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Updated: Jun 23, 2020


It's an incredible thought to think that my first introduction to way of Buddhism came directly from the intimate instruction of His Holinesss, The 14th Dalai Lama himself, in person.

I had traveled from my home located in the city of Mayapur, in the province of West Bengal to the province of Bihar, with my fellow artistic colleagues. Venturing with me was my life companion, Juno award winning opera singer, Dustin Hiles, and wandering philosopher and spiritualist, Patrick Nickisch. We had traveled with the intention of exploring the revered city of Bodh Gaya - the location where Buddha achieved enlightenment - as well as to visit an acquaintance's cow sanctuary, called a Goshala.

Our party traveled by local trains for nearly twenty hours to arrive to our destination.


The day prior to our auspicious meeting, my colleague, Dustin Hiles approached the Canadian embassy and informed them that we, as Canadian artists abroad where present within the province of Bihar to further our understanding of Buddhism and to explore the culture of the Tibetans in exile. Immediately that afternoon, we were notified that there was an opportunity to have an intimate council with His Holiness, the following day. I was sincerely honored and awestruck at the opportunity and our fortuitous timing of arrival to this incredible city. Our background checks were cleared and our audience passes were created a mere hours after the phone call. All was set for the event the following morning at 10:00 am.



The team of the Dalai Lama informed me that His Holiness would bless personal mala beads, if we so desired. The street leading up to the Bodha Temple were flanked by hundreds of individual vendor kiosks, showcasing thousands upon thousands individual strands of malas. There were malas fabricated from the seeds of Bodha trees to those carved our of obsidian and jade. A one of a kind, unique strand could undoubtedly be found, if you just had the rummaging and haggling spirit to find it. I settled on a simple, yet striking mala, comprised of a 30 individual carved howlite beads. My excitement was increasing with every passing hour, as I laid awake on my bed unable to fall asleep, thinking of the following morning's introduction.


It was the morning of January 8th, 2020. I had decided among the many hours of sleeplessness, that I wanted to gift His Holiness with a token of my appreciation for him taking the time to receive me. I spent twilight hours penning a poem - an homage to the beautiful country of Tibet. Meanwhile back home, in the city of Ottawa, my close friend, mentor, and English Department Head, Melanie White , was busy putting ink to paper herself. Melanie has always been an inspiration to me and even though distance and life tends to separate us, I always try to do my very best to include her in my adventures. The result of our writing frenzy yielded two unique ruminations and all that was left was to present our tokens of gratitude.


To be continued...


Updated: Jul 1, 2020


Mud-cracked roadways echo the thousands of foot-marks of journeys past, as the sounds of mantras reverberate through the jungle leaves. Fallen shrubbery pillow along the banks of these streets, providing a continuous stream of rest areas for bovine, goats, and wild canines alike. The animals found within the Dham are sacred and live among the bustling businesses of man, as though they too are part of the ever expanding commerce. In between the holy temples, hut after hut, you will encounter laboring hands working on carvings, textiles, metal workings, embroidery, and culinary delicacies. You have now entered the city of the birthplace of lord Chaitanya. Welcome to the city of Mayapur.



November 28th, 2019

My flight arrived to my destination of Kolkata, from Colombo, and I was both emotionally and physically exhausted. Upon entry, I made my way to the immigration counter and I officially received my visa. These mere smears of ink on a booklet represented the beginning of my journey. Every nerve ending within my body was responsive and alive. This was going to be an adventure and I could not wait to begin.

Our driver, Safik, pulled up to the arrival terminal in his compact car, and my travel companion and close friend, Dustin Hiles, and I proceeded to cram in our nine pieces of luggage - as well as ourselves - into what seemed like a toy car masquerading as a vehicle.

The road-trip from Kolkata to the city of Mayapur morphed into a four hour, near death experience, as I endured the streets of India. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of visiting this marvelous country, imagine the most nonsensical, falling through the rabbit hole shenanigans and spit them out onto a roadway. Now, multiply this by a million people on a stretch of asphalt. Welcome to the highways.

Kilometres of jungle foliage dissipated, bringing into view the stretched arms of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers as we approached our destination. Banana tree by banana tree, closer and closer we came to our new home, the Kshna Balaram located on Taranpour Road. As the last goats and chickens parted the streets, we arrived to the gates of our building.

At last, the journey would begin.


GROCERIES

Having spent my entire life living in North America, I had a very commercial understanding of food, packaging, and grocery stores. Being an avid documentary connoisseur, I had seen clips of food markets from around the world; however, experiencing them in person was the most shocking aspect of rural life. These open street vendors, huts, and markets renewed my appreciation for farmers and gardening. They evoked within me the yearning to grow my own sustainable food source and to cook my own meal recipes from scratch, which I believe will only continue to flourish in the years to come.

Throughout the city, the vegetables came in zero packaging. The market food stalls created zero wrapping waste. Each fruit and vegetable was harvested from a local farm, thrown on the back of a rickshaw or a small truck, delivered to the huts, and placed into sorting bins. These organic, zero pesticide, imperfect foods did not come pre-washed nor waxed. Their crates were covered in loose soil, as were our shopping trays, and the surfaces of every counter top and flooring tile. Tiptoeing between the crates, your eyes feasted upon a parade of colors that would entice even the most health phobic man. It was glorious. Each morsel of legume to each sliver of fruit was packed with such intense and pure flavours, the likes of which I had not tasted before in Canada, and with the very first bite - I became a foodie.


CHAI TEA

Tiny, golden, clay chalices cup the country's national beloved drink, a sweet milk tea made with cardamom, cinnamon, and a plethora of spices, to result in a delectable shot of liquid happiness - chai tea. As an avid coffee drinker, I was surprised to realize that coffee was indeed a rarity in Mayapur; however, at almost every road corner you would

come across a quaint Muslim shop selling chai tea. Now, you might wonder, why did she mention the fact that the shops are owned by Muslim families? How is this information relevant? Well actually, it is extremely relevant because Mayapur is a Hindu holy city - the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya. And in Hinduism (that term is so general and actually not helpful to use as a religious descriptor but), specifically in the Hare Krishna movement, which dominates Mayapur, caffeine is considered a drug and their followers do not partake in consuming caffeinated beverages. Chai tea is in fact a caffeinated beverage; hence, one must locate a wonderful Muslim shop.

The store, in the image above, was my local hangout located at the corner of Mayapur Main Street and Taranpour Road, owned by Mustafa and his his incredible family. Shops were created by placing a gas burner on a counter. In extremely large, soup like pots, unpasteurized, fresh milk was poured. As the milk boiled, heaps of cardamom, cinnamon, and other spices, plus several heaps of jaggery sugar (made from dates) were mixed into the evolving concoction. The burners were reduced to a minimum heat keeping the tea warm throughout the day. The longer the liquid cooked, the better the taste. Time was an important factor in its quality.

The chai drinking community, which I quickly became an active and vocal member of, were at first quite shocked and stunned at the site of a foreign, white woman raising a chalice of tea with them. Almost all of the foreigners who come to Mayapur belong to the Hare Krishna movement. Believing that they are outside the force of karma, they try not to interact with people of other religious backgrounds which they refer to as karmies (people subject to karma); furthermore, they are unable to consume the beverage, for religious reasons.

After a few visits to the chai shop, the shock dissipated and I was wholeheartedly welcomed to the exclusive chai circle of Mayapur; I was even given my own corner bench, although almost rotted through and fearing an imminent disaster of peach-cheek proportions at any minute, it brought me great joy and the inclusion and kindness that was expressed was nothing short of a gem.


to be continued...




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Updated: Jan 19, 2020

A crime. A teen of colour. A death sentence. 12 jury members. This jury's forced stitching is taring; a thread of civility is needed or things might just get out of hand.



Rural Root's Theatre production of Reginald Rose's play, 12 Angry Jurors, is based on the 1957 movie 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda. The production was directed by Ric O'dell. This immersive theatre experience was presented at the NorthWind Wireless Fibre Centre, in Ottawa, Ontario, and had it's run from the 22nd to the 26th of October, 2019, with a matinee that occurred on the 20th.


JUROR NUMBER FOUR

“Take a look at this knife. It's a very strange knife. I have never seen one like it before in my life, neither had the store keeper who sold it to him. Are you trying to tell me that someone picked up the knife off the street, went to the boy's house and stabbed his father, just to be amusing?”

The West Carleton Online Newspaper Wrote:


Landers, who played Juror #4, is a Toronto-based actor who grew up in Dunrobin. This was her first time performing with Rural Roots Theatre. The actor has played Jocasta in Kostas Gakis’ modern adaption of the Greek tragedies From Antigone to Medea in Greece last summer; Follow Your Heart in Toronto in 2016; and on television as a series regular in The Forgotten Chronicles.


She came to be part of the 12 Angry Jurors production thanks to a case of homesickness.

“I was in Toronto, feeling a little homesick,” Landers told West Carleton Online Monday (Oct. 28). “When I was visiting my parents in Dunrobin, my parents noticed the RRTC was holding auditions. So, the rest is history.”


What took Landers so long to join the RRTC?

“I was absolutely floored when I found out about the RRTC,” Landers said. “I lived in Dunrobin for 20 years and I didn’t know about it.”


The RRTC’s production of 12 Angry Jurors was set up a bit different then past performances. Instead of using the NorthWind stage, the jury room was set in the middle of the theatre with the audience on both sides of the production – almost a theatre in the round.

“I wanted to do something different,” director O’Dell said. “Something that would inspire not only the cast, but also the patrons that come to the show. I wanted to have them in the Jury Room, to be there, to see what happens.”

The 12 Angry Jurors cast includes (from left to right) Brian Thompson, Ronald Gardner, Colin Puchala, Harold Swaffield, Arya Landers, Chad Tobin, Dennis Sakalauskas, Ivo Mokros, Greg Geisler, Bruce Buie, Liz Szucs, Jason Matheson and Laura Scott.

Photo by Judi Paquette Bastable


As an actor, Landers called the production an “immersive experience.”

“The great thing about how we did it for me, is as our audience left, we hung out and were able to speak to them as they left,” she said. “They said the characters were very annoying, very convincing. The ability to interact with the audience is a gift. I know that for me it makes me more proud of my work and I know we made an impact and that’s an actor’s goal.”


“In Canada we pride ourselves in being free and inclusive,” Landers said. “But there is still racism out there. This play highlights that we shouldn’t use stereotypes, because it’s dangerous. In this case a man’s life depends on it. We’re not always welcoming. This play makes us re-evaluate our ideas and beliefs. We have grown so much in the last 20 years, but people still fall in the trap of racism and stereotyping.”


The 1957 movie had an all male cast. Many productions also use an all male cast, as the play is often known as 12 Angry Men. For Landers, mixing up the cast adds a new element to the production, but also adds realism.


READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE


JUROR NUMBER FOUR

“And some murderers get loose and do it again. They squeeze out on some technicality and kill again.”

It was a couple of weeks prior to my journey to Greece, that I had the opportunity to audition for the production of 12 Angry Jurors, during late June. I had prepared my audition piece for Juror Number Eight and the auditions were being held at the Len Purcell Centre. My drive to the Constance Bay area was accompanied by my mother and my mentor, Canadian Gemini award winning actress, Shannon Lawson. During the audition process, our director, Ric O'dell, asked all the actors to do a cold read and then we all participated in an exercise of a scene study, and every actor read for every role. A few hours later, I was laying in bed - reading- when I received the call from Ric O'dell offering me a lead role as Juror Number Four.


12 Angry Men is a classic movie that I fell in love with as a child because the subject matter is unfortunately continuously relevant, even today. I was so excited to be part of a play that highlights the wrongs of prejudice and racial profiling, and brings to light the importance of critical thinking.



Rural Roots Theatre


This production was the first time that I had the opportunity to work with Rural Roots Theatre and director, Ric O'dell. Every crew member and stage hand was absolutely a pleasure to work with. Their dedication and professionalism were exemplary. It would be a wonderful delight to have the opportunity to work with Rural Roots in the future.



Arya Landers seal