She is Rafaela Mora, 88 years young! Standing tall next to me at the Gateway of India, it was her last day in the country, after nearly three weeks of being here…
She asked me, “Where am I?”
“You’re standing inside of a dream inside of a dream inside of a dream…” I told her.
It was probably the hundredth time she was asking me that question, ever since the day she had landed in my country, because she still couldn’t believe it—that she was actually in India! It had been her dream of a lifetime to see Incredible India; I always told her that one day it’d happen but she didn’t believe she’d make it. Tickets were exorbitant and she had been retired for many years. Nevertheless, more than her, I believed in her dream. And then, such an opportunity just presented itself to us, quite magically, I must add—a series of synchronicities and meaningful coincidences brought her to my land, at literally no cost!
On 18 November 2022, she embarked upon her grand voyage, traveling alone from San José, Costa Rica to Mumbai, India via excruciating transits in Toronto, Canada and London, England spanning nearly 30 hours, over several latitudes & longitudes, without even speaking English… What a feat at her age! And the journey wasn’t over until, twenty days hence, she did yet another transatlantic flight from Mumbai, India to San José, Costa Rica via Frankfurt, Germany and Montreal, Canada on her way back; she was obviously nervous, anxious, afraid, incessantly worrying that she’d get lost somewhere in the airports as she spoke only Spanish so wouldn’t be able to communicate her way out. She had a bad experience in London on her forward journey so she feared her return trip even more. But I knew she’d make it back home safely to tell her tale to anyone that would listen, because she is a courageous soul! And perhaps then she’d actually believe that she has lived a dream…
A dream come true!
Because magic is real!!
A mystical journey
Even before I came to India about a year prior, she had been telling me how much she wanted to visit my country, that it had been her dream of many years to see the place. I really wanted her dream to be fulfilled, so I promised her that one day I would take her to my homeland, perhaps when my book came out and I had more money, but wasn’t really sure when I could do that. And then the opportunity just showed up!
I had left Costa Rica a while ago upon receiving the news of my dad’s sudden demise. At some higher level of the soul, I feel like he must have arranged the synchronicities for us to meet here in India because the chances of it so happening were slim to none! While it has been excruciating, navigating the subsequent months sorting out his unfinished businesses in Kolkata, we kept in touch throughout my India stay. Then one fine day, she asked me how much the tickets to India were! Being retired for over 40 years, it was exorbitant for her. So, I was wondering why she wanted to know the ticket prices when I learned that SICOGA 2022 was happening in India, and that a major portion of her ticket cost would be sponsored if she decided to come, as being the national secretary of Servas Costa Rica she could vote at their General Assembly. I could take care of the rest, I thought to myself and jumped at the opportunity! I knew immediately that this was the magical instant both our souls had been waiting for. It was a sign, and we had to act fast! She had to fulfill her long coveted dream and I had to make it happen for her. But there were lots of hurdles to overcome in terms of logistics, the visa processes, transit visa and online applications, scores of documentation and communication with the organizing team, etc. and it was especially harder to do the whole process due to our individual time zones with day-night difference. But I did not flinch; it had to happen, by hook or by crook! I myself offered to volunteer at the conference and do a speech, so my attendance there also got sponsored. She didn’t believe she could make it at her age, and until even one week prior to her trip, as her transit visa got delayed, she thought she wouldn’t be able to travel. But I was sure she would, because she’s a valiant and vibrant soul, and can do anything she put her mind to. It was our combined dream that was manifesting in the most magnificent way, so I knew nothing could stop the process once the ball had started rolling in our court.
The SICOGA 2022 conference was held at the Initiatives of Change, Asia Plateau in Panchgani, Maharashtra and lasted a whole week, and now, we have so many shared memories to cherish over a lifetime! We had angels on the way who helped us, hosted us hearing our individual stories, so the entire trip became magical for us, all the way!
At the conference, we proposed Costa Rica as the venue for the next SICOGA in 2025 and if approved, the burden of responsibilities would fall on her shoulder. Yet she was undaunted by it and pushed her country to the voting delegates along with me, more than happy to meet the challenge head on! She will be 90+ if and when that happens, but as of now, let’s just hope for the best.
So inspired by her zest for life, her enthusiasm about everything, her child-like witticisms, that a senior member of Servas India, Anand Rajeshirke wanted to interview her in order to motivate the mass. Time was of essence, hence this session had to be cut short, still one can learn a lot from it. When asked what the secret to her healthy longevity was, she answered in vague terms, because honestly, I feel like she didn’t know the exact answer to that question herself. As such, it is hard to pinpoint one or two attributes but I think it is her way of being, her attitude towards life, her relationships with people, her very essence that is the real secret! It is her energy, her magic, her bubbly persona, her perception of life that keeps her young, vibrant, brilliant, cheerful and healthy! Below is the interview in Hindi & Spanish:
An impeccable personality
We were united through a common passion: Travel! Servas International works towards promoting world peace through traveling, hosting and sharing culture. More about Servas at the bottom of this article. In her younger years she attended SICOGA events in other countries like Thailand, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, etc. In fact, she has been associated with Servas for over 40 years now, and has hosted people from all over the world at her house in Costa Rica which she continues to do even today! What an inspiring life story she has to tell the younger generations; most senior people I know, even 20+ years younger than her, are already complaining of health issues, bed-ridden, or making pickles at home, especially older women in India. And I’m not judging here when I say that, merely making observations so one can draw inspiration from her life lived. One day she told me about the many people who confess to her that they too want to reach 88 like how she did, but she knew that they wouldn’t. Perplexed, I asked her why she thought so! And she replied that they were always complaining about this thing or that thing about life, this pain or that pain in their bodies, whereas if she had any pain she just ignored it imagining that it wasn’t even there and her pain literally disappeared into thin air. And although she said that to me light-heartedly, I knew she was right! There, in those words, was the age-old secret to good health and longevity. I didn’t think for one bit that she was boasting or anything like that, rather she was speaking from experience and wisdom. Sometime back in Costa Rica, she had showed me a picture of herself in her younger years.
“Ohmigod, you were soo beautiful,” I exclaimed!
She looked at me cross and I was confounded. Then she laughed and said, “I am still beautiful!”
Yes, she is beautiful and exudes an energy that attracts everyone to her, and she’s never tired of knowing more people. She refuses to hold a stick in her hand while walking because she told me that people would think she was an old lady, and laughed out loudly at her own words. She jumps down the stairs without holding the railings; if I give her my hand to hold she refuses it saying that if she depended on me today then she’d depend on me for the rest of her life and she didn’t want that. She is afraid of the elevator, so she always takes the stairs no matter how many floors she has to climb. Another time she was trying on a green sweater that someone had gifted her in our hotel room, then removed it immediately saying that it made her look too old, and we both had a hearty laugh! Yet another time, she had fallen into a ditch while walking in her country and had twisted an ankle or something then refused to go to the doctor because she was embarrassed that the doctor would think she was an old lady, so she nursed herself back to health in the safety and comfort of her own home. She portrays a personality of what I call inclusive narcissism, which is when someone has an extremely high image of the self as well as of others. She is so loving and loveable, she falls in love with everyone she meets, every stranger she greets in the streets. When I first met her, I was instantly attracted to her energy. With her warm smile she can seduce anyone, really… be it a toddler or an elderly gentleman!
I received her at the Mumbai airport and then we traveled together throughout the state of Maharashtra, and during her 3-week stay there we covered the towns of Pune, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Lonavala, Khandala, Mumbai, and several other small spots on the way… Tirelessly she trotted on with me, changing places every second day post the conference. She couldn’t eat the spicy Indian food and honestly, it was very hard to feed her because we couldn’t find any restaurant that would cook without condiments or chillies, and even after giving them specific instructions as in how to prepare the food for her, they still added something or the other that she found spicy! But she was such a sport and never complained even if she had to munch on bland hard bread only! One day, in an act of spontaneity, she decided to emote out various emotions; I immediately captured her hilarious actuations which she took great pleasure in performing at our hotel room in Lonavala. We laughed so hard together and this video, I’ll cherish for ever:
NOTE: Servas International (“we serve ” in Esperanto) is a non-profit organization providing a hospitality exchange service. Servas is a member organization that builds peace and cross-cultural understanding through day visits or overnight home stays among members who share information about themselves, to help ensure accountability. It was founded in 1949, in the aftermath of World War II, by Bob Luitweiler and other Danish students as an international network for people to meet and where suitable, to be offered a short stay, as part of the peace movement.
The organization may now be described as a part of a gift economy. Members can be both hosts and travelers, and hosts do not charge for lodging. People wishing to join SERVAS can access the website: www.servas.org, complete an application form, supply letters of recommendation, and be interviewed to ensure that they understand the purpose and protocol of being a Servas member, whether as a traveler or host or both. Members pay an annual fee to the organization, which is determined locally by the country. There is an international executive and each country has an elected board or committee to manage memberships (including interviews for new applicants), determine membership fees, organize social events, and support various peace related activities.
Servas is owned by an accredited non-governmental organization and has been affiliated with the United Nations since 1973. SICOGA 2022 was organized by Servas International in Maharashtra, India from 22 to 28 November. Below is my speech at this event on the topic: Travelling for peace as a way to break down prejudices.
I joined Servas in 2019 when I had to travel to LA for a duration of 2.5 months and couldn’t find a suitable place to rent. That was when someone had advised me to explore Servas. And then I met Rafaela Mora! And there was no looking back! Now I’m part of her family, her soul daughter. Read about my magical trip to the city of angels: More magic in Los Angeles.
GRATITUDE: Special thanks to our hosts on this trip, Dr. Darshan Parikh and his lovely family, Rachana Mahajan, and Hemant & Poornima Joshi whom she met on the plane from London to Mumbai and hearing our story they too invited us to spend a couple of days with them but weren’t even Servas members. Also thanks to Servas India and Servas International for making this happen for us!
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