Friday, August 21, 2009

Kerala (Kalpetta) Loves Koffee

Finally, a chance to post! I am currently in Mysore right now, biding my time until it's time to go to Bangalore.

So what did I do in Kalpetta for the past 5 or 6 days? I'm in the mountains, everything is very lush and beautiful, Kalpetta is considered a city, yet it's quite small. There are lakes, and waterfalls. Caves, and mosques every 100 yards. Where do I start with what I've been doing the past 6 days....

I'll start with a phone conversation I had with my sister. Ingrid called me on Saturday night as I was laying in bed, half asleep. I began to laugh out loud half-way through the conversation because she was asking me all these questions, what's going on, how is everything, where are you, etc etc, and I had nothing to say. I literally had been doing nothing the past 6 days.

“How could I be doing nothing when I'm traveling in India?? It's a once in a life time opportunity to be doing what you're doing!” I could imagine some people saying. Well just like I told Ingrid, while this might have been the most “dull” part of the vacation, it is without a doubt, the most needed. After almost a month of hustle and bustle and constantly on the run, constantly having to find somewhere to go, to stay, to sleep, to eat, it was time to let my mind rest and not have to think about those things.

So I didn't.

I sat, and watched a lot of TV. Kerala loves Coffee, so I've been drinking some delicious coffee. My days usually consist of this: Wake up, and order a free tea of coffee (complimentary of the hotel) to drink in bed. The past two days I have been waking up to the paper at my door, so that's always a bonus to read in the morning. Then I wake myself up, get some semblance of clothes on and head down to breakfast (also complimentary). I have been living off of toast and uttapam every morning. Uttapam is a south Indian breakfast, a cross between a crepe and a thicker dough, usually filled with onions, or vegetables, or whatever you choose.

Once breakfast is done, I head back upstairs and do... well nothing. I'll read for a bit, write for a bit, or just watch more TV. (As much as I've been watching TV lately, I try not to in the morning so much. No idea why.) By the time I come upstairs after breakfast, its still before 10am so most stores and stuff are closed. So I shower. Sit around. Read some more. Smell the coffee I bought. Look out at the hills and the clouds. It's all very relaxing and not very touristy.

Once things open up in the morning I go out and usually walk around the town for a bit. There's really only one main road, National Highway 212, so I usually just walk up and down that for a good while. Maybe stop and check my e-mail, or order a coffee, or find a spot where I can sit and see the mountains. That's always nice as well.

Since there are so many mosques in town, everyone knows when it's time to pray. The prayers as issued very loudly from the loud speakers at a mosque, and a prayer is repeated 5-10 times. The first morning, at 5am this woke me up, but since then I have slept right through it. During the day it's pleasant though. I'll be watching tv or listening to music or something and I'll hear the prayers start, and its very relaxing to mute the tv and just sit by the window and listen.

In fact, an added bonus is that while it's been sunny every day except for 2, the past two days the afternoon rain has been like a blessing. Calming to hear, as the rain increases, so do the sound of the frogs and crickets. A couple days ago I was taking a nap when the rain started and was woken slightly by the clap of thunder. It was magical.

So after I walk around town I find something else to do. For now, its usually consisted of a nap, a book, or some combination of the two. Then I go eat some dinner around 8 or 9, come back to my room, and watch a movie and fall asleep. I know, it all sounds very boring.

One day I decided to check out a lake that wasn't too far away. About 14km from the main stretch of Kalpetta, Pokoot Lake should be a nice way to spend the day. That is until I arrived. This experience with the lake, whether I wanted it to or not,also formed my opinion of the rest of the tourist sites around Kalpetta.

The lake, sad to say but not surprisingly, is cut off from the public by stone walls and metal gates. It's a tourist resort, a sort of day resort mostly for domestic tourists, in which you have boating, small markets, a lake, and walking/running trails. The beach, if you can call it that, were a series of large stone steps that descended into the water. Why they changed it, I have no idea. Either way, despite the warm day, no one was swimming. There were paddle boats, but to go on a paddle boat alone? I can think of better loner stuff to do than that. I passed by it once, went a little further down the road and stopped at a cafe for a good half hour.

Upon cycling back towards the lake I stopped and peeked over the fence to see if it was worth the Rs. 10 to get in. Granted Rs. 10 is not a lot of money, but would you want to waste any money on something that you might not like? If we can't give thirty cents to a beggar on the streets, I'm less satisfied with spending thirty cents with something that's just plain boring. Then I thought, being the only foreign tourist (from physical appearances) to be there, I would have to entertain a bunch of conversations that I really wasn't in the mood to have.

I kept going. Further along, the fence ended and there was a small broken path that led down to a path in the resort that looped around the lake. I thought of stashing my bike and sneaking in to see what it's like, but again I thought about my skin color. Everyone in the resort would know that I didn't buy a ticket. On top of superficial conversations, I really didn't want to have that conversation either.

So I kept going and headed back to town, cruising the descents, walking the ascents.

For the most part when we travel we have our belongings, we have the ability to stay in hotels, to eat delicious and safe food, access clean drinking water, and keep our selves somewhat healthy. In fact in some instances, we're healthier when traveling than when we are sedentary at home.

However, with no plan, it obviously takes some toll on body and mind, causing unwanted stress. Things that you don't even think exist at first, and then every day, slowly, somehow, your body keeps getting tired, earlier, and more quickly. So anyways, with all the traveling, plus the two day bike ride, this rest is all I've been waiting for.

But, as with most things in life, there is always a lesson to be had. You just have to look for them. As with this, and the tireless travel, I'll first say at what a good time I've had. It's been incredibly fun. But then I think about people who do this everyday, or even every week. And I'm not talking about nomadic tribes and families that live off the land. I'm talking about the urban poor, convicts, ex-pats, exiles, and the sort.

Where everyday is a struggle for food. My struggle is making sure I don't get ripped off at a restaurant. Where everyday they repair their tarp roofs or bamboo walls, for even a small gust of wind may destroy their home. My repairs are of myself, and making sure I have a bed to sleep on in a hotel, away from danger. The mental stress I felt, thinking back on it, is barely scraping the surface of how deep a rift that stress can cause in someones mind. People who push and pull everyday, are worked so hard into the ground that there is no “rest” time. There is no place to relax and let your mind and body repair itself. There is no escape, that's what it is. I can't imagine priorities, what becomes important and what simply dissolves from your life.

Let me be frank, I'm not thinking of the Indian masses specifically with this scenario. So if you are imagining Slumdog Millionaire right now, change gears. I'm talking about people like this in any country, on every continent. Ever been to the poorer places of New York? Me neither, for the most part New York does a good job at keeping them out of sight or underground (look up underground homeless). Or simply away from the middle class. But every city has their poor, every city has people that are struggling everyday not even for medicine or vaccines, but for a simple piece of bread.

Anyway, you catch my drift. Any pressure or challenges we put on ourselves are tough and hard only because of perspective. Look at the hobbling masses and you might see that the challenges we put on ourselves really aren't too bad.

Still, despite these thoughts, the relaxing has been nice.

But, now it's getting boring. I've done what I needed to do, and I'm ready to head on. For now the plan is to go to the city of Mysore, finally crossing the border over into Karnataka, and closer to Bangalore. Maybe stay in Mysore for a week, depending how I feel for it, and then head over to Bangalore for 4 or so days before moving into John's apartment on the first of September.

An update:
The status of the bike I bought – it's gone. Now when I phrase it like that it sounds like itmight have been stolen, or broken or something of the sort. Let me explain.

The bike was becoming quite a burden. The supervisor of the housekeeping staff had accompanied me to the bus stop to get a porter or someone to put my bike up on the rack of the bus. At the ripe age of 21, he had gone to school for a year program concerning hotel management. At first only one bus came by and told us that it was impossible to bring the bike on the bus.

And at the bus stop in Kalpetta, buses stop very briefly. I'm talking if two full minutes have passed, it would seem like a long time. At most, they stop, and 15 to 30 seconds later the bus is gone. Just enough time to jump on.

After that first bus, I jokingly asked the young man (Akhilesh Ashokan) if he wanted to buy the bike. He said he did want a bike, but didn't have the money for it.

Two more buses had passed, denying me and my bike. I was getting to a point where I half-hoped that someone would run by and just snatch the bike from me. I don't know how far I would have chased him. 4 buses and two and a half hours later I had an idea.

I figured that at the end of my year commitment with GCSD I wasn't exactly going to break apart the bike and bring it home. I already had decided that at the end of the year I was going to donate it to a child or a school or something cheesy and generic like that. But donating something that I so recently bought, there were a lot of voices in my head screaming at me.

All the arguments were economic though. It's a waste of 60 bucks! Would you just give 60 bucks away to anyone? What are you thinking? Why don't you just take out Rs. 3,000 and start handing it out! And the thoughts went on in this manner.

So, even though giving should just feel good, and should be done from the heart, I had to calculate a little bit. I had to make some calculations to make me feel better about giving this bike away. I began to ask Akhilesh questions, questions that were probably entirely too personal. After some probing, here's what I came up with, Akhilesh's profile.

At the age of 21 Akhilesh worked, and lived at the hotel. He makes Rs. 2,500 per month, and works full time. This past week he had been working all night, and sleeps a couple of hours during the day, and then goes back to work. So he makes about $50 USD per month, at (lets estimate) 40 hours a week. I would not be surprised though if he usually goes over that time. If his salary were to be hourly, he would be making Rs. 15.65 per hour, or roughly $0.30 USD per hour. And to think, back at Apple I would be upset if I didn't get enough hours to make $50 in one shift.

Then I asked about family. His mother and 10 year old brother live in a small house, not far from Kalpetta, I believe he said it was a little less than 17 kilometers. He usually takes a bus to get there, as he owns no bike, or motorbike or a car. “What does your father do?” I asked. His father died 3 years ago because of heart failure. “So your mother is working for the house rent and stuff?” I kept going on with these questions, always making sure he wasn't taking offense. He responded: “No, no I don't mind. I am the only one that works in my family. My brother goes to school.” As the questions continued, I was curious as to how much he gives his mother for rent and living. Rs. 2,000. That means each month, he only has Rs. 500 to himself. I dare you to try and live off $10 a month.

On a more positive note, he said he has a lover. And she loves him, and they are planning to get married in the next few years. He said he's saved up about Rs. 10,000 ($200) for marriage and their life after that threshold. By saying that, he also acknowledged that it wasn't an arranged marriage, but a love marriage. That was nice to hear. All in all though, he carried an attitude of absolute happiness. Things are what they are for him, and he is trying his best to make the situation better. I would argue that the first thing anyone needs to make a dire situation better is a good attitude. Akhilesh is a prime example.

I don't think he really believed I was going to give him the bike until I went in my bag for the other key for the lock (one was currently in the lock, and there was a spare). When I took it out and placed it in his hand, he let out an exasperated sigh of surprise and said “Wow, thank you so much, when you return to Kalpetta call me and you can use it.”

While the economic part of the situation (losing $60) might be a downer, getting the bike off my hands was a blessing. Twice due to the fact that I gave it to someone who, I believed, deserved it. Whether it happened for a reason or not, I hope he considered himself lucky that day.

That was by far the most exciting part of Kalpetta. And the coffee of course. The coffee was delicious.

After all this traveling though I'm ready to start working and getting GCSD and the WE BUILD program really under way. We have a bunch of good ideas we want to get going for the next year, full of publications, calenders, events, sponsorship and the like.

Here we go.


  1. I'm very glad to know you are already recognizing some of the lessons to be learned from your travels. I'm sure that with time you'll see even more lessons to be had from the people you've met and the places you've been.

    That was an excellent gesture you made with the bike. I know it will come back to you in a good way.



  2. Hi Norman,
    I'm glad to hear you took some relaxing time. Your discription of the beach etc was neat and the solving of the bike issue worked out well for all concerned.
    Here is a response from one of my friends that gets your blogs.

    Don't know what sized font you used but this if perfect for at least my aging eyes. I also printed this off. The number of pages was tripled but part of that was due to the extra spacing between paragraphs etc.

    I am now really enjoying the reading. He has written to take you right along with him. You can almost feel the hurt in the groin and muscles. Tha aches and the great relief to get a lift on the flatbed. It's very interesting. I think I can assume when he talks about getting some chai he means tea. At least that's the translation in Swahili.

    I'm going to enjoy this. Glad you took the extra time to visit with me and tell me about it. The font increase has made all the difference. I might not have made it through the smaller size and what a shame that would have been.

    Hope you had a good day.


  3. Hi Norm, so nice to hear that you have taken some time to relax and enjoy.
    Extremely happy to hear about your bike. A beautiful act of kindness that will let you sleep well at night. Don't sweat it, $60.00 might seem like alot to you now that you are on a tight budget, but overall it's a drop in the bucket for you but for Akhilesh it's a huge amount. You are really promoting goodwill and hopefully they won't think of Americans as the "evil people".
    So you see it's a win win situation.
    Love you