I am not sure whether I believe in God, in many gods, in one lifetime, in many lifetimes, in a divine Universe, in fate, or just in plain old coincidence. The answers to these questions don’t plague me the way they do many others; they simply exist on a plane which I trust will become as clear as it needs to become to me, when it needs to become so, throughout this lifetime.
What I do know is that for whatever reason, Mother India has woven her mysteries into my life from forever. My very first friend was an immigrant to Canada from Punjabi India, and some of my first memories involve eating hot chappatis dipped in spicy pickles on the floor of her red-carpeted living room. The love I have for chappatis has never waned, and I still turn to the warmed bread dripping with ghee when life leaves me decidedly underwhelmed. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that my eternal commitment to India was kneaded into bread.
I have been obsessed with visiting SE Asia for many, many years. I would see these beautiful, breathtaking photos full of spice and fabrics and jungles and elephants, and would imagine the people I could meet and the photos I could take when I finally got over that way.
Last year, my parents, husband, and I decided to meet in Thailand for three weeks. I had the tickets booked and travel guides ordered before we even got off the phone. It was pretty much all I could think about, all the time. I told anyone who would listen about the trip and the things I had been desperately waiting to do there, and riding an elephant was at the top of my ever-growing list.
Naturally, I started to research. If I was finally going to ride an elephant, I wanted to ride the finest elephant who lived in the finest jungle and who would give me the finest ride my tourist dollars could buy.
Unfortunately, instead of unearthing the best elephant riding experience in Thailand and reading stories about the life-changing experiences others before me had shared, I unearthed a whole dung-pile of elephant research which simultaneously broke my heart and blew my mind.
Here is what I learned. Continue reading
Summertime in Istanbul is hot. It is not the kind of hot that lets you lounge languidly in a plush green garden, drinking white wine spritzers with blackberry garnishes and enjoying a sweet siesta in the salt tinted breeze. No. It is the kind of hot that greets you with a punch, squeezes your breath between its wicked fingers, and melts the soles of your feet to the bottoms of your shoes. It is the kind of hot that creeps through stone walls, breaks through doors and windows, and rises up in sordid haze from sticky pavements to blinding white skies. Summertime in Istanbul is that kind of hot.
On my third day of trying to find respite from the heat, I was offered a cup of sweetened cai by a time etched cobbler who own an unlikely shoe factory in the bazaar. He offered me a chair which had long lost its back, and helpfully turned his tiny fan towards my glistening face. I accepted the cai, and in my broken Turkish, managed to gracelessly deflect his stories about the eligible bachelor that was his nephew and to ask him where I could go to escape the suffocating heat.
I am not ashamed to admit that there have been times throughout my travels when I have been a victim of con.
Once, I was visiting the small village of Sirince, in Turkey, when an elderly lady called to me. I could barely see her from the other side of a tall stone wall, though I could make out her time-etched face and the sprigs of a plush private garden.
My Turkish at the time was patchy at best, but I was able to ascertain that she was inviting me in for traditional cai and to show me the pregnant fruits of her apple tree. I assumed, naturally, that she had been overwhelmed by the aura of intrigue and cultural openness which I emanated as I wandered aimlessly through the streets with my camera, and wanted desperately to embrace me into her authentic Turkish bosom.
I pictured us sitting on her floor, drinking sweetened tea, and coming together as women despite our cultural, generational, and linguistic divide. For a moment, I even wondered if this is how my true call to cultural journalism would begin- on the carpeted ground of this villager’s home. Turns out, she saw me as just one more in a line of gormless tourists, and wanted to sell me her apples.
To her credit, they were pretty tasty.
When I was younger and looking ahead to my adult life, the one constant I envisaged was travel. I fantasized about becoming independently wealthy (or dependently wealthy, I wasn’t particularly fussed) and travelling from country to country, graciously learning about different cultures and becoming a wandering woman of the world.
Barring unlimited wealth which would enable me to jump freely across continents, I was willing to settle for an international job which would send me throughout the world multiple times per year, as long as I could remain predominantly a free agent and have every weekend and evening to myself.