Friday, October 13, 2017

Yogagirlchallenge Part 1 - Bali

Last month, my Instagram account was all about yoga as I took part in the #yogagirlchallenge. The challenge was to practice yoga every day for 30 days, to post a picture related to your practice and to get real about how you were feeling that day. I signed up to make myself stick to getting on my mat, to connect with other yogis around the world and to try something new. I decided not to post pictures of my daily practice as that's just me on my mat, on the floor every day. Plus, I suck at selfies. So instead, I chose to post pictures from my yoga journey; a journey that started long before I'd even heard of Instagram. The challenge turned out to be an interesting experience. Somehow, I was always able to find a lesson from the past to help me deal with whatever I was going through in the present. Everything appears to be connected. Also, I had never realised before that all my yoga trips had taken me to places where I was surrounded by jungle, palm trees, monkeys and beaches. Ending up in Ecuador no longer seems like a coincidence. I was always coming here... 

1. Bali

Bali was my first yoga trip and my first experience with a practice that would open up my eyes to a whole new world. My friend and I travelled here in July 2012 to take classes at The Yoga Barn in Ubud. Inspired by the movie "Eat, Pray, Love", we were hoping to spend two weeks in a peaceful paradise but the reality of Bali turned out to be something completely different. Don't get me wrong, it's beautiful but it's also hot, humid, messy and loud. People were always asking us where we were going and although we found it a bit annoying at the time, I later learned that this is an important part of the Balinese culture. Knowing where everyone is at all times is their way of maintaining balance in the world. Our answer was always the same: 
We're going to the yoga studio. 
When we asked the guesthouse manager where he was going, his answer never failed either: 
I'm going to sit by the road to watch the traffic. 

Another phenomena that I found curious in Bali was the flower arrangements. They are a form of self-sacrifice and devotion and Balinese women prepare them every day, putting in the time and the effort, even though they know for sure that by the end of the day, the flowers will be gone. From this, I take away the lesson that there's no point in trying to hold on to anything because nothing is forever. The people that are meant to be in our life will come and stay. Others will come and go. All we can do is breathe, surrender to what is and trust that everything is as it should be. 


Those first yoga classes were much harder than I had expected. Believe it or not, my first ever yoga teacher's name was Pain and she certainly lived up to her name. She used to make us lie on tennis balls until our bodies were full of bruises and if we cried, she laughed. But the tennis balls had a purpose - they were there to release emotions that needed to come out. And Ms. Pain didn't laugh when she saw me sitting up straight in a room where everyone else was in a forward-fold with their foreheads touching the ground. Instead, she walked up to me and said: 
I'm jealous of you. I'm pretty much done but you - you've got somewhere to go... 

Throughout the #yogagirlchallenge, I would arrive on my mat dressed in the same T-shirt that I wore in Bali and even though it says "Home of the Brave", I was feeling anything but. Around the same time that I signed up for the challenge, a friend and I had a falling out and didn't speak to each other for several weeks. Unwilling to deal with this unnecessary drama, I was uncomfortable and upset, which reminded me of going to yoga therapy in Bali. The healing sessions brought up memories of past hurts and all I could think about was the scene in "Eat, Pray, Love" where Richard from Texas says to Elizabeth Gilbert: 
I know you feel awful... but your life is changing. And that's not a bad thing.
So that's how it all started, on a magical Indonesian island about five years ago. Through yoga, I was invited into a community that is welcoming and warm and my life has changed in so many ways since then, which is a very, very good thing. Even so, it would be a year before I stepped on my mat again. A year before I found myself in a place where the monkeys are just as loud as the ones in Bali and the sunsets every bit as spectacular... 



Sunday, September 24, 2017

Today is the day

I'm almost 30! was one of the first things you said to me. You were 28 at the time and I couldn't understand why you were so desperate to join a club of 30 year-olds. But I also found it endearing; maybe you were an old soul who had wandered this earth for a long time already and you just couldn't wait to be reunited with the ones you had met in a previous life. 

We said so many other things to each other that day as well. It was the first time we met, over a year ago now. It was a three-hour drive from Guayaquil to Montañita and everyone else fell asleep in the car but you and I couldn't stop talking. Maybe our souls had met in another lifetime already and they just couldn't wait to catch up.

And now it's finally here. Your 30th birthday. My wish for you is to spend this day seeing yourself through the eyes of those of us who love you. Also, I'm just a teacher with no money so I wrote you a list of random things that make you special and unique and that I'm grateful for, instead of buying you presents. Sorry about that. Anyway, here it is.

You...
  • can turn any meal into a work of art. (When you're not surviving solely on cornflakes that is). Never seen anyone else try to shape spaghetti into a heart. 
  • hate winter clothes so much that you wear breezy summer shirts even when it's freezing outside and the rest of us are wrapped up in blankets.
  • go through all the ups and downs with me.
  • have such a big, brave heart. Especially for such a tiny person. 
  • love me the most when I deserve it the least because you know that's when I need it the most.
  • support all my crazy ideas.
  • have taught me that lipstick is always a good idea.
  • have the sweetest, most gentle voice in the world. When you're not cursing in Swiss German that is. 
  • are the best haggling partner ever. Your "shocked" face when the poor guy at the beach dares to suggest five dollars for a pair of sunglasses is simply priceless. 
  • encourage me when I'm right and correct me when I'm wrong.
  • tell me the truths I need to hear and make me see and accept reality the way it is.
  • laugh with me when I'm happy and cry with me when I'm sad.
  • stand up for me when others put me down.
  • are the best cocktail partner ever. Although I still can't believe we got the guys to drink our mix of rum and frozen aloe vera (or was it naranjilla? Can't remember). 
  • love those around you so, so much and I'm so, so proud of you for how far you have come at starting to give some of that love to yourself as well.
  • are sunshine and such a star.
  • make the funniest goofy faces (see picture proof below).
  • are my family and my home away from home and the best friend anyone could ever ask for. 
  • have such a bright future ahead of you. Turning 30 is just the beginning! 
  • are making your way in this world step by step - paso a paso - and I can't wait to see where you end up.

Don't worry, I'm getting you a real present as well. Love you, my sillybilly*. Happy birthday! 

*Sillybilly (n.) = a person, who acts in a special way and is not afraid to do so. Usually a small, cute, person who is very happy and can make you laugh whenever they want to. Also someone who is very fun to be around and acts in the silliest way possible. 




Sunday, September 17, 2017

Tinderella

About a month ago, I rather reluctantly joined Tinder, the superficial dating-app where people swipe right or left based on profile pictures. Green heart - I like your looks; red cross - I don't. If both parties swipe right (or click on the green heart), it's a match. A match with a perfect stranger, within a certain distance. The last time I used the app was about two years ago and I think I had about five matches back then. Subsequently, I fell in love with one of them and moved halfway across the world. Turns out our match didn't last forever so here I am, ready to get back in the game and give Tinder a second chance. You never know, right? 

Over the past couple of weeks, I have matched around 35 times. And this is where it gets interesting. Some of those "matches" never say a word, they just linger in the app like some kind of trophies. Some make inappropriate suggestions or send obscene pictures while others communicate through winking emojis before disappearing back into cyberspace. Most of them, however, seem to want to know how I am, where I'm from and what I do for a living. I have talked to musicians (why are there so many of them?!), bodybuilders, male models (are those pictures even real?!), travelers, dancers, artists and engineers. At one point, I could no longer keep track of who was who or which topics we had already covered so I eventually narrowed it down to a handful of guys that I actually wanted to meet. 

My first tinder date was a bit of a disaster. I guess you can't even call it a date since the guy never showed up. I was at our meeting point waiting, waiting and waiting and when I finally texted to see where he was, I got a two-word reply: "Sorry, baby...". Not the greatest of beginnings but I got over it, just in time for date number two. Since then, I've been on numerous coffee dates and movie nights. I've been invited to romantic dinners at rooftop restaurants, I've been offered lovely surprises and even had songs written for me. But, I've also walked home feeling discouraged and wondering if this is all a waste of time. I've had guys unmatch or unfriend me because I didn't answer their messages fast enough or because I didn't live up to whatever illusion they had created in their minds before coming face to face with the real me. 

Tinder can be a lot of fun and it's a great way to meet new people but it can also lead to disappointments. I suppose the only way to navigate through this jungle is to keep an open mind and go with the flow, trying not to have too high expectations. Most of my dates stayed in the friendzone anyway and that's not necessarily a bad thing. As I scroll through my matches, I realize that I definitely don't need 35 of them (who does?!). One is enough. One click. One magic moment.

To be continued...


Monday, August 28, 2017

Lessons from the children

This past month, my job has consisted of playing hide and seek, making colorful crafts, singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and using flash cards to teach words such as butterfly and pencil case to four adorable children. Well, adorable when they're not arguing, being mischievous or hugging me with muddy hands anyway. After five weeks of summer camp, the kids have certainly improved their English but at the same time, they have taught me a great deal. Other than the obvious lessons, like living in the moment and being brutally honest, here are some of the things I learned from the kids this summer: 

How to do a handstand 

Well, sort of. In the break, the kids would always run out into the garden yelling: Teacher, teacher - let's gooo! while cartwheeling down the hill. At the bottom they would pick up the hula hoops and continue their circus tricks. I've never been able to do a cartwheel or spin a hula hoop in my life but I have been working on handstands in my yoga practice so after an initial attempt to escape, I gave in and joined the kids on the grass. The idea of peacefully sipping a cup of tea while watching them play had disappeared on the first day anyway. 

At first, I was terrible. I was told to go and practice against a wall because my knees were too bent. Then, once I got that down, there was still the small matter of trying to land on my feet. The kids would slowly shake their little heads in disbelief while watching me repeatedly fall over. Teacher - you need practice, the oldest girl proclaimed with a solemn look on her face. She was absolutely right but then again, practice does make perfect. I'm proud to announce that on the last day I managed to do both a cartwheel and a handstand and I was even able to spin the hula hoop around a couple of times. Okay, so it wasn't perfect but at least the kids cheered and clapped and for some reason, looking at the world upside down makes me happy.

How to negotiate

A completed worksheet is rewarded with a small sticker. Five small stickers earns you one big sticker and if you collect five big ones, you'll receive a present at the end of the week. Not hitting your classmates and and helping to clean up means you've deserved a candy that day. Finishing the educational games with a perfect score gives you the right to play a computer game of your choice for five minutes. A promise of good behaviour can extend the break with ten minutes. Everything is negotiable. Everything is a choice.

How to win someone over with your smile

An Ecuadorian friend told me once that if I smile at him, he'll do anything I want and that's how I feel about the kids. That must be why they are so good at negotiating. Apparently, crawling up into my arms and giving me a sweet (albeit toothless) smile is how you can obtain anything from stickers to candy to longer breaks. It's also a good way to secure a permanent spot in my teacher heart.

Curious to try out this seemingly effective technique, I decided to beam brightly at the slow-moving Ecuadorians who have been working on my terrace for ages now. Their job was supposed to be finished months ago but every week a new "obstacle" seemed to appear. Now, I didn't go anywhere near their dusty arms but a simple smile turned out to be enough. Two days later I came home to find that all the tiles had been laid out and this morning I was finally able to roll out my mat and do sun salutations outside. Result!

How to not be afraid of showing affection

The youngest girl in the group jumped onto my lap already on the first day. She couldn't remember my name but she obviously had no fear whatsoever of being rejected. Every day she'd skip down the stairs two steps at a time while holding my hand and trusting that I wouldn't let her fall. The other kids took a little longer to warm up but soon enough they all started fighting over who would get to sit next to me during story time and they were also constantly hugging me and asking me to braid their hair or give them piggyback rides.

Even though I'm quite happy to go back to teaching adults next week (my back is killing me), I'm going to miss the kids and their precious smiles. We can learn so much from their fearless attitude. As adults, sometimes we don't even try because we're afraid of failure. Or perhaps there's an even greater fear that some day, we might succeed. Because when we do, we have to ask ourselves the following question: If I can accomplish this, then what's stopping me from getting what I really want? There are no more excuses. What's the worst that can happen anyway?



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Life is like a dance

It seems that Ecuador and I have reached that point in our relationship when we're starting to see each other's flaws. I'm still head over heels in love with this country but people not turning up as promised is one cultural habit that drives me crazy sometimes. I can deal with the customary lateness but I find the no-shows much harder to adjust to. Ecuadorians have explained to me that in their culture, it's considered polite to say yes to an invitation, even when you have no intention of going. Therefore, expecting apology or an explanation for this kind of behavior is pointless and for friendship's sake, it's usually better not to ask why. In turn, I've tried to make it clear that where I come from, we appreciate honesty but I'm still met with bewilderment every time I bluntly turn down an invite or call to say that I'm not going to make it. 

The other day, a friend and I had made plans to go salsa dancing together. We texted during the day and agreed on a time to meet outside the salsoteka. I arrived five minutes late and then waited for another twenty minutes before deciding to go in by myself. My friend never showed and I never found out why. In the end it doesn't matter because that night, I had the perfect dance. 

I was already on the dance floor when I noticed a guy, whose name I do not recall, standing nearby watching me intently. As soon as I felt his presence, I knew that we would dance and when the song ended, he reached out a hand and invited me to dance the next one with him. 

Most dancers understand that you need a bit of time to get into the rhythm with a new partner. It takes a couple of minutes to learn how the other person moves and how to follow their lead without bumping heads or stepping on toes. Yet Mr Perfect dance partner and I only needed a second. One, two, three and our steps were already synchronized, as if we had always danced all of our dances together. His gestures were gentle yet I instinctively knew where he wanted me to go and when he wanted me to turn. When he dipped me, I let go. I knew he wouldn't let me fall. Every now and then he released my hand to do spins of his own and a couple of beats later, we came back together, perfectly in tune. We danced, we laughed, we sang and our bodies melted into one as we completely lost ourselves to the moment. One dance followed the next and at the end of the night, I lent forward and planted a big kiss on his cheek. Thank you, perfect stranger, for bringing out the latina in me.

 

Salsoteka Lavoe is one of my favorite places in the world and yet I hadn't been back there since I came back to Quito. As I walked out, I realized that I haven't really been happy in that time either. I've had my fun, yes, and I've laughed a lot but until that night, I hadn't felt that extreme high, that euphoria that comes from whirling around to the sound of Latin music. 

I could have chosen to go home when my friend didn't show up and I could have spent the night being bitter and upset about it. But then I would have missed out on all the fun and the truth is that a lot can be forgiven with a dance. This time, I chose to love life - flaws and all. That's not necessarily an easy choice to make and there are certainly challenges. For instance, my computer recently crashed and then my phone stopped working and let's face it, my new home is a building site covered in dust. Every day I miss my family and every night I miss the person that used to sleep next to me. It's only been a couple of months since I started over and even though I'm developing new routines, new friendships and new feelings, my heart is all over the place. Impatience being my middle name, it really is a wonder that I dance salsa at all, considering how long it took me to learn.

I keep looking for inner stillness but sometimes, it is only in the rapid movements of a dance that I can find some peace. Never mind the occasional head bump or stepping on toes. At least now I'm back on the dance floor and you know what they say: Take one step in tune and the rest will follow... 

Dancer's pose at Playa Negra

Friday, August 4, 2017

Moving in and out and on

Your motherboard is broken. There's nothing we can do. 
The technician hands me back my laptop and signals to the next person in line to step forward. I drag my feet out of the store and walk home feeling disappointed. I bought this fancy computer only a year ago and despite my loving care, it has already let me down. My heart sunk, I realize that I have no idea how to solve this problem on my own. I know nothing about computers and I have no money to buy a new one. So I start asking around and to my surprise, I find plenty of people willing to help. After a couple of detours, my laptop is now safely on its way to Switzerland, where it will hopefully be repaired and then returned to me as good as new. All paid for by my warranty. 

My best friend has gone to Europe for a while, taking my laptop with her. This is the second time in as many months that she and I have been apart for more than just a few days. We met in Montanita last year and since then, we've been pretty much inseparable. There's separation anxiety for sure but at the same time, the distance offers us a chance to explore our own identities. Who are we, when not one part of this solid friendship? Can we function with no motherboard? What things are we capable of on our own, without the constant support of another half?


Two days after she left, I moved out of the apartment that we've been sharing and last night was my first night in my new home. My third home in Quito - my third time lucky. It's still under construction and a bit of a mess but then again, so am I. It's also beautiful and bright and I love it because it's mine. A friend helped me move and he was amazed by the fact that everything I own now fits into two tiny suitcases and a couple of handbags. Moving my things from one place to the other took less than half an hour and as soon as my friend drove off, I reached for my phone. I had literally been alone for one minute before I texted my former roommates to tell them that I missed them.

This was the second time that I moved out of the place that was my first home in Quito and this time I know for sure that I won't be going back. It was a home and it was fun while it lasted but it's time to move on. I enjoyed the parties and the drama as much as anyone but I can't take the constant noise anymore. I'm also tired of being the only one who ever takes out the trash, puts away the dishes and cleans the stove. Still, I can't even count the number of times that my friends and I collapsed in tears or laughter in the living room and the memories made in that house will definitely last a lifetime.


Living alone certainly has its advantages. Having my own space for the first time in over a year has brought back memories of my second home in Quito, a haunted house far up in the north. It had five bedrooms but even so, there was nowhere to hide from mischievous roommates and malicious ghosts. On top of that, there were constant rave parties that made my first home seem like a sanctuary. But I also made friends for life up in the north and I fell in and out of love - twice. Last weekend I went out with one of my roommates from that house and despite her young age, I have so much to learn from her about life. She teaches me to live right on the edge, to go with the flow and to always expect the unexpected. 

I know I said earlier that on this second round of my adventure, I would focus on finding myself (whatever that means) but I've come to realize that the only way to do that is in relation to others. It's amazing how we can feel so incredibly powerful on the top of a mountain and yet so unbelievably vulnerable in the middle of a crowd. That's the paradox of life, isn't it? The fact that staying where we feel uncomfortable is what eventually will make us more courageous. The only way to conquer that fear is by facing it, hence the only way for me to dare to trust someone again is simply by believing that what I hear is the truth, no matter how many times I've been lied to. 

Life is always under construction and sometimes a bit messy but it is also beautiful and bright. So let's open up the windows and let the light in. Let's mess things up and allow them to get complicated. Let's linger in that uncomfortable vulnerability for just a little bit longer. My new apartment is mine but it is also yours so let's open the door and let more people in. Let's all hold hands and jump together. (No, not off the roof this time, I promise). What I mean is, let's take a giant leap into the unknown, even though there's no warranty and no guarantee that we won't break a leg or a heart or a motherboard. It's worth it anyway, just to find out where we land.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Searching and learning

Her hand in mine, my hand in his. Eyes closed, knees touching. Collective inhales and exhales. Vibrations. Tingling sensations. Magic moving all around the room. We have just completed an hour and a half of yoga and dancing at Flow Hot Yoga in Cumbaya and the endorphins linger in our bodies. We finish by singing OM and saluting the light in one another. Namaste. I open my eyes and look over at my friends who are glowing in the dark, sparkling even, like the rare diamonds that they are. 


Ever since I came back to Quito I've had such a craving for honesty and genuine connections. I want everything around me and inside of me to be pure and clean, which is why this seems like the perfect time to start a vegan diet. Watching the documentary What the Health has also convinced me that plant-based food is the best option that I can serve my body and so far, I feel great. I've been sort of vegetarian for a long time but I want to take it one step further and leave out all animal products. Even so, I still prefer to call myself "flexitarian" because I don't believe in too strict rules when it comes to eating. I need to be able to enjoy a bit of cheese and chocolate every now and then, otherwise life is just too sad. Also, being flexible makes things easier when you're living in a country like Ecuador where vegan options are somewhat limited. 


On this second round of my adventure, I'm also on a misson to find out who I can really trust. I'm endlessly grateful for my amazing tribe of people around the world and so excited about the new ones coming in. Unfortunately, however, this truth-seeking journey began with me finding out about a betrayal from yet another person that I thought was my friend. But maybe that's just how it goes. Maybe it's like with the light and the dark - we wouldn't be able to recognize the truth if it wasn't for the lies? 

After I heard the news, I walked away from what had once been sisterhood and friendship and made sure to carefully close the door. This, in turn, has led me to ponder some rather uncomfortable questions: Do I let people in too easily or, do I push them out too fast? Do I need to be more careful or more empathetic? Are there times when we should forgive and forget, even when we can't possibly understand? Maybe I need to learn how to exist in a garden that is growing wild, instead of trying so hard to get rid of all the weeds? 

Once again, I find myself quoting my favorite author Elizabeth Gilbert, who describes this process so much more beautifully than I ever could: 
If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting and set out on a truth seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, the truth will not be withheld from you. 
So that's where I am right now. At end of one adventure and the start of another, or maybe somewhere in between. Always searching, always learning, always trying to do better. Thinking about all the things I didn't know a year ago and wondering where I'll be a year from now. Above all, appreciative of this ever changing world and thankful for each experience that has something valuable to teach me.