Living a Double Life

July 2010

Yes, in India everything is pretty cheap; at least if you have a western salary. But when you have to earn your living in rupees, things look very different.

Sure, we didn’t have to pay a rent anymore, but like everywhere else, there were bills to pay and still plenty of things to finish in the house. As you can imagine, we did not get really far with renting only one room to travelers; the tourist seasons here are short and it was impossible to put even one single rupee aside for surviving during the off-season. The last of my savings were shrinking drastically, too.

However, necessity is the mother of invention.

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We started to organize Jam Sessions at our place, cooking and selling our tasty home-cooked food. Sometimes our narrow terrace was so crowded that people had to squeeze tightly together. Usually people brought their instruments along and some of the parties were really amazing. Other times our guests waited full of expectations for the music to begin, the only problem was that nobody had brought an instrument; in which case the jam-session was spontaneously transformed into a movie night in our living room.

Nevertheless it was never enough income and I had to rush back to Europe to make some money. The crisis had started there and people were discouraging me considerably regarding the chances of finding a job.

But I was lucky! Not even two weeks had passed and I received an acceptance letter from the first job interview I had in a telecommunication company. I was aiming for something temporary, but the company was looking for people seeking regular employment. I agreed and few days later I started working in the call-center. I felt guilty in the beginning, as I had not the slightest intention of doing that job longer than a few months. But I could not afford to not take this job and decided to put my needs in first place. Who would actually care if resigned? Does any big company really care about the personal needs of their workers? Their interests are numbers; and so were mine.

When they first showed me my future workstation, I caught my breath! To me it looked like a scene from a science fiction movie: A huge, grey office-cube consisting of countless rows of seats where people were plugged onto the computer system with their headsets.

SCARY !

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I just came out of the jungle and by now was used to see the blue sky over my head, feel the sunbeams caressing my skin, the green grass tickling my naked feet and the wind brushing through my hair throughout the day.

“Only some months, You can do it!”

I told myself again and again. It’s amazing, humans are creatures of habit and soon I accepted and got used to my new situation.

The job itself was of course not really fulfilling, but the company was pretty cool. I got food tickets to spend in the food-court which belonged to the office compound where I stuffed myself daily with pizzas and other western food which I haven’t had for many months. All of the employees were young people from all over the world and the working atmosphere was friendly and casual. With some colleagues I got along very well; there was only one problem:

I WAS LEADING A DOUBLE LIFE !

As I had signed a contract of employment of indefinite duration, I couldn’t tell anybody about my intention to quit in a few months. Neither could I tell anybody much about my private life; living in the Himalayas and married to a sadhu. Therefore I tried to keep conversations simple and if somebody asked me by chance if I was in a relationship, I limited myself by answering “Oh, it’s complicated” – which, it was indeed.

My intention was to go back to India in three months after having saved some money to bring back. The thing is that saving money in the west is not easy. In Spain salaries are low and in Barcelona life is expensive. I spent much money for public transport, food and other necessary things. Of course, I also wanted to meet all my friends there and every time I had a coffee or a beer I was calculating for how many days I could buy food in India with the money I had just spent for a single drink. Few things are free in Barcelona; there is the beach and a few street festivals; anything else costs money. I was lucky enough that my best Spanish friend hosted me in her flat and I really enjoyed all the time I could spend with her and her flatmate.

I also could go on paid holiday like a normal employee and went to visit my parents, who live in a small village in the south-west coast of France and in the end of the year I spent some quality time with my sister’s family in Germany.

In the end I had to work six months in Barcelona to save at least a bit of money. I also found out that only few workers actually stayed in the company longer than a year and I didn’t feel that guilty anymore about my little lie. The day I quit they asked me for the reason and I answered that I would go back home. For them it was clear that I meant Germany, but while saying so, I pictured in my head the beauty of the Indian Himalaya peaks.

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No More Secrets !

February 2009

I was happy in my new world. But there was one thing disturbing my inner peace again and again and I had to solve it as soon as possible:

Tell my parents that I married an Indian Sadhu and that I had actually just built a house in the Himalayas, planning to live there permanently.

WOW, THIS WAS QUITE A MISSION!

The reason that I had told them as few details as possible so far about my situation was mainly that I did not want to cause any unnecessary worries.Things and stories of everyday’s life here in India can sound pretty shocking to someone who has never put a foot on these grounds and my parents had never even gone out of Europe. To explain alone the definition of a Sadhu would have taken hours and would probably even then be pretty much misunderstood.

I figured my mother would most likely exclaim something like:

“Oh my god, you are in a sect! And you got brain-washed!”

By the time she was getting unavoidably more and more worried and asked awkward questions when we talked on the phone. She kept on wondering when my temporary craze and passion for India would finally be over, which didn’t make things much easier to handle.

My plan was to wait for my next visit to Europe to tell the long and eventful story face to face. I wanted to be there in person to answer all the questions, to hug them and to show them that I was still the same daughter; the same one who grew up in Germany and who had been working in an office in Spain, only that now I had decided to take a step into a completely different direction.

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But the situation turned more and more delicate and stressful for both sides. There were several months left before my return to Europe and eventually, I could not bear any longer the tension and half-truths and so I decided to write a long e-mail explaining everything that had happened as well and clear as possible. It was still better and easier than trying to explain it by phone. It would give my mother time to reread and digest the news before we would talk again on the phone.

Still, as you can imagine, the shock was big and unleashed a painful drama which lasted for several days. My mother was asking herself what she had done wrong while raising me, she sure did a good job, there is no doubt. And me, on one hand I felt guilty and bad for having caused so much trouble and pain to people I loved, but on the other hand I also felt better and incredibly relieved.

NO MORE SECRETS !

As time passed, eventually there was understanding and acceptance – and peace.

When I think about life, sometimes everything seems absurd. But if I look closer it actually all makes sense:

I cannot find myself and be happy if I live my life up to other peoples’ expectations. I still have no idea about what my mission is in this existence. The only thing I know for sure is that I am here to learn. Life is a chain of decisions and events, which in the end lead you to where you ought to be and turn you into the person you really are.

If my social surroundings wouldn’t have insisted on me to drop the kindergarten job I had started, I would never have studied languages. If I wouldn’t have studied Spanish, I would never have moved to Barcelona, where I got that stressful office job which pushed me to the decision to practice yoga; and without yoga, I would probably never have traveled to India.

For now, that’s all I know and I am looking forward to discover how the chain of life will continue to unfold itself.

Om Symbol

Same, same but different!

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October 2007

Everything felt familiar in Barcelona but quite strange at the same time. In India they would probably say

“SAME, SAME BUT DIFFERENT!”

I enjoyed to disappear in the crowd. Nobody cared what I looked like or where I came from. I was just one more face of many walking through the streets of the city.

It was late summer and I will never forget what it felt like to swim in the ocean again; wearing a Bikini!!!

FREEDOM !

On the city beach you might wear a swimsuit, a bikini, go topless or even naked. Everyone there just minds his own business. The times I bathed in Rishikesh in the Ganges, I did so wearing some dress; this actually feels more like drowning than bathing.

No decent Indian lady would ever expose her “naked” body to the public, only some old Matajis do go topless for a quick dip in the holy waters, this seems to be all right.

But if you are a woman in fertile age and on top of it a westerner, get ready to attract a lot of attention! Even if you bath dressed you might have some Indian guys sitting on the shore waiting for you to come out of the water with wet clothes sticking to your body.

Imagine wearing a Bikini!

Showing too much skin is not only disrespectful towards the Indian culture, it might also bring you into an awkward situation.

***

gato-botero-Raval-BarcelonaI moved into my ex-flat with my ex-cats and my ex-boyfriend. This might seem strange, I admit that it kind of was, but things worked out pretty well. I still loved him; I loved him a lot! But it was a different kind of love; the romantic love had turned into the brotherly love you feel for someone you know very well and with whom you have shared good and not so good times, laughter and tears; a beautiful feeling! The moment we met again and hugged, I just knew; even if I wished, things would never be the same. On one hand feeling that way made me sad, but on the other I was relieved, as one of my big doubts had vanished.

Baba had taken that particular place in my heart.

Maybe all would have been easier for everybody if my feelings had turned out to be different; maybe not.

***

There are the kind of friends with whom you don’t need many words to understand each other and there are social friends you use to hang out with from time to time. It was very nice to meet them all again. But conversations, gossip and ironic remarks somehow didn’t make much sense to me anymore and my mind often switched silently to standby mode. India had somehow changed my perception.

What was I supposed to say, when somebody asked me out of politeness

“How is India?”

it’s a strange question with too many answers, which most of the people don’t really want to know anyways.

***

The small miracles of modern life fascinated me again. There was plenty of hot water coming out from each and every tab. I did my first laundry in the washing machine and marveled at the outcome

“Wow, this is what the color white actually looks like!”

The clothes were really white and not yellowish or slightly blue or grey. My fist visit to the small supermarket around the corner caused me a stress situation; I stood a long time in front of the shelves filled with too much of the same stuff. I didn’t know what to put in the basket. This was my longest grocery shopping ever!

I had got used to the daily power cuts in India and even missed them a little. They make people calm down. When there is no electricity, everything turns more silent and peaceful. In the evenings we would light candles or a fire then, sitting in the warm light talking about life. Sometimes I was tempted to switch off everything and pretend electricity had gone. It didn’t make much sense though as the surrounding energy would stay the same.

***

A friend of mine needed help in his bar. The place was only a two-minute walk from where I lived. Perfect! I would do the morning shift. This bar is a peculiar place in the heart of the Raval. Working there would finally give me an insight about what living in this area was really like. I had lived there for years, but had only seen its surface. My previous job was in the outskirts of the city and I barely even knew my neighbors.

The first customers I attended every morning were usually a couple of Romanian prostitutes who came in to end their shift with a cup of coffee. Then the usual customers,  residents of the barrio and all unique characters, would show up for breakfast or a glass of cognac. During the day the place was never too busy and there was always time for a chat. People told me their problems and worries and I actually felt more like a social worker than a waitress. Sometimes I just sat there looking out of the window, observing strange things happening on the street. It kind of reminded me of India. I liked it.

torre-agbar-new-years-eve-2013In the evening and on the week-ends people would come to party. Once all the other after-hour places had closed, they came to that bar. While I was having my first cup of coffee, standing still half asleep under an acoustic shower of electro-beats on Saturday morning, I served beer, vodka-lemon and whiskey-coke to a multi-social stream of all kind of people. I have to say that after months without a taste of nightlife, all of this felt pretty odd to me. Apparently I already had satiated my urge to party in this city; it did not attract me at all anymore.

***

I had seen and hugged my family and friends, enjoyed the few things I had missed in India for some time and after only four months I was ready to return.

Once more,

I was drawn back to Mother India’s lap as by magnetic force…

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What if… ???

Gangaji

October 2007

When you start a backpacker adventure, the first couple of months you feel that you have all the time in the world. Once, the first half of travelling has passed, time flies!

Baba and I spent the last weeks I had left in India in our base camp in Rishikesh. I already started missing the majestic flow of the Ganges, the colors, the scent of incense mixed with burning garbage and the chaotic but at the same time easy way of living.

I was sitting at a chai stall on the road, petting one of the friendly Ramjhula cows that had come to see me in search of some affection. I looked into her big brown eyes with the long eyelashes and thought

“Where I will go back to soon, people eat guys like you” 

Cowthe cow chewed worriless and rubbed her head against my leg. Did she know how lucky she was? I imagined how it would be to come back to Barcelona after six months of living in a totally different dimension. I had no idea about how my life would go on, where I would live and what I would do. Everything still seemed so far away, but the moment of departure was approaching faster and faster.

What if India had just been a onetime craze?

What if I would just embrace my India adventure as a lovely memory and then release it?

What if I would find out that what I wanted in the end was to find a job I liked and live the life I lived before?

What if I would realize that I was still in love with my ex-boyfriend?

What about Baba?

He probably would not understand a thing about my inner chaos; Sadhus have other worries…

The more I thought about it, the more everything I had lived in this corner of the earth seemed to be only a dream from which I would soon have to wake up. My mind was neither here, nor there.

In a quiet moment I decided to share all my doubts with Baba. He just looked at me and said nothing but

“No problem!”

Ahhhhh! India! The No-Problem-Country!

I thought desperately

“But what if I will never come back to India?” I replied

“This no matter” he said

“I love you always!”

I think this is one of the most beautiful things someone ever said to me; and a phrase that influenced a lot in the decisions I would take.

IF YOU LOVE SOMEBODY, SET THEM FREE!

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