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Note to Self

When you sweat here, the morning layers dry and stratify with the afternoon build-up. You slip through the streets this way. Mango juice drips from your hands. You have bargained down the price of bangles from a vendor after the Indian woman nearby scoffed as his inflated quotes. You will quote this back to whomever receives these as a gift to avoid looking cheap.

For dinner, you have eaten a ravvi masala dosa without a napkin and now and the spices are draining from all of your sinuses. You shower with the faithful bucket, refreshed but not for long in the un-air-conditioned room. You cannot tell if you are damp with clean water of a fresh grease of sweat. Do not take out your left eye contact before hand-washing. The masala is still there. The masala is always there.

And don’t remove the right, either.

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Remember the Benefit

I have signed up for daily 6:00 am yoga. Really, I have signed up for 5:45 yoga, because it takes some time to bike to the university yoga center, and when you break it down I have mostly committed to 5:30 am yoga because leggings present certain coordination and balance obstacles when you are attempting to put them on int a state not unlike a blind baby mouse, and I can say with confidence that I’m certainly signed on for 5:15 yoga, because the incubuses of my morning motivation need some time to bicker amongst themselves as the best way to get my body out of sweet, sweet repose so early.

I should mention that I hate yoga. I have tried it multiple times in multiple locations, all the while fuming slowly like the positions I am supposed to be mastering because I am failing at stretching. My whole life I have participated in sports involving quick spurts of activity that let you convince yourself that you aren’t really exercising: gymnastic, softball, racquetball. By nature I am not a very still or calculated person. These are traits I have always been determined to change about myself but easily forfeit to defeat. My dedication to yoga probably generates from some deep, vain desire to edify this self-loathing, to wallow in my own umlimber soul. Clearly a straight path to nirvana.

The yoga center is a large but unassuming building a mile away from our hostel. The mint green walls and yellow window frames distract it from considering itself a warehouse. Bright woven wool blankets and crayon-colored yoga mats enliven the metal roof and the concrete floor. Every morning when I retrieve mine from the dark room where they are kept, I am reminded of the musty, wooden smell of then nearly abandoned treehouse at my grandparent’s house in Michigan.

Our regular instructor is just as you might imagine – a short, compact bald man of indistinguishable age. He even speaks in compact sentences. No excessive words. A short, “You…hello, you!” to correct someone’s pose, usually mine. Then, “Get back” to indicate the end of a pose. Without fail every time, I time my breaths to the rhythm of the Beatles song by the same name.

When he learns my name, he pronounces it “Kather-reen.” I think he prefers using “Hello…You.”

The first week he asked me where all my other friends were, the ones who signed up eagerly the first day during our campus tour. Knowing that no one else in the group has any intention of getting up this early or coming to yoga, I make light of our lack of commitment. “We are doing a graded exposure system,” I quip. “Bringing one per day!” Okay, he just nods his head. I haven’t made the joke again. I leave the sarcasm with my shoes at the door, and attempt to get into the meditative state, but mostly swat at flies secretly.

One day a new instructor took over the exercise. I was relaxing in meditation already and was starting to feel as I always do – like I had truncated my sleep in bed just to come sleep in more uncomfortable position among strangers – when I heard a booming voice echo throughout the hall. In my enlightened state, I honestly thought the voice of God had descended to tell me, “Stretch! Higher! Yes! Lift your buttocks!”

When I opened my eyes, I saw the voice belonged to a rotund thick man white white hair pacing through the still bodies, his eyes closed too. We go through the opening ommmms and prayer. I know none of the words I repeat, but I have adopted them to mean “Please for the love of whatever God do not let me pull muscles I don’t know I have.”

The man continued to speak in stern yet encouraging phrases. “Very good!” he says genuinely when I somehow managed to reach my head to my feet while arching my back. “Dream on!” Right when we bigan holding the maximum stretchs in excruciating pain, he launches into long, detailed narratives about what part of the body should be hurting, what physical ailment it will alleviate, and what the medical etiology of its good name means.

“Remember the benefit!” he says when he can tell we are failing at a pose, which is most. So I try. I think about Thanatopsis. I think of the particles of my body dispering up and outwards, becoming a part of the world around it. I think of my mortality, my stiff bones popping as I move, my calves shaking just from standing on my tip-toes, the small energy capsule that is my body. Then, I know the benefit is for the person next to me, who is surely laughing internally at my red, grimacing, inverted face.

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On the first day, we took bets as to who would fall ill first. Revealing in their vulnerability a bit, everyone thought it would be themselves. We went a solid two weeks inhaling paneer and curry without incident. Then, Anne and I went to the campus restaurant for lunch, and by nightfall the ax had dropped. But it wasn’t the curry that did us in. Nor raw vegetables, nor fruits, not even contaminated water.

It was pizza.

We have been spacing our food curiosities in intervals, ordering spicy Indian food and then counterbalancing with simple rice or tomato soup. Yesterday we craved something simple, and the restaurant touted pizza as a specialty. Why not? we thought. What came to us was a warped personal pan concoction. It was essentially a sponge cake crust with peppers and onions mixed in Cheez-Whiz on top.

Now, we can keep food down, but not in. It was a choice that surely backfired, in every sense.

I am grateful that we have air-conditioning, though, and toilet paper, which has not been guaranteed at every stop in our travels. Dr. Harish and his wife are showing us amazing hospitality. Today he brought us home-made soup, and there was a bit of lost translation when figuring out the meal. I felt so bad inconveniencing him. Rice, alloo, bread, whatever is easiest, I said. He wanted to make us feel more at home, though.

“Katie, what do you eat when you get sick?” he asked, directly.

What we really wanted was this: muffins, waffles, cheeseburgers. We have been dreaming of waffles, I tell you. But honestly, we drew a blank at this question. We had already forgotten our typical diet in the face of its absence. Just no more cumin or pepper, please.

“Perhaps an egg on toast?” I suggested.

“That is going to be a hard one,” he said. “We don’t exactly prepare eggs at home.”

Soup it was, then, and it was deliciously familiar drunken out of tiny bowels from the dining hall. Tomorrow we are getting on a plane bound for Hyderabad, so we hope and pray to every God that by then we will recover. The soup, it helped, and the company.

“I think I will jump in the bathtub…er, shower, er…bucket,” Anne just said. You have to understand, this bucket is multipurpose: bathtub, laundry washer, fruit purifier. But it does the job(s) well. Our toilet, too.

I sent a message to the director of our study abroad program. Please, may Anne and I live together? I asked. After the tiring train, the celebration of steady bowels, and unclogging the toilet drain, who else would I want in the same room as me to curse when the power cuts out? “Nothing is convenient in India!” we will say and laugh, just as we have been while ensuring that the other eats and drinks enough water.

When we leave tomorrow, my deepest regrets to room service.

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