What the hell had I gotten myself into? I decided to stop cleaning, knowing I needed to eat. I was too scared to leave the room. Now, traveling in Russia had prepared me for all of this: the uncertainty of going out of my comfort zone, having to approach strangers for help. I understood this type of irrational fear. I did some deep breathing because I knew the only way out was through that door.


By Marcee Murray King

I feel like I am in a holding pattern, circling around, waiting for what is next.

I’m at the threshold of what was and what is to be—an unknown space. I’ve been occupying this space for the last few weeks, waiting and preparing for my journey to India. The waiting is familiar, as I have been waiting my whole life for…THIS. This moment in time.

A week or so before I left, I told my friend Joy that I felt I was occupying both realms, with part of me in Wisconsin and part of me already in India, just waiting to greet me when I physically arrived.

The train ride was more circling around. Staying with my daughter in Chicago was more of the holding pattern. As I was getting ready to call the Uber to go to the airport, I finally had a mini-collapse and had a small panic attack—tears, pulse racing, breathing hard. I am so happy I was with my daughter, Hannah when I had this, and didn’t wait until the airport. She asked, “Do you want a shot of gin?” I hate gin, but said yes. I choked and about threw up, the perfect cure for the panic attack! I cracked up at my sudden moment of terror and walked out the door, calling the Uber.

The international arrival and departure terminals at airports are truly liminal space where one can only sit in the country but often not leave unless holding the right visa. I sat with people from all around the world in Chicago. Liminal space in Dubai had me in a truly racial/ethnic minority. Arriving in Kochi, Kerala, India was more waiting for luggage, watching people watch me.

When 4 a.m. came, I was exhausted. I walked out of the airport with my backpacks strapped on, found the driver holding a piece of paper with my name on it and he drove me to Vasco da Gama Inn in Fort Kochi, by the Arabian Sea. I had only slept two of the last 36 hours.

A man was sitting on the stoop of the small hotel that looked like it was located in an alley. The driver said something to man, and the man went and banged on the door of the building, waking someone to let me in that I have not seen since. I registered, writing my name in a very old ledger, listing my arrival, departure and purpose of my stay. He led me up to a room. I walked in and sighed.

It was dirty.

There was thick dust on the fan, on top of the mirror, the light fixtures and the picture on the wall. The bathroom was a bit yucky. There were cobwebs lining the corner behind the door, and on the TV. I video-called my husband, Mark, and showed him the room. I felt like I was back in Russia in 1994, though neither of my apartments were dirty like this. The AC I paid extra for was a glorified fan. I was so very happy I had brought a sewn sheet to sleep in and collapsed for a few hours.

I awoke with a completely stuffed nose, coughing and sneezing from allergies. Damn! I grabbed some toilet paper, and started wiping up the cobwebs, cleaning some of the dust. What the hell had I gotten myself into? I decided to stop cleaning, knowing I needed to eat. I was too scared to leave the room. Now, traveling in Russia had prepared me for all of this: the uncertainty of going out of my comfort zone, having to approach strangers for help. I understood this type of irrational fear. I did some deep breathing because I knew the only way out was through that door.

I went downstairs, and there was a young man there working. He is here every day, as is a woman. I thought it would be the owner here, who is good with English. I was counting on his help to get me to my next stop, Alleppey, where I will stay a few days and then go on to Amma’s ashram where I will meet up with my friends Lucy and Michelle for a week and a half.

I have yet to lay eyes on him, but he was on the phone with the young man as I walked downstairs. The young man speaks very little English and the woman none, so he handed me the phone to let Appu, the owner, talk to me. I don’t know what happened, but I wasn’t in the room I was supposed to be in. He moved me to another room. It still had the same feel with the old heavy curtains, minimal decoration, but it was clean. It looked like what I expected. I was so relieved I wanted to cry. This room had a sweet little balcony as well.

I got ready. Breathed. And walked out into a different world at the edge of the Arabian Sea. I was in India at last, after a life-time of longing.

To say that I was elated would be a lie. To say I was happy would also be a lie. It would be much more honest to tell you I asked myself, “What was I thinking?” Luckily, another part of me was able to say, “Ah, this is exactly how it felt in Russia!” I went to look for food, but somehow I was unsuccessful. My short walk took me to the seashore (just a hop away) and all the vendors there with food looked a little too filthy for me. I walked back to the inn to ask for help. English was the problem.

He finally walked me part of the way down the road and pointed in the direction of restaurants. I finally picked a place called Salt n Pepper—one in a small line of outdoor restaurants. I wasn’t too hungry, but made myself eat. A cup of hot and sour veg soup. Delicious. Two bottles of water. {Rule #1: Don’t drink tap water here!} I drank a whole one there and saved the other to take back to the room. I then did another little loop around the area worrying about getting lost, and went back to the room for the day.

It was a bit much. I must have looked stunned. It was absolutely filthy. Garbage everywhere in the streets. The smell of fish wafting from the fishermen who work out of small boats and use the Chinese fishing nets in the harbor, permeates the beach. Vendors were everywhere, trying to make me by things. Tuk tuk drivers were following me, trying to sell me a ride. It is impossible to be invisible and experience this place. I gave myself permission to go back to the safety of my room and read, regrouping. After all, landing in Kochi was about just that for me: a place to get assimilated to India and recover from the flight.

But the little cup of soup in that little cafe? That was a delightful experience! At around 4:00 in the afternoon, the girls’ Catholic school let out. The road in front of the cafe is filled with groups of little girls in their blue uniforms, giggling and holding hands. Scooters with parents were picking up their kids (sometimes with four kids on a vehicle). I would smile and they would giggle. I waved, they waved back.

The next day, after very little sleep again, I ventured out a little further, covering more and more ground. I walked by the shore, not wanting to deal with buying water at the kiosk. I went back to the hotel for a bit. There, a family was being checked in to another room. The young man brought them bottled water. Wait? I can buy water here? I bought two bottles right away and added them to my little stash of one.

I ventured back out, wandering the seaside, watching the people. The kids were always watching me. One child I waved at got a great big smile. Her mother smiled at me and asked, “What is your name?” I told her, but wondered why she would ask that.

I ate at a different restaurant on Thursday, just that one meal which I couldn’t finish. It was a bland cup of soup and some vegetarian dish. The man there spoke English well, so asked me all sorts of questions as I was the only person in the restaurant. It isn’t tourist season here, so there aren’t a lot of customers anywhere, making competition a bit more fierce.

Indians are always asking questions of me, things that surprise me, as I walk down the streets. Why are you here? Where are you from? Are you studying or on business?

There are dogs and cats everywhere, though not so many as might be found in Rishikesh from what I have heard. Some have collars, some do not. There are lots and lots of crows, with a grayer neck than ours have. There are beautiful trees and ferns growing off the sides of walls or wherever they can take root. But no travel guide had prepared me for the goats. Goats were wandering the streets, with cars driving around them to avoid hitting them. Some have rope collars. Where do they live at night? Who owns them? I have no idea, but I adore them!

Yesterday I wandered further. I have found places to explore further today. I actually walked into the store and bought a large bottle of water for 35 rupees because the hotel was out. I stood in front of the school in the morning and listened to the girls singing through the open windows. I managed to arrange my own taxi to Alleppey on Monday.

I ate at Salt n Pepper again (and, again, this was my only meal of the day…a cup of that delicious soup and a dish that I barely touched because I was already full), and as I left one of the other restaurant owners there told me, “You come to me next time. I fix good soup.” I was being watched here. Lack of tourists make you stand out more, I guess.

Being close to the equator, the sun rises at around 6:00 and starts setting at 7:00. I stayed out until just past seven last night, feeling all grown up. A group of men were playing soccer, as there is a big open field here left from the colonists. There were friends hanging out on the piers, laughing and talking. Another Friday night in Fort Kochi. Walking around, I saw a woman alone, with that shell-shocked look on her face that I must have had on my first venture out. I smiled at her and wanted to tell her it would be okay. She would find her away.

Last night, I crashed at 8:00 pm and managed to sleep until 2:30 am when I woke up and stayed that way for the rest of the night. Finally, around 5:00, I decided to do a yoga nidra that I have downloaded on my phone. I always struggle with yoga nidra because you are to have a sankalpa to work with. Sankalpa is a heart-felt desire, something you really want in your life or need, but it needs to be worded as if it is already manifest and true. I work with various ones, but none of them feel right to me. This morning when she asked us to speak our sankalpa three times to ourselves, one came to me on my own, and with no struggle. It is exactly what I need.

I said to myself three times, “I am living my dharma!”

As I wrote this I jumped as something ran up my wall and behind the mirror. A small gecko… a welcome guest in my bug-free room.


Photo: provided by author

Editor: Dana Gornall