Black tar, like the kind she loved in high school.
Rolled into small balls, sometimes smoked in a marijuana joint. Sometimes savored on its own.
Where in the world did Midwestern teenagers get this stuff?
The same poppy product adored by the Rajasthani man with tar-stained teeth who had no shame in offering it to the American mother in her navy a-line skirt sitting beside a chubby toddler in his tan and black fedora.
It was always her favorite drug.
She remembered the high well.
Smooth, relaxed, easy…
For 16 years whenever asked which she preferred best, opium, she’d say.
The last time she tried it, she was a child.
Two men sat on the bench across from them in the cement block tea stahl near the fort first gate.
Their pale blue button downs neatly pressed, their milky brown skin just a few shades darker than the chai in slender glasses before them.
Government workers, simple, looking at the plastic baggy of opium held open to the mother, eyes wide, but smaller, than her own.
She watched them watch her, and the son, also eyeing the baggy, the chocolate inside.
The mother clenched her jaw and pursed her lips, an attempt to declare hostage status in the exchange.
Take opium? He asked, sliding the black tar onto his finger, dime-sized dollop oozing.
My life is clean now, I heard her say.
He scraped the resin onto his tongue, pressing the skin against sharp teeth below.
Winding the baggy round itself he returned it to his pocket, reached for the water in front of the son, half a liter down his throat. A swallow of chai.
He crossed his legs above the knee, held the glass with charisma, confidence.
The son banged a red litchi juice carton on the table and demanded attention from the audience already watching.
Name is Garfur, he told her. Relative of the politician owning her hotel. Last name Khan. Muslim warrior clan.
Three daughters, one son. Worked in camels before, now a tuk tuk driver.
Life is good, he said. Opium, cigarettes, marijuana, chai. Smooth, relaxed, easy life.
Who knows what my future brings, I heard her say, but now, this isn’t for me.
How many days have you walked into my room, rice
on a tray, dal, quiet as a mouse
careful not to wake my sleeping son
Seeing my mess, some shame
an american queen, closet concubine, waiting
for the work to be done
at a desert hotel with a pool
Today for lunch I demanded plain spaghetti
“Just boil it and bring it here” I heard myself say on the phone,
disgusted with undercooked beans, abundance
of sunflower and rice bran oil, and salt
Why did i speak like this?
Tonight for dinner I requested fancy dal not on your menu, one prepared special for entitled tourists like me
“Dal Makhani, it’s possible?” I ask
“Sab kuch milega” you say
When you brought it to me, my robe
closed tight around my chest, lights low
I opened my door, my world, you entered
Placed the tray on the table, silent
You rose, met my gaze, pressed your palms in
Anjali mudra before your heart
You bowed, with care, caution
You rose, met my gaze, reached your hand for my hand.
You shook my own, firm, intentional
My breath left me
“Thank you, thank you” I said.
I meant it.
Who am I to be so proud?
I closed the door, slid the lock
What does this sweet young man think of the woman in the robe, demanding fancy dal, and rice, on a Sunday? I looked at my reflection in the mirror.
I caught my shadow on the single-lane asphalt road with broken shoulders that drew a south line in the Thar save a few curves of mini dunes drifting across the surface. The path edged with desert cacti wearing silken flowers of faded fuchsia and tiny white pearls, fields of harvested cumin gathered in stone-topped drying piles, scattered mounds of sharp sandstone boulders and one small village to shape them.
Muslim shepherds in sweat-stained dhotis with bulging inner pockets, their slender frames, walking slowly behind dreadlocked sheep and black goats with twisted horns and rectangle eyes. A half dozen dark gold and burnt black camels, saggy backed bony cows with 15-inch horns…
The scarf tail danced behind our bodies, wind taking form. My son’s head rested on my chest beneath the heavy gray cotton flap of his fabric buggy, my own wrapped tightly in an emerald green pashmina, our ears and scalps finding refuge on the hot earth, under the pre-summer sun, inside its 95 degrees at 10 am…
I smiled. And continued to drive toward the marble Shakti temple an hour from the fort.
I smelled the hot dirt and dry scorching steam rise, scented with occasional death, made pleasant by my own dreams nearly two decades in the making, now alive in the shadows on the ground. Magazine clippings and vision boards made manifest in the sand, the shrubs, the spikes and spines on the brittle gnarled trees.
Dung and clay huts with straw circle tops, some with bright white lime and turquoise facades, humans with stories to tell resting, being, waiting for nothing but time to pass, inside.
I once felt tasked, challenged, inspired, to make contact, to bare witness to the tales hidden in the heat, even before the Marwati song was in my ears.
I once longed to be like the beautiful women in movies and novels dressed with scarves round their heads, tied at the neck, a pair of wheels under them on an open road, with bravery and brains. The women who write their own stories, the ones about whom stories are written, though that not being why they choose to live their days as such.
Going deeper into the desert, I continued to drive.
My father-like fingers, hands
protruding veins, short nails, the tips
red, holding, entangling in
pushing aside your sweaty hair
colored like a taupe rabbit
soft like the underbelly
quick to cut, to bleed
my mother mouth, lips wet, warm
whispering breath, apology song, tears
on your face, now quivering
bruised from a bang on
the marble floor, your head
throbbing, turning purple, growing
in the quiet aftermath.
What is my worth?
She asks me, a good idea from the shower
She says, she struggles too.
Again I feel the question
the depth, an eagerness to know
Both of us.
Pulling clothes from the line, sandy feet
Shuffle on the marble rooftop
Nothing, I smirk
At the easy answer, my attitude
my honesty, my pride
There is no value, no real worth, inside
It’s all just now
No different am I from the tree just beside
She has no leaves, no blossoms, no bark
Holding tight to the ground
Shade for the man in gray
View for the bush-tailed chipmunk
Perch for the pigeon pair I saw mating once
a lustful quickie on a pillar
Silent picture for the neighbor servant
girl wearing red.
Who am I but the dust that flies
into my child’s eyes, my own
Belonging neither to me, nor life itself
Able to die more quickly than one
Takes, chooses, a life.
It’s all a dream, I fear, I feel
jaded as the years drag on.
Is awareness always so solemn?
If your eyes are still open
when the birds begin to sing
pour the tea
open the book of love songs
wrap your shoulders in a shawl
on your balcony
watch the sun change
from muted gray to lavender and peach
to soft faded blue
and notice the fir trees
and mountain paths
and terraces of wheat and rock
and prayer flags fluttering
in the barely moving wind
and hear the dogs beckoning
to join the bell-wearing donkeys
and the day
and sip, sip, sip
Moon child, my curly-haired moon child, Lay your self open, bold and full of breath, alive, on that still-warm concrete roof, between the Ganga and the hills, and ask me what it is you long for…
But do not ask, ever again, for a heart made of different clay. For I poured my Divine Self into your being — I wanted you this way.
I wanted you to cry those tears, to surrender then resurface, to dance in most pure ecstacy, despite your person’s fears.
I wanted you to find your comfort in the trees and on the shores, to climb up into mountain meadows when you couldn’t hear me any more.
I wanted you to lose it all, to break and say goodbye, to the life you thought you lived, full of fantasies not made for freedom, that couldn’t help but make you cry.
I wanted you to dive so deep into your darkest blues, and only then get a glimpse of Self, in the will-less space of softened ego, without that name, without that mind, without much of what you thought you knew.
I am pleased that you’re still with me, crawling onward toward the light, but now, accept this grace, embrace pure courage, burn what lingers of fictitious flesh still keeping you afright.
Stop resisting, my dear moon child, trust the flow you feel. Release into this moment, for what is is mystic magic, a story sage and seer know as real.
But you’ll breathe it into life solely when you fall in love, with that not-so-broken human heart made of cosmic clay, that needs you to stop doubting, start freeing, and fully soar above.
You have the power, you carry the light, each moment has prepared you. So take one final surrendering pause, then release, my curly-haired moon child, and with love become the truth.
So do not ask, ever again, for a heart made of different clay. For I poured my Divine Self into your being — I created you this way.
Tonight, I feel soft.
Feminine, in my curves and my tears and my whispering voice.
Tender, and a tad alone.
A few close friends have left tonight.
… always the hardest part of being on the road—the goodbyes to your new chosen family members, which are, as heartbreaking as it may sound, often (and for me usually) harder than the sustained goodbyes to your long-established blood family at home (they’re always there, as we’d like to believe at least, and we’ll know it’s “when” I’ll see them again, rather then “if” as it comes to pass with the heart tribe of a backpacking clan…).
The sky has been raining for over 24 hours straight.
And I’m living in a cloud, that I can touch, for once.
I’ve just watched a movie set in my beloved northwest.
… my most recent chosen ‘home’ in the ‘home’land, that was my original ‘home’ in the ‘home’land, that I still feel more amazed by and intrigued with than all the latter ‘homes’ that have found space in my heart. (although, that one resembling a mitten and full of magical creatures with flesh and fur and fallen leaves makes me lose my breath, and pause my beating heart, I know, when I visit her in my mind…)
My face is scabbed from the thorny tree limb that violently ripped flesh while I flattened myself atop Marie, the albino quarter horse mix , who perhaps wanted me off her back just as badly as I wanted to remain on hers. forever.
Messages from a confused friend land in my inbox. One. Another. Another…And I move them to the Keepsakes/Loves Lost folder. For safe keeping. And indefinite ignoring.
And here I am.
With the memories.
Tonight, joy isn’t at my side.
She’s succumbed to an emotion greater and grander, in all its glory-filled richness, which casts depth, dark shadows, on the fantasy feelings I oft choose to cling to.
Joy is resting, soon to return.
…she always does, that rascal, in her own due time, which is always surprising yet expected, and most times welcome. because what child doesn’t like the light?
But what I feel is beautiful.
What I feel is painful.
And what I feel is real.
It’s the emotion under the others.
The emotion that’s silent, and still.
Waiting for my moments to settle.
For my mind to stop, to stay in.
For my heart to welcome her power.
At 30 years old, with a warrior for a body and a gypsy for a spirit and a ballerina philosophizing poet for a mind, I question myself: ‘Why?’
Why must I continue onward, down this path of unknown tomorrows?
Why must I make things difficult for the child inside who craves to know who her friends will be the tomorrow ten days from now?
Why must I walk farther and farther away from love, into the arms of impatience?
Why must I chase adventure, adrenaline, and awe, instead of sweet surrender into the soft stillness of a simple home and a simple life?
Why must I open my heart to strangers, shielding my soul from the souls I want to choose?
Why must I insist on a planless plan, without promises, or purchased plane tickets?
Why must I fight the soft girl within who wants to say ‘I really just don’t know…’ to everything, because she doesn’t, with too-cool confidence and capability and sass-filled sarcasm and smarts?
Why must I keep leaving, arriving, leaving, and let those who love me never know how long I’ll be around?
Why must I carry my sword?
For which battle am I fighting?
Self-inquiring, I ask, ‘Are you sure you’re not running from something?’ and ‘Are you sure you’re doing the right thing for you?’ and ‘Are you sure you couldn’t be living a life just as full and just as fitting, across the oceans and in the pines, with your dog and your car and your practice and your art and your music and your smoothies and your … home?’
The answer I give others is ‘Yes, I’m sure.’
in not so many words.
But the real answer,
the one that persists if I let myself be honest with myself,
‘No, I’m not sure.’
I like to believe I’m living what I’m creating, what I’m designing, from my unmanifest dreams.
But that wouldn’t be entirely truthful.
My dream life is much like this life, but it’s also like that other life I lived once, and the one before that, and before that… And it’s got so many bits included from the lives I’ve yet to live but that I’ve imagined, I’ve prayed for, I’ve called out to God for while lying face down in the dirt, tears inside my eyes, and while lying face up in the grass, eyes locked inside the eyes of a lover.
Do I know what I am doing? No.
Would I say that this life, with all its beautiful blessings, is worth the possibility that the dream life I write romance novels and fairy tales in my mind about, that I tell travelers and soul sisters about, that I cry about, on planes on buses and in burly bear-man arms, won’t ever be, because maybe I won’t ever find myself in one place long enough to establish this vision, or let the Universe meticulously compose the bits, one by one, so that it grows into something greater than I could ever have conceived? No. Could I fathom that this life, my moment to moment now, is evolving and transforming into that dream life? Not really.
But I do know there is no certainty.
And I do know that I trust, deeply, in life.
And I do know that I am living the only life I could really ever live.
And that all the pieces are coming together, or falling apart, exactly as they should, simply because they are… and so it is…
But I am alone.
And I am ok with that
And I am ok to still be asking ‘Why?’ after all these years.
And I am ok holding my shield, my weapons, my books.
And I am ok
throwing them into the pyre.
When it’s time, take me.
Lift me up and show me what’s next.
For my life. for this life. for…
And I will be ready.
Until then, I rest my head upon a community pillow
used before by believers, businessmen, runners, space-holders, stamp-chasers.
And I’ll eat pancakes in the morning.
With Turkish coffee and turmeric.
And I’ll write a story, on the art of doing nothing,
and the magic that creates.
And I’ll live myself into yet another tomorrow ten days from now
and see who shows up to be friends with the child inside
and see for whom I’ll measure the weight and worth of my shield
and see if the question remains
but I know, I believe,
Even if it’s just been a week, I really have fallen for this sliver of life and community in Florentin — super hip neighborhood in Tel Aviv — but now, I head north. …
Goodbyes suck. So much. But they’re also part of the beauty of being human, and being a girl on the go.
I’ll be seeing you again Miss Loca, you beautiful puppy sister soul and soft body to hold, and I’ll be seeing your family again. And your English graffiti-covered fashion boutiques, and full-body pillow stores, and way too bright lighting stores, and furniture construction shops blowing sawdust in my face, and knockoff Havaianas selling for $11 a pair, and street corners blocked by mountains of cardboard boxes, and mini supermarkets filled with food packed in Hebrew-laden plastic that I purchase without knowing what I’m buying because I suppose that’s half the fun, and the Italian restaurant on the corner that served me mozzarella and lemon shrimp, and the coffee kiosk of which I’m a regular already, and the fine AF Mohawked men, and the curly girls who look like me but never say please or thank you, and the electronica in the pharmacy staffed by gay Israelis too-cool to show me where the earplugs are, and the charm… The charm of Florentin.
Keeping it real. This moment. Sharing: I’m really fucking happy right now. Cheesy pop plugged into my ears, fellow travelers bumping elbows and pint glasses with my own, a jam session about to begin on the stage before me… I sit here with a smile, a sigh, and a head shake of pure ‘what the hell is this beautiful life?!’
I’m reflecting and integrating, finally, the glorious mess and hella beautiful madness of the last two weeks… (Goodbye Michigan and Michigan loves, hello and goodbye San Francisco and Emerging Women, Path of Love — whhhhaaatt???!!!, a ‘work’week in Tel Aviv, the weekend of wonderful and sweet what-the-fuck?, and now Jerusalem.)
It’s just beautiful, this thing, this life. The ups, the downs, the what-the-hell-am-i-doing, and the what-the-hell-just-happened… All of it.
Starting and ending each day in gratitude, in raw gratitude, helps make my moments a bit more powerful. I realize, again, that life really is a game. The one I’m – you’re – living is, is just one option… There’s always another option. And another. And another… Say yes to that fella with the pomegranate juice? Another. Say no to that tour of Tel Aviv? Another. Say yes to your family’s holiday proposition? Another. Say no? Say yes? So not now? Say not ever? All options… You’ll – I’ll – never know what’s ‘best’ and truthfully I don’t want to know. I just want to keep riding the train and seeing what’s around the bend…
Meeting an intimidating artist gypsy from Berlin and a pair of far-too-handsome but far-too-shy Swedish fellas and an aging redheaded Norwegian sister soul help me connect more deeply to my own heart, my own triggers, my own ‘flaws’, my own values, my self…
I am SO honored to be in this human experience right now. I recognize the trip I’m on — the highs, oh the HIGHS (that are so very far from the lows so close I can feel them creeping up on me many a moments…) with their bliss and their enchanted bewilderment. I feel my own energy, the oft-frenzied movement within my mind — ‘Can I lie here a moment longer? Linger, last, just love this second? mmmm No, I cannot… there is a day to seize and a body built to move and a city and sensation to experience. I move… Not sure where to go, but knowing a move must be made. Start with a toe… An ankle… A calf dance… Then, I’m up and asking God for the gift of another day. — and I feel the burning on my tongue seeking a taste of passion and passionfruit and pissed off rage exploding from within… The back and forth and in and out, and the artist inside saying ‘I’m done giving a fuck if I’m crazy, the most crazy, or sane, the most sane in this bunch of crazies’ and the practical/fearful adult inside saying ‘Hey sweet girl… Calm it down, and take a rest, there’s too much here, now, and you’re going to break if you run so far, so fast…’
It’s all there. All of it. I feel it all.
Yet, this game of life gives us a choice. And, gosh… At this moment, I choose to LIVE in the most YES way I can. There is a fire inside me, that was put there for some reason, OR that lives there without reason at all, but I love it. I do. And I am SO grateful for the moments in my life where I really experience the depth of MY experience. I remember the gray days, I remember the hours spent hiding in fear — so recent, just a handful of months ago — taking a xanax at 8, and another at noon, and another at 3 or 4… just to get the courage to share space with those who have loved me since birth… I remember the terror I felt, the freezing terror that overcame my physical body and hollowed my mind, when I realized I hadn’t eaten anything substantial in days but felt, deep within my core, that I couldn’t attempt to eat a single thing. I remember trying, sitting at a diner with my father, to stomach a soft omelette with my favorite vegetables, and having to spit out the chewed protein into a napkin just so I wouldn’t uncontrollably vomit on the table… (I reflect now, WHO WAS THIS? I realize, THIS WAS ME. This is me when things are out of alignment, when I have denied the power of love and respect of intuition and divine guidance for far too long…)
So, I am in a high moment right now. And I am respectful and honoring of life’s flow that, for me, can be just as terribly painful as it is ecstatically beautiful. And for some humans here, I realize that the lows are not worth the highs. But, for me, I suppose I’ll take the gray days that god has for me, knowing it means I get to also experience the psychedelic richness and depth of emotion that I am experiencing now.
And in my body? Tight belly that is riveted with excitement. Arms and fingers full of energy, ready to do work (and put them to work, I am — writing writing writing away). Head that is a little busy and dizzy (mucho movement in this day and lots to do and take care of in the coming days). And a heart that is full (holding space, for others, creating space, for my own). Some loving souls, with truly my best interests at heart, may say ‘feel what you’re feeling, but bring it back to this moment…’ And to that, I say, ‘This moment is all things. Madness. Softness. Serenity in the buzz…’
Most of you know how much I love good food — I geek out in produce aisles, I pause my entire day to make huge lunches for me and my family, and I spend most of my paychecks at co-ops and restaurants and never think twice about whether that farm-fresh butter is worth the price or if I’ll be ordering an appetizer at a new restaurant…
But cooking… Cooking! Dreamworld. If I’m living in a space with a kitchen (which, ha!, truth be told is a rarity in the last several months), I destress and delight myself as turmeric-stained fingers hold a chef’s knife and the fridge overfills with kale and beets, parsley and cilantro… I. Love. To. Cook.
One of the things I miss most about being ‘home’ is just that… The chopping, the experimenting, the feeling of sitting down before a meal that my hands helped to create (with the help of the divine of course, for providing the ingredients/the tools/the ideas… all of everything that ever was or ever will be, seriously).
But now? I’m traveling — in Israel — and I’ll be on the road at least another few weeks but most likely longer. So how can I get a cooking fix, nourish my body, and save on my budget while bouncing around hostels? Kitchari.
This is a staple food for yogis — Ayurvedic food for the soul — which is a perfect protein, is easy to make and to digest, and tastes delicious. It’s a warm porridge-like concoction filled with Ayurvedic spices to pacify the doshas (lord knows Vata gets a bit cray cray when you’re on the move like I am) and to create a nourishing healing space within the body and mind. And, let’s be real, it is something I can chow down on without guilt that doesn’t make my body feel disgusting after (because I’ve grown up. Done with that nonsense. I’m almost 30. I’ve had enough bread and nutella on my travels before to know the gut rot that comes from eating just cheap carbs and chocolate nut spread…).
So, here is my quick and easy kitchari recipe that you can make anywhere! If you need to, you could do this with one pot, one spoon, and a hotplate. (I hear Shiva Rae packs her tools in a suitcase so she can always get a kitchari fix.)
Quick and Easy Quinoa Kitchari Recipe
– Begin with equal parts quinoa and split mung beans (could use red lentils of regular lentils or whichever kind if you don’t have split mung beans — they are the easiest to digest however and don’t aggravate vata dosha as all other lentils/beans do). About 2/3 cup each, maybe more 😉
Combine quinoa and beans, and rinse thoroughly 3 times until water drains clear.
Add mixture to pot, add around 4 cups water, bring to boil stirring gently (I added some salt and some dried ginger to water — optional). Once it boils, cover and bring to low simmer and let cook until quinoa is soft (these mung beans will pretty much dissolve into the mixture, but if using other lentils make sure they’re very soft).
– As that cooks, heat 2-3 tbsp (or more) ghee in skillet/frying pan on medium high heat until it melts.
Add 1/2 tsp+ cumin seeds until they sizzle (don’t burn them).
Add 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds.
Add 1/2 tsp mustard seeds.
Add 1+ tsp minced raw ginger.