October 2007

This was written in June and posted elsewhere… I’m reposting it here as I reference it in my other post Running.


Five years ago I planned to run in the Dead Sea Marathon. I trained and trained and trained to do the relay. I could run up to 8 KM at a stretch without getting tired. But could I do the full haul? It’s funny what you can train yourself to endure; the aches, the pains, the physical and mental stresses that are necessary to achieve a goal.

You can train for something and be completely ready for it, but fate throws a wrench in your plans and you never realize your goal. Other times you are caught completely unaware and off guard, with no training, no experience and you are asked to perform. I think in both situations you are being tested. A different set of tests, with different skill sets required. Training requires discipline, dedication, goal setting, evaluation and assessment and of course patience and endurance among other skills.

When something is thrown at you out of the blue do you need the same skills? Maybe some of them, but I think others are required too: flexibility, openness to new ideas, patience, evaluation and of course endurance. I think that in new situations it’s important to remain open to the new experience, and learn and grow from it. But it is equally important to evaluate yourself within this new context and assess whether you have what it takes or not. Whether it’s worth the long haul and if you can endure the stresses needed to reach the goal. If not ask for help, if that doesn’t work cut your losses and move on. You will have, at least, learned what you can and can’t do.

In both cases you need endurance. To endure, is to persist, to accept and tolerate the long path, to suffer even. But to what end, I ask you? Does the end justify the endurance? What if you can’t see the end and the goal is unclear do you continue down the path? How do you decide to make it to the finish line or not?

I never found out if I could endure the race, I traveled that year for about two months and missed the Marathon. I haven’t gone back to training since.

I used to run, I think I mentioned that in a previous post (The Finish Line June 13, 07 I’ll repost after this one). And when I ran it was such an exhilarating experience. In the past few months I have had a need to run sometimes it has been a physical need at others it was an emotional one and yet others it was mental. But looking back at another conversation I had with a friend, he and I spoke of running in a slightly different context.

He proposed the idea that came from some behavioral theory or other. He said that in life our motivations are either driven by our desire to run towards something or run away from something. His example, money, you either run away from poverty or run towards wealth. I pondered that for a long time and then we both reflected on our lives.

The discussion was triggered by a question I had asked him. It was Why do you want to be a _______. After some back and forth he conceded that he was working towards that goal because he was running away from something, but he will now work on making that ambition a desire rather than an escape. 

I have always hated the question of where do you see yourself in five years. It means I have ambitions and goals that I need to work towards but after our discussion I truly understood my dislike to the question. Most of my life I have been running away from things and not towards things. I especially look back at my last 10 – 15 years, all my life choices, my decisions were made to escape one situation or another. Even today I recognize that pattern. 

Knowing this, knowing who I am, and what I am capable of, I think that trend needs to change. I think it’s about time I started to run towards things than away from them. To want things because of a desire for them, not a desire to escape something else. I think it is difficult to change 15 years of escapism to become ambition. But I think it is a challenge that I am up for. Now to try and figure out what things I want to run to.

I was with a friend the other day and we were talking about relationships. He was being fixed up for marriage and we were both laughing at the whole concept. He said something that struck a cord. He responded to the advances by saying he is a Tricks player not a Tarnib player. 

Apparently the fundamental difference he was referring to here was that when you play Tarnib as a group of four you need a partner; Tricks on the other hand is a game where it is each player for him or her self.

So do we each have a preference for one game or the other? Are we team players? Do we work well with partners or not? Can we identify these traits? The allegory is simple and easy to relate to yet very accurate. Even for someone who doesn’t play cards J

Are we each destined to play one game or the other? Is it our own preference? Each of the games has something to offer. I look around and I see friends who can not stand the thought of Tricks and others who look at Tarnib wistfully. Some who always play Tarnib because they don’t know how to play Tricks, and yet others who play Tricks because they always loose at Tarnib. Its always a point of much discussion and reflection. 

As for myself, I am not much of a card player, but when I look back at my life and I think I have fared much better playing Tricks than Tarnib. Its added a lot of diversity and excitement in my life but every once in a while I think Tarnib would be a fun game to play. Who knows what the future holds, but I do know the trick to Tarnib is to find a good partner 😉

I have not written a line of poetry in a long time. I have a lot to say but the words wont come. I heard a line from this poem last week and looked it up. I find myself moved by this and put in a reflective mood. It is a beautiful poem, a bit melancholic, but very evocative. There are other translations that may be more eloquent. It is by Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda 

Saddest Poem 

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.  

Write, for instance: "The night is full of stars, 
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance."
The night wind whirls in the sky and sings. 
I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. 
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
On nights like this, I held her in my arms. 
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.
She loved me, sometimes I loved her. 
How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?
I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. 
To think I don't have her. To feel that I've lost her.
To hear the immense night, more immense without her. 
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.
What does it matter that my love couldn't keep her. 
The night is full of stars and she is not with me.
That's all. Far away, someone sings. Far away. 
My soul is lost without her.
As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her. 
My heart searches for her and she is not with me.
The same night that whitens the same trees. 
We, we who were, we are the same no longer.
I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her. 
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.
Someone else's. She will be someone else's. As she once 
belonged to my kisses. 
Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.
I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her. 
Love is so short and oblivion so long.
Because on nights like this I held her in my arms, 
my soul is lost without her.
Although this may be the last pain she causes me, 
and this may be the last poem I write for her.

It was funny, while I was away I was able to clear my mind completely of everything, well nearly everything, my favorite people were always on my mind. I had truly escaped into wonderland. I was fully absorbed with everything around me, interested in even the clouds in the sky. But the vacation ended, I came back, and reality hit my like a 10 ton train on a fast track. 

And so my approach has been to jump back into my life feet first. I jumped right back into my family life, my social life, work and obligations of all sorts. I attacked everything with a vigor and enthusiasm that I really didn’t have. No matter how hard I tried to engage myself though, I was still lagging behind. 

It’s been a week now, and in this week I went to parties, met up with friends, had a family Friday, I managed to engage myself with something or someone every night of the week. The work week was also busy with meetings, emails, planning, preparation, programs and whatever else landed in my office. But the Sri Lanka blues are still here. 

I have been able to go back to my old routines and slide seamlessly back into my life as if I never left. I feel the trip was in the far past. I also find within me a restlessness, a dissatisfaction, a lack of interest. I am not so sure what to do about it, but I think my game plan to attack this is to try and find interesting things to do and to reengage in meeting interesting people out side my regular social circles to try and add more flavor to what maybe a bit of blandness.

I hope the post vacation blues go away soon. I don’t want people to keep telling me I look tired when I am physically fine. I don’t people to tell me I look bored or disengaged, even if I am. I want to breath life back into me. I hope that I find the catalyst I am looking for soon. Until then I will keep jumping feet first into life.

I woke up one day last week to find the streets overrun with moustaches. Why? Why have our lovely streets become littered with all these mug shots of men in suits, and the occasional woman? If it’s not their faces then its ugly cloth banners spouting futile slogans. I quickly realized that the floor for parliamentary elections was now open and with every candidacy came this propaganda. 

Now I understand the need for the candidates to make themselves know, but does it really necessitate the plastering of their faces on every lamppost, pole, circle and available wall in the city? Do they really think the picture of their smiling face will get them into office? And don’t get me started on the banners and slogans. They are meaningless, and serve only to visually pollute the cityscape!

Between the election banners, posters and signs and the Zain campaign it is far better to bury one’s face in a book when traveling around the city than looking at the ugly moustaches or the sexist branding that is now covering every inch of available space in our streets.

I can’t wait for it to be November 21, for the elections to be over and for these pollutants to be removed.

Sri Lanka: Things I Don’t Want to Forget There are so many things that happened, so many things we saw, observations, experiences a very enriching trip… below is a list of things I would write while I was there so that I wouldn’t forget. I’d like to share the list and if you want me to I’ll explain if I haven’t written it up in one of the previous posts. Enjoy… 

  • That first drive into the hills
  • The houses dotting the hillside
  • The views, the majestic views
  • The dancing
  • The baby elephants
  • The lush vibrant gardens
  • The suspended bridge
  • The delicate orchids
  • How BIG the trees were
  • Overcast and dark skys that were dramatic
  • The hills
  • Touching the elephants
  • Curry by the road with the monkeys
  • The clouds
  • The tooth temple, its levels and worship
  • Walking barefoot in temples and shops
  • How wet it is
  • How green it is
  • The rain
  • The monkeys
  • Walking up to birds
  • 1202 steps to the top of the world at Sigriya rock
  • Moved to tears at the top of the world
  • Fresco covered cave walls
  • Barefoot on hot stones – ouch J
  • Baby money suckling with mom
  • Sri Lankan Elivs on the bus
  • The Sun
  • The Hindu temple
  • Children asking for pens
  • “Where are you from?” … “Ahh Jordaaaaan”
  • Respect for all religions
  • The mirror wall
  • Amazing hydrology and masonry
  • Moon stones
  • Clean clean air
  • Rolling mist like clouds kissing the earth
  • The colored houses
  • The painted floors
  • The invitation
  • Arabic and country music in a tuk tuk on the roads of Nuwara Eliya
  • The privilege
  • Walking in the rain
  • Getting a nose ring the traditional way… ouch!
  • Rolling hills and mountains that look like ripples in a velvet fabric
  • The Ocean
  • The sound of the ocean
  • The people we met: Indira, Anna, Suzzane, their keeper, Mr. Khan, Our first driver (I have his name written down somewhere), Gamini and his family, Gamini’ friend who took the long cut, Sunil, Pre and his co worker, Sunil, our friends the bartenders. The families, the shopkeepers, the fishermen, Mrs. Khalid and her daughter and so many more people…
  • The seduction of the ocean
  • The fruits
  • The hairless dogs
  • Baby turtles in my hand
  • The masks
  • The awe
  • The shopping
  • Double chocolate cheesecake at The Gallery

I don’t think I have covered everything in this list I know I have forgotten something or other already, But I know that I wont forget how blissful those two weeks were, a true escape from reality. 

Sunday is Tuk Tuk day our driver Sunil kept telling us with a smile on his face every time he got stopped on the road by the police. He was a former policeman and so got out of any tickets or trouble easily. But he just kept chuckling Sunday is Tuk Tuk day. And so on Tuk Tuk Day we made our way up north to Bentota. After spending time on the beach and getting a good long swim for the last time in Unawatuna. 

On our way we stopped in a town that is famous for mask making and we visited an amazing mask museum. Amazing only because I love masks and have a small collection of them that is growing with each trip. 

Once we arrived in Bentota our jaws dropped at the beautiful hotel we were staying in. It is called the Serindib and was designed by Geoffrey Bawa, a famous architect who designed numerous hotels and homes throughout Sri Lanka

In Bentota we experienced our first true monsoon rains. The rain was a strong rich downpour. Each rain drop was big and heavy; together the raindrops formed sheets of water that drenched you the minute you stepped into them. It’s funny just the day before I was playing in the ocean and today I am barred entry. 

Swimming in the Indian Ocean at this time of year is an experience in of its self. The sea is strong and the waves are big. Near the shore they come at you and hit you with a force or they gently meander towards your feet, depending on how the ocean wants to tease you. But swim further in and the waves carry you so gently and lap around you that is makes you bob up and down, with a feeling of lightness and abandon of being. 

For me there were two highlights in Bentota, despite the rain: we visited a turtle hatchery , and the beach we were on. I will start with the later. The beach was a stretch of 6 KM white sand and surf, spotless and pretty much empty of beach goers. We had the beach to our selves most of the time. I walked up and down numerous times. At night I would stand and look out at the dark ocean and I must say it was so seductive. The waves kept whispering come in, come in. It took all my will power not to walk in, because I knew I would just keep walking and let the current take me. It was that seductive. 

The turtle hatchery was a fun experience, we held day old babies in our hands and played with 5 year old and 10 years. It was also very educational as we learned about the 5 species of turtles in Sri Lanka and how long they live and about their lives. We were also invited to come back the next evening to release the new babies into the ocean. In Buddhism they believe that if you let something free, release it, it will bring you good luck for the rest of its life. So a turtle will bring you good luck if it lives out its life for at least 150 years. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay to release a the babies as we had to travel on. 

With Bentota being our last stop we clambered on to the bus to Colombo and made our way back to the capital where this odyssey all started. This country has made me feel very insignificant and very privileged at the same time. I know that it has changed me and invigorated my soul. It was an exploration of a new place as well as a journey into my self. I have realized much about who I am and the world around me. I only hope I can continue to grow with more experiences like these.

Nothing beats waking up to the sound of the ocean. The first thing I did that morning was to go for a swim. I walked 10 paces and the water washed over my feet. I looked around and I quickly realized that I had the beach to myself. Not a soul was up yet. I dived right in and swam and played with the waves. When I was done with that I walked up and down the beach and saw it come alive with hotel staff, swimmers, walkers and dogs. 

The rest of the day was spent exploring the nearby costal areas where we saw stick fishermen, took a boat ride on a lagoon and saw a Portuguese fort. Each stop offered its own unique experience that I will not forget. 

With the stick fishermen, I actually got up on the stick after falling once; only to find out I was facing the wrong way so instead of fishing I smiled at the beach! While boating on the lagoon we stopped at Cinnamon Island, where for families live and produce cinnamon. At the Fort we had the best Sri Lankan food of the trip at a small inn called Mrs. Khalid’s. 

Mrs. Khalid and her family were celebrating Eid and while we ate we were able to observe their Eid traditions. What struck me was that even though we were miles apart in so many ways our traditions were the same. As visitors came and went to wish her Eid Mubark, they too gave gifts to children and said the same things and did the same things. 

We spent two idyllic days in Unawatuna and then made our way up the coast to Bentota to see the masks and the turtles.

It was 4:45 am when I stepped outside the hotel to wait for our van. It was the dead of the night. I looked up and saw an amazing blanket of stars. I quickly realized that it was dawn, for I heard the call to prayer for the Fajr prayer. Somehow it was very comforting to hear a reminder of home so far away. Throughout the trip I felt very comfortable. Not once did I feel out of my element despite experiencing very new things everyday. 

We made our way to Horton’s Plains the reserve where World’s End is. We headed off with Gamini and his friend and when we arrived we were greeted by deer on either side of the road. And once again I managed to startle and be startled by an animal once again!  We also so wild boar (so cute, he was a baby), we also saw eagles and other birds, lizards, frogs…etc. 

The trail took us about four hours and had three major stops, Mini World’s End, Greater World’s End, and Baker Falls. We saw them in that order and we were not disappointed. We stopped at the edge of cliffs where the ground fell and looked out at the world below. We saw mist roll in and obstruct our view. It obligingly rolled out too. The mist looked like a cloud coming down to kiss the earth it was beautiful. The falls were loud, majestic and absorbing. We sat in silence as we watched water fall over rock for 20 min at least. 

What I really liked about our walk was that Gamini joined us. When we told him it wasn’t necessary for him to join us he told us he had lived in the area for nearly 35 years and had never visited! I was so thrilled that he was with us. I really believe the saying “It take a foreigner to show you your own country.”

After we were done we needed to drive to the coast, a six maybe seven hour drive. It took us nine! Our driver wanting to be helpful decided to take a short cut, which we joking later called the long cut, as we drove through winding, hilly dry country from village to village looking for the right one. When we finally were no longer lost, the men treated us to some King Coconut juice at the side of the road fresh from the coconut.

We finally arrived at Unawatuna, exhausted, sleepy and hungry. We had made it to the Indian Ocean. I walked in, ate and awoke the next day to the sound of the surf.

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