He worked for the postal service in Sweden, which is how he managed to buy German acid blotter off the internet without getting busted by the cops. Getting it from there to India was a simple matter of slipping a page into a book. The ease of this makes me wonder about all the things we get away with. What do we do when no one who will punish us is watching?
Well, some of us smuggle drugs into India.
I met The Postman through my roommate at the time, in Arambol Beach, Goa. She’d been talking about him for weeks, and a few days before he arrived showed me a picture he’d sent: a gorgeous selfie where his face was swollen beyond recognition. A side effect of dosing with ibogaine.
You see, The Postman was something of a psychonaut, eager to push his mental and spiritual—and apparently physical—boundaries for the sake of self-exploration. This aspect of his life had my friend, who was otherwise head over heels for him, pretty pissed off. She thought it was dangerous, unnecessary, fruitless. Which is why, when he asked me if I wanted to go take acid in the jungle, I hesitated. Well, that and the fact that just the night before a close friend and his employer had been arrested for selling acid and hashish out of their beachfront cafe. But, I digress.
Rewind to the previous summer. I’d just gotten divorced, and went to my Very First Music Festival. I took mushrooms and acid, and the next morning found God. I wouldn’t even be in India without that experience. So when I hesitated, it wasn’t for very long. Sometimes fear saves your life. Sometimes, it only cripples it.
The next morning, we headed to the jungle. Now, when I say jungle, I don’t want you to imagine some remote, lush environment full of monkeys and fragrant blooms. This jungle was peopled with babas and hippies and seekers who’d eschewed more conventional digs for the comfort of their hammocks and the company of the birds.
And the tourists.
We hiked out past the mud deposit and through a couple encampments redolent of ganja and chapatti until we found a sweet little spot by the river. Someone had recently camped there and left behind a flat rectangular area carefully marked off by trails of stones. I spread out a tapestry, and we began to unpack. A Bluetooth speaker. Crystals and stones and brass murtis of Shiva, Ganesha. Water. Some fruit.
Anyone who has a fair amount of experience with psychedelics will have some preference for the set and setting they prefer to dose in. Some people, like The Postman, will have very strong preferences. Primary among these was silence. We would exist, side by side, separated not only in body but also in mind. And, I felt, in spirit. Not a dynamic I was used to working with, but I was up to try something new.
We started our journeys by meditating next to one another for about twenty minutes, at which point The Postman handed me a single piece of blotter paper. I prayed, offered myself up to the spirit of LSD, then took my dose. We continued to meditate for a while before The Postman broke the silence not by speaking to me, but by queuing up Mooji’s Reggae Satsang on the stereo.
Describing an acid trip is a bit like describing a dream; it can have pockets of intense meaning, and a whole lot of strange, possibly amusing imagery. But ultimately, it tends to only be really interesting to the person who experienced it. Suffice to say, I spent the afternoon certain that I was on a boat in the ocean, lazily meandering my way through the waves.
(An eery side note: that very evening, not long after we left, the jungle was raided and several babas were arrested, following the suicide of a local politician’s son. At least, this is what I heard the next day. I can’t find any corroborating evidence and Googling Arambol suicide is a nasty way to spend an afternoon.)
We packed up and headed back to the village as the sun began to set. I spent an awkward hour in The Postman’s room listening to a poorly recorded meditation on cleaning energies before making my way back to the comfort of the beachfront cafe I mentioned earlier.
Only to be intercepted by my friend before I got inside. Maybe it was my dining plate pupils, maybe my swoopy loopy smile, that prompted her to order me to find some other place—any other place—to hang out. Damn good advice, considering the general state of unease gripping everyone who worked there, who hung out there. Their patriarch was gone, in the grips of the law on some pretty nasty charges, and here I was merrily prancing through, still pretty damn high. Sometimes, we have asshole moments, and that was definitely one of mine.
Because Arambol is made of magic, only minutes later I was snuggled in next to two of the most amazing people I have the fortune of knowing, in the best memo shop in all of Arambol, listening to Jump by Kross Kross.
It was one of those moments, so surreal, so oddly perfect, that I knew I would remember it forever. The scene crystalized in my mind: I am surrounded by people I love, in India, coming down off German LSD, listening to questionable 90s hip-hop.
This is an article that I’ve been working up the courage to write for years. There are so many reasons not to write this, to instead just to shut my laptop, turn around and walk away, forgetting any motivation I had here to try and help someone step out of their comfort zone. First, there’s the issue of the online eating disorder community where you can constantly feel invalidated by people worse off than you. I was never hospitalised, my BMI was never dangerously low, and I ended up regaining my strength without too much outside help. To a lot of online anonymous accounts, this means I was never ill. Second, there always remains an ingrained fear of being open and honest about an illness which tries so hard to keep you for itself, not allowing you to share your problems and thoughts with anyone, let alone the whole world. Do I really want my family to read this? What about my friends? Co-workers?
However, several months back when the Making Her Escape team first decided to head into a mental health awareness direction, this was the first article I wanted to write. Now, sipping my condensed milk infused coffee in sunny Mexico, I finally feel like I’m on solid enough ground to be able to write this post, and not let it affect me for more than what it is worth. So here goes, wish me luck.
So, can you travel with an eating disorder?
Due to my own history, I find that the majority of friends I see frequently have dealt with the same issues, some to a lesser extent, many more to a much bigger extent. And whilst I know a couple of them who travel as frequently as I do, that is definitely a rarity amongst this part of the population. I know several people affected who dream of travelling. They want nothing more than to abandon their post and throw havoc to the wind, but the constant nagging of their Eating Disorder pulls them back, filling their heads with fears and doubts, silencing their desires and halting their pursuit of the unknown.
For a very, very, very good reason. When you travel under the grips of an eating disorder, what you are essentially doing is abandoning your support network, setting fire to your routine, and leaving behind all your creature comforts which before might have helped you get through the day. It can be a very dangerous game to play. I know this first hand. Although by this point my struggle had been going on for around five years it wasn’t until I moved to Rome aged nineteen that things got really bad for me. When I got there I realised that I knew no-one in the city, and that meant no-one knew my history. In turn, that meant I had no-one to answer to. No-one was going to be there noticing my weight loss, no-one was there to watch me eat my meals, and no-one was there to suggest maybe I take a break when I’d been hitting the gym for two hours every day for a week straight. I lost control, because the only person I was answering to was myself, and that same self was the one plotting my own downfall.
So this is the first issue. When you travel in a position like that, how are you going to keep it under control? If you were in therapy before you left, that therapist is gone. If you were living at home, that family support is gone. If you had close friends who watched your back, they can no longer be that rock. This is definitely a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be one you lose. The next time I went travelling, part of the way into a long process of recovery, I made sure I was more open about my difficulties to those I was with, and I committed to maintaining lines of contact with home, and with the people who loved me. I also turned to online services such as 7cupsoftea,b-eat, and mind.com for support. However, the most important thing that you can get out of this sudden change is the ability to answer to your other self, the self who still loves you and wants you to be healthy and happy. After a long couple of years full of ups and downs, I can now say with sincerity that I never want to be back in that place again, no matter what my worse half tries to tell me late at night, when it knows my defences are down.
A few weeks ago I was visiting my boyfriend in the Netherlands. He lives on the sixth floor of a building with no lift. On the second or third day of doing that several times a day, I stopped and realised something. ‘This would have been impossible for me when I was ill.’ In Rome I lived on the third floor, and although there was a lift, I usually chose to take the stairs instead. I would often have to stop several times on the way up, waiting to catch my breath and for my head to stop spinning. At the end, I’d have to wait until my vision came back and I regained some feeling in my limbs. I couldn’t walk up three flights on stairs without my body giving up on me, but it wasn’t until I was almost at the top of those six flights of stairs in the Netherlands that I realised how far I had come in the last 3 years.
Although it would be a fair argument to say that if I hadn’t left England and put myself in a completely isolated position, I would probably never have got so ill, I put down my successful recovery down to travel in so many ways. Through a long series of trial and error, I managed to get to a point where I could listen to my body and give it what it needed, rather than listening to my mind and doing as it said. I worked out through varied experiences and encounters with people very different to me, that although my mind will always be conspiring against me to some extent, and usually trying to sabotage my happiness at every step, it is definitely possible to maintain that fine line of balance, and allow yourself to live a full and happy life. These days, when I am desperate to go to the gym and work out my feelings on the treadmill or weights machines, I make a deal with myself that I can only go if I eat a healthy breakfast and commit to refueling after the gym. Similarly, if I’m really not in the mood to eat dinner that day, I compromise and eat a salad.
I don’t think that I ever would have become this independent with regard to my eating disorder if I hadn’t spent so long away from home. Breaking routine can be so scary for someone with an eating disorder, but sometimes we get so stuck into our routines that breaking it can be the only way to progress. Also, recovery becomes so much more essential when you’re committed to seeing the world. The moment I realised I needed to change was the scariest evening of my life. After an incredibly poor diet for the previous few days, and two hours at the gym that afternoon, I ended up bumping into my two closest friends in Rome. They persuaded me to come out drinking. Later that night I collapsed on a bus and a stranger had to pick me up and wait for me to regain consciousness. Although I had fainted a few times before, it had always been at home and surrounded by people who would do anything for me. The feeling the next day of ‘Damn. Anything could have happened last night’ was the worst and scariest feeling I had felt so far, and it was then that I realised if I wanted to devote my life to travel, I would need to be well. It’s just too dangerous not to be. This was the push that I needed to break the cycle, and I don’t think I would have reacted the same way if it had happened anywhere else.
Another thing about travel is that it can provide the exact distraction you needed to be able to get yourself out of your own head. You’ll find that once you’re racing around trying to get to the next viewpoint and spending your evenings socialising with people who come from backgrounds so different to your own, the time that remains to dwell upon your eating disorder is greatly diminished. You will discover that the daily battle against food is minimised in view of the other things you need to do that day. You’ll worry less about eating that extra banana when you know that if you don’t, you will not be able to reach the top of the mountain that afternoon. If you can manage to surround yourself by strangers, even if they don’t know your history, the social life will still be able to provide that little bit of support you need to get through the day.
Travelling to the third world can also change your perspective on these issues. Whilst eating disorders still occur in a third world setting, they are statistically a lot rarer, although again increasing as Western ideas and media are becoming more prevalent. Western society and media play a big part in the commonness of eating disorders, especially amongst easily influenced young teenagers. I don’t think it would be fair to blame them completely, but Western culture definitely has to accept some of the blame for the recent rise in eating disorders. To be able to travel to a country where stick thin models are not the norm, and where food and the enjoyment of it is a huge part of the culture, gives you a new view of your own relationship with food. If you go these countries and maintain your disordered stance against food, you will find yourself locked out of a culture with so much to offer. As a vegetarian, it’s already hard enough for me to enjoy the food culture of the countries I visit. Why should I add more restrictions than I need to? When you put yourself so far out of your comfort zone and into a place where meals are almost treated as a sacred rite, little by little, you will feel yourself open up to new tastes, new philosophies and new experiences. It is also hard to justify your purposeful self-destruction when you are walking past children on the street begging for just a bite to eat.
Although I still have my ups and downs, I can say with some confidence that this is the healthiest I’ve been in my life, and I have no desire for that to change. Travelling made me the person I am today, and that is true for every good and bad quality I have.
So yes. You CAN travel with an eating disorder. However if you do, you must be willing to make that agreement with yourself like I did. And you can do that. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But one day soon you will look in the mirror and realise that enough is enough. Recovery is a long and hard process with the first step often being the hardest, but can also be the most exciting. If you truly want to be well, then breaking that routine and letting the chips fall where they may could be an answer. That said, if you are not committed to the idea of eventual recovery, travelling alone can put you in a very dangerous position that you might not want to be in. At some point in your journey, it just becomes a choice you have to make.
Do you want to do this?
You can, because you are strong.
You can, because you are beautiful no matter what.
You can, because you want to.
And nothing else matters.
Written by Bethany Naylor
If you’re interested in reading other articles about how mental health can affect the way you travel, check out my previous post Dealing with Anxiety, and a wonderful post by Sarah Hirsch, Navigating Depression on the Road.
Here are some useful websites for those of you struggling away from your support networks.
Lisbon spreads her arms until she is hugging the statue of Cristo Rei on the opposite side of River Tejo. She is a huge hug to herself. I say “her” because she’s more than a city, I do feel it. Lisbon is my partner, my lover on this journey.
Lisbon is located on the river. Actually, this is just the final part, the mouth, the outlet. Exactly here, it is meeting and mixing with the Ocean. That’s why the water becomes salty. So Lisbon owns sea, river, earth, and sky. She is the perfect result, the combination of all the elements that make you feel alive.
Two hundred and fifty sunny days per year, an everlasting summer…The sun is so big and the daylight so strong and powerful that you can even absorb it. Therefore you get tanned so easily, just walking through the streets, and your hair can even become blonder while your eyes must close a little bit. Call it magic.
At the moment that I’m writing it’s the 4th of November 2017, time 17:37, and the sky is still so bright, clear and wide-open, preparing its next breath-taking sunset. Lisbon is the city of sunsets, or better of ‘Pôres-do-sol’. In Italian we used to say: “Rosso di sera, bel tempo si spera”; when the sky turns red at the sunset, you may expect for good weather the next day. This happens here every day, almost. We check the correct time on the forecast online when the sun goes down, when it falls in the river or in the Ocean, depending on your point of view. We all go to one of the hundreds of Miradouros, we seat and we breathe the end of the day. Lisbon is a city to think, to meditate, to first know yourself better, and then to love others more.
Lisbon is so close to paradise, Portugal is Lisbon, white city, pier and ship, Europe and Atlantic. From all this derives its hidden meaning: the Saudade. Saudade is Lisbon’s key word, ranked as the 7th most difficult word to translate. It denotes a melancholic feeling of incompleteness, due to a previous pleasant experience, state, or place, absent and missed at the present moment. Saudade is what you can feel while leaving Lisbon, she is able to give a real and natural sense of place.
In Lisbon I’ve learned to stop and relax, to come back late at night but not so late, and before going to bed -in short pyjamas even if it’s November- I can’t wait to stay staring in front of my window just to watch the city sleeping and the planes landing. In Lisbon you can see airplanes all day long, you hear their noise and notice them so close that it can scare you. It seems that everyone is coming here, everyone wants to reach this peace, and catch a flight.
In Lisbon, I’ve learnt that you can reach anything you want, which I learnt because I always prefer to walk instead of taking the metro. Every street is a climb and when you reach the top the city gives you a panorama most of the time. In Lisbon I’ve learnt to get lost, to be patient, and to wait.
I arrived here two months and two days ago, I’ll be here for three more. After the first phase of “organisation” and adaptation, I’ve started taking the advantage of every moment, that here more than anywhere else, seem to pass so fast. I must be honest: I didn’t want to come to Lisbon. Or better, I didn’t know so much about Portugal and its capital. Portuguese people may be still trying to live in their peaceful paradise, a little bit out of the world, believing in traditions and blessed by their sun. So everything was a surprise, and it was by chance. I am so grateful now- OBRIGADA- to be here, surrounded by all this sunshine, and discovering day by day something that for me was more than unknown.
I’m a happy and satisfied Erasmus student. I made a promise to myself here in Lisbon: I won’t complain anymore as long as I can, because my life is so wonderful and I’ve definitely understood it more now. One more last detail: my flatmate calls me -in Spanish- “terremoto”, that is, “earthquake”. Lisbon is the second city in Europe for highest seismic risk. I’m here. “Onde a terrase acaba e o mar começa” (Luís Vaz de Camões), where the land finishes and the sea begins.
Written by Paola Pedrotti and edited by Bethany Naylor
I am an Italian journalism student now based in Lisbon, enjoying Erasmus+ programme at ISCTE-IUL University. I study in Verona. After one year spent in Madrid, I definitely decided that I could not stop exploring this world. My hometown is Desenzano del Garda, on Lake Garda, such a touristic but inspiring place. I practise sport since I was born and teach artistic gymnastic too. I worked as guide in a private Foundation and I can speak 5 languages. Portuguese is my next challenge! Among my interests, I adore art, poetry, dancing and writing. I feel ready to create my future and just can’t wait to see what is coming next in my life.
It’s a little known fact that the whole reason I started blogging was a guy I met off Tinder. Although I know many of you will doubt me when I say this, Tinder isn’t always used for hookups. I know, shocking. It can be the greatest tool in your world conquering toolbox, if you use it right. If it can give me a job, it can give you a good night out. If you utilise it correctly.
In August 2015 I arrived in Malaga teary and sleepless, having just days before ending the longest relationship of my life. When it was over, I immediately ran away to work on a beach in Spain for the rest of the summer, because at the time that was exactly how I dealt with my problems. I still do, in a way. I already had tinder installed on my phone, before we had broken up my ex and I had made a bet to see who could get the most matches in a day, which in retrospect was probably a sign that our relationship was drawing to its natural end.
After checking in to my hostel, I immediately fired up Tinder, hoping desperately to find a fellow soul to spend my two days in the beautiful city with. After returning from Guatemala my brother had told me how he had used Tinder to find English speaking tour guides amongst the locals, so I figured I could do the same.
Now, first things first. If I ever use tinder in England, which isn’t often I admit, I tend to get roughly a 50% return on my right swipes. In Spain, I was getting closer to 100%. Secondly, Spanish guys on tinder tend to be a lot more to the point, and half the messages I first got were no more than dirty bootycalls, even though my profile stated quite clearly that I was only looking for a tour. If anything, this openness actually makes it easier to find that one person who you expect might not be an asshole.
Then, something interesting. I met a guy who owned a travel site, and who was looking for exactly the same thing as me. Someone normal to go and get a drink and see the city with. We ended up bonding so much that when weeks later he recommended I start writing down my experiences, I took him up on his word as if he were a closer friend than just a guy I’d seen twice on holiday. We’re even still in contact today.
I still use tinder when I’m travelling, sometimes you just get a free tour of the city, others you walk away with a friend for life. The last tinder date I went on was in Rome this January, and it actually ended up being one of the most enjoyable dates of my life, even if it lacked that special spark which prompts a second date. (Looking back, this may have been because we ended the night in the gay district and my eyes were slightly distracted elsewhere.)
You might hate tinder, you might think it sucks and it’s users are pathetic. Be realistic, the vast majority of young people these days have a tinder account, the chances are that at least one of them is looking for the same thing you are.
So here are my tips for using Tinder as a travel tool:
Know what you want from it. Are you looking for a tour? A local? Other tourists? People to get a drink with? A hook up? Make sure you’re clear in your own mind before you attempt to meet anyone.
Be upfront about what you are looking for. If you’re not looking for a hook up, make that clear. My go-to tinder bio when I’m travelling starts with the sentence. “I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.” That way people know what to expect and can’t get irate when you’re inevitably not interested in taking things further.
Safety first. Most of us know that when we go on a date, especially with a stranger, it’s of utmost importance that someone, somewhere, knows who you’re with and what you’re doing. This isn’t any less relevant just because you’re on holiday. If you can’t tell someone back home, (or if this would be useless), tell your hostel staff. Tell them you expect to back at X o’clock and give them a phone number so they can call you if you’re not. Meet in a safe place. Preferably a place with lots of people about, and a place of your choosing. No, you don’t know the city, but a big square with lots of people in has less danger than the small cafe down a dingy alleyway that no-one has ever heard of has.
Have fun. We live in a world where potential friendships, unlikely hookups or even job offers are only a swipe away. Use this to your advantage and let social media help your travels not hinder them. No, don’t be that guy sitting in the hostel kitchen mindlessly swiping through all the girls on tinder until he finds that one girl on the second floor that he was too scared to talk. But where’s the harm in having a little fun whilst you’re away?
The more that I explore this vast and mighty planet, the deeper I find myself rooted in the common ground of humanity. Each journey down a new path fuels my fourth chakra by time spent with those along the way.
I believe in acceptance. I believe that the things that divide us are issues based in fear and ignorance. As a child I was exposed to diversity with a side of apple pie. Romanticizing the unknown was what freed me from the gravity of suburbia. Compared to most parts of the U.S., New Jersey and New York have always offered a metropolitan mix of cultures, but many people never seized the opportunity to learn about their neighbors. We were all the parts of a well-oiled machine, disassembled and placed side-by-side on the table. Normalcy and comfort glazed over our blissful lack of awareness. Still, this fascination called to me, thirsting for exploration, knowledge, and connection.
Currently, I’m working onboard a cruise ship, sailing the seas for a second six month period of time. I first embarked early March 2016 as an American and left that fall a Global Citizen. Through those first six and a half months my family grew in size and diversity and offered me deeper connections to a world outside my own. There are roughly 1500 employees on this vessel and with only 58 of us being American, it was the first time I had ever truly been a minority. Suddenly I was living with people from almost every continent, social, economic, and religious background making our bubble like a floating UN. I have never seen a place where everything just worked.
Down time onboard is often spent communally in designated crew areas. Crew members shoot the breeze with others, rapidly evolving relationships from strangers to friends/lovers/family. These seemingly small experiences blessed me with a refreshed love for humanity all over again.
During my time here I have strengthened my ability to listen, which I believe is one of the most important qualities to possess. Fundamentally, we all want to be heard. When you give your undivided attention to another person you are not only fulfilling their social and emotional needs, you’re also gaining a broader perspective without even trying. By being a silent listener. I have strengthened my inner empath, stepping outside of myself and into the experience of the sharing soul. This ability is a completely golden opportunity in itself. Carrying that out into the world continues to help me meet people where they are, in the timeline of their own life experience. These magical abilities don’t even stop with the human race. Strong listeners and empaths are able to extend their influence out to all other aspects of the conscious world.
When you are not exposed to the world outside your front door, it isn’t always easy to figure out who you are. Through this experience and my travels since, I have become more deeply connected to my core identity. There is a certain confidence and fearlessness acquired by diversifying your circle. By challenging the limits of my comfort zone I have been able to really cultivate these qualities, trusting in my own ability to understand what I need to thrive, based on who I am. I was stifled by my safety net for so long that I seemingly changed completely to those who knew me before. In reality, all I had done was uncover layers of disguise and years of expectation from my true self. Shedding the extra skin was just as liberating as it was to travel across the world and back.
So here I am on my fourth month of contract number two, an evolving human who can confidently say that I am constantly falling in love with the human race. I continue to bond with as many people as possible, both onboard and on land, to expand my heart’s pallet. We bond over passions and art forms and we push past the small talk early on. We embrace similarities, respect differences, and let the armor fall to the ground. When I return home again I try to bring these moments with me allowing them to free me time and again from the gravity that once felt crushing. We all keep searching for our little piece of freedom but what we can easily forget is that freedom grows from an accepting heart. Open your arms to the world and the world opens its arms to you. We are points in the universe connected by invisible thread, a mighty collection of stellar lines creating the most beautiful constellations.
Every three months, the seasons change. The weather begins to shift, and a new kind of energy moves into the world. Society, at large, has lost a lot of touch with these transitions simply because of how we tend to interact with nature. That is, we don’t tend to interact very much. Many pagan religions mark the coming of a new season with rituals, and indigenous tribes do the same. However, for the ‘modern’ world, many of the changes go unnoticed, as central air and electricity mean that we can get the ideal heat whenever we want, and the setting sun becomes secondary when it comes to illuminating our pastimes.
This strikes me as unfortunate, and possibly unhealthy. One of the ways that we, as humans, keep in touch with the reality that everything is a cycle, and everything changes, is by observing that very dynamic in the way nature moves. Without this, I think there is a tendency to lose sight of the death—and rebirth—inherent in every single moment. Life is death is life.
For the Spring Equinox, I decided to partake in a ritual practiced by thousands of yoga practitioners all over the world: 108 sun salutations.
The number is significant on multiple levels, across several cultures.
In Hindu mythology, it is said that Lord Shiva—the creator of Yoga—lived 108 lives before being reincarnated as a god. The number 1 represents the Divinity that is in all of us, 0 represents nothingness and also the eternal cycle of life, while 8 represents eternity. There are 108 beads on a male, 108 Upanishads (ancient sacred Hindu texts), 108 sacred sites in India, and 108 sacred points on the human body. Buddhist texts enumerate 108 temptations one must overcome in order to reach enlightenment. The number 108 is reached by multiplying the six senses (taste, touch, smell, feeling, sight, and consciousness) by the three types (painful, pleasant, or neutral) by their origin (internal or external) by time (past, present, or future). Thus, 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108. There are references in literature, in Japanese mythology, even in sports and card games. (Uno has 108 cards.)
If you’re familiar with yoga asana practice, you know that 108 sun salutations are no laughing matter. What better way, then, to ring in the new season than with a physical, mental, and spiritual challenge. Because a sun salutation is not just an exercise, it is a prayer.
To keep track of my salutations, I turned to my daily practice of reciting the 12 names of Surya Bhagavan, the Sun God. I repeated the cycle 9 times, keeping track with my chakra stones, as well as a lovely wire flower a street jeweller made me in Cusco and a stone heart given to me by someone near and dear to my own heart.
12 Names Of Surya Bhagavan (Om…namah essentially means ‘I bow to you’)
Om Mitraya namah (The friend of all)
Om Ravaye namah (Praised by all)
Om Suryaya namah (The guide of all)
Om Bhanave namah (The bestower of beauty)
Om Khagaya namah (Stimulator of the senses)
Om Pushne namah (The nourisher of all)
Om Hiranyagarbhaya namah (The creator)
Om Marichaye namah (Destroyer of disease)
Om Adityaya namah (The inspirer)
Om Savitre namah (The purifier)
Om Arkaya namah (The radiant)
Om Bhaskaraya namah (The illuminator)
I set up my mat, Nestled My Lord Shiva murti next to my Lord Ganesha murti, said a prayer asking for guidance and illumination in the coming season, and got to work. The whole process took about two hours, including a couple short breaks and a nice, yummy savasana. In the beginning, I told myself that if I needed to stop, or needed to modify at any point I would. This wasn’t a means of torturing myself, but a way to push me beyond what my preconceived notions of my own limitations.
It worked. I surprised myself. I didn’t give up. I didn’t modify. I grew tired, but at the same time, I felt myself move into a space of body prayer, where every movement was a humbling of myself to something far greater than I could ever imagine. My bedroom became a temple, my music became songs of worship, and my body became a voice lifted to God.
It’s so clear to me when I look at the pictures I took of myself before and after, that a true change occurred. There’s a softness and a light there, that don’t appear in the before picture. To me, it seems like a little bit more of that Divinity that lives in me—that lives in all of us—is able to shine through.
When I woke up two days later, I couldn’t touch my toes. As close as I get to God, I am still living this human experience. Which means my hamstrings still get sore! Still, a small price to pay. I’ll be going back to this practice for the Summer solstice. I hope you feel inspired to try it out, too, or to mark the change with some ritual of your own.
Written by Sarah Hirsch, edited by Bethany Naylor. If you’re interested in reading about Sarah’s time in India you can check out her time in Arambol here, or read her comparisons of Christmas in India alone, and Peru with a boyfriend here!
SAUDADE (saʊˈdɑːdə/) noun. A feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.
In an ever-globalized world, often it is oceans and seas (and perhaps now Brexit and the arrival of Donald Trump to the world political stage) that separate us from our loved ones. Having a French mother and an Algerian father, family gatherings were never a spontaneous affair: our school holidays were always spent in France, whilst a legal blip (I have my mother’s and not my father’s last name) and the continuing civil war in the country meant that I was only able to meet my Algerian family for the first time at the age of 22. This included my grandmother.
For me, like many young people huddled under the banner of ‘Third Culture Kids’, my Algerian family had been the pixelated faces that I saw over Skype calls. As a teenager I was reticent to speak to these fast-moving images, mainly because I had nothing to say. What relationship can you have with strangers that so happen to be your relatives?
In November 2016, I was finally able to go to Algerian capital Algiers and see where my father had grown up. I was welcomed into the happy cacophony of a family house where my 9 aunts and uncles and 40 cousins would pass through every week. But more importantly, I was able to experience for myself the family roots whose strength and vitality I hadn’t felt up until this journey. It was as if upon meeting my family that I did not have around me when growing up, that I had discovered a part of myself. I had become aware of a part of me that in fact had always been there.
I was soon initiated into one of the richest parts of Algerian culture, the food. Mhadjeb, a rolled pancake with a spicy tomato filling, is a staple of Algerian cuisine and one that my aunts continue to make by hand. Its preparation and the family’s recipe have been passed down the generations, though Fatiha, pictured below, repeatedly reminds me that each sister has their own way of making them. As a quick snack or part of a wedding banquet, Mhadjeb always feature on the Algerian dinner table.
However meeting your family for the first time is no walk in the park: I had for a long time carried around the heavy burden of expectation that I thought my family would have of me. Whilst I was welcomed with open arms, feeling the warmth of an unconditional love that only now could be physically expressed, it soon became apparent that I had grown up in a culture very different from that of Algeria. I was asked all the time ‘What are your job prospects?’ and anxiously by my grandmother ‘Have you found a kind Muslim boy to be your husband?’. My cousins mirrored my own unease when I asked them ‘What are you passionate about?’ or ‘Why did you choose to study medicine?’.
But I come away from this trip understanding that such differences are not barriers to shun or to be fearful of, they are to be celebrated for adding richness to my complex family tapestry. On our penultimate day, we had a picnic on the Promenade des Sablettes esplanade in downtown Algiers to celebrate my grandmother’s 88th birthday. Passersby stopped, as we sang Happy Birthday in Arabic, French, and English.
My first couple weeks in India, I spent an inordinate amount of time in bed, door locked. Sometimes I had power, sometimes the fan would slowly revolve to a stop and the heat of the day would wrap itself around me like a thick, stifling blanket. I slept a lot. Went out only long enough to get food. Ignored well-meaning people knocking on my door.
When I got to Peru, a similar thing happened.
The same thing happened when I lived in Washington.
It wasn’t the travel that assaulted me, though being in a new place, with strange customs and a painful distance from friends and family, did contribute to my feelings. What is unchanged in all of these scenarios is me. Sometimes, the only viable option is to stay in bed, shades drawn, quietly pretending like I don’t exist. Not even to myself. Because the reality of existence weighs too much, and I’m not always strong.
It reminds me of physical exercise, in a way. Some days I work out hard, really pushing myself, for a few days stretch. By day four or five my arms are shaking, my legs feel like bruised rubber, and the thought of a push-up is enough to start the waterworks. Emotions are like that, too. Carry around that heavy stuff for too long, and fatigue sets in.
Except, it’s harder to put down emotions than a free weight, and, when travelling, taking that day (or three) to sit in the dark and recharge doesn’t seem like an option. There are places to go! Food to eat! Adventures to be had!
All of which can be loosely translated as: If I’m not out there DOING, I’m wasting my time, wasting my opportunities.
It’s a hard balance to strike. I knew I didn’t want to go home and say, yeah, I spent all my time looking at the ceiling. However, I knew that pushing myself too hard would just whip around and smack me in the face. So I figured out some things that helped, even a little, and started from there. Maybe they can help you, too. Whether you’re darting around SE Asia, or studying at university, or moving through daily life in your hometown, taking care of yourself is always a priority.
The single most important factor in feeling okay with the world has been music. When I was in Rishikesh, I could not stand walking through the bustling streets with all the people and the noise and the vendors shouting at me. I told myself I had to do it that way, or else I wasn’t really experiencing the city. Which, I had a point, but it was making it so I didn’t go out at all. Then, I plugged in my headphones. Instantly, the world became a whole lot easier to tackle. Find something that feeds your positive emotions. As tempting as a good Bright Eyes marathon might be, see if you can resonate with an artist who sings about beauty, truth, and love. Not just heartache.
Yoga has served as a major sustaining practice in my life. Through a divorce, being fired for the first time, losing one of my cats, and on and on, yoga has been a place I can turn to when the noise of the world gets too loud. It is a home that I can take everywhere with me. Developing some kind of mindful movement practice can help you settle more deeply into your body, and in this present moment. I’ve found that when I am truly focused on right now, the fact that I am alive and breathing and in no imminent danger, helps to make those clamouring sirens of oh-my-god-I-can’t-do-this fade away a bit.
Asking For Help
I’ve never been great at making friends, and keeping them has been challenging, too. At least, that’s what I’ve told myself. My first night in Delhi, I had a meltdown. When I took to Facebook and posted a plea for help, I was surprised at the response I got. Not my boyfriend, not my family, not the friends I thought I’d grown close to before I left. Almost immediately I received a message from a guy I’d met at a festival, weeks earlier. He became my lifeline that night, and many more times in the following months. Reach out. Keep reaching out, especially when it hurts. Love comes from directions you may never expect.
Take excellent care of yourselves. Be kind. Be soft. Be love.
“In Ecuador, poor spelling is fought with red spray sword”
Quitos’s nights can be really cold, at almost 3000 metres above sea level… but not cold enough to stop Agents X and Punto Final on their special crusade: correcting the graffiti misspellings that decorate Ecuador’s capital.
‘¿Para que, por qué, mi amor?
Por ti. Por mí. lo siento.’
‘For what and why my love?
For you. For me. I’m sorry.’
“I used to pass in front of that graffiti phrase quite often… It looked like a love declaration, but I couldn’t stand that there were so many misspellings in it, 10-12, maybe! I just felt I had to highlight that, it was so hilarious.” Punto Final remembers laughing. That famous graffiti used to stand on a virginal white wall in Lugo’s alley, a narrow street in the bohemian neighbourhood of La Floresta.
It was his first correction. With a friend, they grabbed some red spray, an old pizza box, a cutter, and they corrected the theatrical mix of grammatical horrors, adding commas, accents, question marks, as a teacher would do with his students’ essay. The anonymous zorros signed themselves as “Acción Ortografíca Quito” (Orthographic Action Quito).
The group started the “correctional operation” in late 2014, searching for the misspelt graffiti around Quito, Ecuador’s capital. By night, away from police eyes and always protecting their identity, (“We want to share the cause, not be the protagonists”), they started to fight the bad grammar armed with the dreaded red spray.
Graffiti is by its definition a vandalistic and anarchic act – it’s a resistance, a fight against the rules and order of our society, the correcting agent explains.
“You have to be completely crazy, in some way fascist, and obsessive, to decide to go and correct a misspelt graffiti: it’s like wanting to put order into the mess, into the anarchy, into the vandalism. For me that makes it just so funny and ironic”, Final says.
But then, something none of them expected happened. Someone who was walking down that little one-way road, amused by the misspellings’ corrections, decided to take a picture of the graffiti, to tweet it and to share it with a friend living abroad. So, a funny but educational activity turned into a veritable movement going viral on the Internet.
“Brazilian BBC wrote an article about us, then it was BBC Mundo: I was stupefied, I just love the BBC so much!”, tells Punto Final. Local and international journalists started to seek them between the Andean capital roads, while homologues groups spread out in different countries. “They wrote us from Brazil, Argentina, Spain; people from Colombia want us to go correct their graffiti misspellings. If they pay us a ticket we go!”
But fixing all Quito’s misspelt graffiti is not a simple labour. Even if the “situation” is under control in the far north of the city, in barrios such as la Guangüiltagua, Floresta, Avenida America, much more contaminated public space needs to be tidied up. Acción Ortográfica hasn’t considered giving up because people thank them, considering what they do as a campaign, an act that can help people think more about how to communicate. Especially in graffiti.
“We happily realised that the messages are now better written, even if we know that some grafiteros hate us for what we do; but this makes it even funnier because making them angry wasn’t our purpose at all”, accepts Punto Final.
Now that the group is well known in the city, a lot of people ask Acción Ortográfica to help them with the Misspelling Purge. “We just got two beautiful new interns in our ranks; they want to be called Ninjas”, jokes Punto Final.
Even if in some unintentional way, Acción Ortografíca Quito reminds people how important a good grammar and syntaxes are. Their message inspired a graffiti artist to paint its tags (the graffiti writing sometimes used as a signature) on white walls using Times New Romans fonts.
The antiheroes, the anarchists that put order on the mess, won the respect and sympathy of more than one. For example, Susana Puente, the 75 years old owner of the wall that was first graffiti modified by the agents, decided to keep the correction because she found it funny and she is now famous among her friends for that. Acción Ortografica also brought glory to a small village in California, where lives the grandmother of Final’s roommate. She just got crazy when asking his grandchild if he had an idea about whom “these people who correct graffitis in Quito” were, she got a “he’s my roommate” as an answer. Local newspaper probably had content for weeks to write about.
In Quito, sunsets arrive early, and the shadows allow Acción Ortográfica agents leave for their job. When I ask Punto Final which is the most difficult graffiti he found on his paths, he smiles before answering.
“It said: << god is movement… >>. And we decided not to correct it. In our society, God with a capital letter refers to the Catholic god. We think instead, the author wanted all the people reading his phrase to identify, no matters their beliefs. And we decided not to correct it” Final remembers, laughing with a red spray can in his hand.
Written by Sara Andreini, edited by Bethany Naylor
On the highest of mountains and the lowest of places