Yesterday was a sweet day, literally! After enjoying a pancake with syrup breakfast at the ayurveda place (yum!), I walked back to the bakery which I could now find on my own. I had previously inquired about volunteering there so they suggested I arrive at 10am today. Had to wait over an hour which I’m beginning to learn is par for the course with India time. Then someone arrived who barely said a word to me but had me follow him on his bike while riding my first rickshaw to the school about 15 minutes away.
The kids were still in class so I waited a while again until someone officially came by to connect about volunteering. The 15 minutes prior I got to hang out with some of the children who got finished class and were enjoying putting their English to use with me as well as showing me the hand painted ceramics they made.
Turns out the school only took longer-term volunteers who could stay for a minimum of two months but I was still able to play games with them after lunch. I learned rajul, a fun Indian game for four people similar to air hockey but for four people where you sit on the ground and play on a small wooden board. I also saw kids playing Connect Four which brought back fun memories from playing with my older brother when I was a kid.
As promised, I met Raj at the sunset Aarti near my guest house a little later than he expected I suppose. He said he walked by a few times looking for me and the third time I was there. As usual, third time’s a charm! I wasn’t able to stay much after the Aarti because I wanted to join my older friend Mary to hear the guitar player staying at my guest house playing Spanish music at a nearby restaurant but I told Raj I’d meet him the next dat at Aarti again.
After a very mellow day staying close to home, catching up on my blog and investigating a few places to have another ayurveda massage, I met Raj at Aarti again.
This time he was waiting for me. We sat at the top steps and he translated and explained the songs that were praising Shiva and honoring the Ganga. He was extremely passionate about them all. Afterwards we took a walk towards the fire ghats which he mentioned wanting to show me but I wasn’t quite ready to go there just yet — and also felt the need to stop our walk for a bit to clarify my intentions before going any further along the ghats or in our newly formed friendship.
Raj kept expressing a joy and excitement at meeting me that felt beyond what a friendship would be. His English is quite good. In fact, so is his Spanish, Italian, French and Japanese since he is always meeting so many foreigners in Varanasi. His accent in each language sounds quite amazing and at one point, we even started talking in Spanish like I would with my friends in South America. And yet, there was still a definite language barrier so I was trying to explain what the word ‘assumption’ meant and that I didn’t want to assume anything, but wanted to make certain he knew that my only interest in spending time together was just as friends. He said he understood and we stared in each other’s eyes. I saw depth and intensity but also kindness and intuitively, truly felt like this was a person I could trust.
He told me about his family life, that his father died so he lives and helps take care of things with his mom. He has one older married brother and a middle brother who needs to get married before he does. It doesn’t have to be arranged but it does have to be in that order out of respect in their culture. I told him I had spent much of the day writing at which point he told me he had something that would help me with my creativity and my writing. And offered me a small piece of food he withdrew from his pocket wrapped in plastic. I looked at it and told him no thank you and then he asked what I thought it was. When I mentioned I thought it could possibly have hashish in it, he got a look on his face and immediately heaved the entire thing directly into the Ganga! When I explained why, it was another lesson in making assumptions. I also knew he was a Shiva devotee who often use cannibas as offerings to Shiva and that many people also eat ganja food for creativity. He said he wanted the offering to be pure as his intentions were as well as the prasad (a food offering given at pujas and many temples) so he gave it to the pure Ganga. He insisted that he didn’t want me to feel badly (which I did a little), only to feel shanti which he had no words for. I suggested peace and he agreed.
So after a peaceful conversation where I felt we were seeing eye-to-eye, I accepted an offer to have a meal at his house the next day in the day time with his mother and visit a sacred Buddhist place nearby called Sarnath. He also kindly gifted me a necklace with an OM symbol on it that he said he had prayed over for my protection. Although I said that the gift wasn’t necessary though very thoughtful, he insisted I accept it. It was now the 4th little piece of jewelry I had been gifted thus far on my travels from kind Indian men — from the man in the Internet cafe, to the sadhu on the street, to Manoj my new friend of Tashi’s in Lucknow to Raj in Varanasi. It felt innocent enough. And I was comfortable with our plans to meet the next day at 11am.