A car breaking down in the middle of a national park in Tanzania is different than say, a car breaking down in the middle of a national park in Vermont. In Tanzania, things eat humans whose cars break down. All that was heard from our Safari driver for the last several hours was that when spotting animals he’d stop long enough for us to take photos but that we should “never stop for too long.” Very encouraging information given the set of events that was about to take place. I suppose the guttural clanking of the engine before its wildly dramatic death should have clued us in that we were about to become Lion finger food. Or at the very least playthings for the hundreds of baboons that had quietly assembled on the road before us as if they’d been anticipating our arrival and plotting our demise. Our demise happening sometime after their late afternoon butt picking session of course. (Visual aids below). Luckily for all of us, I’d recently finished the complete Planet of the Apes Box Set Collection, which gave me the confidence to realise that with a bit of humour, understanding and implausible Hollywood plot twists, humans and monkeys really can be best friends.
What I was worried about however, after the car screeched to a halt next to a Hippo watering hole, otherwise known as death’s door, were the words that next came out of my guide’s mouth. They sounded distinctly like “get out of the car and push.” I thought I’d been mistaken but in fact I had not. Never before had the phrase you get what you pay for been so wholly, painfully clear to me. It reminded me of that time I bought a discounted bra at a street market in Kuala Lumpur. It did about as much for holding up my boobs as a sieve does for holding water. Apparently I NEVER LEARN.
After three failed attempts at pushing we took a break and seeing as though we had the time, we had run out of things to do besides pray for survival, we walked over to inspect an ant hill at the side of the road. This was no ordinary northern hemisphere ant hill the size of your fist. This was the Everest of ant hills, it wasn’t a neighbourhood in there it was an ant universe. It’s size was impressive enough to render us speechless for a few solid minutes and as the ants diligently made their way to and fro I began to wonder if the ant world had it figured out better than the rest of us. Are they happier living in commune with one another and working towards one common goal? Is it insulated enough inside there to keep them warm on a cool evening but airy enough that it doesn’t get too stuffy? and if there’s some sort of ant mutiny rebellion against the establishment do they drive out the ousted leader and appoint a new King ant? Or is it more of a socialist self-governing society? I never saw the movie Antz so I don’t know. These are the kinds of existential entomological questions that I didn’t know I cared about until I thought I wouldn’t be around to think them any more. Amongst all of this thinking, I began to wonder if the ants, should I meet my fate inside the mouth of a lioness, would carry my lifeless and mangled body into their ant hill for refuge as to spare me from total annihilation by the vultures above. They seemed forgiving and empathetic like that. But one would hopefully never know. Fear of death has a quirky way of turning avoidant defense mechanisms into mildly interesting topics of conversation.
At this point we were beginning to feel quite optimistic about things and a bit lighter about the fact that with no phone service and light falling fast, meaning most of the other safari cars had already turned back, that our chances of having to spend the night in the car were increasing. No problem! It’s fine. So we’re in Lion territory, no big deal! So we’re fresh, vulnerable meat already perfectly seasoned with the salty sweat from a full day in the bush, who cares! It’s all good. Our faux confidence was as pathetic as the engine with which we road in on. After a last solid attempt to free ourselves and a death defying three quarters of an hour very literally trying to push a 4 x 4 out of a Safari park, the engine decided to return from the dead and reincarnate as a somewhat improved though still incomprehensibly crappy version of itself. As we drove away, the ant hill becoming a speck in the distance, our gratitude and joy quickly metamorphosed into an inexplicable urge to sing the “Circle of Life.” Apparently, challenging experiences in the wild can make you wiser, but they can’t make you less of a cliche.
South London’s answer to the local & organic food question is at Sutton Community Farm. A throwback to the days when we knew exactly where our food came from, picked it with our own hands and shared it with neighbours.
It’s a 7.1 acre plot where community members stop by and help out with the growing and picking. It’s all about slow food, culture, and community. Getting back to the basics and gettin’ your hands dirty.
Winter on the farm is preparation time for the buzz that is Springtime growing but there’s still vegetables for miles in mid Feb. You can smell the fresh leeks as soon as you rip them out of the ground.
It’s a hot cup of tea in the sunshine with friends versus an on-the-go latte. It’s slow and real in a world of fast and empty. It’s basic human instinct stuff and sometimes, just sometimes, simple is the most alluring thing ya know?
More on Sutton Community Farm and their VegBox scheme soon….
It’s a land of ideas, of insatiable hopes, of progress, and motion and change.
A place where the sky does not hold limitations and where the impossible is ever so strange.
Its steps are hurried and its strides are many as it’s continually setting the pace.
But just beside it walking confidently is its other self, the true essence of this complex place.
It continues to survive amidst the landscape of change and was there long before modern day,
It is deeply rooted in history and faith and despite progress that’s where it has stayed.
It lives in the sand and in the concrete of the city, it rises with the Arabian sun.
It is found in the unguarded moments of prayer and in each whispered voice one by one.
If you listen you’ll hear it and looking you’ll see what else of this place so enthralls….
It’s the mindful silence, the quiet in between, the reverence that permeates all.
For more of the image series head here.
I’ve just made a video for The Pastoral Women’s Council and their girls sponsorship program in Tanzania.
The program is helping marginalised girls receive the education they deserve and provides a lifeline for girls to escape forced marriage.
It’s a very worthy cause and if you’ve ever thought of sponsoring, please consider this program.
See the video here.
Ahhh India. The beautiful nation that gave birth to things like Curry, Yoga, Gandhi, the Taj Mahal and a host of other scientific and cultural accomplishments that we relish today and that have helped to shape mankind over the centuries. (They invented the number system for Pete’s sake. And ever grateful I am as it will aid me greatly throughout this piece.)
It is an immensely alluring place and the millions upon millions of visitors that cross its borders every year can attest to that.
Long before you alight she sits in your imagination and eventually seduces you to her dusty shores and remains in your memories long after you leave like the scent of a burnt out candle that lingers in the air and quietly reminds you of its enduring presence.
But there is a middle bit. Stuck somewhere in the space between longing for it and living it. A space that is occupied by three mental and physiological states of being that plague many a stranger. I like to call them the “Three Stages to Enlightenment.”
In India the world passes by with such fervour, such colour, such noise, that the foreign nervous system can’t help but to feel overwhelmed.
Days pass though, and the body and mind soon acclimatise to this violent assault on your senses, and you’re no longer having an embarrassing mental breakdown in the middle of a crowded street being giggled at by those who can smell your fear from a mile off. That’s what I like to call Stage One.
Next is Stage Two. Which is characterised by a period of unadulterated observational intensity. Otherwise known as “the dumbs.” You will stare, fearlessly, unabashedly, at all that you see around you. You’ll not yet be ready to articulate quite what you’re looking at, and you won’t necessarily be enjoying it either (that’s Stage Three), because at this point your neural pathways have ceased functioning and are in a state of temporary suspension, and really, you’re pretty much just staring out with your mouth open like an idiot.
Stage Three is when all of the fun begins, usually around days 3-4. You’ve taken it all in and it’s destroyed you from the inside out, but now you’ve been rebuilt as a better version of yourself (the less dumb version) and are ready to face all that India has to throw at you! The sea of bodies! The smells! The livestock!
It’s riveting, all of it, and you’re privileged to be experiencing it. The beautiful contrast that’s woven into Indian culture almost makes you want to cry. For you’ve never seen such extremes, such intoxicating customs, tastes, scents and movements. It’s a tapestry of wonder and at this point you’re giddier than a pig in sh*t. For you’ve been blinded but now you can see the light.
After your first full day in Stage Three you let a cold bottle of beer wash away the awkwardness that was the past few days. As you finish the bottle you congratulate yourself for surviving, no thriving, amidst the masses. Over the past few agonising days you’ve earned your freedom …
… and the reward is INDIA herself.
This was a wedding I was so happy to be a part of because I knew the bride from years ago…
Emily and I were in the same major together at University of Illinois, and we shared many a morning coffee and walk to class together. We were great college friends that hadn’t seen each other in years.
So when Emily got in touch to ask whether or not I would like to document their day, I was thrilled! Not only to be a part of it, but to be reunited after so long!!
After their lovely intimate wedding dinner with just a few close family and friends a few nights before, this day was the big party version to match it!
What a fantastic day it was. Though it was one of the coldest days in one of the coldest winters on record in Chicago, NOTHING could stop the good vibes that day.
The wedding party was based at the hotel, which is where the reception was also taking place. So whilst Emily and her bridesmaids were leisurely getting ready they were also able to check on the last minute details of the party that would soon kick off.
It was such a fun day from start to finish from the chilled out preparations in the hotel room to the gorgeous Assyrian ceremony to the NON STOP dancing at the reception.
Never have I seen dancing like this before at a wedding, it was impressive!
It was wonderful to be able to capture both of their wedding celebrations, and for me it was a pleasure to be around such genuine and lovely people who were kind enough to make me feel like a special guest.
Wishing them all the best in their future and hoping another reunion is not too far off…
If you’re currently standing somewhere in Hanoi, then you’re only an overnight train, a couple of hours bus ride and a days worth of inclinous hiking away from the world’s most delicious and highest altitude bowl of Pho.
Somewhere tucked between the peaks of northern Vietnam in Sapa, bordering China, lives the world’s best noodle soup chef.
I don’t know her name, or her village, and the only thing for me differentiating her modest address from the next was the fact that I was seated there.
The events leading up to this gastronomical juncture were many, and perhaps worth a mention….
When disembarking the bus from Lao Cai to Sapa one finds oneself in the centre of a small town which lies in a valley. Sapa is a main market town in the area so there are numerous stalls selling handicrafts and produce. The local people are mostly ethnic minority groups such as the Hmong and Dao people, and their traditional dress and artisan skills are on display for all to see (and purchase).
Surrounding the valley are mountains and rice fields and beyond the peaks are tribal villages accessible only by foot. The morning of my arrival I met Vien, my local guide who would be hiking with me over the peaks and into the villages beyond. The day started out foggy and the tops of the mountains were concealed as we gradually made our way up grassy hills and through terraced fields. We spotted a low lying river up ahead and a distressed farmer trying to lure his ox from the middle of it. As you do in those parts, we too began to call for the ox and as it inched its way closer to the bank we all stepped in and pushed from behind, the mud from his haunches covering our shoes, our hands and well, everything else. Feeling quite heroic and neighbourly, (and might I add filthy) we continued on across the rope bridge and ever more northward we trudged.
Hmong women in their thick mountain dress with their woven baskets strapped to their backs began to hike alongside of us. Between attempts at selling us their woven bracelets, there were mutual smiles and warm exchanges. Once the bracelets were purchased however the exchanges became less forced and their company began to feel friendly, comforting even. What started out as three turned into a robust group of ten. Flanked on either side they began to feel like Sherpas, hiking beside and in front of me as I amateurishly scrambled my way up their well-trodden paths. Eventually, the women grew bored of my company (one can only suspect) and departed, leaving our original group as we inched closer to the summit.
Down below we saw a village set in the valley. That was our next target. We took a small breather after the gruelling sprint for the summit and as we wiped the dusty sweat from our brow we noticed a small wooden hut just 10 yards ahead. We decided to take a seat and regain our energies before the downward journey. Vietnamese pleasantries were exchanged between Vien and the resident of the hut and before we knew it a piping hot bowl was set before us. The air had just enough bite in it to warrant a hot meal, but our stomachs were too empty to care about such frivolities as temperature.
I let the steam drift up to my face before picking up the chopsticks and devouring the fried egg delicately floating on top. The broth passed my lips and before long every noodle, herb and garnish had been slurped. The owner returned to collect our bowls and asked what I can only imagine was “How was it?” I didn’t have the words to express my deep satisfaction, but a wide and contented smile crossed my face as she grinned and slinked back into the darkness of her kitchen.
It was October in Lagos. The fisherman had just come in with his catch as the daylight was preparing its farewell.
The scene that next took place against the setting Portuguese sun was equal parts CHAOS and BEAUTY.
If you’re attempting to set eyes upon the mighty Himalayas, refrain from traveling to Nepal during Monsoon season.
If however you prefer a dark wall of cloud obstructing your once-in-a-lifetime view, then by all means visit between the months of June and August.
I, sadly, was not able to gaze out at planet Earth’s most awe-inspiring landscape and a mountain that has captured the imagination of humanity for as long as we’ve been in its shadow, despite me having travelled 8,000 miles for it and was now a mere 80 miles standing directly in front of it.
Luckily for me and my appalling timing, Everest is really only a fraction of what makes Nepal, Nepal.
(Do not read here.)