I’ve started to travel 3 hours a day again. Working from home obviously has its enormous perks but there something about being on the road that just thrills me like nothing else.
For one, there’s always something exciting happening on the road -travelling from one corner of Bangalore to another is in itself an adventure. But then there are days like today when instead of rolling your windows up and looking away, you look into the eyes of a homeless old lady and smile, even if you don’t give her any money. There is something about acknowledging the presence of a person that does more to their day than any other financial or material resource.
I know this because the old lady had a smile on her face, tears in her eyes and she blessed me – she held her hands up in a “Namaste”, told me she wishes God would bless me and make me happy as I had made her. She really sounded like she needed it. And it would be a lie to say I wasn’t overwhelmed. I did nothing but smile and yet, someones day was infinitely better for it and my level of energy shot up a 100%
The power of words is often overstated, don’t you think? Today, I’m campaigning for the power of a wordless zing.
I know that my last few posts have started with me apologizing for not writing for a long time but fuck it, my life has been pretty sweet of late and I’ve been more outdoors than actually at home. It’s not likely that I’ll forget how lovely it is, most days, to live out of suitcases but it’s nice to do it every few weeks, just so you don’t become too stuck in your comfort zone.
So what have I been doing? Erm, everything – because and I quote “YOLO Bitches!” I mean, all this time we were living multiple lives and if it weren’t for Drake, we’d never have realized that we have just one life to go crazy over, okay?
Well, that brings us to lists and photos – because the awesomeness has accumulated more with every day I pushed off writing this. And because I’m so nice, I’m just going to post the highlights!
I had never been to a holiday for the sake of a holiday till I was 24. This shouldn’t be surprising considering I’m born to self-realised Social Activists/AidWorkers who can never really draw the line between work and anything else and it would be hypocritical of me to complain because in this field, work is life. And I’m pretty much the same. Still, any holiday we took as children would be combined with a work detour. When we went to the beach, we also made a side visit to the fishing villages that were struck by tornados or a giant tsunami. If we went away elsewhere, there would be villages with a flood situation, with food scarcity and with sheep I could kidnap.
For every essay we had to submit on Shakespeare and the Skeletal System, we had a summer of adventure to look forward to, so much so that the idea of just getting away to do nothing seems preposterous even after all these years. I went backpacking across Europe to end up volunteering in a small village in France. I went to Africa to see the place but ended up working for 7 straight months – even in places where I went to take a break. You know where this is going right? Classic movie sequence of epiphany that hits because of something a stranger observes that you hadn’t even realized before? Yeah, that.
That was my first holiday, and like all firsts, you remember it fondly. I went to Zanzibar thinking I’d spend one day looking around and the evening at the beach and the next day, volunteering at a Madarasa. I ended up staying a week and doing nothing but sipping gin cocktails, making friends with a cat that was older than the island and taking in sunrises and sunsets on the Indian Ocean. I had quite a bit of unlearning and letting go to do.
Earlier this year when I realised I could go away again, I picked a place because my grandmother, who I’ve come to know only through the stories I’ve been told, was born there and came away to India by a treacherous ship journey that took months and months. I learnt that she used to be royalty in Malaysia and when they came to India, they lost everything. And she had her adventures- she was the first of her family to study in a British School when they opened up the schools to Indians (It was the same school my sister and I studied in) She fell in love and married an orphan boy and lived a life she never thought she could/would.
When I booked my tickets and got my visa, people asked me why I was going – I had a massive Sméagol fit.
2 weeks on a holiday doing nothing but exploring? Not going near a volunteer project or a social cause? Not on any freelance travel writing project? An empty itinerary/list of things to do? Just going with the flow? And then I was finally able to say it.
I haven’t blogged in over a month – shocking? Not really. I’m the queen of procrastination when I’m in between travels but then, I have been busy this time. Not really trumping around the woods near Kilimanjaro, but just as exhausting and thrilling.
I was asked to facilitate a summer camp for 10-14 days for 40-50 teens, some of who were first generation learners in their communities, their parents having never been to school. More than that, they had just finished writing the big 10th Standard exam which has been a rarity in the villages from where they were coming. A few years ago, we had just 5-10. The numbers itself show that somehow, something good is being done.
It was the first time the children were getting out of their villages and experiencing this kind of freedom. They didn’t have to study Algebra and Math anymore. They could sleep in. The “lessons” were all activity based so they never had to take notes or try to take a nap subtly behind two other students which meant that apart from all the drama that comes when you put 40 teenagers in a room, there was a LOT of energy and fun to be had. I was given creative liberty so in typical fashion, I really went for it.
What did I learn? That I’m more confused than ever. I love working with children and youth as much as I love writing. So instead of my life being a series of “Harry Potter > Hunger Games > Twilight” sort of equations, it’s “Travel = Writing = Art = Training = Social Work = Family = Mangoes”
Is this the balance they talk about in old Kung Fu movies? Needless to say, I’m in my happy place – instead of me whining about how restless I am to my friends, I get to listen to their problems in a Zen like fashion. It’s also a great opportunity pretend to be this wise old turtle
or this tea-brewing uncle
Or just call them “young grasshopper” . Oh yeah, I live for the cheap thrills
This is my way of being Zen and restoring the imbalance caused my endless lists of “Things to do”. Here is the list (in no particular order) of the top 50 things that I have ticked off in the past year.
Lived on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro for 3 months and have explored the lower slopes a million times
Got hopelessly lost in a cornfield and walked the entire length and breadth of a coffee plantation
Explored a 1.5 million year old cave
Shared millions of plates of Ugali, Machalari & Nyama Choma (traditional Tanzanian food – stiff porridge made out of maize, banana stew, grilled meat) with Tanzanians
Lived and worked with the Masai
Spent a couple of early mornings at small town/village markets
Listened to church singing and dancing
Celebrated Christmas in Summer and Easter in Winter
Practically owned local transport with the amount of travelling I’ve done on them – which also means I conquered my claustrophobia and agoraphobia
Watched the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti and watched Cheetah’s hunt
Watched the sunset over the rooftops of Zanzibar’s stone town
Lived on a volcano and explored the pre-historic looking Ol Doinyo Lengai
Sat through the proceedings of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Pinched myself silly while watching the animals do their thing from the rim of the Ngorongoro crater
Watched the Zanzibari mafia load unregistered cars to the background of locals play fighting on the beach
Watched the moonrise – including the infamous super moon
Lived through 8 back to back tremors in Arusha without passing out from the stress
Saw Freddie Mercury’s house in Zanzibar
Took the traditional Dhow and nearly drowned
Went snorkelling in shark infested waters
Discovered Zanzibar in the rainy season
Folded a 1001 origami cranes for my sister
Read 150 books in 8 months
Watched a movie in 3D – no, not Avatar
Slept under the stars many times, even camped out with hyenas *shudder*
Helped someone give birth (4 births in a month)
Learnt how to play poker
Danced in the rain
Climbed many mountains
Started cycling again
Met and befriended real Rastas
Watched a Solar Eclipse
Was in two countries at once (Kenya and Tanzania) – had quite a bit of stretching to do
Jumped into the Indian Ocean fully clothed – jeans and the works 😛
Was a teacher at Kindergarten, College and an Adult Learning Facility
Started a fire with a magnifying glass
Got my nails painted African Style
Participated in local festivities (Traditional Marriages, Baptisms and funerals – and boy do I have stories to tell)
Ran an art class for children
Went backpacking without a plan
Learnt Swahili (and a bit of KiChagga and KiMasai)
Wrote a blog post every month for over a year
Changed my name for a day and did things I wouldn’t normally do
Wrote myself a letter to open in 10 years
Had my palm read my a Masai witchdoctor
Ate insects – a local delicacy called Kumbi Kumbi’s (Tastes like ash)
Went on a picnic after ages
Spent a rainy day watching movies in my PJs
Spent a whole day at the beach (actually, read 5)
Volunteered in Africa for 8 months
In the words of Hiro Nakamura, “YATAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”