A poem. For Rosario and Kevin.

Damn your honesty. Damnit.
Tell the soothsayers to go home. They’re not wanted here.
Don’t you ever utter those words. Not here. Not now.
You see, we didn’t have the heart to tell you.
When you arrived, the light was so bright.
So bright, it burned.

You tumbled straight down from the sky.
Beauty so rare, the very heavens quivered with delight!
Who is this child?, they cooed.
O innocent one!, eyes filled with tears.
You will choke a thousand times.
On your own spit.
Crystalline eyes, and
Lips red like crow’s blood.

They will lie to you, child.
They will hold your face in their palms with the intention to deceive.
They will speak to you in absolutes,
But their actions will be murky.
They will say, “God blessed you.”
But at what cost?
There is always a cost, child.

A cradle, riddled with holes.
Seeds, sown in the sand.
An audience rapt, with disgust.
Dead men, walking.

Seer, you.
Sorry, you.
Silent, you.

This elegant knotted throbbing mass of blood, sinew, and flesh– not owned but on loan.
A fistful of existence clutched fearfully to the chest.
A thread-bare delusion. A life-sized wrinkle.
An inconvenience.
What would you say if I could give you a glimpse of the beyond, O loved one?

O loved one.

Eyes that were made to see


Rays of sunlight pierce through rainclouds over Kenyan farm country. Over Aberdares Mountain range, 2013.

“What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.” Walt Whitman

Yesterday, someone proposed a beautiful idea to me that has changed the way I choose to view many of the actions of those around me and of my own.

I’m in a very interesting phase of my life– marked by transition, growth, and self inquiry. What have I learned in my life so far? What is important to me? What is my personal truth? And how does that crystalize into the life choices I make in the coming months and years?

At 21 there was perhaps only a single thing I knew for certain. A single truth in my existence: that I knew very little about life and the world at large. School had taught me a few things — and somehow looking back, I think the most valuable things I gained from 17 years in a classroom were not academic in nature but human, rather.

As a kid, I had caught a rare glimpse through the matrix– and I couldn’t ignore what I had seen. I had gazed long into what seemed murky, shifting waters, but once, I glimpsed the stillness underneath.

Let me explain.

As a child I had the feeling that we as humans have always searched for some truth to hold on and cling to. This truth might take any “form” — a person, an institution, a belief, a cause, an idea. The form is just a placeholder, a proxy for something far greater and more valuable– truth. Growing up I asked myself, ‘What can I put my full and complete trust in? What never changes its nature; is never subjective, situational, or conditional; never falters; never ends; never dies?‘ Because if there were such a truth, surely that would mark the end of this universal restlessness I was observing.

My personal attempt to understand what is true in this life is what led me to East Africa in 2010.

Another observation I had made growing up was that despite experiencing deep discomfort and a particular variety of torturous doubt — I perpetually felt like nothing was real and everything and everybody was an impostor, including me– facing adversity had helped me uncover some realities about myself, and about what my mind and body are capable of. I suppose that was the logic when I thought to myself, What is the hardest thing I could possibly do after graduating college? Could intentionally choosing to challenge myself show me truth, and hopefully in the process relieve my discomfort and doubt? Why do difficult things seem to open our eyes? And why can’t comfortable things do the same?

Again, I looked for evidence in the world around me. There seemed to be three sorts of people: those whose eyes were wide open, and those whose eyes were closed.

Those whose eyes were closed fell into two further categories– those who were attempting to open their eyes, an occasional fluttering of lashes, sincere, concerted attempts to wake; and those who chose to keep their eyes shut– resignation, numbness.

The lash flutterers, the restless, the truth seekers — the pursuit, the search– shallow or deep, depending on ones own capacity for courage; I knew them all too well.

And the resigned? I feared them deep down. Life’s breath and blood coursing through a corpse? I was young (and restless), I hadn’t given up yet.  I was terrified of becoming one of them.

But what of the ones with their eyes wide open? I couldn’t say I knew any, very well at least. But I knew of their existence. Are they real? Are they human? Are their eyes really wide open? And if so, how did they manage to open their eyes? What truth did they know that they rest of us didn’t?

The hardest thing I could imagine as a 21 year old was to move to a foreign country in a very far away part of the world where I was forced to challenge my every assumption, could take nothing for granted, and where I would have just my own self to rely upon– nothing more, nothing less. I hoped that if I walked outside with the courage to see reality as it is and try my hardest not to run, perhaps some truth might be revealed to me.


Yesterday, I had the great fortune of receiving some wisdom from a young teacher. Her name is Keri and twice a month at the Seattle Insight Meditation Society she offers groups of young people a chance to use creativity and curiosity to challenge their notions about what it means to be human. We do meditate together. But we also engage in insightful dialogue. A roomful of (mostly) strangers sharing some of their deepest and most treasured thoughts and emotions.

A young man in the group yesterday remarked how someone else can forcibly take anything from you, except your thoughts and emotions– those are two things which can only be offered willingly, and are therefore the most valuable things a person can offer to another. I could have hardly appreciated how rare and precious such a group is even just a couple of years ago.

The topic of the evening was generosity. Keri offered some provocative questions: ‘Could we try to look at generosity beyond the concept of the word or from a perspective outside of our respective cultural lenses? What is generosity actually? How do you receive generosity? And what prevents us from being generous?‘ She asked.

To offer something to another– be it a material object, a service, a favor, a hug or kiss, or to share a thought or emotion for that matter is an act of generosity. Even if that act is coming from a person who is fulfilling a role (for example, a mother feeding her child) or a person doing a job that she is paid to do. Keri explained that each and every thing that we offer to another is an act of generosity, regardless of whether we “feel” generous or giving in the process. We might feel mixed emotions or be unsure of our intentions while making an offering, this became apparent during the group discourse, but the action remains an act of generosity.

Generosity is something I have not understood and at times found uncomfortable in the past. I derive a great deal of joy in offering what I am able to those around me, especially my close friends and family– be it a gift, a homemade meal, a hug, a kiss, a joke, or a word of support or encouragement. What’s life if not to share these things? Simple acts of love. They make life worth living.

But I have also struggled with the idea of having the right intentions behind generosity– Do I sometimes give out of a sense of duty or obligation? Do I expect something in return deep down? What if my act of generosity is misunderstood or goes unappreciated? Will I make the recipient of my generosity feel obligated to reciprocate? When I am being paid, does my hard work count as generosity, or am I fool to do more than what is expected? Is there such a thing as being too giving?

I read a book a couple years ago called Give and Take by psychologist and professor Adam Grant, which brought me to tears. It’s the only piece of non fiction, aside from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, that utterly moved me and created an irreversible change in my perspective. It did put to rest my fears about being too giving.

Keri however helped me see generosity itself in a completely new light– that we can be generous even when we don’t “feel” like it, that conflicting intentions can be separated from the act of giving. Like a painter or writer who sits down to create art even when inspiration has not yet struck, we can be generous even when we don’t feel it inside– the act of giving can inspire the emotion, the emotional connection can come second. This was truly a revelation.

Afterward I felt a tremendous amount of gratefulness towards Keri and the rest of the group. As I’ve grown older, I have also grown in my capacity to appreciate the things that, when I was younger, I only appreciated casually.


It’s shifts like these that cause our lashes to flutter. When we are ripe for understanding, the truth bursts forth, it’s unstoppable.

Today I know something else for certain–

That I have eyes that were made to see.

May we all grow in truth.

Introducing: Tales from the Deep (or A Retrospective Recounting of my African Debut) 

Balinese man in prayer at Hindu temple on Mt Batukar

Balinese men in prayer at Hindu temple on Mt Batukar

In 2010 at the age of 21, I graduated from college with a bachelors degree and moved to Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island nation in the Indian Ocean, off of the Tanzanian coast.

Seventeen years spent in a classroom had left me starved for real life. Enough with theory, I wanted practice. 

Boy, did I get what I asked for. I spent the next few years as an ardent student of the School of Life, matriculating at classrooms in Zanzibar, Uganda, and Kenya, and accompanied by an unforgettable cohort of peers.

Within my first month in Zanzibar I pruned my long curly hair into a short boyish cut because I thought I could avoid catcalls on the street that way. I spent those days at the local hospital managing a research study on family planning and abortion. A year later, in Kampala, Uganda, my housemate Paul the OBGYN, would come home to share new tales from the maternity ward at Mulago Hospital, the same one featured in the Last King of Scotland. While riding to work one morning in Kampala, I was followed down the street by a tank with a soldier firing warning shots into the air– a clear message to opposition party supporters during election season. One chance August afternoon in Nairobi I found myself sitting across a table on a date with Sibongiseni Shabalala, a member of the South African a capella group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Within a couple of years, my work would take me from Rwandan maize fields to negotiations at the Ministry of Agriculture, all within the same frenzied day.

You really couldn’t make this stuff up.

The more I have thought about these past few years, the more I realized that I really ought to recount these tales in detail. This past year has marked a turning point in my perspective– these stories have started to provoke just slightly less emotion and a little bit more laughter. Thus, today marks my embarkation on a new set of vignettes for this blog I call– Tales from the Deep (or A Retrospective Recounting of my African Debut) .

Tales from the Deep could be considered, among other things, a coming of age story. I was after all just 21 when I first moved to Zanzibar; green behind the ears, a spring chicken, Dr Sultan called me.

As I first sat down to write this series, a quote by Robinson Davies came to mind: “There is absolutely no point in sitting down to write a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die.”

I‘ve felt an unsettling gnawing from within for a very long while that I thought might be helped by writing, but did not know what to write or how to express the knotted tangle of thoughts, emotions, and experiences swirling in my mind. I thought perhaps a story, a work of fiction, could serve as a metaphor for the journey I have taken and would help me unload the volumes I have accumulated.

My attempts however, were shallow and felt to me entirely too contrived. It wasn’t until a trip I took to Indonesia in December last year where I encountered an Englishman, a fellow of 34 years, who had spent the past three years living in a Balinese village atop a mountain, that I realized fiction was entirely unesscesary– my reality without any embellishment was entertaining enough. Simon seemed to me like a 21st century Paul Gauguin (minus the paintings and death by syphilis). Replace banker from Paris with IT start-up guy from London, and Tahiti with Bali, and you have Simon.

Simon could recount to me endless stories of village life in Bali. He lives on a small farmstead on Mt Batukar in Bali’s Tabanan province, and runs an ecolodge where I stayed. He cares for a rescued Sumatran pig tailed macaque, and several dogs, cats, and ducks all of which he acquired purely by accident or happenstance. For example, his dog Walu, which means pumpkin in Balinese, he explained to me is a sacrifice dog who would have been otherwise slaughtered in a ritual had Simon not made him his own pet. Lola the macaque on the other hand, was poached from her jungle habitat and raised in a dress as a little girl by a childless lady before Simon adopted her. She has a grave aversion toward all women due to the early trauma she suffered in her monkeyhood– I can attest to her loathing.

Simon’s world ran tangentially to mine, however we differed in one critical way. His ability to not only see the comedy in his daily tribulations but also maintain a sense of wonderment long after the romance of Bali was no longer so fresh and the mundane had settled in was so very refreshing to me, and it was exactly the example I needed. I also needed the necessary distance from my time in East Africa to be able to understand it and comment on it from a slightly more neutral and removed perspective.

In fact, what being in Bali did for me was exactly what I had hoped for: I could suddenly see the past five years of my life through a new lens, and it started to make a little more sense. I suddenly had a moment when the immortal words of Johnny Nash rung loudly and clearly in my ears:

I can see clearly now that the rain has gone, I can see all the obstacles in my way.

Here’s to new beginnings and clarity. Stay tuned, my friends.



Today it has been two years since my friend Ravi was shot in a terrorist attack in Nairobi by a member of Al Shabaab.

We realized by mid afternoon on Saturday, September 21st, 2013 that he was missing. For a day and a half my friends and I searched for him. Those 38 some odd hours didn’t and still don’t seem real. Every minute that passed, I expected that I would wake from the nightmare. But I did not.

Even when Woubie and Sean came upstairs at 4am on Monday to Toni and my apartment, it felt like a horrible dream I would wake up from at any moment. Toni had fallen asleep on the couch and I sat at our dining room table listening to a Third Eye Blind album on repeat, willing someone to update twitter with some news of an ambulance leaving the mall. I didn’t even hear Woubie say they found him. I just sobbed into her shoulder, because I already knew.

I haven’t thought about that night until today. My heart pounds still and tears flow. I still don’t know how to handle this kind of loss. My reaction for the past two years has been to avoid any real discussion of Ravi or Westgate. Sometimes I say it out loud, just to see if things seem different. Pictures elicit a knee-jerk reaction. That day left me so cold. I have a shiver no blanket can console.

I could not have known the depth to which that event would change my life, and those of my friends, irreversibly. It continues to change us.

For me, Ravi’s loss initially triggered a phase of machine-like steeliness by which I coped for the first six months. That quickly gave way to a hellish period of nightmares and dysfunction. I left Kenya last year after there was an armed robbery at my apartment complex. It has been a tumultuous year.

I feel like a character in a theatrical performance, cast with only half a script. The easy part was acting. While he was missing, there was something I could do. But now, we have said our goodbyes, and his parents have long laid him to rest. What comes next? What am I supposed to do now?

I cope by ignoring. By compartmentalizing. But mostly by ignoring. I have learned that this is not healthy.

If death was hard enough to fathom, to loose a person to an act of violence is incomprehensible. Really incomprehensible. It has been in the aftermath of this loss that I have begun to realize how little we know about our own minds. How our coping mechanisms can turn on us after a while. How it seems that on the surface we can convince ourselves of anything, but we can never escape the truth no matter how hard we try to keep it buried. Violence is a sharp blade. And it leaves a deep scar.

Ravi was one of the most honest people I have ever met. When I say honest, what I mean is that he was self-aware, he was so real and unapologetically himself. That was the first thing you noticed about him, whether or not you consciously realized that quality is what made him stand out among so many. No pretensions. Good, bad, or ugly– he stayed with it. He was at ease with his own self.

When you’re with someone like that, they unconsciously permit you a moment’s relief. We could all be a bit more human around Ravi. We could accept ourselves as we are, even if for just an instant. When our friends write about the person and presence that he was– it’s about laughter, dancing, and food. There are a lot of bright people in this world, but he was truly intelligent. Compassion starts within oneself and flows outward. Ravi not only knew this, but he lived it.

He was a lion of a man. He is so dearly missed.


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  –  Rainer Maria Rilke

I took some advice a couple of years ago.

Back when I was still in college there was a chance summer, in 2009 to be exact, during which I ended up in a particular professor’s office. It was a seemingly random and unconnected chain of events that led me there. By that time, my very short life experience had taught me one real thing: do work that is meaningful, or risk loosing my fire and potential to lethargy and apathy. My brief stint in corporate America had left me feeling like my brain was rotting inside my skull. My attempts to find a summer job in the development sector had yielded a couple of awkward interviews with the World Bank, but no position. My head was spinning. I was not qualified for the jobs I was seeking. I needed tangible skills.

I finally decided I was ok with not earning any money that summer. I remember I was at a crossroads. I asked myself, what do I want out of life? What do I care about? I wrote to my local PBS station and asked if they could use a young person who was hungry to learn about the world and about herself. I wrote to others as well. The responses were overall positive.

At some point I cast an email to a professor in the African studies department at the University of South Florida, where my parents live in Tampa. My email was forwarded to another professor with a funny name. It was a shot in the dark. I said I was eager to learn social science research methods, and that I’d give my time in return for mentorship that summer. The professor told me to come in to his office at 1pm the next day.

I went in prepared for an interview. Dressed the part. Had my elevator speech and padfolio at hand. I hoped with near desperation that a 19 year old with far too many questions swirling in her head would finally find some luck that day. An answer, perhaps.


Dr. Sultan and I met again two years later on another continent. June 2011. Nairobi, Kenya. I felt like I had been sucked though a wormhole when we reunited in Africa: the land of both of our dreams. His of childhood, adolescence, the Sahara, old loves, and the lingering aroma of coffee. Mine of answers lived into. Who was I again? 

We met several times over the course of a week. Long and thoughtful conversations. Never heavy. Always light and lighthearted. But intense, subtly.

I was different by then. My values were the same, but I was not the 19 year old college student who was living on the periphery of life. For all I knew when I first met Dr. Sultan in 2009, my life was a full one, my universe complete– except for these questions– and they bothered me so.

But by 2011 I had seen just enough to realize that up till then in my life, I had only traipsed the very edge and had not dove in. I had lived in East Africa for one year by then. And I knew just enough to understand that up till then, all that I had felt in my life were just shadows of real emotions. I was a child on whom the true beauty of a life wholly lived was lost. Up till then in my life I had lived only in my own mind.

Dr. Sultan and I walked to an Ethiopian restaurant in the living room of a lady’s home one Friday evening. My mind was preoccupied as usual. I was expressing to him my concerns about one thing or another. Work, friends, love, purpose, intention, happiness. Matatu routes, time zones, a new city, a new pulse. I’m confused, I’m hurting, I’m alone, I’m lonely. How do I do this again? At some point he looked over at me and said something I only slowly began to absorb.


There was no interview.

I sat in Dr. Sultan’s office that chance afternoon in 2009 and he did not ask me about my resume. He did not ask me the behavioral interview questions I was prepared to answer– about a time when I worked on a team or showed leadership ability when no one else rose to the challenge. He did not ask me what skills I would bring to the table.

What he did ask was: Who are you? What do you want? What are your dreams? And what would you like to gain while you’re with me?

I think back, and it is like the conversation that started in 2009 just simply continued. It continues even now.


When I was 19 I lived by very strict rules. Discipline was essential. Focus, determination, goals. I was obsessed. No distractions.

One day at lunch Dr. Sultan asked if I would like a glass of wine.

I replied that I didn’t drink.

He said that it was ok that I was 20 and that I’m technically not supposed to drink for another year– one glass was fine. I replied that my non-drinking had nothing to do with my age, or laws, or even morality. Dr. Sultan said, what then? Would you object if I dipped a Q-tip in some liquor and rubbed it on your teeth?

Incredulous, I said no of course not, but that’s absurd!

Laughing earnestly, Dr. Sultan warned me then about having hard and fast rules. Discipline is a good thing, but the reasons for having rules can be lost when they are followed indiscriminately, he said.

I entertained these ideas– and there were so many we tossed back and forth that summer. I can’t say I could understand all of his advice and musings. What I remember is that we laughed a lot. I went home really happy every evening. I didn’t have all my answers, but this I was ok with. I learned my research methods, yes, but I was just getting started with my real education. My reality was expanding. I was not aware of this at the time.


I have recently been asking myself a lot of tough questions.

Fear and insecurities. It’s ugly to look at. Easier to push these away to the recesses of my mind and distract myself with the everyday. But every now and then life makes you confront them. A wake up call. A point where bad habits start biting you in the ass. The point where you can’t pretend any longer. Life becomes volatile. The slightest provocation can prove terribly painful.

I wrote to Dr. Sultan this time. He responded swiftly, poignantly: Please remember that you have about 3 times the life you have already lived ahead of you. You have time to adjust to everything. 

Oceans and decades later, perhaps I will have adjusted. Perhaps I won’t be so resistant to change. Or be so afraid of myself.

For months I thought long and hard about the advice Dr. Sultan gave me in the restaurant in the Ethiopian lady’s living room:

Don’t be too rational. Don’t logic your way through life. Make mistakes. Screw up. Get messy.

I took his advice.


Temple scene from my hometown in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu

My mother and father were 29 and 32 respectively when we moved to Montana with just two suitcases. It was about the same time of year as it is now, and I was a couple weeks shy of my fourth birthday. This year marks 20 years that our family has called the United States home.

I never fully understood the limbo-state that my parents have always lived. We talk about settling down, we talk about citizenship, we talk about retirement plans. But over the course of 20 years the dialogue has shifted. It’s no longer about dreams of moving back to India, but rather how many months out of the year we would ideally spend there. Back in India, just a few rusty trunks contain what little remains from homes long bulldozed. Old photos could be all that we have of our former selves.

We left India for a chance at something new. In a place and time where paid work for so many was incredibly difficult to come by, employment within one’s field and course of study was truly a rare chance. Both of my parents had jobs within the fields they were trained in. Yet, when presented with the Opportunity to learn and to earn, to deepen one’s pond of existence, to see what else the world had in store– there was no choice but to take it. And never look back.

In Nairobi, we talk about the expat life. We talk about missing out on family milestones, we talk about loved ones moving on without us, we talk about a lonely existence in a foreign city.

But it’s sort of glamorous. We did something that not many have done; we congratulate ourselves. So it’s alright that during the two, perhaps three, years we spent as an expat we were uncomfortable. Yes, we were stretched across two continents (maybe three)—but it was worth whatever it was we each thought we’d gain by being away those years.

When I think of my parents and so many others like them, I think about what it’s like to be torn across two continents. As long as we are at home we cannot appreciate all that is familiar and comfortable that we attach ourselves to. Yet when we are away from home it is these things we never could appreciate that hurt us the most. Today I thought I smelled the distinctly tart aroma of dosa batter as it hits hot oil on a cast iron griddle, and it immediately put me at ease. It’s the aroma that wafted through my house every single morning of my childhood. My reaction was visceral. But my heart sank when I realized that I imagined it.

I think that in the long run, having to redefine ourselves, our identities in relation to our new homes is what hurts the most. In two or three short years, we sample that pain. But none of us can truly claim to know it.

The smells, the quiet, the noise, the spaces, the textures, the lights, the sights, the human beings we long for! It is not unique. The millions of immigrants who came before us, they too have mourned the loss of Things they left behind.

It is in this that I find solace.

The Idiot

Mountain gorilla who rubbed his face on my thigh

A few days ago I came to the startling realization that in two more months, I will have lived in Nairobi for a year.

That also means that it will have been two years since I left the U.S. and moved to East Africa.

Two years is an odd and startling benchmark in my own mind. When you are 21 years old and freshly graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree, two years seem like an eternity. Two years in a land so foreign where, as my roommate Kimmie likes to say, the only thing you recognize is your own shadow. Two years in a place so far away that, looking forward, you can’t even imagine life on the other side of that finite stretch of time. I am nearing that point. That point at the end of two years. And it is so very, very real.

When I was 21 and a fresh graduate I thought I would spend two years in East Africa. I think the ‘about me’ section of this blog still even says that I would spend two years here. I am trying to remember what I thought would come after that. Graduate school seems the most likely next step I would have imagined for myself at the time. Let me start by saying that I am not ready for graduate school. But let me end by saying that I have never before felt like I know and have experienced so little as I do at this point in my life. At this very moment, it seems to me that I have spent two years in East Africa learning how much I don’t know. Continue reading