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I don’t even know where to start.

I guess I should start by saying that I hope you all are well.

After that, I think I’ll jump into some quick updates:

1) I had a perfect Indian sendoff to head to Thailand: I was lucky enough to be traveling with some incredible people through the region of Sikkim (the north-eastern most point of India nestled in the Himalayas). We got to see some incredible sights — including the third highest peak in the world, Kanchenjunga — and shared some great laughs. Anyways, you had to take shared jeeps everywhere along the winding mountain roads. Not only were they almost completely potholes, but they were often just dirt. You would sometimes run into landslides, rockfalls, and were constantly flying along the edge of a two-three thousand drop. Needless to say, it was harrowing. So we took a shared jeep down the mountain and it took about seven hours, I had two hours until my train, then a ten hour train ride to Kolkata, took an hour-long taxi to the airport, and then sat down to wait to leave for Thailand. I arrived at 07:00 at the airport and my flight was supposed to leave at 10:00. Brilliant! Or not. I went up and asked when the counter would open so I could go through security. The Indian man gave me the quintessential head-bobble (which can mean anything) and told me to try back at 08:00. So I came back at 08:00 and was told 08:30. I went up in increments for the coming hours only to find out finally at 09:45 that my flight had been moved til 14:00 (2pm). I asked if I could get through security and was told I had to wait in the front. Long story short, plenty more questions and an even further delayed flight, and my flight didn’t leave until 16:00 (4pm)!!!! I was ready for Thailand.

2) Thailand is incredible. I’ve run into people who have said that it’s dirty here and they’ve gotten sick. I have eaten anything and everything I come across, I would sleep on this floor no problem, and I have walked wide-eyed into market-stores; Thailand is heaven after India. This has led me to realize that I was lucky to do India before getting here. I was ready for anything and was pleased to be met with something wonderful. India has a way of forging you into an individual who can handle anything, work your way through any problem, and accept any condition; it was by far one of
the most important experiences I’ve ever had.

3) I started writing a travel book. I’m really excited to see what comes of it!

4) I’m currently residing (for a week at least) in a small town in the Himalayan foot-bed called Pai. It’s delightful: lovely people, lovely food, and such silence as I haven’t heard since France!

5) Some of my dear friends from India arrived in Pai as well and it has been absolutely brilliant getting to spend some more time with them!

6) My days are spent swimming in waterfalls, pools, rivers, eating amazing food, hanging in a hammock, sleeping in a wooden bungalow, and riding motorbikes around. I think I may be in my own personal Elysia.

7) I think I’m on the verge of being ready to be back in the States. I’ve learned so much, and I feel as if I’m years older than I was when I left.

8) I think a motorbike tour of the United States will be next on my list. I’m already starting to plan it out in my head.

9) I’m trying to think of a brilliant story to share…

SHANTI SHANTI:

I’m struggling to think of any stories crazy enough to go on my blog. Instead, I’ve found myself reflecting on my time in India. So I think that for this post, I will instead share some of my thoughts.

I did not love India.

That being said, I didn’t hate India either.

In talking to a friend, I finally realized how I really feel towards India.

India brings out the worst version of me.

The best version of me is someone who loves to laugh, loves to think, helps people whenever I get a chance, writes whenever I get a spare minute, and gets to experience entirely new ways of thinking. That’s when I’m most me, and that’s when I’m the happiest and most complete version of me. I found that India had an uncanny knack for subduing all of these attributes. I found that the constant honking left little room to reflect, the scams and difficulties of India left me in a state of mild frustration at all times (with the occasional energy-less acceptance), and no inspiration to write. Therefore, where as India may work for other people, I found myself learning from it, but not loving it.

I learned so much more than I could ever put on paper. I learned to wait, to accept, to find alternatives, and a million-and-a-half other incredible attributes. If I had to sum up India in two words?

I learned.

I learned so much and couldn’t express how thankful I am for that. But to have a culture where so many people see their own people as not worth a moment of time is not a culture I can live in. We complain in the United States about the poverty, the inequality, and a whole host of other problems. But what we fail to notice is that we have transcended so much of the world. Our lives are brilliant and beautiful and we tend to focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have.

My world has changed.

My life has changed.

I’m going to sign off for today. I’ll try and post another update within the next few days, but I think I’m where I need to be for this post. So here’s wishing each and every one of you the best new day you could possibly have. Live it well.

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So here we are, hundreds of days in to the adventure, thousands of decisions, and a million-and-a-half moments to experience something new. And if I’ve learned anything so far, it would be that you never stop learning. I’ll draft a quick catch-up, but then I’m diving headfirst into the idea of the island, the notion of the mountain.

I don’t love India. It’s something that I’ve been trying to pretend isn’t so, and something that I’ve been trying to change my hardest. But when it comes down to it, India and I have fundamental differences which I don’t think could ever be alleviated. I can live with the hygiene deficiencies, the noise, the food, and a whole host of other struggles. What I can’t handle is the way I am treated. And by that, I mean I am treated entirely too well. People are (almost) always willing to help me out if I’m lost, make special concessions for me, and help make the most of my journey. However, this doesn’t work for me. Instead, I find myself feeling as if I’m occupying the status that I’m seeking to avoid – that of a wealthy westerner. When traveling, my primary focus is to soak myself in a culture and learn from that. The only way I can make that happen is to take off my personal predispositions that I wear on my person. Instead, I find myself unable to permeate the cultural sects that I have come across in India. India is the first place that I have been to where I have been unable to truly immerse myself in the culture, and I find that to be troubling. It’s quite possible that I simply don’t know how and because of that have kept myself from my desire, but I’m still not sure.

I’ve met so many incredible people and I can’t express how much that delights me! Left, right, and center, I’ve been lucky enough to come across fascinating, hilarious, and entirely delightful individuals. This has absolutely been the highlight of my India trip.

I made my way from Rajasthan to Agra and then all the way to Darjeeling. Darjeeling — a hill station in the Himalayas — is everything Rajasthan is not. #1) It’s cold here. We’re talking barely gracing 15 degrees (~52f), #2) The people are not pushy in the least; if anything they try to make you not be too touristy! #3) The food is delightful; I find myself rarely worrying if I’m going to end up dying.

However, the very greatest thing about Darjeeling is its location – the footbed of the Himalayas. And here’s where my mind gets turning.

Currently, I’m sitting on a cafe on a cliff face drinking lemon tea, eating ginger biscuits, and looking off into the nothing. And I say the nothing because that is how it feels. Unfortunately, the views haven’t been the greatest due to an excess of clouds, but it gives the world a brand new feeling. Instead of looking off and being silenced by the intricacy and immensity of the world around me, I’m struck by how separate I am.

It’s as if the world simply ends.

My mind is drawn to ancient words from John Milton. He claimed that “no man is an island.” Milton, in my opinion, was trying to reassure us that although sometimes we may feel alone, there is always a bridge of some sort connecting us to those around us. And therefore the island cannot exist due to the simple existence of the bridge.

But I’m not so sure.

And I want to be sure. I want to know that we are all connected. But I wonder.

I wonder when I see the people who have nothing.

I wonder more when I see the people who have everything.

When people have little, they often focus on meeting THEIR immediate needs. They look to filling their belly, finding some place to sleep, sparking a fire to stay warm. And there then exists the possibility of seeing others as means to an end. Others become the possibility for fulfilling those needs. And I want to say that looking to others for help — whether the quiet service or the guilt-laden giving — creates a bridge. But there’s no permanence to it. Maybe there’s the foundation for the bridge, and every once and a while a real bridge can be completed, but I’m quite convinced that there instead exists a one-way game of catch between islands. Someone is always giving from a distance, and the other thanking the heavens for raining down what is needed. Attribution is mislaid.

The possibility of an island. The reality of a mountain.

When people have everything, they forget that there is a possibility for nothing. I admit, I’m horribly guilty of this. And I picture the island. And instead of picturing a heart-warming excess of bridges spreading from the island, I instead see an island cluttered with stuff. And it’s easy to forget that there are other islands when your own view is obscured from the copious amounts of ‘stuff’ sitting in front of you. We exist in a world where people no longer exist as flesh and blood. Instead, people are viewed as presets. Preset to interact with us. Preset to meet our needs. Preset to hold our hand when we’re scared in the dark. And we become an island. No one can build a bridge to us because they aren’t even sure anyone is alive under the clutter we allow to impede on our lives.

I believe that we’re becoming a world of islands.

However, I think there is a possibility of something better. I think that I’ll paint a new picture. I think I’ll paint a new idea:

The mountain cannot be denied.

And I think in this there can be found a common understanding. Instead of trying to build bridges of our own accord, if we were to agree on the indisputable — the idea of the mountain; the idea of the palpable; the idea of the prominent splendor; the notion of excellence — then a common kindness could be reached. If we set the mountain to be exactly what it should be — hope, possibility, wonder, silence — and all agreed that we could see it, then there could be such a connection between us. Instead of trying to brave the waters to a temporary possibility for a permanent bridge, we could find ourselves setting our community on something definite. And I think that this requires a massive push. A push for people to want something more than the mechanical world we’ve built around ourselves.

We can be so much more. And it starts with a simple realization – we are alive. There is blood coursing through our veins; our flesh is warm. We were never meant to lose ourselves, our beings, our purpose to something that can’t breathe. We were never supposed to lose hours, days, years of our lives to the island. What we do now, standing in common understanding of what is really of importance, is what is going to shape who we are going to be tomorrow. We can choose to operate in a world where we see everything and everyone as presets placed here to give us what it is we want. Or we can choose to brush aside the clutter, build that bridge, and gaze in wonder at the life around us.

I’ve been blessed. I don’t deserve to have as much as I do. I’ve had opportunities that most people will only dream of. My eyes have seen mountains, oceans, deserts, and a litany of other wonders. But if it’s taught me anything, it’s what really matters in life. And sometimes, in the silence, when the world rises up all around you, when the snow glistens in the sun, and when you feel utterly and entirely small, you start to understand. You start to understand that every breath has the potential to be a revelation. Every moment is a new possibility. Every hope needs action to become reality. And I’m finally, after far too long, starting to realize how to live. I’ve been operating under so many presets for so long, that it’s hard. It’s tough every single day. It’s tough to remember that life is beautiful. It’s tough to remember that tomorrow is a brand new day. It’s tough to remember that I want to live and love and let my life be everything it can be. And it’s only when I stand in silence, breathing in the cold air, the mountain in front of me, that I remember what it means to be human. What it means to feel so small but so full of possibilities. What it means to take a deep breath, feel the air inflate your lungs, and let your eyes grow wide with wonder at the world around. And it doesn’t have to be a mountain. It can be a gentle sky stretching out overhead, it can be a smile from a loved one, it can be tearing yourself away from the screen in front of you and closing your eyes and letting everything wash over you. Life is stunning and we can’t afford to forget that. It’s tough, there’s no doubt. But I picture people pushing aside the hoard of clutter keeping them from seeing others and starting to build that bridge. I picture people standing hand in hand, silence-laden, at the foot of the mountain, feeling the same hope, the same possibility, the same wonder. And I realize that it’s only with our lives hand in hand that we can ever expect our lives to be anything more than being the masters of our own island.

You don’t own something if you can’t leave it. That’s called being owned.

So whether it’s a beautiful symphony I’ve had on replay, a view into the nothing, or simply too much tea, this is where my thoughts have been. I sit here, half the world away for most of you, thinking about you, wanting to be with you, to hear you laugh and hear you struggle. I find myself just wanting to be with you. Whether I’ve known you for a million moments, or for far too few, I wish we could stand hand in hand, eyes locked in front of us, mouths unable to express, feet frozen in the instant, watching the possibility of the mountain.

Alright, this one definitely needs a briefing:

1) I’ve been darting all around India. I’ve travelled roughly 1400km (~1000 miles) in the past week, and it’s been…. well, rather challenging, mind-boggling, and overall, an absolute blast!

2) I ran out of tissues for my poor cold on the train, so I have resorted to using my bandana as the ultimate Kleenex. Not only does it work like a charm, but people give me funny looks and tend to avoid me, which at times is much needed.

3) I have jumped around from Jaipur (the Pink City) to Udaipur (the City of Lakes – which coincidently was rather beautiful; the only problem for me? It was far too touristy. I spent most of my time in Udaipur trying to find the places where the tourists didn’t go.), and then I made my way to Jaisalmer (the Golden City located in the Thar desert (disclaimer: I’m still not sure which one refers to a boat-load of sand and which to a tasty morsel served after supper) before finally making my way back to Jaipur before heading to Agra on the morrow! (Agra is where the Taj Mahal is). After that, I will be taking a 28 hour train ride to the Himalayan hill station of Darjeeling!

4) I’ve met an incredible amount of really fantastic people. Most everyone I come into contact with has a great story, delightful tips and tricks, and a really good feel to them. It’s really a world of difference the travelers you run into in differing places — for me France and India.

5) I’ve started to get really tired. I have been trying to figure out why I’m so exhausted from my traveling when it hasn’t been more than three months yet. But, then I did some thinking and realized that my two week hiatus back to the States for Christmas was the only thing that has separated me from having a nine-month trek already; and that, I realized, is a very long time. So I’m pressing through!

Story time? I think so…

Where to start? I suppose we should take the stories in order:

IN WHICH BUMPY ROADS AND RABID DOGS

There comes a point in everyone’s life when they make a series of dumb decisions. Unfortunately, it’s not just one — or two — but instead pressing past five or six rather quickly.

Here are mine:

– Neglected to ask about the curry I was eating (being allergic to milk makes most things difficult) in Udaipur, found out the hard way that night. Horrible night sleep due to the whole throat starting to close on me thing.
– Neglected (the VERY next night) to ask about the host of glorious dishes set out before me as I tried Thali for the first time – those delicious orange tofu bites? Oh nope, those were goat’s cheese. Night number two in a row, throat not doing so hot. Horrible night sleep.
-Decided I should take an overnight bus to Jaisalmer from Udaipur. Great idea? Nope! The buses bounce like nothing you’ve ever felt on the bumpy Indian roads and I spent about half my time on the bus airborn. Two hours of sleep max.
-Arrange it so your bus gets in at 05:00 so you can get an early start and book your camel safari early. And so our story begins.

It’s a chilly night, the cold, desert wind sweeping in from the mountain border to the west. I had jiust sleepily stumbled my way off the bus and made a plan to find someplace to grab a bite to eat. Immediately after stepping off the bus I was ambushed by a trio of tuk tuk (auto-rickshaw) drivers all scrambling for my business. In my delirium I glared and asked for a minute to get myself together. They gave me a minute and not a second more before returning to the battle for my rupees. In my frustration I asked — I may have shouted… loudly — which direction the fort was in. They all looked confused and pointed away from the bus stop. I gave them all a friendly wink, said a quick “cheers,” and hurried my way anywhere they weren’t. However, tuk tuk drivers cannot be dissuaded so easily. They all jumped in their vehicles and roared after me shouting lower and lower prices. I continued, head locked forward, refusing to regard them. Their persistence was legendary so I made a tough decision – go off the beaten path. And there I found myself walking down a dark road at 05:15 in a town I knew nothing about.
And then I heard a howl from behind. Just a lone dog, nothing to worry about. I saw some nice marble steps and decided I wanted to sit down on them, so sit down I did. The dog watched me and barked again. There was silence. Then, as my shoulders released their tension, came a sound I will never forget. It was a sound that carried a chill a thousand times more blood-curdling than that of the desert wind – the sound of a dog returning the call. And then a second passed.; another called. And another and another until the whole world seemed alive with the calls of my canine cohabitants.They were awake.
I threw my backpack around my shoulder and started to head back for the bus station. But there, standing in my way was the leader. This was not a dog like any you’ve seen before. This was a beast spawned in the fire of Hades, sent for one purpose and one purpose alone – to spread rabies. Behind him stood a small army of around ten smaller dogs. And I froze. He must have known that I’m terrified of getting rabies and having a massive needle stuck through my belly, because I think I saw him lick his lips at the delicious taste of my fear. And then he howled and they charged.
My mind froze for an instance, could I outrun these dogs? Maybe if I had some proper sneakers and wasn’t carrying a backpack, but not in this state. So I watched them coming nearer and did the only thing I vaguely remembered reading on wikipedia – started howling and pretending to pick up and throw rocks. A spark of fear slid through the leader’s eyes; he stopped the charge. The dogs then began to flank. It was as if they were thinking, “One man-beast, one stone. Ten dogs.” So I started walking quickly while unleashing my arsenal of imaginary missiles and horrifyingly pathetic howls. This continued for about fifteen minutes until I made it back to the bus station where the men outside drinking Chai had a good hearty laugh. One man looked at me and said, “You do not go alone in the dark.” I looked him in the eye, and I think he could read my thoughts, “No… no you don’t.”

WILD PUPPIES, CAMELS, AND A WHOLE LOT OF STARS

I’ll keep this one short and sweet. I went on a camel safari with some terribly interesting individuals. We shared good food, great stories, and a whole lot of laughs. It was a sensational time. So at night, we all took our sleeping bundles to different parts of the sand dunes and set up our beds. The stars above were some of the most amazing I’ve ever seen and I stared at them for a few hours.
Well, we all went to sleep then and in the middle of the night I woke up to a weight pressing down on my leg. My eyes shot open. I knew I had set up camp near an animal’s den, but I had figured I was big enough that it wouldn’t bother me. I held my hands close together and prayed it wasn’t weasel; I’m not terribly fond of weasels. So I slowly started to peek over my covers, anticipating the weasel claws to sink into my face when I was met with the face of a little baby puppy. My heart instantly melted, the little guy was so cold. It was about 0 celsius out (32 for my fahrenheit readers) and apparently I was considered a source of warmth. I smiled to myself and he snuggled a little bed out of the top of my sleeping bag. Cue a couple minutes of sleep and then there’s the sound of something walking over. The weasel. Please, just let the puppy scare off the weasel. I peek my head over – another puppy. This one snuggles up against my side. I like puppies, no problems here. As long as they’re not rabid and don’t howl, I had a feeling we would get along just fine. Within a minute I heard something bigger coming and saw the mother come down and lay against my other side. Anyways, a big smile on my face, I fell asleep. Waking to the sunrise I look around me and see that there are four puppies and the mother all pressed up against me. I shifted a little and the little guy woke up and stared at me. We looked at each other for awhile until the others stirred and they all started to chase each other. Needless to say, one of the best ways to wake up I’ve ever had.
The end of the safari was just as delightful, and overall it was by far one of my very best adventures so far on this world-trek. Alas, my belly is r

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So you read the title huh? Well, I imagine right about now you might be thinking, “Isaac, you’ve been in India for less than 48 hours, what could you have done!?” That’s an excellent question, but first, catching up-to-date.

1) Indian food is incredible.

2) I flew from Marseilles to Jaipur, totaling around 23 hours including flight times and layover. Let’s just say I had a serious headache when I arrived in India.

3) I will never again complain about traffic in the States… never again. Traffic in India is something else. There don’t seem to be any rules other than don’t hit the cows wandering the streets.

4) The poverty is palpable. As an entity, it’s manifested through streets littered with trash, an excess of homeless individuals, and a desperation to pull one’s self ahead. It’s that desperation which makes it difficult. The cleanliness is tough, especially having to find water bottles (which can be tampered with), but it’s not terribly difficult for me. I came into this trip with expectations, and they have yet to be exceeded. Therefore, I like to think I’m not in culture shock. However, I am hit hard by the desperation. Walking around as a white person leaves people thinking one thing – money. Therefore, it is impossible to walk down the street without people jumping in your way to stop you, people calling you into their shops relentlessly, or trying to find some way to cheat you out of your money. And the thing is, I can’t blame them. It’s one thing to hear about conditions in a third-world country, but to see them is something much more personal. The desperation for money leaves me wondering if there could ever be contentment. Instead, as soon as I make a purchase, the shop-owners are trying to draft me into buying something, anything. It’s interesting when I consider that they don’t see me as a person.

5) On a much lighter note, I bought a shirt from a gentleman for about 250 rupees. That comes to just under 5$, which I think was ripping me off quite a bit. There’s really no way to get around the tourist prices, but I guess that’s how it goes. I’ll work on my poker face. So anyways, I buy my shirt and didn’t even think about it not fitting. It was an XL, and as much as I like to think I have massive muscles, an XL is well within the realm of what I imagine fits. It doesn’t fit. Not only does it not fit, but it wrapped around my body like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, and a button popped off. Maybe I do have huge muscles, it’s all relative! It was a funny lesson and didn’t cost me much so c’est la vie!

6) Speaking of French, I’m really missing speaking it. That was the highlight of my days in France – when I could find some poor unfortunate soul to talk with. Luckily I got to sit by a delightful elderly, Parisian couple on the flight, so I got a couple hours of French time.

If by now you’re thinking, “You are so very long-winded Isaac, just get on to something interesting!” then you are not alone; I drive myself up a wall sometimes.

IN WHICH I OFFENDED THE LOCALS:

Cows are sacred. This I knew. Therefore I made it a point to not look at the cows hungrily or ask for a hamburger. In these I succeeded.

My driver, who was my best friend and worst enemy (this because he would try and trick me into buying my stuff from his friend’s ludicrously overpriced shops; this eventually turned into a battle of wits which was just excellent), told me when I asked that cows could be considered the Hindu version of the mother Mary. Cows give milk and milk is the supply of the mother. That was his reasoning and I followed what he was saying. Therefore, if someone is to hit a cow with their car/motorbike/rickshaw, it is a major offense and that person can be punished. I made a mental note not to go near any cows.

So today, we’re standing in the street, right outside of his rickshaw, talking about where I want to go next. At one point I felt that something was amiss so I turned around and saw two cows right behind me. My naive knowledge that cows are tender, loving animals coupled with a split-second delay cost me. My driver’s eyes widened and he yelled “Watch out!” to me as it dawned on me I should move. I turned and started to move to the side as one of the cows, thankfully one of the ones without horns, lowered its head and drove it straight into my leg.

So here I am, standing in the road, shocked and utterly (insert smiley face here) confused. My thoughts are reeling at a hundred miles an hour, “Is my leg broken, it sure feels like it; aren’t cows friendly?; I’m so glad that didn’t have horns; etc.” when I looked up at my driver. Instead of sympathy, a kind “Oh no Isaac! Is your leg alright!?,” there was a fire in his eyes. He looked at me, glared at me, stared at me, and told me in a near-furious tone, “Watch out.” The grimness was palpable and I found myself even more confused than before. I checked my leg to make sure it wasn’t broken, and the throbbing was subsiding. Luckily, I got away with just a big bruise the shape of a cow’s head. The driver starts glancing around nervously, and I follow his vision. There are a good ten people all glaring at me from different locations. The driver looks at me and tells me hurriedly, “We should get out of here.” I nodded, got back into the rickshaw, and watched all the angry stares as we drove away. A cow almost broke my leg and I received death glares. This is not to say anything against Hindus, or anyone who worships personal deities, but if it was the Virgin Mary who almost broke my leg, I’d be pretty ticked at her too. So that is how I offended the locals.

Thanks all for tuning in!

Wishing all the best from India,

I

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In Which I Felt at Home

Bonjour!

I want to welcome you all to a very special blog update. This is the LAST post from France. I’ll lay out a quick recap to get us all up to date:

1) As I had previously feared, my love for baguettes — and incessant consumption of such — has led to my trim form fading in front of my eyes. It’s true, I have a bit of a baguette-belly now. It turns out that eating 1-3 a day is NOT good for staying in shape. Who knew!?

2) Whereas my stomach is not quite so trim, my beard is exceptionally trim. I purchased a beard trimmer and have to say that I feel quite distinguished.

3) I leave for India TOMORROW! I’m a bit nervous, a good deal uncertain, but overwhelmingly excited. I know it’s going to be tough, I know there are times when I’m going to be really frustrated, but I know in the end it’s going to open my eyes to how blessed I really am.

4) Sunscreen costs a fortune in France. Not a mini-fortune, but a full-on fortune. Seeing as I needed some — pale + sun = miserable — it was a necessary expenditure. However, purchasing a mid-sized bottle ran me over 15$ usd.

5) I don’t have any harrowing adventures to cap off my time in France. Barring a couple of travel headaches, I was fortunate to have a pretty low-key week before taking off for India.

And now on to the good stuff:

I had a moment today. It’s been building up for the past week or so, and it finally came to full actualization today while I was walking down a boulevard in Marseilles.

After a month in France, I finally feel at ease.

I was walking down the street, the sun gently beating against my skin, when it hit me. Standing in Marseilles facing the port, the entirety of the Mediterranean in front of me, I felt at home. The other day I had an experience where I forgot I was in France. I was sitting on the bus listening to two French men talking behind me, and I had forgotten that they weren’t speaking a language that I know intricately. Instead they were speaking something foreign, but the foreign has become entirely familiar. It took glancing up and seeing a poster above my head to shake me back to where I was. There was a word on the poster that I didn’t recognize and it jarred me back into reality – I’ve been gone from home for a long time.

So today, walking down the street, something entirely new happened. Walking down le Rue de Paradis in Marseilles, the wind brushing against my skin, I finally let the burden slip from my shoulders. Sure, if people talk quickly and use peculiar words, it can be really difficult for me to understand, but I no longer fear people talking to me. Instead, I look forward to it. I look forward to going into a patisserie and having a little conversation as a baguette — or ten — is wrapped up for me. There is a new appreciation in the ability to feel at ease where I was before on edge.

I’m struggling to understand that just under one month ago I had just arrived in Marseilles. I remember standing in the airport listening to all the French around me and asking myself what I had gotten into; in that moment I had firmly believed I wouldn’t feel home until my feet landed on American soil. I’m so excited that today proved me wrong.

Now some might think that it’s a travesty for me to feel at home for a mere moment before leaving someplace I feel comfortable. And I would say there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. Instead, I was able to experience how it feels to be at home in a place which just moments before had felt so alien and difficult. And instead, I now know how to feel at home. I know now that it may be difficult, but it’s not impossible. So tomorrow, I will wake up and take a bus to the airport. I will order my ticket in French. I will write in English on the plane. And I will land in India. And it might take a month, it might take both months I’m there, and it might never happen; but I will never stop trying to make myself at home in India as well. And I will keep trying, because in that singular moment — that single instance of peace — I found myself really experiencing France; experiencing the French wind as the French experience it; experiencing their world, no longer an outsider. And I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that.

Signing off from France.

Isaac

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The words they fell, they flew, they grew.
Rushing by, gushing by, my goodbye to you
Heavy on my tongue, caught behind my lip
The inside edge left a reminder not to slip
To the ground below, words sound so low
These rumbling streams can’t ever flow
Away from a time where they could know
These swirling, whirling pools I won’t show
To anyone, least of all I could share with you
Words, these struggles, that burn me through
And they press me to do most every thing I do
And not say the words we both know are true.
It’s a moment, a glance, a sleight of your hand,
It’s all I can take, and darling it’s all I can stand.
Take a moment, a glance, and hold of my hand.
I need you now, I’m trying, but I just can’t stand.

Disclaimer: I’m still not entirely sure what happened, I’m trying to work it out and make some sort of semblance where I’m not sure there is any.

Let’s start off with a quick up-to-date:

1) I have left my super swanky apartment on the French Riviera (Toulon).
2) I traveled west across France to my new stay at Villefranche-de-Rouergue.
3) My love for baguettes continues at an alarming rate. I’m flirting between 1-2 a day.
4) I booked my ticket for India! March 5 is the big day and I couldn’t be more excited.
5) My French is progressing. If I stop thinking about it, it comes pretty naturally. However if I try too hard, my head feels as if it is about to implode.

It’s time to get cracking.

Marijuana:

I was introduced to a new trend in France – carpooling. There is a site where individuals can post up where they are going, and for a fee you can join them. After checking train prices from Toulon (the south of France) to Toulouse (western France), I grumbled at the prices and looked for an alternative. That’s when Covoirturage was found. So I searched for my dates and locations, and lo and behold there was someone going for about half what the train would have cost! Absolutely thrilled, I entered my information and paid my fee. I contacted the driver via sms and we settled on me meeting him at the train station of Toulon at 10:15 on Monday morning. This was going to work out well, I was sure of it.

Monday morning – I wake up, have a great big bowl of muesli, take a shower and get all my stuff together. Checking my phone I realize that the driver — we’ll call him track-suit Joe — had called and messaged me a few times. I gave him a call back and was able to comprehend enough to figure out he was already at the train station. I barked out a quick “I’ll be there in five minutes” in French before hauling butt for the station. I arrived at 10:12 (not only was I on time, but I was three whole minute early). Upon reaching the station, I waited. I tried calling, but track-suit Joe wasn’t answering. I stood there, a light sweat present from my frantic departure, a nervous pit in my stomach. Five minutes and no call. That nervous pit was getting bigger, he had left me, I knew it.

Track-suit Joe – First off, his name wasn’t track-suit Joe, but I feel as if it would perfectly describe him. He had not left me but instead came over to me while yelling into his phone. Luckily my aviators hid the terror in my eyes; what had I gotten myself into? Let me take a second to describe track-suit Joe. First, he was wearing a baby-blue tracksuit. Normally I would appreciate the light blue (my Universitie’s colors), but on Joe they were slightly off. He was a bit older of a fellow — perhaps late-fifties? — with some rather wild, white hair. While his clothing struck me as slightly peculiar, it was the fire in his eyes that really worried me. It wasn’t the fire of a passionate soul; the fire of a fighter; the fire of someone who gets work done. No, no, no, this was the fire of someone who drinks the fire-water (whiskey) and hits stuff with a baseball bat; I was now very worried. In a protest against judging a book by its cover — let’s be honest, it was really just a protest against ludicrous train ticket prices — I got into the car with track-suit Joe. Five hours to go.

Little Doe – First off, her name wasn’t Little Doe. However, she was innocent and reminded me of a shy, little deer. Also, she didn’t speak any English. Joe and I picked her up about thirty minutes after we had left the train station.

Precursor: I was wrong to think that track-suit Joe would be a bad driver; instead, I came to realize he was the worst driver I have ever come across. Not only was there a trailer with a refrigerator attached to the back of his small sedan, but he drove like it was a sports car. Track-suit Joe managed to cut off a minimum (MINIMUM) of ten people before we even picked up Little Doe. He also managed to sms/make calls almost the entire time.

Back to Little Doe – She was my ideal travel companion – we only spoke when one of us had something to say. She was patient with my French and I was able to follow her. However, while as two is company, three is a crowd, and our crowd’s name was track-suit Joe. I just want everyone to remember that track-suit Joe, with the fire of a thousand asylums in his eyes and a tightly-fastened baby blue jumpsuit, was still driving, and I was in the front, legs locked and arm gripping the hold-bar in fear. Anyways track-suit Joe, despite having seen her say goodbye to her boyfriend as we picked her up, proceeded to spend the entire time hitting on her. Little Doe and I exchanged a few knowing glances; despite speaking different languages, we both were well-versed in the language of fear. Track-suit Joe at some point decided we should talk about women and started a rather sexist rant. He started telling me the best ways to pick up French women. In a desperate attempt to make him stop, I did the only thing I could think of – I told him I had a girlfriend in America. I let a little smile spread across my face, I had stopped him; no more sexism! I couldn’t have been more wrong. He then proceeded to lay out for me the best way to cheat on my (scapegoat) girlfriend in the states without her knowing. I’m afraid that my blog is too family-friendly for his advice. Before picking up our next companion, track-suit Joe had a mood swing and started yelling at me for being late. I started considering how I could somehow launch myself into the back, punch a hole through the seat, grab my backpack from the trunk, and roll down the highway without killing myself. I tried to calmly explain to track-suit Joe that I was there before our meeting time and I was sorry that I had not gotten his calls. He glared at me and said that it was my fault we were late picking up the others. I calmly apologized and showed him the text stating 10:15. He refused to look and told me that I shouldn’t worry about it. I sat there in a silent grump, of course it wasn’t my fault, I had been there when I was supposed to. We then proceeded to drive 30 miles over the speed limit, cut off at least a dozen more people, and track-suit Joe laughed at a flurry of text messages he had received.

Doobie Dan:

We arrived to pick up our next companion. Little Doe and I got out of the car. I tried to figure out a way to tackle track-suit Joe and grab the keys to rescue my backpack. While I was letting out my stress through plan-making, Little Doe resorted to smoking. I think her stress-reliever was far more effective. A thin film of sweat was forming over my brow. I was in the middle of an unknown land and my only ride was a maniac. And then our final companion pulled up – Doobie Dan. First off, his name was not Doobie Dan, but trust me, it is the perfect pseudonym. Reluctantly, I reclaimed my seat in the front of the car, and we departed. 4 hours to go.

Doobie Dan had a constant doped out look on his face. Stoner status was given from the very start, and I figured that’s where it would end. We all talked for the next hour or so. I was asked to give witty American answers to many questions. I tried my best, and they would either laugh at what I was saying, or they were just laughing at me, I’m still not quite sure. Doobie Dan and track-suit Joe hit it off right away. Little Doe and I remained mutually afraid.

At one point, something started smelling a little funny in the car. I was able to use my excellent deduction skills to conclude it smelled like weed. Since Doobie Dan was the latest one in the car, I rationalized it must be him that smells of the ganja. I couldn’t have been more right/wrong.

At some point in the journey Doobie Dan asked me if I smoke. I asked him if he meant cigarettes. He gave me a nod and I said that I played too many sports to smoke. He nodded and got a piece of rolling paper out of his pocket. I assumed, because of our immediately-previous conversation that he was going to roll a cigarette. I’m sure everyone now knows where this is going. Doobie Dan pulls out a MASSIVE bag of weed and started rolling his doobie (hence the nickname – Doobie Dan). I stared forward, not quite sure what was happening. I turned around and casually asked if marijuana was legal in France. He and track-suit Joe gave a little laugh; there was my answer.

The Rest Stop: Pulling into a rest stop, I noticed a huge building that was all toilets. I had drank a pretty large amount of water so I figured it would be nice to relieve my bladder. Well, instead of pulling up next to the toilet building, tracksuit Joe drove around the back behind a hill. I frowned, but when we got out I took my valuables and marched over the hill to the bathroom. I told everyone I was running to the toilets but I would be right back. After using the rather odd French rest-stop washroom, I walked back. Here’s what I noticed all at once.

1) Doobie Dan was smoking.
2) Tracksuit Joe apparently didn’t see the toilet building as he was taking a leak right in the open, entirely exposed to everyone.
3) Little Doe looked horrified.

I walked over and Doobie Dan offered me a hit of his newly-rolled doobie. I politely refused. My thought process – “well he’s high now, at least he’s not driving.”

We all get back in the car and start driving. Tracksuit Joe is gobbling down some chocolate cookies. Sign number one. His driving has changed and his mood has improved. Sign two. He looked over at me and his eyes are bloodshot red. Sign three. Tracksuit Joe is blazed along with Doobie Dan. So here I am, cruising along between 80-100 miles an hour, my heart barely beating. Tracksuit Joe has an increased interest in his phone. Doobie Dan keeps staring at me with wide eyes. Tracksuit Joe is shooting crumbs everywhere. I’m offering up prayer after prayer for a safe arrival. 2 hours to go.

The Phone: Tracksuit Joe kept checking his phone. I tried to keep my eyes in the distance so I wouldn’t have to watch him put us in harm’s way. Finally, I wanted to see what he was looking at so I put on my aviators. Luckily, he was so interested in his phone that he didn’t seem to notice me craning my head to see what was on his phone. Flipping Angry Birds. You can’t make this stuff up. He was playing ANGRY BIRDS. At 100mph. While blazed. ANGRY. FLIPPING. BIRDS.

I don’t know how we made it, but somehow we did. We pulled into the train station and I hopped out and grabbed my backpack. I gave a quick word of goodbye and high-tailed it for my train. I turned around one last time as tracksuit Joe tried to give Little Doe a hug; she was having none of that. I watched him, his tracksuit gleaming blue to mirror the blue sky, white hair bouncing every which way, and I questioned how I made it. How did we survive? I turned my back and didn’t look back again.

Angry. Flipping. Birds.

Bienvenue a France?

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