Author Archive

A Cyclist Is Born

It is hard to believe I have been in Salinas for only a week, and not the better part of a lifetime. There has been so much to do in a week and the difference in my life feels like such a long time should have passed. Anne and I wasted no time in getting me driving in the car, and with five days and 100 miles under our belts we decided with Beth’s help to tackle the next two wheels.

Friday afternoon under auspicious skies that had only hours earlier watered the green hills, and fed the abundant flourish of wild flowers that adorn the area, we hit the pavement, bike handlebars in hand!

It may have taken me more than 33 years to get to this point but it only took my two excellent teachers an hour (they claim less) to get me up and riding a bike around the neighborhood.

No training wheels for me, actually at first no peddles either, but we moved passed that part of the lesson in no time. Go figure Ra wants to ride and there is no keeping her from the open road!

The feeling of accomplishment the first time I did peddle and keep myself up was amazing. Such a rush to have something that for so many years you had to say with a slight error of hesitation you couldn’t do, and now to know that statement was falling behind you with the wind at your back.

I was in such secure hands with Anne and Beth running on either side of me in the first moments. And as I pulled out alone the first time and rode down the street I exclaimed my excitement “I AM RIDING A BIKE!!!!!” as two seven-year-old girls rode by. Their bikes were decked out pink wonders with streamers and bells and I could feel them look at me and think, well so are we. But the feeling of a 33 year old learning to do something new is such a rich sense of accomplishment I didn’t even take notice.

I continue my daily practice with wheels of every kind. We drive to Salinas, Monterey, Pacific Grove, and today the Highway. We bicycle around the neighborhood and today Beth and I took our first “long” ride to a nearby store.I become more self-assured with every turn (that counts for both the car and bike) and each goal met. I have found in my week, yes again it seems too brief, that while I may come late and I may have trepidations, no aspiration is out reach. With the right amount of determination, a lot of practice, patience, and work, and some wonderful teachers by your side, anything at any time in your life is achievable.

Love,

Ra (the new rider in the house)

For those of you who care – In one week I have driven approximately 200 miles and rode a bike approximately 6 miles!

Photos: 2 through 8 By: Beth

11

04 2011

Driving Days

I am back from Southeast Asia but the places I visited and the people I met are hardly ever far from my mind. I still feel so impressed, impacted, and inspired by my trip. There will certainly be more posts about my experiences and my adventures over there, and probably inspirations for years to come.

But now that I am back in California, we wasted no time in the next step of the RAvolution – getting Ra to be mobile – learning to drive and ride a bike! I have arrived in glorious Salinas, the land of John Steinbeck, surrounded by green hills, fields of growing produce, blue rolling waves of California’s famous coast, and purple wild flowers. While I am still getting used to life in the picturesque fertile valley that served as so many creative giants’ inspiration, Anne and I wasted no time in getting me started with what I am here to do – start driving!

We headed to the California DMV yesterday and after years of not taking a test of any kind I felt my nerves raise as the blood rushed to my head, about taking the written test I have passed twice before but never followed through with. I passed the test (whewww!) and we hit the road, with me saying “There is no time like the present.”

I drove approximately 20 miles yesterday, to and from dinner and around the neighborhood, and to put this in comparison that is probably more than I have driven with both of my other permits and my golf cart experience combined.

I noticed mid way through my trip to Asia that my feelings about traffic changed , and as they changed I knew that how I would drive and feel about driving had changed. I knew in the once imagined chaos that became familiar that my every idea of driving would be somehow altered. As we drove back into Thailand a month after leaving and my friend Justin said “Ramona you aren’t flinching with every vehicle, the way you did when we drove from Bangkok to Cambodia,” I knew that the changes that I had been feeling happen inside me as we crossed these various countries, intersections, and highways had made a very sincere transformation. I become less afraid in a month, not just of the oncoming cars or the ones behind me that might want to pass but I had also become more confident behind my own wheel of a car.

As I cruised down the interstate last night at speeds of 60 miles per hour, I realized how much Asia, life, and the RAvolution has taught me in a short time, and how much more I have yet to learn, how to park for instance, or ride a bike. But maybe that is what I am finding is wonderful in life and the RAvolution right now, the act of learning and trying new things, seeing life at work and seeing that work pay off on the road and in a million other places.

Happy Cruising,

Ra (fully permitted and ready to drive)

Picture 4 and 5 By Anne

06

04 2011

Losing My Heart to Laos, And Coming Close to Losing My Life in Laos As Well

Ahhh Laos what is there to say about such a remarkable and unspoiled gift of a country? I know, do whatever you have to do to get here in the next three to five years!!! Never have I been in such a breathtaking, magical, and deeply felt place; and never have I felt so in love with a place that is as of yet still so untouched and unspoiled! If Cambodia grabbed me by the throat and heart and required my love; Laos is the low key lover who is silent and intriguing from a distance, and is even more seductive in the low key way they steal your love without you even noticing it.

We left Hanoi behind in rain and cold and drove through the most picturesque Vietnamese landscape, like a water color painting on rice paper of hills descending into villages fringed with bamboo and water buffalo. We drove into the mountains on endless switchbacks that got narrower as the fog started to lay heavier over the ascending cliffs. On more than one occasion we came in screeching close proximity of other cars, trucks, and the unguarded side of the cliff.  The clouds hung so heavy it was like driving in the heavens when one can only see meters in front of themselves if that. We got out and walked across the border in such thick pea soup condensation where all we could see of the border was the small bobbing lights of the front desks. We spent the coldest night of my life in Lakxao, and that includes working outdoors in New York City in December. Did you know your inner organs could shiver– because I have felt my spleen and liver shudder from the cold! The next morning we woke up and had breakfast in complete candlelight as our hotel restaurant lost electricity, I am not sure if they had it to begin with. We ate warm baguettes with fried eggs smothered in sweet chili sauce and sipped coffee over candles, yes this may be one of the best ways to wake up and it somehow can warm the coldest hands and spleen.

Vientiane is a dream of a small and manageable capital- it is warm, laid back, on the shores of a river with parks, and stuppas, and temples beyond belief or the ability to count. It is cool without ever trying and is studded with caffes, French colonial architecture, its walk able, breathable, and our guest house had the most perfect courtyard with a garden and more places to just feel present in the face of the cities beauty. In the timeless streets of this small city one can immediately see themselves suspended between a century ago and any time up to today.

As we snaked our way through this green and lush country’s interior, we made our way to Vang Vieng and a once sleepy town awaken in the past few years to the young adventurers traveling through. It is still a sleepy town by all respects but in just one year the effects of the changing world that is Laos can be seen and are bemoaned. I took my first risk with my life when I went for what by all other respects would be a lovely walk through nature and into a few caves. Let me consolidate the story to say here when I say Laos is unspoiled we should read this as yet to have some safety infrastructures. I went with a teenager, if that, guided into a cave only to discover it would be a spelunking expedition that would force me to come scarily close with my safety as I slid down limestone, scaled rock walls, and shimmied up a bamboo pole to get myself out of the what ended as a 3 foot by 3 foot cave. It was thrilling and exhilarating to say the least, and stupidly enough I went to another cave the next day with the group. I kayaked down 10 Kilometers of the Nam Song River and sailed past some of the most primordial and splendid scenery I have ever been in the presence of. I kayaked in the company of herds of water buffalo cooling themselves in the river and past children who shouted “Sa bai dee!” as they dove from rocks into the cascading shores beside them.

And then there is the jewel of Laos, the crown of the journey I had been waiting for: Luang Prabang. When I first planned this trip it was to realize the dream of seeing Angkor Wat, and the rice fields of Vietnam, the coconut trees of the Mekong Delta, the temples and stuppas of Bangkok. It just so happened as I started to plan the trip that Laos came into the picture and the more I planned, the more Laos and Luang Prabang came up in every conversation, in books I read, and magazines and news papers I searched. I had little to expect of Luang Prabang other than that people loved this magical place and all swooned in description of it. Well here is what I can say; Luang Prabang did not disappoint, it can’t be put in words what this small and special place does to find its way into your heart and memory but it does. It could be any number of its plentitude of temples, it could be viewing monks in orange robes crowded into pickup trucks, tuk tuks, and mopeds. It could be the night market with the Hmong artists selling stunning crafts under gentle flickering lights. It could be the way a small historic city feels like home and the perfect fit from the first glance. I couldn’t start to say what is so perfect about this place but trust me it is. Like Laos, Luang Prabang is understated, modest, striking in its natural beauty, its deeply  felt in its every action and movement. I watched the sunset from Phu Si Temple with birds chirping, and the next morning I woke early with roosters crowing to make offerings of rice to the monks who snake through the city’s streets giving silent blessings in exchange for food. As I dipped my hands into warm sticky rice to offer to the line of monks that pass by each morning as the sun streaks the sky with first morning light I thought of each of you and gave my gratitude.

We spent two long days on the Mekong River sailing into Thailand and visiting a village I could never forget. As children scampered up sandy hills and showed us their town that could only be imagined as a page from National Geographic, I felt myself melt and become forever in love with this land.

We sailed into Thailand in a rain storm and came within 10 feet of an underwater explosion that our guide said was locals fishing by way of fire cracker or land mine, yes this is where we again could call this lucky to get out of Laos alive or where tourism is still a beginning industry. Laos may be one of the poorest countries in the world, and the most bombed country during the 1960s but it is the most honest, generous, naturally stunning places I have ever visited. It is being opened to the outside world and to tourists fast and in the next 5 years they are expecting to unveil a high speed train from China. For now I can say Laos stole my heart and captured my imagination. As I traveled back into Thailand and started to see the trappings of the fast globalizing and shrinking world it only made me feel more blessed for having spent this time in Laos now and not later. So let me end with this…Thank You Laos for opening yourself to me and letting me glimpse the beauty that lies within you. And to all of you reading this, the sincerest hope that you will be able to visit this place and experience all this country is, I promise you will be won over.

Love,

Ramona

03

04 2011

Viewing Vietnam And Life Through Its Traffic

Where has all the time gone and where have I been? The time has gone so fast and I have been through most of the coast of Vietnam but haven’t had a moment to stop by and say hello.

We left Cambodia and I left a deep part of my heart and a huge section of my ego behind in a country I never expected to be so affected by. I am still intrigued by it, talking about it, haunted by it, and desperately wanting to go back to discover more of it. As we left the land made as sudden and striking of a change as it had seemed when we had entered. The dust turned to green as we descended into the lower lying lands where the Mekong travels to disperse and feed the fertile ground known as the rice bowel of Vietnam. We crossed the border by foot and I can’t wait to share the photo of me walking across with bags on my front and back and rice fields and low mountains around me; it is a vision of which I never thought I would see.

We have spent time in Chau Doc; Ho Chi Minh City (still greatly referred to in  many times and cases as Saigon, not exactly sure how it works); Nha Trang; Hoi An; Hue; Halong Bay; and today arrived in Hanoi. The charm of the country, its landscape, its friendly people have seeped deep into my soul. I have spent nights, more than three of them, in sleeper trains that remind me of my experiences in summer camp with bunk beds, bugs, and crazy singing ladies at 5AM, which is how they announce that you are arriving in town to depart the train. I have been sick since entering the country but have found that eating the delicious food is well worth the repercussions an hour or two later and have come to know it as a fact of life. I have left behind my days of tuk tuks and have traded it in for rides in cylos (bloody, never doing that again, harassed into it and regretted it from the start), and my favorite form of transport here is on the back of a moto/motorbike with my arms stretched out riding through rice fields; I am reminded of my godmother Annie and my love of her motorbike growing up.

I fell in love with Hoi An and its beauty. I got lost in the streets and felt myself transported to a romantic time of the past. I see women dressed in ao dai that blow in the wind as they ride bicycles and feel I am in a page of a book or a picture from some far off dream. I took a cooking class – look out for future posts with cooking and recipes from the trip. I have walked through the Imperial Palace of Hue and sat in the ruins of the Forbidden Purple City and lost time as I just thought on a bench. I have seen the fog lift and reveal the majesty and wonder of Halong Bay and felt myself sail into the enchanted mist to discover the gems of islands waiting to be seen. I have walked on the beach and found my mind and heart grow with the experiences of the past weeks, months, years.

More than anything I have found my way in this new and different world, and I have found it most in the traffic and my learning to navigate and successfully partake in it. While in Cambodia, I couldn’t understand my part in the traffic pattern, so I would just run and pray. I have learned differently since entering Vietnam. As a foreigner, the flow of traffic seems chaotic, constant, without borders, rhythms, or any sense of speed or direction. Yes, traffic dodges, weaves and goes in both forward, back, side to side at any point and any time. I was told that to cross the street one has to commit, to walk forward, to go at a steady pace and not to stop, they will counter and compensate for you. But since my first brush with traffic and believe me it feels like a brush with death, I have learned to see the beauty, the order, the balance, and the perfect dance that is traffic in this part of the world. It is not as it first seemed with mere throngs of motos and cars moving at once, it is a dance as delicate and synchronized as any ballet or tango. It is a give and take between each driver, each pedestrian, and the any number of vehicles or people moving at the same time and in the same space as you. What at first seemed daring and risky now seems like an interlude that has a rhythm and a tone of its own. I have learned just when to step from the curb and which moving vehicle to look at first, I have learned when to go forward and when to hold back; I have learned to trust that they will counter and swerve to avoid me and if not I have learned to counter to avoid them. I have learned that here there is no too close for comfort–that it will always seem a little closer but that ultimately like any piece of music or exchange of dance, you must come close to have the true brilliance of the piece shine. I have found my confidence in the streets, at times lost it, and then found it again.

And as I take on each intersection and each sojourn into the world of traffic, I have seen how learning to play in it is so much like life. There is no stop to the traffic or life, only a slowing of intensity or concentration. I have learned that in the same way I have had to step into the street with cars and motos heading straight for me, so too must I at times head straight into life. Life doesn’t slow or stop so you can enter the dance at your convenience or even at a later point. I can’t run into life and just pray it won’t hit me as I did in Siem Reap. I have learned to see that life is always moving, find the best moment step into the dance or intersection as it were and move at a speed with as much confidence and a single minded pace as one can muster; I have to look at each vehicle but not the six million others in the intersection. I have to move and see that the cosmos and the congested city will counter and play a part as much I do. And just as I can now get from one side of the street to the next on my own, I can apply the same concept to life. I have even at times found a way to enjoy the trip across the street.

Sending so much love from a rainy and cold night with cars and motorbikes zooming by outside my window,

Ramona

Hanoi, Vietnam

17

03 2011

Overcome By Cambodia

Some views and images are too big for words or pictures. Some histories and truths are too hard to comprehend and find a way to express or let settle within you. Some places are too complex to convey in simple comparisons or small descriptions. I am left wordless by Cambodia. Cambodia is so much more than I expected or was prepared for – so much harder, so much more beautiful, filled with so much more life.

We visited Angkor Wat and I found in the ancient stone, the intricate carvings of the massive temple, and the even larger archeological site a world that surpassed my dreams for a place I have wanted to visit for so long. The day was hot, as all days have been in this hot country. I felt myself weather and melt in the intense sun but felt the pulse and breath of life push me on.

I fell immediately in love with the city of Siem Reap which felt like my every idea of an end of the line city, far away but pulsing with activity. I explored the Night Market with its stands of local crafts and affordable goods; I went to the Morning Market with the locals gathering their daily provisions. As I roamed the morning market with the fruit and vegetable stands of countless colors – orange, green, yellow, and vivid pink; I passed the meat laid out with cleavers for cutting entire animals, with live eel swimming in buckets of water, and with crabs that jumped from their basket to the floor to scurry away, I was not as I ever thought I would be. Before this morning I expected I would be how I am at home: squeamish and uncomfortable. But here in these surroundings where I have discovered life at its most basic and immediate, I found I was enthralled and saw that away from the packaging and lights of a modern supermarket what was happening felt so much more natural and real.

Phnom Penh was for me the opposite to the way I felt in Siem Reap; it was crowded with people and motos and tuk tuks, it felt gray and oppressive in its poverty splashed with opulence and obvious wealth. We took a tour of the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda; we experienced the overwhelming Russian Market filled with knock off goods, crafts, food, and auto parts, so alive with every walk and function of life from the city around it. In the afternoon I decided to face the truth I had been intellectually aware of but so frightened to see in person, the history of the Khmer Rouge. I have seen a concentration camp and thought somehow if I could handle that as a Jew I could handle anything, but I was more wrong than I could ever think. Tuol Sleng Museum once a high school and then converted into a prison in 1975 where countless thousands and millions were tortured before being killed amongst a staggering genocide at Choeung Ek. Where in Germany the concentration camp experience was sanitized and made into a moment in history to remember and reflect, S21 felt as if it was still a living ghost of what happened. I walked into the first room and in a hope to avert my eyes from a graphic photo, I looked up only to see the dried blood stains of one of the countless victims that has never been cleaned. I felt myself lose my every breath and have the life knocked out of me. Where the concentration camp felt distant from another generation and cleaned up to a comfortable European sensibility, S21 and Choeung Ek were not. The genocide and subsequent civil war of this country were squarely in my lifetime (even if it was the start of my life). These places haven’t been altered or made easy to experience; we stepped on bones and teeth and saw towers of skeletons as memorials. We walked out and men who had lost limbs and eyes from land mines beg for money, I am destroyed, I am more than sorrowful, and I am hopelessly affected.

And yet with all of this I feel like I have been tethered to this place with a thousand strings of silk. I want to come back as hard as it is here and I want to do and see more. I want to try to understand that which seems so beyond comprehension. Perhaps it is the people hard but open and so honest. Perhaps it is that after a day in which I felt such grief and guilt I went out to a beer garden and under Orion’s Belt and the rest of the constellations as my light, I learned to open and eat cockles’ from their shells – sweet with the sea and flavored with chilies and lemon grass. I drank beer after beer to quench my thirst from the heat of the day and the heat of the chilies and then to quench my aching body that felt it had been drop kicked into reality. With a woman from Whales and our guide, a Cambodian man of 30, we ate together and laughed, I saw that life while difficult is carrying on in its every way. And perhaps it was the wind and life being knocked out of me that afternoon that allowed me to see the life come back into me that night.

I am mesmerized, I have been opened, I have been broken and rebuilt and broken again by this place. But Cambodia is a place to be experienced, it is a place to be seen and felt for the life it has lived and the one it continues to contain. Last night in the blanket of a dark night I splashed my legs in the ocean and the salty water stung my calves as just another reminder of how alive I am. Like the salty tears I choke back, the lapping waves show me how life continues on and will always continue on. To say I have been changed by Cambodia is an understatement. I have been opened up by Cambodia. I have been confounded by Cambodia, and I have seen in Cambodia how life can be so much more than something that can be put into a few lines or in a photograph.

Endlessly altered and so very humbled,

Ramona

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

08

03 2011

From Bustling, Boisterous Bangkok and into Cambodia

Greetings from a land that is hot and humid!

It is morning here in Siem Rep and I have yet to sleep a full night, perhaps because of the 15 hour time difference to California or perhaps it is just my excitement in this new place that I am loving already.

I landed early in the afternoon to Bangkok after I had left behind my life in a blanket of fog and further behind that, my life comfortably sleeping under a comforter of snow. Bangkok was as promised—hot and ready for me to experience it on so many levels. Where I felt Japan was experienced as a slant of light glimpsed through the small opening of a door, Bangkok is lived full out, it is seen and felt, heard and smelled in the streets from the very start.

I made my way on the new LINK air train into the center of the city at the recommendation of a friend’s nephew who lives in Bangkok. The newly finished transport which only started service in Jan 2011, was fast, efficient, and virtually empty except for myself, one gentleman from the UK, and three or four locals. I made a fast friend with the other traveler and we found we were heading towards the same general destination: Hualamphong Train Station.

With more of the day ahead we took the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the new surroundings by way of a long tail boat ride down the Mae Nam Chao Phraya. Once known as the “Venice of the East” this river and its subsequent canals are the artery and life line of this very alive city. We quickly realized our boat ride was more than a leisurely sail and was meant to get us to purchase pencils, beer if not for us than our boat driver (is that really wise while he drives a boat?), to sell us seats at a snake circus or a crocodile show. When the boat driver and his wife realized we were not interested in anything other than the boat ride she quickly said as she nursed her son, “we will go back now ok?”

After a dinner at the train station of an unidentifiable curry that was spicy enough to bring tears to my eyes and a cough to my throat and a few Tiger Beers, my new friend and I parted ways as he boarded an overnight train and I went back to finally fall asleep for a few brief but ecstatic hours.

The next day I walked through China town and took the Mae Nam Chao Phraya Ferry to see the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. My godfather Timmy had sent me a post card of this statue from his trip years ago to Bangkok and as a young woman I held onto it and vowed to someday see it for myself. At 46 meters long and 15 meters high, this reclining Buddha is housed amid the oldest temple in Bangkok. My every fantasy was not let down, it was so much larger than any 5 by 7 post card could ever convey. But what took my breath away was the temple, or rather cluster of countless stupas and temples with more Buddhas than could be imagined. The air was filled with the sound of monks at prayer and people dropping coins into the small bowls to make wishes. I felt my very self become more serene in the magnificence of every size of statue and large mosaic tower. I left and wandered along the river and then tried to see Wat Arun but was too overwhelmed to go inside.  Is it possible to have a Buddha overload? I have discovered that like cake with nothing else, it is.

The streets in Bangkok are thriving with life. From the tok toks that careen between an endless stream of traffic, the young boys diving into the grey waters of Mae Nam Chao Phraya, the women washing dishes by the river banks, and the street side vendors with overflowing tables of people eating their daily meals. Bangkok is lived outside for all to see and experience in its vibrant existance.

I left Bangkok yesterday and made my way to Cambodia, a full day bus trip from a thriving metropolis through a quiet country side of green fields with white cows and enormous water buffalo. We arrived at the border, which appeared to be at first glance, the largest outdoor market one could think of. As we walked past people selling eggs, bread, back packs, shirts, fruit, plastic goods, a woman said “I feel like I am going into a market to exit into another country.”

But instead of another country, it felt like on the other side of that border we had entered another world. The cars were replaced by countless motorbikes and people pulling wooden carts, the smell intensified, the road turned to a terra cotta dusty vastness with stands under umbrellas on either side, and if it is possible, it instantaneously felt like the heat intensified by 10 degrees, how can that be?

It is all incredible and as shocking as it is, I feel more alive than ever. I feel like it is just such a rush of reality and serious life. I feel my chest constrict and yet feel myself fill with more life than ever before. It feels like this place is pulsing with its history and heartache and every bit of it can be seen and felt from the moment you enter.

Siem Rep is like a dream – tok toks and motor bikes whiz by and there are forms of traffic I have never seen elsewhere. I once considered myself an independent woman, but here I can barely figure out how to cross a street without help, but I am learning, fast and without fear (at times the best way is to close your eyes and just run)!

Last night we went into one of the poorest areas of Cambodia; Mondul3 Siem Reap is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. We went to see New Hope Cambodia which is one of the most inspiring places a person can witness. New Hope Cambodia is a free clinic that serves at times up to 150 people a day and a school for both children and adults. We were given the opportunity to go into the classroom and talk with people to practice their English. It made me want to stay for an endless amount of time and it made me so excited for Kenya. In that moment I knew everything I was doing was so right, I couldn’t have been more certain.

As we drove into and out of the area, children yelled to us and jumped up and down in various forms of dressed and undressed. They chased us and smiled and waved hanging on us as much as we hung on their brilliant smiling faces.

I am beyond filled with gratitude and an unmistakable sense of life in its every form. Today I will see Angkor Wat and then a traditional dance.  Could there be more to experience?  Yes, I have a plan to eat crickets!

So much love to you from one hot place to whatever place you are in,

Ramona

02

03 2011

Good Morning Hong Kong And A Great Movie Recommendation

After a long flight in perpetual darkness I have landed. Still in the shadow of a 20 hour night, I am in Hong Kong. The sun is just starting to peer through the haze and over the mountains surrounding the airport.

Disembarking the plane this morning I was welcomed to the ubiquitous familiarity of an international airport with the slight tinge of the local flavor. In today’s case it is the magnificent smell of ginger, garlic, and soy sauce, and it made me want to hunt down an early, early morning snack. The unfamiliar script changes to a recognizable alphabet. And then there are those distinctly unique moments you realize you are assuredly in a new country – this morning it was the prayer room next to the baby changing and rest rooms with the same universal sign for what I guess is a prayer room.

I am well on the way of my adventures and wanted to say a fast hello before I catch my flight to Thailand. Also between naps I saw a great movie that I wanted to share during this Oscar season.

It is the French animated film The Illusionist and it is well worth a run to see it before Oscar Sunday. It’s a simple, stunning, and charming film for anyone who believes in magic, or once did. It particularly made me think of Jason and anyone who loves The Triplets of Belleville. It will warm your heart, lift your spirits, and in my case made me completely forget about the unknown time or space I was in.

Love in passing as I run to my flight,

Ra

The Illusionist

26

02 2011

Packing Life Into Boxes With Chocolate:

“At each stage of learning we must give up something, even if it is a way of life that we have always known.”

-Ginevee Australian Aboriginal

I write this as I sit in an empty apartment that just hours ago housed my stuff, my life, and well, me. Now it is an empty canvas waiting for the next life to inhabit its walls and fill its corners and windows with breath.

Packing went smoothly, smoother than I expected it to; it felt good to diligently organize and carefully pack my belongings. It didn’t feel as final as I thought it might but it felt like a departure from something and a freeing of something else. I could feel the sails of my soul unfurl with each box I packed. The day of moving was very much something else; it felt jarring to cram all of my belongings into a small room with a cement floor and metal walls. It felt strange to see the room fill and fill and almost expand with the boxes and furniture. I don’t think I ever imagined how much stuff I was carrying around with me, and in the big picture I am not a stuff person. My unit looks as though one more box would make it explode, like the button that needs undoing after a Thanksgiving meal. It felt final locking everything away, it felt like there was no turning back. I was and am doing this!

I hesitate to repeat the cliché, “I never imagined my life could fit in there” because if I have come to realize anything these past few weeks, it is that my life is not in a storage unit. My stuff may be pushing at the seams of a storage locker, overflowing and bulging at the corners but my life is very much with me. My stuff is just that—stuff, it reflects who I am as a person. It is comforting to feel surrounded by its familiarity and fondness, it eases my life with its dependability, but it in no way is it my life. My life doesn’t even fit into the two bags I have packed to carry with me along the road. My life can fit in the smallest of compartments and the easiest to carry – myself.

It was sad to part with my stuff, does that sound schmaltzy or weak? Well it was. It was sad to see the stuff that embodied the life I have lived for the past ten years in an impersonal room with padlocks. It was sad to return to my apartment that seemed to be empty and aching for the previous days of recognition. But on the other side of that doorway, a doorway I have never walked through is life that is full and waiting. A life that like the wind wants to fill the sails in my soul, but for too long has been kept at a safe arms distance.

Between the tasks of moving my life to a room that is smaller than my bathroom once was, I have also had marvelous and memorable moments with my closest friends. I had a brunch amidst my boxes, I went to dinner with friends at my favorite neighborhood restaurants – Zoma, Les Ambassades Boulangerie, and a new favorite Red Rooster Harlem. I took walks through Central Park frosted in a perfect white powder snow, I marveled at Saint John the Devine. I felt the very fullness my life has been and an appreciation for that fullness beyond what previously could be imagined.

And as I packed each day I ate a chocolate. Not just chocolate but a fine chocolate that my sister sent me from her home in Portland. It goes back to when we packed my mother’s house a bit too early for comfort or distance but with a task at hand. It was the holidays and my godmother had sent a two-pound box of See’s candy; we hardly thought we could finish the entire box when it arrived. But each afternoon as we met to sort and get rid of what only three months earlier had been our mother’s life, or what surrounded her in her life, we ate a small chocolate. We would finish a shelf of books or a closet and turn to each other with impish grins to cover the obvious pain in our eyes and say, “have we earned a chocolate break?” and the answer was always YES. We surprisingly ate our way through two pounds of chocolate in the weeks that passed. It gave us the smallest bit of comfort and contentment in the otherwise unthinkably hard surroundings. Just before I started to pack my own house a package arrived from my sister with a box of chocolates and a note that said “Something to get you through the packing.” And it did get me through.

I am excited to be in California for a short stop over as I continue west until it becomes east again. I feel like the RAvolution has snapped into reality in the matter of a day and I am so happy and enthusiastic to greet it, but for one night I am sad to part with a way of life that I have known for so long.

Love,

Ra

Photo Credit: Photo 4 by Jessica

17

02 2011

Soup for the Soul

This recipe is actually from an e-mail I sent to my mother in the fall of 2007, but it is one of my favorite soup recipes that I come back to again and again. The subject line for the e-mail I sent my mom so many years ago was the title of this post, and though I intended to call this something different, I found the subject line far more fitting.

I have just returned from a tireless week of work in Las Vegas, far less exciting than it sounds, and far more exhausting than could be imagined. I came home to face the task of packing up my life for the RAvolution. My body is weary from too much work, and my soul is frightened by the impending task and emotions that lie ahead in the next week and a half. This soup solved both of these dilemmas – it nourished my body with its hearty flavors of ginger, sweet potato, and cabbage; it nurtured my soul with its warmth and its essence of a wonderful past trip to Bali.

I found this recipe in the Moosewood Simple Suppers cookbook shortly after returning from a trip to Bali in early 2007; the recipe is inspired by the Indonesian Gado Gado Sauce that we fell in love with while traveling.

Bali is a place that lies beyond description but this bowl of soup brings me back to the small warungs where we ate daily. The flavors are complex and yet somehow perfectly complementary, they mirror the many experiences in Bali that combine and balance what in other places contradict. If I have ever visited a place that felt like I slipped from reality into a movie set, Bali would be that place. From the small altars that clutter the sidewalks and everywhere your eye catches, to the smell of Durian mixing with incense and flowers, nothing was familiar to any place I had ever been before. From the funeral taking place beside the road that we were somehow invited to, to the Kecak and Barang dances performed, everything felt like a staged movie put on for our benefit; but it was real, and I am transported back to this unbelievable place with each bite of the complex and comforting soup.

You don’t have to travel to Bali to feed your soul (although it really can’t hurt if you have the chance), but I do encourage you to try this soup and from the richness of the peanut butter and sweet potato, to the hint of spice from ginger, it is difficult to not feel just the slightest bit warmer.

As you feed your taste buds, I have added some delights for your eyes to feast on as well. All of the pictures from Bali are courtesy of Gina and Jessica, my dear friends and travel companions on this adventure.

Indonesian Sweet Potato & Cabbage Soup

1Tbs Grated & Peeled Ginger Root

2 Garlic Cloves, minced or pressed

1/2 Tsp Cayenne (or less)

1 Tbs Oil (any kind)

1.5 Onions chopped

1/2 tsp salt

2.5 Cups Cabbage (in 1/2 inch chunks, I used green)

2.5 Cups Diced Sweet Potatoes (about 1 pound)

4 Cups Vegetable Broth

1/2 Cup Smooth Peanut Butter

1 Cup Chopped Tomato

1 Tbs soy sauce

mung bean sprout (optional)

chopped cilantro, scallions, mint, and or Thai basil (optional)

In soup pot on medium heat, cook the ginger garlic and cayenne in the oil for a min. before adding the onions and salt. Cook, stirring often, until onions are soft, about 5 min.

Stir in the cabbage & sweet potatoes. Add about 3.5 cups of the broth. Cover and increase the heat to bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 min.

While soup is cooking, in a bowl whisk together the peanut butter and remaining 1/2 cup of broth until smooth then mix in soy sauce. Add the peanut butter mixture to the soup with the tomatoes. Simmer until all the vegetables are tender about another 5 -10 min.

Serve each bowl topped with bean sprouts and cilantro, scallions, mint, and/or basil.

That’s it and it’s like heaven and Bali in bowl.

Love,

Ra

07

02 2011

A Shot In The Arm

Actually it was more like three shots in one arm. But as of last Friday, I am officially vaccinated! The first shot was fine. By the second, my arm hurt and the injection was much more noticeable. By the third, when the doctor said, “you might feel a slight burning sensation”, my arm felt like dead lead.

I spent the weekend recuperating between work and chores, relieved to have the fearful process of shots out of the way. I have a prescription for more antibiotic/malaria medication than I have ever had a prescription for anything in my life. Four months of a daily pill with side effects including photo sensitivity (that will be wonderful in Southeast Asia and Kenya; I am going to invest seriously in SPF as high as it goes).

The entire experience is becoming more real with each day and with each frightening item crossed off the list of seemingly endless to do’s in order to leave my life for four months, and to travel to five countries on two separate continents. The other night as I finally unplugged the computer and relaxed, I realized between my work and other obligations I will only have one more Sunday night in my apartment. This realization drove it all home how close this is really getting. I was sad for a moment because this house has been such a wonderful sanctuary for me all of these years and the time seems to be going so fast. But it also made me realize how fast any sense of time can go – a month of travel, a few months in California, a month of volunteering in Africa and before I know it, that too will have slipped through from fear into reality and then to memory and then to part of the fiber that makes me who I am as a person.

There are such floods of feelings to leave your life behind even if it is only for a few months; but then again there are such monsoons of emotions just going through life that we too often don’t notice or give space and time to properly acknowledge. The feeling of fear dissipates and leaves excitement only to be overtaken by the myriad of emotions we can’t imagine. I feel such relief to have completed something that felt so daunting before, and nervous for everything I have yet to experience.

And as each new blast of cold and storm of snow hits the streets of New York (these seem constant in recent days), I remember in one month I will be in a hot, humid, crazy new place, and I might even miss the snow then. Each time this thought bubbles up, it gives me this moment to think that if this isn’t the greatest lesson in “this too shall pass,” I don’t know what is. And asI lose gloves in cabs and buy new pairs, I remind myself to remember this cold for the good and bad, because on a steamy night I might feel the slightest bit of relief in the fact that it is out there. It also has shown me the lesson to take with me along the trip that no matter how daunting or overwhelming not only shall this pass, but I might even be able to put it in context and a time line. This too shall pass and my arm while still slightly bruised, doesn’t hurt the way it did last Saturday when I had to take a taxi home with my groceries, too tired and sore to carry them. My nights in a house I have come to know and rely on will in less than a month slip into memory and a place of recalled dreams. Just as all things in life this too shall pass, it may come back up time and again and I may not be able to quell all my fears with a meditation of snow on one side of the planet and sweltering heat on the other, but it has given me perspective in a way I have never been able to see it so clearly before.

Love,

Ramona

28

01 2011