A bout of lag
When we arrive at our destination and meet with people, the question is always asked "What do you want to do?" Immediately, my type A kicks in and I ramble off all the categories of things we want to accomplish, beginning with language, culture, humanitarian efforts, etc. But after a moment I feel sheepish, as though I am justifying my endeavor with a busy-bee list of things. How do you explain that it is not the doing that matters so much in the beginning as the being, the observing, the participating, the exploring?
While many would arrive in a city and commence the onslaught of tourist destinations, in our first week in Mumbai we've visited a shop or two, had a wonderful time desiging a coat with a gay tailor, bought many boxes of pedas and had a few searches for the tail end of guava season. Hell, I even finished reading Team of Rivals, a whole single book that I accomplished the old-fashioned way, from cover-to-cover. I have performed what many would consider a great feat of nothing. By nothing of course, I mean something, something very good indeed.
Matt and I have been refining our modes of travel little by little, as we transport ourselves - sometimes barreling forward on wheels or wings or whatnot - from place to place. Our progression, our adaptation, moves much more slowly than our physical progress. Shall we call it progress, this movement from place to place, country to country, curb to curb? So we have learned to accomodate this precious process of settling in.
We like to call flying a feat of devilishness, a sort of time warp. What a few centuries ago would have taken months by boat - from New York to Mumbai - took us a matter of 25 hours door-to-door and a mere 16 hours in airborn travel. But while it's technically possible to warp across the planet, physiologically it's not so. It takes a toll on your body that you can feel from the hidden parts of your joints to your muscles, your eyes, and all your innards as you suffer from the lag. Lag as in you may think you're in India right now, but half of you is very much lagging back where you came from.
This week we let be. We spent a few days rising at 4:30am (not a bad idea in Mumbai!) and passing out face down around 8pm. This was interspersed with lots of stories, drinking chai, cutting vegetables and taking mini walks around the neighborhood when our legs would carry us, sometimes maybe learning a new Hindi word or two. It was a happy dose of family, enabling us to sink into the ways of life here. While we may be half way across the world, we feel very much at home inside this little apartment building with my aunt, uncle and grandmother. Of course having my parents here for a few weeks helps immensely. Here we are in the chaotic megalopolis of Mumbai and we're finding stillness in the simplest of places.
It's given me time to enjoy all the wealth of sensory information India has on offer. Some things - like chili oil frying in a pan and the exhaust fumes outside - are so heady they overwhelm you (and singe all your nose hairs). Matt likes to say walking down the street in Mumbai is like sucking on a tailpipe. Yes, Mumbai especially, doesn't give it to you gently. But even the most commonplace noises - the tin- and bugle-sounding horns of trucks and rickshaws - are musical. The colors and patterns of saris are so vibrant you catch yourself staring just as unabashedly at Indian women as they do at you. We have also spent a lot of time peeking our noses into the kitchen and watching my aunt, Mohana, cook breakfast, lunch and dinner in two hours over her three burner stove.
This is not to say there won't be techno-craziness, mad travel all over the place, and many adventures to come. In fact, we are launching a redesign of this cozy little corner we call home. Yup, Traveling Monkeys is getting an upgrade. Just you wait. And we do have a good, healthy list of goals. But it's important - crucial, even - to meld into your surroundings before you crank into high gear.
We are all of us, more so in the West than East, caught up in this incredible drive for productivity, this nonstop feeding on technology and overall sense of hair-yanking urgency for the next thing. So here's to the little things, the pauses in between that give us all the energy and focus we need to get up and GO when we have to, but the presence to BE when we don't.