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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Feb 19, 2009

Home (almost)

I am posting this from my own home-sweet-home where I have been for 2 days now. I made a pact with myself to post this final entry before I started to reweave in any big way with friends, work, e-mail, phone calls and all of that. I thought I'd have it posted right away but I hadn't quite factored in the "Jet Lag from Hell". I got beamed up out of India, spent 45 hours getting my physical body home, and have yet to see the rest of me arrive. I think I'm spread out in a thin layer over the North Pole.

Eli and I arrived in Chennai where I would be catching my flight to Mumbai. We said a long and difficult, but dry-eyed, goodbye. He drove off and I walked into the airport. Then it began - a sort of tidal wave of emotion. My first survival strategy was to buy chocolate. It startled me to find that it cost 70 rupees. That left me with 430 Rs which might or might not be enough for a rickshaw from the domestic airport to the international airport in Mumbai. The chocolate didn't help. The tears kept coming.

I couldn't see to fill out some form I was supposed to complete at the check-in counter, so I just gave up and stood there crying. I told myself "someone" had to play the part of the woman crying openly in the airport, so it might as well be me. As the day and night wore on I would come to realize I had a lot of help playing that part.

I had 2 hours to wait until boarding so I interspersed crying with watching people, The flight attendants were beautiful Indian women. I finally knew where all the light skinned Indian women were. They were all flight attendants. I had seen signs of their existence on billboards, but had not actually seen any Indian women with light skin until now. Then I thought of Asha and Arathi (the adopted 2 year old twins back at Treveni II) and their beautiful and very dark skin, and I started crying all over again. I was hoping that all of this crying would serve as a good Neti Pot (nasal irrigation) session.

The airport was SO COLD. I wished I had one of those knit woolen caps that mothers put on their children here when the temp. drops below 75.

Then it was time to board the plane. I really got a feeling of panic then.....and big waves of emotion. It felt like I was being pulled under by one of those riptides that Eli and I had experienced in the ocean. Eli - when we finally made contact a couple of days later - reported the same panic feeling rising up at about the same time. My flight lifted off, I went under and then I leveled out again.

I was flying on the Indian Airline called Jet Airways, and it was THE BEST. They brought us a wet cloth towel - good for managing the damage done by crying, as well as for cleaning up the soot that accumulates on your skin if you stand outside for a few minutes in Chennai. And then they came around and offered us a choice of fresh lemon juice or Indian buttermilk. I took both. These were served in glass - not plastic. That was followed by one of the best meals I had in India: Masala Paneer, Black Dahl, Ghee Rice, Parotta, Coconut Cardamom Custard, and tea. And of course there was the really good kind of Indian after-dinner mint. Everything was served in glass or crockery, with stainless cutlery and cloth napkins.

That was a wonderful distraction.

We arrived in Mumbai and I discovered that there was a free bus to the International airport. I didn't have to worry about the sufficiency of my 430 Rs. after all. I boarded the free bus and it was FULL of young Arab men. I was the only one on the bus who was not: a. young; b. Arab; c. male. It was an interesting ride.

We traveled around inside the boundary walls of the airport. Pressed up against these walls, like desperate prisoners trying to escape a sinking ship, were the Mumbai slums. It looked like some huge hand had pushed together all this poverty, hope, suffering and irrepressible life and heaped it right up to the boundary walls. It really looked as if it the slums might spill over or break down the walls.

When we reached International it was 3:30 pm. My flight was not until 1:30 am. That left me 10 hours and a couple of options. I could take a rickshaw into Mumbai, find a restaurant, and sit. Or I could go to the International Waiting room, and sit. I figured that 430 Rs. might not be enough to get me into Mumbai and back. So I went to the Waiting Room. I was thinking there might be coffee or tea, maybe some internet access.......(I must have been deranged and envisioning Seatac for some reason). The waiting room was like a huge government office in a Kafka novel. There was nothing in it but rows of metal chairs. No water, No bathrooms, No food, No "coffee-tea". It was dusty with construction dust. And it was SO COLD that everyone had pulled clothes out of their packs to wrap around them. I saw one guy with a pair of sweats wrapped around his head.

At this point I made a PLAN. My plan would involve using my TIMER. I would set my TIMER for 40 minute intervals and alternate between "pseudo-Yoga" (or airport Yoga), meditation, reading and study. And I would just keep cycling among these activities until 1:30 am. In this way, I reasoned, I would stop crying and therefore stop circling the drain emotionally. Great PLAN. The only thing was, my fingernails were turning a tinge of blue. Blue is Shiva's color -- maybe I was having a "spiritual experience!" But as I got colder, and I was still getting bit by mosquitoes, I dropped the "spiritual experience" hypothesis and shouted (silently). "That does it! That really is NOT fair! I'm leaving!" And it was at that point that "a third option" ocurred to me. I could go outside and sit on the curb and watch people.

That's what I did. Thank Goodness that my original PLAN had not worked out.

There were four different airport entrances I could sit outside of and as the hours rolled by I tried them all. In the end my favorite was the busiest one which served people going to Dubai. There I saw a young man - very modern looking - standing in line. His mother, who was Sari-clad and who was not supposed to be in the line, kept coming back, with one more thing to say to her son. She was weeping openly. He brushed her off, laughed her off, rolled his eyes at his friend. She was in a lot of pain.

Then I saw a young woman who was leaving her father behind. She looked worried and he looked like a pressure cooker of stoicism just barely holding the grief inside. She ran back from the line to him and touched his feet. He wept then.

I saw two women who looked like sisters. One was weeping and the other looked like she was trying to keep all the details together - manage the emotion that way.

I saw the flight attendants for the Royal Arab Emirates airline. They were exotically beautiful. A sheer white scarf extended from their caps down one side of their face, suggesting both a veil and high fashion.

I saw a woman in a Burkah and a woman in a Sari, holding each other and weeping.

There is just no "explaining away" or minimizing the grief of physical separation from the people we love.

I finally went inside the airport at midnight. I took a last look back at India. It was choked with pollution and noise but saying goodbye tore me up all over again. I realized it was like saying goodbye to one of those really passionate loves -- that even if you didn't have, you've read about or seen on a soap opera -- the one with whom you were insanely in love, and with whom you would always be in love, with whom you absolutely could not live. It was like that.

This was an interesting state of mind and heart with which to begin the next 30 hours of "coming home".

On the flight from Mumbai to Amsterdam I figured out how to fold my legs up on the tray table so that I was sort of curled in a fetal position. But my head was a problem, (What's new?) My head kept dropping to the side and waking me up. So I took my shawl and tied my head to the seat-back. In this way I got a little a bit of rest. I didn't feel eccentric. This was a plane out of India, after all, so things were still not all tidy, upright and organized. I fit right in, with my pretzel legs and restrained head.

At one point in this so-so-long flight there was a fist fight at the back of the plane. The flight attendant who sounded just like my third grade teacher, Mrs. Heinz, hurried to the back of the plane, sternly shouting, "That is NEVER appropriate on an airline flight!!!" Whoever it was that was fighting got arrested in Amsterdam. We had to sit on the plane a long time while Mrs. Heinz sternly told us - every 30 seconds - that we were NOT to unbuckle and stand up until "the official paper work" was completed. We obeyed. The dignified Indian woman sitting next to me turned and laughed and said, "We are all very obedient students, are we not?".

The Amsterdam airport was OK. There were amazing pastries and I really lusted after them but instead I ate a bowl of Tuna because by this time it was 26 hours since I had left Pondicherry and I was really spaced out. The protein helped a little. I waited 6 hours in Amsterdam and got on the next 9 hour flight. I arrived in Seattle, waited a few hours and finally got on the last flight home to Spokane.

[On each of the 4 flights home, I did my best to rest - no reading, no movies, no I-pod. I kept my eyes closed and meditated even if I couldn't actually sleep. I was told this would help minimize the "jet lag from hell" but in any case it felt like a good idea. Still, I don't think there's any way to spend 2 months in India, get your body clock fully in sync there, and then in a short span of time bring yourself to the other side of the globe, and not end up "deranged". Probably the best strategy I've used it to avoid getting in touch with my wonderful people at home until I'm at least partially un-deranged -- for their protection!].

At every customs or security check there was "trouble" as I was carrying a large bronze statue of Shiva Nataraj, heavily wrapped in newspaper and duct tape, in my back pack. At one point, the officials acted seriously suspicious. I got weak knees as I realized I had not actually watched the man in India wrap the stature. What if there were drugs or weapons or smuggled gold in that package"?! I had a small post traumatic stress attack, as those of you who knew me 25 years ago will understand!

Now I'm home - just barely. I am so happy to be here, to be with Chris and Leo. Even Rasa, my cranky cat, has been so affectionate and clearly very happy to see me. I have been here for 2 night's of sleep but part of me must still be floating back to India at night. Every hour I wake up, think I am in India and wonder why it is so quiet.


  1. Karen, thank you, so much, for taking the time to write this last entry about returning home. Prior to your India trip, I was a faithful reader of your blog; during the trip, I've been obsessed with it! All of your descriptions, and the emotions involved with the 'parting' (not to mention the temporary separation from Eli), closed the saga wonderfully for me. I'll keep reading; your wisdom writings are an inspiration to me. Thank you, again.

  2. "Every hour I wake up, think I am in India and wonder why it is so quiet."

    Blown away-fascinated again, Karen.

  3. So glad you are home safely...hope to see you soon!

  4. Absolutely beautiful. At the Shantala Kirtan in Seattle on Saturday night during the Nataraja chant, your smiling face came floating into my consciousness and stayed for the duration of the chant.

  5. Terrific. Gorgeous. Anything I could possibly say would never do your words justice. You have such a gift...I felt I was there with you. Love you to pieces. xoxo