Remembering how to Breathe

Inhale. I open the double doors to the patio of my third floor flat to greet a family of palm trees, the closest one lingers about ten feet from my window. I stare and they stare back at me.

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View from the balcony of my flat in Siolim, Goa. 

Exhale. I can see lime green coconuts nestled between the fold of the giant palm leaves as the leaves plunge forward and pierce the blue sky. Behind the trees is a field of marshy green that goes on for miles. If there were no grass there, this would probably be a small lake. I find it fascinating that the water lingers so long since it gets up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon and it hasn’t rained since September. Midway through the marsh, I can see a cow grazing about waist deep. A flock of great white egrets speckle the green mass surrounding the cow. Some stand on his back. Others nearby. There is something majestic about the entire scene.

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The marshy grasslands across the street from my flat.

Filled with the gratitude of this moment, I hold tight to each second as I inhale and exhale the crisp morning air. Five months ago, I made a decision to come here and five months from now, I will leave this place. Here I stand, smack dab in the middle of this journey. Oh, how the time flies.

I sit on my balcony and reflect on my journey up until to this point. I pull out my journal and flip through the pages hoping to encounter the Crystal of five months ago and to relive the excitement and exhaustion of the day that I arrived in Goa after the two-week AIF orientation in Delhi.

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View from the plan as I arrived in Goa for the first time. 

It was September 16, 2017 and there was so much emotion and things to be processed. It was gloomy and wet from weeks of rain. I had two, very heavy bags that had to be lugged up three flights of stairs to my new co-workers’ apartment. It was our first time meeting. I wondered about her impression of me and my bags that probably weighed more than her. She smiled and introduced herself. She offered me food. I sat on her couch. I was exhausted from traveling from Delhi by flight and then taking a 1 hour car ride to Siolim. It was a long, scenic ride and I drifted in and out of sleep. We passed beautiful ocean views and grassy mountains. We sat in traffic as people whipped by on scooters but finally, i had arrived.

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Long car ride from the airport to Siolim. 

I fell asleep on the couch and she told me that I could go and lay in her bed. As I lay there the fan hummed and the soft and steady drops of rain fell outside the window. I was nervous but I was here. I took out my journal in an attempt to capture the moment.

***

Journal Entry from September 16, 2017

I am entering my third week in India. Today, I took a plane to Goa from New Delhi and I am currently staying with a host family—two women who work at the organization where I will be working. One named Swati and the other, I don’t know her name [Alankrita]. They live about an hour away from the airport. Radhika, my mentor, sent a car to pick me up and when he dropped me off it was 1300 rupees—wow! Next time I will remember to ask for more information regarding transportation—what is covered by the host org and what I should cover. It was a long day and now I just feel drained. I am not sure how my coworkers feel about me… they haven’t said much.

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Getting ready to board the plane to Goa from Delhi.

So many things annoyed me today! At the airport, the guy checking me in for my flight in Delhi tried to hit on me and I think it is because I am from the U.S. and not because he necessarily finds me attractive which is cool but annoying. At least he sees me as human. The men are so bold here. They see women as objects. They feel it’s ok to stare and undress you with their eyes. They are bold and inappropriate. But the women are bold as well.

“Is this your real hair?” She asks as she, a security guard, scanned me with the magic wand that TSA agents all around the world use to cast spells of travel delay on unexpecting travelers.

“Yes, it’s my hair” I have braids in but I just lied. No need for lengthy conversations since I am sure I will never see this lady again. It’s none of her business anyway!

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Feeling really proud of myself for my first time traveling in India by myself!

Because I am black, people stare. Like…constantly. All the time. Some days I can confront it with a smile. Other days, it is just plain annoying. Today, I was somewhere in between.

I boarded the plane, alone. For the first time I am alone in another country. I am so PROUD of me! I did it and so far, I am glad I did. I got to my host home and I am exhausted. I feel like my allergies are flaring up. I have sniffles and as I write this journal entry, I am on the edge of falling asleep because I just took two allergy meds.

I got off the plane, alone, I headed to baggage claim. Got my bags—easy! Found the driver—piece of cake! I made it here alone. All by myself. I am so proud of me for proving to me that I can do it! My emotions are all over the place—excited, scared, annoyed, uncomfortable but assertive all at the same time. This is the nicest I have ever been to me. I let me make mistakes. I keep rooting for me in my head. I hope these next couple of days fly by with rest and mindfulness. I hope that I get great sleep tonight.

Later that night I wrote…

As I took a nap today after a long exhausting day of travel, I had a dream that I was having trouble breathing. My nose was completely stopped up and my throat would close up. I would gag and try to signal to people that I wasn’t getting any air. Then all of a sudden, my mouth would open and the air would flow in and I would be ok. But then it would happen again… nose congested, throat closes up! And it was as if I would forget what allowed me to open up in the first place. I would panic and once again, reach out for help from people. But before anyone could help, I would finally start breathing again.

***

Reflections on this Journal Entry

The sun is almost directly overhead. The cool morning breeze has morphed into the warmth of afternoon. The cows and birds have gone—some birds are now perched atop the coconut palm trees outside the window. The sounds of scooters, cars, and buses has grown more frequent. The warm sun has extended its reach along my patio floor.

As I think back on the myriad of emotions and experiences from my arrival in Goa, I have a greater perspective on these experiences. I pour myself another cup of black tea and sip slow. I had forgotten the deep emotions of that day. There were so many “firsts” and things to be proud of. Since living in India, I find that I celebrate small successes in myself more frequently—and this was definitely a success. I moved with confidence and grace and even though I couldn’t see it at the time, I was setting myself up for the growth that would follow.

In this dream, I was forgetting how to breath—something so natural became a foreign task for me. And then I would panic because I know that the result of not breathing is death. I tried to reach out to other people to help me but they could not hear me or understand the struggle of my impending doom that would result from not doing what I was naturally designed to do. This did not happen once, it happened several times. It was scary and it felt like no one could help me. Each time when it seemed that I only had seconds to live, the breath would come. Like clockwork. It didn’t fail. Then the suffocation would happen all over again and I would forget my process for solving the problem the times before. I would, once again, reach out to people when I had my own answers all along.

Inhale.

I am learning, it is not always about seeking other people to help me through the struggle, sometimes it is a matter of resting, settling in to myself and trusting God to get me through the process. At some point, it would all come back to me. Those things that I already knew would resurrect and get me to the next point. Even when things seemed hopeless and it seemed as if I would die, it never failed, I would breath again. I am not sure if the solution was that I remembered how to breath OR if it was simply that the air forced its way into my nostrils right at the last minute. Either way, it didn’t fail me, I always remembered how to breath again.

Exhale.

Although unclear at that moment, the dream was very telling of my experiences to come. Breathing is such a natural and innate experience. We do not have to think about how to breath we just do it—even unconsciously. It is not forced, it is a flow. Breathing is not a learned behavior, no one ever has to teach us how to breath we just do it. Naturally. Without even thinking about it.

As I struggle to sort through my personal issues and make sense of my past, as I think about the possibilities of the future and what I will do next, as I ask my self the hard questions of, “Am I living my purpose”, “Will I ever find love”, “What will I do after this fellowship” I must know that the answers will come, unforced and naturally. No need to panic because the breath will come, God has not failed me yet. It will all come back to me and in that moment when I feel like all is lost, I always remember how to breath.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – SELAH.

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message Translation)

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Photo of reflection from my 2016 photo shoot in Atlanta, GA. 

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