Saturday, May 3, 2008

India -- reflections

People I know who have traveled to India say something happen to them, usually an absolute love for the country, mixed in with some emotions about the difficulty of life and the adversities they may experience themselves, but surely witness during their journey in India.

When I was in India there were things that made me sad, irritable, confused. The traffic, crowds, poverty and heat were challenging and the combination of all making me a bit cranky. The travel to and from places we visited was, in a nutshell, a near death experience; passing cars at top speed on curvy one lane highways, speeding through villages where mobs of people, livestock, cattle moved out of the way mini seconds before crashing into them, elephants on the back of trucks being transported and whizzing by you as if they were in a sportscar.

By the time we arrived at a beach destination for some r&r, I was ready for a nice relaxing sunset meal. I was reading the menu disappointed in the selection of wine when a man crawled from under the table. At first I was startled, then when I looked at him I became sad. He had no legs, was deformed and looked like he lived on the beach. I immediately thought about the things during the day I had complained about; the traffic, the heat, etc…. and a strong wave of emotion came over me while looking into this kind man’s eye. This is what people are talking about when they come back from India!

For me it was the way that people smiled, their apparent happiness at life’s most simple endeavors, in the face of hardship. And, it was the man who crawled from the sand near the restaurant I was sitting in, who had no legs and suffered from what seemed a wide array of deformities only to smile, smile, smile…and it was an authentic smile with the darkness of his black eyes lighting up as I shook his hand. Maybe this was because I gave him a few coins? Sure, this probably helped him a bit, but his friendliness and lightness was so touching.

Another thing that struck me at this place, a little beach town in Kerala, was that the shopkeepers were consistent in bringing him food and water as the night progressed. This was poverty, disease and handicap at its extreme, yet, this man appeared happier that any homeless person I have ever seen on the streets of San Francisco, or in the West for that matter. Also, I sensed that he was not lonely in his struggle, that the people in this little beach village appeared to treat this man as a part of their community and one who needs help.

This man on the beach, the light in his eyes, and the smile he shared warmed my heart….this memory is what I will never forget about India.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hopi & Arts

The Hopi tribe lives in the middle of the Navajo reservation in arid, dry Arizona. They sit on three mesas where each mesa is known for their particular arts and crafts. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the first and second mesa where they are astute at silversmithing and doll making.

The Hopi Kachina dolls are made out of the cottonwood tree which is light, sturdy and easy to carve. They are not playthings, but rather they represent religious spirits who carry messages to the tribe, especially the children. The artistic detail in which they work is fantastic, the patience and time, the vibrant colors and the story each doll represents is unique, powerful and enticing.

My favorite doll was the Corn Maiden whose colors, art work and carving told a story about a young adolescent girl, before marriage (maiden) who wears her hair in big piles on the side of her head. She is innocent, wide-eyed, religious and attuned to the needs of the tribe and the land around her. When she marries, at about age 14, her husband will move to her family mesa/village as they do in a matriarchal society. They call her the "corn maiden" as corn is the main source of food on this mesa, and is an important staple to this tribe.

The poverty, challenging climate, lack of resources and isolation that the Hopi Indian's struggle with today are striking and yet, their spiritual nature, storytelling, talent in the arts and their sense of community I imagine is what makes this group of people so interesting to the rest of the world.