Thursday, October 23, 2008

The 8-Fold Path to Loving India

Some over-generalizations about India, as counseled by veterans (inter-port students, professors, citizens):

1. Everything that can be said about India, the opposite is also true.
2. You either love it or hate it; really, it's true.
3. It will shock all five senses, with immediacy and unapologetic force.

Now that this has been said, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with every statement. To begin with the first, yes, a traveler in India will be in a relatively consistent perplexed state. Vast homeless populations set in front of prodigious homes; a culture technologically advanced and capable but unable to stabilize simple electrical power, which is shaky everywhere; impressive synergy of race and religion in the South, devastating chasm in the North, Hindus versus Muslims versus Christians, etc. Any country with twenty-two official languages will come with its share of incongruities. As for the second, from what I've gathered from the shipboard's responses, the majority hated it, while I (and Kristin) really, really loved it. More on that later. And the third, the shock factor, also much more on that later; however, I can now very blandly vouch for its indelible air (having caught constituents of all the senses) that planted itself in our sinuses as turmeric smoke, stained our clothes a loud red and yellow and followed us onto the ship.

India is crazy!

Now onto the action:

[The following will detail my visit to Dakshina Chitra for a yoga/meditation retreat. And given the classes I have been taking on the ship (namely Zen), I will frequently refer to Buddhism or aspects of it in other terms, but creative writing has also been dominating so much of my time and energy that I find it impossible to elude this distracting, flowery language.]

Days One and Two and Three:

Six hours in a stale bus with brief twenty minute vacations in the stifling humidity; heavy, constraining denim and canvas to hide offensive knees and shoulders; the only shade found trapped inside doll-sized, open-air display cases with space enough for Vishnu, Ganesh, or Shiva alone: this is my first day in India, and already I am beginning to understand why Buddhism may have developed in such a country. For me, at least, the suffering is relentless—sweating and sticking to myself, the bus chair, the foul air, an impending sense of future digestive disaster, the unabated fear that malaria is already swimming through my blood, or if not that, dysentery hidden and packed away in my Aquafina. When my thirst level reaches parched, I begin to resent the fact that everything so commonly within my grasp is now unattainable. But I am just a tourist, and everyone else seems to be weathering the challenges without a sweat.
By nightfall, the bus makes its final stop at Dakshina Chitra, a community encompassing all of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka within a few buildings as a means to promote the amity between those diverse Indian cities. We are released into the hands of strangers, cruel strangers who feed us bountiful trays of zesty bartha and chapatti late into the night before telling us the days start at 6 and we will have only a few hours to rest before the first yoga instruction. Are these the ascetics the Jainists advocated?
I suffer all night, choking on the thick turmeric-saturated air mixed with bug repellent outlining my body like chalk. I am steeping in my own sweat and cannot, cannot sleep. Eventually it becomes morning, and I slide dazedly down to the kitchen for what was listed on the schedule as "coco," which I interpret as "coffee." But it is coco, and coco only that I am being served in lieu of my usual two coffees, so I take what I am allotted and sit down with the rest of the group in plastic chairs against the wall. "No coffee," I grumble. My neighbor is suffering, too, and adds a few more banned substances to the list—caffeine, nicotine, drugs of any kind—and I feel like I am being subjected to the bodhisattva precepts, though I am just here for yoga. Although lying, killing and stealing were never mentioned, I have been raised well enough in my own country to know they are, at least, ubiquitously frowned upon.
The steps which much be taken to successfully practice yoga and meditation are beyond my power to execute. Straw mats, thin and hard and abrasive against my bones; pillows whose cases have spent years soaking in the soupy Indian air; raucous ceiling fans cutting through the rising heat; and of course, mosquitoes, are among the few adverse distractions in the room. The instructor is a petite woman whose face is like a rich redwood carving with deep wrinkles etched under every sac of skin and two dark knots for eyes. She sits herself down in a plastic chair at the front of the room and silently holds a microphone in her hand. So far, she seems to be a victim to sloth and torpor, and while that sort of attitude would normally suit me, I know that enlightenment—or at least serenity—will not spring from a lazy mind.
"Day one will consist of three separate yoga sessions, as will the next two days," she begins. "By the time you leave, you will be familiar with The Art of Living, but it will not be natural until you make the effort to apply it to your lives back at home, or on the ship, which is the hardest part. Help each other," she instructs.
Stage one of morning yoga is Pranayama, or three-stage breathing. I have done gymnastics all my life and consider myself to be athletically capable, but I have never been well acquainted with breathing. I am often oppressive in regards to respiration; air does not flow easily through me, but is customarily locked in my lungs during movement and quickly expelled afterwards. Though Pranayama follows anyone's habitual breathing pattern, it requires immense effort on my part—four seconds breathing in, four seconds to hold, six seconds slowly releasing the breath, then hold again for two at the bottom, all with our arms configured different ways—hands at our hips, hands under our armpits, elbows folded in towards the head with hands on our shoulder blades–to maximize stamina. Meanwhile, my knees and ankles, bearing the weight of my whole body, are throbbing and splitting at the joints as they take on the pattern of the woven straw. I wonder how whole societies—Indian, Chinese, Japanese, etc.—can withstand this posture through meals, ceremonies, and I reason that they are unquestionably superior. I must tell Professor Groner that he was mistaken—Buddha nature is not within everyone.
Next, I am instructed to sit Indian style with my hands on my knees, palms facing up so as to create a sort of energy absorption panel, lightly touching my thumb and forefinger to form a continuous circle. "I'm sure you've all seen Om chanting before," the instructor speculates, which I have, but only in movies. She initiates the first "ooooooooommm" and I follow, but as I do, I feel as if I am making a mockery of the whole practice, like om-ing is something only seasoned meditators are invited to do, and I can't even sit on my knees yet.
The following exercise is done lying down, which is a relief. Savasana, or complete rest—our time to meditate on anything we think relaxes us, be it a tree, a flower, or a stream. The instructor suggests a coconut tree, so I begin with that, but I grow quickly flustered when I am unable to create the image in my mind. My thoughts dart between irises, what lunch will be, oak trees, people on the boat, people at home, my sleeping foot, the potential swarm of mosquitoes over my face, another oak tree. I have a bad case of "monkey mind," and the only way to make it stop is by falling asleep, which I do unintentionally. Caffeine deprivation and little sleep will do that to a person. A positive course of action, I suppose, would be cutting off my eyelids like Bodhidharma himself, but that would be assuming I have reached the level at which such adjustments are necessary, kind of like om-chanting is only for veterans.
We break for an hour lunch and the staff has broken out the silverware, so I eat mindlessly. When we return for yoga, the instructor splits the thirty of us into five groups, then tells us to discuss a life-changing and deeply personal moment in our lives. The people here are all faces I've seen, but have never, and might not ever, speak to. Beyond that, I have never been one to divulge my own sob stories to even the best of friends; that's what my mother is for. But as I begin, I remind myself that it is a mandatory exercise, that I am not seeking pity, and I am simply following the rules. I catch myself laughing through the saddest parts, unable to maintain eye contact with my audience who is listening in earnest, and as I finish, other groups are crying and hugging each other and I wish that I could detach myself from my deleterious pride, but it is too sturdy. America is not conducive to such openness, unless it is aired on daytime talk shows in which case suffering Americans may vicariously purge themselves of grief.
The groups disperse and form into two lines, each Indian style and facing the other. "Now I want you to look at the person across from you and find the humanity within them," she instructs. My partner is a boy who has flirtingly teased me since I met him, with no success, and both of us find it impossible to gather the humility it requires to gaze into each other's eyes, so we laugh and scan the room. The next partner is someone I have never seen before this trip, and we have yet to introduce ourselves, so we do not laugh or smile once, just appreciate the other's existence until we switch again.
My final stop is across from the instructor, and when she looks at me, she grips my hands and shifts her face around ever so slightly, her eyes drooping and sad while her brows are raised at attention. She is speaking to me. Her mouth is still but some strange power is coursing from her eyes to mine, trying to tell me something like, "we are both people, you know? We are on this earth together; isn't that amazing?" The compassion I feel towards her is unlike any I have felt for a person; to love a stranger just for their being alive, the only connection between you found in the air which encircles the whole earth, the ground that spreads between countries, and a heart we all share, the same heart with the same simple desires, to feel love, joy and acceptance. I don't feel silly for crying, and won't until I return to my life on the ship with people who have not yet looked into the eyes of ren.
Tonight, I can finally breathe, and the mosquitoes don't bother my sleep.
Day three without coffee: We begin the Pranayama breathing which is less straining now, then ease into "five sheaths meditation"; that is, visualizing levels of self and the environment from the outside in, then back again. The first level is Annamaya kosha, the environment, during which I sit silently, eyes shut, locating every sound around me to define my place in the world. Pranamayakosha is next, and in this step I assess the various sensations in my body—sleeping limbs, an ache in my lower back, an itch behind my ear. We then progress to Manomayakosha, an evaluation of the conscious mind and determining its relation to a single self (I) and surrounding forces (everything else). By this point, my body has reached optimum relaxation and the border between myself and the world is dissolving. Vijnanamayakosha is the fourth sheath; referred to in my common tongue as "intuition emotion," it concerns itself with intellect and the five senses and "my" perception of "everything else." During this step, the instructor stresses this kosha's impermanence in that our perceptions are ever-changing and fleeting, and also incapable of perceiving anything objectively, which I find to be true, as the formerly objectionable cumin aroma sailing into the room grows increasingly appealing in conjunction with my hunger. And finally, Anandamayakosha creeps into my sleeping body and quells my cramping knees, carrying me into a state of bliss, as ananda is defined. My mind is awake and my body is buzzing, and I have complete confidence that supine meditation will serve to lift me closer to enlightenment, as opposed to a deep sleep.
Twenty minutes later, I open my eyes and everyone is sitting up again; I fell asleep. But I accept my defeat and still feel as if I have accomplished something beyond my average ability. During the course of Panchakosha meditation, I recognize a relationship between these Hindu sheaths and the five aggregates particular to Buddhism—material shape and Annamaya, feelings/sensations and Pranayama, cognition/perception and Manomaya, discriminative consciousness and Vijnanamaya, and discriminative consciousness with Anandamaya. Though the last two are disputable—or perhaps they all are—it is impossible to miss the shared perspective and arrangement of phenomena among them all, and I must say, it feels rewarding to finally see a class lecture executed in real life.
Our departure is preceded by one final discussion, the most pivotal of all. My fellow yogis seem to have progressed at the same pace, as the people who were once so inhibited on the ship, including myself, are suddenly willing to bare their souls, responding to a series of pertinent, yet neglected questions: What do you want in your life? When will you be happy? How long do you propose to stay on this planet? What have you done to bring out divine qualities in other people? Questions I would have—and probably already have—laughed at due to their gravity I am now examining with others. I am benefiting sentient beings by making myself vulnerable and accepting others who are just as afraid; I am promoting good by participating in a worthwhile conversation; I am divining the morality within strangers and friends. I like to think that this awareness is wisdom, though I am not so bold as to declare myself wise just yet. And now three days back on the boat, I already feel myself backsliding; perhaps it is all the coffee I've been drinking.

Now I must make a confession. The past few (hundred) paragraphs were extracted from a sort-of essay for Zen Buddhism, so I hope it wasn't too painful for anyone. Are you guys still reading? Please comment if y'are.

The final (two) days in India were equally fun, though less stimulating. They consisted of a mall visit, vegetarian curries, coffee shops, walks and explorations. Sadly, we were two soldiers down—weak-stomached Billsteins and their dysenteric difficulties. I, luckily, made it out of India alive (without any fiery stomach syndrome), so I was able to stroll the streets and race rickshaws in my free time. (A side note regarding India's streets: NEVER DRIVE IN INDIA. Unless you are capable of transforming your image of cars and cows and motorbikes passing at breakneck speed into a simulated video game, which I was forced to do on many occasions, or if you are prone to heart trouble, THIS ADVICE IS FOR YOU!) Though I am without rickshaw-or-other-vehicle-related injury, I managed to leave with my own slew of issues, which I will expound for you below, as we are all family here, and families share important news such as this, for health and ego purposes:

After returning from yoga, while writing the above essay for Zen class, as it happens, I noticed a strange glare flaring up around each letter on the screen and surmised that something must be terribly wrong, so I initiated a series of tests to arrive at a very basic conclusion: my eyes suck. In the history of my life, my eyes have been equals, living in perfect marital bliss. Now, my right eye is beginning to deteriorate, and without the support of the left. They are forced to complement the other for the time being, but my sight is stronger with the left only, so I have been considering an eyeball replacement, or perhaps an eye patch, though the doctors warned me not to wear an eye patch near the captain as he will mistake me for a pirate and destroy me, as he has been taught to do.

So we have my degenerating right eye, and to add to that—also plaguing the right side by sheer coincidence—we have my right leg (and right arm, on occasion), with a constant throbbing pain akin to that of a growing child's joints. What can be done about this? I will refrain from seeking too much pity from you all, my family, as that can only go so far.

Beyond these harmless ailments—which may result in blindness, paralysis, amputation, or even death—I am fine. Don't cry for me yet. I have no complaints about India besides the brevity of our stay there, and I hope to return at some point in the future, as I have never felt fuller than I have there, just sitting and breathing in the air. I can't compare it to any other countries—as I did with Salvador, Namibia, Africa, etc.—so I apologize if I didn't provide a clear visual for you all, but you must go there and see for yourself. I demand it. And hopefully you will love it, as the minority did. (But please keep in mind that the pool consists of highly sheltered and privileged white children—not to say I am not privileged, because I know very well that I am—but if you saw these kids—oh man!—you would really understand, these are one-spot-of-dirt shower people, touched-by-a-stranger shower people, let's-butcher-the-language! people, let's-buy-saris-and-wear-them-so-our-bellies-show! girls, let's-get-so-drunk-we-fall-out-of-our-rickshaw! boys, and so on).

And now, I am in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in a ritzy hotel, searching for internet before going out on the town. Please don't judge me.

P.S. Please say hello! (in the form of a kind, flattering comment on this blog. I will use it for recommendations later). Love everyone! Stay tuned for news from Malaysia.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Rainbow Nation?

First and foremost, I apologize to my dear reader(s) for keeping you in the dark for so long. South Africa sunk its teeth into me and maintained its fierce grip from sunup to sundown, and sometimes late into the night, if that's what the monster wanted. It dragged me into cars, along streets, into bars, up mountains. It shook me until the change fell from my pockets and rolled down the street into the hands of begging children and their hungry parents, or just disappeared under tall white towers of accented South African men, their dainty seafood forks waving through the air as they shooed the blacks away. When the monster turned left, I saw poverty; to the right, immense wealth. There were countless shacks (literally countless, they have never been counted because it would be an impossible task) composed of collected dumpster material scraps only five miles from the majestic wharf serving hundred dollar plates of seafood and curry to men in suits and ties.

In the middle is Long Street, a fairly even blend of both sides; here, we have some respectable stores, busy restaurants and loud bars where blacks and whites live in harmony-or coexist, rather-as blacks serve and whites buy. Apartheid having ended only a little over a decade ago, I suppose it's positive to see everyone sharing the same space, if nothing more. America is still struggling and we've had over half a decade to acclimate to desegregation laws.

Despite the partition of South Africa into black and white areas, the nation as a whole is so rich and colorful, so energetic, and really, really beautiful. From the second I stepped off the ship, I was bound by its scenery, seized by some aesthetic force to go! explore! make it yours! And so I did just that, running down the ship's stairs to embrace the city, say hello to the ever-napping trio of seals docked on the pier, and make the city mine (by buying things, of course. How else?)

But that was not before a very long South African authors reading on the ship which included two women-one white, one colored-and one black man who managed-by some great stroke of luck, I would guess-to get his work published. One woman knew how to use words, I'll admit, but I can hardly say anything in defense of the other two. Their "author" status was thanks to nothing more than fortune, being one in a million people walking along as a good story was dropped from the sky like bird shit. I give them props for trying, especially in a place where reading isn't the most popular pastime (nor is it in America), but I just couldn't get past the Dick & Jane narratives when the stories had such great potential.

As it turns out, novel writing is not the most revered profession in South Africa, and the population of readers is dismally low, so competition is scant and most who try succeed. Remind me to move here before I resort to intra-family loans, bank loans, theft, unemployment benefits, or welfare.

Back to Cape Town.

Yes, Cape Town. Nothing the ship staff said could have prepared me for this place-mostly because the staff's pre-port comments are dependably ignorant and bigoted, harsh and unwarranted. Not to worry, a lot of the teachers are great and knowledgeable and the like, but the few responsible for filling our heads with fear before every port need to check themselves. On the other hand, perhaps I am lucky to have a staff so willing to sacrifice its own prestige, offending students, other faculty, and visitors from future ports, just so that we may dismiss them and their comments as we create our own. Thank you, faculty.

First debunked anti-Cape Town remark: Cab drivers

Keep in mind, this is following Namibia where I grew quite skeptical of cab drivers and was willing to believe everything Semester at Sea had to say against taxis for the remainder. But as they were wrong about Namibia-low crime level, certainly not a place you have to worry about being ripped off or driven around by a drunk cabbie, no sir-they were just as wrong about Cape Town. Unlike Namibia and Salvador, our dear Cape Town cabbies were willing to talk about anything and everything, from love to politics, which made for some really delightful road tours. One divulged his romantic love of Oprah Winfrey and explained how he would, someday, go to Chicago and profess his love; another openly discussed the recent presidential swap in South Africa and continued to comment on America's upcoming election, about which he had some very strong opinions, and surprisingly extensive knowledge; others convinced me of South Africans' immense strength through apartheid and the following years of desperation and death. Had I followed Semester at Sea's advice and avoided cabs, I would have missed out on all of this intimacy and left with a very flat image of the city.

Second debunked anti-Cape Town remark: Theft

The pre-port talk had me anticipating Salvador, Revisited (+zombies, bazookas and bombs), but what I saw was more on the level of Pleasantville (+color), Canada (+the Jeffersons), or Cheers bar (where everyone knows your name, and actually wants to see you).

Theft is everywhere, including my own quiet town of Monterey, (I will give them that), but in comparison to Salvador (where children walked the streets with switch blades waiting for you to say something wrong, men stared at you while they peed in the street, and vendors chased you down to sell you something then refused to give you enough change) and Namibia (where taxi drivers charged 100 ND to drive you to the wrong place and 100 more to make the correction, dark men followed you from store to store to see how much money you had, and everyone warned you against everyone else until you couldn't trust anybody), Cape Town was a relaxing little beach stroll, an umbrella, a coconut and a straw. I never once felt threatened, nor did I hear of any crimes committed against Semester at Sea students (unlike in Salvador and Namibia). What I saw were a bunch of happy, smiling South Africans wanting to talk and exchange stories, to drink and to dance, and to be safe and clean just as we wish to be safe and clean.

And Schoppa, really? Theft on Table Mountain? You've got to be kidding.

Third debunked anti-Cape Town remark: Violence

This has already been touched upon in relation to theft, and again, as theft, Semester at Sea explained how being in public, especially late at night, equals violence, death, and all other potentially horrible things. Sure, Cape Town children asked for change, but begging was never followed by a blade to your throat. Denied children would kindly walk away or accept a hug and a picture in lieu of a coin. Hungry adult roamers were equally polite, and some even went out of their way to help us when we wouldn't help them. The only complaint I heard from students had nothing to do with theft or violence or other discomforts, but that we all wished we could have stayed longer, as a week wasn't nearly enough to swallow such a rich city.

I have been paying far too much attention thus far focusing on the negative aspects of this visit (ship logistics) so I'll tell you all a little bit more about what I actually did, without wasting too much more of your precious time.

After watching the authors read, I headed to a 400+ store mall with Kristin and Eilis where I stopped in maybe 200 and bought one measly sweater. The mall was really no different than any I could find in America, so I don't think I'll waste my time with shopping malls any longer. Afterwards, I went to a Thai restaurant, and while it may be true that those, too, may be found in America, I don't care. I have gone far too long without Thai food, and as long as we're not stopping in Thailand, I have every right to seek it out in every country I visit. In any case, it was delicious and I would have gone back there every night had it not been for my conscious telling me I should try more authentic cuisine. And because no one else would go with me.

The second through fourth days were spent in Kwazulu Natal Game Reserve two hours outside of Durban, which is on the opposite side of South Africa and a two hour plane ride from Cape Town International Airport. I am pleased to say that British Airways treated us well, not to say the food was great, but at least there was food, which is essential, (especially on airplanes) and there were complimentary beverages, and even free wine on the return flight, which was nice after three exhausting days with Kobus (pronounced Quibbis), our deranged safari guide. From the airport, Kristin and I were immediately acquainted with our dear guide who introduced himself as "your worst nightmare," which everyone found quite endearing coming from a rather small and stout blonde fellow. He reminded me of Nigel from the Wild Thornberries (a reference for you mid-90s Nickelodeon devotees) given his rough Aussie-type accent and extensive knowledge of the wild, and also his meek demeanor, how his elfin face fluttered about as he joked and pointed out rhinos and buffalo on the side of the road. In stature, he reminded me very much of Ben Stiller in Heavyweights, but less serious. He made threats in slapstick manner but followed through only slightly and very clumsily, and his arrogance was similarly exhibited even though he was small in size, like Stiller.

I can easily say that if it weren't for this particular guide, I would be very upset with my safari. We didn't see much (of the big 5-rhino, elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo-we saw only two while other groups saw four or all), we froze (having slept in tents with thin sleeping bags, no lights and little protection from prowlers while others stayed in four star hotels with golf courses, multiple pools and high speed internet) and we endured a horribly cramped two hour bus ride between the airport and the reserve (while others were delivered swiftly to their hotels in sleek limousines-not really). But, while others may have pictures of lions licking each other, buffalo eating impala and the like, we had the most startling experiences that will remain dung fresh in our minds for years to come-hyenas stalking our tents, impala and nyala droppings shooting over the campfire, traditional (AND delicious) meals prepared by Mama Cook herself. And the final evening, after two days of parenting a rotting egg, we sat around a campfire and were victims in a brutal social experiment in which everyone ultimately threw their eggs at others to save themselves, and no one got out clean. I still don't know exactly what Kobus was getting at with that-though he touched on something about the circle of life and how life is scarily dispensable and quick and not every game has to have a point as long as you actually remember the life you engage in-but I surely won't forget those three days as easily as those with their three hundred pictures of impala in their iPhoto libraries will forget theirs.

Upon return, we sought out civilization and found it in the form of an Irish pub where a Bon Jovi look-and-sound-alike solo guitarist-singer played early 90s hits. I think the music summoned all of the Semester at Sea students scattered along Long Street, all dancing their ways inside as they distracted themselves with cheap beer and high fives. Being lost in this group is fun, at times, but gets tiresome very quickly.

The following day, Kristin and I branched off and followed a long strip of highway to the Khayelitsha Township, a muddled collection of temporary houses-box-shaped scrap metal mosaics housing three to seven family members-each one anonymous and lost in a morass of colors and shapes that extended miles in every direction. As our awkwardly clean and large bus pulled in, the men stooped on the curb waiting for any work they could get lifted their heads, children ran after us waving and screaming hello! hello visitors! and their parents let them run without calling after them.

Stepping off the bus, we were greeted by these children begging to be hugged and held by Americans, as Americans equal gifts, which some asked for almost immediately. They received crayons and coloring books, paper airplanes and rubber balloons, and seeing how happy these kids were to have just one balloon to run around with, I thought of kids back home who would ask, where's the helium? I then considered those commercials we see back home from some Christian foundation asking for five cents a day, that's all these kids need. I felt guilty for ignoring those gaunt girls in braids and the bald man who had the compassion to hold them and ask for money. But there were so many of them, so many that you'd have to choose favorites, and then what about the rest? Our tour guide warned us about giving out money, because if you give to one, they'll all come swarming after you asking for more; I saw that happen with Smarties, and it was brutal. I'd hate to see what kind of savagery would surface when the coins come out.

I am most afraid that the image of those kids and their energy will dissipate as the boat sails farther away. The girl who was so slight she felt like a papier mâché doll; the little boy covered in scabs who loved to be lifted over the preschool fence so his feet dangled over the other side; the boy who just wanted to be held, and cradled, and loved; I hope they never leave me. And even though I can't help them all, I hope they still see me, or Americans, as good people.

Not sure how to follow that experience, I went shopping. I know, I'm horrible. In my favor, it had already been planned, and I limited my purchases to one hand-painted t-shirt of a giraffe which, in turn, supported the community, I think. In any case, it is a wonderful t-shirt, you would love it.

Enough of these minute by minute accounts.

That night was fun, we went out and successfully avoided the overwhelming American crowd by ducking into a place called Zula where the music was still American, but the people weren't. We even ran across the closest human construction of Papa Smurf, a pale and delicate figure with glorious white hair, thick and sprouting from all the right places in his head to complete the guise. Oddly enough, he sported a Rutgers sweatshirt, which gave Eilis hope that he was a New Yorker as she is, but he was not. New Yorker or not, he was a delightful fellow and a wonderful entertainer, and we will miss him, Papa Smurf, wherever you are.

Thursday was reserved for sky diving, but as people hold suspicions against the truly wonderful coming to fruition in one's own life, so was the case here. We were transported the whole hour and some minutes to the jumping station, teased as we watched the trained jumpers re-load their backpacks with colorful parachutes, then told in a haughty manner by the man in charge that today was simply not our day, thanks to the wind, and we would have to go home. This put many of us in low spirits for the remainder of the day as we all went out separate ways-to Long Street, to bed, to drink. We reconvened at 5pm to watch Desmund Tutu-who I would have guessed was quite drunk, had I not known his status-speak on the ship. No one is quite sure what he was aiming at in his talk, but we all agreed he was a very delightful fellow, as we had deduced by this point that all South African men were.

That night (our last night) five of us-Drew, Kristin, Kelsey, Chris and I-wasted an hour or so at a hookah bar while everyone else hit the town hard. All we hit that night was the floor, because we were laughing uncontrollably, because Drew was dancing with the belly dancer, trying to imitate her. I wish you could have seen it.

Friday morning (our last morning) was Table Mountain morning, but only for two of us. Chris and I started climbing at 10am, without water-because we are novice climbers, and exercisers for that matter-but we made it in a speedy hour and fifteen minutes, everything burning and begging for refreshment. It was enlivening to feel that tired and cold and uncomfortable after being catered to at all times of the day, and Powerade had never tasted so good.

But as all things, even the best experiences have their negative angles, and mine was missing Dave Chappelle who was at the mountain's top at the same time but just managed to escape my vision. Another Semester at Sea student had the honor of making this known to me through a photo of himself with the comedian on his personal camera. The nerve.

And now we skip to today, our third day back at sea. Day One was a rough turn for everyone, either puking or subjected to hearing it throughout the night as the ship pushed its way over the converging Atlantic and Indian oceans. Dresser drawers flew open and shut, tvs spun, glasses and picture frames slipped and crashed to the floor and nobody slept. And those few who did sleep, well, they never woke up. They took that doggone Dramamine, and oh, is it strong. I took the "less drowsy" formula and am just now feeling like I can open my eyes.

I hope to not need it again until we leave India, as I need to be alert for my three day yoga and meditation retreat. Nine days!

Pray for no dysentery.