On our way.

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It's beautiful Easter Sunday and I’m writing from a hotel in Chennai that looks delightfully as though it was designed in the seventies and then never updated. It’s old Indian fancy, once of my favorite kinds of fancy. There is a shoe shine machine in the lobby that boasts white, black, and cream shoe polish. It makes me wish I had shoes to polish. In Madurai we stayed in a “boutique hotel,” which I believe meant that the lampshades were Ikea-style. 

What people don’t tell you about traveling is the struggle to find the cheapest hotel humanly possible that doesn’t have bedbugs. We have managed it, but I now have two grey hairs instead of one. (I could well have many more, but since my natural hair color is very ashy, it’s hard to tell. Chinua has lots of grey hair and a grey beard. When he grows his beard out I call him Greyhame.) ((I just went back and changed all the words I has spelled “gray” to be “grey.”)) We are so close to returning home. The first part of our trip was work-related. We come back when we can to visit and help Shekina community in Goa, helping our communities to stay healthy and connected. The last couple weeks was an exercise in refreshing our traveling muscles. We haven’t really traveled in India (we usually just come to Goa and then head home) since 2011, so it felt like time. Working at a Jesus Devotional Community for travelers includes remembering what it is to BE a traveler.

So we boarded trains and then taxis in a combination of travel and vacation. We traveled from Kochi over the mountains to Munnar, which was more beautiful than we could have imagined. Mile after mile of tea plantation hills stretch into the distance, and when we were there, it was a bit hazy, but the jacaranda trees were blooming, which more than made up for the haze. We huddled in our tiny taxi, guitars and trumpets jamming into our shoulder bones, gape-jawed in awe. Kenya had her birthday (she’s fourteen!) and got a pair of binoculars for her present and we each had a scoop of chocolate ice cream instead of cake. We planned to go to a wildlife sanctuary on her birthday, but we drove two hours in a jeep on a crazy bumpy road to get there and then found that the sanctuary was closed due to a fire in a different national park (?) and no amount of pleading would get them to allow us in. It was a beautiful drive, though. We sighed and watched monkeys for a while, then began the long drive back to our guest house. 

On another evening we watched some Kathakali Dance Theater and went backstage to see the actors get ready. Afterward came some traditional Keralan martial arts, which rendered us speechless because they were so dangerous! Sword fighting with metal swords that shot sparks when they hit one another hard. Lots of flips and jumps and spears and a knife fight and the kids were ecstatic. Kai, Kenya and Leafy were called to be volunteers as one man long jumped over ten people. 

We got in another car and drove to Madurai, down the steep mountains of the Western through long South Indian plains covered with egrets and herons, past giant trees filled with bats, past churches and temples, through dusty hot towns. In Madurai we stayed the night, then flew to Chennai (no train tickets available.) And now we are almost home. It has been beautiful- that kind of restful, unifying trip that we love. But we are all eager to get home and be in our sweet wooden house in Pai, reunited with Wookie and ready for normal life to begin again. I want to work in the mornings, to cook my own food, to eat salad (all the salad!) To speak Thai and to be back with our friends. 

Today I'm thankful for:

- Resurrection- Jesus who cannot be suppressed by death or earth or stone or any force. 
- Girls who turn 14 in a jeep and don't complain.
- Amazing South Indian accents and mannerisms.
- The best food I have eaten, ever, in life, ever.
- Ideas, dreams, words, and poems. 
- Chinua, who is beautiful and wise and such a good husband for a girl like me.

The Trains

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Our last days in Arambol were a flurry of visits, community events, and shopping— buying incense, spices and bedsheets, going to a beautiful movement meditation, guiding art meditations and devotion circles, and sitting with friends trying to get the goodness from every moment. There were also many visits to the toilet as we all got hit with some kind of belly sickness. We drank coconut water and bottles of water mixed with rehydration packets, and slowly felt better.

I drove down all the roads I could, finding villages I had never seen before. Through cashew forests, surrounded by the heavy fragrance of fermenting cashew fruit. I said goodbye to the neighbors and shopkeepers who have been so kind over the years. We spent as much time as possible with Miriam; the kids played games with her on the porch and they swam together in the sea. We ate a last breakfast with Sarah and Miriam and Laura, and waved goodbye to everyone when our taxi came for us. 

Then it was time to board a train. We went to the tiny train station and waited with our luggage, but the train was late. When I asked about it, the man said that we could jump on the general class of the next train in five minutes. 

“Right here,” he said, pointing out in front of the ticket office. 

So we waited there and the train came quickly, but the general class car stopped well ahead of where we were standing so we ran for it, with all our bags. These trains stop for only one minute, so getting on and off can be a bit of a fluster with five children and all our luggage. Thankfully our kids are bigger now and can jump on and off themselves.

Once we were on we found seats and looked around at our companions on the train. There were many of them! One came and took a few selfies with Chinua. The train moved through jungle and over bodies of water, inlets and river deltas, over mangroves and past many water birds. Kenya was feeling terrible, and she lay on the top berth while the big boys stood at the doorway with Chinua, looking out. The poor Kenya girl ended up vomiting in one of the most disgusting toilets I have ever seen, while I rubbed her back. She curled up on my lap, trying to feel better.

We reached a station somewhat near our destination and wound up outside the sleepy hot station, looking for a nonexistent taxi. Someone called one for us and as we waited, Kenya lay on the big duffel bed on the ground. The boys and Chinua took photos of a dog with a perpetually smiling face. When the taxi arrived, we piled in like a bunch of puppies, and went through some complicated car changes because of police stops and car authorization (ours was not authorized as a tourist vehicle. Kenya napped in the taxi and woke up feeling much better, thankfully, since most of the work was still ahead of us.

When we got to the hot, lovely little village, we were scruffy, sweaty, and tired. We found a little restaurant, known for its cheap clean food and homemade ice cream, and ate dosas. Then we found a rickshaw who told us he would take us to Kudle Beach, the next beach over. Two rickshaws drove us along lovely bumpy roads, and dropped us off at a point that was high on a hill, like the top of a cliff. 

“There are stairs,” they said, cryptically, and so we hefted our bags onto our backs and started walking down the giant stone steps. The only thing is that we have started traveling with one rolling suitcase (egads, scorn of backpackers!) which contains all the books I thought we might work on for homeschool (why do I do this every time? Every. Time.) and a year’s worth of incense that I bought in Goa, as well as several bedsheets, some shoes, and other odds and ends which were heavy. Kai bumped, lugged, and carried it down the stairs, down and down and down, until the stairs were more like boulders to climb over, and then we were at the beach, confronted by a beautiful expanse of sand. And a rolling suitcase. Ha!

Anyway, after looking through many different huts, we settled on three that were far across the beach, because they were cheap, pretty clean, and had a view of the sea. And there we stayed for three nights, swimming and walking and eating and playing cards. It was lovely and restful. The first night, Chinua joined a music circle of travelers who were delighted with the sound of the mandolin. “What is that?” one man asked. “It is the most magical instrument!”  But Chinua got sick again (he’s been fighting bronchitis) so the kids and I walked back and forth across the beach. I swam with my slippery fish children and we sat in restaurants, sketching, reading, and writing. 

Then it was time to get on our next train, and we chose an easier way back to the village, knowing that it would take us hours to get back up the mountain with all our stuff. We hired a boat, and it was the best investment of the month. When we got back to the main beach, I hiked into the town to get a couple rickshaws and then we drove back out to the point in the road where Chinua and the kids waited for us with the bags. The rickshaws drove us to the restaurant where we had lunch, and then we split up- the boys going to the most dystopic playground ever, and Kenya and I going into the town to explore. Lately Kenya and I like to dream about more travels together. She is such a great travel companion. I took some photos, bought a magnet for my fridge, and some snacks for the train. Then more rickshaws out to the train station. A bit of a wait, and we boarded a train that was much much better than the last one, with 3 tier AC seats. Isaac has been panicking a bit because we have to get on the train very fast- they often only stop for one minute- and he is worried that someone will get left behind. But everyone has made it on and off every train.

I got my very, very favorite seat on any train. It’s the lower side seat, out of the berth. You can sit or lay down, and you have a beautiful big window. With the AC and the comfy seat, I sat and dreamed and wrote notes of things to write. A few women came and sat on my seat and chatted with me for a while. One woman told me her husband worked at a nuclear energy plant, she played badminton for fun and stitched clothes in her spare time, and she loved traveling in India and practicing her English. She sat close to me, leaning on my bag on my knees. I loved every second of our long talk. 

The kids spread out and happily read or talked or played on devices. We ate samosas and biscuits and had beautiful train travels that day. The next day’s train was not quite as nice as we were split up a bit, but we have arrived at a homestay in Fort Kochi, South India.

I chose this place because Chinua is away for a couple of nights at a pottery workshop. It has been his dream to build a pottery workshop at Shekina Garden, as a form of meditation and a teaching tool for local kids. So he is there, and we are here. Fort Kochi is a soft and easy spot to be with the kids by myself. We are walking, and eating, and chatting with people we meet. It’s good to be here after a busy month in the community in Goa. 

I am planning to take a writing retreat to catch up on my writing at the end of April. Knowing this is helping me not to fret about the writing I’m missing, or my horrible word count, but just to be here, soaking it all in. Dreaming of Isika and Benayeem and Jabari. Watching the people walk by. Listening to my kids and all the funny things they say. It is good.

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I'm so thankful for my patrons! The Day in the Life video for February/March IS FINALLY UP! Ah, slow Internet makes me more patient. Thanks to new patrons, Jessie John and Donia Goodman. Love love love.

Artist Date

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The days are getting hotter here, with warm damp air in the mornings, hazy with humidity, which becomes heavy and hot by noon, sweltering in the late afternoon, when the power goes out and we go out on the porch to get some air. Everything in my life is sticky with salt and sand, and walking along the village paths, I notice again how the world becomes dust colored (red dust colored, that is) in this season in Goa. The houses have dust thrown up on them from the scooters, the cows are dust colored, and the pigs too. The trees have red dust on their leaves. But the birds are still colorful, darting through the trees, flashes of green and blue. The heat grows. We have less than two weeks with the community here, and I have signed myself up for more cooking and guiding meditation. Chinua will play a concert with his friend Peter on our rooftop tonight. We’re getting every bit of life out of these four weeks that we can.

The sea has been beautiful. I have missed it in our Thai mountains. After a hot day at the house, it is beautiful to walk into the welcoming sea, the perfect temperature, with little waves to play in. Isaac loves the sea. I remember that he loved it from the very beginning, when he was a tiny little guy learning to walk on the beach. They all love the sea. 

I have spent the last few days booking trains and hotels for our journey to the South India. There will also be a few buses and taxis involved, but we can book those as we go. I feel accomplished and also rather shocked by how easy it was (though it did take several days to figure it all out). I remember eighteen years ago that we had to stand in crazy crowds in the train station, pushing to get to the front to buy tickets for the train. Now I can do it all online, and it works! India is changing quickly.

There are so many gifts. A new little gem of a hideaway restaurant. Uttapam and sweet lassi. Groups of kids calling hello in high pitched voices. Friendly beach dogs. The heart-shaped leaves of the trees next to our house. So many friendly people who have seen our kids grow up. The peaceful lines of palm fronds. Miri and Sarah and Svenya and Laura, beautiful women, all of them. A chance to cuddle the baby of our friends, and see my sons dote on him. Open mics where people sing their hearts out. My neighbors brushing their teeth and clearing their throats. The motorbike, the roads, the birds, the houses and smells. They are all gifts to my eyes and my heart.

My friend Nadine, from our community, asked, “Why does that man have curly hair on one side and no hair on the other?”

And I answered, “It is his comb-over, but the weather makes it too curly to stay.” And we laughed. Her husband told us that in Sweden, they call the comb-over the Robin Hood hairstyle. 

“Really?” I asked. 

“Yes,” he said, “because you take from the rich and give to the poor.” He reached from one side of his head to the other.

I went to a contemporary dance gala the other day, and it surprised and inspired me. It was true contemporary dance, very different from things I have seen here before, and it was so, so beautiful. I am inspired and also frustrated, not getting the time or space I need to write. Maybe this is like one long Artist’s Date. I am storing up inspiration. Filling my eyes for a future time. Possibly. 

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I'm so thankful for my patrons! The Day in the Life video for February/March should be up today! If I can get the slow Internet to upload it. :) 

My Becca

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The coconut man is in one of the trees next door, throwing ripe coconuts down to the ground, and I am on the porch with three of the kids, watching. The shadows of trees are playing in the sunlight on the ground. The whole world is quiet and holding its breath. I am ready to start the day.

First, putting laundry in the bucket to soak. Then chopping vegetables for today’s community lunch. I walked on the beach and dictated two chapters this morning. I need to get the kids organized with cleaning the house. After I make lunch, we’ll eat it on the rooftop with whoever comes to eat with us. I’m not sure what to do about a train ticket yet. 

My Becca leaves tomorrow. It has been amazing to have my sister with us for so long, and I’m sad that she is leaving. I’m so glad she decided to stay and travel with us to India. She and I went to the Mapusa market the other day. We ate samosas and drank sweet lime juice at the corner snack shop. We bought incense from the tiny handmade incense shop, and walked through the flower market. A seller from Rajasthan attached herself to us and made conversation. Becca didn’t realize that her friendliness was all part of her sales pitch to get us to come to the stall, but I have been down that road many times before. This woman was sweet. She complimented us on our eyes and hair, and told us we look like “Indian Barbie.” (What?) Then, while we walked through the flower market, she bought two purple flowers and stuck them over our ears. Then she asked if we wanted to see her shop. We declined. 

We took photos of one another and then went to eat dosa and drink sweet lassi. Then a long drive home in the dark, through the cold jungle air, back home.

Becca is an amazing friend and traveling companion. She is kind and fun, always dancing and being silly. She’s interested in everything and kind to everyone. She plays cards with the kids in airports and goes running on the beach in the morning. I will miss her more than I can say.

I’ve been blocked, creatively lately, but I think I’m coming out of it. Just get the words out, that’s all I have to do. Just show up at the same time every day. I think part of it is probably switching up my routine by starting dictation. I’m messing with my habits and my inner artist is confused. But I know it’s necessary. I need to walk more and sit less, for health and going easy on my neck and eyes. So I work through the block and deal with the fact that people stare at me as I’m dictating. It’s okay, there are many weird things on the beach here.

And I danced, the other day. I had been having a hard time (due to a new herb I was taking, trying to deal with hormone imbalance… it had a negative effect on me and I stopped taking it) and I stopped and listened to music and then slowly, slowly, started to dance until I was whirling in circles, ignoring everyone around me, enjoying the way the wind played with my skirt and the way my heart grew lighter. I called to God and he listened and loved me. And then I came home to my family. 

Always here.

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Kenya is watching the birds and I am watching Kenya. She sits on the porch railing with a cup of tea, watching the sun rise, and she is lovelier and more colorful to me than any bird, though I love watching them too. Her eyes follow a tumble of feathers as two birds quarrel and peck, flying through leaves and under branches. I know she is trying to identify them, as I did a moment ago.

“Do you like seeing birds you have already found?” I asked Chinua yesterday. He carries his bird book from country to country, checking apps and pulling out his binoculars at every chance. 

“It depends if I like the bird,” he said. There is a collector’s obsession to birding, and then there is the joy of calls and feathers.

I know I have seen a million bee eaters here in Arambol. They fly over and around me as I walk through the coconut grove, and I will never grow tired of them. Each one is perfect. There are weaver birds, magpie robins, parrots, tailor birds and crows. And more. The grove is alive with flying things. 

We arrived in Goa a few days ago, after a couple days in Chennai, walking through traffic, eating South Indian food and marveling at how the smells and sounds make us feel at home. Kenya cried tears of joy when we left the Chennai airport and came upon a row of taxi men, a stretch of auto rickshaws, and smoky, cluttered air, filled with a thousand different fragrances. To understand her joyful tears, you have to understand India, how it gets in your blood, how Kenya was raised in this land that seethes with life and every smell carries a memory. 

I am more complicated than my daughter. I am joyful in this place, and then also conflicted, feeling how my loyalty and longing for my home in Thailand ripples inside of me. I notice the constant change in my village and mourn the way the giant hotel crashes into our view of the hill I have always rested my eyes on. I love the sea and throw myself into it, and I stop to talk to an old friend who tells me her husband died recently. I enjoy my old house here, and feel penned in by the three story houses that have continued to grow around it. Life in India is change, constant and out of my control. 

The coconut trees are still here- the same ones Leafy hugged when we returned after our time in the mountains of North India. They were small here, and memories of their tiny bodies and chirpy voices are around each corner. And now my leggy daughter sits on the railing (the same marble porch where Leafy cut his head and turned into Optimus Prime) and her eyes seek the birds. Isaac throws himself into the waves. The coconut grove seems small now that no children cry as we walk through it. Rather, their long legs eat it up and we are home in moments. The morning is everything here, the orange sun lighting the trees with golden light. The birds are here with us. They are always here.