God Nose (The Face of God)

I stood facing a mountain that looked like a face.

“The face of God,” Koushik told me.

“God is a lot uglier than I pictured,” I said.

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As I looked upon the deity’s rocky busted mug I reflected on all the dismally warm afternoons I had spent cycling the village roads in the foothills- jamming Tchaikovsky and screaming Kendrick Lamar lyrics at innocent, gawking bystanders- and wondering  what all the hype about this god was about.

Thousands of pilgrims come here every day to scale this god’s poor, almighty cheek. For the past three months I had witnessed swarms of hairy people go up and similar swarms of bald people come down.

Apparently this god eats your hair.

That’s pretty weird, dude, I thought.

Maybe all those neck tattoos out there got it wrong… Only can judge God, 

Yeah, that train of thought got out of hand.

Tirupati is the second largest pilgrimage site in the most religious country on Earth. Tens of thousands of Hindus are drawn to the city every single day appeal to the man upstairs.

And today I was going to climbs those stairs myself.

I had put it off for too long, but I was waiting for the right moment. Until I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for.

I was very appropriately avoiding cultural appropriation for the sake of those who hold the tradition dear by filling myself in on the details of the subject beforehand and truly appreciating their meaning in the culture. (I would ask you to do the same for any long held tradition that you suddenly think is gram-worthy unless you have a genuine desire to tread on beauty- in which case I don’t wanna be your friend.)

So in the weeks preceding the climb I researched elaborately and found the story behind the god.

At the beginning of the age of man – the Lord Vishnu (the Hindu creator) turned to stone on top of the seven hills of Tirumala, the earthly façade of God, after prophesizing the marriage of his next incarnation and the goddess of wealth.

A temple was built around the God-turned-to-stone and it is said that any wish made purely in his presence will come true for the price of humility – symbolically displayed by removing the hair from your scalp.

That’s why fathers of the sick and mothers of the ill-fated – people at the beginning of their life’s endeavor and others at the end of a tragedy come to this place and scrapes their heads slick.

To correct the wrong and materialize the right of the crooked, bumbling universe with the fulfillment of a true desire.

So I decided to complete the pilgrimage myself.

I began the climb early one morning, just as the sun was creeping over god’s forehead. Koushik dropped me at the foot of the steps painted crimson and gold with holy colors.

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9 km up… shoes not allowed.

For 3 hours I climbed barefoot alongside hundreds of people.

People from all over the nation.

People quadruple my age, people a quarter my age. People much more wise, people much more dumb – people much more deserving of a wish granted, (it wouldn’t have surprised me if there were people there wishing specifically for my setup,) but accepting of my company nonetheless.

We all climbed up the god’s face like annoying flies perturbing his sleep. By midday my shirts and pants were drenched in perspiration by over 100 F heat, but I made it to the temple of Venkateshwara (the stone incarnation of Vishnu) panting and glowing red.

That wasn’t so difficult, I thought just before my definition of difficult changed dramatically.

This was the point when the real fight began.

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Like an overflowing liquid we were all funneled into a caged hallway to await our brief council with God. The pilgrims began to chant the name, “Gowinga” as we squeezed along through the barred narrow corridor like cattle moving blindly towards the slaughter.

But we were.

After another couple of hours of having about as much say in the direction my body was moving as a pint of water in the Pacific, I was shoved into the courtyard of the temple and ushered in front of the black, unmoving figure – the champion attraction of this spiritual amusement park.

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For all of 15 seconds I saw it. The smooth, black stone gleamed underneath the floral adornments piled higharound the idol’s neck. He peeked out from behind mountains of red, white, orange, and gold petals. The holy golden chamber was illuminated by low, dancing candlelight, making the air sickly warm and fragrant. The fever dream settled over my milky mind. Shadows danced around the figures solemn face as my gaze settled.

I was in sight of God.

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And God is exactly what I saw.

I wasn’t looking at the idol, though.

I was looking at the mother carrying a coughing child in front of me. Then at the middle age man about the send his only son off the university in the States behind me.

I watched their solemn lips slide silently apart, willing to never reunite for the sake of their destination, like smooth granite stones in a fierce stream.

I watched as they laid themselves as primitively bare as possible, laying down on their faces, as humble as the dust from which they came at the foot of a thing that would be dust had a chisel been put to it. Because their instinct had, after millions of years of ‘not enough’ manifested a human soul that had drove them to the madness of hope.

This was the true face of God.

My mind’s eye flashed back and forward at the same time, to a time that it couldn’t possibly wish to conceive – yet was built of nothing else except that purpose – to the start of the universe. The stars that came to being that would eventually come to form every aspect of this moment, the great carpenters. They are our dreams coming to being in us for the single sake of being spoken aloud at least once. Here. Now. This is our hopes and desires being ritually given back to the universe with the most impenetrable faith that they’d be fulfilled unconditionally.

And in the hopelessly wide gap between our expectation and reality is where I saw God.

Because sometimes there is a bridge. Like a whisper spanning a canyon, bafflingly complex in design and ambiguous in purpose – yet there. Sturdy, unreliable, encouraging.

Suddenly I felt the humility I deserved. My privilege, my arrogance, my intelligence, my beauty, my flesh, my bones were all stripped away in a second and I stood there naked, more raw and naked than on my entrance of the world.

I felt the presence of Everything, and I saw my insignificance to it all. My life, the big things that I think are important to the progression of the way things are or will be, are as dead leaves on the forest floor.

But I also saw the beauty of having the privilege to exist in the way that I do in the first place. I can run, I can jump, I can eat, I can dream, I CAN LOVE, and as insignificant as that may be to the universe – that’s the greatest bit of meaning that any of us could possibly pull out of this weird thing we’re all doing.

And with this epiphany fresh in my brain I left the temple as another current of visitors rolled in – and with spontaneous conviction I made a stop at the tonsure cue.

With a fresh razor and a ticket in my hand I stooped down in front of a beaming barber. Without a moment of reverence before my characteristic golden shock he poured scolding water over my head and whispered a mantra before peeling my scalp like an apple.

The entire time it was happening I could only think about how bald I was going to be.

The baldest man on earth, really. For a few seconds anyway.

It was certainly less hot on the way down the mountain.

With the most respect for the culture, the religion, and the universe, I accepted this tonsure as a gesture of awe.

 

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How to Win Friends and Travel the World

By Not Dale Carnegie

Well pretty much the exact opposite of Dale Carnegie.

By an 18 year old kid travelling the world about as gracefully as a fish climbs a mountain – bravely (stupidly) venturing where no fish, or any species this low in the course of evolution for that matter, has gone before. I’m probably learning some things a fish shouldn’t, like how to tie a bowline knot with my dorsal fin and flop up a boulder. I’m also probably missing some things going on back in the ocean.

So why did I decide to climb this mountain, you ask? Well, for the halibut.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: Quincy – I swear to God…*

Discontinuing the fish-mountain metaphor from here on out (you’re welcome) my point is that I’m doing a strange thing at a very vulnerable time in my life – and I’m not exactly in my element.

But I’m killing it.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not bragging. Like I said, I’m graceless: I’m a clumsy goofball and I’m always screwing up travel logistic and very common sense things like failing to bring sun-screen on a desert trek. But I am doing really well at traversing these strange lands with all these strange people and that’s because I’ve learned this one important thing – these people aren’t really that strange.

I’ve been from the Outer Banks up to New York through the mountains of Virginia and the farmlands of Carolina – I’ve been to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar of East Africa – I’ve been to Delhi and Rajasthan and Mumbai and Kerala – all in the past 9 months.DSCN0223.JPG I’ve seen a lot of things in the past little while, but you know what I haven’t seen?

An alien.

I haven’t seen someone that doesn’t get sad sometimes. I haven’t seen someone that was completely not understandable.

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So what does this mean?

I had a revelation by way of public transport.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: C’MON*

One late night of travelling I chose to grab a discount sleeper bus going from Tirupati to Bangaluru. I hopped up the steps of the 11:00 bus at 10:58 grinning at something or another while every other passenger of the bus grimaced.

As I walked down the aisle my head grazed the ceiling of the darkened bus interior and an observable dread seized everyone with an open seat near them. I chose a seat near the middle of the bus beside a decently pleasant man just as the bus bounded out of the station.

It was about 11:20 p.m. when the lights turned out, consequentially plucking the passengers from consciousness, one by one. Then the man directly in front of me attempted to recline his seat and thus the revelation began.

I knew it was going to happen. It couldn’t not happen. Inevitable, really.

His chair his my legs with a bang. BANG. He tried again. And again, and once more. BANG BANG BANG.

Each time more forcibly than the last, his frustration obviously building. At this point I was just sort of announcing the word ‘Ouch,’ each time the seat down and nervously laughing in hopes that this man would realize the futility of his attempts and stop.

He persevered.

By propping his feet up on the chair in front of him and squat thrusting my poor knees into a twisting, gruesome submission, he managed to recline comfortably. I let out a small yelp of anguish before tapping him on the shoulder and saying, “Hey,”

“do you mind moving your seat up a bit? I’m pretty tall.”

Like a snake ready to strike he turned around and spat, “So, what!?”

For a moment we looked at each other in the darkness.

All I could think of at first was how much I wanted to put my fist through his head. So, what?! I thought. So I can feel my bones cracking right now.

But then the bus passed a string of street lamps on the highway. The dull yellow light blasted in through the window like strobes for just a couple fleeting seconds – but in those seconds is when it happened.

I saw his face. Really saw it.

He wasn’t handsome; his curved nose protruded from a short curtain of salt and pepper hair like a grandiose actor that loved the spotlight a little too much. His features were grim, angular. Sharp lines and stubble interrupted his brown skin which hung especially loose beneath his dark eyes. He was tired.

For all of a second I understood completely. I glanced at his shabby briefcase, at his stained dress shirt. I saw his thin frame, just a few hours before, working in an unfamiliar office with unfamiliar people, walking down unfamiliar streets – not having had a conversation all day long. I remembered back to my loneliest moments between Delhi and Mumbai, how raw I felt all the time. I think I’d be pretty rattled, too, if something had gotten between me and the precious sleep I was counting on on the sleeper bus back home.

He seemed to say with his eyes, one soul to another, “It’s been a very long day. I need to sleep”

I smiled.

“Okay,” was what I said before I turned to the shorter man next to me in the aisle seat and asked him politely if he’d change seats with me.

Having noticed my splintering femurs he said, “Sure.”

I slept happily that night with my feet out in the aisle. Just before I fell off into dreamy oblivion I looked over at the guy, he was sleeping like a rock.

When I woke up for the fifth time that morning, (the four previous times a result of roller suitcases of early stop passengers flattening my feet in the aisle) I watched Tired Guy, now Rested Guy, get up, grab his case, and hop off the bust to embrace his waiting wife and children under a street light in the outskirts of Bangaluru.

It didn’t really register, what I saw, until I got off the bus myself about an hour later. He had picked up his child with as much love as when my grandfather used to pick me up after I got off the bus from school. Just a couple hours before that I wanted to punch that guy. Why, again?

This guy is just an example. It could be your mom telling you what to do; a professor failing your essay; a child asking questions; a friend lying to you. Ask yourself a question – why do these people do the things they do?

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Now the hard part, what would you do in their situation?

Not just the immediate situation – think deeper. The entire situation. With all of their context, and all their background. If you were born like them, brought up like them, and treated like them, wouldn’t you be pretty much the same as them? Wouldn’t you be doing and thinking pretty much the same that they’re doing and thinking?

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The reason I referenced Dale Carnegie in the title of this post is because I get this idea from an Abraham Lincoln quote and another piece called Father Forgets that I found in his very famous book.

Father Forgets is a story about a father who – get this – forgets that his child is a child. He treats him like an adult that should know better than to do these childish actions. When he realizes he’s wrong he states, “I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.”

The yardstick that we measure people by is always our own, even when dimensions differ. Even if a person is obviously a glass of water, we will try to measure them with our yardstick. I don’t think myself a genius but I know that this does not work. If you’re a hundred meters, could someone measure you with a thermometer?

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I think of it this way: humans are all the same machine. Sort of like Model-T’s, if you will. We all have different jobs, however, different handlers, different loads. If a Model-T carrying bricks through the mountains has a lower gas mileage or worse performance than you – leisurely putting through the countryside – are you going to judge it harshly?

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If a person born in the slums, working 3 jobs, struggles to feed their children – are you going to judge them or blame them for asking for help? That’s a radical example, but the point is made.

Here’s the Abraham Lincoln quote – my favorite quote of all time, and the theme of my gap year:

“Don’t criticize them: they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.”

People.

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We’re all the same thing. We’re all just flesh and bones and minds that work very similar to each other. We’re all thinking the same things. We all have fears and anxieties that play on repeat in our heads – we get caught up in them, we get lost and forget this one truth – we’re all of a kind.

I’ve learned to see things from people’s point-of-views, in their contexts. Doing that dissolves any judgement I may have on their intentions, on their motivations, on why they do the things they do.

We’re all fighting battles. Let’s be allies.

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The Present Has My Name On It: Christmas in the Western Ghats

High school girls make me just as nervous outside of high school as they did in high school, maybe even more. I found out this weird personal fault through the unlikely circumstance of being the topic of discussion amongst a group of them.

Absurd – I know!

But to make this situation even more science-fictiony – they were from New Zealand! (Oh, and we were in a forest on the side of a mountain in the Western Ghats of India.)

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How I found myself being roasted around a campfire in the woods like the marshmallow that I am by a dozen 16 year old girls, I can hardly explain. All I know is that I was graciously invited by Kalypso to accompany one of their tours through the Western Ghats as a part of my internship. I wish now to describe the experience I had.

At six in the morning, just as the sun struck the panes of my window, Jeffin arrived at my hostel in a minivan to fetch me for the trek. A person arranged on sharp angles, long lines, and great cheer, Jeffin is a very good friend of mine from the office and fortunately he was also the tour guide for this adventure. As I threw my pack into the back of the van he began to brief me on the details of the trek; where we were going, what we were doing, and about the group we were traveling with.

Here is where I was introduced to the notion that I’d be traveling around the spooky forests with the scariest people on Earth – female teenagers.

Oooooooo.

They turned out to be pretty great people, actually. Over the course of the trek my thoughts became deeply invested in the lives and companionship of these young people and their chaperones. The conversations that we engaged in seemed to me as several seas colliding against one another in a portrait of swirling currents and crests, and recalling all the meanings had would be the same feat as holding the oceans of the world in your hand.

It was just an initial shock that surfaced Vietnam-esque flashbacks of locker-lined blues and gym bleacher mortification. After I recovered from my fit of P.E.S.D. (Physical Education Stress Disorder) we hopped in the van and left for the mountains.

Even just the ride through Munnar and the surrounding foothills was worthy of the award of An Experience of a Lifetime, an accolade that I’ve had to become very liberal in awarding to my circumstances recently. I saw the 5 hour drive as an excellent opportunity to catch up on the sleep I had missed by stubbornly neglecting to pack until the night before, so I actually missed most of it.

But I awoke as one turns on the television to the ‘Yippee Ki Yay’ or the ‘Make my day’ of a movie; as one opens a 24 chapter book to chapter 23.

When I saw what I saw, the sound that escaped my throat was an effect never thought of by the grand composer of life’s caprices. My hard bones furiously drank in the beauty that spilled over the rim of my gorged eyesight, and their contraction around my soft lungs stuck chords known only to those left to thrive in the most ancient human conditions.

“Oh shit,” is what this sounded like.

Green! By God, green like no one has ever seen!

Green slopes rose high above me on every side, ebbing the sky and intimidating the dust of my origins for fear of being taken hold of and rooted down to the earth once again by the dense green flesh. We were driving through an immense valley framed like the Mona Lisa (but more deserving of acclaim) by mountains covered foot to summit in tea plants. These plants pieced together a jigsaw of vitality masking the great wave of stone beneath, and binding the witness by color of ethereal potency.

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We swung through the valley. Seemingly eternities I spent caressing the gentle transitions embellished by the glories of nature, yet no time at all. The fluorescence of the slopes starkly contrasted with the deep blue sky spreading out behind pure white clouds etched by shadow as if of floating marble.

The car moved over the mountain and onto a sloping forest road flanked by palms tangled in vines and gilded with sunshine. The palm trees reached desperately for the stars unseen in the sky, cutting open the thick sunlight and allowing its golden entrails to fall down over the road as we passed like confetti – beauty celebrating itself.

If you haven’t figured me out by now, (it’s okay, neither have I,) here is what I’ve gathered so far: I am 6 feet and 2 inches tall, I am an 8 year old in a 25 year old man’s body, and my favorite thing to do is climb trees. Driving me through the profuse forest could be compared to driving a little boy past Disneyworld or a Chuck E Cheese. Frankly, I wanted to go play in the woods.

So, 30 minutes later, after some death defying mountain road maneuvering, when the girls, the guides, and I were dumped in the middle of nowhere with our packs and our lunches, I was reeling in ecstasy.

Seriously – Don’t Stop Me Now started playing in my head.

Finally stepping out into the aesthetic landscape was like stepping into the world of a classic art piece – joy electrocuted my body from my toes up infinitely and I felt a warmness deep between my ears.

As I stepped through the tall grass I could feel my lungs expanding with fresh wind, breaking free and discarding of the restraining cast of pollution that the city air had covered them with. I felt new and free.

 

The first day was a short easy stroll through the grassy foothills and a peek into the dense woods – slowly easing ourselves into the overwhelming beauty of the area lest we be swallowed whole by the sea of profound. The muscles of my legs took strength from the sounds of life resting in my ear – insects dancing to the tune of birds chirping and the fast rhythm of the babbling brook. With my newfound strength it became difficult not to sprint ahead into the tempting unknown leaving the group and guides behind in my joyous wake.

The bright sun beat against the green hillside, reflecting in starry clusters from the long waving grass. The wind ran its fingers through the course mane of the hill. Under canopies of trees, over talking streams, and through tightly knit brushes we marched.DSCN0750

The day passed quickly, as time behaves impatiently under the influence of rejoice and we found ourselves at the first campsite in no time. The end of the first day was as rewarding as its beginning, with a hot meal, a campfire, and a warm tent waiting for us on arrival.

I realized here that the present truly was a present – this day I woke up, ripped the paper off, and exclaimed to the heavens, “How did you know!?” when I saw what was inside. I looked up at the radiant stars above me and instead of seeing the cosmos displayed in the skies of Munnar I saw the grandest of Christmas trees, emblazoned with the lights of a million insurgent diamonds cut in the beginning time. Here I was underneath checking the boxes – they all had my name of them.

Each day ahead of me was a mysterious gift, meaning I had 5 more parcels to savagely rip apart and revel in the contents of. This thought gave me bliss like I’ve never experienced.

With this thought nestled in my brain I myself nestled into my tent and fell to sleep with bold yearning for the horizon of the morrow.

The crisp, cool morning found me wide awake much earlier than usual, eagerly awaiting the day’s endeavors. Clouds of fog topped the mountains surrounding the camp while in sheer contrariety great clarity rolled gently through my mind.

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A routine comprised of a great night’s sleep followed immediately by a phenomenal early morning breakfast was established at this campsite, to be carried on for the whole of the adventure. Sleep, food, and assurance of those things are the best things so I was pretty stoked on that.

We began our descent of the slope on a red clay path, passing a few houses belonging to local villagers who stopped hanging their clothes or sweeping their porches to smile and wave.

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The next 10 kilometers consisted of up and down rocky terrain – crossing streams and valley ponds, piercing dense forests of cardamom, coffee, tea, and chilies. The long path through the pine forest took me not to a marshy valley between the mountains of Kerala but to my back yard in North Carolina, where many afterschool walks found me getting lost. DSCN0777There were birds of every kind and every color streaming through the branches like pale silk ribbons, monkeys loafing around mischievously, and snakes pushing their thick, shiny bodies through the undergrowth. The entire spectrum of biology was showing off for us.

We approached an immense natural structure of rock and golden grass then quickly ascended, falling upward and plunging head-first into the cold wind whispering to the peak. As I fell up, my vision fell down to the valley that reached from one of my peripherals to the other and beyond. A black lake stretched lazily at the bottom over a bed of soft emeralds. The sky was indecisive – both bright blue and milky white with morning dew. Suddenly the sun broke through the ceiling of fog and rained down on an island of tea plants in the distance, making it glow vibrantly in the blackness like Gatsby’s dreams. My heart would’ve gladly volunteered to strike a match to itself and burst as to applaud the merits of the Earth with a light show.

 

The second camp was the base camp of Kalypso – a collection of tents, huts, and dorms spanning the internal face of a mountain. The group was to stay in a row of cabins set in a shelf on the mountain; a balcony designed for the show of the valley I’ve described.

When we arrived I kicked off my boots, struggled out of my leech socks, and walked to the edge to let my bare feet dangle in the biting drafts. I looked to my right, I looked my left – peace had cornered my mind and wouldn’t relent to its attempts to return to the world.DSCN0800

I dare not boast the ability to explain the serenity of being cradled by furious Earth’s violent strikes against the heavens for giving her everything except eyes to see her own beauty with.

Nearing bedtime Jeffin approaches me by the cliff and tells me that I won’t be staying in a hut, but rather at a dorm house near the bottom of the hill.

“Oh, sweet!” I said thankful that I’d have a bed that night.

He walked me down the tiny street to the huge house I’d be staying in. 3 bedrooms, a dining room, and a big living room – “All to yourself,” smiled Jeff.

I noticed that he hesitated briefly before stepping up on to the porch.

“Okay, cool…” I said.

“Yeah, pick any bed you want to,” and then he added in an undertone, “you aren’t afraid of ghosts, are you?”

“Uhh…”

“Cool – sleep tight!” he exclaimed and disappeared into the night.

I stood there for a minute considering the options of either preparing myself for something strange in my neighborhood (but lack of a phone to make the appropriate call) or of chucking Jeffin’s last few words up to being misheard out of tiredness. I went with the latter.

Too tired to care, I stumbled into the house, threw down my pack, and slept like a baby.

The night proved bumpless, but I thought it worth noting that I stayed that night in an allegedly haunted house under a mountain named the Phantom’s Head.

And the next morning we climbed the Phantom’s Head.

We were faced on awakening with the task of conquering this mountain that was prominently visible and definitely intimidating. I watched from afar as the black stone giant ran steeply in to the sky – losing its head in the clouds and empathy struck me. With another delicious breakfast packed in, we set about it.

The climb was a rough one, just a narrow path leading us up a steeply sloping rock face. My muscles burned, every step an effort taking me higher into the atmosphere and beading my forehead with sweat. When we reached the top my shirt was drenched and my legs felt like the jelly that I now regretted having eaten for breakfast, but what I found at the summit washed away all feelings of discomfort and I felt nothing but numb wonder.

The view that was witnessed from here made everything else I had seen in my life seem as if it were in black and gray. All of my atoms were on edge. Every molecule of me was being pulled into the aura of allure surrounding the valley. The eye level clouds rolling sluggishly through the celestial property cast great dark shadows that moved like living beings over the stunningly brilliant valley that stretched as far as you could look. I saw the colors have intimate conversations with one another – telling stories of beauty and tragedy, brutally mocking the altruistic attempts of human poetry to portray the glimpse that they’ve allowed. I sat, lost in every dimension I’ve known and observed the betrothal of heaven and earth – a painting of matter on a divine canvas.

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I had to pry my eyes from the scene and my soul from utter tranquility when it was time to move on. I was cemented into my position on the grassy mound above it all; my body refused to move. Then the sun broke through the mist melting my frozen joints and the oil on my face – the light of the valley reflected in me and as I stood up I felt like I could hurdle a mountain in a single bound.

We continued across a stitched wound of mountain crests looking over DSCN0829into the tea plantations garnished with falling streams. From these slack earthen bridges connecting the summits we entered a breezeway of pine trees sprouting from a drowned steep made, as it seemed, entirely of sloshy green mud. After our descent of the slippery slope we inevitably reached the campsite* which was situated in a field of corn and chilies and surrounded by a 10ft tall electric fence to keep the elephants from making salsa out of the chili patch or out of us in our sleep.

* Ha.

Hard rains carried on through the night, drumming its fingers on the canvas of my tent and lulling me to sleep to the rhythm of white noise.

The morning of the fourth day was calm and brisk – the rainfall beckoned forth the aromas from the green flesh of the edging undergrowth. We began by hiking up through a cardamom plantation, passing a couple of neon blue and pink temples and villages on the cliffs beside the skinny, winding road. The local people treated foreigners coming through their dwelling as they would a parade – stopping in the streets to look, smile, and comment.giphy The villagers were incredibly friendly. One man that I said hello to and attempted the head language with engaged me in conversation. Our chat became roister, this roister met contention, the contention alleviated itself again – he spewed interesting and flamboyant dialogue that I’m sure I would have agreed with wholeheartedly… had I been able to understand Malayalam, or he English.

Nonetheless, we hopped the language barrier like 2 reckless teens jumping a chain link fence and volleyed words.

The village that we found such revel in rested next to a drippy, crowded forest which we slipped away into after mingling with the good local people.

A long trek down into the breast of the damp grove followed. While our boots splashed through the sticky earth the woods seemed to become enamored with us. We were beset on all sides by dripping leaves, studded trunks, and jewel-like flowers. My own feeling was that somewhere near was the hot, miry cavity where dwells the verdant heart of all life, pumping dark beauty through the capillaries of the undergrowth and seducing those who’ve tasted her blood to savagery. I tyranny she slights even sunlight, allowing never even a hairline to penetrate her hood or illuminate the cause of deep laughter in her bosom.giphy

We soaked our boots on deceptive footing in the deep rapid pouring like an avalanche across our path, and had lunch just on the other side. Finishing lunch we began again, downstream with the roaring brook. I looked up and around me – I saw the real version of what I always envisioned the canal behind my grandma’s house to be: an overgrown valley at the meeting of two mountains, two forests clashing together like armies. Vines clacked with tree trunks in the breeze like spears on shields. The scale of the scene made my rambunctious youth quiet and meditative, contemplating if its contribution to the weight of my life was as substantial as it had always been sure of. I remember playing on the banks of the canal reenacting scenes from The Jungle Book, dreaming of jungles in India – now here I was in India dreaming of home.

By being here – by observing this place as it happened to be I was bringing peace to my childhood on its deathbed – I was paying the wages of my desirous dreams that lacked the capital to make its keep in reality’s industry.

We plunged into the cardamom once more. The yellow-green leaves provided a ceiling of cover from the hearth of the sun. After many ups and downs through hills made muddy by the previous night’s rains we approached the haven of our fourth camp.

The thought of the fifth day had everyone among the group shook. A very reliable source (Jeffin) had started a very plausible rumor that this day contained the most uphill portions of the entire trek and everyone was shaking in their leech socks – everyone but me. I was swelling with excitement. The seams of my skin were threatening to rip apart under the pounding feet of my dancing blood.

Don’t Stop Me Now was still reverberating against the walls of my skull, growing even louder as the journey continued.

It seemed that the longer I was out there the better I felt, the more hills I climbed the less tired I became, the more breaths I breathed the more breaths I’d have.

The mountain light shined in my stained glass eyes like chapel windows depicting scenes of epic passion – filling my head with warmth and beams of sunshine in every color catching the flecks of wonder falling from the rafters.

The day began with a sharp incline up a road running through a neighborhood. We eventually crossed over into the wild, where we penetrated an uphill thicket woven carefully by nature’s steady hand like a scarf tightly wrapped round the neck of her mountain child. When the sky opened up to us again we were in view of miles and miles squared of banana plantations and other crops past the edge of the mountain range, in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu.

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Our way forward was a serpentine path up the stone-and-yellow-rye podium, and we climbed like medalists receiving our awards. Our trophies were not round and gilded, however, they were enormous and grey, and we definitely didn’t want them around our necks.

Jeff cautioned the group to be quiet, because just across the hill was a herd of wild elephants chowing on some bamboo. I watched from across the valley while these tender giants swung great green stalks into their mouths in a funny, dancing rhythm known to them as a sacred practice. Their calm demeanor and deep brown eyes flashed primal wisdom that it seems us humans have forgotten in our quest for… um… whatever we’re going for. (Given that America is seriously considering Donald Trump for president I’ve sort of lost faith that we have a clear objective.)

Silently we crouched and tiptoed across the dip between the grassy peaks. Across the path were flattened bushes and fresh tracks the size of Mama’s cast iron frying pans. I had seen African elephants on a safari in Tanzania, but being here in the forests – on the ground with them, was a completely different experience. Had they approached the Jeep in the safari, we could’ve just driven away never even having to consider the consequences of an encounter. But if they walked up to us here they’d simply walk over us and we’d be scrambled eggs cooking in my grandma’s frying pan on a hillside in the Western Ghats.

So we got the hell out of there.

Having safely escaped the elephant’s domain and triumphed over several more rolling peaks we reached the fifth camp deep in the body of the woods and laid into dinner around the blazing campfire. This is the part where I realized that my vulnerability in the face of two X chromosomes, (in this case 18 X chromosomes,) had transferred over into the ‘real world.’ But by this time it was okay. These people in front of me laughing jovially at my expense were my great friends. I laughed along while I looked at them as I would’ve looked at my family and remembered once again what Saumu had taught me – I felt the embodiment of home around me. These people, these laughs, these conversations around this campfire under this sky! O, Life and Love! What is greater?

I fell into my tent exhausted after the difficult day – but still beaming at the glory of it.

When we awoke this time the final day was upon us – I recall this as the only day I awoke disheartened. I was disturbed that my time amidst the wildflowers was nearing an end.

My spirits lifted, however, as we started out on the trail once more. As we walked I took a closer look at the fellowship of the group that had made this trip whole. Great friendships had begun to bud between the group’s leaders and me by the careful care of ideas and understanding. I particularly admired a dude named JR, a mountaineer from Ireland, who had some things to say about life in general that made me feel real 18 years old. He imparted practical wisdom and methods of kindness to me that I think will fit nicely into my ‘DIY Life Toolbox’ that I’ve been restlessly collecting for since I realized needed one. This guy was the man. He DSCN0797reminded me of the depth and consistency to the worth of people everywhere, and that’s a beautiful thing. He told me he’d be reading my blog, so hopefully he’ll see this one: Thanks, man.

The day flew by in a blur of stone, verdure, and laughter. I continued my
obsession, poring over the intricacies of nature and filling myself up with the wealth it had to offer me. I tried to grasp within the atriums of my heart every fleeting moment, but they slipped back into my arteries and combusted in a moment’s passion.

I looked ahead of me. I looked behind me, and then around at the humbling mountain range. I saw myself swaddled in the belly of a valley, and then standing triumphantly on the crown of a summit. These mountains had displayed the full spectrum of human. The earth a fountainhead of the virtues of life and living.

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When we reached the final camp it was a gentle moment. The joy we had experienced on that trek together was never to be forgotten. Although it was over, I was so happy that I was able to experience such an amazing thing. It will definitely be considered one of the summits of my gap year, but as I learned from this adventure reaching one summit merely puts you in position to spot another to conquer. It’s just a matter of choosing.

Giddy with fatigue, I put a finger to my temple. “This is the next one,” I said recklessly.

Journals from India: Arusha to Delhi

The following are my unedited personal memoirs written during the time of my traveling from Arusha to Delhi. Though written in instances of mental and emotional strain, perhaps vulgar and short-sighted at times, I feel that they are a measurement of personal growth of which there was plenty. This is part 1 of 6.

November 12, 2015

Arusha, Tanzania

So tired of writing, but I know I need to get this down.

I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been now. I’m just living with no anxieties, in the eye of a hurricane. Today we went to the hot springs again. Blue water, shattered sunlight falling through the leaves, and my best friends maneuvering through the streams; heaven was close.

I’ve been so busy trying to wrap everything up before I go. Proposal things, recording with the kids, goodbye’s to people I’ve shared the best part of my life with, and closure with the ones I love.

I will forever remember the rains in Africa by the night I spent on the concrete floor of the orphanage cafeteria, laying in with the kids and talking through my heart.

The kids… I said goodbye to them tonight. I played for as long as they would listen and sang every song with everything I had in me. Every one of them is like a sibling who had been there for me in the best and worst times of my life.DSCN0444

When I knew it was time to go I got up to hug them all and I really thought I was going to make it through without crying, but then I saw Alloise and Gifty. Then I wept. I wept as I embraced them. I wept as I walked across the soccer field, then I looked up at the stars, the same stars from my first night here, but so different somehow.DSCN0481

How quiet will the dining room be on tomorrow night? I’ve played every night for them for months, and all of a sudden there will be a silence. That’s a silence that haunts.

I stared at the bonfire that the other volunteers made for me for my last night, I saw within the power and importance of love. I will miss all of my friends, there’s too many to name.

I’ve given way to analyzing how I am different from the Quincy Godwin that arrived in Arusha. I found some important things here. I’m convinced that I’m the most alive any person has ever been.

Leaving shares feelings of polar opposites. The past and the future are too heavy to bear at this moment. I know these next couple of weeks will eat me alive, but I can help but smile. Tomorrow – India.

November 13, 2015

Layover in Zanzibar

Earlier today I had everything, and now I wander.

I am in Zanzibar. I made it here after all, even if I am contained to 3 square feet and a walkway inside of a metal tube.

I woke up and said goodbye to Stefan, Maddie, and the two other Swedish girls. I went to the orphanage first thing to wash dishes, but the aunties weren’t there, so I stepped over to the school and found all the students in an assembly. Then Mr. Peter insisted I give a goodbye speech to the whole student body, so I managed to bring 400 dear relationships to a close before breakfast.

I walked away feeling sort of satisfied at how well it went. I started to pack and said goodbye to Nelson and Adam before I went for my final run down the backstreets of Ngusero. Nelson is the coolest guy I’ve ever met and I’ll miss him. He knows the way to live.

When I returned from the run I found Milla on the couch looking real upset about my departure. She helped me pack and then I gave her the remainder of my shillings to buy as much fruit as she could for the kids, and I told her to sing songs with them tonight.

The ride to the airport was quiet. Iddi really took it hard. He was the driving force through most of the rough parts. I love that guy.

How will this transition affect me? It just feels numb right now.

Now I’m waiting for the long ride over the Arabian Ocean to Qatar. I think about my first thoughts of Tanzania, and I know that misconceptions of India already litter my brain.

November 14, 2015

New Delhi, India

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I haven’t been to sleep yet. I came in to Delhi early this morning and took a taxi to try to get a hostel, but he took me to one of the fake travel information centers and tried to scam me. And then another guy took me to another one and tried to scam me. Eventually I made it to a cheap motel by insisting to a rickshaw puller that I knew a cop in Delhi. I was preparing for sleep when someone knocked on my door.

Two Americans.

One from NC.

They told me they saw my Nationality in the address book downstairs and wanted to meet me. Their names were Kyle and Ben, and we talked about our itineraries for the country. They left today, but before we had lunch. They had a friend in Delhi who took us to get street food in an alleyway behind an office building. Chickpea curry with Naan. My first meal in India.

Holy shit… I’m in India. First impression? Kinda like Arusha, except not near as laid back. It’s like a weird offspring of First and Third world – like if Arusha’s lack of organization met New York or Tokyo’s bustling intensity.

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I know when I wake up tomorrow I’m going to be like, “Where the hell am I?!”

No way to prepare for that. Tomorrow I think I should plan my train itinerary.

November 15, 2015

New Delhi

I met Greg earlier today, and he gave me some insight on life in India. I had a really great day. Kyle and Ben’s friend, Dillip, took me to his home where we ate omelet sandwiches that his wife made and I got to meet his kid. I’m really glad that I got to see an actual family’s home in Delhi, which was essentially just a concrete room with a bed and a counter. It made me think a lot of Saumu.

I didn’t think I complained very much in the States, but seeing these living quarters made every ill word I’ve ever spoken about the things I have clot my throat and choke the admittance of ridiculous privilege out of me.

After breakfast he dropped me off at the Indian equivalent of the ‘National Mall’ where the political buildings and museums line the boundaries of huge strips of lawn. I explored the parliament, the president’s house, the surrounding gardens (where there are a ton of hawks just flying around for some reason), and the Indian gate.

At the gate, a guy approached me asking for a photo and at first I was like, “Yeah, of course I will take a photo for you!” but then he handed his camera to his friend and wrapped his shoulder around mine with a big smile and a thumbs up, so I did the same. This happened several times before I managed to wade through the crowd.

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Then I played cricket with some guys on the lawn beside the gate. I really sucked at bowling… balling… boolling… uh throwing the ball, but they all smiled at me and took pictures with me anyway.

I took a rickshaw to Hauz Khas village after cricket. It was so cool. It was like Franklin Street folded over on top of itself several times and was placed right next to the remains of a 16th century temple overlooking a huge pond.IMG_20151107_150810536 I walked through and started looking around the temple ruins first, which was a labyrinth of broken stone. There were young people laughing and lovers doing lover things. The falling sun came in through the archways and cut planes of light into the foggy air above the murky water, a graveyard of mossy and decaying rowboats.

I lot of people wanted photos there as well. I told a guy by the water that I was from America and I could tell that he felt like he was in the presence of a celebrity. He told me he loved Eminem and gave me his sunglasses.

I climbed back through the ruins and to the village and met Greg at a place for tea.

After our talk I ate momos at a restaurant and had a beer on a balcony bar overlooking the village entrance below. I feel an implication of loneliness in the depths of me. I miss home, and I’m not really sure what I mean by that anymore.

I came back to the hostel with an autorickshaw, and I’m pretty sure that you’re required to meet a quota of sociopathy to drive one in Delhi. Not a professional requirement, but like a moral one, because a normal person couldn’t handle the emotional strain required to commit the abominations that they do so fluently. They truly are working class heroes, though. It’s easy to become upset at their persistence, but they’re just doing what it takes to make it to the end of the day with a couple bills in their pockets.

November 17, 2015

New Delhi

With my face pressed up against the oily glass of the crowded New Delhi Metro, I looked out onto the platform – and we speed away. I watched as thousands of people blurred together into a single line, featureless upon my vision and I wondered if I preferred this to interaction, or if it was the same either way.

I explored the city all day. Saw some crazy shit, some disgusting shit, some intriguing shit, some beautiful shit, and some literal shit.

I got lost in Delhi near the Red Fort this morning so I juDSCN0517st toured it for a little while. There were families who’d traveled from other parts of India to see the fortress, and there was a film crew making a documentary I’m guessing. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the sunny day. Then I went to the Railway station and got my train tickets for my trip down the length of India. I’m kinda nervous because I’ve heard a lot of different things about the train, but psyched to do it nonetheless.

 

I met a lady from LA while waiting in line for the Lotus Temple, and I asked her all about California. People seem to be surprised to find out that I’m American and haven’t seen anything west of the Appalachian mountains. I think it’s funny that I saw more of Tanzania than I have the States. When I walked into the temple I felt an immense presence of peace, and my mind involuntarily relaxed under the high ceiling and empty air.

As much as I thought I’d be I’m not lonely, I feel like I’m just experiencing a private existence. I’m just enjoying myself for only myself. I’m also getting a better grasp on where I am intellectually. I wonder where my life will go with the capital I possess. Is it too meager to be great?

I also went to the Bazaar in Pahar Ganj,

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and a night market lit up by floodlights that went for miles today. The Ikscon Temple was so sick. They had an underground video expo that was an introduction to the religion. Honestly, it was kinda terrifying.

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November 19, 2015

New Delhi

I feel like Holden Caulfield, just walking through the city having conversations with myself, but instead of New York, New Delhi.

I went to one of the biggest Hindu temples in India today, Akshardham. I appreciated the beauty and intricacy of it all, but the carvings of the building and the silence of the shrines made my head swim, grabbing at an influenza-fueled nightmare from my childhood. I feel no fear for the unknown, however. I feel peace and joy at my potential to understand.

I tried to go to the Delhi Zoo, but I found that my Metro stop was near an International trade fair that comes to town for just a couple of days annually so I figured that I’ve been to many zoos but never an Indian trade exposition. I just spent hours roaming around this huge convention, looking at the shops and admiring entrepreneur’s stands. I was impressed by how many start-ups for sustainable development there were – the future definitely holds improvement for the environmental situation of India.

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The zoo was closed by the time I made it through, unfortunately, but the Old Fort was just across the river from it though, so I went there instead. Walking through the dark tunnels and climbing the ruins in the sunset was my favorite part of the day. Even more people wanted pictures with the white kid parkouring around the ancient ruins. I think I’m in about 30 family portraits by now.

Travelling alone is really incredible, but also very straining. I’m the happiest I’ve been since my youth, but as happy as I am and as many vivid experiences as I’m getting I know it would be far, far better if a friend was here to share it with. I’m realizing that a friend is like this journal – it provides credibility, but the benefit of a friend is that they can project their own story onto the screen of your perception. They bring something that I could never achieve alone. I think that’s the point of life – the purpose for which we were made this way; to share. There are so many things to be appreciated.

November 20, 2015

New Delhi

I think that when you live around so many people that it’s real easy to get sad because all you get is the bad part of people over and over, hundreds of times a day. You experience these humans with all their defenses up and yours up as well, completely bypassing their smiles, their humor, their tone of voice when they speak of their passion, and the warmness of their embrace. Apprehension is inevitable.

Of course it’s important to be cautious, because there are bad intentions out there, but most people just want to be made happy by someone else. They want to share. They are just you under a little different circumstances.

I’ve been getting upset by people staring at me, pointing at me, and laughing at my expense, but now I think that I shouldn’t. I’m an alien in a world of very little diversity, so being flamboyantly blond and pale and lanky is just like being a dog walking through the train station on two legs and asking for directions in English. Of course people are going to react to such a foreign object. Should I expect them to accept me? Am I even supposed to be here? America has taught me to accept diversity, to promote diversity. I see that acceptance as the only way of life, and of course I become rattled when it’s not widely observed by the society I find myself in. It’s a foundation of mine. But is it right? Am I overthinking it? I don’t know what to think about these things. The world is a portrait in grayscale.

I went to the Qutab Minar today just as the sunlight was beginning to ripen into opacity. The ancient structures were beautiful, and it was sort of jarring when an airplane flew just overhead to land in the nearby airport. I felt lost in time.

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I walked for a couple hours afterwards. New Delhi is amazing, and overwhelmingly huge. Despite all the bad that people have to say about it and although it has polluted my lungs, it has also charmed my soul. Tomorrow I will say goodbye to it. I leave for Agra at 5:30 a.m.

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Hinduism is a particularly charming way of explaining the way our heads are put together, and how our souls have found these bodies made of star corpses that we carry through the plane of existence with a ball of dirt as our vehicle and the cosmos our byway. Hindu’s are the essence of India, filling it with radical exhibits of life and accentuating its weirdness. I found a magnetism about this religion and the people who’ve laid it as the foundation of their days – it captivated me with its bold approach to benevolence. I found myself asking everyone with their 3rd eye marked about its history, testimonies, and anecdotes. As I found out more about it I found that the emphasis put on the importance of family within its philosophy has caused me to reexamine some things in my own life.

One story belonging to these that I received from an especially zealous young Ukrainian woman on the train from Delhi to Agra, (who I found out was actually a publisher of Hindu texts in Sanskrit and Ukrainian) was about a boy named Shravan. This dude’s parents told him that they wished to visit forty places of pilgrimage in their old age as to purify their souls. Without the means to afford transportation for them, Shravan put each parent in a basket and tied them to the ends of a bamboo pole, which he hoisted upon his shoulders, and thus the pilgrimage began. He carried his parents throughout the world.

This story punched a hole in my chest. I pondered…

What the hell have I done for my parents? Have I even justified them having birthed and raised me? I’ve certainly had opportunities to give back, but have I? Would my back break from lack of use if I attempted to carry them now?

I admit with heavy reluctance that I wish I’d done much more and much better with the time I’ve had. Reading about M K Gandhi’s humble service and unhesitating honesty regarding his parents in his autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” further nourished my laments. Even in childhood M K Gandhi showed greatness by being a spotless example of what a son should be for his parents.

Being away from them for some time now and having gained a lot of perspective on the situation I left behind, I see that there’s a lot of regret to be had. I regret every time that I didn’t do as they said, every time my trust in their competence or benevolent will for me faltered. They were right in every respect that I couldn’t see at the time. I regret every meal that I didn’t eat with them at the dinner table, and every time I took all that they did for me for granted – it digs at me that I’m still ignorant to how much that is, and that they’re ignorant to how eager I am to appreciate their efforts.

But through a different lens I have carried my parents. I actually brought them here to India with me. I carry them, not in a yoke on my back, but in a colorful cardboard sleeve. I take them out, blow the dust off, place them carefully on the turntable, and wait for the cue to drop the needle.

A difficult decision arises – that’s the signal to begin.

“Use everything you have and keep your eyes open, son,” says Dad.

I’m walking down a seedy street at night when track 2 starts – this one’s called ‘Leave Your Money at Home and a Knife in Your Back Pocket’ by Dad. Sometimes I sit and listen to Dad all the way through, from the overplayed singles like ‘Behave Yourself’ to the deep tracks like ‘Money and Budgeting’, ‘Outdoor Survival’, and ‘The Important Things in Life.’

When I’m getting bored with the routine I’ve established and decide it’s time for a night out I flip the split to Side B and hear Mom make sure I’m using my time wisely. Again I go through the tracklist:

Health and Hygeine – Mom

                Take Your Medicine – Mom ft. Lynny

                Be Careful – Mom

                Wash Your Clothes – Mom

And my favorite one of all: We Believe in You – Mom & Dad ft. the Entire Family

Every once in a while it seems like the record breaks because the same phrase or lesson is repeated over and over then over again, but I’ve learned that this is just the particular aesthetic of the artists as to achieve a particular effect on the listener.

Sometimes with no prompting at all the needle drops itself and their dialogue stubbornly situates itself in my ear demanding thoughtfulness and practicality.

Within this vessel of my mind, from whence the playback of my parents’ words emanate, I carry them.

But is that true?

I cannot honestly think that I carry them if it’s no real burden to me, can I? I cannot say that I carry them if they bear no weight but make me lighter instead.

Does an eagle carry his own wings?

Here I stand still, halfway through my journey; looking forward at the way to go, back at the way I came – at the beauty of it all. I wonder. Who was it that cut this path for me? Who was it that put boots on my feet and then gave me the strength to lift them? Not nearly enough – to walk with them? Ha! To run with them! To climb mountains with them! To tread on any naysayer that says, “Life is limited, boy!”

I feel the fire pumping through the chambers of my heart burning me alive and replacing my obstacles with rubble and ash, but who is the arsonist?

This is who: My beautiful mother. My hard working father. The ones I love the most. These are the culprits. These two made me – everything I am, everything I can be and I wish now to publicly state, (but never publicly enough) that I love them for it. I know not all the endeavors of sacrifice taken by them for my sake but I need not to be sure that I owe them everything.

This is my experiment with truth: as much as I wish to be like M K Gandhi, with his inexhaustible reverence to the ones that provided his life – as much as I wish to be like Shravan who devoted himself fully to the service of his parents by carrying them across the world, I know surely that I am not.

For how can I say that I carry my parents when they are the ones that carry me?

I love you, Mom and Dad. I am nothing without you.

Impressions of India and the Kalypso Family

IMG_20151109_113828151  I would say that the moment I stepped off of the plane to India I knew I was in for a killer ride, but actually it was many weeks before in my research of this extremely economic use of space that I was hit with the notion that my trip would be intensely jovial, dismally depressing, spellbindingly euphoric, and everything betwixt these polar adversaries. However, I refused to give. My naivety made it possible to refuse to believe the seemingly over-the-top claims of LonelyPlanet and the many India travel blogs and forums that you could find me fanatically poring over in the weeks adjacent to my departure. In my mind’s eye, I had constructed a corpse of impossibility as the manifestation of what I held as India. It took seeing it with my own eyes to make India come to life, and come to life it did, bringing me to life with it. This is why stepping off the plane firmly rooted the vision of a hectic time to come. No amount of preparation can truly prepare you for what India holds.

I’ll begin where my adventure began: in Delhi. Walking through the alleys was like walking through a kaleidoscope of people, food, and culture. Crossing the street was like trying to thread a moving needle with a ski rope, except the consequence to failure is becoming a finished tube of toothpaste on the highway. The sights and monuments DSCN0489were compelling to no limit. The food was incredible (I stand beside that statement regardless of what my digestive tract has to say about it.) The people that I managed to divert out of the cascading river of pedestrians were friendly and helpful

After four days in Delhi I transitioned to Agra. On the train ride over I sat beside an amazing young lady from Ukraine wearing traditional Hindu garments. We talked about her profession and she introduced me to the Hindu faith. She is a publisher for the religious texts in Sanskrit and Ukrainian. The way she spoke so passionately about her beliefs captivated me.

There is surely an abundance of virtue here in India.

This was made even more abundantly clear when, just a few hours after meeting this lady, I witnessed the Taj Mahal. There’s no explanation for its beauty. I’m consistently overwhelmed by the thought that I stood in the archway embellished with the floral pattern of eternal paradise along with hundreds of others experiencing the same tranquility as I.

The next days flew by in a blur. Jaipur, Mumbai, and Goa with bright visuals, great people and culture, tasty food, and incredible experiences sinuated in each. The trains between each destination were an awesome way to meet people. The rails are like a social network, forcing very different people to ebb their defenses and seek shelter from impending boredom within one another’s facets of life.IMG_20151110_071430130

In my train journeys I’ve met some really admirable people: A man recently retired from the Indian Navy, going to school to coach cricket as his next career; a boy my age finishing up his Computer Science degree from the University of Mumbai, with aspirations to work at IBM in California; a Spanish traveler who has completed the circuit of the world on several different occasions for years at a time usually, and who also is a faithfully practicing Buddhist; a surfer from New York living in India for years who does photography work for several big magazines and corporations, amongst a multitude of others.

I was starving for conversation, and this was a buffet.

By the time I arrived in Kochi I was drowning blissfully in an ocean of conversed wisdom and friendship. The train ride from Goa to Kochi was by far my favorite. The early hours of the morning provided a striking sun illuminating the bright green beauty of the Kerala countryside. Tea and rice fields flew by as I sucked in the fresh air, filling my lungs to capacity with the aroma of a fresh rain.

Arriving at Kalypso was another highlight of the journey. I was warmly welcomed by everyone at the headquarters. None of them would rest until they were assured that I was safe in my travels, and that I had a great time exploring their beloved country. Beckoned forward by Vishal, I was embraced and immediately I felt myself part of the Kalypso family.

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This welcome has allowed me to expect a great 2 months here at Kalypso. Hopefully I can aid the company in their social media efforts with my skills in media and resourcefulness. In the period that I’m here I wish to gain practical knowledge on the inner workings and organization of an adventure-based company. Marketing is also something that I would enjoy to learn about while I’m here, because I think it will be useful in deciding how I would like my academic and professional career to develop.

I thank Kalypso with all the strength of my heart for their kind welcome and for taking a chance on me as an intern. I will do my best to make them relish their decision.

Mother from Mother Africa

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She stops in the doorway of the kitchen and breaths in the familiar odor of cut carrots and friendly things. She sits down to her work with a smile supporting her sun-darkened cheeks, the pressure of her eagerness bursting within her pockets of happiness that gush over her parched spirit. Her callous hand, greasy with cooking oil, reach straight into the frying pan to flip the sizzling meat, which has by now succeeded in smiting every nose and stomach in the house. Although cooking utensils litter the counter behind her she deems them unnecessary. I suppose that long ago she forsaked the spatula as an artist forsakes his brush when he finds that he’s become the tool of his tool and to be more intimate with his passion he uses his own skin as the instrument for portraying his will. Fresh ingredients her palette, the stove her medium, and our increasing appetites her vision, Saumu is extraordinarily passionate with her art form. Mom always said that she stuck her ear in it when she made a delicious meal.

Saumu stuck her soul in it.

From the moment I met Saumu, I knew that she was everything good about the universe. My heart, raw from being detached so abruptly from my own mother, immediately latched to this angel and she more than adequately filled the vacancy with maternal sincerity. Saumu is the cook and housekeeper of the volunteer house where I lived in Tanzania, and I’m wounded by the realization that I have to live with the thought that most people will never be introduced to her, and therefore never know how beautiful the world can be. It’s not my inability to mold the language to explain her to you, it’s the lack of raw material required to accomplish it. I can’t believe my luck in chancing across the two greatest mothers in the world, and rightfully being able to call them so.

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As dinnertime nears, all the occupants of the volunteer house look at the door of the kitchen with as much longing as when Romeo looked toward yonder window. Although I’m sure Saumu was great at breaking hearts with her looks in her younger days, it seems that now she prefers to break stomachs with her aromas. I’m convinced that she receives commission from the Stomachbreak Hotel, where lost souls go to weep over the intoxicating odors with the likes of Smellvis.

Saumu has unintentionally dug a hole deep into my heart and properly excavated a couple of items that were formerly unknown to me. Though I know I face inevitable defeat, here I will attempt to provide you with the experience of Saumu’s charm through a story.

One late Tuesday morning, not long after my arrival in Tanzania, I found myself dangling on the increasingly slack cable of hunger and sorrow between the light poles of a meager breakfast and a thin lunch.

I resolved to beat the insensitive complaints of my very privileged tummy by going for a walk.

I stepped out of my room into a gray, windy morning, the steely ceiling of clouds above me reflecting my every emotion, like a great pensive mirror. I was hungry, homesick, and still trying to find the way to fulfill my role at the school.

I trudged onto the dirt road from the orphanage looking for a snack and a purpose. Past the puddles of dusty water reflecting the white sky and lone street dogs searching for shelter from the biting wind, I walked.

Nearing the end of the street where I knew I could find a pub, I began to think that things were beginning to improve for me, until the extreme of my abnormally large clown foot found a rock, then in slow motion I comically tripped and fell into a pile of trash in the roadside ditch.

As I lay dying in a heap of dirty plastic bottles and road sludge I became lucidly aware of Charlie Brown’s place at the base of my branch on my family tree, and decided that today was not an event that wanted my participation any longer, so I called off the search for food and began to retract beck into the shell of my room.

The way back found my head hung low and my heart trembling with grief. The abyss of sadness loomed near, and though I am now an adult and the time is long past that I could admit it with grace, I really wanted my mommy.

If I ever need a mother’s side it was then, so the moment was stapled glorious when I got exactly that. From the depths of this emotional concave I was found by the intent of redemption of Saumu, who stepped out of an alleyway like walking allegory for everything joyous and dove down to pluck me from the great divide.

When she called out for me the clouds parted, when she put her arm over my shoulders my eyes lifted, when she walked me over to her humble home and insisted I stay for lunch I felt my spirit break and weep like Alexander when there were no more worlds, and when she consoled my woes my rigid heart split and divided for her to cleanly sever and mend. Imagine a near 200 pound and 6’2’’ long pink baby being cradled and supported by a small African lady, and you have a pretty accurate depiction of what was occurring.

I didn’t question the coincidence, I held it as one holds something fragile and precious, without looking too hard at it for fear that it would dissipate under the weight of my glance. All that I was aware of in this moment was a dull feeling of wonder trickling down my back. This was the moment that I truly fell in love with Saumu.

Her home, where she lived with her two kids, was a concrete box 12’ by 12’ by 8’ complete with a couch, a table, a bed, and a cabinet. The moment I drew back the lace curtain hung over the doorframe to enter I was seized at the heart by the thick layer of love rolling off of every single item in the tiny abode. The items surrounded and welcomed me like old friends waiting for me to return from some long journey.IMG_20151104_093617522.jpg

I greeted them as so with the hello of a single footstep from the doorframe to the couch and, at the request of Saumu, sunk into the simmering layer of love-ooze of the small, hard sofa. Another step and a shuffle around the coffee table and I would have been laying in her bed.

Saumu chose the step-shuffle route to sit across from me on the bed and she began to cut the meat, and I to clean the rice. The currents of our conversation swelled and diminished, and swept from the small coast of ‘How are you?’s to the mighty shore of family history and life lessons.

I asked about her children, because her son BaIMG_20151104_093642559 (1)cari, my star
pupil, held the soft part of me tight within his gentle, small clutches. I found out that he had a little sister, equally capable of cardiac robbery.

The subject relayed to siblings and she began speaking passionately about her 3 brothers: the Swahili movie star, the hotel chef, and the secondary school teacher, and as she spoke, her joy became my joy. After 3 movie trailers from her phone, a few secret formulas revealed, and a discussion comparing high school experiences between my own country and hers, I felt like her brothers were my own. Then she started about her parents from the village, who worked their youth away to put their 4 children through to the other side with an education and who loved their grandchildren with the value of every breath breathed by humanity.

I anticipated that the assembly of the person that she is would be under great circumstances and among great people, but as she wove the great curtain that framed the stage of her life in front of me, I began to understand that my initial engagement of thought, that she was everything good about the universe, was far more true than I could ever hope to see.

Behind every human façade is a swirling ocean of inconsistent storms and changing tides, and as I realize this I will give up hope of ever completely knowing one, even my own self, or of justly judging my brothers and sisters. That does not mean, however, that I will not hoist my sail, grit my teeth, pay heed to my father, and scour the seas as the passion of my uncompromising life.

As much as I’d love to see the Atlantic, the Saumu Ocean holds my greatest voyage, for then Saumu dropped something on me that I’ll never be capable of removing from myself for as long as I last.

“Quince… Home is… Home is something we create for ourselves. My children are my home, my soul reaching out into the world, just as my thoughts, feelings, and speech to you are. Love and home are twins, so wherever love can be mustered and cultivated, even in the darkest corners, a home can bloom and flourish. Know it like you know that the sun will rise again that you have a home here.”

By this time I was bound and hanged by a noose of heartstrings and no tool that I had, not ignorance nor could refusal loosen these bonds or sever these chords.

These words reached out from Saumu and into me, grabbing something of me that I had long forgotten about. She was meddling with a part of me that I had not the courage to disturb. I would look in, receive a healthy shock of vertigo, and back away, but Saumu leapt first, and gave me the courage to follow. The formerly raging ocean of my soul was as glass in this moment. Unable to let her see what was inevitably surfacing to my expression I embraced her with all the strength in my bones and thanked her for lunch before I departed…

For home.

I left Saumu’s house that day without her ever knowing how much it meant to me. A single conversation, a few words of kindness swept, mopped and waxed the linoleum lining the inside of my body and mind. She cleaned out all the grime and muck that was burdening me and I left like a great new man with a great new chest, a great new brain, and great new feelings and thoughts to fill them, respectively.

And delicious food to fill my great new stomach.

Saumu is a person that has caused me to reexamine humanity on a level of sustenance. What sustains a human? Particularly yours truly, this human putting spirit to bone to flesh to pen to paper, trying his best to explain the way he feels? Does it take just food, water, and shelter? Are we animals? No. It takes more, because we are more. We are intelligent creatures with a huge flaw in our autonomy: we need sustenance beyond the physical realm. But this flaw is a Goldilocks ecosystem, from which springs all the joy we as people have ever known. We are beautiful, like gods, and according to Elbert Hubbard we are gods– in the chrysalis. Love is our ambrosia, conversations our manna, let us grow strong and let us feed the multitudes by being kind, by opening our hearts and doors to those without their bearings. A drop in the ocean creates ripples that turn to waves, just so your acts reach distant shores that you’ll never know of. Saumu did well in the way she passed and she mended a wound far beyond my own capabilities to plaster, so my lesson is to follow her example and bring a little light to a world growing dim.

I was so sure that I didn’t need anybody, before my soul was broken down and crying out, “anybody?” Saumu is a great teacher on the curriculum of life, and although I’ve brushed upon this subject with brevity in former grades this time I learned it well.

I thought you all needed a course refresher as well, so here it is: Be kind. Be great.

Byproducts of Bliss

The following are the songs with the lyrics that I created with the help of the children at the school. I hold these pieces and the voices that bring them to life very dear to my soul. I hope you enjoy.

Mambo:

We are leaving so goodbye/ I had a very fun time/ I learned a lot of useful things/ to help me have a good life/ Mambo, mambo/ Asante sana for everything/ Poa, poa/ you make me want to dance and sing/ Mambo, mambo/ Asante sana for everything/ Poa, poa/ you make me want to dance and sing/ I love Mr. Peter a lot/ I love all the teachers, too/ before we say farewell/ we want to say we love you/ Goodbye, goodbye/ Thank you very much for everything/ Badae, badae/ you make me want to dance and sing/ Mambo, mambo/ Asante sana for everything/ Poa, poa/ you make me want to dance and sing

Good Hope (Shikamo):

The student body of Good Hope is great and strong/ With a skeleton of friendship and muscles of song/ Sote tunafaraha moyoni/ Amani imetawala/ Tumezungu kwa na upendo/ Amani imetawala/ Shikamo, woah/ The day is bright and I love you so/ Si Jambo, woah/ This song we wrote, I hope it gives you/ It gives you Good Hope/ The blood of love beats hard against skin tight as a drum/ And every time I come to school it gives my heartstrings a strum/ Sote tunafaraha moyoni/ Amani imetawala/ Tumezungu kwa na upendo/ Amani imetawala/ Shikamo, woah/ The day is bright and I love you so/ Si Jambo, woah/ This song we wrote, I hope it gives you/ It gives you Good Hope/ I hope it gives you Good Hope/ I hope it gives you Good Hope/ I hope it gives you Good Hope/ 1, 2, 3, 4/ Rock n’ roll, woah/ The day is bright and I love you so/ Rock n’ roll, woah/ This song we wrote, I hope it gives you/ It gives you Good Hope/ I hope it gives you Good Hope

*Bonus*

A rough cover of Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece! I love this song, and so did the kids so we decided to give it a go.

These songs are the byproduct of my ethereal experience with the good people in Arusha, Tanzania. Their effect on me will be sustained in the essence of who I am for as long as I breath. Enjoy!

Better than Freebird (catch-up)

 

If I awake before 8 am on a Saturday morning it usually means that I’m expecting an amusement park, a huge breakfast forged at the hand of a master (e.g. Dad), Dragonball reruns, or an equally pleasurable experience. Incredibly seldom is it that I will disturb myself from my bed for something as dismal as an academic assembly at such hours. So rare indeed that I can only recall three times that I have gone through a similar trouble in the past half a decade.

Once as a graduation marshal for the Hertford County High School graduating class of 2014 – once more as a graduate of the Hertford County High School graduating class of 2015 – and finally as an esteemed music teacher at Good Hope Primary School and Orphanage in the beautiful foreign country of Tanzania performing a critically acclaimed original song with the graduating 7th class where I was praised as an honored guest and hand-fed cake alongside a great feast of other delicacies.

For some reason I got out of bed slightly less begrudgingly for the latter of the aforementioned processions. It occurred this past Saturday.

The sunlight stood stagnant in the air like great pools, and I felt that if I wasn’t careful then I’d be in danger of drowning in the nostalgia of a bright fall day from my childhood.

I walked across the dusty field with my morning cup of tea, and looked out over the white canvas tents and brightly colored plastic chairs. The audio equipment was being assembled nearby while I peeked into the dormitory where the 7th class was preparing themselves for the recognition of their achievements.

With a sad smile I looked into all the faces of the kids that were looking up to me with an unhesitating admiration. Each face was a bullet wound of spirit plastered by a glare of love that dug a little deeper into my heart with each one that caught my glance. They looked stunning in their fresh robes and hoods. These were the kids that welcomed me into this new world with such intense warmness and appreciation that the only transition I felt from the U.S. to Africa was one that a child might feel when going from home to grandma’s house.

I had spent nearly every day of the past 2 months with these young people, getting to know how they each were shaped, appraising their virtues, and predicting the beauty that they would lend to the world. Now I had to say good-bye.

But not before the performance of a lifetime.

Quincy PLays Guitar

Our song, composed in simplistic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus format, was the grand finale to the extensive graduation process which in contrast was composed of complex and planned chaos, like a God’s fire Beethoven symphony, and a few of the first chairs of the orchestra were late.

They weren’t aware of that, though.

You see, African time is perceived a little differently that the folks back home are used to. To administer some understanding, if you want to, say, meet somebody, or catch a bus, or have a huge milestone life event of paramount importance, then you decide a time that’s good for you… and then add an –ish to it.

The graduation began at 10-ish.

Classes 1 through 6 had been present since the early hours of the morning. I was astounded at the iron discipline of the hundreds of children as young as 3 years old that sat obediently in their designated seats under the tents for over 6 hours. I attempted my best to imagine American primary school students doing the same, but the image refused to assemble.

Halfway through, even my own patience was fatigued, and the child in me (or more appropriately that I am), was already fidgeting heavily with a 100 shilling piece and trying to clot the outward expression of my overflowing enthusiasm for the 8th speech of the day that was delivered in flawless Swahili.

Despite my inability to understand the language, I was captivated.

Each class had a special routine dedicated to their departing friends, all leading up to class 7’s performance and diploma ceremony. It was touching to see the conviction and solemnity with which they regarded their final goodbye to their comrades. The Good Hope student body is great and strong, with skin as tight as a drum and the blood of love beating hard against it.

After ages of watching the different ages, it was our turn to perform. We took the stage the way we had rehearsed, and I looked at them standing there in the hot afternoon sun with bittersweet contention.

I struck the first chord and they each allowed themselves to be illuminated by a network of fiery passion and from the depth of their chests, up through the gates of their tongues and lips marched a grand symphony of triumph, melancholy regard for the past, and hope for everything beautiful in the future.

My legs trembled. My fingers couldn’t find the strings. I was made weak by some force pressing down on my lungs. I had to forfeit my emotional regard for that moment, in that moment, in order to embellish it with my participation. I composed myself with a deep breath and a clench of my jaw.

The kids performed with excellency, precision, and compassion. My pride felt not like a vice, but like a sincere prayer. Our song, called “Mambo” (the equivalent to ‘what’s up’ in Swahili), was the highlight of the ceremony and just as we finished the crowd burst into cheers as gasoline bursts into flames. As a result I can’t walk anywhere on campus without hearing someone, student, teacher, auntie, or even headmaster, humming the tune or shouting the lyrics of our creation, and be it the first or millionth time I’ve heard it my heart liquefies and trickles down into my stomach.

Everyone absolutely loved it.

Quincy and Kids

When the song was performed and the crowd settled once more, a small bit of confusion ensued, for the kids and I remained center stage. The impression was made that the climax had been reached and I could see everyone preparing to slump back into their chairs and to guard themselves once more from the onslaught of meticulousness with automatically induced sloth.

I was obliged to satiate the obvious hunger for contrariety.

Until this point, I had been relentlessly working on a secret song with the kids that no one except the headmaster, class 7, and I knew about. This was the moment of the grand reveal. I felt that this song’s meaning was situated just in the cusp of relevancy, and that I was constrained by my morality to have it played here. What song was it, you ask?

Enlighten yourself by asking this single question, *Van Zant voice* “What song is it you wanna hear?!”

The appropriate response is “FREEBIRD!” followed by forcibly removing your flannel shirt and smashing the nearest glass object.

Yeah, we played Freebird.

Six chords and nearly 4 minutes of dense bliss followed, sans guitar solo for the sake of sparing the ceremony an additional hour in length. In my mind everything went perfectly and at the end I felt like a champion, but it wasn’t until the disappointingly meager response from the crowd that I considered the idea that maybe Freebird didn’t quite reach the state of legend and infamy in Tanzania as it did in the States.

They would have rather heard ‘Mambo’ again, so I guess from certain perspectives our song is a better song than Freebird.

Blasphemy, or far-reaching insight on the power of perspective?

This was the question I was pondering as cake was shoved into my mouth.

After all the students received their certificates and gifts, the feast was initiated by the guests being hand fed cake by the students, and I, being a guest, was fed nearly an entire cake one bite at a time by different hands, respectively.

I thought of it as a delicious form of bonding.

Afterwards, my ruined appetite found new life as we tucked in to a bounty of culinary doubloons.

I am ashamed to say that I fell for the stereotype and received the impression that I wouldn’t be eating as much in Africa. To my great pleasure I was proved to be an idiot. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had have occurred here in Tanzania, and I’m sure I’ve put on a stone.

I will conclude my relay of events as the actual event concluded: with a happy scene of high cholesterol and lethargy. Once the feast was done everyone was eager to dip out as fast as their newly conceived food babies would allow them. I hugged all of my class 7 with great respect to the moment, and with great hopes that I would see them again soon. When I pulled away from our final embrace it felt as if my heart clung so closely to them that it was ripped from my chest as a honeybee is ripped apart after its sting.

Bacari and Moses, my star pupils who had become quite adept at guitar and piano each, approached me at this point.

“You were my favorite teacher,” Bacari said with a simple smile. “I’ll miss you very, very much,” said Moses. That one hit me deep. Simple though these statements were, I couldn’t find the justification to do so if you asked me to trade them for a second life.

I’d love to credit my success to teaching expertise and general good-nature, but hindsight tells me that they loved my class for the lack of structure and my lenience which allowed them to do whatever they wanted. Either way, we both had a good time.

I walked back to my room with the crown of my head towards the heavens, with the aching hole in my abdomen freely bleeding emotion, and with assurance of my importance in at least a few lives.

I love you, Class 7. I hope the best for you, and I know that whatever you do, you’ll do it big.

Original Publication Date: November 2, 2015

Original Publication Site: http://globalgap.unc.edu/2015/11/02/better-than-freebird/

Three Perfect Hours: A Night of Tanzanian Reggae (catch-up)

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Sometimes I find the things that actually happen to me a bit hard to believe. It’s pretty difficult to relay a course of events when the prose for such is too perfect, or similarly outlandish.

My life has become a thick stew of perfect and outlandish.

I feel like the little brother that rushes in mid-conversation to brag about a deed whose shimmering façade forsakes the truth of the effort, and who everyone disregards without grasping the weight of what was really accomplished.

Following the theme of disregard, I’ll disregard the skepticism that I assume is already crashing against whatever monitor that you’re viewing this blog on, with enough force to shatter it. Hopefully you have a screen protector because your doubt is unwarranted. This really happened, I promise, and if you don’t believe me then perhaps the photographic evidence can convince you.

Okay, I feel like that was a pretty effective build-up to what I’m about to say next. Here goes: I’m a Tanzanian rockstar.

No, seriously guys.

Well reggae star if you want to be technical, but still… pretty cool, right? I’m like if Tom Morello was one of the Wailers, but in Africa, and also a white kid.

To appropriately quote the late Bob Marley, “Me jammin.”

Let me explain my claims.

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This past Saturday night I was invited to play lead guitar for an assembly of musicians properly known as Warriors of the East at a club in the town center of Arusha. Now, of course, it was no Madison Square Garden, but as any struggling, mediocre musician (like myself) would know, playing any downtown on a Saturday night is reliably sweet.

I was requested to join this performance by Warriors of the East’s frontman, Ras, whom before Saturday night I had known as Mr. Magare, the other music teacher at Good Hope.

If you were a fan of the spontaneity of my previous wedding adventure, then you’ll be thrilled to learn that I was told about this event the day of, and that I practiced with the band a total of zero hours and zero minutes before showtime.

Showtime.

“Okay, everybody ready?” said Magare as the band took their places on stage and seemed prepared enough to dig in.

“Um, where’s my guitar?” was my way of letting him down.

The lack of rehearsal was criminal. The leader of the band would lean away from the microphone seconds before the four-count to shout chords at me, in desperate hope that my musical competency was proactive enough to find the scale and pull something decently fitting from thin air.

No one cut my line, so I’d like to assume that I didn’t disappoint.

At the beginning of the show there were 5 people on the minute stage, including 2 guitarists, a singer, a bassist, and a drummer. I was not uncomfortable at that point, for I have played far smaller stages with far more people and equipment, and I was cozy in the back corner that I secured for myself. It should be obvious from my melancholic tone, though, that the comfort didn’t last.

As the hour grew larger in number, so too did the musicians on stage. To our prestigious collection we added not only another guitarist, a keyboardist, and a Masai tribesman on vocals, but a man who looked as if he had witnessed and even perhaps had a hand in the creation of the earth.

Naturally on the bongos.

His tired skin clung to his bones like a weary lover, and his colorless dreadlocks rested on the floor when he sat at his instrument. An obvious master at his trade, his reputation and aura demonstrated his skill before he even stepped over the threshold of the venue. Regardless, when he joined in with the others and me, I was captivated by his performance. His hands moved with the fluidity of an attacking predator, and the grace with which he approached the music told me that he has been one with his instrument for much longer than my age.

I was honored to play beside him.

I didn’t catch his name before he stepped back out into the night as mysteriously as he had arrived, where I assumed that he fell into a pile of dust that was swept away by the breeze, taking him to reassemble at the next gig that needed his presence.

By the end there were 9 people on stage, making the Warriors of the East more like the Army of the East.

We performed for all of 3 hours, and though my shoulder ached from carrying the weight of the guitar, and my legs burned with fatigue, I wore a tenacious grin; product of the rejuvenation of spirit familiar to any musician after a solid set.

The experience was superbly rewarding. If I didn’t get anything else from it, at least I can say that I played with a legitimate reggae band in Africa, and feel free to bring me to justice if I’m out of line, but that’s badass.

I am proud of the intricate web of paths taken that I recall as my life that has led up to the paramount moment that I took the stage.

I can conclude with no anxiety that my debut performance on the African music scene went well.

Original Publication Date: October 22, 2015

Original Publication Site: http://globalgap.unc.edu/2015/10/22/three-perfect-hours-a-night-of-tanzanian-reggae/