the flow to see what unfolded next. That is how and why I came to India. I was shaking at an Ashram in Bali, I got an email about an AJWS trip to India in February just as I was asking the universe for a fun, heartfelt trip anywhere that was filled with love, friendship and romance.

Ratu on his 63rd Birthday

Ratu on his 63rd Birthday

Ratu & his son Gede at a Fire Ceremony

Ratu & his son Gede at a Fire Ceremony

Putu & little Gede on Christmas Day

Putu & little Gede on Christmas Day

A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small…

“If we are to teach real peace in this world and we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

“Life doesn’t count for much unless you’re willing to do your small part to leave our children – all of our children – a better world. Even if it’s difficult. Even if the work seems great. Even if we don’t get very far in our lifetime.”

~ Barak Obama Speech, 2008

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

“Most smiles are started by another smile.” 

~Frank Clark

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened!”

~ Dr. Seuss

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

“Think and wonder,

wonder and think.”

~ Dr. Seuss

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

Pondicherry, India

The Journey

“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”

~St. Augustine

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“If you wish to travel far and fast travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.”

 ~ Cesare Pavese

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“What does it mean to pre-board?

Do you get on before you get on?”

~ George Carlin

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“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

~Martin Buber

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“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

~ Susan Heller

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We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”

~ Anais Nin

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“Often while traveling with a camera we arrive just as the sun slips over the horizon of a moment, too late to expose film, only time enough to expose our hearts.”

~Minor White

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I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

~ Joseph Campbell

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OM

Spontaneously, OM came through me.

My voice was cracking, it didn’t sound pretty and I felt out of breath. As I sounded MMMMMM my chest was vibrating inside and out.

It was a chilly November day, on a solitary island in Croatia.  Almost everything had closed  for the winter.  Getting off the boat in Sipan, the sky was bright blue and the leaves had turned a golden brown and orange hue. Small, weather-beaten boats were tied up along the banks. The stone aged buildings with their faded terra-cotta tiled roofs sat desolate, signalling the end of tourism time.

The day became a walking meditation. I followed a small brown sign with arrows that read CHURCH and MONASTERY pointing up a quiet, winding road. Rhythmically walking I noticed the lush vegetation all around. Meadows with giant pine, cypress and palm trees stretching out on my left. To my right the sun illuminated the green, red and sandstone shades of the sprawling coastal mountains. Turning off the road I climbed up a crud, stone path to a tiny church on the hill.

And sat quietly continuing my “I” meditation.

Time seemed insignificant. I had a sense of something familiar around me. I felt completely alone yet not lonely. There were no thoughts about someone hearing me or if other people were around. Sun beams burst through the cloud covered mountains on the west, as the sun was falling below the horizon.  Perched on a jagged rock in front of the church my breath was winded as the crisp air filled my lungs and the vibration rang through me.

AAA—UUU—MMMMMM began in my body as deep down as it could reach and my mouth changed shape slightly as it rose up through my chest. As my lips were closing the vibration was moving along with the sound and …MMMMMM was buzzing in harmony with everything around. The mountain range, the olive groves and the trees seemed brighter and more vivid. The wind was whistling softly with me as the sun was going down. I felt the mountain range would wrap itself around me like a warm winter shawl. Feeling a presence and vibration of HOME more than of OM. As if I had come home.

I can’t remember how many times we all riffed in harmony. The wind, the birds, the leaves on the trees still playing their evening song as I made my way down.  Back to the battered boats on the shore and the old convenience store. I sat quietly again, hearing the soft murmurings of the crystal clear waves washing up on the shore.  Waxing and waning fluidly and whispering to me of secrets they could share that I would adore. Listening momentarily from inside myself, I felt there was nothing more to explore.

Dubrovnik Old Town [Hipstamatic]

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Black and white photos of Dubrovnik Old Town have that Medieval feeling of history and the passing of time.

I thought Orlando’s Statue was a multipurpose monument. It’s a symbol of the freedom of the Dubrovnik Republic. Back in the Middle Ages it was a central meeting point and the center for public events. Just to make the Medieval Knight completely functional, his forearm measures exactly 51.1 cm. People buying textiles used it to measure and make sure they weren’t getting ripped off.

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Family Friends

Looking for a break from the crowds at the Trevi Fountain, I sit at an outside table on the cobblestone road of Via del Lavatore and order a beer. Next to me, two American college guys are talking to each other in low, monotone voices. As I look up, one of them flashes a smile. He has rectangular, thick, black glasses, a light five o’clock shadow and a rash of faint pimples all over his neck. Leaning forward he says to his buddy,

“So any cute girls in Madrid?”

“Yeah, there are cute girls.” his friend replies matter of factly. There’s an awkward pause between them.

“Do you have a girlfriend or something like that?” asks the guy with the glasses.

“I did …at some point…” his friend says. As he leans back in his chair I notice his blue, flannel button down shirt is tucked neatly into his pants. His hair is neatly trimmed and his skin is smooth and shaven. Before he can finish he’s interrupted by, “At some point? Where was she from? Did you split up or something?”

“Nicaragua. Right before summer,” the guy in the flannel shirt responds quietly.

There’s a lingering silence in the conversation. Two more people sit down at a table on the other side of me. The guy in the blue flannel shirt leans forward and rests his arms on the table hugging his beer.

The guy wearing glasses asks, “Yeah… sooo…how do you like the Peroni?”

Looking up from his beer he perks up, “It’s good… remember when we all went out for dinner that night with your father and we were so smashed. Charlie was SO nervous and he was like, the only one who was completely fine. It was me, I think both Joes were there, Connor…”

They laugh together.  Tossing his head to the left, his heavy bangs brush against his thick glasses as he remembers, “Yeah, you guys were SMASHED. It was so funny.”

“I think your Mom knew and like, that’s why she drank back that whole bottle of wine,” the guy in the flannel shirt chuckles.

The kid with the black glasses has an air of cool, collegiate confidence. “She totally knew. Yeah, you can’t fool Carrie, she the master of knocking back bottles of wine.” He laughs at the thought of it, “Yeah good times. A lot of fun.” Sitting up in his chair he looks into his glass before taking another sip. In a slightly louder, sing song voice he says,

“Sooo, tonight we’ll go to Campo de Fiori … 1 Euro shots…then Trastevere. Trastevere’s fun, it’s like where all the study abroad students go. Some cool bars there.”

Both sit back in their chairs as the late afternoon breeze ruffles the red and white checkered table cloths. People walk by looking at maps and pointing towards the Trevi Fountain. A waiter leans against the doorway of the restaurant with his arms folded watching people go by. I glance over at the two guys and smile, remembering a time when I had almost the same conversation in a different setting.

After a moment, the guy with the black glasses breaks the silence, “Well, do you want to pay and keep walkin’?”

“Yeah”, the guy in the flannel shirt says, “Sounds good.”