You know how you turn on the water at the kitchen sink and fill up a glass of water, and just gulp it down?
You know how you go to the bathroom and magically there is toilet paper, and you can comfortably sit on a commode and do your business?
You know how sometimes you crave a salad and there are even salad bars where you can heap your plate full of fresh vegetables and lettuce?
You know how place settings in a restaurant include forks and napkins to provide ease and tidiness while eating?
You know how you go to church or synagogue and you walk into the building with your shoes on? In fact, you might have even worn your nicest shoes for this activity?
All of those things are commonplace, taken for granted even. We don’t think twice about any of them. Instead we save the brain space to stress out over even smaller things. We actually sweat the small stuff and gloss right over some of the bigger issues that don’t seem to matter.
I got back from India last week and these days everything matters. At every turn I found myself thinking twice about so many things. It was my third trip to this magical country and each trip I’ve been gifted realizations about my life back home in the United States. This trip the big take away was thinking twice. You read the list above— we don’t even think once about those things do we?
In India, water is tricky. You can’t drink from any faucet; it’s either bottled water or confidently trusting that an establishment is able to filter their water. So yeah, not a lot of salads or raw veggies are consumed because most likely they have not been washed in precious filtered water.
Bathrooms in India are a sh*t show, to be blunt. Toilet paper rarely exists, actual commodes rarely exist, scary holes are squatted over, odd little faucets at your feet, tiny little buckets and it’s your left hand that is expected to keep everything clean after you finish your business. Don’t get me started on showers…
Many meals eaten in India don’t include cutlery or napkins. You wash your hands before every meal, and you scoop food with the fingers of your right hand (because your left hand has other duties, remember?) and carefully scoot it into your mouth. You have food-covered hand(s) pretty much the whole dining experience until you find a wash station and rinse them clean again.
Lastly, shoes! I am such a baby when it comes to my feet. I keep them safe inside shoes and rarely go barefoot. Every temple in India requires shoes to be removed which is actually quite lovely to walk among a sacred place with no barrier between your skin and the cool marble of its floor. But many of these temple spaces start being sacred 8-10 blocks away from the temple door so you are walking through who knows what with no protection on your tootsies. My friends and hosts from the retreat took such great care of me and made every effort to keep me comfortable. They helped soothe the crazy of my mind regarding my feet.
I’m not writing this to complain or scare you off from visiting India in any way. I love India from my deepest place of loving a place. India has come a long way since my first visit in 2010. I’m writing to invite you to think twice about things. About comfort and abundance, commonplace items that are readily available to us in our parts of the world. And to go a step further and think twice about those who are making their way in the world without these luxurious things. It’s astonishing. And embarrassing. I have so much and my greedy little mind is so often unsatisfied or positioning myself to receive more.
I’ve been back just under a week and I am a jet lagged zombie walking through my home and thinking twice about everything. You know what that second thought is? THANK YOU.
It was 90+ degrees in India for most of the time I was there so it has been a shock coming back to Winter in New York City. I’m eating lots of fresh green salads and I am pairing them with warm and comforting hearty soups and stews. There is a south Indian lentil soup called sambar that we ate nearly every day. It’s not even a soup really, it’s more like a condiment that you dip things in to add flavor. After my first trip to India I came home to my ethnic market and found sambar seasoning. I add it to dishes to provide a deep spicy flavor. This is a recipe for a stew nothing like sambar, but inspired by my travels nonetheless.
Spicy Lentil Stew
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 cup diced celery
- 2 cups lentils
- 1 tablespoon sambar seasoning***
- 5 cups vegetable stock
- 1 28ounce can of stewed tomatoes, chopped
- salt and pepper
- chopped cilantro for garnish
Over medium flame, heat oil in a large pot on the stove. Add onion and celery, stirring. Cook for 3 minutes. Add lentils to the pot plus salt and pepper and the sambar seasoning***. Stir until everything is coated with oil and spice. Cook one minute. Add broth and tomatoes, stirring. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils are tender. Garnish with cilantro.
***If you can't find sambar seasoning, Make your own! Mix equal parts paprika, cumin, chile powder, ground coriander, and ground fenugreek. Add a generous pinch of turmeric.