Sunday, October 23, 2011

land of magic!

I heard about it 2 years ago. It had been in my mind since then. A quiet island in the middle of the backwaters of Kerala. This year, the opportunity arose and I took it.

I stayed on the island only 24 hours, but it seemed like it was days, as time completely shifted to something slower. The taxi dropped me off, and the dirver said to me, “you take canoe taxi to the other side.” We waited for a bit and a man in a hand carved canoe arrived from the other side of the water, we put my luggage in and paddled to the other side. I exhaled.

The island does not have roads, or even motorized vehicles. It is quiet and tranquil. It has walking trails and they weave in and out of rice paddies and waterways. I felt like I was in a different world, at a different time. It was so laid back and so wonderful.

I settled in, and they served us lunch, a beautiful tasty Keralan lunch. And yet again, I had to pinch myself. I had also heard the guesthouse led tours around the island and I wanted to take one. That evening we left on a wonderful 3 hour walk, learning about the plants, the culture of the island, the rice paddies, and much more. It ended with a canoe ride back to the guesthouse singing folks songs.

There is only one guesthouse on this island, it is still very very traditional. People take water taxi’s to get around and walk everywhere. It was an absolutely amazing experience and we are going here for the tour I am leading in January.

There are 2 spots still available if you are a woman and would like to see some of traditional S. India. Please contact me!

Tour to S. India
January 15-28, 2012

Saturday, October 15, 2011

magic moments

For the last several days, I’ve been with my teacher and his family in a remote part of N. Kerala on the shores of the Arabian Sea. It’s been a wonderful, relaxing and very HOT (and humid) time.

Yesterday, we traveled to Thelacherri a city nearby, to deliver 3 pieces of gold jewelry Balan had made. To get there we walk along a palm lined path to the tiny winding road, catch an over packed bus to the main road and then another bus to the city. We got off the bus, took a rickshaw to the small goldsmith workshop of Balan’s (my teacher) brother. He did a little work for Balan and we took a short cut to Balan’s other brothers gold jewelry showroom.

This is where I would like to pause for a moment.. You see, sometimes this amazing experience becomes like any other day. And I need to really pinch myself to say no Samia, this is extraordinarily special. The magic hit me as we were taking a short cut to his other brother’s showroom. It was a small path between busy roads, along it were tiny goldsmith shops and one man sitting his shop sitting with his back against the wall weaving leather around a wooden drum. He was a drum maker. Something about the tranquility of the moment, the space and the light beaming into the space, made me squeal with excitement. I had to stop and sit with him for a few moments. It was beautiful, silent and sweet. It was the magic moment that popped me out of my mind and back into my heart. It was real and I am feeling so blessed.

We left the shop, found our way to busy road and sat with his brother and drank chai.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's the little things

India! Everyday, I see something I have not seen before. Every moment is filled with creativity. In India they say ‘anything is possible’ and I love it because they believe and it is true. We have such a different mindset in the west. It’s the small things I see here that I love so much.

A man riding his bicycle down the middle of the street cleaning his ear with a Q-tip.
The sparkling sari’s wrapped around gracefully walking women.
Men soldering the finger grips on a pair of scissors.
Eunuchs dressed as women aggressively begging for money.
A horse + buggy, a street sweeping machine, a cow and a bus driving next to each other on the street.
Coconut stands on every corner

The list goes on and on. My point is, there is never a dull moment. Day to day life is full of color, is out in the open and never gets old. India shows me there is a different way to do things, puts a smile on my face and has given me so many blessings!

photos soon.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kumar story #1. Saraswati & the diamond pendant

Oh Kumar. He is so sweet. Last year one of my friends wanted a navaratna ring made. Kumar loves making navaratna rings because they are auspicious and very powerful. It means nine precious stones and each stone represents a different Indian god and a different planet, all aligned perfectly to help the wearer in their life.

My friend gave me an old ring she had, she wanted to use the gold for her new ring, but she said, please give the diamond to Kumar as a gift. When I told this to Kumar (see story from last year here), he could not believe it. He said, “Samia, someone from America is giving me a diamond?” As a hardworking goldsmith, this is a grand gift. He was very happy. He took it home, showed it to his family, his friends. He thought for weeks about what he was going to do with it. He didn’t know if he would sell it, or make a piece of jewelry for his wife or what? Several weeks later, he said to me, “Samia, I am thinking I will make one gold pendant with the diamond placed in the middle and I will give it to the Saraswati temple as an offering.” Here he is, he could have done so many things with this diamond and he chose to give it to the gods.

Saraswati is the Indian goddess of wisdom, music, arts and science. She is very revered throughout India.

When I saw Kumar the other day, he said to me. “Samia if you would have arrived a few days back you could have seen the pendant I made for Saraswati.” He made the pendant and on the auspicious day of the Goddess during their yearly festival of Dasara, Kumar went to the temple and offered the Goddess the pendant of gold and diamond. It was beautiful (if only I had a photo). He was so happy.

The temple in return gave his wife a handwoven silk sari. A sari that had been blessed by the priests and had been worn by the Saraswati Statue at the Temple. A very auspicious gift indeed.

In the end, everyone is happy. I asked Kumar why he decided to give it to Saraswati versus other Indian goddesses. He said, “Because she is the holder of knowledge. I want my children to have much knowledge so they can live a life of happiness.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

day 2. flow

Day 2.

Well, it all started with my early morning, 3 am. I did a little yoga and proceeded to read until it was time for breakfast at 7. At 10, I checked out of my hotel in hopes, I would find a place to live for the next month. It seemed it would happen as I had 3 people looking for me. One of whom showed me several places, none of them very nice. Quite dingy actually. I told myself, if worse came to worse, I would just take one of them. Around 1pm, I still hadn’t found anything and decided to go out on my own and literally start knocking on doors to see if there was a flat available. Of course, I started this adventure with a place in mind. I marched over there, the owner was sitting on his porch, I asked if his flat was available and it was.. It was that easy! It was on the low end of my budget and it had all the necessities I was looking for. What more could I ask for?

From there, I hopped in a rickshaw, and went to visit Kumar, I had not seen him yet and he has a new workshop, it’s so much bigger 10X6. We chatted for a bit, his son was there with him. Then he said, ‘Samia, come to my house and eat a little bit, and then I will drive you home.’ So, of course I did that. And the food was AMAZING. And it was fun to see his family + I got to meet more of his extended family.

He took me home to my new little spot and I got a call from the airlines, my luggage was on it’s way. So, on the way to pick it up (at the hotel, I had stayed at the night before), I stopped by the internet store to get my internet broadband card recharged. The man told me, it would work the next day, but I plugged it in and boom, it worked. I asked him why it was working and he said, “madam, I have no idea.” Ok no more questions.

I left, picked up my luggage with all my items inside, and took a rickshaw back to my new flat.

It’s interesting how the day just flowed perfectly, I was never rushed, it all worked out in perfect order and I got everything I needed to done.. I must cherish that moment in time as I know, it will not always be such.

I have a wonderful Kumar story to share soon. Keep on reading..

Thursday, October 6, 2011

day 1. unexpectedly super chill.

12 hours is a long time to lay horizontal, but somehow I just did it.

After arriving at 4 am yesterday a big holiday in Mysore and spending some of the day looking for a flat, with no luck, largely due to the holiday, I came back to my hotel, had a rather large lunch and came back to my room to read and take a ‘nap’. I think this may be the first time I’ve napped in the middle of the day on the first day of traveling half way around the world. At home it would have been 2:30 in the morning. Here it was 3 in the after noon. I peacefully read for an hour and then, I fell asleep, uh oh. And woke up at 7pm. I thought oh I should get up and go out and do something so I can sleep tonight, but instead, I put my pajamas on and curled up with my earplugs and fell back asleep, until 8:30 when Kumar excitedly called… ‘Samia you are arriving in Mysore. This is very good. I have been busy with my relations due to a big festival function today.” I pretended I was awake and engaged, while listening and nodding, not that he could see me. We hung up and I went back to sleep. This time for 3 hours, waking thinking for sure it was at least morning and I could get up and do some yoga and be awake for the day. But it was only 11:30pm. What to do? I thought to myself, if I ‘get up’ now, I will not stay awake all day and I may make the same mistake I made today and ‘nap’ too early. So, I rolled over and took a deep breath in and tried to fall asleep and did. Yay! Until 3:30, which is what time it is now and I feel like it is ok to be awake, as I did actually sleep 12 hours.

In some ways it’s great, when I fell asleep I had had a sore throat that kept getting more sore as the day went on. I had bought some throat lozenges and drank hot tea before I took my ‘nap’ and now my throat feels totally fine.

Unfortunately, I slept through the ‘big festival function’ which I somewhat regret as I love new experiences. But it’s ok, Diwali is soon and I know I won’t sleep through that.

During my time away from the hotel yesterday, I recharged my mobile phone with 360rs, looked at 4 flats, none of which will work for me and drank one fresh yummy coconut. When I returned, Air France called me and told me my luggage would arrive Friday afternoon. Which is 3 days after I left. I hope they are correct.

I have 3 people searching for apartments for me. I absolutely LOVE looking at flats. So, I will keep looking until I find one I like and the price is right. So, today should be fun. Plus, I will go and see Kumar and start working on our jewelry.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I made it. Again. Although this time it is somehow different. It’s my 10th time to India. I’ve spent 2 years of my life here. I love it so much!

My luggage didn’t arrive, so I have to deal with that today in my jetlagged haze, it’s not that big of a deal, other than my sunglasses. I had a premonition before I left to switch my sunglasses to a different bag, I forgot and alas the suitcase with my sunglasses didn’t arrive. So, after, an hour or so at the airport talking with the Air France representative and the customs dude, I walked out to the crowd of people waiting and saw my name “Welcome Samia Shalabi” We walked to the car and off we went at 1 in the morning. After 40 hours of travel 3 more were small peanuts.

At 4 am we arrived at the hotel. We knocked on the gate, blew the horn and knocked some more. No one came. We continued. And suddenly a nice young man came to open the gate. I’m staying at the Green Hotel, it’s my first time staying here. I’ve been eating here since 2003, but always stay at a less expensive place in the city until I find a flat. I am sitting in the garden now enjoying the view, the blue skies, the perfect temperature.

Today is a big festival day called Dasara.. I don’t know what it is all about, it’s my first time in Mysore in October. It should be fun.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

day of departure

It all started with a phone call on Monday morning. A random number, I thought maybe it was a client calling. But no, it was Air France. They asked me if I would be willing to switch flights and receive a $400 voucher for future travel. They gave me the details and it actually worked out in my favor, in terms of layovers etc.

I arrived at SeaTac airport early this morning, and checked in to my flight. Seattle to New York. New York to Paris. Paris to Bangalore. It’s a long haul. I was sitting at the gate to board my plane to NY and they called my name. I got upgraded to First Class. Somehow this upgrade karma has been working for me lately and I can’t complain. It’s great.

Now, I am sitting in the Air France lounge in NY. It seems strange to partake in such luxury as I am on my way to India, but again, I’m not complaining, just observing.

I am looking forward to this journey, one month in India. A time for me to ponder after a summer of difficulties. It will be wonderful to meet with Kumar and make beautiful jewelry. It will be amazing to sit by the Arabian Sea and make gold chains with Balan.

Sometimes, I have to blink and ask myself. Is this really my life?