Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category

Inspiration

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

A friend of mine recently asked me what was inspiring me.

One of the reasons why he is my friend is because he asks such interesting, thoughtful questions. He has such a yearning for knowledge and understanding and communion. And it is something that I very much want to be a part of. But because he and I live in different parts of the world, we don’t catch up in person as often as we would both like. But that’s ok. That just means we have to make the most of the time we do have together. And one of the ways in which he gets to the heart of what is happening in my life is to ask me what is inspiring me.

And it’s a serious question that deserves serious thought and attention. And it’s not trivial. It’s not easy to answer. But the more consideration I give to the answer (both during the conversation with him, and on reflection later), the more I am able to actively harness that inspiration.

In general there are very many things that inspire me: wonderful people, education (in any form), social justice, stories of people who grasp life with both hands and actively live it, a fascinating book, beauty (a frozen spider’s web on a branch in winter, a forested mountain range, a waterfall, maths and logic, poetry), my job (depending on what I’m doing in my job at the time: creating spreadsheet/database systems that improve efficiency, teaching), helping others, smiles and laughter.

At the moment people, smiles and laughter are large causes of inspiration for me.

But probably the biggest thing currently is dancing. And that’s because it has so many of the other elements interwoven into it.

  • There are wonderful people (my teachers, my fellow students) who I love talking to and laughing with and dancing with.
  • There are patterns and maths and music: a precision to the structure, a beauty to the form.
  • There is a challenge to myself to develop my skills. To improve. To train my body and my mind to work in ways it has never done before.
  • There is an aesthetic component, though that is not so much about me watching others dance, nor is it about how I think I look when I dance, it is about how I feel when I dance – the beauty in the movements of my body and the movements of his body, the synchronicity, the team work (when we do it right we complete each other).
  • It’s about the simple joy of moving.
  • It’s about education. How I learn the steps and the technique and the style. How I create patterns and schemas and how I integrate the new information into those patterns and schemas. How I think about physics and maths and muscles and music. It’s about how he teaches me. How he translates the world that he knows so well into something that I can access and take part in. About how I learn from watching others around me.
  • It’s about communication. How he leads, how I follow, how I respond to his body. How we tell a story to an audience (even if it is an audience of just the two of us).
  • It’s about thinking and not thinking. About feeling. About creativity. About call and response.

And it is just magical!

So my passion for my other sources of inspiration has not dimmed. And inspiration in any form feeds inspiration in the others. And it feeds itself.

And for me, a very big part of leading a happy, wonderful, fulfilling, successful life is about being inspired and thriving on that inspiration. And feeding it. And growing from it.

So I am dancing. And I’m inspired. And I’m happy.

Happiness

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

I’m a happy person. I smile a lot. I bounce a lot. I love life.

And some people ask me how I manage to be so happy all the time.

The first thing I say is that I’m not happy all the time. But I don’t like not being happy so I try to restrict the not happy times to a minimum. I also try not to share the not happy times with all and sundry. So I guess I probably am happier a lot more often than very many other people. And I certainly appear to be happy more often than many others.

What’s the secret of my happiness? Well, it’s somewhat simple. And yet really rather difficult at the same time.

I make a conscious decision to be happy. I work on discovering what makes me happy. And I do as much of that as I can. I understand that I can’t devote all my time to things that make me happy. I also need to do tedious household chores so that my housemate doesn’t kick me out (that would make me majorly unhappy). I need to work (and my job doesn’t always make me happy) so that I have enough money to pay my bills and pay for the things that make me happy.

Now this all sounds simple. And it is. But it does require effort. I actively need to work out what makes me happy. And what is the right thing to make me happy at any given time. And I need to cultivate moments in my life where these activities are possible. Here are some of them: drinking a decent cup of tea, meeting up with friends for a good chat, conversations with friends that leave tears of laughter running down my face, falling in love, great productive arguments with friends about important issues that get me really fired up, dancing, reading a good book, eating good chocolate, watching something good on TV, making bread to share with friends, hot showers, sleeping in. The list does go on (as do I!). 🙂

So that’s step one.

Step two is about choosing to be happy. That’s about looking for happiness in everyday situations. It’s about choosing to take joy in the cup of tea, rather than just drinking it. It’s about actively seeking out happiness rather than waiting for it to pop up and say hi. And the amazing thing about this is that happiness is a habit. Once you start looking for it, it becomes so much easier to see it. And then you don’t have to try so hard to find it anymore.

Step three is about making other people happy. Happiness is contagious. And once you start being a source of happiness for other people then their happiness creates a virtuous circle that spreads and does find its way back to you.

So it’s easy: I make myself happy. I choose to be happy. I make other people happy.

But it’s also quite tricky: it involves a concerted effort and some hard work (at times).

But it is completely worth it!

And being happy makes me happy!! 🙂

Back in the UK

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

I’ve been back in the UK for a day and half at time of writing. And what a day and a half it has been.

I’ve brushed my teeth with tap water. I licked my fingers when I was eating cheese on toast. I ate cheese on toast. I ate cheese and it was even better than I remember it! I have used idioms and slang and spoken quickly and mumbled. I have worn socks. I have used toilet paper. I have had hot showers. I have clean feet. I chopped vegetables and a piece of mushroom feel from the chopping board to the bench and the bench was clean enough that I could pick up the piece of mushroom and throw it into the frying pan with its mates. I have lain in bed rejoicing in the peace and quiet (no ceiling fan, no monsoonal rain, no dogs, no shouted arguments, no religious observances). I have walked along the pavement and looked up at the buildings rather than down at my feet to see what I’m standing on. I’ve made myself cups of tea whenever I wanted them (with no sugar). I’ve drunk soy milk. I’ve been to a pub. I’ve washed clothes in a washing machine and they smell wonderful! I’ve watched crappy TV in English!

And most importantly, I’ve met up with some of the most wonderful people in my life. I’ve talked, I’ve laughed, I’ve joked. I’ve made new friends.

And I’ve danced. And words fail completely to express how incredible it was to be dancing again.

I loved my time away. I’m looking forward to going back again next year. But I’m really enjoying being back.

One of the wonderful consequences of my exceptionally transient lifestyle is that I spend a lot of my time rejoicing in the newly remembered wonders of my current location. And it has the added benefit of giving my friends something to laugh about each time I get giddy about drinking tap water! 🙂

Back In Sri Lanka

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

At time of writing I’m back in Sri Lanka. And it has been almost two years since I was here last. I can’t believe it has been so long!! I don’t wait to leave it that long again.

This place is in my heart and my soul and I am always struck by how much at home I feel when I come back here. 🙂

I absolutely adore it.

And I have some wonderful friends here too who I haven’t seen enough of. And I miss them when I’m not here.

And the gentleness of Sri Lanka (at least compared with India) has been wonderful.

Two days in Colombo by myself to wander the city and go to coffee shops and eat rice and curry and soak up the sun and walk beneath the trees and talk to old friends and meet up with old friends all did wonders to undo a lot of the ravages of India.

I’ve been giggling at all the people sweeping (there is always someone sweeping in Sri Lanka). I’ve eaten kotthu and egg rotti and pol rotti and pol sambol and dhal curry and polis (young jak fruit) and beetroot curry. I’ve had iced chocolates and mango smoothies and green tea (with mint). I’ve spoken Sinhala. I’ve pushed my way onto and off of buses. I’ve not had to go to Immigration! I’ve slept on buses. I’ve got on and off buses in the right places. I’ve queued (for some definition of queueing – sharpen your elbows, take a deep breath and push) for train tickets.

So all in all, it has been a wonderful rebirth coming back here again. I feel so much better for it. I’m happy, I’m at peace, I’m loving it.

And I must continually remember that this is what this country does to me and that this means I must make it a point to come back regularly.

Mama kameti!!!

A Few Days In Kovalam

Friday, September 12th, 2014

I’ve had a few days in Kovalam. On my own. It has been very nice.

I’ve had real problems with food recently. I’m not entirely sure why. Part of it is that I’m sick of curry and chilli, but that’s not the whole story. Part of it that so much of food is psychological and wrapped up in cultural habits and rituals. And being pressured to eat and being made to feel guilty about not eating have partly conspired to make me want to avoid eating completely.

So I’ve not been eating much.

For the past week or so, I’ve been eating one meal a day and that’s all. No other snacking. Just one meal at lunch.

And sometimes, I haven’t been able to finish even that.

I’m just not hungry. Or I am hungry, but my body is processing the hunger reflex differently from how it usually does it. I just don’t want to eat and I can’t stomach the thought of it if I am faced with it. (Pun intended.)

But for the last few days here in Kovalam, I’ve been eating. I’m now up to two meals a day and I’m finishing both of them.

Part of it is because there is a choice here at the German Bakery and the choice is good (veg pizza, roast vegetables, stir fry veg and tofu, cheese on toast, etc.). But I think a lot more of it is because I’m here on my own and I have no pressure to eat, no guilt, no rituals to try to adhere to. And this makes me happy.

It has also been nice not to have to talk to anyone for a few days. Ok, everyone, please stop laughing. I know I talk a lot. I mean, a lot. 🙂 But it has been nice to have a few days of not having to talk to anyone.

Plus, I’ve managed to get some stuff done and get my to do list blitzed and tidied up. So I’m feeling productive as well as everything else.

And I’ve done some dance practice (the floor in the hotel room is tiled and really quite clean and just big enough to get some decent practice done).

So the guys in the German Bakery are likely to start charging me rent quite soon. Or to start dusting me assuming that I’m one of the fixtures. But I’m back home to Poonthura tonight to stay again with Johnson and Lisba. Both of whom I love dearly and have missed.

I’m very lucky to have people I can share my life with as well as the luxury of being able to spend some time on my own.

Going Home

Friday, August 1st, 2014

I’m going home (for some definition of home – in this case, London) in September. My flight is booked for the 29th.

There are several reasons for this.

I knew when I booked my return flight for February that there was very little chance of me going back on that date. But I really wasn’t sure what things were going to be like out here (from the point of view of productive work for me to do). Plus, there are issues in my Indian family and I wasn’t sure if or how they would affect things. And I wasn’t sure how much I was going to miss the UK. And I wasn’t sure when/if I was going to run out of money.

And the result of all of these considerations is that heading back on the 29th of September is the right thing to do.

The Behaviour Management programme that we have been running here has been a great success and we want to run a follow-up programme with these schools and the same programme (with some improvements) in new schools. We’d like to do that at the start of the next academic year, which is June 2015.

In order for me to be able to be back here in June next year, I need to go back to the UK early so that I can earn some money to fund me through next year. If I go back in February, I won’t earn enough before June to be able to come then.

Plus, I am missing the UK and my friends there (as well as all the usual things that I miss: clean feet, tea with no sugar, bread, cheese, toast, brushing my teeth with tap water, hot showers). Of course, these are all important but I’m used to missing them all and they’re not enough to make me actually want to change my flight.

But there is a new element in the mix this time. Dancing. I have REALLY been missing it. And there is a showcase in London in October. Now, there are lots of different dancing events all the time, so missing the London showcase would not be the end of the world, and that’s not something to change my flights for. But since I was changing the flight anyway, arranging things so that I’ll be back in time for the showcase seemed sensible. 🙂

The issues with the family here are certainly having an effect as well. Not to the point that I want to leave, but the issues are a definite source of worry.

So here is my plan for the next two months. The current batch of volunteers finish up at the end of August. There is a Keralan festival (Onam) at the start of September, then I’m hoping to take Johnson and Lisba to Sri Lanka for a couple of weeks for a holiday! (And for me to meet up with lots of my Sri Lankan friends.) Then back to India for the end of September and my flight back to the UK on the 29th.

Then it’s London and working and dancing and catching up with people till the start of March. Then Cambridge and Easter Revision till the end of April. Then back to India again in May or June to do it all over again!

And everything in this plan makes me very happy! 🙂

Good Guys And Bad Guys

Friday, August 1st, 2014

In teledramas/soaps/serials it is always easy to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. In Malayalam serials the bad women have strong eye make-up, always look down and have strong voices while the good women have much softer eye make-up, always look up with pathetic puppy dog eyes and have pathetic breathy voices that involve a lot of sighing and having to sit down. The music is also a bit of a giveaway: if it is in a minor key then the person on screen is a bad guy.

The Malayalam men all have ripped muscles, dark hair and flourishing moustaches so it’s a bit more difficult to tell with them. Though, as a general rule, if the actor is famous then he’s a good guy. If he takes his shirt off, he’s a good guy. If the other team wait and attack him one by one or maybe two at a time, then he’s a good guy. If he can be stabbed, punched, hit by a car and still stand up then he’s a good guy. If one punch causes him to fall over permanently then he’s a bad guy. If small children like him then he’s a good guy.

I do understand that it is equally easy to tell in Hollywood films, Aussie soaps, etc. though the indicators may be slightly different.

In real life, it’s a little bit harder to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.

But not much.

Here is a handy guide to help you tell if you’re a good guy or a bad guy.

I’ve written a series of questions to ask yourself. If the answer to each is the answer given in brackets then you’re probably a good guy.

  • Is the story that you and your team mates tell consistent? (Yes)
  • Do you have documentary evidence to back up the claims you are making? (Yes)
  • Do you have witnesses who agree with your side of the story? (Yes)
  • Did you have to bribe/pay/intimidate/coerce/deceive the witnesses in order to make them support you? (No)
  • Have you ever stood on the street / in the yard / in the house / in the police station shouting bad words at the people on the other team? (No)
  • Have you ever destroyed property or plants that belong to someone else (or that you believe is common property but is nonetheless in dispute)? (No)
  • Do you show respect for the property you are staying in (regardless of who you think owns it), e.g. keeping it clean and tidy? (Yes)
  • Have you ever told bad stories (true or false) to friends and family of the other team or people connected with the other team? (No)
  • Do you use your children to emotionally blackmail other people? (No)
  • Were the people on your team previously known for their trustworthiness, integrity and goodness? (Yes)
  • Are the things you are saying about the other team completely out of character with their usual behaviour? (No)
  • Are you refusing to say bad things about the other team even if the facts may support it (e.g. I don’t say he is a liar, I just explain that the story he tells is different from the story others tell, maybe he is lying, maybe they are lying, maybe there is a misinterpretation)? (Yes)
  • Have you ever threatened (verbally or physically) someone from the other team? (No)

There are bound to be other indicators as well, but I think that’s a pretty good starting point.

And has the added benefit of reassuring me that in both of the recent conflicts where I have taken sides, I have sided with the good guys.

Relationships

Friday, August 1st, 2014

One thing that becomes clear to me every time I travel is the complex nature of relationships.

I have to develop strong and fairly instant bonds with the volunteers in order to support them through their experience here. And sometimes those bonds will last for a very long time. And sometimes they won’t. I am always very pleased when I find someone that I want to hang on to. It gives me, amongst other things, someone to stay with when I visit Cornwall, or Winchester, or Liverpool, or Cardiff, etc. But I’m never upset or regretful if a relationship that is strong in-country fades quickly when back in the UK. That’s ok. That’s just what happens.

Plus, I have learnt that a relationship that involves absolutely no contact whatsoever for 15 years can be rekindled and return to its previous strength. So it’s far too early in my life to write off anyone yet! 🙂

Similar things can be said for host families and teachers in the countries I work in. Some are very good friends who I will see again and again. Others are Facebook friends who I am very pleased to have as Facebook friends. And others have just drifted. But, if I bump into one of them at a bus station in Colombo (or Chiang Rai, or Trivandrum) then I’ll be very pleased!

And my UK friends are also an interesting bunch. One, because they are interesting and two, because of what they tell me about relationships. I’ve got some very, very dear friends in the UK with whom I have almost no contact while I’m away. But who are very, very dear friends. And each time I meet up with them again it feels like it was only yesterday that I saw them last.

And then there are friends I have in the UK who are good friends, but who I may not see all that much. And some of these are people who are an amazing source of strength for me when I’m away. Some people who I just seem to communicate more with when I’m away.

And then there are my new friends. I meet lots of people (travelling, living, working, dancing, friends of friends). And some of the new friends end up being closer than friends I’ve had forever. And sometimes I think that they’ll be closer but then I leave the country and all contact dries up.

Ok, so, I am only human, and sometimes I wish that some friendships were deeper / stronger / more communicative than they are. But this is only a very small thing and I try not to dwell on this too much.

But none of this really matters.

What matters is that I have a lot of wonderful friends. Each friendship is different. I don’t apply any rules to friendship (you must email me at least once per quarter and phone me on my birthday or we’re finished). I take each friendship as it comes. I take joy in the uniqueness of that friendship.

I am incredibly lucky to have so many wonderful friends. 🙂

Families

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Families can be tricky things. Anywhere in the world. Regardless of culture and socio-economic context.

Adoptive families can also be tricky. And I mean adoptive in the sense of families who are wonderful friends of mine and who have adopted me as one of their own, rather than adoptive in the strictly legal sense.

I’m very lucky. I have a wonderful family by birth and I have several wonderful families by choice. But it can be difficult at times being a part of someone else’s family. Particularly when there are difficulties within the family. And to say there are difficulties in my Indian family at the moment is to make a very, very large understatement.

My Indian family is tearing itself apart. And it is so sad and so painful to watch. Two of my favourite people in the whole world are taking opposite sides in a complex series of arguments and issues that are spiralling. I had been trying not to take sides, though it was very difficult, particularly when there are some people in this drama whose motives I trust and some whose motives I certainly don’t trust. As it turns out I have now quite clearly taken sides, though I do still hope to stay friends with the wonderful person who is on the other side.

I’m not Indian, and a lot of this must be seen in the context of Indian culture. And while I understand some bits of this, it is not my native culture so I don’t understand it enough.

However, there are some things that are just right and some things that are just wrong. And some of those things do not depend on culture.

I’m not family, this has nothing to do with me.

I am family and this has everything to do with me.

Family or not: this is tragic and unpleasant and so very, very sad.

Missing Dancing

Monday, July 14th, 2014

I have been in India for about two months now. I have done some dancing practice about 10 times in the past two months for about 45 minutes each time.

This is wonderful.

But this is not enough dancing!

I have been watching dancing videos practically every day (I have videos of my dances from Istanbul) but have not been able to dance every day.

I am really missing it.

I talk to Kate once a week and she tells me about how she’s getting on with her dancing. So it’s very nice to hear that everyone is going well. The lessons are still happening. Kate is having the same issues with frame in Ballroom and hips in Latin that I have. The world continues to turn in my absence (this does not surprise me). The instructors have apparently not forgotten me yet. The other students are progressing and having fun. So all is right with the world!

I am trying to find time to dance. And when I do find the time it is certainly worth it!

And I can’t wait to get back to London and get back into the studio! I hope I haven’t forgotten too much by then, or developed too many bad habits!