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. 

A travel day.

This morning I am sitting on the porch at a friend’s house, listening to the calls of the koel birds and spotted doves and feeling completely content. A dog is licking my toe, my boys are swinging in the yard, and the air is still fresh, though it will be hot later.

We are on our way to India. We’ll be in Chennai tonight and Goa tomorrow night. I look forward to those extra senses that get awakened every time I go to India. I look forward to the coconut grove and the sea, to the fishermen and people in the village that I have known for years. I look forward to their expressions of awe when they see how tall Kai and Kenya have become, not so much to the inevitable comments about the weight I have gained. 

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We’ve had a lovely and eventful week. We left last Thursday for the Shamballa in your Heart festival, which is a Japanese music festival in the mountains, with Thai, Japanese, and international musicians. We camped in several tents and brought another friend along. To get everything there, we made a big tarp package on the roof of our car and then tied it up with bungee cords like a present. This is the second year that we’ve gone to this festival and we love it. The kids love being outside the whole time. It’s easy camping with bathrooms and foodstalls that are affordable. The vendors remembered us from the year before and one even had pictures of us on a little board that she had made. Our dear friend Aya is one of the organizers and she found ways for all of us to be involved. Chinua led a couple Open Voice Project workshops (teaching choral singing) and I got to do some live painting, collaborating with Kenya for the first time. 

 The finished painting.

The finished painting.

I’ve dreamed of collaborating with her for a while, because our styles are so different (she is very much an illustrator, more talented that I can believe) and I think they would complement each other well. So it was a dream to do a live painting at one of the stages, listening to music and painting alongside my daughter. It felt like a dream I wouldn’t even have dared to have. So lovely.

I also remember going to the hotsprings with Ro, Lilli, and Becca under the stars, walking in the night to the little pools, getting back to the tent, sleepy and warm despite the chill in the air. Drinking coffee with Leaf in the morning. Listening to amazing jams with Chinua on mandolin, lovely guitarists, and a talented fiddle player. Guiding and attending Christ-centered meditation in the sleepy heat of the day. Music and dancing. The way Solomon loves festivals and music, joining in with Chinua’s workshop, singing and dancing his heart out. The kids running around all day, through rivers and to the top of giant rock piles. Bible circles as a bunch of people read through the book of Romans outside, beside a stream. 

I loved looking out at the stars above the tent flap. Sitting and watching and talking with people from all over the world. Ah, it was beautiful. 

Now we head off to the land that always holds part of my heart, off to dear Miri and the rooftop meditation space, to the sea and delicious food. It's a travel day, just one of many in our lives.

I don't want to forget...

 Mom and Dad at the National Children's Day festivities. Dad is holding Isaac's balloon. (Not his own.)

Mom and Dad at the National Children's Day festivities. Dad is holding Isaac's balloon. (Not his own.)

Bad jokes from my dad that Kai always laughs at. 

Sitting with my mom at the bamboo bridges over rice fields, laughing at water buffalo who escaped their pen after a woman gathered them up and locked them in.

Devotion circles with my parents attending, singing and sharing in the circle. Hearing their voices in such a familiar way, in such a familiar place, but after a long time of being apart.

Having a second cup of coffee together in the late mornings.

My dad helping Solo get his bike fixed, Leafy build a project, or Neil and Chinua build a work bench at the garden.

My sister, Becca, turning up yesterday, all beautiful and laughing, getting hugs in the street as the younger boys caught sight of her. 

Dinners at our house, around our too-small table, cozy and happy. Papaya salad and fried chicken, sticky rice and corn on the cob. 

Eating cake for Dad's birthday and talking about what we love about him.

Sitting on the porch outside my house every afternoon together. 

Making quesadillas together in the kitchen. Brendan and Dad bonding over jokes. 

Going for a motorbike ride with my mom on the back, through rice fields and on narrow streets, looking at cows and flowers. 

A special dinner with the four of us last night.

Seeing Dad and Chinua walking up to the garden together, ready to work on building the work bench. Talking and walking together. 

My landlords trying to convince my parents to move here, doing their very best. Welcoming and kind. 

All the tiny, lovely moments that are beautiful and rare. I am so thankful for this visit.