- A thirty-eight year old man named Victor inspired me to take up meditation. When I was leaving New York in August I had thought I wanted to begin my travels with a silent retreat, but when I got to India I was so exhilarated by my newfound backpackerism that I was totally not wanting to be in a silent meditating zone. I wanted to get out there and explore everything! But four months later, sitting with Victor over coffee on one of my last days in India, I began to feel like some kind of meditation was going to be necessary once I got to New York. It turned out Victor had been practicing for almost fifteen years and gave me some great advice about where to look in NYC. (And I am now writing this from a coffee shop near the studio in the East Village where I just practiced my very first hour of meditation.)
A woman on the beach sold pineapple daily. This woman was re-lentless! She’d walk from person to person with a full pineapple and a machete singing the catchiest marketing jingle of all time, which was, “eat eat eat, yummy yummy yummy, mm mm mm”…. over and over.
While drinking coffee at my guest house one morning, I spilled a couple of drops on the wooden table. Over the subsequent hour, while I was reading, something like one hundred ants managed to find these coffee drops and encircle them. Two little coffee pools completely surrounded. I was entranced by this!
- I bought a dress from a shop on the beach and ended up spending a while talking to Geeta, the shop keeper. Geeta is 21 years old and has a son. She was wearing a hot pink saree and had piercings up and down both her ear lobes. She was stunningly beautiful. She was also very poor. Her shop — one in a row of many — was unremarkable. She hadn’t been able to make many sales recently. I began to suggest some ways to increase her sales. One of them was naming the store and making a beautiful sign outside to attract customers. She told me she couldn’t afford paint for the sign. Another suggestion was displaying more colors of each product so that customers could see there were choices. She could not afford to buy more hangers. So I said to her, “Geeta. You are beautiful and have such amazing style. You know which stuff is good in here. Why don’t you pick the best items, put them out on the good hangers you do have, and keep all the other crap inside.” She said she wished she could afford to buy better products for the shop, and she only had a few products that she actually thought were good, which she had to rotate daily so that customers would be inclined to come inside again. So finally I convinced Geeta to let me come back and help her re-merchandise the front of the store. Sort the stuff by color to create a visual appeal. Display outfits instead of single items. We spent a few hours the next day doing just that. At the end of our conversation, Geeta and I took this photo together:
(Unfortunately you can’t see the re-merch because it’s on the other side) and I wanted to send it to her but she could not afford enough phone credit to accept picture messages. I took her phone number so that I could call her. I told her that I could email her the picture instead, and that using Gmail she could create a FREE account. But she said that having email wouldn’t matter, because she cannot read or write in English OR Hindi… and also because she does not have access to the internet. This whole experience was the final nudge I needed to commit to starting the aforementioned company I just founded. Again more on that in a future post coming soon.
My flight home from Thiruvananthapuram Airport to JFK had a two hour layover in the Abu Dhabi airport. Flying over Abu Dhabi was bizarre. Flat desert as far as my eyes could see. And then I began to see hundreds of islands of sand, meandering bright blue waters running between them as I wondered how on earth this could be a city. How would people get between these sand islands? I didn’t see bridges or boats. And then, in the distance, the islands got larger and an unfamiliar cityscape began to appear amidst them. A city that looked like one of those outer space civilizations in the movies (that I haven’t seen). Futuristically shaped buildings, their shiny modern façades glaring in the desert sunlight. I couldn’t see the “Palm” (I think it was on the other side of the plane) but I think the part of the cityscape I could see may have been even weirder than that thing. Inside the Abu Dhabi airport, coffee went back to being five dollars (I didn’t buy it) and lighting went back to being harsh and fluorescent.
I didn’t have to wait very long before boarding for the second leg of my flight, this time direct to JFK. My mom wanted to pick me up at JFK (obvz) but something just didn’t feel right about that. My mom and I are very close. And of course in typical Bonnie fashion she had said, “but don’t ya wanna, like, land at the airport and be hugged by somebody who LOVES YOU?!” And while on one hand I did, I also felt like that wouldn’t have been the right finale to my journey. Because every time I had exited a bus, train or the occasional plane for the past four months, I had backpacked on foot or in a rickshaw to my place of accommodation. And then as soon as I arrived at that place, I’d become conscious of how heavy my things were, and I’d breathlessly drop my front-side backpack, feverishly unlock the hip and chest buckles on my big backpack, and plop myself wherever I could, feeling the small victory of having ‘made it.’ And so it didn’t feel right to ‘make it’ to my apartment any other way.
When I exited the AirTrain, a girl around my age with a gigantic backpack — bigger than the one I’d been traveling with — was studying the subway map, apparently confused. She was from Switzerland, spending a week in New York before heading off to Mexico City, Mexico. Partly in denial about no longer being in her shoes, and partly due to my newfound sense of hospitality, I stopped to talk to her and help her figure out her route. She was incredibly appreciative and told me that she’d heard New Yorkers weren’t friendly but that I’d proven her wrong. I think that’s an unfair and even inaccurate stereotype of New Yorkers, but we can all do our best to prove it wrong anyway :)
As I approached my apartment building on foot, I saw that on the opposite corner there was now a CALEXICO (my favorite Mexican food truck slash restaurant in the world) and literally said out loud to myself, “you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me! Fuck yeah!”
The first person I saw when I walked up to the Lenox House was my doorman Robert. He is about 80 years old so he is my stand-in grandpa because I don’t have grandparents. (And he has been a doorman in NYC for over fifty years, so he knows what’s up. Always.) Robert’s face lit up when he saw me, and seeing his face nearly brought me to tears. After a few minutes of catching up with him, I went up to my apartment where my sister (and room mate) Danielle was there to give me a huge, long hug. And two days later, I saw my sister Lizzie, my mom and my dad, and my entire extended family at my cousin Amanda’s wedding in Philly. Jetlagged as I was, it was absolutely wonderful.
Side note: I wanted to capture some other thoughts and feelings since being back in NYC... wrote a post here. Read time 5-8 minutes.
So, I’m back. What was the best part? That it happened. Even the shittiest moments (of which I’m happy to say there weren’t many) were good. Did I find what I was looking for? Well, I’m not really sure what I was looking for, or whether I was even looking for anything. But I am inclined to say yes. I think I wanted to live a life in which every moment was an opportunity to do what felt right in that moment. A life where I could prioritize sticking to my gut instead of sticking to a schedule, and in doing so — in making decisions based on happiness alone, and in seeing how I prioritized my time when all of my time was free time — learn what truly makes me happy. Over the past four months I saw the best parts of myself illuminated and I saw the worst parts of myself illuminated. I have learned how important it is to align my purpose to my actions. This seems obvious but is not an easy thing to do. I have learned that there are some things about me that contribute to my purpose and my actions not being aligned, and I'd like to change those things... and I can consciously make an effort to change them. But perhaps even harder to learn was that there are some things about me that I cannot change and that I will have to accept. Reconciling the delta between those two aspects of myself -- the things I can/should change and changing them, and the things I cannot change and accepting them -- will be a lifelong effort and challenge that I am inspired to take on. I have no regrets (although I am still bummed that I didn’t complete the Annapurna trek even though that post was way dramatic). I could not feel any more fulfilled by my decision to stay in India and Nepal and really get under the skin of those places rather than hitting fifteen other countries as originally planned and spending 3 days in each of them. When I first left NYC, I left thinking that this was the only time I’d ever be able to do something like this. Like I had to get it all done before it was too late. But I learned from so many inspiring people that my life is my own to live. If I should be so lucky to have the opportunity to earn, save, travel, repeat for the rest of my life, I’ll do that. And next time I hit the road it will be with even greater intention of giving as much to each place I visit as it gives to me.
This was going to be my last blog post. My last week in India and tie it all up with a bow. I never did mean to be a blogger after all. But I guess this is the last blog post that isn’t, because I think I want to share my journey as I build this new company. It is directly inspired by my travels and so it feels like a natural extension of this story. I think I’ll share the idea and my progress right here on this here blog thang. Although when this starts getting targeted to me on Facebook, I think it might be time for a name change:
What do you think about Blah Blah Blog??? ;)