Category Archives: people

On Being Vulnerable

I felt a chill, sitting in my little box of a room – tiny, with oddly-placed windows that allow nearly no natural light to shine through. Wrapped up in a pile of heavy blankets and my newly purchased yak wool scarf, trying my best to stay insulated from both the physical cold and the social gatherings outside by these four walls and my ipod headphones. It’s the typical way I put up my defenses and retreat into my shell when I am faced with a difficult situation, with the first signs of depression.

My first instinct is to pull myself within, to hide from those who love me or who are concerned, to make myself as small as possible, a stranger to the world outside, to slip through unnnoticed. Call it a defense mechanism, but it’s the way I cope and has been for years. I can’t say that it’s been successful but after many major bouts of clinical depression in my adult life, it’s the only way I know how to survive until I’m ready to push through that darkness.

But India seems bent on teaching me that there is nowhere to hide. The love out there is so big, so colorful, so full of richness, so full of light and flavors that it will literally burst through the door, whether I want it to or not. Tonight it came via a stainless steel tray, loaded first with the simplest of flavors – a spiced vegetable curry with tender, sweet carrots, creamy chunks of village potatoes and crisp green bell peppers. On the side, a simple chapati flatbread and a steel cup of cold water. My first thought (in my wounded state of mind) was that it reminded me of humble prison rations, and I found none of my usual joy or anticipation in bringing the first spoon to my mouth.

Yet bite by bite, each spoonful brought me nourishment to my body and revived my spirit. Because I couldn’t refuse in Hindi, another plate soon appeared – rajma made of red kidney beans, not as spicy as the fiery version I’d tried in Amritsar, but obviously made with love and care. Next, a container of rice. As I’d watched others do, I spooned the rajma over the rice and watched as the flavors mixed and deepened with each new taste. I tried to slow down to appreciate the texture and flavor in each bite, to receive the blessing and well wishes being sent to me by the kind woman who prepared them and delivered them to my sick room even as I tried to say no. I loved her then, for ignoring my attempts to shut her out, and to lock myself inside.
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A New Year’s Tradition: Letters to the Universe

When one door closes, another opens. Or something like that, right?

I feel the same way about the changing of the calendar from one year to the next. It’s a perfect time for starting fresh! New Year’s Day has grown to be my favorite holiday of the year.

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Growing up, I remember my grandmother starting the water boiling for everyone to take a shot of hot sake once we watched the ball drop in Times Square in NYC. (To this day, I still can’t stand hot sake and will only take mine cold.) In my 20’s, I loved it for the parties the night before – getting all dolled up and celebrating with my friends, maybe even searching for a tall, dark and handsome stranger to kiss at midnight. These days, I tend to celebrate in a quieter way. To be honest, I think I didn’t even make it to midnight the past three years or so. (Sorry, not sorry!)

Part of the reason that I’m usually at home celebrating New Year’s Eve these days is that I truly look forward to getting up early to greet the first sunrise of the year at Sandy Beach with my friends. We’ve created a bit of a tradition and it always helps me to look back at the year that’s passing and to bring a fresh energy to the year that’s ahead. It’s grown to be such a fun and meaningful way to ring in the new year and I always love hearing when other people have joined in and found a way to participate as well, or put their own spin on ours.

In 2008 (video above), my word was EXPLORE and it was especially meaningful getting together with my friends as on January 8th that year, Jess and I set off on our adventure through SE Asia and the Pacific. That year I traveled until I couldn’t any longer, eventually passing through 17 countries!

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Change of Plans

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Going with the flow here in Ecuador

When I began this journey, I had a very rough itinerary in mind. In fact, my preferred way to travel is to leave things a bit open ended, to slow down and to allow myself to test the waters in a place before I commit to more than a few days there. There is so much world to see that I try not to waste time by hanging around in a place if I’m not enjoying it.

An example of this from my last trip in 2008 was Vang Vieng in Laos. Although I was traveling with Jess at that time, I had set off to explore Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam solo before meeting up with her again. Everyone says Vang Vieng is beautiful and it was, with beautiful karst peaks jutting out of the still river water. I was genuinely excited for the beauty of the place as well as some time to relax.

When I got to town, it was a different story. I found a place to stay for the night and set off in search of something to eat. At restaurant after restaurant, the menu included “happy” pizzas (made with “special” mushrooms) or shakes, and backpackers lounged about, tripping out, watching loud reruns of Friends on the ubiquitous televisions overhead. I had planned on staying a few days, but checked out as early as I could the next morning. Not my scene.

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Centro Historico in Quito is beautiful at every turn

So far here in Ecuador, the opposite has been true. While Kim and I kept our itinerary a bit flexible in Colombia, now that I’m truly on my own I’ve had the luxury of being able to embrace serendipity and to linger here in Quito, which I’ve come to love. I had planned to stay for a few weeks, studying Spanish, but that changed when I decided to try learning on my own instead. I’m by no means fluent (or even conversational, really) but it’s worked out just fine.

The people that I’ve met here have also been a big part of why I stayed. My very first weekend, I was able to tag along with a new friend of a friend of a friend – Andres and his friend Carter to the jungle in Tena and on food adventures to Misuahualli to try chontocuro and nearby Sangolqui for hornado. They even invited me to spend Thanksgiving with the family, which was lovely.
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