We were in the sacred lake village of Pushkar in India when my world took quite a fascinating turn.
It had been a big day. Starting out with my 'gay husband' Farrel and I waking up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise over the desert and doing yoga at the hilltop temple.
The same day he kicked a dog and experienced 'bad dog karma' (story here).
While witnessing the golden glow light up the desert town, I spoke to a boy who was selling precious stone jewellery and had my eye on the one around his neck hanging from a black piece of cord.
"It's turquoise - my birthstone" I said, admiring it. "When's your birthday?" I asked expecting it to fall in December, like mine, to justify him wearing it.
"I don't know." he said doing the notorious Indian neck wiggle that I was still yet to master.
"Well perhaps it is in December too" I joked. Smiling at this sweet boy who'd struck a little cord in my heart as I wondered how odd it must feel to not know your own birthday.
"You want to buy?" he offered.
So I did. Of course I did.
As we made our way down the hill, Farrel and I decided to freestyle our day. This meant not spending it together.
Farrel - on a short 3 week trip on his way to Israel - was moving at a different pace to me and despite my sloth-like grace being to a spacious rhythm I enjoyed moving to, Farrel was on a holiday tick box campaign and didn't want to miss a thing.
So we arranged a meeting point for that evening and freestyled our day solo.
Firstly, as I had done every morning since arriving, I visited my "sound master". My sound master was a Kashmiri gentleman tucked behind a shop selling beautiful handmade singing bowls on the condition that one trains with him and masters the healing powers that making the bowls sing does. As I rubbed the rim of this weighty bowl an incredible sound escaped it that made the whole room sing and our souls reverberate. The serenity and stillness that followed was so divine that the master couldn't help but laugh at my mesmerised aw.
After my time making bowls sing, I continued my wander. I met camels. I went in to magnificent temples and spoke to the locals. I got lost and as the sunset found myself at the lake in time to see magnificent colours reflect from its waters. Alas the sun I'd watch rise has now gone to bed.
As I found my way and headed back to the meeting point excited to retell the days tales with Farrel, I was enchanted by some stunning crystals at a small street stall. they stopped me in my tracks as I admired the incredible energies that were dancing from the glistening stones.
"Hello madam" the stall owner welcomed me. "Please sit, sit." he said with a friendly smile. I sat with him and gushed over his stones as he explained the stories attached to them and the healing powers of the different stones.
I proudly showed him my new Turquoise necklace sat pretty around my neck and yet his face didn't look impressed. I could see he was feeling torn, that he was hiding a truth from me and he fumbled for words.
"What is it?" I asked him wandering if he was upset I'd already bought a necklace from another vendor.
"Madam, that is not real turquoise." he said sadly. I was gob-smacked. I'd been cheated. He took the stone and scratched the back of it to prove it was a fake. Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt a sense of "how dare he!" well up inside of me. I'd been so kind to this boy and he had cheated me.
"Oh no, no Madam, please don't cry, don't cry".
"I'm going to tell him! I'm going to give it back to him!" my self-righteousness had been triggered and I wanted to tell this boy it was not ok to cheat me.
"No, no madam, it is his karma, his karma, you leave this to God." the crystal man said as he gave me a tissue to wipe my little sensitive tears.
As I sat there and slowly came round, one of the friends I'd crossed paths with in Rajasthan recognised me and invited me to a get together and a sing song around a campfire later that evening.
So, later on, Farrel and I went there.
And that is where we met Malcolm. Maltese Malcolm. A bearded face that had lines telling me he was wiser than his years and with a smile that lit up a space. As the desert day turned to night and we huddled around the fire listening to Manu Chao play from the Spanish guitar, I started to shiver. This kindly soul took note and placed his woollen blanket around my shoulders.
"Thanks for sharing" I said to my new friend.
We talked about life, about travels, about Australia where we had both loved and lived. In his warmth I felt a new friend and as he talked enthusiastically about going to the Himalayas and seeing snow for the first time in his life, I knew I was destined to join him.
"Awesome. I'm coming with you." I said without even thinking. Two weeks later we'd realise I wasn't joking.
The next day Farrel and I joined Malcolm on a bus journey out of Pushkar to a small desert village where he had a good local friend to meet and say goodbye to. We were followed around by children like celebrities. I remember going to pick up a cup that had been thrown on the floor outside a chai shop, only to be laughed at by locals as I learned that it was made from clay and hence, made to be chucked. We all started laughing as I realised there were clay cups everywhere!
Upon meeting with Malcolm's friend we continued walking around the village and soon found ourselves lotusly sat in a grey concrete room with one side open to the road as a window. There was smoke. There was chatter. And there was the distinct sound of thumping as men muddled up opium tea leaves on the hard surface.
We made our way to a small corner of space and I realised; I was the only woman squeezed in to this room.
I have spoken a lot about how challenging it can be being a woman in India. At that time, having dyed my hair with henna, I was being called out for resembling a Pakistani Bollywood actress; this evidently drew more attention to me and had me constantly asked for photos much to my gay husband's frustration.
In this situation however, what I experienced was incredibly beautiful and respectful. The men in the den, at first looking at me curiously, started to humbly smile and nod at me.
"Oh my God Jessica... how do I do this!?" Farrell squealed as we were all handed little cups of this new brew.
We knew what it was.
It was opium tea.
I had all sorts of ideas and hang ups about opiates. They're addictive, mind-bending and dangerous. How the hell had Farrel and I ended up in a grey concrete walled opium tea house, I have no idea.
But I was open to making the most out of it.
Farrel and I giggled away as we cheers'd our cups and drank our teas while promising one another to look out for the other.
Admittedly, Farrel was more of a high-pitched princess about it than I was, after slamming his tea, he pulled a face and announced; " Jessica... that was sooo disgusting!" in his gorgeously camp voice.
It wasn't before long we were flying.
I smiled a lot and felt a sense of harmony in our little sit down get-high-tea-house. One man had a letter written in sanskrit and asked the Brahman next to me to translate it to him. The script was so holy that no-one else was allowed to look at it. Water was poured in to our mouths so as not to share any germs. Charras smoke was hanging heavy in the room as the desert sun lit up one side of the otherwise concrete den.
I noticed my hands feeling really dry and so I got out my natural disinfectant hand gel and gave my hands a squirt. Then I gave some to Malcolm. Then to Farrel. Wow. This stuff feels really good we realised.
The next thing I know I was giving it to the gentleman next to me and watching these beautiful men share with one another this new gel. Hands were rubbed together. Some patted their faces or cupped their hands over the noses to breathe in the clean smell.
Goodness knows what these gentleman must've thought about this little lady participating in their fancy tea antics, but I'd been in an amazing space of camaraderie and eventually felt totally at ease with the smiling and the sharing.
As we left the den, the hand gel was still making the rounds among the masses of men huddled together.
"You can have it" I said smiling. "It's a gift... Namaste".
And what a serendipitous gift that experience had been for me. A whirlwind of eye opening realisations and appreciations.
It was naughty and yet, I must also admit, it was an incredibly culturally enlightening experience.
UPDATE: I absolutely do not condone taking opiates... I tried opium again about a month later and was really sick promising to never do it again.