Happy Birthday

HAPPYBIRTHDAY

Every year, when the many greetings and Facebook posts and What’s Apps and phone calls come in, I feel the pressure to be happy on my birthday. It’s an odd thing to say and admit out loud because why would you feel pressured into being happy? As an only child, single female, Virgo, introverted extrovert with depressive tendencies, birthdays (and holidays) are rough times. It’s usually spent alone, because asking for company seems like too much work, also like something one shouldn’t have to ask for (I know this is a problem…I’m working on it). It’s also spent inside the brain of an over-thinker and overachiever, which isn’t always a very happy place, especially on days like a birthday when you haven’t reached any* of the goals your younger self set out. (*Read some.) The multitude of greetings also somehow exaggerates the loneliness of the situation. All these well wishes and kind words, with zero company. I read all of these messages, alone, usually on my couch, sad AF. And don’t get me wrong, the heartfelt greetings do make me smile and make me feel loved but the pressure to respond to each one, and be happy and feel some sort of special way on this special day usually overpowers the little joy each message brings. (This is why I never respond or respond a day to a week later. Sorry!)

Introducing planning. This is why I plan big festivities and invite people to them. I got tired of not enjoying my birthday and now, I use the day as an excuse to be a Leo, if for a brief moment. (For my non-astrology aware readers, this means I get to be attention seeking for a day. It’s all about me.) In 2017, for my golden birthday, I rented a yacht and had a Great Gatsby themed party. Last year, I went to Afropunk with friends. I plan so I can try to control the feelings and ensure I actually do have a happy birthday. But here’s a secret, I hate planning. My brain is wired to plan, I know this and accept this. I plan for clients, I plan for my business, I think of every detail for everything every, single, day. And it is truly exhausting to do. I would love for my birthday to be a day off from planning. Do you see my problem? My solution to having a happy birthday involves my doing something that does not make me happy. In an ideal world, I would have this truly amazing best friend or significant other who understands all of this, understands the mystery that is me and plans the day for me, filling it with special small things that matter and just on that one day, I don’t have to think about everything. Just for one day. But ideal isn’t reality and so this year I’ve planned another big party, but I’ve handed off the actual execution so I don’t have to do anything. I’m learning that wishing for the ideal but doing nothing in the meantime is stupid, and asking for what you want (as painful as it may be) really is that simple and will get you what you want, or as close to it as possible.

My party falls after my birthday so I still run the risk of being sad and alone on the actual day, but I think writing out loud may help dispel some of the blues (and maybe help someone else out there know they are not alone).

I’m curious, how do you celebrate your birthday?

Photo by Mehrshad Rajabi on Unsplash

Processing…

For a month, I lived crime-free. I was oblivious to all things related to crime. What I mean is I didn’t hear any sirens, ambulance or police. The only time I saw a police presence was at an intersection directing traffic because Bali has very little to no traffic lights. People left their doors open. I walked to and from ATMs in pitch darkness, alone. I forgot my keys in my scooter overnight and found it there the next morning. No one warned me about being a female walking alone day or night. The only message of be careful could be found in the street signs around construction sites saying Hati Hati. Maybe it’s because I didn’t speak the native language, or read papers, maybe I lived in a bubble and something else was going on in other parts of Bali but the comfort at which everyone went about their lives, unbothered, safe, suggests it wasn’t just my ignorance. I experienced living in a place where you didn’t have to worry about bad things happening. It’s possible.

And then I came back home.

Within the first day back, a man felt it necessary to tell me that my walking to my car in front of my home, while making a phone call is not safe for someone like me, for a woman on her own. He told me that I’m making myself a target because I am calling my dad to tell him my car battery died. He told me it’s not safe. I was back home for a day.

Facebook showed me the daily crimes being committed. Who got robbed, or stabbed, or killed, daily. Blue lights blinded me every time I got into my car at night with officers constantly abusing their power on the roads. And then the country blew up with the news of the murder of an icon, in his home, alone. And it hit me: I am not safe here. This is not a place for living. This has become a place for surviving. We used to be a happy, relaxed, laid back island who knew how to have a good time. Now I see tweets about women feeling unsafe to go out and lime after certain hours, my mother worriedly sending me articles and messages of concern and warning, men telling women they shouldn’t dress a certain way, when I was just in a country where women’s cleavage out in a fitted lace top was the appropriate wear for going to the temple! What the fuck am I doing here? And how do I possibly even try to make it better? Hope feels like a disease. Crippling and pointless, leading only to death. How do we make it better? I understand why so many creatives become digital nomads and go disappear in a far away place like Bali, removed from the Trumps and Keiths of the world, not belonging anywhere because home is not what we grow up falling in love with, home has become unrecognisable and unliveable and we’d rather belong nowhere and live at peace than fight for a land that feels lost.

I don’t know what all of this means. But this can’t be it. This can’t be what I was excited to grow up to live in. Fix it! Fix it now!

Questions

You’re back from vacation, back to the life you left behind for how ever long and your friends and family start asking the dreaded question:

How was your trip?

How. How. How? Is how the right word? Can you describe the how? What more do you say other than It was great! and hope they don’t ask anymore questions? More importantly, why does this question irritate me as much as it does?

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Even Google’s dictionary wants to know how my holiday was.

After being triggered this morning by the question post my Unsettled Bali trip, I realised maybe I was annoyed because I didn’t even answer the question for myself, let alone be able to share the answer with other people. Yes, I wrote about it in 6 parts and described what I did and who I met and how I felt on the trip, but how do I summarise a month, an experience into an answer that will satisfy the excited loved ones who just genuinely want to hear you talk about something that for you, is now over. It’s not like asking How are you? which is an ever changing thing and also has the acceptable response of I’m fine and you?. The trip happened, and ended, and now you have to figure out how to answer the how which is usually then followed by the what and who. Over, and over again.

In a perfect world, everyone would’ve read my blog, told me they saw it and their opinions of it and that be the end of the conversation about the trip. Maybe ask me a more thought provoking question like: So who are you now? But perfection isn’t real and existing with people is part of what makes life so interesting and so here I am forcing myself to sit with myself and really try to answer the question, in a genuine way, not for anyone else, but for me.

The condition and quality of my trip, my month, was ever changing. It was uncomfortable, inspiring, different, beautiful, challenging, teaching and more. It is difficult to describe an experience you don’t necessarily want to share with anyone beyond the 19 Unsettlers who you had the privilege of experiencing the trip with. It feels like it was ours and what we did, who we were and what we learnt was for us, not anyone else and not open for anyone else’s opinions or judgment or views. And maybe this is why the question annoys me, because it feels intrusive, like asking me what I did in the bathroom this morning. It’s personal time, for me, not for you. And maybe my answer to the question is simply, I have shared everything I wish others to know about my trip, I have nothing left to say.

I take very little…zero pleasure in repeating myself over and over, but yet over the last month that’s exactly what I did. What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do? What do you want for breakfast? Where are you staying? I was forced to repeat myself over and over again, answering these questions daily and it exhausted me but I did it. So do I willingly exhausted myself for those I care about? How much should we do for the sake of others versus for the sake of self? Asking questions shows someone you care about them, but how much of the questions we ask are questions we genuinely care to know the answers for? How much of the conversations we have are because it’s what should be done rather than what I am interested in. Societal norms are exhausting. And yes I realise I’m using this adjective a lot and it is because a lot of things exhaust me. Receiving messages exhausts me. Feeding myself exhausts me. But they are necessary parts of everyday life. How do I grow beyond the exhaustion to the fun parts? Maybe that’s the lesson of it all and maybe that’s the lesson I already learnt on the trip.

Be patient with people, they can surprise you. 

The end.

 

Part 6: Full

This final week’s theme has been reflection. Every activity we did encouraged us to think back and forward and just think…a lot…about everything. This exercise usually exhausts me but contrary to the norm, this week I’ve felt a sense of peace and calm and assurance that everything is at it “should” be. At the beginning of the month we had to think about all the things we wanted to experience and gain from living Unsettled, we then had to summarise it using one word. My word was: MORE. Last night at our farewell dinner, we remembered our words, and had to choose a new word that described what we got out of the month and now my word is: FULL.

There have been many points over the month where this word perfect described how I feel. And it’s such a simple, silly, little word but I am full. My heart is full. My tummy is full. My mind is full. My creative juices are full. I am full, not stuffed, just full. Everything is enough. And as I pack my suitcase and say goodbye to my fellow Unsettlers from this month, I look forward to returning home and figuring out what living full means in Trinidad, in a different culture with very different people. I hope I get to keep some of this with me. #NoRegrats

Saturday (21): Road Trip
Getting tired of being in air conditioned 7 seaters all the time, we got some VW open top jeeps and headed North Bali to a temple on the lake and a water fall with a pip stop at a chocolate house. It all was as epically great as it sounds. At the temple, some of us chose a paddle boat and after some struggling, paddled around the temple and just floated and was, existing in the most beautiful calm and silence of just being for a while. A 20-minute walk down a million (exaggeration) steps took us to Leke Leke Waterfall and after all the IG pics were taken, just to go be at the foot of the fall, I felt so connected and weirdly grounded.

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Sunday (22): Chill
I rode around on my scooter and checked out a new coffee shop, realised my money wasn’t available on my credit card as yet (third world problems), and headed back to the villa where I did some work, read, relaxed and then drank wine with one of my new friend’s Christina, who was prepping for hosting family dinner on Monday. Our wine drinking crew grew with every hour until it became an impromptu wine and share session. It was a magical night. It ended with me scooting another friend off to a bar for a drink and heading to bed to wake up hella early for…

Monday (23): Made! (pronounced Mah-dey)
Because our mini adventure from last week Friday was cancelled due to the weather, we did it on Monday instead. Weather was fine. We got picked up at the villa. Mode of transport: a dump truck. We all climbed in and sat in the tray on a straw mat. The day started with a visit to Made’s house, where he and his family prepared a traditional Balinese breakfast for us. A bit about Made: He’s been our unofficial local tour guide, taxi driver, scooter lessons instructor, all things Bali guy. So it was really great to finally see his compound and let him take us around and show us some sites in his village. However, after breakfast, I got sick, the kind of sick that involves a headache, sweating, light-headedness, diarrhoea, nausea and ultimately, vomiting. So I missed the tour through the rice field, and walking through the water channels that are part of Bali’s irrigation system. I got a scooter ride and met them at the river after feeling slightly better after emptying my bowels. Here, we jumped into the river, swam across it, walked further down the river on the other side and then jumped back in and let the river carry us forward. It was the biggest trust exercise ever! Also one of the more liberating things I’ve ever done as the current just carries you along, no swimming required. The riverbed is also shallow so you can put your feet down and try to stop at any time, but the current will give you a work out. We returned to Made’s compound for lunch, but after some vegetable soup, my stomach needed to be emptied so thus ended my day of experiencing the Bali life. I spent the rest of the day in bed, extremely nauseous and dehydrated. I stumbled downstairs for Tina’s Maltese family dinner but couldn’t eat anything or be much fun due to weakness, even though everything smelt and looked amazing. I got some electrolytes and went back to bed where I slept for 13 hours. Grateful for coconut water and electrolyte packets.

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Tuesday (24): Recovered
I slept in and missed the temple visit to Heaven’s Gate. But I was able to eat breakfast without any regurgitation so we give thanks for the small things. Feeling a lot better, I went to Outpost and worked for the day. In the evening, I went to Sherri’s workshop. She’s a career coach and successful author among many other accolades and guided us through Career Empowerment and stepping into a more purposeful and meaningful career. It was great. I got in and went to bed early feeling ready for whatever happened next.

Wednesday (25): Getting Spiritual
We shifted Lunch and Learn to Breakfast and Learn so we could have the day to ourselves since it’s our last week in Bali. We reflected on words we took away from the people we met, the place/location, and purposeful living. Then three of us went off to a temple visit day of our own as we missed the purification temple visit before. We went to Besakih Temple, which is sort of the mother temple in Bali, all types of Hindus from all the villages are welcome there and there are over 20 temples on the compound. We learned a lot about the meanings for the colours and the specific numbers for everything.

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Black represents Vishnu, god of protection, element: water.
Red represents Brahma, god of creation, element: fire.
White/Yellow represent Shiva, god of destruction, element: wind.

This is their holy trinity. The power of 3. It’s also linked back to Tri Hita Karana, harmony among people, nature and with God, so their temples have three levels: the first level is for the people to gather in, the second level is for nature, and the third level is inside the temple to pray.

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After many photos in front of many of the temples’ gates, we went to Tirta Empul, a purification temple, where we changed into a sarong, made an offering, asked permission from the gods to be there, asked for what we wanted, and gave thanks (three again). After this, you go into the very cold water with koi swimming around and go under each of the 11 spouts of holy water (except 3 which are used for cremation rites), putting your head under 3 times for each one, asking for what you want. The last one is for treating bad dreams, and then there’s an additional two that deals with good versus evil. Then…you go dry off and change into temple wear. For women this is a fitted top (typically made out of lace), with sleeves that reach to your elbow, a sarong as a skirt and a sash around your waist tied to the left side. We went into the temple, gave an offering of flowers, incense and money to the priest, said some prayers to the Trinity and Supreme God, received holy water first as a sprinkling, then to drink 3 times, and lastly to wipe our faces with. After this we take rice and place it on our foreheads and chest, this is meant to bring us prosperity. A lot of explanation got lost in translation along the way because the entire ritual went by quickly but based on pure energy and feelings only, it was relaxing, special and almost renewing. Balinese people typically do this on special days like the full moon and new moon.

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We ended the day heading back to the villa and gathering for Michelle’s workshop, a sip n’ chat on mental health. She works for a suicide prevention hotline back in Colorado and guided us through an amazing 2 hours of sharing, feelings and just raw emotions. We ended the session by going around in a circle, spending 2 minutes on each person, telling them what we love about them. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we left there feeling so full and great.

The day didn’t end there. A couple of us went to salsa night which ended as soon as we arrived so we bar hopped for a bit before heading home to our beds and into the arms of Morpheus.

Thursday (26): Relax
During the first week in Bali, I managed to book an appointment at this hard to book spot: Karsa Spa. Highly recommend. I had an Intuitive Heart Massage (90 mins), a body scrub and flower bath (60 mins). I walked out of that room, a new woman. I then headed out in search of the Blanco Museum. I kept seeing the sign every where we went: BLANCO MUSEUM and felt like I needed to see what was so special about this museum. Huge disappointment and a waste of my time. He’s a celebrated Spanish artist who lived in Bali for a long time and got married here and created a shrine for his life and life’s work here. He is called the Dali of Bali which I found very insulting to Salvador Dali and his work. This nickname really only came about because they resemble, as Blanco’s talents do not compare to that of Dali. A trip to a French patisserie and a ham and cheese croissant shifted my mood and I met up with some folks and headed to the art market to pick up some things in preparation for our departure on Sunday. Then back to the villa for Tsholo’s workshop on storytelling. Tsholo is a journalist/producer for a news network in South Africa. We got lucky with a double session because Dice (Candice, an art teacher from Louisiana) hosted an Art Cards night where we drew designs on small cards based on a word picked out of a bowl. Things got quite interesting! The night ended with us drinking, eating, chatting about everything from our families to child bearing to jury duty. After midnight, a sewer scent attacked our noses forcing us to bed, which was probably for the best because we’d still be there talking about our lives.

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Friday (27): Explore
I woke up early and went to Sabrina’s final poetry workshop at 8am. This week we focused on the instructional poem and I shared one I wrote in college. Then I ran away to go to my first yoga class in Bali. How did I live in Bali for a month and not go to yoga? I honestly cannot answer you but I figured I should go before I left so I went to a 9am Bikram Yoga class at Ubud Yoga Centre. It was hot. It was great. I didn’t die. Tsholo, Tina and I grabbed breakfast after and planned our Unsettled World Tour: where we visit each person’s country over the next however long it takes us. First stop: Cape Town! We dispersed and I headed to Denpasar to check out the Bali Arts Festival that’s going on for a month. It’s been on my to do list before I got here and it wasn’t a priority for anyone else so I made it mine and went. I realised the reason it wasn’t focused on is because it’s not a tourist trap, it is designed and created for Balinese people. Nothing was translated, nothing was explained and there were loads of Balinese families there enjoying the space. It was the most authentic thing I had done while I was here and I’m glad I made it before I left. I should mention I also had to deal with a lot of stares at my locs…more than usual since I wasn’t in a tourist area.

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I sped back to Ubud, reluctantly returned my scooter and got ready for our farewell dinner. And that’s about all I’ll say about that haha.

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Now it’s Saturday afternoon, I’m 90% packed, all my bills paid off, said goodbye to almost half of the group already, planning where to go for dinner with the remaining clan, feeling great. Feeling glad and grateful that I got this experience, got to meet these people and surprisingly, connect with so many of them. Grateful for new friendships and family. Grateful for privilege. Grateful for culture. Grateful for Trini food. Just grateful!

Suksma.

 

 

Part 5: Lessons + Scooters

After last week Sunday’s Motorbike Exploration day, I dreamt I was riding a scooter and I felt safe and free and happy. And because we spoke about how dreams were very important to Balinese people and most messages came to the priests via dreams, the next day I booked a second scooter lesson to give the thing I hated so much another try. By the end of the session, a new friend and I decided we’d rent a scooter and share it for the remainder of the trip. Since then I rode around the neighbourhood in which I’m staying, and did a round trip from Ubud to Canggu. I should probably mention most of Bali’s roads do not have traffic lights. I should also probably mention that the first 55-minute long journey was at night.

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It was such a rush!

The transition from scared shitless to confident to cautious to uncertain to self-doubt to trust was amazing and I’m not sure how riding a scooter on an Indonesian road in the middle of the night to go to a party on the beach teaches you how to trust yourself and those around you, but it sure as hell did. I had to trust that I would not fall off the bike, that the people overtaking me knew what they were doing and I was not bothering them or in their way, and that when I had to turn right on a T intersection with no traffic light to assist me, tell myself, ” You got this!” Because what I did learn is that from the moment you doubt your abilities, doubt yourself, your body gives you away, your knees start to wobble and when your knees wobble, the scooter wobbles and instead of driving in a straight line, you’re now struggling to balance and remember what is gas and brakes and which button turns on the indicator. But whenever I whispered to myself words of maybe false ripe confidence, my body was alert, my shoulders relaxed, and the ride so steady.

I never in life would’ve expected riding a scooter in Bali to teach me how to trust myself. But it did and continues to every time I ride it. And I haven’t fallen yet.

A not-so-quick recap of the past 10 days!

Wednesday (12): Lunch+Learn
In this week’s session we talked about our life’s goals and did a worksheet to figure out where we needed to do more work. It was a stressful exercise I did not enjoy because it reminded me of all the things I wasn’t doing. It was also the first time I really thought about back home since I got here and I wasn’t ready to pop my Bali bubble just yet. Later on I went to a workshop entitled How to Love and Be Loved at Outpost Ubud. It honestly wasn’t as revelatory as I expected but I learnt a couple things about myself which will come in handy in the future.

Thursday (13): Sound Healing
I went to the Pyramids of Chi with a smaller group of fellow Unsettlers for a sound healing session. A little under 2 hours in a 21st century man-made pyramid (The Sun Pyramid to be precise), laying on a bed with an eye mask filled with volcanic sand made by children in a local school for the deaf, listening to various instrumental sounds and feeling their vibrations, combined with some very specific natural scents. To say it was a surreal experience is an understatement, but I will say this, my recently regular menstrual cycle was off by a week (probably due to travel and stress), however Aunt Flow arrived after the session. The rest of the day was spent in isolation.

Friday (14): Rain!
Our Friday trip go cancelled due to rain. And a weekend trip I was not going to also got cancelled because the ports were closed… due to rain. So naturally we borrowed a projector and watched Eat Pray Love…in Bali. Yes. I know. I know.

(I would like to mention that some folks had never seen it before.)

Saturday (15): Mala Making
I organised a mini mala making workshop at the villa and 2 souls joined me on a 2 hour journey. I call it a journey because I never thought making a beaded necklace could be so taxing, stressful, emotional and life altering. A mala is a string of beads used for meditation, a rosary for meditating if you will allow me the analogy. There are 108 beads on a mala: 1 representing oneness, 0 representing never-ending, and 8 representing infinity. In addition to the sandalwood beads we got to choose 22 crystals that represented something for us individually. The part of the workshop took the longest: choosing our crystals. We each put so much thought and intention into each selection. Then we started beading and designing our mala, which was fun and fine until we arrived to the knots. There’s a knot in between each bead (not crystal) on a mala. That’s roughly 86 knots. The technique was not easy for any of us and we struggled with the 12 we had to make (our lovely workshop instructor made the majority of our knots for us, thankfully!) Those knots taught us patience, but they also made us bond with our unique malas in a way the crystals didn’t. It now meant something a bit more to us and it was ours.

Sunday (16): Sunday Funday!
The sun came out and a group of 5 set out at 7am to go DDI (down the islands). Lol. I mean to Nusa Penida. We booked a tour, organised transport and were off. We quickly learnt that ferries mean different things in different countries as we hoped onto our fast boat by wading through water on a beach. this boat resembled a glass bottom boat in size and structure, but had regular ferry seating. It was rough, it was wet, it was quite nauseating for folks like me who suffer from motion sickness but our adventure had only just begun. Our first stop was to Tembeling Natural Pool and Forest and involved a ride on the back of a motorbike down a dirt track towards the steep steps we then had to climb down to reach the beautiful sites. I was exhausted! The other 2 stops luckily were a lot more relaxing and we ended the day with another boat adventure due to high tide. We couldn’t get off the boat. Obviously we eventually did (30 minutes later). When I finally got back to the villa that day, I then hoped on my scooter and drove to Canggu to meet some gals for a night of partying at Old Man’s!

Monday (17): Canggu!
I overnighted at Canggu, had a wonderful breakfast and worked at Outpost’s Canggu location all day before heading back to Ubud for a full moon party. I left the party after the cacao ceremony. Exhausted and uninspired by the muchness of it all.

Tuesday (18): Werk!
Due to my “impure state” I missed the temple visit that day so I spent the day at Outpost Ubud working. Two of my fellow Unsettlers hosted a website workshop that evening and then we headed over to the villa for a rescheduled Family Night Dinner hosted by the lovely Halah Banna who cooked us Lebanese food. It was orgasmic, truly!

Wednesday (19): Beach!
One of our flock unfortunately has to leave us before the end of the month, so on Wednesday we tried to co-ordinate a day for her by the beach. We went to a beach/pool club called Potato Head in the morning and then celebrated life a bit later at La Plancha with magic sunsets and good times. Although the day ended with a HUGE bill and a lot of confusion about who ordered what, it was truly a day of good intentions.

Thursday (20): Ikigai
I started the morning by going to a poetry workshop hosted by Sabrina. It was great! Even though I missed the first one, I got to write a haiku and start a poem on choice. It felt great to write again. Our Lunch and Learn got pushed to today due to Wednesday’s beach day and we talked about purpose and ikigai. It was a really great session I enjoyed way more than the previous one. Later on that day while randomly walking into a bookstore, I found a book entitled: Ikigai (gasp!) and spent the evening learning more about this Okinawan way of life. I highly suggest reading it!

Friday (20): After Mount Batur, I tended to my wounds, did some work and went to a farewell dinner for one of our dear ones who had to return to motherhood and wife duties a bit sooner than planned. We dined at Dumbo, I went by scooter 🙂 but we were all so tired from the hike that it was a short stay.

More soon! 🖤