Category Archives: Travel

Ana, Warrior Princess

Ana, Warrior Princess

I watched a woodpecker as it clung to the sides of the cylindrical bird feeder hanging on my deck. Its claws gripped tightly as the receptacle swung in an arc, making it difficult for him to access the seeds poking through the green wire mesh.

He pecked away, nonetheless. Determination was key. The desire to successfully get that morsel drove him to come back, time and again. I continued to watch, my arms folded across my body to keep warm. Winter is not my favorite season. Cold, snowy weather had set in across the length of the Eastern Seaboard and we had been lucky: only about six inches had fallen here in rural southern Virginia. As I watched the long beak of the bird poking at the mesh, I was reminded of someone I had met during a trip to India. Ah, the heat, the overwhelming fierceness of the Indian sun. It is a memory I turn to often when it gets cold!

Ana, our diminutive, short- haired tour guide personified the qualities of determination. She was able to corral our disparate group into a cohesive unit through sheer force of her personality. She brooked no tardiness, warning us of long lines of buses, filled with tourists such as us wanting to visit the historical sites. “I will give you five minutes. That is all. If you are not here within five minutes of the designated time, I will leave you here at the hotel; we shall go without you!”

That was enough for me: I am habitually punctual and cannot stand the fact that other people do not respect the need to be on time. I liked her immediately.

That Ana was different was evident not only in her firmness but also her story. As a member of the warrior caste, the Rajuput of Rajasthan, she was expected to marry into her own caste. Suitor after suitor had been chosen for her, but none was to her liking. This girl enjoyed her independence, which had already manifested itself in her desire to practice martial arts when she was a little girl.

“I persuaded my mother that I should take judo,” she said, her eyes laughing as she remembered the rift she had caused between her parents because of her decision. Her mother, an academic, could see that her daughter was serious in taking up an athletic activity that was clearly not suitable for well-bred Indian girls. “Father was told nothing – in fact, we lied to him, telling him that I was taking art classes at a school close to the gym. He might never have known had I not participated in a judo competition. I beat all the boys to become the local champion. So the next day, there I was, in the newspaper.” She began to laugh, an infectious, joyful laugh that hinted at a naughtiness that was endearing. Her deep brown eyes crinkled at the corners as she continued her story of girlish defiance.

“It was my job to bring in the newspaper for my dad in the mornings. I saw the article and photograph, so I tore out the page. When my father asked what had happened to that page, I told him I had no idea!”

I could just imagine his puzzlement. The story came to a head, however, when the very serious, very professorial patriarch reached work. Suddenly his office was full of colleagues who had come to congratulate him on his daughter’s success.

“But that cannot be her!” he said, exasperated. “It is impossible! I would never allow her to participate in such an activity!”

There was a huge row when he got home that evening. He and Ana’s mother did not speak to each other for a month. He finally relented when other males in the family took up Ana’s cause. She was permitted to continue judo. She later became regional champion for her age group.

But she was to buck the system again when she wanted to become a tour guide. She had grown up in Agra, and was very familiar with the Taj Mahal, its history, its grandeur and its symbolism. She had seen an advertisement in the newspaper for a tour company that had a vacancy for a tour guide. Ana managed to get an appointment for an interview and was told, “We’re sorry, we don’t actually have any vacancy. The paper made a mistake.”

Unfazed by this sexist, patriarchal system, she bravely said, “Well, if you ever need anyone to sub for a guide, let me know!”

“We will call you,” the manager said.

“I did not believe him,” she said bluntly.

So she went to the office every day, with her sandwich in a brown paper bag, a bottle of water and a newspaper under her arm.

“I sat in the waiting room every day from nine till five, waiting for the day that someone would call in sick. I knew they wouldn’t call me, so I made sure they wouldn’t forget me. I was right here under their noses.”

After about three weeks a tour guide called in sick. She was offered the opportunity to guide a couple who wanted a private tour of the beautiful monument.

“I was so nervous! I was stammering, but the couple – from the UK – were so kind!” she recounts.

Based on the recommendation of their review of her abilities, she was offered a part time position which eventually led to better things: a full time job, guiding tourists on excursions lasting ten or more days.

Ana had beat the system, she had won her fight against stereotypes that kept girls suppressed in India. She stood against everything that revered the old order: it was not something she would ever accept with complacency. Like the feisty woodpecker, she had pecked away against the shell that cocooned and held women hostage in a country where marriage and family and compliance are the norm.

Every small act of defiance cracks open the door to let in the light. We can only find that courage within ourselves to change our lives; to find the goddess within and allow her to rise in her power. Some are born to do great deeds, but most of us can be a small but powerful example of how we can change the world for the better.

Nurture that Spirit, feed it with Light and celebrate your power for it has been waiting a long, long time to burst into flower!



Strangers at Airports

Strangers at Airports

It was going to be a long day.

Mother and I left Pretoria for O.R. Tambo International Airport at about 10 in the morning. It was hot, the sky blazing blue and cloudless, as only Highveld summers can be. Patches of green stubbled veld and sprawling boxy new developments spread on either side of the highway.

Traffic was light. It was Monday, a mere four days from Christmas. The annual South African migration to the coast had begun over the weekend already, but the airport itself was busy, busy, full of excited families, small children hugging their favorite toys, scurrying as they followed moms and dads intent on making it to the departure gate in time.

Mother’s flight was a few hours before mine. I didn’t mind hanging out at the airport. I enjoy people watching and my own inner dialogue.

I had passed through the bustling melee at security – a breeze compared to what I we are used to in the US – and strolled to the gate. I happened to glance through a window and noticed a lowering sky, so dark it seemed as if night had fallen. What had happened to the blue sky, I wondered.

Thunder shook the terminal, determined to ruin everyone’s timetable. Our flight was delayed. I sat down next to a wizened gentleman, his skin the color of aging apricot. An aquiline nose that flattened into broad nostrils; smiling eyes. Wrinkles like a Khoisan mapped his features. He laughed at the antics of one of the little toddlers who was running up and down. The kid was oblivious of the adults, the patience we were all trying to display blurred by the joy of his laughter. It lightened the mood of apprehension that hung in the air.

I heard the gentleman say, “Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself…”

I turned to him, and completed the quote: “They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

His eyes seemed surprised. Kahlil Gibran’s famous poem On Children was oft-quoted by my late father. I even had those lines written down somewhere in a notebook that I had saved from my school days.

We chatted briefly, then I got up and began to wander around, restless. Our flight had been delayed by at least three hours, it was announced. It turned out to be longer than that.

When at last I boarded the plane, I discovered to my great surprise that I was seated next to the old gentleman I had been chatting to.

His name, he said, is Don Mattera. A poet. A freedom fighter against the white oppression during the Apartheid years. A man of mixed race, a Colored man: that was how he had been classified. His grandfather had been Italian, his mother a Xhosa with Khoisan blood.

don mattera

Poet, writer, teacher, activist: Don Mattera

He had been placed under house arrest twice during the years of The Struggle.

I was fascinated. To my shame I had never heard of him. We weren’t allowed to read works of banned people during those years of oppression. We didn’t even have access to the writings.

He recited from memory a poem he had written when he was 17. I was blown away by the depth and grace and power of his words. I wanted to hear more, but he was tired. He wanted a chocolate, but the service was slow. He confided that he was diabetic, so I gave him a cookie I had in my purse, and a candy, probably an after dinner mint from some restaurant that I had saved for some unknown reason.

“You are a very beautiful, kind woman,” he said. “A beautiful soul.”

I smiled. I wanted to hear more about his life, but he was very tired.

“I am a Muslim,” he confided.

“How did that happen?” I asked, curious. He had mentioned being raised Catholic.

“I saw it as the religion of the white man. The faith of the Oppressor.How could God condone the way they treated us?”

“I understand.” I said.

We disembarked in Port Elizabeth and I shook his hand and said goodbye, and that it had been a pleasure talking to him.

He walked away, a bent figure,struggling against the wind, towards the lights of the airport building, carrying with him all the years that had been written in his face.




On his death

It was our suffering                                            Don Matera
and our tears
that nourished and kept him alive
their law that killed him

Let no dirges be sung
no shrines be raised
to burden his memory
sages such as he
need no tombstones
to speak their fame

Lay him down on a high mountain
that he may look
on the land he loved
the nation for which he died

Men feared the fire of his soul



I found this wonderfully enlightening interview about this great man:

See also:





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A Visit to Gandhiji’s House

A Visit to Gandhiji’s House

I did not realize that I would feel so much sorrow, to be so emotional when I paid a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s home in Delhi, India. This was the home in which he lived the last 144 days of his life before he was assassinated on January 30, 1948.


The Birla Bhavan, now a museum dedicated to Gandhi, is set among shady trees in a quiet suburb of New Delhi, on 5 Tees January Road. It is a haven of peace midst the incredible bustle of the city, the innumerable beggars and pavement vendors and hawkers forcing their wares on intrepid tourists.


The Smriti, or “Remembrance” is a beautifully laid out museum, with the room that Gandhi occupied with his meager belongings still left undisturbed.






A footpath tracing is last footsteps shows the way to the lawn where he held his last prayer meeting.


IMG_3869 IMG_3871




The Martyr’s Column marks the spot where Gandhi was shot at close range by Nathuram Godse. Godse, a Hindu, felt that the partition of India and Pakistan would have disastrous consequences for Hindus and Sikhs, and believed that Gandhi favored the Muslims in the process of partition. Godse had formed a militant Hindu movement, and decided to assassinate Gandhi with the aid of Narayan Apte. This was Godse’s second attempt to kill Gandhi.

The Museum is worth the visit, with multimedia displays and art work.



I left there feeling profoundly touched by the legacy of a man whose political journey had started in South Africa, and had sparked the resistance by the black majority to gain their rightful place in an unjust society.

May his Light continue to shine as a powerful example to us all.





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