Thursday, April 17, 2014

Class, shared meals, river rescue

~90 miles to Columbia
~25 miles to class

It's the thing I had hoped for most out of this bicycle tour... to make connections outside of the yoga class. to get other people excited about being on board. to help empower people to create a community amongst themselves. to make lasting connections.

I arrived in Columbia, SC, and met Erin Hall for lunch in the city at First Citizens Cafe. Erin is the coordinator of Palmetto Place Children's Shelter, and she organized a lunch between her, myself, Palmetto's social worker, a meditation/mindfulness instructor, and a pet therapist. Her goal was to have us share a meal together and discuss what we're doing, what we've found works/doesn't work, etc. To engage in a dialogue with one another. I was grateful to be in the presence of such inspiring humans.

Erin also helped to organize the yoga class I'd be teaching later that evening; we were doing a joint class between youth/staff from Palmetto Place Children's Shelter and youth/parents/staff from St. Lawrence Place.

"Palmetto Place provides a safe and caring home for children in the Midlands who are victims of abuse and neglect."

"St. Lawrence Place is a 30-home community where homeless families can find skills an shelter that foster independence and free them from the grip of poverty."

Before class, Erin invited me to join the youth for dinner at Palmetto Place. We call these places "facilities" but they are people's homes. Our language is important.

After dinner, Erin loaded the youth into different vehicles to head to our yoga class at St. Lawrence Place. I hopped on my bike and rode over to meet them there.

Our class had 16 people. Youth, parents, staff. We dimmed the lights and left the door open to enjoy a nice, gentle Spring breeze. We joined eachother for an hour of different movement, breathing and meditation. We played a balancing/focusing game and a 'traveling' game to engage our imaginations in exploring other spaces.

And for one night, we transformed an unconventional space into a yoga studio, talking afterwards about how we can continue practicing 'off the mat'.

The next day I had the day off, and my host Donna took me and three others kayaking down the Saluda River. We five rode in three kayaks (2, 2, 1), and it was my first time kayaking. The beginning of the ride was slow and peaceful, and we allowed for the current of the river to draw us gently down stream.

We were approaching our first set of rapid waters when we heard a woman yelling in the distance. She was far from us, and the water was loud, but we thought we could hear her yelling "No. No. No!" over and over again. We were worried that she was warning us that the waters were too high to continue kayaking downstream and that we should stop immediately. Nervous, we put our paddles in the water to prevent ourselves from being pulled by the no-longer gentle current, as we were quickly approaching the rapid waters and were unsure what the woman was trying to communicate to us.

Our friend (the most expert kayaker of the group) paddled over towards her to see what was going on. It turns out she was actually yelling "Help. Help. Help!" over and over. Her, her husband and their son had been stranded there for hours; their canoe had been pierced by a sharp rock and was fully submerged in the water, leaving them to fend for themselves for hours, hoping somebody would eventually paddle down the river and rescue them.

We were those people. I had never been kayaking before, but now the plan was to put each of the three people onto our kayaks and paddle them to the other side of the shore, to safety. I wasn't even sure whether I could paddle  myself through the rapid waters without being turned over, but now we were a part of a river rescue.

The water was a freezing 55 degrees and these three people, soaked and stranded there for hours, were in shock.

As we were all chatting about how to successfully perform this 'river rescue' without putting anyone else in further danger, a group of people started involving themselves across the other side of the river. They noticed that there was trouble and, luckily, they made a call to the fire department, who would be the ones to come to the rescue of these three stranded and soaked individuals.

We were glad that they were going to be rescued and knew it was for the best that we weren't the ones who were going to be doing it. Once we knew they were safe, we hopped back into our kayaks and continued the rest of the way down stream, the moon now our aiding traveling companion.

What a first kayaking experience that was. Columbia, full of adventure, full of love, full of memory. Heading next towards Georgia.

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