Auntie [clutching her heart, as if experiencing an attack]: Aye, my god. Are you sure?
Joshua: Of course, Auntie.
A: Is it not sape dere?
J: I'm pretty sure I will be.
A: Aren't dere gahngs? Or drahgs? Or biolehnce? Or robbery?
J: Auntie, there are gangs, drugs, violence, and robberies in America. Don't worry, I'll be fine.
A: Aye, my god. Where are you going pirst?
J: First, I'm going to India.
A: And teerd?
J: Well, I might stay in Africa for a while... A: Aye, my god. J [continuing]: ... I was supposed to go to Egypt as my third country (but as you know, many bad things are happening there), but I think I might go to South Africa or Australia instead. Then France, London, and Argentina.
A [picking up her Yorkshire Terrier and holding him close to her chest]: Aye, just go straight to Prance. It's nicer dere, no? People are nicer dere?
J: Auntie, I'm pretty sure France has a lot of gangs, drugs, violence, and robberies too.
A: Aye, my god. What ip you get mahgged?
J: Then I'll dance for money, Auntie [proceeds to bend over and seductively roll up his jeans.]
A: Joshua, I'm not keeding.
J: I'm not bringing that much with me, auntie. I'll have a place to stay, where I can keep most of my stuff safe.
A [squeezing the Yorkie, then swallowing some sleeping pills with coffee]: Aye my god. You're skehring me. Imagine what you're mom is apraid op. Den multeeply dat times ten. Dat's how I peel.
J: ... Are you sure about that?.
A: Ob course! Can't you change your plans?
J: Yes, auntie, but I don't want to.
A: Aye, why not? Why do you hab to go dere?
J: It's just something I want to do. Something I have to do. Don't worry Auntie, Uganda is going to be great.
-| August 25, 2011 |-
Thanks for traveling with Orbitz. This email confirms the ticket number(s) issued for the "Entebbe 10/2/11" trip.
Sunday, October 2, 2011: Bangalore Hindustan to Dubai.
Monday, October 3, 2011: Dubai to Addis Ababa Bole.
Monday, October 3, 2011: Addis Ababa Bole to Entebbe.
Prompt: In 500 words or less, describe and analyze a form of movement you have studied in the past month and a half.
-| Kalaripayattu |-
The martial art known as kalaripayattu [kah-lah-ree-py-ah-tew] originated in the Indian state of Kerala, but is practiced worldwide [particularly in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia]. Roughly translated to "fight place," kalaripayattu is usually practiced in a clay room, the ground made of dirt to prevent the oiled practitioners from sliding during training. It is argued by most kalari teachers to be the oldest, original, and therefore best martial art . Kalaripayattu is recognized for its unique style in strikes, kicks, forms, grappling, weaponry, and healing techniques taught through four stages: meithari, kolthari, ankathari, and verumkai.
Meithari, the initial stage, consists of conditioning
sequences focusing on twists, stances, jumps, and turns that increase the
coordination, balance, and flexibility of the practicing body. According to Magazine of Knowledge, in
a recent study of world travelers who study kalaripayattu, 100% agree that this
stage is unbearably painful when practiced two hours every morning, seven days
a week with an instructor who bears an uncanny resemblance to previous karate
teachers . “Discipline” is considered
the describing word of choice for this stage, as strength, flexibility,
balance, and stamina are all practiced at the same time.
Kolthari, the second stage, focuses on the use of wooden
weapons, such as the kettukari, the cheruvadi/muchan, and the otta. Considered the master weapon, the otta is an
s-shaped wooden stick that resembles an elephant’s trunk. Ankathari, the third stage, is practiced only
when proficiency with the wooden weapons is reached. This stage introduces metal weapons, such as
the kadhara, the val [sword] and paricha [shield], the kuntham, the trisool, and venmazhu. The last weapon taught in ankathari is the
urumi/chuttuval, the flexible sword, and is taught to only the most skillful
students. After mastering all weapon
forms, the practitioner learns to defend themselves bare-handed in verumkai. A recent poll of shotokan karate students suggest that this order of learning
weaponry then bare-handed skills makes somewhat to little sense, but don’t
question it considering it’s an incredibly old and proved useful martial art .
Legend has it that exceptional warriors can paralyze,
disable, or even kill their opponents by only touching the correct vital point
[known as a marmam]. These skills, known
as marmashastram, are taught only to promising and arguably collected persons, so
as to prevent misuse and abuse of the technique. Accordingly, knowledge of marmam is vital for
anyone striving to practice its use in combat; however, it is also used in
practicing medicine and massage.
Kalaripayattu teachers usually provide massages with medicinal oils to
their students to improve physical flexibility or to treat muscle injuries
during practice. As of September 2011, naïve
travelers who chose to practice kalaripayattu have yet to experience the
healing techniques. Sigh. Oh well .
In short, kalaripayattu is an incredibly intensive martial
art to study. Although the experience
may be painful and the teacher believes no one should drink water in the 2-3
hours of cardiovascular distress, this form of movement is, in fact,
worthwhile [albeit painful] .
-| Notes and Sources |-
 According to any kalari teacher you ask. Don't question it, just accept and move on. Additionally, these teachers know that kalaripayattu is often applied to dance. These dancers are thus considered to be noticeably "better" than other performers.
 Gaujho, Mason. "Why Am I Doing This To Myself?" MagKnow September 2011: 4-22.
 Shoogam, Juan. "Should I Have Proposed A Year of Massage Instead of Dance? At This Point, Yes." Sore Legs Daily September 2011: 15-27.
 The author[s] wish to note that at the time of this writing,
not enough experience or research had been acquire about kalaripayattu. Clearly, learning and practicing from one
master for less than two weeks has not been sufficient enough time to properly learn much, regardless
of how ‘fast’ the master claims his student is learning. This, in turn, results in practices that are faster, longer, more intensive, and therefore more painful than the ones taught to other beginners .
 Precaution, however, must be taken in that sufficient sustenance is taken when continuously and regimentally practiced. According to interviewed teachers of practitioners new to the style, the country, and the vegetarian diet, one may risk falling victim to "losing weight" .
 Shoguam, Joan. "Lose Weight? Move to India!" The Ambitiously Optimistic Omnivore's Dilemma September 2011: 362-436.
At the age of 83, he had successfully performed over 5,000 laminectomies. Although his spine had begun to curve downwards at the base of his neck and his thinning hair had faded to a bone white, the spinal neurosurgeon spoke with the confidence of a thirty-something CEO.
"I want to thank my teachers and my professors," he began, "for without them, my career would not have happened or taken flight. It is because of them that I was able to practice and learn the skills to perform the laminectomies as successfully as I have been able to do. I also want to thank my patients for trusting me with their lives, in that they had the confidence to put their lives and illnesses in my hands to attempt to remedy their pains."
Not too shabby, the Boy thought to himself, he's modest. He didn't let his pride get to his head too much. He sat in the tenth row, third from stage right, but the Boy had a clear view of the neurosurgeon. Normally, such a distance from the main attraction would have immediately resulted in the Boy dozing off. In this case, he inhaled every word the man said. The neurosurgeon's speech continued, and so did the Boy's thoughts.
This is incredible. Maybe this is the point where I'm inspired to become a doctor. There are a bunch of performers here who are also doctors. This must be a sign of the life I want to have one day, right?
The Boy's internal monologue paused for a moment to listen to the neurosurgeon.
"But most importantly, I want to apologize to my wife and children." The already quiet audience had ceased to whisper among themselves; the cheery tone of the room had turned sour, tasted melancholic, and decorated with a small sprig of regret. "They stood by my side, said it was okay, let me miss very important dances, anniversaries, and sports games just so I could choose my profession over them. How many times did I neglect them just so I could go to work?"
The question hung in the air like a corpse on the gallows. Accordingly, the Boy held his breath and wrinkled his nose.
On second thought...
-| two weeks ago|-
"This Friday, there's going to be a convention for international spinal surgeons and I've been invited to perform a traditional dance," Raksha said, finishing practice, "Actually, there are going to be other performers too."
He breathes heavily, the cramp in his thighs twisting tighter and tighter from the stomps, squats, jumps, and spins he's repeated in the past hour and a half. Dancing about the joys of nature and honoring Lord Shiva takes a surprisingly high toll on the stringy body of our hero.
"In order to perform in this convention, you have to be a practicing doctor and a performing artist."
His ears itch at the mention of this detail, and he stares at the living room adorned with gods of clay or precious metal, candid photographs of the dancer, and her incredibly melancholic cat, Shibu. Raksha continues.
"There's going to be a spinal surgeon who plays the veena [an instrument used by the goddess of knowledge Saraswati], a breast cancer surgeon who also is a singer, and a pediatrician who plays the violin."
Our hero asks two things: the first, if it's wrong to desperately want to become a doctor/performer after learning about this mysterious super-breed of human; and the second, what the hell it is he's going to do with his life. Again, Raksha doesn't miss a beat [pun].
"You know what you're going to do already. You're just a little confused now because all of these options keep appearing. You'll realize it when the time comes."
During the application process, my fellowship interviewer asked me if I had any questions for him. Not wanting to be the "Oh, you've already answered all my questions for me, sir." kind of interviewee, I pulled the first [admittedly unoriginal] question that came to my head:
"This year is supposed to change your life, so what was the most important thing you realized?"
Instead of answering in the proverbial "The world is smaller than you think," or "You never know yourself until you lose yourself," my interviewer deadpanned and said flatly,
"I just realized how alone I was."
-| one and a half months ago |-
At this point in my year, I'd like to take a moment to address something pertaining to this memory [and the chain of memories following it]: thus far, there was only ONE time I recognized this feeling, and it occurred on the second night in India [the first was spent waiting in paranoia until morning in Bangalore International Airport]. I laid awake in the plastic-covered bed provided by Samarthanam, my left ear under attack from the mosquito hovering around it, my eyes still bloodshot from jet lag. At three o'clock in the morning, a malevolently tiny whisper asked, What are you doing here?
I swatted away the question, mumbled something about dance and community service, and tried closing my eyes.
You are SO alone. The voice returned, riding on the back of the mosquito. The only people who ever cared about you are half a world away! The voice curled itself into a ball the size and texture of a marble, and settled itself at the base of my throat. [Call it doubt, call it nerves, but the following morning I called it ignorance, given the voice disregarded the fact that some fellow schoolmates were not only in India, but in Bangalore.]
The first night and you're already a wreck. The tiny voice reached from my throat and squeezed from behind my eyes, starting a miserably wet burning sensation. I gripped the tiny Mickey Mouse [thanks for the going away gift, Sis] and bit my lip. Maybe if I waited long enough, the voice would get tired retire for the night.
You really think you can do this for a year?
-| three and a half months ago |-
He, a freshman-to-be-proctor, sat on the floor of my bedroom, waiting for me to finish stuffing a cardboard box with posters, neuroscience books, whiskey glasses, and a silk smoking jacket I knew I wouldn't need after graduation. It all belonged to him now. He stared, amused, then laughed as I struggled to close the flaps on the box. The conversation had run dry, and acknowledging this, he asked me if I was pumped for the next year.
"I think I'm more scared, dude."
He raised both eyebrows and scoffed. "Why?"
"I'm going to be alone for a year. And I know this is what I signed up for; actually, I think it's why I applied. So it's going to be good for me, right? I get what I want? To be alone?"
As with so many people in my life, he didn't miss a beat. "Look at you. Look at who you've become here at Bowdoin. You can't be alone. It's not possible."
-| one month ago |-
Closing the door to our room, I looked to my roommates: one from Taiwan, one from Zimbabwe, and the newest one from Italy. The United Nations.
"Friends," I boomed in my American accent, "shall we head out to dinner?"
-| two months ago |-
Bumper, AKA The Roommate From College, sat next to me in an empty Fuddrucker's. I swallowed the elk burger, having a hard time determining the difference between this and a regular beef burger. For the umpteenth time that summer, I answered the question: Are you ready for the next year?
"You're going to love it," he said, running over my concern and hesitation with a steamroller, "You know it."
-| now |-
I kid you not; it's raining [ah, symbolism]. No, not raining, but pouring. The last roommate [Taiwan] is filling his suitcase, checking his flight itinerary, and for once I can hear my echo in our bedroom [Zimbabwe and Italy left in the last two weeks]. We're about to ceremoniously buy him his last cup of [5 rupee | 11 cent] Indian coffee, and it doesn't feel like anything will change. Please don't misinterpret this. I think he's a great guy, and has been here to guide me around the city since my arrival. My farewell has been and will be the same:
"Until we meet again."
Maybe it's because I've said as equally meaningful hellos and goodbyes in shorter periods of time, or maybe the hardest one I've had to do so far happened only four months ago, or maybe it's because I believe I'll see each of them again, but I've learned to not say goodbye. Not only do I consider this a cynical way to end a brief meeting of friends, but also just too prophetic. Of course you'll never know if you ever meet again.
I'll be honest; that voice is starting to whisper again, only this time, I won't have roommates to swat it away. Feeling like I'm the only one in the room will be for real. As mentioned, the fellowship highly stresses that we should fly solo, not get used to traveling with other wanderlusts, to live independently but share experiences with those who cross my path. I can't tell whether or not having roommates has fit this criteria or cheated it, but I do know that they've made this first sixth of my year bearable [there's always someone to talk to at the end of a long and sweaty day] and at the least, entertaining [insert shenanigan concerning misinterpretation of English words] and educational [I've become proficient in the art of finding at least 3 different ways of saying something, so the accent barrier doesn't prevent us from having sensible conversations]. For that, I'm grateful to them.
Do I know what it's like to be alone yet? I can't say whether it's possible on a trip like this, or ever in someone's lifetime. You will always find someone, and that someone leads to someone else, and in the end it becomes one entertaining chain of meeting a person through another. Some might say I robbed myself out of the solo experience by living with three other roommates [technically, the most time we spent together was sleeping no more than three feet from each other]. To these, I would say my roommates came and helped me realize something very important during my year, and thus couldn't have been a detrimental aspect of this trip.
Although I may try to be alone, it doesn't mean I will be.
"What are you taking out of this world?" Bala asked.
The Boy scooped another spoonful of vada and samba into his mouth, pondered the question, and decided not to answer. The two had spent the last hour talking about Tomas, choosing dance over some other profession, and religion versus spirituality. He, Bala, a thirty-something year old man and fellow kalaripayattu student, sat across from the Boy and twiddled his half-empty teacup.
"What were you born with? Riches? A silver spoon? Your parents? Your siblings? Nothing, really. Nothing you can keep forever. And that's what you leave with."
The Boy considered this and pointed out the grim nature of Bala's self-answered question.
"That's what life is all about, man. We worry too much about how much money we make and what we can afford and what other people do or don't have. Money comes and goes. In the end, you can't ever really say you owned something, because really, you never did." A pause to drain his teacup. "Life's too short to worry about things that won't stay yours forever. But your experiences? Your memories? They can't be taken away."
This much made sense.
"Do something with your life. Have experiences. Learn about the world. You? You're doing that already, you're on the right path."
The Boy swallowed some coffee.
"I believe that life is like a train ride you've already embarked upon, and you don't know most of the details. Someone bought you a ticket, and that destination is coming. Sure, you can run around the train, worry about the destination and when it will arrive. But running around won't make that destination come any sooner or later. Or, you can walk around the train, look out the window, talk to other people, and learn from them. Share your stories, listen to theirs, and continue. Make the ride worth it."
The Boy had trust issues long before he had set out on his
Journey; several times in his life, he’d find himself trusting too much [at the
tender age of 10, the Boy prepared lemonade while Alex Fan, the neighborhood
card collector and eventual delinquent quietly pocketed a holographic Clefable card from the Boy’s collection], or too little [although the weatherman claimed
the tornado was traveling in the opposite direction of his home, the five year
old Boy packed his most prized possessions – six stuffed animals, a K’nex set, the
Goosebumps series, and a videocassette of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” –
into plastic grocery bags]. Enforced by
years of endless warnings about the dangers of Spring Break, alcohol,
strangers, and middle eastern conflict from Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer on shows such as 20/20 and Dateline, his parents told him over and over and over again:
“DON’T TRUST ANYONE.”
The Boy, as with most children his age, completely
disregarded listening to this piece of advice and continued to frolic in the
neighborhood cul-de-sac and read books about young adults who traveled through time, space, and dimensions with the help of
witches, aliens, trolls, and the homeless.
By the time he had set out on his Journey, the Boy had yet to build a mental prototype of a person he could or could not trust. Stories such as Roald Dahl's "The Landlady" had prevented him from building such prototypes, resulting in the inability to appropriately trust someone upon first meeting them [hadn't he heard somewhere that one 'accurately' judges a person in first five seconds?]. Regardless of such stories, the Boy had began a Journey, only to find himself caught between reality and [for the most part] irrational fiction, a predicament he found entertainingly iconic and prevalent in his life.
Take, for example, his fleeting encounter with Tapan.
The Boy had just left the five star hotel in Richmond Circle of Bangalore, a good 10 or so kilometers from HSR Layout, his current homestay. The night had been a long one: the speakers at International Spinal Surgeon's Convention had questionable public speaking skills, lesser questionable English speaking skills, and even lesser questionable neuro spinal surgery skills. After listening to one doctor's lifetime achievements after another, the Boy began to feel more confused and conflicted than ever before. Was this his inspirational moment when he decided to become a doctor and do honest and noble work? Or was this his warning of what fifty, sixty years of endless commitment to profession did to the mind, body, and personal relationships?
As he stood at the bus station, he couldn't help but notice that no buses had arrived, or were arriving. He prodded the Young Man next to him, and asked when the next bus would come.
"Buses closed. 10:30. Open at 5 am." The Boy looked at his watch. A quarter to eleven and the only reasonably-priced way to get back home was closed for another seven and a half hours. He grimaced, waved for an auto to come, and asked how much from here to HSR Layout.
"300 rupees." The Boy raised an eyebrow, then a palm to the driver's face, and walked away. That was more than three times the actual cost. Although it was late at night and his options for transportation were diminishing, he was still on a budget. The driver waved the boy back, and asked how much the Boy had. Well aware this was a trick, the Boy patted his pockets and said that he only had 100 rupees.
"I'll bring you to Silk Board," the driver said, choosing a popular bus/auto stop about three kilometers away from HSR Layout, "for 200." Maybe he should start walking home. He saw the same Young Man from before speak with the driver, shaking his head. The Boy heard the Young Man say "Silk Board" and general disagreement continued. As the auto drove away, The Boy prodded the Young Man again, asking if he was going to Silk Board. The Young Man said yes, and before he processed what he was saying, The Boy asked if they could split an auto there.
"Sure," the Young Man said without hesitation, "What difference does it make to me?"
In a matter of minutes, they had found an auto who was willing to drive them both for a total of 60 rupees. The Boy's eyes shifted back and forth between the road passing by and the Young Man sitting cross-legged next to him, one arm perched around the Boy's shoulder. The Boy could hear his mother, half a world away, screaming at him not to get into the auto.
This is what the Devil looks like, the Boy thought, before he strikes a deal with his customer.
"You're from?" The Young Man asked. The Boy explained he was from America, here to volunteer on a scholarship. The Young Man looked impressed.
"I thought you were from Northern India. You know, with the fair skin." Flattery. Such was the bait of the Devil. The Young Man continued, "You live where?" The boy said HSR Layout, and restrained himself from saying more. The need to keep conversation alive was battling with the need to give away too much information. The Young Man said he lived near Silk Board, and he worked in Richmond Circle.
Until 10:30 at night? The Boy wondered.
"You speak Hindi?" The Boy answered no, only a little Kannada, just enough to convince some autos to drive him for cheaper prices during the day. Apparently not. "You should learn," the Young Man said, "More useful." The Boy nodded in agreement, and searched for something else to say.
"You should be careful next time," the Young Man said, "This is a dangerous place for foreigners after the buses close." The Boy's heart stopped. "Especially where you're going. Just because you look like you're from Northern India and you speak a little Kannada doesn't mean robbers won't target you. Robbers here don't have any discrimination between foreigners and natives." The Boy patted his pockets discreetly, and felt some relief when he found his wallet, keys, and mobile phone still there.
"You never know who will get into an auto with you." The Young Man said. The Boy froze for a moment, then turned his hands into fists. If the chloroform rag was going to be pulled out, the Boy would go down fighting.
The auto stopped and both travelers stepped out. After paying the fee, the Young Man sprinted down the road. "COME." He said, and the Boy followed.
He's probably going to lure you into his house, the Boy thought, and imagined what it would be like to be tied down to a chair or chained to a wall. What are you doing?
The Young Man stopped, and held an arm out. "Here." The Boy looked in the direction of the hand, and was surprised to see a familiar bus - the very last one for the night - just about to depart. "You take this to HSR Layout. You know the way?" The Boy was floored. Why didn't the Young Man offer a drink at his place? Or a ride in his car? Where was the offer to provide safer transportation at this hour?
"My name is Tapan." The Young Man said, offering his hand to the Boy. The boy shook it, and offered his name in return. He thanked Tapan just as the bus driver returned to the steering wheel. He wanted to say more, maybe a 'good luck' or 'be safe,' something to indicate that trusting the Young Man had been a blessing, but before he could, the bus doors snapped shut.
It is often common sense to follow one rule when you find yourself in the middle of a wedding, or in the middle of a public speech, or in the middle of a crowd of strangers, or in the middle of a dissociative identity disorder attack:
Never say anything bad about the people around you. You never know who's listening.
That is, of course, if you mention names. With names come identity, with identity comes blame, and with blame comes unfortunate publicity. Regardless, I strongly believe that [however little] readers of this blog learn something from my entries, I will attempt to hold back no details from the [mélange of] stories, anecdotes, and transcribed dialogue involving one. other. person. Except the name, of course. For simplicity's sake, I'll refer to him as "Tomas." Enjoy. .
-| one |-
I met Tomas under what most people would consider "normal circumstances": another volunteer at Samarthanam, Tomas arrived about month ago to study with the blind sports manager in hopes of managing his own blind sports bar [which, as I recall, sounded suspiciously like a normal sports bar but with headphones so the visually impaired could also enjoy the radios and televisions]. Someone who has ever fallen madly in love, then out of it, however, knows that there are no such things as "normal circumstances." Interestingly enough, Tomas is also blind, so one would assume that his motivations for coming to India were incredibly high, and the fact that he had spent the previous seven months in Kerala would imply that his tolerance for Indian culture was somewhere between "This is India, get used to it" and "I might as well have been born here."
Speaking with him, I quickly learned that he loved talking about his home country - who didn't? - and that he loved talking about how friends/family/strangers said that his inspirational story should be turned into a movie. In short, he wrote about the world in first-person. Nothing out of the ordinary.
-| two |-
Everyone in the house had been stricken with one illness or another; after all, August was monsoon season. But the blind sports manager and other volunteers should have known something was wrong when Tomas' flu lasted more than four weeks, six trips to six different doctors, and a drastic reduction in the "foreign food" he was eating [at one point, all he ate was store-bought white bread, cheese squares, and 7-up, which he called juice]. On several occasions, I offered to bring him food from the nearby children's home, which always made me feel better, and each offer produced the same response.
"You see, for me, spicy food isn't good for getting over a sickness."
A month had passed, and the farthest Tomas had traveled from his host's house was across the street [with company] to the convenience store to replenish his food store. Again, I offered to bring back food from the children's home to add some variety in his diet.
"No." He said flatly, "I don't like it." I didn't offer again.
-| three |-
Josh [entering the office room]: Friends! What's up?
Tomas: Josh, I was telling Alessio here about my thoughts about marathons.
Tomas: I don't like the definition.
Josh: ... I'm not sure I follow. Isn't the definition of a marathon so-many-odd number of miles/kilometers, and it's named after the Greek guy Marathon who ran back to his home village after his kingdom won some war? [History has never been a strong point. For more on the topic: Marathon]
Tomas: You see, for me, that's a nice story. But I don't believe it.
Josh: What? The definition of marathon 42.195 kilometers, or 26 miles and 385 yards. At least, that's what it says on Wikipedia.
Tomas: I don't trust it.
Josh: So how would you want to define it?
Tomas: You see, for me, I would define it as "a long distance run by a person."
Josh: But a long distance could be different for anyone. The reason a definition exists is so that you can set a certain bar for everyone, not just so anyone can give their own meaning to it.
Tomas: So what would you call a race that you ran that's 43 kilometers? Or 44? Or 100?
Josh: A long f*cking distance I would never decide to run.
Josh: Isn't that what an ultra-marathon is called? Alessio, you're a runner, right?
Alessio [hesitant to enter the debate]: ... Yes.
Josh: How long is a marathon?
Alessio: It's about 42 kilometers.
Tomas: I don't like it.
Josh: How can you deny the definition that's given by a [mostly] accurate website and a runner?
Tomas: I just don't think it's true.
Josh: But that's like denying the definition of the speed of light. You can't just generalize it as "very fast."
-| four |-
As an act of friendship and an offering of peace, I regularly lead Tomas to a nearby supermarket. Everyone has to eat something, after all. Today, instead of buying water ["I don't trust the bottled water in the house, or the boiled water at the school."], crackers ["I have to be ready for when no one feeds me."], apples ["I need to strengthen my immune system."], and several packs of mentos [no explanation], Tomas wanted toiletries. I brought him over to the lotion aisle.
"How much is it?" He asked, and I explained that it depended on the size and brand of the bottle. We proceeded to spend the next ten minutes opening bottles and smelling the contents inside. He then asked to go to the mouthwashes.
"How much is it?" He asked again, and I repeated that the size and brand of the bottle determined the price. Each of the bottles were sealed in a plastic wrapper, so no smelling was allowed. At his request, I began to read the brand names and description of each kind. After choosing a bottle of red "spicy and herbal" mouthwash, he asked to go to the spray deodorants.
"How much is it?" He asked a third time, and I dug my nails into my palm as I mentioned that size and brand were important factors in a manufacturer's choice in assigning a price to their product. I noticed and mentioned the "No Testing" label underneath the row of aluminum cans. Tomas asked which brands were available [about 10 or so], what were the colors of the cans [from red to gold], and what were the names of each smell [anything from 'Suave' to 'Street Sexy' to 'Pirates of the Caribbean']. After choosing one, he opened the canister and sprayed a bit on his arm.
"No Testing." A store cashier materialized from behind the shampoos, and walked away. Tomas chose another canister, and sprayed again on his arm. I mentioned the cashier's warning, and Tomas turned to me and defended his case.
"You see, for me," he began, as usual, "I'm blind. And I want to know what I'm buying. So I will spray." I imagined myself explaining that even visually-abled people couldn't smell the spray through the aluminum. I decided against it.
-| five |-
Josh [entering the children home's office with an adult]: Tomas, how long have you been waiting here?
Tomas: For forty or fifty minutes. Are you eating dinner now?
Josh: Um, the children's home started already. A while ago. You could've started without me, you should've just asked one of the grown ups here to walk you to the kitchen.
[The adult points at Tomas' feet.]
Josh: Oh, Tomas, they want you to take off your shoes before you enter the school.
Tomas: You see, for me, I think I'm coming down with a cold.
Josh [wanting to desperately call Tomas a hypochondriac]: Oh?
Tomas: And you see, for me, you get a cold from walking on cold floors. You absorb the cold.
Josh: I'm not sure that's how it works... But no one here wears shoes indoors. Sorry dude.
Tomas [vocalizing frustration]: AAAAAARGGGGGHHHH. They are making it SO HARD to live here.
Josh [mumbling to himself]: I'm not sure it's them who's making it hard...
[The adult points at Tomas' feet again.]
Josh: I think they still want you to take off your shoes, Tomas.
Tomas: But I don't want to.
Josh: Why not?
Tomas: My shoes will get stolen.
Josh: By who? I leave my shoes at the door all the time. The other volunteers do too. And the teachers. Everyone.
Tomas: But they're MY shoes. I don't want them stolen.
Josh: They won't get stolen, Tomas. No one's shoes have gotten stolen. Besides, they're just shoes.
Tomas: JUST shoes?
Josh: Yeah, man.
Tomas: And what happens if my shoes get stolen.
Josh: Buy some more? India's kind of the giving tree when it comes to things like shoes... I don't think they'd cost too much.
Tomas: But they're MY shoes.
Josh: I guess you're going to have to choose between not eating and not getting a cold, then.
Tomas releases another grumble of anguish, and removes his shoes.
-| six |-
Tomas had asked a friend of mine to lock the door of the office in which we were sitting. This would be a problem, since other volunteers were constantly walking in and out of the office. We pointed out this problem, but Tomas persisted.
"You see, for me, as a blind person, I don't know who will walk into the room and steal my things." Tomas was on the defense again. We assured him that wouldn't happen, since there would be at least one other intern in the room with him at all times. Again, he said to lock the door. We made the mistake of asking why.
"I DON'T TRUST INDIANS." He said, flatly.
Wrong country to travel to, buddy.
-| seven |-
I should have prefaced this entry with a warning: I have no intentions on painting the disabled in a negative light. Contrary to the vignettes listed above, I've actually met several visually-handicapped, hearing-impaired, and club-footed men and women. Regardless of these hardships, however, they've shown me how they take on the world and challenge the people who question their abilities to accomplish even the most mundane of tasks. In short, these people are an absolute delight and inspiration to anyone who has the patience to hear their story. Although I'd love to take the time to write down each and every story I've heard from these men and women [who knows - maybe one day I will], I thought Tomas' was particularly interesting. I present to you a man who wishes to change how the world - or, at least, his home country - sees the blind, and has the fantastic opportunity learn how to do so in a country that is MILES away from home. And yet, he refuses to look past his own excuses, insecurities, fears, and prejudices of this land of plenty, resulting in getting himself stuck between a rock and a very dark place. From what I've learned so far, India will teach you amazing things; some in topics that you hoped for, but mostly in ones you never even considered. If you merely opened your eyes to it [seriously, no pun], allow it all to become a learning experience, you'll find happiness and wisdom in the most frustrating of deodorant-spray-lined aisles of a supermarket.
In the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to Arjuna about the importance of "The Path of Wisdom." I thought this particular excerpt was a good way to finish my entry on Tomas:
But the ignorant man, and he who has no faith, and the skeptic are lost.
Neither in this world nor elsewhere is there any happiness in store for him who always doubts.