March 16th, 2018 - bringing home why I set out
Newsletter time, newslitter time, call it whatever you will, but it's time! Time is in such a haste as of late, I can hardly keep up with it. OK, that’s not fair. It’s not time’s fault that I try to pack more and more day into my days. I am trying to get somewhere with my project, fast, but often it feels like running on a treadmill, going nowhere. Working on MilesAstray as a one man show can be overwhelming at times, due to the immense size of my passion baby. I need to remind myself to enjoy the process, rather than hurrying towards tall goals.
Being back in India is also a good reminder of why I set out in 2012 originally – to work as a volunteer with nonprofit organizations at the grassroots. Right now I have the pleasure of working once more with AID India, a Chennai based organization that I volunteered with previously in 2015.
English day at a school on the outskirts of Chennai
It’s great to be back in Chennai. For the last three years, whenever I thought back to this whirly sprawl in the South of India, I couldn’t really pinpoint what I missed about it. The beauty of this city is vague and elusive even though omnipresent. My memory couldn't trace the feeling back to one place in particular, to one image of a beautiful street or landmark. It’s not an easy Paris beauty that captivated me here.
But now that I’m back, I’m onto you Chennai. For one thing, there is your greenness. You are so green. Not a classical park or plaza green. You are green everywhere. Plants proliferate in your every street as though they were to claim back what’s rightfully theirs. Trees burst out of your sidewalks to traverse alleys and hem wide avenues, little plants stick their heads out of every brittle crack. It’s like mankind dropped a huge chunk of concrete onto a jungle and it splattered all over the place and through the gaps in-between trunks.
And then there is your architecture – it seems like every building is not only unique but has its own architectural style, juxtaposing the next as much as blending with it seamlessly. You are a metropolis that draws more different toy blocks from in and outside the box than any child in its wildest fantasy: glassy glamour, thatched down-to-earthness, temple kaleidoscopes, and my favorite element: flyovers!
architecture and street life
I love how there are sidewalks everywhere, but hardly any without obstructions (trees, stalls, holes, etc.), so that everybody just walks on the shoulder of the road; and at night, when you walk towards the traffic, the headlights slice people’s silhouettes out of the darkness. I also love the little trees that fringe Marina beach and shelter street vendors and their carts from the beating sun like tiny oases. And walking up and down Cathedral or TKK Road.
Enough already Chennai, stop distracting me! Back to topic, back to work. This time around I can’t volunteer fulltime as I am keeping pretty busy with MilesAstray and freelance stuff. It’s a tradeoff. I like to reminisce about the years when I worked at the grassroots full time, but I also have a desire to share some of my impressions nowadays, and that requires many hours glued to the screen.
AID India mostly engages in education-related programs and right now I am working on photo books for children. It’s great as I can use my own photos and texts. Other than that I go on trips to take pictures of events, which never fails to bring home why I set out in the first place and why I’m still out here. It’s all the human warmth I encounter – the mischief behind a kid’s innocent smile, the many unsung heroes dedicating their lives to education, or the strangers that become friends. And it's the ordinary moments in-between that are ever different and captivating when far from home – the sleeper train rides, the village momentum.
Readathon in Kumbakonam
field trip for a PhD thesis
momentum of the ordinary
These trips also inspired me to write a homage to education:
A Homage to Education
empowerer, character-builder, freedom fighter
Education happens – wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly – all around us, in all of us, all the time, lifelong. Our teachers don’t always look like teachers: they can be social milieus, inner monologues, nature, culture, travel, or anything that makes the brain spin.
where to next
Speaking of bringing home why I'm still out here: I actually won’t be for much longer. I have plans of going home in mid-May, at the 6 year mark of my trip. Before that I will travel to Denmark at the beginning of May. This leaves me with a couple of days in-between my Indian visa expiring and my being in Denmark. As for where to go, I’m a bit torn, so how about you guys help me out with a vote? The options I am considering are:
Israel & Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Sweden, Norway, Lithuania
In exchange for your vote, I will share with you my incredibly indispensible super-ultimate zero-item packing list:
The Super-Ultimate Zero-Item Packing List of a 6 Year Traveler
the distilled truth about packing after 70 months on the road
We have mustered the privileged courage to wave our comfort zone goodbye, so why are we so afraid of making puny packing decisions?
Well, that’s it for now! I hope you’re all up to memorable shenanigans!
July 25th, 2017 - idle facade, busy behind the scenes