Worn down and weary, I headed to the airport to catch my flight. After a sleepless election night with results that left me in shock rather than a celebratory mood, I felt weird leaving my country. I often joked that if Trump won I would move, but now he was our president and while I was numb, it felt wrong to up and leave, even if I was coming back. Leaving in this state of mind wasn’t ideal, but I hoped that India would help me heal, as it did the year before.
Aside from being plagued with worries and weighed down from the election results, I was also nervous about revisiting the country that had left such a mark on me. Would I feel the same way I did last year? Would it have the same affect on me? Never before have I headed back to a place that has had such a transformative affect on me and my life. I didn’t know what to expect the second time around.
After a very long flight, with a connection in Qatar, I arrived in Goa hopeful I’d feel the same. As soon as I stepped outside, the warmth of the country and that old familiar smell enveloped my senses; I felt welcomed once more.
That welcome continued as we drove to the hotel and I began to see the familiar looking houses. I felt relieved. That relief grew into excitement after arriving at my hotel. It was 4am, just as it was the last time I arrived in India. There is something magical about arriving when it’s dark, and my excitement wouldn’t allow me to sleep, just like last time. I shuffled back and forth from my bed to my little balcony, hoping the sun would soon rise.
Eventually, between attempts to fall asleep and bursts of energy, it did. The sun wasn’t in view from where I was, but from my balcony, I watched the world slowly start to wake up. The quiet world I arrived in started bustling with the beeping of motorbikes and cars and people going about their morning routines. Those familiar sounds played in my ears and I smiled as I watched birds swoop in the skies.
Since I couldn’t sleep, I headed downstairs to enjoy my first chai and my favorite Indian breakfast of poha, a flattened rice. I felt grateful to be back in less than a year. I tried to nap, but still filled with too much excitement, I took a stroll around Panjim with my friend, Erin. I was already falling in love with Goa.
What I didn’t know at the time was that India had some lessons to teach me on this trip, and those lessons were not going to be learned like last year. I think deep down, that was part of my worry. Many times, I have heard that India can be a place you either love or hate. It can depend on a multitude of factors, as with any travel experience, but India can be a challenge. It’s a playground for the senses and even though it’s one of my favorite countries in the world, it can certainly have its moments. Naively, I thought India would always be a place I loved, but this trip proved it wouldn’t be quite that easy.
I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but after those first few days, something changed. It wasn’t one thing that stuck out more than another, but I began to feel like India was testing me and that I was failing. I wasn’t even sure what it was that was bothering me, but something just didn’t feel right. It felt different. I thought maybe jet lag and exhaustion were to blame, or my looming feelings about the election. I couldn’t grasp why my experience was so much more difficult, but that began to frustrate me.
Still, I pushed through, or at least tried to. But, one evening, I broke down with a terrible migraine. This was my breaking point, and a moment I just wanted to go home. Never had I wanted to leave India and I was confused at my sudden feelings. I awoke the next morning and didn’t any feel better. I broke down and cried, which helped a bit, as did some yoga outside under the palm trees. Then, I took the day off and stayed at Casa Menezes. I read, colored, wrote, and tried to respond to some emails. It was then I found a message from my mom. She had sent it days earlier, but somehow I had missed it. Within it, it held the words I needed to help me carry on.
The next morning, I took a bike ride with David, the owner of Casa Menezes, and a few friends. It was here that I began to feel better. In the natural beauty of Goa, we biked through palm trees and small villages saying hello to anyone we passed. I began to feel a heaviness lifted off of me. This was the India I fell in love with. The people, the culture, the beautiful landscapes. With the wind in my hair, I felt happy and remembered why I fell in love in the first place.
Now that I was feeling better, I began to start to understand what was making this trip different. To start, Goa was not the India I was used to. It was not the India I had fallen in love with a year prior. That was fine and Goa was beautiful in its own way, but it was different. The food was different, the culture was different, even the main religion was different. Its differences are what make it stand out and why so many people love Goa, and I did too, but I had to start thinking of it as something separate from India.
I was also going through a few changes of my own, ones that dealt with something nowhere near India. It had been over a year since I had quit my job, my bank account was running low, and I had no idea how I was going to survive in this industry. That coupled with the election results and my first ever bout homesickness, it was enough to take me out of the present moment and put my mindset somewhere else. In the time since my last trip to India, so much had changed, including what I thought I wanted out of my life.
Again, India brought out my internal struggles and issues I was dealing with. Just not in the way I had expected. Just by being placed in India, I began to reflect again. Once I realized this was what was happening, I was able to take a moment, slow down, and just enjoy being. I understood that India wasn’t done teaching me. Honestly, it probably will never be done.
Before arriving in India last year, I had closed myself off in many areas and I needed India to break me up and show me the areas of myself I hadn’t seen in months, years even. But, I was broken open in a very safe place, a very healing place. In fact, I barely knew it was happening until it was done. I left India as my true self, and a person I hadn’t seen in years. I was lighter, happier, wiser, and stronger, but more importantly more open than I had been in years.
This time was different, and while last year I loved India every moment, even the hard times, this year, there were moments I hated it. At the time, I was so upset at myself for feeling that way, but looking back, I think that’s all part of the process. Until we really spend enough time in a country to feel up and down and have feelings of love and hate, we don’t truly understand it. So, after this trip, I feel like I know India a bit better, although I am not sure I will ever truly understand it.
But, I know I will always be drawn there. I’ll be drawn to the bright colors and history. I’ll be drawn to the food and culture. I’ll be drawn to the people and their continuous offerings of kindness. I’ll be drawn to the warmth and the feeling of home.
What I learned is that India will always have lessons for those who visit. It has a transformative power not many places have. It’s why I believe that some people have such a difficult time while traveling here. The country is alive, more alive than most places. But, within that life, it brings out all the good and bad, sometimes that good and bad is what’s inside of us. Sometimes it isn’t what we want to see.
Will I revisit India in the future? Of course, and I am planning to again in 2017. Except this time, I’ll be wiser and know it has lessons in store for me. I’ll be willing to accept them with open arms and the realization that India will always have something to teach me.
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