Monday, November 12, 2012

20 days...Yeah!

Our house

We are certainly learning what it is to share a space. The house is so cute with such an amazing vibe, but it is 4 girls upstairs in a very small space. Shannon and I have to take turns yoga-ing. Amanda and I share a room, Shannon's bed is in the living room. Our kitchen table also serves as her nightstand. We're all the same height, though Amanda totes a half inch superiority. I bet she wishes she could gift that half inch, because none of us can stand up-right in the shower. We are certainly learning how to give space when there is none. 

The night life

The bar scene reminds me of Barcelona. I remember arriving in Spain and being mortified that I couldn't eat dinner until 10:00PM and that clubs were open all night. The same applies to Chile. Most clubs are not even into full swing until 2:00 AM and therefore it is but a simple skip to 5...6...7AM bedtimes. Amanda and Shannon have embraced this. Shannon being the writer and thriving in a Hemingway-esque lifestyle. Amanda being fresh from college and thriving in the freedom of a pos-graduate lifestyle. Me, I'm trying to adapt, and thus far have failed miserably. But it is a work and progress. 

On men

People warn you about Latin American men. But, I feel most independent women have this hubris about them. This feeling that they are not a "silly girl" and that they won't be fooled by false romance. However, these men have a refined-woo. A way to make you feel they see you, that they aren't looking at your breasts--they're staring at your soul through your chest. Our sample subject is Jaun. He owns a hostel here. Drives a BMW (which in my opinion screams douche,). Knows where the salsa nights are and took us on a free trek into the mountains.  With the amount of time Amanda and he spent together, it seemed absurd he could have a wife. It seemed equally absurd that this wife actually owned the BMW (an ironic turn of events). Further, how could "his" hostel that he toted as his prize possession also be his wife. I think, for wedding rings, we should check pockets before hands. 

Shannon and I are not impervious to this, but in our quest for male friends. For example, Shannon found this guru-esque Chilean man. I mean, they bonded over a pagan prayer circle they conducted outside of a bar. To further prove his "hippie" nature; he, Amanda and I were on a boat together. It started to rain, we all went to the covered portion of the boat...bc it was bloody pouring and freezing. We assumed he had passed out sitting, because they all had gotten in at 6am the night before. Nope. He was meditating. Anyhow, Shannon had been having, in her opinion, a-sexual, monk like conversations with him the whole night. Feeling she was forging a true friend bond. The four of us were walking home, (three girls because our roommate Sara was with us) he turns to us... and offers his bed to all three of us! 


Whilst trekking, I found a photo card. Naturally, I figured man who lost the card was my future husband. I'd follow the photo the clues of his life, combing each photo, finding impossible details that would reveal his various locations. After a year, I'd find him, in his favorite, impossibly hipster cafe. We'd be wearing the same glasses, I'd hand him the artistically brilliant scrapbook I'd made of his prints, he'd cry because the book contained the only surviving portraits of his dead grandmother. He'd have a European passport, and we'd live happily ever-after in France. This fantasy was fully developed before I started to sift through the pictures and realize that he looked like this...

Jokes aside, it is sadly impossible to locate this man, but his pictures were amazing. He captured Chile the only way you panoramic shots. The landscape is so vast, the scale is impossible to put into perspective. Simple photos are frustrating and not accurate representations of the majesty before you.  I like to pan-out of my perspective while running here, only in my mind eye can truly see how the lake and mountains are engulfing my small frame. I 'm in a constant state of awe. This is the landscape after which, I'm sure Never-Never Land was created. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Damn Chilean Olivers!

We've arrived. I wonder if we had held out for a year, if we would have simply been beamed to Puerto Varas under the watchful eye of Scottie. But I don't think travel technology advances as quickly as cell phones. Therefore, as it was, it took... 4 planes, layovers totaling over 14 hours, a 13 hour bus journey and one very red-eyed Amanda to get us to our beautiful destination. My favorite moment was Amanda's realization that the plane ride from Miami to San Paulo was not the hour and a half she'd projected, it was in fact 10 hours. I've never seen a more dejected plane passenger. 

Some quickie points...
-We were initially denied entry into Chile. Amanda's face upon hearing that news was priceless.  Apparently, they don't want illegal immigrants, therefore, require proof of exit before they allow entry. Last minute we all had to buy tickets to Buenos Aires (250 dollars!), tickets i'm not sure we can use for fear of this exact scenario happening once more. We'll keep you updated as to our illegal status. 

-Life out of Asia is expensive! We bought coffee and sandwiches in a cute little cafe. Savoring the cookies and attractive waiter. Those cookies must have been baked by the Dali llama...he's known for his baking...because our bill was 52 dollars! 

-Life in Santiago is also expensive if one keeps donating their wallet to the locals. Outside the bus station I bought a strawberry smoothy. I was very excited to drink said strawberry smoothy, therefore, saved 10 seconds by putting my wallet into my backpack. The wallet was gone 30 minutes later when I went to put it in its proper location. As was my decoy wallet. As was our bus tickets. There was three of us. walking in broad daylight, not in crowds. I still can't tell you how it was done, except I am a shining beacon of blond. I do hope the pickpocket was Oliver (on holiday from London of course) and the10,000 pesos he stole will buy him some fancy Chilean gruel. 
*My important stuff was in my fanny-pack stuffed under my shirt so we were only inconvenienced when we had to rebuy our bus tickets because the thieves had already refunded them. Sly devils. They also got my American license, which is sad because I just got it back from the last time it was stolen in Vietnam.   

-Supermarkets are employed by Santa’s elves. Chileans are small and they all wear red uniforms….hence, my feeling surrounded by mythical little people.

-When traveling it is important to pack articles that can dress a person and table. We’ve decorated our rooms, however, the first night out our living space will look sadly bare as scarves serve as table clothes, glasses as wall decor and necklaces as garlands.

We are currently trying to get jobs/learn Spanish/stay warm/not accidently spend a fortune on cookies. Luz, the lady we are living with, is amazing! So warm and accepting. 

We are also living with an Iranian named Sarah. We've already gotten her drunk. The next morning she was less than happy, well I should say evening, the following sentence was over her first meal of the day at 7pm. "You American girls...I can't remember anything...where is my money? How did we get home? This is my breakfast lunch and dinner...!" Leslie enquires if she had fun. "Yes of course, if I could only remember."

I am going to force myself to blog once a week. I had such a great time being home around all of you that I want to make sure we remain connected this time around. No more disappearing for 4 years. I shall strive to be better. 

I love you all!!!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Knitted Barriers to Meditation

The following is an attempt to explain how I feel when I meditate. I am in a constant battle with a knitting old lady, she is quite annoying and very accommodating of all my delinquent thoughts.

“For the final time, these thoughts…do not attach to them, do not invite them into Leslie’s mind. You may greet them, but at all costs you must refuse entry…your job is to simply NOT SEEM inhospitable.”
“But you’re saying we are inhospitable.”
“Well yes, but we needn’t appear so. Feign interest, compassion, whatever ….anything to be rid of them.”

The consciousness of Leslie Renee Russell looks at the elderly lady rocking leisurely on the front porch of Leslie’s mind. It had seemed a brilliant idea; hire an elderly consciousness to politely police Leslie’s thoughts during meditation. She had seemed a perfect fit with minimal costs, only requiring a rocker, yarn and knitting needles. But this woman had proven far more stubborn than any of Leslie’s deepest insecurities. Even Leslie’s toe fetish was easier to control than this this abhorrently kind looking woman soothingly rocking to and fro. 

“No, you hired me to handle thoughts—and I shall do so by my own discipline.”

Leslie’s consciousness looks down in exasperation. That statement was surprisingly firm for such a fragile woman almost completely engulfed by her own knitting. The knitting rustles as Leslie’s thought on American Consumerism stretches with devilish contentment in the ladies lap—purring in perfect imitation of a stray kitten.

“No this is my point! You can’t invite these thoughts into our home, let alone your lap! If you feed them and stroke them we shall never be rid of these infernal strays!!!”

Consciousness grabs American Consumerism by the scruff of the neck and unceremoniously casts it off the porch of the mind. But, Leslie’s thought on Matt (her ex-boyfriend) had been waiting in the wings. He jumps up and after several rotations settles in his newly claimed territory, eyeing the yarn with keen feline interest.

“I don’t want to be rid of them. They keep me company whilst I knit.”

Consciousness looks down at what appears to be a massive knitted snake.
“What in god’s name is that?”
“It’s a scarf for Lefty.”

“Lefty”… “Lefty”…. the audacity of this woman! The Left Hemisphere has been a plague upon the Consciousness’s existence for years, a hindrance to almost all meditation sessions. Unable to relinquish control, naming every thought that comes calling, “Lefty” needs a gag not a scarf.

“This is outrageous, it’s as if you’re running a homeless shelter!”

As if on queue, thoughts of Leslie’s future children, come giggling and gallivanting onto the porch carrying Leslie’s high school insecurities on their backs.
“No! You’re not welcome here, shoo shoo…off this porch!”
The thoughts gaze up at the Consciousness standing strict and foreboding—hands on her hips. Then their eyes flit to the old lady on the rocker. She slightly nods. They smirk, blaze past Consciousness, pause to remove their muddy shoes, then skip gaily into the mind.

“This isn’t working. You need to leave!” Consciousness screams, unable to control the quiver in her voice.
“What are you going to do out-source me?” the lady smiles kindly but she knows she has struck a chord.
They had tried to outsource her many times. Mexican consciousnesses had brought their peyote, Amsterdam hippies their marijuana, countless substances from countless countries. Nothing had subdued the thoughts; many had simply fueled and enraged them.

“I think with the proper love and chocolate Leslie can learn to embrace these thoughts.”
Chocolate! Chocolate! You can’t give Leslie’s fear of rejection sugar! It will run rampant!
Utterly exasperated Consciousness drops to the steps of the porch. Four of Leslie’s future dreams lightly flutter to her shoulder singing as merrily as blue birds in fall. Consciousness puts her head in her hands, Leslie’s First Kiss, First Crush, and First Heartbreak crawl up her arm like ladybugs on a leaf. Leslie’s Creative Aspiration nuzzles between Consciousness’s hands, drooling profusely on her knee…begging to be loved wagging its tail furiously.

Consciousness looks at the old lady, the old lady looks at Consciousness. Eye contact is never broken, intensified by the slow creak of the chair. The old lady knows she isn’t going anywhere, for in her back pocket is the American torte system. The possible wrongful termination suit on the grounds of ageism is the private threat between them. Thusly empowering the rest of Leslie’s dreams, memories, fears, and anxieties to slowly creep from the forest of The Collective Unconsciousness and happily take refuge in the very hospital mind of Leslie Rene Russell.

Disabling adventures

Hello all : )

I wrote something. It can be read in segments or not at all. I know all of you are busy and have jobs and such, but if you are so inclined here is the story of my journey to my Ashram. It was amazing, and I'm having difficulty walking so Mom says I have to stay in bed and off my feet…hence lots of time to write.

I didn't put myself through proper basic training before I attempted the war zone that is train travel in India. Instead of distracting myself with barefooted running and yoga;  I should have been squatting in a box for at least 3 hours a day. I should have found every mosh pit in the greater South East Asian area, and jumped in. I should have sharpened my elbows and borrowed Amanda's man arms. I should't have let myself use the bathroom except in 15 hour intervals, forget a number 2 except but once a week.

I stayed in the small town Chiru took me to for 6 days. I can't tell you what amazing fuel chai and bananas are for running. I'm embarrassed to admit how much time I spent in a small used book store. I was such staple, they started to feed me chai with the employees. My days were spent simply soaking in the beautiful solitude and luscious green landscape. The only people I talked to were helping me stalk the author of the amazing book I was reading. but alas, my stake-outs saw no fruit. Its very hard to make it look like you're naturally bumping into someone, avoiding that awkward conversation as to why you've been hovering outside their door for hours…or why you have those binoculars (j/k, where would I get binoculars in India?).

Anyhow it was time to leave. I had a reserved ticket,  with a reserved seat to a small town three hours away. Then another reserved bed from that town (lets call it the Harlem of India) all the way to Rishikesh (the town of my ashram). 30 hour journey but in style. I arrive for the first leg of the trip. The train pulls into the station and the chaos commences. Those who don't have a reserved ticket (of which there seems to be hundreds) literally swarm the doors/window ruthlessly fighting to get in to get a seat.  Some of the windows of the trains don't have bars on them, so people jump through the window. One man was actually half way through the window, when a larger man grabbed him and threw him back to the platform so he himself could jump through the hole. Myself, I have nothing to worry about. I"m not one of these masses, I have a seat number and a smug attitude.

3 hours later, 8:30 at night, a pleasant first leg of the journey. Window seat and kind people feeding me chapati and complimenting my hat. We get off the train, there is an announcement, and what seems to be a simultaneous groan from all on the platform. All trains canceled. Electric storm. Shit.

Oh well. I'm sure, there will simply be another train, onto which I can transfer my ticket. A delay, but no problem. I"m here for my train, I"ve paid for a seat, this is their mistake. Like the airports, I'll probably get a fancy hotel for the night with vouchers for food. Laughable thought process in retrospect.

The counters are all closed. There are no trains anyway. I'm told to go to "Enquirery". "Enquirery" is a small window, swallowed by a mosh pit of a hundred, pissed-off Indian men. Not only am I the only westerner, but I'm one of a handful of females. I head to the station exit, thinking I'll just get a hotel for the night. I'm overtaken instantly. Dipiyoti Ray, Regional Business Manager for Troikaa Pharmaceuticals Ltd., literally plucks me from the crowd of homeless that are moths to my white face.

"Why are you here? You shouldn't be here. Come on."

The next day, at the ticket counter:
"No reserve seats Mame.  Waiting only, but you WILL get a refund."
"I'm sorry, but I need to get to Hardiwar station, is that possible?"
"Not until August 4th (in 5days), but you WILL get a refund"
"How close can you get me to Hardiwar?"
"New Dehli, but there are no seats either. but you WILL get a refund!"

I'm getting pissed. This refund is the equivalent of six dollars. I don't care about six dollars. I have just spent the night on my yoga mat in the corner of a female bathroom/waiting area, I want to be on a goddamn train.

Non-reserved seating to New Dehli (still 8 hours train from Rishikesh) it is. I am now apart of the fray. Waiting for the train, I draw. I've had a lot of time to draw lately, this one I started last night on the yoga mat, when I was too afraid to go to sleep. An Indian man in his 20s watches me draw for the 2 hours we wait for our train. He names the woman in the picture Lexa. He too is going to New Delhi. He speaks limited English, but he doesn't have to with that perfectly chiseled jaw. Train arrives. It is more frenzied than usual because a lot of people were stranded last night. I'm petrified watching men push old women onto the train to speed their own boarding. Chiseled Jaw (we never exchanged names) grabs my hand he leads me to the disabled car. Here is where I will remain for the next 15 hours.

Only 30% of the people in the car are actually disabled. The rest are poor unreserved people like myself. Those who are legitimately disabled (I say legitimate because there were those whose bandages miraculously switched hands) get choice of seats. The rest of us crowd around them. A crowd it was, but squatters rights eventually come into play. As the hours whittle away, Chiseled Jaw and I move closer and closer to the back of the car, eventually getting a prime seat on the floor under the window. There is a constant ebb and flow of people, sometimes I'm so crammed my knees are at my chin. Other times, Chiseled Jaw and I can both lean on my bag and stretch our legs.

(The car was an amazing cultural study. I could write pages on what I observed, but I dare say this email is long enough. Mostly, I was amazed by the good nature of everyone aboard (with the exception of a harping old woman who refused to take her dirty feet out of my lap). If you got up, you lost your seat (which is why I didn't pee for the entire journey), but no one was ill mannered about it. Everyone leaned on one another. Legs were intertwined to enable everyone to stretch their legs for periods. Peanuts were shared. Water bottles were community property. Babies were passed around. When it was particularly cramped and I had to squat…I almost jumped out of the train. When there was only 20 of us, and I could "comfortably" sit, I felt such a sense of camaraderie and affection for those who had been packed around me for hours. )

At 9:30 PM, after 15 hours, the train pulls into a large station. The air is festive. Countless sellers pass chai and other delicacies through the window of our car. Chiseled Jaw, hands me the food he had bought for the three of us (we had another friend who had been with us since hour 1). He refused money. Our friend hands me a chai. Again offended by the rupees I offer.

At that moment, armed Indian guards enter our car. Intimidating and yelling. I understand nothing, except they are clearly chastising the non-cripples for occupying the disabled car. It is clearly an empty display of authority, because they remove no one…until their flashlight land on me.

"You are not disabled…come with us"

I awkwardly hand the chai to Chiseled Jaw. Our friend helps me put on my backpack. The young boy who had slept on my shoulder in hours 4 and 5, sets my shoes in front of me so I can step into them. Someone else hands me my bag of fruit. I'm escorted out of the train, walked amongst three men with riffles hanging menacingly from their shoulders. I wonder if they'd let me sleep on my yoga mat in jail.

We arrive at our destination…a first class soft sleeper bed. "Sleep!" they order and leave.

Countless hours later, I run into Chiseled Jaw on Delhi station platform. He and our friend were clearly looking for me. I had already given up. The ticket counter had told me the final leg of my journey would be another 8 hours, and the train didn't' leave for another 12. I had my 6 dollar refund in my pocket, and lets be honest, a lot of privilaged American cash. A man was leading me to the private car I had hired to get me to this ashram (only 50 dollars for a 6 hour commute). The boys see me. "You got out…you got sleeper!"

I feel ashamed. They are so happy that I'm ok, no hint of resentment that I was given proper accommodation where they remained crammed on the floor. They protectively size up the man who takes my arm to lead me to the car. I feel embarrassed I got a sleeper. I feel even more embarrassed that I opted for the luxury of a car. As is... I'm limping. I messed up my foot squatting for so many hours. They are shaking my hand as I'm pulled away and put in my transport. The car feels like a helicopter, and I a wounded soldier deserting 'Nam.

I blame my lack of basic training. I was ill-prepared for war and I"m definitely experiencing survivors guilt.