We have done it, we have finally arrived in Uda! The city of beautiful hills, roaring rivers and… bugs. After having survived the first night without encountering any big unwanted guests, it was time for the first day, a day packed with a variety of activities.
Early in the morning our host-mother took us out for a quick stroll to a big dam that is just a stone’s throw away. The dam looked over on a beautiful lake surrounded by the dark green forests. The morning fog that was gliding through the woods created a mystical atmosphere. With that beautiful sight engraved in our memories Paul, who stayed at the same place as I did, and I were ready for the day
After having our usual morning meeting, we took a bus to a local elementary school. The kids were very happy to see us and greeted us with some traditional songs and a flute concert. One of the kids in particular stole my heart. When the other kids were listening to the long speeches, he took his socks of and tried to play the flute using his feet only. That was only the beginning of the fun. After the official welcome we were divided into smaller groups. My group had the luck to spend the morning with the 6th graders. We played a lot of card games together in some kind of tournament format. Even though I (almost) lost every game, I still had a blast! After having some intense card matches, it was time to replenish our energy with a traditional school lunch!
After Lunch we went to city hall, where we were ironically enough greeted even more as rockstars. When the bus arrived, the crowd was standing outside, cheering us on with flags. At City Hall we enjoyed some speeches by the mayor and other administrative figures of Uda City, a short presentation about the history of Uda and we got to ask many questions.
Immediately after the visit we continued on our way through the beautiful roads of Uda. We drove all the way to a Renshoji temple, which would be the location of a very unique experience: we were going to master the art of Zazen, the art of meditation and clearing your mind of all thoughts. Sadly, but to no surprise, I wasn’t very good at it. A key component of Zazen is the form. We had to sit in an uncomfortable cross-legged position, keeping our backs straight at all times without moving an inch. I don’t have to explain why, for somebody who can’t even sit decently on a chair, this was like cleansing the Augean stables.
While we were trying to cleanse our minds, a monk was walking around, making sure everybody was doing well. Those who were losing focus, received ‘encouragements’ in the form of being beaten with a stick. I can proudly say that I was one of the lucky few who got to experience the stick. After being beaten, having a sleeping foot and not feeling my ankles anymore, I felt one step closer to inner peace. The physical pain aside, it was a very interesting experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life. Up to the day that I have written this blog, me and the boys have been strengthening ourself in the art of Zazen on the path to true enlightenment. Except for Nils, he has a long way to go.
In the evening, Paul and I gave our host-mother some local gifts from Belgium and the United states. It was a very cozy evening and we really were having a blast. Paul also insulted Poland by calling the traditional 15th century Market square of my hometown in Poland a supermarket. Thereafter it was finally time to go to bed after what had been a very interesting and eventful day.