Saturday, April 30, 2011

Monsoon season. I'm sitting outside my hotel room in Pokhara, Nepal, attempting to put together some coherent body of information on the research I've been doing for the past month in Bhutan, and its raining. Hard. Fat drops like rocks on a tin roof drive travelers out of their cozy rooms to see what all the hubbub is about. Apparently I'm the only one in this hotel, since no one's come out to join me, which is just as well since I'm supposed to be writing a paper anyway. Well, what better than rain to start off spring, huh?
I got back to Kathmandu on April 27th and decided to bus it eight hours to Pokhara, the unashamedly tourist/hippie town in Western Nepal. Its really a bueatiful place. A calm lake surrounded by green jutting mountains, backed by white peaks. Daily rain and the relatively southern latitude give it a tropical feeling, with white birds flying circles in the misty mornings and papayas as big as a toddler for sale on the side of the road. There's bikes for rent, trendy cafes, and any kind of food you could want. But I wouldnt know, because I'm writing a paper, right?
Getting back to Kathmandu was some kind of wake up call for me. I dont know, its so alive there. Everyone lives so close together, close to life, close to death, close to crap and trash and food and dirty water... For some reason this time around it feels beautiful to me. The same city I resented two months ago is now a colorful maze, a collage of culture and life and boldness. It just goes to show that everything is a product of our perception. Kathmandu hasnt changed, only I have. Nothing has inherent good or bad qualities, its out projections upon emptiness, the creations of our mind, that give meaning to the world. Funny, I knew this journey was to be a spiritual one; I didnt know the world was an expert on experiential learning practices.
This week makrs the end of my semester abroad and the beginning of traveling through South East Asia alone. So far my attempts at being friendly havent brought too much luck, but I think its the Universe's way of saying "sit the fuck down and write your god damn paper, play later." I did happen to run into some friends from Occidental on the way over here, and got to catch up (and split the cost of a room!) on the first night. Now its just me, a half eaten papaya, and the beginnings of a 25 page research paper. Day 1.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Its been over a month since I've written a blog post. I've had Internet access all this time, since I'm living on a college campus in Paro, Bhutan, but I haven't had the spirit to write.
There're some things people don't say about traveling. All the tales of adventure, the embarrassing moments that you laugh at to look back on, the beautiful photographs that don't quite capture the scene you once saw so far away now. Then there's the terrible illness (of which i have so far been spared), the strange food, and the bare living conditions that you share with your closer crowd, and the one story that you repeat over and over like a song when people inevitably asking "how was your trip?" and you enthusiastically say "Amazing!" because you have to. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, but what are people to say if you came back and said "Oh yeah, my trip sucked, I never want to go back." Surely there would be some discomfort and a quick switch to a new topic. Well, my trip hasn't sucked, but it sure hasn't been the beautiful picture I'll paint for my friends and acquaintances when i get home. The sense of expectation, of letting people down, has been weighing heavily on my conscience even though i know its stupid. I don't owe you anything. If I look back on this with all the negative feelings I feel now it doesn't mean I've failed, though it sure feels like it. Because I know so many people are living vicariously through me, because I'm so lucky to have this opportunity. I'm in Bhutan for God's sake. But as one of the lessons I've learned, its not a place or pretty views that make you happy. Its really only up to you. And if it isn't, if your happiness is coming from external sources, then its fleeting, fake, and nothing you can rely on.
I only took to the task of writing again because the title of my blog, Sunflowers Rise in the East, drew a memory of my past self sitting at my desk last fall, trying to come up with something that could represent my entire trip and not repeat the same "Andrea's Journey to Nepal" that run as the head of so many study-abroad travel blogs. So I chose sunflowers rise in the east, a play on the sun rising, the region to which I was traveling, and myself identification with sunflowers, their bright yellow petals ever turning toward the sun, beaming happiness at all who care to look. Sunflowers can bring me immediate happiness, something I strive to do for everyone I meet.
This sunflower has risen. Slowly. I'm still a shoot in the ground. From the bright flower that stretch toward the sun to the whithering plant drying in the cold winter. Through trials and nights and questioning what the fuck I'm doing here and why don't I feel like me anymore and i just want to go home, I rumbled in my seed, deep under the dark earth, no light to bring my forth. Yet alive, I forgot about the divine energy of life that I used the send my petals toward and reflect on the world. I sat, encased in a thick husk and waited for the day when I would sprout, or be picked up by a bird, or something to bring me to life, out from underground.
Luckily for me the days wear on, the next chapter coming ever forth just like I wish, enjoying moments here and there but mainly looking forward to the next day to pass so the next would come and soon enough I'd be home again. I'm homesick for the first time. But i knew that I was living a lie, because living a life only looking forward, or backward, as I often did, lamenting the loss of the woman I once was, living a life looking at any moment but the present one isn't a life at all, its a dream, an illusion. So how do I get out of here?
Well, I asked. I asked a prayer that I now say daily, to remind me of what i lost and what I want to become. i say: "Divine Mother," or sometimes "divine energy, divine light; open me, so that I may open the World." Its not a call for help, but an conscious effort to open myself to that universal energy that propels us forward, the holy love that connects all human beings, all species of the planet and beyond, and ourselves with our deepest self, the One that is all.
Some of you might have lost me here and that's fine, but i know most of you will know exactly what I'm talking about and I hope you can open your heart chakras further and send me some divine love, because I could use a little bit right now.
So, the seed-case began to open. I'm a little shoot reaching for the sun. Too fragile to support yellow petals, I've barely reached a leaf to catch the rain. Sometimes i wither and sometimes I grow, I'm doing my best to heal and be healed. It may seem sad, that I'm not the blooming great sunflower that used to shine, but though life as a young green shoot is a struggle, its a lesson I'm glad to learn. Because right now, I'm in an open field, far from home and far, far from anyone i hold dear. I'm struggling all on my own, and I know that if i can do this, if I can get through this without needing a change of place or pace or people, then I can do it anywhere. if I can start from seed in a dark place in the earth and grow even just one yellow petal, shine on just half of the people I meet and continue to absorb and reflect the sun, that great divine energy, then I'll know that when its just me, when I'm alone and at my darkest, that I have the power to open up, let it in, and shine like I once did when all the settings were just right and divine light was pouring in and from me.
What I wouldn't do to touch a sunflower right now.

I knwo you didnt al want to read me pour my heart out into a blog entry, but I felt it had to be said. So here are some pictures of the place I've called home the last month, as a token for your time. Enjoy.

Masked dances in Talo, Punaka

Punakha Dzong (fortress)


 Rice patties
 Dancing at the college of natural resources
 Some new friends at the college (i'm wearing the traditional dress)
 handcarving/painting that is on every house and building in Bhutan
cherry blossoms

prayer wheels

The only people i resemble in bhutan: the demons

prayer flags

the highest pass on the Bhutan "highway" a dirt road that snakes around the country) alt: 12,400ft

 Me and Tshering Pem, a friend at Sherubste College
 Dinner with our roomates
 Paro Dzong, near the school where i currently live
Paro valley and the himalayas (thats 'town' to the right)