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Picking my Battles

Varkala, Kerala
3/13/08: 

In the morning, Alex was up early and ready to move on. At 7:15, one of the many staff boys knocked on our door to inquire when we wished to take breakfast that would be ready anytime after 8:30. Not feeling like rushing, I thought, “Absolutely!” Alex unfortunately spoke first, “No.”

Why are we always rushing? I was sad to not have breakfast in our colonial haven but I have learned to pick my battles with Alex. What do I want to fight for? Although I was not in a rush to leave this morning, there was a destination I wanted to reach within the next few days. Breakfast vs. Ashram. Ashram wins. Off to the bus station we go.

On this journey, I’ve learned many things. Pick my battles. Ask the right questions. This is especially important at bus stations. Never ask a closed-ended question because most often it will be answered with an affirmative side to side head bobble. Alex asked the wrong question about the bus to Varkala. Yes, there are certain buses that exist but don’t necessarily run every day. This was the case for our theoretically desired bus as recommended by the Lonely Planet and confirmed with a few head bobbles. This misinformation had us waiting at the bus station for an hour which irritated me because we did have plenty of time for breakfast at our lovely Colonial Haven. The time we waited for a bus to our destination was longer than the 45 minute travel time to arrive in Varkala.

Varkala is another beachfront pilgrimage town which hosts Westerners in bulk. In order to earn the right to stay in another beautiful pilgrimage town, Alex made us work extra hard for it. Thanks to by dear boyfriend we took a circuitous route to our target lodging reminiscent of Koh Phagan. Alex & I both have books on India. Alex has the Lonely Planet while I have the more reliable Rough Guide. We agreed on a target lodging but disagreed on the route to get us there. Alex lacking basic navigational skills insisted on in a particular direction. Laden down with our heavy packs, we past the Shree Janardhana Swamy temple, the adjacent tank, continued down the street to the soft sandy beach and up a steep stairwell up the cliff. Not only did our packs, soft sand, and strenuous cliff climb pose a challenge, the heat with high humidity added to the intensity.

At the top, I was thoroughly exhausted feeling like I was about to pass out. A sweet local lady apparently saw the misery on my face and approached me to inquire if I was in need of a room. While Alex was frowning at the Lonely Planet, the friendly soul showed me a room in the back of her large house belonging to her son who is studying in Mumbai. The property was perched atop of the cliff over looking the sea. Music to Alex’s ears when he heard it cost only 200Rs. I won this battle.

Alex & I took another hike down the cliff and across the soft sand beach to the main dirt street sans packs to find lunch. We found a restaurant. Rather than happily welcoming us, the owner tried to shuffle us out with the other Westerners onto the sunny veranda. I was tired of the sun and heat. The owner looked put off when we wanted to eat in the shade with the locals. Once Alex & I  proved we could eat spicy foods while using only our right hands our thali plate was refilled and the proprietor smiled. It’s the small things in life that brings us together!

In the States, there have been long-fought battles for the rights of women and abolishment of segregation. Here in India, the caste system is alive and well. Women do not enjoy the same rights as men. It is what it is.

It bothers me to see the disparity not only in socio-economic class but also between women and men. Alex seems to have become more entitled in this environment forgetting I am a Western female who grew up with the notion of equality. Alex has become more and more controlling. The first signs were in Penang, Malaysia only 3 weeks into our journey. Malaysia was our first encounter with a predominate Muslim country with women dressed in conservative clothing: head wrap or traditional burqa. This was when Alex started trying to control me, treating me like I was his property.

Since then, I’ve watched women work like dogs as 2nd class citizens to keep the households and businesses running in several countries while fat men sit around. The women are merely possessions. Their purpose is to serve. Looking at these strong women through my Western filter I wonder “How can they tolerate this treatment?” As the months have progressed, I am now wondering, “How am I tolerating this?” and “WTF?” I am done with being treated as a possession and as if I have nothing to offer.

Not only have I felt like life has been a constant battle for me, I’ve watched Alex’s interactions with others. Battling rickshaw drivers, vendors and other Westerners. Not only does he use me but he uses other people without offering to give anything in return nor paying it forward. Why am I still by his side? He needs me way more than I need him. At this point, Alex is only a placebo of strength and support for me.

At sunset, we walked on the beach below the cliff filled with activity. Indian pilgrims enjoyed time with family. Old hippies hung out in drum circles. Practitioners of yoga striking poses. One newbie tried to strike and hold an asana while a friend to capture a photo but was unable to hold the pose long enough. It made me want to step up and show her how it was done. Of course one of the 1st rules of yoga is to check the ego at the door. There is no competition or battles with others in yoga.

The sunset seemed like it happened in slow motion. I felt like I was seeing it with vampire eyes because I saw each distinct change of color. At one point looking from the cliff, it was a shimmery green and gold. The clouds enhanced to the sunset which also changed color as well. I had not realized I had missed seeing clouds. Storm clouds were approaching from over the water. We did not with to battle the elements and retreated to our fortress for the night to watch nature’s TV: lightening illuminating the sky. Thunder rumbled and boomed in the distance.

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