“Back in time”

I found this organic farm only 12 km outside of Jaipur that was offering lodging for a reasonable price and seemed like a cool experience.  After I arrived I got a tour of the farm and was impressed with all the organic practices. They are almost completely sustainable with all the vegetables they grow.  Even the drinking water comes from the bore well nearby.  The farm is owned by a business man in Jaipur who hired a local couple to manage the farm.  They are from a small village nearby and spoke mostly Marwadi, so there was a little difficulty in communication. But all food was prepared on the farm and I got my own mud hut to sleep in.  I liked the experience, but started to wonder about the “back in time” description that was given to me. It occurred to me that the majority of Indians live like this and possibly even a majority of the world population.  My grandparents also lived in rural settings like this, without electricity and using the chula cook stove.

I even started to wonder how much “development” is enough..?  This couple running the farm seemed to have everything they need and live pretty well in contrast to their neighbors. Will trading up from a environmentally friendly chula cook stove to our modern appliances really improve their lives??  The only thing they really could use was a regular supply of electricity, but they otherwise seemed to be living a pretty good life. I wondered this in Mexico, too, last year. I learned that in the local markets, many of the farmer stalls were no longer occupied, as people had started to shop in the American-style supermarkets.  But us Americans are interested in local food from farmers markets!!

Pictures from my farm stay are below.

My luxury mud hut

Artwork on the walls

Artwork on the walls

The kitchen where all my meals were made

Cooking roti on the chula

Composting bin on the farm

Local farmer herding sheep back home

My host family

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I ♥ Jaipur

It’s been about two months since I arrived in India and I have hardly posted.  I know all two of my readers have been waiting with baited breath to see what I have been up to.  In the last two months I traveled to Ahmedabad and to several places in the northeast, but didn’t feel compelled to write.  This trip to India has been a struggle for so many reasons that mainly boil down to:

  1. India being India
  2. The trip being different than any other kind of travel I have done

So I decided to travel solo for a bit since I enjoyed doing that last year.  I made my way to Jaipur in Rajasthan this past week. I will probably travel all of Rajasthan solo. So far it has been great.  I am sure this is partly because I decided it’s totally worth shelling out a few more bucks for lodging to keep me happy (this is a lesson learned from #1 above).

So here is a quick update.  I am really enamored by Jaipur for so many reasons:

  1. The city is full of tourists, so hotel managers know how to run hotels!! (yes, the hotel snob in me is alive and well)
  2. You can’t help but stumble upon beautiful and majestic Rajasthani and Moghul architecture everywhere in the old city

3. The city is SOO much more manageable than Delhi. There are even sidewalks! (it’s the little things..)

4. The weather is incredible this time of year. Think Spring in NYC..

5. I tasted the best lassi ever and proceeded to have it daily while I was in Jaipur (don’t be surprised if I return with the extra 15 pounds that I worked so hard to lose last year)

6. I am totally enamored with the pagris (turbans) and dhotis the old school men wear and the outfits the women wear (a daily wear version of a lehenga). The sari is admittedly much more elegant, but this daily lehenga thing looks SO much more comfy.  Check out the pagri montage below.

    

    

7. Camels seem to be a totally normal and acceptable mode of transporting goods everywhere. I see random camels lugging stuff all the time here

8. Rajasthani mustaches are AWESOME

9. I saw a snake charmer!

Terrified of touching the snake who was constantly hissing at me, though the snake charmer assured me his poisonous teeth had been removed.

Reluctantly agreeing to touch the tail end of the snake..

Yes, I fell for this tourist stuff hook, line and sinker, but I am loving this place and happy.

I finally left Jaipur to hang out in a mud hut on a farm for two nights.  I was unsure about this whole mud hut thing, having grown up coming to my extended family’s homes in Delhi and once in a while somewhere more rural and I didn’t love it.  The good thing about this particular mud hut situation is that it’s meant for tourists! Comfy bed, western style toilet and all. I am the only one staying here, but the couple who run this place are awesome. It’s on an organic farm, too!  Next post will be the organic farm/mud hut recap.  Pics to come later. Internet connection is too slow on the organic farm to post anything.

“I had to go see about a girl”

After three weeks here, I am still struggling with being back in India.  It’s been exactly ten years since I started the AIF Clinton Fellowship in India and I fell in love with the place then.  It was an intense, but incredible, life-changing experience.  Now I am trying to remember what I loved so much about it.  Being here doesn’t feel easy in the same way that other Asian countries do.  While Delhi may be organized and have a better infrastructure than the other big cities in India, it is still dusty and overwhelming.  I feel rather disconnected from India, which is surprising to me, because I felt SO connected to it by the time I finished up my fellowship, though I was in India for nine months at that point.

I have to keep remembering that my journey has only just begun and I have to give this whole thing a chance.  I have been stuck in Delhi for the past three weeks. We are hopefully heading to Ahmedabad on Friday for a couple days.  The phrase that keeps coming back to me is the line from Good Will Hunting, “I had to go see about a girl…” In this case, “the girl” is India and starting a business.  Matt Damon leaving behind all those lucrative job offers for the girl of his dreams….me leaving behind lucrative job offers for the life of my dreams…ok, so maybe the analogy is a little tenuous.  But it works for me 🙂

Love Letter to New York

Dear New York,

I don’t think I’ve fallen for you this hard since ’95 when I was a sheltered suburban high school senior visiting Barnard for Prospective Students of Color Weekend.  I remember being led on a tour of the East Village by an eager Barnard freshman and being enraptured with your infectious energy and persistent beat.  I was convinced you were the one for me and happily signed up to spend my next four years with you.

It wasn’t long before I became jaded with your expensive, overcrowded and exhausting self.  I wished for a new home, where I wouldn’t feel so cramped and wearied by your relentless drive.  I thought about prettier locales like San Francisco where greener pastures lay, but the economy ultimately decided for me that I was stuck with you.  I finally managed to escape you for three years when I left for India and Atlanta.  Sometimes I was nostalgic for you, especially your charm during the holidays and your invigorating spring season when everything is filled with promise.  But it wasn’t enough to draw me back to you.

The next time you caught my attention was in the spring of ’05 when I was desperately trying to escape the homogeneity and blandness of Atlanta for a weekend.  I remember walking your streets that April weekend feeling alive and happy and drinking in your diversity and history.  But only a year or two later, it was again over.  I became resigned to the idea that I would never feel that magic with you again.

My cute Brooklyn apartment

Book Court, Brooklyn

This time around my love for you grew slowly and took even me by surprise.  For the first time in years I found myself enjoying your unbearable summer heat.  I treated myself to an adorable space for the summer and allowed my inner geek to flourish by spending hours every week in my favorite local bookstore and exploring whole new neighborhoods solo.  I appreciated the freedom, space and safety in the simple pleasures of taking a walk, solo, in my neighborhood at 10 o’clock at night.

Maybe it was me that changed this time, not you.  I finally had the perfect balance of time and money, something that was elusive before with always too much of one and not enough of the other.  After traveling the world and making other places my temporary home, I finally learned to appreciate what I used to think were your cramped spaces and relentless drive, but is actually your way of forming a vibrant and creative community.

So many odes have been written about you that perfectly captured your essence. This is the first time I ever felt compelled to write my own, on my last night in Brooklyn. I feel a deep sadness to be leaving you, but know that I will be back again to rekindle our relationship.  No matter how many times I’ve tried, I can’t rid myself of you.

Thank you, New York, for always being there for me.

Sweetest Hangover: World Domination Summit

It’s been a few days since I returned from the World Domination Summit and it’s hard to put the whole experience into words.  Even before I arrived for the conference, I had been eagerly anticipating it for months.  I was so excited that I started to get worried that maybe I overhyped the whole thing in my head and I would be in for a big let down. I started the week visiting friends in San Francisco and doing a road trip to Crater Lake, OR and then on to Portland.  The whole time I was paranoid that we would get into a car accident or the car would break down or some unforeseen event would occur that would prevent me from making it to the event.

However, I managed to make it to Portland unscathed and quickly checked into my hotel, showered and headed to the opening party.  I was so excited to go that I turned down invitations from other friends in Portland and even cut a phone conversation short so I could head there ASAP (I know…I’m crazy!)

On arriving at the party, I was a bit nervous and worried that I would be around a bunch of hippies singing kumbayah.  My fears were not put to rest when I got in the very long line for food at a truck and the people in front of me were wearing tunics and nutty crunchy sandals and had hair braided and no makeup (complete opposite of what you will find in nyc).  However, they were super friendly and included me in their conversation.  After getting my food I started to meet more people.  Everyone was really cool and I started to relax a bit.  After a point, I found myself wandering around and exhausted from meeting new people. I was considering heading back to the hotel but also wanted to use every second to meet new people. While I was watching the WDS photo booth, two very friendly people dragged me into taking a picture with them.  It was totally fun and I ended up chatting with them both for a bit. They were from Maryland and had stories that echoed my own in some way.

WDS Opening Party Photo Booth with Chris and Monique

Near the end of the party, I once again found myself running out of energy, when I heard that some folks were going out to a bar afterwards. Though I was exhausted from the five hour drive to Portland and from meeting so many people, I decided to go. To my pleasant surprise, I met some great people on the way to bar from Denver and then more cool people from nyc at the bar.  Again, more stories that echoed mine.  I was happy I came.

The next morning started with some opening words by Chris Gillebeau and incredible speeches by Brene Brown and Scott Harrison from Charity: Water.  Chris must have known that people have a hard time describing this conference to people.  I was embarrassed to tell people the name of the conference because I thought it made me sound nuts and to try to explain it was even more difficult.  Chris summarized the principles of this group into three words: adventure, service and community.  And the part that struck me the most and has stayed with me since is the question he posed to us: How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?  I realized it’s a question I have been asking myself for a while now. And the past year has been the beginning of that journey for me.

All 1,000 attendees in the auditorium

In the evening, I was completely exhausted and just explored the Blues Fest by the river. I got a taste of Portland with all it’s weirdness, hippies and chilled out personality.

The next morning kicked off with a speech by Chris Brogan about super powers.  The afternoon had some great breakout sessions, which were very useful for me.  But the final moment that really encapsulated the community and the reason for the conference was when Chris Gillebeau made his closing statements.  He started off by telling us that they lost money on last year’s conference and learned some lessons that allowed them to make a small profit this year. They turned down corporate sponsorships because they didn’t want to change the nature of the conference. But they got an anonymous donation and the money combined with the small profit came out to almost exactly $100 per attendee.  He opened a small envelope on stage and announced that he was giving the money back to each attendee to do something remarkable.

Chris showing us the $100 investment surprise

I was trying so hard to hold back my tears almost the entire weekend and did not do a great job of it in the final moments of the conference.  I was so moved by the act and so touched that he could build such a huge tribe and trust us to do something important with this money. It was such a powerful moment that really topped off the weekend for me.  Evidently others felt the same way because he got a big standing ovation from all 1,000 attendees.

Standing ovation

During my time at WDS, I finally started to feel that I had found my tribe. I followed many of the famous bloggers who attended this conference for a couple years online because they were a small community who were writing the words and living the life that I wanted to live. They were the ones keeping me going in my darkest hours at my consulting job and the ones who ultimately inspired me to take the leap to do something remarkable.  The whole room was full of people who shared my story in some way and understood the burning need to do something remarkable and live life on your own terms. Not following anyone else’s rules or version of success.

I am not sure yet what I will do with my $100, but I am thinking long and hard about it. I want it to be impactful, but also live on, potentially in the form of an organization I start or a Kiva loan type of situation or a person I invest in for a better education.

The conference left me energized and happy and confident knowing that I am on the right path and have a great support network of incredible people from all over the world doing something similar and amazing.  WDS left me with that feeling you get on last day of summer camp when your face hurts from smiling so much but you feel like crying because you are leaving behind some amazing people and experiences.  I will be back next year to reunite with my tribe…

All photos in this post by Armosa Studios

Anniversary of Bin Laden’s Death…

Every time I turn to the New York Times in the last day or so, I keep being reminded of the fact that it has been one year since bin Laden’s death.  And while I am happy that this is a major step forward in the war against terrorism, I keep thinking back to where I was last year at this time.  I was in such a different place emotionally and spiritually. I remember I had taken a week off of work to attend two weddings on the west coast and also just have some down time to think. I flew into Fort Worth where the first wedding was, stayed with my friend, Kay, and got to see her life there and catch up. She was also at a “stuck” point in her life where she was unhappy with stuff professionally and generally didn’t love Fort Worth.  Although she wasn’t at her happiest, I had a great time in Fort Worth. Kay and Partha were incredibly hospitable and made me feel like it was my home, too.  They indulged me by fulfilling all my requests, no matter how crazy -like going to a bull riding show at Billy Bob’s and doing other cheesy Texas-y things.

They dropped me off at the airport at the end of the weekend to catch a flight to San Francisco. I didn’t have a lot planned for that week…just a stay at the Courtyard Marriott by Fisherman’s Wharf and time to sleep in, catch up with old friends, and head to a wedding in Sonoma Valley the following weekend.   Just after landing at SFO I turned on my phone and saw that I had received two text messages from my brother while en route. The first saying that Obama was going to speak in a few minutes but people weren’t sure about what. The second was telling me that they killed bin laden.  I turned to the New York Times on my cell phone and was shocked and surprised to see that not only had they killed bin laden, but that they found him in Pakistan.

Despite the surprises in the news and the constant chatter in the press about the implications of this latest turn of events, I was so thrilled to be on vacation and far away from home and work.  I took a cab to the hotel and checked in, excited about my plans, or lack thereof, for the week.  I remember taking a run by the water in the mornings and just using the time to think. Taking in the blue sky and cool breeze and being sooooo happy to be away.  I remember eating delicious Mexican food in the Mission and awesome pizza at Delfina’s.  I enjoyed Salted Caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite.  I took the trolley to the Ferry Building, ate a delicious warm egg salad sandwich with cheese on top (sounds gross, but was absolutely delicious!) and sat by the water to unwind. Finally I bought a pretty purple moleskine notebook to think and write.  I must have sat there in the sun for two hours that day, writing and contemplating.

Later that week I headed to Neera’s wedding in Sonoma Valley.  I remember talking to one of her college friends during the rehearsal dinner.  This friend had recently taken a career sabbatical and could see I was on the edge of taking one myself, but needed convincing that it would all be ok and that there was nothing to fear.  She was fantastic with really convincing me that I would be ok – after all she had quit her job in advertising, planned to take six months off, and was offered another advertising job before her six months were up.  I took a deep breath and asked for a leave of absence when I returned to work the next week.

After that, the last year has been a blur of incredible experiences and general giddiness with life. I had no idea what an amazing ride it would be.  I took the purple moleskine while traveling over the next six months. Initially it was my travel planning notebook.  Then it turned into my journal/travel planning notebook/area to jot down the awesome places I came across on the road.  During the trip I kept turning back to those first few pages I had filled last May with thoughts about how I needed to and wanted a change, but was terrified and felt stuck.  Every time I read those pages, I can immediately picture myself there again and remember that feeling of dread in my stomach…dread about work..dread about asking for a leave…dread about the great unknown.  Ultimately, I am glad I got out of my comfort zone to take the sabbatical.  The scariness has been well worth it.

So the anniversary of bin laden’s death is somewhat meaningful for me in a strange way.  As you can see, the mere mention of his death brings me back to where I was last year and reminds me of how far I’ve come and what an amazing journey it’s been.  It’s like when you hear an old song on the radio that takes you back to a completely different time and place – you can remember all the details, the weather, what you were wearing, what you ate, how you felt.  So for me, the memory of that week is a beautiful one because it was the beginning of a great journey.  Here’s to continuing the amazing ride!

Feeling like myself again

So I spoke with Colleen over the phone a few days ago in our initial conversation about starting a business together. It went really well and I am super excited.  I think we both have very similar ideas on how we want our business to work and so far she is a great business partner with a similar level of detail and attention to the work we are putting in together.  I am really happy that I asked her to partner.

At the end of our conversation about the business, we just started talking about ourselves and how stuff is going. I love her optimism and general happiness about everything. It is one of the things that really drew me to her. She mentioned something that really resonated with me. She was saying that after only two years of working at pwc, she just didn’t feel like herself anymore. And it took almost a whole year longer to feel like herself again.

I could totally relate. That wasn’t among the sentiments I had repeatedly expressed to people (like so many other job-related things that I repeatedly whined about). But it was a sense of feeling out of sorts and putting on a different persona at work. I know I can’t always dress in my college clothes and be a bum. But there is some middle ground, which I didn’t think my life at my last job was really amenable to. I keep thinking back to various situations: feeling envious of my clients in Miami who could comfortably be themselves at work, feeling like I was in a dark tunnel in St. Louis, feeling like I would never want a job like the ones my clients had on Long Island, the sense of dread I felt on a daily basis at Yale and how much I hated that role and being in New Haven as a consultant.  I just didn’t feel like myself in any of those situations.

I have to agree with Colleen that it has taken me a long time to come back to me.  I finally shed the persona of the knowledgeable consultant having to act like I know everything in order to justify our high rates or having to prove myself to peers.  I can pursue things that are important to me now. I can venture to India to start this business and not have to dress in a suit or do “professional speak” to impress people.

Sure, parts of it are valuable – like knowing how to plan and run projects, how to make presentations, and how the corporate world works in general. But I don’t know how people do this their whole life. I really don’t. Yesterday I was describing to a friend how in looking back at my job, I feel like it was this controlling relationship. The company kept trying to make me happy with money and a semblance of the things I wanted (staying local), but it wasn’t enough to keep me in the relationship. And now that I have left, I feel like I am flying. I was so worried about what others would think of my new business idea and how hoaky it is. But that fear is slowly fading.  I have started to post more on Facebook, which I think is fun. I have opened up my blog to the public (though haven’t advertised it), which is huge for me. These little steps are big ones for me.

I didn’t realize that after leaving I would uncover so many layers of myself and of my relationship with my former job. It was only leaving that could have done this for me. The longer I suffered in that job, the longer the real me would stay suppressed and hidden away.  And I felt like I had to have all the answers when I resigned and I didn’t. Looking back now, there is no way I could have had the answers. Just the mere act of being away has given me the space to find the answers. I knew they were there all along, but it took me time to uncover them.