Barcelona

The window is open and the barest of sea breezes perfectly complements the warmth of the summer night.

My fiance is playing guitar and singing a few feet away, perched upon faintly purple sheets provided by Ines, the owner of this quaint and lovely apartment on Carrer Bilbao.

The sounds of conversation drift through the window. I peer over the edge and see tables filled with cervesas and tapas, the seats haphazardly placed near tables, like tiny metal pieces drawn to magnets.

The green leaves of a a tree approach our window ~ maybe in a few years someone will have to cut off a branch to keep the tree in check. When it rains or is especially breezy I can hear the whispering, “shhh-shhh” sounds the leaves make.

I can smell patatas bravas and my stomach rumbles, but although locals eat this late (it’s nearly midnight) my body would protest.

I don’t normally like cities ~ I am intimidated by them. Large numbers of people make me feel uncomfortable. Yet I have loved being here, getting lost in the Gothic Quarter, walking until my ankles hurt and I’m become deeply annoyed at the way my sandals slip off my feet just a tiny bit with every step, until my eyes feel heavy and I am tempted into a cafe by the scent of coffee and somewhat-gaudy photos of croissants pasted on the doors.

I love walks to the small fruit and vegetable markets. In the morning-time these are full of little old women wheeling cloth grocery carts behind them, sometimes with husbands in tow. I once saw an old woman accept her bag of fruit from a cashier ~ she was startled by the weight of the fruit and fumbled the bag, exclaiming. She caught the bag, though, and looked up at me. We both burst into laughter.

David and I have a favorite cafe called “Tio Bigotes” which means “uncle mustaches” and is probably named so because of the mustache-shaped empanadas sold there. The woman who works there helps me with my Spanish and I give her English words when she asks ~ between this and a heavy reliance on miming, we communicate. As soon as we walk in (after the customary “Que tal?” “Bien, y tu?” “Bien.”) she smiles and asks if I want the empanada con albahaca (with basil). She refills David’s zumo de naranja, bringing over more of the fresh-squeezed juice in a small metal pitcher without charging for the extra cup.

Rachel (my professor at Rollins College) and I have spent many of our mornings in Raval, a neighborhood only 20 minutes of Metro time away from our own barrio, which is Poblenou. Our approach to our research has been to introduce ourselves at organizations working with migrants and to ask if we can speak with people, and this has worked startlingly well. We have spent hours with the most incredible, passionate, motivated, and intelligent women as they explain their work to us and what life is like for immigrants in Barcelona.

Rachel and I found a Moroccan cafe and as part of our research (and ultimate happiness) we’ve returned there often for mint tea and Moroccan treats. We’ve been back for dinner with Rachel’s kids and David, and then again with wonderful people we met during our research and more of Rachel’s family. Raval has begun to feel comfortable and familiar in a way you can trust a place to feel once you have walked its streets a certain number of times.

Last weekend David and I took a two-hour trip to Montserrat, a mountain which hosts a basilica just outside of Barcelona. We chose to hike the mountain instead of take the small train up, and spent 1.5 hours of pure bliss sweating our way up the sun-soaked path. We sat and stared at the vastness of the city from the height of the basilica. We could see the Mediterranean Ocean in the distance, delineating where Barcelona city was and where, approximately, our neighborhood lay. We walked into the monastery and sat in the back pews, absorbing the feeling of time inlaid in the stones and stained glass.

I’ve spent time reading, finishing Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, and Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Each of these books deserve more than any explanation of their power that I can possibly offer. The first is perhaps about pain and friendship, the second about adaption, the third about what memory means for love. Each, actually, speaks of love. Now I’m reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Hosseini, which I should have read a long time ago.

David and I have brought our instruments to the beach, walking only a few minutes through the deepening evening to a rocky promontory near Mar Bella. I watched waves crash against the stones and we sang.

The gelato is beyond description.

Ines, who is hosting our Airbnb apartment, has slowly become our friend. Last night she saw me and David struggling with peeling and cutting potatoes for our Spanish tortilla and took it upon herself to guide us through the process, helping us dice the vegetables, whisk the eggs, and make it all into the tortilla on medium-high heat in a saucepan. Her dog, Linda (who is the wifi’s namesake), stuck her nose in David’s lap as we ate, her liquid eyes staring, unblinking, at him as he ate.

Earlier today, David and I found a cafe with board games and, excited, walked in. We found two game to play and bought our drinks then sat down and opened the boxes. Everything was in Spanish, a problem we hadn’t thought about. We considered Google Translate, but each card had writing on it. I scanned the cafe’s shelves for Scrabble (a great go-to game for international game-playing locations) but no luck. It was absolutely hilarious. We ended up outside the cafe on those lovely benches I mentioned earlier, me reading and David resting with the breeze sending dried leaves floating our way.

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Walking, plants, people I’ll always remember… Albania.

We left for Valbone with barely a clue as to what we were doing. We had a new travel partner though, Agustín, who we met at Mi Casa es Tu Casa in Shkoder (aka the best hostel ever with the cutest dog, Ziggy Stardust).

1st mode of transportation: a minibus filled with travelers and a few Albanians headed for a funeral. When we dropped them off in a village, our driver began playing music, explaining, “No music for a funeral.” We bumped on toward Konan lake and our ferry.

2nd mode of transportation: the ferry! We sat around for a few minutes before boarding, and Arteri, a guide who rode with us (and with whom we’d become friends over dinner the night before) led our group of trekking bag-bedecked travelers toward a cafe with COFFEE. The ferry was breathtaking. It lasted around 3 hours and Katie and I stood by the helm of the boat, watching the mountainscape shift and change. We made ourselves pb&js and subsequently realized we would run out of food far sooner than we anticipated.

3rd mode of transportation: Another minibus. Katie, Agustín and I watched as first our friend from Wales, then a lovely Austrian couple, and finally a group of awesome young French friends with a kitten hopped off the bus and went on their way. We were the last to be dropped off, on a gravel road leading…?

We grabbed water from a nearby guesthouse (tasty mountain water) ~ this is where we realized we’d be drinking actual glacial water for the next few days ~ and walked, mapless (to Katie’s chagrin), toward the trail which was marked with red and white stripes painted on rocks and trees.

We decided to stop pretty soon to find a camping spot. We’d heard of “Daniel’s guesthouse” which was apparently somewhat close… our trail brought us to a farmhouse and we saw an older woman dressed in all black preparing a horse to gather firewood. Agustín had been in Albania longer than we had, so he tried his Albanian with her. Slowly we came to realize that the farmhouse was indeed “Daniel’s guesthouse” and that we would be allowed (with a grin from the woman) to pitch our tents up a small hill near their barn. So that is what we did.

The mountains arced all around us. Wildflowers flowed gently in the breeze (perhaps a product of the nearby stream) and the sun was hot but tempered with fleeting clouds.

After our tents were pitched (during which time my tent decided to attempt flight because I hadn’t staked it down, and Katie, Agustín and I were forced to chase it down) we made our way toward the living quarters. We met Daniel’s brother on the way, who was a man perhaps 40 years old. We couldn’t communicate in each other’s languages yet he handed us a handful of wild strawberries he picked and this was enough. At first Katie and I supposed that the strawberries were for the sheep and tried to feed them to these sheep ~ Agustín ate his right away and got more from us when we had no success with the sheep ~ but we ended up eating them. They were tiny and surprisingly delicious.

At the house we met two small children, one maybe 5 years old and the other probably 3. They were extremely shy and we tried to involve them in playing with a soccer ball we found, to no avail. A woman walked out and greeted us, asking if we wanted tea. YES we’d love tea, we told her. Agustin had asked if we could have dinner already and established we’d eat around 8 o’clock. So we sat down at an outside table and Agustín attempted to woo the kids with magic tricks using a stone. The 3 year old became curious and laughed but the older girl remained shy.

Soon our dinner arrived and was wayyy more than we’d expected. We had incredible, warm, luscious, (there aren’t adjectives enough to describe how good this was) soup with warm homemade bread, vegetables, cheese, and heavy yoghurt (which I loved, Katie was neutral about and Agustín hated). ***Before dinner I made friends with the older girl ~ we used the notebook app on my phone to draw*** As I ate the older girl walked up to me and started making motions with her arms ~ I emulated her and she started to laugh. Soon we were performing an odd kind of yoga. This lasted pretty much throughout dinner and at the end we were fast friends. I gave her one of my twine bracelets and her younger sister one as well. She wanted to wear them.

When we finally left the table after eating heartily and being nearly too full to walk, we met Daniel. He is a younger man, younger than myself, and speaks fluent English. We learned how much we were to pay for dinner and the tent spot, paid, then I had to say goodbye to my new friend. The little girl wouldn’t let go of my hand even when the woman in black tried to pull her away. I gave her another bracelet and she held onto that instead. Friendship is so easy for children ~ I think love should be this way.

Katie and I had to share one sleeping pad. This was accomplished by setting our trekking bags on either side of the pad so we wouldn’t roll off (sleeping  pads keep you warm at night since the cold of the earth won’t seep into your skin). This was a bit hard and we didn’t perfect it until we had camped for the third night (later in this story).

The next morning we departed and began walking toward Theth, the village we knew was approximately 6 hours of trekking ahead of us. Our path took us up a steep incline. We wound around the woods and over gravel and grass and through meadows. We weren’t the only ones on the path; we often saw groups of travelers, mostly with guides and horses or mules to carry their packs.

We stopped at a wooden shack partway up the mountain with a sign shouting “CAFE BAR” and tantalizing smells of coffee. We shrugged off our packs and found a bench upon which to sit, sweaty and out of breath. Katie and I ordered Nescafe (“It’s better for mountain hiking, more energy!” said the man running the cafe) and Agustín got Turkish coffee (“Look, this is how it’s made! Over the stove.” said Agustín in answer to my curiosity). It was quickly evident that the man running the cafe was kind, and when travelers slowly left his cafe he had time to chat with us. We asked him about how he lived up here ~ he lived with his family but they’d leave during the winter. They ran the cafe during the tourist season. They had sodas and a kind of local quiche with herbs and cheese, and coffee (of course). Two young children ran around, laughing, and smiled at us.

Soon we left and continued on our way. The trees melted away as we gained altitude until we were on a snake-like path with sparse boulders and endless wildflowers. Agustín led us but was struggling under the weight of his 2 packs while Katie and I were doing alright with our packs ~ we had left much of our things at the hostel, knowing we’d return, while Agustín had everything he was traveling with.

At last we reached the pass. The wind was strong and chilling but the sun was bright and the mountains stood tall. It felt like, at that height, having walked that far, we were accepted by the moutains and the flowers and the rocks. They recognized us as we recognized them.

We left our packs in some bushes and walked farther up onto a frighteningly narrow promontory where we had a 360 degree view of the Balkans. We stood and saw the world.

Walking down was slow and steady. We stopped first in a meadow to eat apples, oranges, and cheese with soft bread, then again in the forest with sloping, tall trees to paint the colors of the landscape.

At the end of our trek Agustín stopped and told us, “I can tell you are tired because you do not say ‘WHOA, This is so beautiful!’ all of the time.” Katie and I were exhausted ~ my thighs were shaking and I felt utterly spent. Agustín’s comment woke me up, though, and I again realized the gravity of the beauty surrounding us. As we walked into Theth, the village at the end of our trek, I was struck by awe. A beautiful village in a very small valley with full, green mountains shadowed by enormous rock mountains and sunlight reaching in arcs along the edges.

We didn’t know where to camp, but a young man walked out of a guesthouse to speak with us. His name was Francesko and he offered us a camping spot for 5 Euros a night ~ we could also use their toilets and hot showers. Could we get bread and cheese from him, we asked… yes of course. If we couldn’t pay that was fine, he had food for us. After some discussion we decided to stay with him.

After leaving our packs at the farmhouse near the guesthouse he asked if we’d like to get beers with him. Agustín said YES and we went with the two Swedish women we’d met back in Valbone (they emerged from Daniel’s guesthouse when we were havng dinner ~ Evelina said “hi” to us and Agustín replied, “what the hell?!” It was hard to expect her to emerge from the farmhouse when we’d seen nothing of the pair before. It turned out they’d been napping after hiking during the day, and the family had lent them a room to sleep in. We chatted comfortably over dinner that night with her and her friend Sara). Francesko sat with us as we ordered Tirana beers and talked about what we do back home, what we were doing in Albania… it was wonderful.

Quickly the evening became chilly, though, and we left for our tents. We asked Francesko if we could buy bread, cheese, tomatos, and cucumbers from him and he acquiesced ~ Katie and I found kittens to play with while we  waited. As the food was brought out a woman walked up to us. She asked if she could sit with us and then subsequently left to speak with a tour guide. We began to eat and soon she returned, bearing a bottle of Merlot. Her husband, whom we had quickly met earlier, joined us. They were from Germany and traveling in a refurbished old car and camper, and each night found travelers to sit and chat with. The woman happily found glasses for all of us, poured us wine, and made a toast.

We talked for a while about our lives, learning that the couple had met back when Germany was separated into the east and west. He was from west Germany and she from the east ~ they’d met in an unlikely circumstance and fallen in love.

***I forgot to write about another incredible couple we met in Valbone a we walked to a waterfall ~ we met Filipa and Peter on the path and they decided to walk with us. Agustín and Peter walked ahead and chatted while Filipa walked with me and Katie and told us stories of her family. They were stories of love.

Back to that night in Theth: We eventually said goodbye to the German couple and wished each other it was quite cold but we made our trekking back – sleeping pad set-up and passed out.

In the morning we woke up relatively late and expected to leave that day on a minibus back to Shkoder but we ended up deciding to stay another day ~ when would we be back in this beautiful place? Life is too full of beautiful places to count on returning. Agustín decided to share with us his yerba mate tea, which he saved only for special occasions. He went to the house and asked for hot water, and prepared a gourd carved into a cup supported by ornate wire. He filled the gourd-cup with tea leaves and inserted a metal straw which would filter out the leaves as we drank. When the hot water came, he poured only on one side of the leaves. He drank his cup, then refilled the cup and passed it to me. We spent the next half-hour or so passing the cup and refilling the tea, with Katie and later Agustín perched in my hammock (a Christmas gift from David, my other half) which I’d hung between two trees near our tents. The German woman came to say good morning and tried some. As we drank we read from a guidebook Katie had borrowed from the hostel about northern Albanian culture (as I write this I’m reading aloud ~ Katie wants me to add that she did indeed return the book). When the tea was finished, we walked toward the center of the village.

I met a lovely cow and pig whom I greeted and I spent time scratching the cow’s face. I called her Rose. She and I definitely became friends.

We made our way toward the village center and found the “Blood Tower,” where men used to hide when there were vengeance cycles (if one man did another wrong from a different family he would be killed, and then his family would kill a man from the other… etc) the Blood Tower was a remnant of that time. I asked Francesko later on if this still occurred and he said no, yet the guidebook said that this has moved into the cities. I’d need to do more research to know for sure… to learn more.

We walked back to Francesko’s home to tell him we’d be staying so that he could tell the bus driver. We got more bread, cheese, tomatos and cucumber and chowed down by our tents. We met a group of young German travelers who had set up camp next to us and became friends. We decided to all walk toward the waterfall together.

We walked slowly and I chatted with different people from the group. I was delighted by how genuinely wonderful our conversations were ~ about plants, and home, and the mountains and farming… we reached the waterfall in no time. Katie, Agustín and I had brought our swimsuits and quickly jumped into the glacial pool around the falls before our bodies cooled down from the hike. The water was almost unbearably cold and when I dove under I could feel my body freeze its normal functions. I gasped and hopped and slipped toward the warm, sunlit rocks beyond the falls. I watched and laughed as the Germans got in and everyone peer-pressured one guy to get in (he good-naturedly tried repeatedly but it was too cold!) We stayed there for a while, listening to the water and letting the sun rest on our skin.

On the way back I befriended a young dog. He was playing near the cow, Rose, and the pig, and I petted him. When I tried to walk away he followed. Ten minutes later, a young man on the path called to him and tried to grab him ~ I defended the dog, trying to tell him that he was sweet, and the guy said, “He’s my dog!” I laughed and tried to call the dog over, but the guy told me, “Bring him tomorrow at 9 am to the church.” I was a bit surprised ~ had I just casually rented a dog until the next morning? I agreed and we parted.

When we got back to the camp, the dog started chasing the chickens. We were all exhausted but Agustín noted how the dog might actually harm one of the chickens, so I played with the dog until he’d follow me pack onto the path toward the guy I’d met. When we got to the next guesthouse, though, the dog started actually chasing their chickens. “DANGEROUS!” a woman called to me, repeatedly, as I chased the dog in my bathing suit around their yard and the dog chased the chickens. A couple was eating lunch nearby and watched, their faces showing slight alarm. “I’m sorry,” I called, and they shrugged. Finally I just picked the dog up and carried him toward the path. He was fuzzy and light, and he looked a bit ruffled but content for the moment to ride in my arms.

A few minutes of walking later, I saw Francesko at a cafe. He burst into laughter when he saw me and came to join me. I explained the situation and he laughed harder, saying he knew who the dog belonged to. We walked together to bring the hapless dog to the guy I’d met.

When we finally returned to Francesko’s home (dogless) I was pretty tired. I asked Francesko where we could get food ~ not just veges, cheese, and bread ~ and he recommended a place just a few minutes’ walk away. Agustín, Katie and I went there and got the most wonderful arrangement of stuffed peppers, yoghurt (of course), fried potatoes, salad… it was like being reborn to the world of dinner.

After dinner Francesko asked us if we’d like to go to a bar with him. We were exhausted but he talked us into it by saying there was a “surprise” at the bar. He explained that it would be baby bears and I became worried ~ had they been taken from the forest and were being raised as tourist bait?? Regardless, we would go with Francesko and see.

Francesko and his friend drove us in a small van into the forest. We bumped on the mountain road for perhaps 15 minutes until we reached a new guesthouse. Upon getting out, we met a rugged man who asked us, “So, you want to see the bears?”

He walked us to a nearby pen ~ quite large and open ~ and called “Tommy, Jerry!” He opened a door and put down a ladder.

The next thing I knew, two incredibly fluffy cubs were in my lap. They tackled me and Katie and reached for our hands with their mouths, sucking our fingers for lack of milk. I was struck dumb by them. I was in love and in joy and couldn’t believe there were actual young bears trying to get milk out of my fingers.

The man brought us bottles of milk and we fed the cubs. After eating, he brought them back to the ladder and they went back through the gate (somewhat unhappily) and we walked with Francesko, his friend, and this man up into the bar. We talked for a while and asked for stories about the man’s life, our conversation accompanied by beer and oiled cucumber (“It’s good with beer,” the man said).

Exhaustion hit perhaps an hour later we were quiet until Francesko’s friend returned from picking up tourists ~ we rode back to our tents around midnight. We thanked Francesko, who had bought our drinks, and I told him how much it meant to meet the bears. We all went to our beds (or sleeping pad) and slept.

The next mornig Agustín, Katie and I decided to again go to the cafe for breakfast. Francesko came with us and decided we would have bread, honey, cheese, fig jam, and butter ~ it was the most delicious breakfast I think I’ve ever had. Afterward Agus, Katie and I went across the river to the ruins of an old Communist bilding and sat to read, paint, and journal.

We spent our time in this way until a jeep came to pick us up around 2 pm. We were squished in the jeep, with 9 people in total fitting in the car, and spent the next hour holding onto the seats to avoid bumping our heads on the cieling as the jeep’s wheels dealt with the mountain road. Two young boys were seated next to me and Katie in the back and they spoke in Albanian to each other and the driver, glancing at us and laughing ~ Katie and I laughed as we realized they were making fun of us. We started trying to speak with them and began to teach each other the other’s language until I had to look forward or vomit from motion-sickness.

We reached Shkoder in only a few hours. Agustine, Katie and I walked toward the hostel we’d stayed in before (the amazing one) and were again given rooms. It felt like home.

We sat downstairs and drank tea until we noticed Ani, the young woman who is the daughter of Alma, the owner, leaving in a rush. “Where are you going?” Katie asked. “To a farm!” Ryan, a Workawayer at the hostel, said. “Want to come?” We had to hurry to grab our shoes and then jumped into the van. Alma was driving, and we had to scoot around Ziggy the dog to find a place to kneel among the gardening tools and a box of watermelon. “Oh! Friends!” Alma said and laughed as she pulled away.

We drove only a few minutes and stopped on a dirt road surrounded by growing things. We jumped out and Ryan explained that he’d fill a tarp bag with water and bring it to us ~ he’d fill our buckets with the water and we’d water the plants.

Alma walked with us, showing us plant-by-plant where to pour water. “No, pour here~” she’d point. It was quiet, peaceful work as the sun set in the mountains on the horizon. “After I do this,” she explained, “I return to the hostel so happy. People ask me why I look so happy. I tell them it is the plants.”
She and Ryan showed us how to pull up onions and lettuce as Ani and her friend, a young man, wandered off to pick figs. They brought us back the ripe fruit and we ate them. There is a joy in having dirt on your hands and in your fingers and eating fruit from a plant you can see and feel and smell. Ziggy padded happily around us, weaving between plants. We watched the sun set.

The next day, we left Albania. I spent the morning before we left drinking tea and then walked, alone, with an earbud in one ear, to a market not far from the hostel (“Just 10 minutes ~ just walk past the two roundabouts then take the second left,” said Ryan). I made my way through the stalls of the market and bought fruit I couldn’t identify ~ when I went to purchase a pear from one fruit-seller, she refused to take my money, smiling and pushing my wallet away.

I was welcomed by so many people in Albania. I was trusted and given time and advice and stories and food and a place to put my tent.

Family

Love is a human universal.

Although there are surely a myriad of reasons why SIT includes a homestay in this program, I think the most subtle and unexpected of these is when it really works ~ when the student realizes, one morning over breakfast, that they have found a family where they never expected one.

I was initially nervous about the homestay; I knew it’s an important way to immerse yourself in the culture, but I’d heard bad as well as good stories. During my first dinner with Amala, Pala, and Sangay I remember picking at my food and feeling that uncomfortable urge to be entertaining as well as quiet and polite. Halfway through dinner Amala looked up at me, laughed, and said, “Relax!”

Since then, I’ve spent most nights with these wonderful people, experiencing Amala’s cooking (she’s provided me with recipes which I’ll post soon) and listening to Pala discuss local and international politics. I’ve learned how to eat stir-fried potatoes, pumpkin, and eggplant with pieces of pale (pahl-ey: a round piece of flatbread) with Amala’s advice and laughter. We’ve shared endless stories about our homes and hilarious cultural differences ~ you try explaining our custom of saying, “Speak of the devil!” when someone you’ve just been talking about walks in. Tibetans say, “Now, you’ll have a long life!” instead.

This morning was my last breakfast with them. When I woke up I just laid in bed, and that was when I realized how much I would miss them. They have opened up their lives to me. Amala taught me how to wash my own clothes, and since them I haven’t brought them to the laundry shop once. I’ve learned that if you sit on cold concrete (playing music on the rooftop), you’ll get sick (I got really sick haha). I now know to walk on the floor with sandals instead of barefoot (although I sometimes get away with barefoot if Amala doesn’t look down ~ if she does, she sends me right back to the hallway to get sandals). Amala taught me that you should only do yoga before a meal, not after. You must drink warm water after eating, or your stomach will hurt. If you cut up an onion and place it in the center of the kitchen table, no one will catch the cold that one of the family members has. Extra food goes to the birds, or the dogs. You must not take a shower after dinner ~ at least, wait an hour.

And there’s so much more.

So, back to breakfast. Amala called, “Sara-la!” and I answered, “Coming!” lurching out of my bed and slipping into the sandals outside of my bedroom door. I walked into the dining room and Amala grinned ~ I was still mostly asleep. Usually I eat before everyone else because of class, but since there wasn’t class today I was part of the family breakfast. Amala had already laid out my gonga (fried egg) and poured my milk tea. The sunlight was flooding through the open window, giving life to the steam rising from our mugs of tea. I jumped up, ran to my room, grabbed my camera, and came back. Amala and Pala laughed as I took photos, moving things on the table around a bit. Later, as we all began to eat, Amala told me, “Get out your camera again! It is better to take a photo when the plates are full.”

It astounds me how easily it is to love people. I think that we love each other ~ humans to humans ~ easily enough, but I mean a deeper sort of caring. Perhaps each of us experiences it differently; maybe it takes something specific for each of us, maybe it’s like a puzzle-piece thing. But perhaps it’s so much simpler than that. I don’t think it takes much at all.

Thank you, to a life.

Yesterday, Anna found out that Lemongrass died while we were in India.

Lemongrass was a tiny, frail puppy who I met at a cafe. She was drunkenly stumbling around the cafe’s lawn, her small body unable to carry her full weight. When Anna and I moved to pet her, though, her tail wagged and she gradually flipped to expose her belly. She whimpered every so often and at first Anna and I were afraid we were hurting her, but when we stood up to move back to our table, Lemongrass heaved her body up and followed us. Anna picked her up and she laid in Anna’s arms, her eyes gently closing. We passed her back and forth when our arms got tired or we had to do something, and Lemongrass was utterly content with the love and scratches.

lemon-grass-2

We returned to the cafe often and saw her, giving her peanut butter and crackers when she would accept them. She became more sick, though. Anna found her sleeping under a cardboard box in the awning of a monastery, and found out through a monk that she slept there each night. The monk told Anna that she was very sick ~ although we knew this, hearing it affirmed was hard.

When we returned from India, she was gone.

I cannot express this feeling. I thought, when I was petting Lemongrass, that perhaps I could take her home. I knew I held a life which wouldn’t last long on the streets of Boudha, but didn’t know if I had the right to take her out of her environment and even if I had the ability to.

Now I wish I did something but still, what could I have done? There are so many street dogs, many with gashes or missing legs from cars, other dogs, or humans. I have witnessed cruel treatment by people, and I have seen dogs starving, mothers refusing to allow their puppies to milk because they are far too skinny themselves. But also I have seen a man, passing by, dropping crackers for a street dog trailing behind him. I have watched street dogs treated by a local NGO each Saturday, the dogs’ wounds being bound, injections given, and the dogs leaving freely afterward. I’ve watched my Amala each night giving extra food to the street dogs, and I saw a young boy playing with a dog, scratching behind his ears and hugging him. And I have met so many street dogs, their tails wagging and refusing food, only wanting love.

These are souls. Regardless of what form, they are living beings with wishes and the ability to feel pain… and the ability to feel joy.

I am writing to say thank you to a soul who gave me joy. I am utterly sorry that I could do nothing more for you, but I hope you knew that you were loved.

lemon-grass

Saying Goodbye

Goodbyes are hard for me; they’re probably hard for everyone. When I say goodbyes I mean the moment of parting with someone you love, where words are really never enough.

I believe in actions. Perhaps just as much as words… each have their own time and place.

For the past few days I’ve had to say goodbye to quite a few people who have changed my life and given me peace and happiness. I don’t think there’s a way for practice to make perfect there, but sometimes just letting go can be the only perfect possible.

I love and trust, more than ever, the people who’ve become integral in my life. And that makes it possible for me to leave with a sense of wonder and joy.

And now, I’m sitting in the Orlando International Airport waiting for my plane to board ~ first I’ll land in Boston, then head from there to Doha, then to Kathmandu. I’m meeting a couple of other students on my study abroad program in Boston, then we’ll have each other’s company for our 9 hour layover overnight in Doha. Then to Kathmandu.

It has become too real, and yet I’m in a daze. More than anything I feel in limbo, between two worlds and experiences and perspectives.

I’ll trust you, universe. Onward we go.

 

Ft Collins & beginnings & endings

I value my time among the mountains more and more. As I stared at them today, traveling 70 mph past the Northern Front Range of the Rockies, I saw their pastel hues changing and shifting with the clouds’ shadows and wondered if the view would ever become old. Is there a time when you fall out of love with something? I’ve been told more than once that love is fickle, that it changes, that it does not last but what if my soul loves it? What if I was born to love it?

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Today David, Lacey and I drove to Ft Collins. Our goal was to meet up with some friends at the Devil’s Backbone but we left late so only met them as they were leaving. It was alright, though; everything happens for a reason. Actually, I don’t believe that. I believe that there’s no reason for anything and searching for meaning is not necessary, instead I want to simply accept what happens as part of my life and trust that it has just as much potential for joy and positive experience.

So we passed them at the trailhead and continued onward, walking at a slight incline toward what we took to be the Devil’s Backbone, a rock formation looking quite like the sunken backbone of an enormous body. We walked and walked, letting the sun thoroughly warm us and watching Lacey sniff each unique bush.

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My experience was mixed, though. I’ve had a lot on my mind, with my semester in Nepal quickly approaching and our time in Colorado waning. It is always melancholic to understand that life will soon change, and not in a small way. I thought about all of this as I walked, while trying to relax my mind into the scattered clouds.

I tend to forget that there are bad days; just a few, but they happen. During those bad days I again forget ~ I forget that there are days so indescribably beautiful that there’s no doubt it’s all worth it. Life is a balance and I’m only aware afterward, when I look back and laugh and know that I can trust the world.

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A peaceful weekend in Boulder

Dear beautiful world,

This weekend has, so far, been absolutely wonderful. I shall start at the beginning.

After Friday’s work day, David and my friend Nick came to visit for the weekend. We went to Halffast Subs (because it’s really awesome and I have a new goal to try all of the vegetarian subs on the menu), then hopped in the hot tub, then went to Ripple for froyo.

This all was super relaxing… Saturday was the day of adventures.

Saturday morning we all woke up around 8 am, shoveled some breakfast down, then all piled in the car to go to the farmer’s market. Boulder’s jazz and art festival is going on this weekend as well, so we wandered around those tents too — we got kombucha, breakfast, lemonades with maple syrup… ahh, farmer’s markets. Simply walking around humans, saying hello, chatting, and trying things is an incredible experience.

When we became hungry enough we headed home, changed for hiking, and drove to Chautauqua with Lacey too. We brought climbing gear but ended up just hiking around until the rain and thunder made us turn back. Hiking with climbing gear, by the way, was hilarious because so many people asked what our crash pad was. We gathered quite a crew, walking up the mountain; people gave us bouldering advice, wanted to talk about climbing… people are just looking for reasons to meet. We’re all like little wandering bubbles that just want to bump into other bubbles and hold bubble hands.

After hiking we headed to Black Pepper Pho. David and I had a goal to show Nick our favorite parts of Boulder and of course food is included. After pho we headed back home to change then drove right back toward the mountains.We stopped at our usual bouldering spot halfway up Flagstaff and tried each bouldering route we found. The rocks are definitely harder on the hands than at a gym but when I look at my partly torn-up hands I feel absolutely badass.


We drove up the rest of Flagstaff after climbing, just in time for the deepest golden glow to light up our path. The trees filtered it into shadows, and threw the gold over the mountains like a shimmering blanket.

At the top, we met Robbie, another friend from home who’s working as a river raft guide in Colorado for the summer. We stayed at the summit, sitting among the rocks, until the gold faded to purples and blues, then to a chilly gray-black.Halffast subs again, of course. We spent over an hour catching up, with Lacey curled around our feet. This one guy walked up and really wanted to know what kind of dog Lacey is — yes, she’s cute but it ain’t just her breed. She simply has a shining personality.


 

This morning I woke up barely in time to make morning yoga on top of the Rio Grande’s roof. My roommate, Brittany, and my friend Cassidy came too — we met Brittany’s friend Amber there. The roof was absolutely full of people, yoga mat to yoga mat. Our teacher was a wonderful young woman with the perfect yoga voice. The class began soon after we arrived and was pretty challenging which was awesome, because my neighbors and I complained under our breaths the entirety of the ab-workout part.

One unexpectedly beautiful part of yoga was when we all did tree pose. Our teacher asked us to reach out our “limbs” and hold hands with our neighbors, then send them love.

Why the hell don’t we do this every day?!

After yoga I felt on top of the world. The sunlight was perfectly warm and the flatirons were standing tall in the distance. We walked downstairs for free morning margaritas, chatted for a while, then Brittany, Cass and I headed to Flatiron Coffee.

As Cass told me this morning, “I feel the happiest I’ve ever been.” This is true balance, at least for this time of my life.