What I Love More

After 3 months of lockdown, I’ve finally been able to leave the concrete jungle that is Nairobi for some open space. That’s what I love about this city– you can probably find a means to an end. Lately, on Sundays: going up to Lukenya to climb. The motorcycle trip to the crag alone is an adventure in itself. In early June, the roads were washed out with the heaviest week of downpours since the rainy season started some months ago. The locals are unphased as always, plunging through puddles of unknown depths on their boda-bodas, so we just followed them. We saw zebra, baboons, wildebeest, and gazelle on the drive in, saw locals sunning themselves and enjoying life once again. We bushwhacked as part of the approach– having been stuck in rooms for so long, I relished even that part. This week, the motorbike broke down twice on the way there. It seems as if a tune-up at a local garage had made things that much worse. People stopped for us with a warm generosity that still amazes me. I learned some mechanic basics about wheel alignment, shortening chains, flushing out filth with petrol. Somehow, the right people just show up. Something about reflected energy in the universe and how it aims to meet your needs. Had half a day to love feeling the rock so much I forgot to look down at the wrong times. Advanced satisfactorily on a project fittingly named Leap of Faith. Got the right amount of bruises and cuts to nurse through the week, as I sit staring in front of screens, to remind myself that there is a next time. Seasons barely exist here, it’s just a matter of trading mud for dust.

Things I wish I had photographed

Tunisian Edition

  • all the people who are friendly to the core, minus the cab drivers at the louage station and airport who (try to) rip you off
  • the people on the tram pulling me in, telling me vigila my bags
  • the tenderness of the man holding on to the woman’s arm on the light rail
  • the guy next to me on the louage who offered me gum
  • the man at the cafe who unlocked the women’s toilet for me 
  • the man in el jem selling carrots, piled high in his car (i wish i had more heart in approaching people and being open and asking for their story)
  • the shepherds you see on the roadside
  • the workers harvesting olives in those luscious groves
  • the man selling tea and snacks before the checking point, all bundled up, his left hand grasping sprigs of fresh mint
  • the men selling lizards? hedgehogs? hanging from a stick by the side of the road 
  • the young girls with braids climbing into the back of the pickup truck
  • the roadways from the plague has got me thinking about how the roads of the world are different, but make me feel the same way still.
  • i love being back on the continent. the disorder of it. things may not work, but no one pretends that they do.   
  • got the same louage driver back to tunis. he asked me if i knew french again, hopefully, as if i had picked it up that day in kairouan 

Chance Connections

In an age when the internet is involved in the majority of our relationships, the ones devoid of technology sometimes leave a longer lasting impression.

I was trying to find the bus to the airport in Kerala, south India. If you’ve ever been to a place where people give you a response to anything, even questions they don’t know the answer to, you will understand this was no simple task. Particularly when the situation is time-sensitive. I noticed a tall boy, loaded up with osprey hiking packs, who was also surveying the jumble of vehicles. He said he was heading to the airport too. We both got on a blue bus, a green bus, an extra-janky bus, all of which were wrong. Eventually we found the right one and started snaking our way through intense Kochi traffic. 

We started to chat– he told me he’s from Malmö, Sweden, and that he was working in real-estate until he quit his job recently. He spent the last three months teaching yoga on the beach in Varkala and regretted nothing. His body had that leanness about it. Our faces drip with sweat from the intense heat. In Kerala, the atmosphere is somehow both stultified by the sun yet relentlessly bursting with human activity. He explained that he is flying to China to teach English. When I learned that he spoke Mandarin at a reasonable fluency, we spoke only in Chinese for the rest of the hour and a half ride. In our rambling conversation, we chatted about how delicious and affordable the food is in India, marveled at the humidity and its astounding presence, and looked up the word for ‘macadamia nut’ in Chinese (澳大利亞見過). We spoke about what we wanted to do with our lives, what we hoped we wouldn’t become. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized how easily our conversation flowed.

We got off the bus together at the airport. But as a security guard checked our passports, I realized I was at the wrong terminal– international instead of domestic. I was flying back to Bombay to meet a friend. He looked me in the eye and told me how much he appreciated the chat. Likewise. A parting hug. One last glance and that was it– I didn’t look back. We hadn’t exchanged contact info or even names. I like to think both of us had been intentional about that– some momentary friendships are better off remaining perfect in memories.

My semi-itinerant lifestyle as a photojournalist has taught me not to get too attached to people I meet abroad– you learn to enjoy what time you share together and let it go when it’s over. As I walked toward the domestic terminal, I was surprised to feel a real pang– of what exactly, I wasn’t sure. Nostalgia for the present moment which had already slipped by? Whatever it was, it felt like this connection mattered.

Our daily lives are oriented around technological communication and notifications. I’ve been working remotely for a company for nearly two years and have yet to meet my bosses in person. When I’m away from home on assignment or for a trip, calling my friends and family brings familiarity and comfort into even the most foreign and remote of places. In the media, there are entire columns devoted to dissecting the art of modern communication: why texting styles matter, how much time to wait before responding, whether or not a voice-call is too imposing. Thinking back to this chance encounter nearly three years later, I’m amazed at what ends up being remembered. That Swedish boy and I were just two people trying to find a bus– we ended up opening to each other, two strangers, as if we knew it was bound to happen. We shared a moment together as we were trying to figure out what matters to us in a world where everything is a blur of roadside thali, headachey pollution, and warm bottled water. Nothing less, not much more.

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