Published Articles

Just Breathe

Posted by Robin Sparks on September 30th, 2013 | Email this to friend
Breath meditation in Ubud, Bali

Breathing in the jungle

This article was first published in the October 2013 issue of Inspire Magazine.

I’m hesitant to tell people I’m a breath worker. After all, we breathe from the moment we’re born until we take our last breath. So who needs lessons in how to do what we’ve always done and who am I to show them how to do it?

Three years ago I attended my first breath workshop on the recommendation of a friend. The facilitator gave our group an introduction to the process and what we might experience. He demonstrated how to breathe deeply in and out through open mouths, without pauses, and he asked that we continue to breathe in this manner for an entire hour no matter what came up. He explained that we could control the intensity of our experience by slowing down or speeding up our breath.

About 30 minutes into that first session, my body full of oxygen, I experienced what felt like imminent death. The facilitator encouraged me to keep breathing. I did and what transpired next has stayed with me since. A crystal clear knowing came to me that day that the divine existed within —not out there in crystals, gurus, or any other number of teachings we reach for in search of peace. It was inside, all along.

Breathwork brought me home. And I got to lay down through the entire experience. I was hooked and I wanted to know more.

There are a number of breathwork modalities: Holotropic, Transformational, Rebirthing, Clarity Breathwork and more, too many to list here. Breathwork, regardless of style, allows unconscious thoughts and patterns to surface, while offering the means to release them energetically, physically and emotionally through sustained connected breathing. The various modalities differ mostly in length of sessions, speed of the breath, and post-breathwork integration activities. In Holotropic breathwork for instance, participants integrate afterwards with art, whereas, in Clarity Breathwork, breathers share their experience verbally. What all modalities offer in common is an awareness of spirit and an expanded sense of one’s true self.

As a writer, I find that breathwork helps me to write more authentically. When I fill every cell of my body with oxygen for a sustained period, all the bullshit fades to black and that which matters rises to the surface. Suddenly, I know precisely what I want to say. As in life.

Typically the experience for each ‘breather’ is unique each time. Participants may experience incredible peace, painful emotions, lost memories. They may journey — some claim that breathwork is the nearest thing to a psychedelic experience.

On a purely physical level breath sessions detoxify and rejuvenate the body. Under normal circumstances, 75% of toxins are expelled from our bodies through our breath. Imagine what happens when you breathe at full capacity, non-stop for an hour or more. It speeds recovery from whatever ails you.

Whether you would like to recover from writer’s block, painful memories, negativity, the inability to solve a particular problem or whether you simply wish to experience incredible bliss, peace and blasts of insight that will change your life, breath work can take you there.

For more information about our upcoming breathwork/writing retreat on Oct 6-11, 2013 in Ubud, Bali, email info@oneworldretreats.com.

Robin Sparks

Refugees – A True Story of Thanksgiving

Posted by Robin Sparks on April 23rd, 2012 | Email this to friend

Istanbul, 2008

Sultanahmet Skyline

I am up hours before the sun speeding in a taxi to Ataturk Airport in Istanbul to assist Iraqi refugees who are headed to the country that I have voluntarily left behind.

Refugee: One who has crossed an international border and is unwilling or unable to return home because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

If I count the rednecks in America including some who have been in political office recently…nah, I probably still wouldn’t qualify as a refugee although I often feel like one.

So who are these Iraqi refugees and why are they leaving, and why are they headed to the USA?

They are Chaldean Christians, one of the world’s oldest religions, in existence since the first century. They constitute what remains of the original, non-Arabic population of the Middle East. All use Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. Despite successive persecutions and constant pressures, Christianity has continued in Iraq since brought there allegedly by Thomas the Apostle.

Before the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Christians and Muslims lived together peacefully in Iraq. Chaldean Christians were mostly middle and upper class professionals. But as a result of the US-led surge the struggle with al-Qaeda moved to the city of Mosul, the home of Chaldean Christians. In misplaced anger towards the West, Muslims have increased demands for Chaldeans to convert. Death threats, the looting of homes and businesses, kidnappings, bombings, and murder have become increasingly commonplace. This past March the Chaldean archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was abducted and murdered. Numerous priests and deacons have been tortured and shot or beheaded. And at least 40 churches have been burned to the ground.

I am here today because the United States requires an American be present at the airport for a final identity check of all political and religious refugees headed to the United States. The job pays little and costs a night’s sleep, but I come at least once per week because it pulls me from my ant hill existence and lands me in an experience that is raw and real.

Fifty adults and children stand in line at the check out counters – next to 2 bags per person, each weighing a maximum of 23 kilos, containing all the belongings they will take with them into their new lives. They have waited for months, some for years for this day. It is 5 AM. They’ve been here since 2 AM after a 6-hour bus ride from various satellite cities throughout Turkey. They are excited like children the night before Christmas.

Sweden has taken in the most Iraqi refugees — 40,000 – while the United States, which had only taken 1,608 by the end of 2007, has implemented a program for receiving up to 15,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of 2008. Around 500,000 people have fled Bush’s new Iraq and its violence, mass abductions and economic meltdown and most of them have been Chaldean Christians.

Arim standing with his family of five says, “My life is in Iraq, my work as an English teacher. My home. My friends. But lately they are making it impossible for us to stay. When my daughter entered university to become a teacher like me, she was told to convert to Islam or she would be kidnapped and raped. It was then that we knew we had to go.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to convert to Islam?” I ask.

“We would never do that. Our fathers, our grandfathers, their fathers, for 2000 years we have been there. We will die before turning our backs on our ancestors, our faith.”

Arim and his family

After hours in the checkout line shuffling through all the documents, checking passport photos with faces, police letters, sponsor letters signed, the group is ready to go.

But wait. There’s a glitch.

Someone notices that the photo on a security letter for one of the young men does not match the photo on his identity card. A government bureaucrat hundreds of miles away in the Turkish capital of Ankara apparently transposed photos on the documents by accident. Calls are frantically made, but government offices are not open at this early hour. The International Office of Migration officer here with me tells the family that she is sorry. They will not be able to go.

The mother collapses to the floor, pressing her hands together in the universal sign of prayer and begs, “Please, please, help us. We have no money.” The officer looks away, there is nothing she can do. The woman’s sons and husband try to console her, veiling their own disappointment behind cultural machismo. The IOM employee continues trying to call offices that are not yet open. She cannot find a solution.

After at least an hour of pleading and crying and desperate attempts to talk the IOM officer into letting them go, the family concedes that their worst fears have come true. The other passengers look on with a mixture of pity and relief as the family shuffles out of the airport, the father and son holding up the mother by her elbows, daughters trailing behind, heads hung low.

“Where will they go?” I ask the IOM personel. “I don’t know, “ she says her face a blank mask, and turns back to processing the remaining 44 refugees.

They are checked through, documents combed repeatedly at checkpoint after checkpoint, and then the only remaining gateway is passport control where once approved, the refugees will be granted entry to the other side – the side of the airport full of glittering duty free shops and restaurants, a sort of paradise before getting on a plane to heaven. Even I, without an airplane ticket, am relegated to watching from outside the pearly gates.

One by one each passes through the barrier after saying goodbye to family and friends on the other side that wave them on. Only one elderly woman remains, melded to a young adult man, her tear racked face glued to his, bodies entwined as if to imprint a memory.

I’d been looking away all morning gulping down rising emotions and silently repeating the mantra: be professional Robin, be professional. But it’s useless now. The tears spill in a torrent and I gulp down sobs that rise up in my throat. I watch this mother saying goodbye to a son she will likely never see again.

My son is in America and I am in Turkey. She will go to America and her son will remain in Turkey.

They pull apart as her name is called over the loudspeaker, and the old woman goes through the gate that separates her new life from the old one, turning to gaze one last time into the eyes of her son. At that moment she scans the crowd behind the barrier and our eyes meet. Unbelievably, she returns to where I stand, reaches over the barrier and wraps her arms around me. We stand there, a woman whose name I do not know, whose language I do not speak, holding each other. And in this moment she knows me, and I know her.

And then she is gone along with the others to America.

Today is Thanksgiving, and I will eat turkey in Turkey with American friends. I will celebrate Thanksgiving as never before, grateful that I am free to be here because I am an American. And I vow to never, ever complain about filing my taxes again. (A vow I have admittedly broken since writing this article).

Postnote: The family that was turned away at the airport in this article, boarded a plane for America 6 days later.

How You Can Help:

Church World Service (CWS)
www.churchworldservice.org

Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS)
Episcopal Migration Ministries
www.episcopalchurch.org/emm/

Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC)
www.ecdcinternational.org

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
www.hias.org

Bureau of Refugee Programs
Iowa Department of Human Services
www.dhs.state.ia.us/homepages/dhs/refugee

International Rescue Committee (IRC)
www.intrescom.org

Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service (LIRS)
www.lirs.org

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)
www.refugees.org

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
www.usccb.org/mrs

World Relief (WR)
www.wr.org

On Death, Aging & Ashtanga with Danny Paradise

Posted by Robin Sparks on April 5th, 2010 | Email this to friend

Originally published at Balispirit Festival Blog

So many yoga classes, so much time… Even though the festival is officially over, I thought I’d add a dash of after-blogging to the after party spirit.

On April 3, from some 25 classes, I selected Danny Paradise’s Ashtanga class for 4 main reasons. First the name -Danny Paradise – sounds more like a piano bar player than a yoga teacher.  Second, the description of the class – Aging and Death.  Two events I do my utmost not to think about.  Third, Danny’s experience and reputation as a practitioner of Ashtanga for over 30 years. And fourth, the fact that Ashtanga is a style of yoga distinctly different from the out of the box off-the-mat styles of Shiva Rae, Eoin Finn, and Rebecca Pflaun. Ultimately Astanga yoga is the origin of nearly all yoga styles.

I place my mat near the front of the class and settle in at the feet of this man who looks like he stepped right out of Haight Ashbury circa 1967. His many years as a yoga practitioner and life of a seeker have granted him wisdom and insight that he graciously shares during the first half of each class.

The following are a few of the gems that Danny Paradise shared with us on the last of his three classes during the festival. The topic – Aging and Death.

First he lays this on us: The root cause of depression is fear of living your dreams.

And how do we know what our dreams are? By listening to our soul.“If you don’t acknowledge the presence of your soul and what it is saying to you, you create depression. Your soul knows what you want. Listen.”
“We come to yoga mainly as a physical practice but ultimately yoga is soul work.

On death: Danny says death is a transition to an ecstatic awakening condition.

Mayans refer to death as “Nowness”. Most indigenous cultures don’t have a word for death.  The message of ancient yoga is that if you take care of yourself on a regular basis your whole life, if you purify yourself, and live love, when death comes it will be a rapid transition. At the moment of death, you come to full realization that all effect is created by thought, manifestation is a result of intention, intention creates reality, and everything you experience in life, you have called into your life for your personal evolution.

On aging: Yoga is an excellent healing tool… As you heal yourself physically,  it empowers you to make radical changes in your life.When you have vitality and energy you can use that to meet any challenges that come your way and in so doing avoid depression and discouragement. Remember that you are creating the challenges in your life that help you to evolve. Yoga gives expanded focus.

The Mayan word for “old” means strong like a tree. Elders in these cultures were pepole you could count on for information about wisdom and understanding. They aged with health, vitality and grace.

The word for life in Mayan tradition means interconnectedness…we are all interdependent. Anger,  jealousy, anxiety, distress, creates disease.

Yoga helps you to be healthy and happy through your own will. When you make yourself happy, you make others happy around you. If you want to be in a solid relationship, you need to be happy with yourself to draw that to yourself.

Through building heat in the body and sweating you eliminate toxins…yoga is far and away one of the best detoxing exercises you can do.

Yoga reaches deep into the mind and heart and brings up old wounds and memories that we have suppressed. As they rise to the surface you can release them.

Bringing yourself completely into the present as we do doing yoga practice, is one of the main ways of healing – forgiving, pulling in your spiritual destiny, recognizing your spiritual essence.

He talks about developing a “peacekeeper mind”, getting rid of thoughts of scarcity, conflict, separation, and bringing into your being a healing force.

Personal power strengthens your immunity and strength. “I’ve seen people heal themselves from cancer, scoliosis, allergies and more …people altered their diet, thought positively and took care of themselves on the deepest levels possible…those are yogic, ancient prescriptions passed down generations to generations for thousands of years.
In our lifetimes everyone here will at some point experience loss of personal power, whether through radical challenges, losing your health or your possessions. At that point you have to determine what you have faith in, do you believe you can heal yourself?  90% of the work of healing is the work that you do for yourself.

Yoga adds 20-30 years of active health to one’s life Danny claims. It is changing the nature in how people are aging. All this talk about health care in America? Insurance companies are starting to finance yoga because they realize that those who do yoga require less medical care. “I am now seeing people in their 60’s and 70’s practicing yoga and the way that they are aging is amazing.”

Danny then goes on to talk about how yoga can completely alter your body. It takes 10 years to purify to eliminate and correct the past. All the 103 industrial chemicals we carry in our cells contribute to the creation of diseases like cancer, allergies, and immune system problems. Yoga is your best option for healing.

A student asks how to break patterns of behavior we don’t like but find ourselves repeating.

Danny answers, “On the simplest level yoga clears your mind. Allows you to step out of regular order of your life and to break patterns by becoming aware of them. Through awareness you can perceive patterns and the perception alone can sometimes allow you to break the patterns.”

Every time you are jealous or angry, you throw a stone in your bowl, but at any moment in the day, you can turn that bowl of stones and pour it out and your let with a full bowl of life. That’s how you can recognize who you are and what your sacred nature is.

Sometimes it just takes sitting down and asking for guidance, how to be true to yourself. Honest, clear, recognizing that your primary responsibility is to yourself. You must make yourself happy first,for  if you’re not happy, it will have a negative impact on those around you. If you don’t make yourself happy, you will create disease.

If you have a fear you should step into it. He uses as an example his fear of going to India the first time because he knew it would open a door through which he would never return. He confronted that fear, went to India, and it set the course of his life.

Then we move into the practice. He demonstrates opening our chests, taking deep breathes, lifting the solar plexus, utilizing the banda,ojai breathing,  lean into legs, move stomach muscles in and out, back and forth. We spend the next half hour doing extended standing sequences and asanas with derivations based on classical yoga from India.

Danny ends the class by reminding us that the most important aspect of yoga is prana, the increasing of the life force through inspiration and respiration.

Yoga is breath. Breath is spirit. Spirit is ageless – and spirit trumps death. Yoga anyone?

Heal Yourself, Heal the World with Rebecca Pflaum

Posted by Robin Sparks on April 4th, 2010 | Email this to friend

Originally published at the Balispirit Festival Blog.

Heal Yourself, Heal the World with Rebecca PflaumIn December 2008, I heard there was a “famous” yogi named Rebecca Pflaum visiting Ubud. Having recently arrived in Bali after 3 years in Istanbul, and a year before that in Argentina, I was out of the international yoga loop. I’d never heard of Rebecca Pflaum and had never attended a Kundalini workshop.

At the end of that class some 16 months ago, we were invited to enter a healing circle. As I laid there in the middle of that healing circle on a beautiful island in a country far away from home, those in the circle around me sang, “May the long time sun, shine upon you, may all love surround you, may the long time sun, shine upon you, guide your way home, guide your way home…” As I laid there, tears streaming down my face, I saw an egg-like shell coming apart, all jagged edges, and a pink fragile wrinkle-y creature emerging, and gingerly unfolding.

That was my initiation to Bali.

And so it was with great pleasure and anticipation that once again today, I attended Rebecca’s Pflaum’s Kundalini class.

The workshop title was: Kundalini Yoga and Meditation: Heal the World, Heal Yourself. The brochure read,We each have within us the power to heal ourselves and our world; Experience your own healing potential through Kundalini Yoga, ancient healing mantras, kriyas, meditations and healing sounds. Focus on areas of your life where change is welcome and allow yourself to manifest these changes. As a group we will support and radiate our healing energies exponentially, share more light into the collective consciousness, and experience that “we are ones we have been waiting for”.

Kundalini energy Rebecca explains at the beginning of today’s class, represents creative potential. She encourages us to let it rise through our chakras opening and nourishing us. She says that mind, body and spirit are inseparable. “This practice wakes you up. Focus on healing and set your intention. Embrace whatever comes to you today and set your intention on healing.”

OK, so I’ve got this big heavy dark boulder in my chest just over my heart. I set an intention for the darkness to lift, for my light to come back on.

We sit in lotus position and sing chants as directed. Sat-nam, Sat-nam Sat-nam…Rebecca tells us the sanskrit chant means “higher self”. She tells us to remember our perfection, our bliss, and to forget “any of that other crap” that tells us we are not enough.

“Everyone who thinks they are perfect, raise your hand,” she says. A few hands tentatively go up in the air, and then mine. She laughingly says, “Ah some of you are finally getting it. You are perfect.

What a relief.

“Heal yourself first, “ she says, “Find your center, your strength. And then you will begin to heal the world.”

We do arm raises and waist twists from a seated position, until some of us are groaning our arms ready to drop. You can moan and groan, she says, but you can’t stop.

Another chant set to music, Goo naru – “It is blissful to move from light to dark,” she translates.

I can get behind that.

It helps that we are singing. Singing!!! Such a universal connection to source! I had forgotten that Kundalini Yoga involves singing. And I love it.

We sit sweaty back to sweaty back with a partner and bow forward and back repeatedly while singing. Then we face our partner and swaying back and forth sing the children’s song, “Who, who, who can that be, happy oh happy, happy as can be. Who, who, who can that be, happy oh happy, happy as can be….” Try not smiling while singing that.

My friend Claire whispers, “It’s like kindergarten for adults.”

Next Rebecca directs us to hug the people around us and so we do, moving around the room holding both strangers and friends in turn.

Then we dance freely, smiling, jumping, rocking out.

This is one feel good class.

Sixteen months after my first Kundalini Yoga class, we are once again end with a healing circle. Me and that heavy black boulder lie down in the center prepared to embrace whatever might come. And once again, all around me, they are singing the sunshine song, “May the long time sun, shine upon you, all love surround you, may the long time sun, shine upon you, guide your way home, guide your way home….

The darkness that had weighed so heavily in my chest, releases and lifts. I am home.

A Fully Erect Appendix

Posted by Robin Sparks on March 6th, 2009 | Email this to friend

There are the plans you have for your journey, and the plans your journey has for you.
Things to do in San Rafael, Argentina:

1. Get an appendectomy.

We were on the neighbor’s ranch watching the annual gallop of the gauchos towards town when it was decided that I should see a doctor. I’d felt queasy all day, but, when it began to hurt to breathe, I knew that it was more than the bottle of Malbec wine we’d had the night before.

During the 30 mile drive over dirt roads to the hospital, I had time to think. I’d entered that travel place where you go from being captain of your itinerary, to giving up all control. It’s this very possibility that keeps many would-be travelers at home. And it’s the place that travel writers secretly love to go.

The on-call doctor at the private clinic looked like he’d stepped off the set of General Hospital. He poked around and called the surgeon to come in, late Saturday night or no. As an interesting aside, each doctor from that point on, from the lab doctor, to Dr. Castro, the surgeon to Dr. Gonzales the emergency room doc, each was more Calvin Klein model-esque than the next. What are the odds? The only way to explain it is that in Argentina you get into medical school based on your looks.

The nurses have an entirely different set of requirements.

A handful of expatriates and a couple of Argentines, some of them strangers an hour earlier, had gathered in the examining room to help. Johnny from South Africa, who had survived 14 heart attacks at the age of 35, introduced himself and told he’d be there no matter what. There were Annette and John, Brits who traveled the world on motorbikes before ending up in San Rafael to try their hands at gentleman farming, and there were Angel and Rosie, he Argentine, she Mexican, along with their daughter Candy. They’d recently moved to San Rafael, Argentina from Las Vegas. Did you get that?

Fifteen-year old Candy was unflappable as my interpreter until the doctors started speaking very fast and she said, “Ah, they’re just talking about a bunch of medical stuff”. Great. Argentines speak Castillano. I speak a rusty version of Spanish. It was a Three Stooges comedy of mis-translation.

The surgeon checked me in for overnight observation.

I ponied up the extra $30 per day for the one patient room with a rattly air conditioner in the window. I couldn’t see how anyone could heal in 100 degree heat, most especially me. Through the partially open doors of rooms up and down the hall, I’d seen visitors standing over the beds of their loved ones fanning them with magazines. Patients are required to have a friend or a family member stay in their rooms to provide basic nursing…an ingenious solution to health care costs, but a tricky one when you are a stranger in town.

As it turns out, my new friends fought over which one of them would remain with me throughout the night.

Next morning the pain had mostly subsided, so I figured I’d soon be headed home and was embarrassed that I’d caused such a ruckus. The docs came in to make rounds, said a few words to each other in rapid Castillano, and suddenly I was being lifted onto a gurney and wheeled down a hall to surgery. I told Dr. Castro, that no offense, but I would like very much to be flown to Buenos Aires for the operation. He assured me that I’d never make it.

Keeping pace with the moving gurney, Annette scribbled down the telephone numbers of my two children and my best friend and said she’d call them in the States. I wondered what they’d think when they heard this woman with a thick Northern England brogue calling to say their mother/friend had gone into surgery in rural Argentina.

A nurse strapped me to a table, tied both my arms straight out at my sides, stuck IV needles into my arms and I lay there like Jesus Christ looking up into the operating light dangling from the ceiling.

My last thoughts as the gas mask came down? A Readers Digest article I’d read years before about a surgical patient who was effectively paralyzed by the anesthesia but remained awake throughout the operation, able to feel every excruciating slice and stitch, but unable to let anyone know.

I ran a quick inventory as the doctor leaned in. I could hear. My eyes still worked.  I started to say, “Now wait a minute,” but my mouth wouldn’t work. I began to wag my head violently back and forth looking at the masked surgeon with eyes that I hoped screamed,  No! I’m not asleep yet! Your anesthesia isn’t working!…

The upside down face of the anesthesiologist came into focus. “Ms. Sparks”?

”Fineeshed?” I couldn’t think of the Spanish word for ”Over?”
Ow. I’d been kicked in the gut hard. How much time had passed, I asked.  Thirteen minutes. Had it been my appendix? Yes. Had it burst? No.

”12 centimeters long!” the surgeon announced as if I’d given birth to something wondrous. Which in a way, I suppose I had. My appendix, an organ normally around 2 inches in length, had been found poking up into my chest cavity, a fully erect seven inches. Oddly, I felt proud.

The next morning, Dr. Novak, I mean Dr. Gonzales, stopped by my room, and after checking my stitches, said, ”You can put on your makeup now.” I chose to believe that he meant that my prognosis was good. Dr. Castro came by too, and announced that he’d made the scar small enough that I could still wear a bikini.

A few hours later, a nurse summoned my new friend Annette out into the hall. She returned carrying a a packet neatly bound in butcher paper. “What’s that?” I asked.

“Your appendix.”

We left it sitting there on my night stand until the next day when I summoned a nurse to take it away.

”La postal?” she asked. ”No, no. Don’t mail it, throw it away!” I said.

It may be a global world, but it is still a Babel world in lots of ways.

Two days later I was ”home” on the ranch surrounded by the warm people of San Rafael, Argentina feeling very grateful indeed.

Robin

P.S. – The cost of the surgery, hospital room, doctors and medication was  $1800. Less than two months health insurance premiums back home.

Walk Like A Brazilian

Posted by Robin Sparks on March 3rd, 2004 | Email this to friend

I’d been to every country on my list except for one, Brazil. The Brazil in my head was passion, romance, the samba, fresh fruit, tropical beaches, and the bossanova. When I heard that in Brazil it’s rude to show up on time for social engagements, I thought that this just might be the place for me. How could I not love a country where I’d always be on time? There was also the hope that in Brazil, I could blend in more easily than in Bali, my other favorite place on the planet. There¹s no way I’ll ever be Balinese, but maybe I could be Brazilian.

Brazil is a colossal country with more beaches than all of California and Florida put together, so where to begin? I started by emailing expatriates who lived in Brazil. And that is how I came to meet Jim and Debbie, and how I came to be not on a Brazilian beach, but in the mountains in Teresopolis, 3,000 feet above Rio.

Jim and Debbie spent years trekking in Brazil before purchasing a home last year in Teresopolis. For me, the opportunity to begin my exploration of Brazil under the tutelage of American Brazilophiles, was ideal. I accepted their invitation to visit.

(more…)

Notes From The Road – Argentina

Posted by Robin Sparks on February 2nd, 2004 | Email this to friend

A BACKWARD GLANCE

It’s been a year since I temporarily set aside my search for a country to return to San Francisco. When I left Asia this time last year, I decided to stay put in my home in San Francisco for one year. I still had slight misgivings about my desire to live abroad. Was I running from something? If I put in consistent time in San Francisco would I find my purpose here? I would give the States one last chance. Several friends had hinted that the reason I felt disconnected from the U.S., was because I was always on the run.

Ok then, I would throw myself into my community full-time, nourish friendships, develop contacts in the writing world, tie off the distracting loose ends of my former marriage. And complete my two biggest goals: Finish my book and find a mate.

No go on both counts.

(more…)

Healthcare — Global Options

Posted by Robin Sparks on November 1st, 2003 | Email this to friend

Bumrungrad Hospital

It’s been two years since you’ve had a physical exam. You need to have your vision checked and your teeth cleaned. But you are one of 44,000,000 U.S. citizens without health insurance.

Who ya gonna call?

Your local travel agency for an airplane ticket to Thailand – or a handful of other developing countries with top-rate medical care at rock-bottom prices.

(more…)

East Meets West: In Thailand With Vietnam Vets

Posted by Robin Sparks on April 1st, 2003 | Email this to friend

“I’ll be in the third jungle, second rice paddy to the left.” Bob told his ex-wife when he left Michigan for Thailand last year.

“And that’s pretty close to where I ended up,” the Vietnam Vet tells me as we drive through northeastern Thailand in his king cab Toyota pickup truck listening to Dolly Parton wailing “The Rockin’ Years”. Bob says he’d rather meet Dolly in person than any American president. Who was his favorite president? I ask. “Nixon,” Bob says. “He brought us home with what little honor we had left.”

Bob is one of over 200 “gentlemen of a certain age” who have settled in the shadow of a former U.S. Air Force Base in Udonthani, Thailand.

(more…)

Bangkok Big — Last Long Time

Posted by Robin Sparks on March 3rd, 2003 | Email this to friend

Bob and Phun

The first thing that struck me about the city of Bangkok, besides the fact that it was hot and steamy, was its exploding skyline. In Thailand, architecture is considered the highest form of art, and it shows. I was no longer in a troubled Nepal village, but a pulsating, vital metropolis of six million smiling people. I saw no machine guns, read no headlines that said, “Twelve Rebels ‘Shot Dead’”, and it looked and felt like everyone had a job. I hadn’t been in a city this upbeat since San Francisco at the height of the Dot.Com surge. But unlike San Francisco, Bangkok is affordable. Everything anyone could possibly want (and maybe you have to live in “outpost” for a while to appreciate this) can be purchased at a discount – from housing, to tailor made clothes, electronics, textiles, indigenous crafts, excellent medical care, some of the best food on the planet, and, oh yeah, sex.

(more…)

The Writing Women Of Bangkok

Posted by Robin Sparks on February 2nd, 2003 | Email this to friend
I obey the rules when I wish

I obey the rules when I wish

Why do farang females gather in a dimly lit basement of the Old Dutch Pub in Soi Cowboy, an area renowned for its girly bars? And what do the women – teachers, musicians, sales reps, humanitarian aid workers, students, television producers, and business owners from more than a dozen countries – have in common apart from the fact that they all live in Bangkok?

Every other Wednesday night between 7 and 9PM, the Bangkok Women’s Writing Group convenes at the Old Dutch Pub on Sukhumvit, Soi 23 to share what they have written and to reconnect socially as women who live in a testosterone-weighted city. The female scribes write poetry, children’s books, erotica, novels, memoirs, personal essays, and screenplays.

No previous experience is required to join apart from a passion for writing and a desire to share it with like-minded women.

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Torn Between Two Lovers

Posted by Robin Sparks on January 1st, 2003 | Email this to friend
Torn Between Two Lovers

Torn Between Two Lovers

San Francisco

The gray mist rises. San Francisco’s colors pop out again in the spotlight of a winter solstice sun. I slip into a crimson batik blouse and my white baggy pants from India to venture out of my Russian Hill cave for a bite to eat. Strolling across Washington Park, I watch the dog lovers chucking balls to their 4-legged friends, and the Chinese moving as if through honey doing their Tai Chi. Across the street at Moose’s Restaurant, a waiter is placing another folded napkin on a linen covered table in preparation for the lunch crowd. And towering over us all are the majestic twin spires of St. Peters St. Paul’s church, brilliant in the morning sun.

San Francisco looks much as it did when I left almost a year ago – -The Transamerica pyramid is still an exclamation point in a city that is always celebrating something, the jumble of Mediterranean style buildings cover North Beach and climb up Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower rises from its pubic nest of eucalyptus trees, the crinkled waters of the bay are dotted with white handkerchief sails, and a large ship, full to the brim with containers is gliding under the Bay Bridge.

What was I thinking? I love it here.

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Let It Go And Let Bali

Posted by Robin Sparks on September 1st, 2002 | Email this to friend

Bali

In the three months since I arrived in Bali, the rice shoots have grown two feet. Made’s youngest child, Lode, has sprouted too – from an infant at her mother’s breast to a young girl chasing through the paddies after her five year old brother, Gedde.

“Roh-bean! ” Made is at my door at 8AM, a palm-woven tray balanced on her head piled high with food-laden plates. “New moon, celebration of Saraswati!” she says handing me a plate of saffron rice and shredded chicken. I give her a one-armed hug. “Bye Made. I love you!” I call out as she traipses off through the rice fields with 2-yr. old Lode close on her heels.

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Embraced By Bali

Posted by Robin Sparks on July 3rd, 2002 | Email this to friend
Women in brilliant sarongs stand at the edge of a river bathing.

Women in brilliant sarongs stand at the edge of a river bathing.

“Prepare your seatbacks and trays for landing.” I hear, and suddenly I am no longer standing inside a Gauguin painting, but seated in an Asiana plane, which is preparing to land in Bangkok. The dream, so vivid! Was it a promise of what was in store for me in Asia?

It didn’t take more than a couple of days in Bangkok to figure out that if a lush paradise had once existed here, it had long since been covered over by skyscrapers, highways, and malls.

My next Asian destination, Kathmandu, proved to be a paradise of a different kind. It was a medieval silver and jewel-toned village overrun by men with guns, and no, it no more resembled the soft, pastel paradise of my dream than Bangkok had.

Apparently, I was too late. And so I let it go.

I am peering out of a Garuda jetliner at an emerald island surrounded by a velvet sea as we prepare to land in Bali, Indonesia. My forehead pressed against the window, I am suddenly very tired of the life of a Global Orphan. I want to be home. “Please,” I pray. “Let this be it.”

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Falling In Love With Kathmandu

Posted by Robin Sparks on June 1st, 2002 | Email this to friend

Robin SparksI am in the garden one morning reading the Himalayan Times surrounded by flowers and vines just outside of the crimson doors which lead into the house which has been my home for the past four months. The doors are flung open to receive another day. The flowers in our garden: dahlias, geraniums, peonies, roses… A vine droops over the front doors, heavy with passion fruit. The papaya tree outside my bedroom window stands straight and strong, its newly pruned limbs sprouting tiny green leaves.

A white grapes vine is growing over there, and a juniper bush here, bright pink chrysanthemums, marigolds, snapdragons, coral hibiscus, royal purple dahlias, yellow roses, mums, golden irises, squash vines, a mango tree, and a statue of Lord Shiva, with fresh cut flowers in his lap and petals scattered over his head. By 11 AM, Nepal is a kiln.

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Passion Play In Paris

Posted by Robin Sparks on April 8th, 2000 | Email this to friend

Paris, the Grand Damme of expatriate havens, has held a place at the top of my shopping list for almost three years. I began my search for a country south of the border, thinking that the ideal expat escape for me would be a remote Spanish-speaking village. Two decades of living in a small mountain town, however, left me with a thirst for anonymity and a desire to live in an environment that was a mixture of races, creeds, and beliefs. I wanted to be pressed in on all sides by art and culture.

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Female, In Search Of A Country

Posted by Robin Sparks on November 11th, 1999 | Email this to friend

In Placencia, Belize, unlike Paris, I settled in for a nap every afternoon in an audio space saturated with the melodious songs of birds. On the other hand, the sand flies in my bed kept me twitching and slapping, preventing me from napping as assuredly as the landscapers in the Paris garden below. ~ The first in a series of articles by Robin Sparks Daugherty. Join her in our webZine as she interviews expatriates around the world and shares the individual tales of escape artists from Belize to Paris, to China and the Middle East, down to South America and beyond. You won’t want to miss this series.

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Paradise Found?

Posted by Robin Sparks on July 7th, 1999 | Email this to friend
Paradise?

The beach at Villa Caracol

The Expatriate Scene In Xcalak, Mexico

It’s two days before Christmas, but in this thatched-roof restaurant on the southern tip of the Yucatan there are no Christmas trees, no blinking lights, no carolers. Just the sound of the low tide, the salty scent of the Caribbean coming in on a tropical breeze, and Jimmy Buffet crooning, “I never really been there, but I sure wanna go, down to Mexico….”

When I first began dreaming about life as an expatriate, Mexico was the country that came to mind–the Mexico, that is, that used to be, complete with a C & H sugar beach on the Caribbean and a cabana near a colorful Mayan village, where there’s nothing to do but hang from a hammock, drift in turquoise water, and marinate in Tequila.

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Belize Bound

Posted by Robin Sparks on June 6th, 1999 | Email this to friend
Belize

Welcome to Belize.

“I was driving along Hummingbird Highway, headed for the Cayo District,” Janet told me, “when there was a loud thud. Something came through the window and hit me in the neck. I saw red and thought, ‘Oh My God, it’s blood! I’ve got a beak in my neck!’ I screamed and slammed on the brakes. Turns out– no blood and no beak in my neck, but there WAS a bright red Toucan laying on the floorboard. I was hoping to see a Toucan up close, but not that close!”

Welcome to Belize.

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Which Way To Heaven?

Posted by Robin Sparks on May 5th, 1999 | Email this to friend
Sugarman's Boat

Sugarman's Boat

Through Hell, High Water, and a Hurricane: the story of one couple’s perilous journey from New England to Belize

August 1998

Eight bells. As one watch ends, another begins,” wrote 51-year old Richard Sugarman as he and wife, Linda, sailed out of Niantic, Connecticut, for Placencia, Belize.

The 2500-mile journey symbolized for the couple the end of 20 years of dreaming and the beginning of a two-year trial run in the charter sailboat business. What they didn’t know was that the biggest storm to hit the Caribbean in 500 years would rearrange their plans — it would kill one of their dearest friends, nearly destroy their catamaran, and cause months-long delays and financial depletion. No one said moving to a third world country would be easy…

The dream was spawned when Linda and Richard and five-year old daughter Casey sailed to Mexico where they camped for three months before returning to New England. The dream was shelved while they focused on raising their daughter and building careers — Linda’s in physical therapy and Richard (ironically) in the field of trauma counseling. Thirteen years later, Casey returned from a Boston University field trip to Belize. “Mom, Dad. You’ve got to quit your jobs and move to Belize!

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