We are Tourists in each other’s live’s!

People come into our lives daily. People leave daily. We hold on to some, we let go of some. Sometimes we do not even notice people came and left. Sometimes we do not notice we’ve been in and out or still in other’s lives. It’s like the people in the background of pictures we take who do not know they have become part of an immortalized digital moment. But for those that we do notice, what do we do about them? How do we treat them? How do we come in? How do we leave? How do we make them feel? The answers to these questions are the fundamentals of the most basic human interactions.

Some of you/us are the cathedrals we long to step into and be left in awe at the design and level of detail and precision that went into building them up. But then we look deeper, below the floor of this marvelous building and there’s the crypt, the sarcophagus of the dead. The things we have buried, some ashamed to go back to, some excited to visit again and again. For they represent a story of growth, of strife, of pain when times may have been very different yet simpler. But it’s led us here, and others too, so we can tell our story.

We let you come in and leave as you please, but we make sure we’ve left a long standing impression on your senses.

Some of us are the landscapes, the mountains, the forests, the rivers and oceans. Too big to be understood, too rough to be controlled. We stand there in awe and we will always invite you in, there’s room for everyone. What we offer you is a place of peace and calm, a place to let your thoughts run, a place to dump all your baggage, we’ve been collecting them for billions of years, what’s a few more? We give you the space to figure yourself out, to pump out the stress, a place to run, to camp, an escape from your busy lives. To see new things, experience nature in all it’s colors and for you to realize you too are part of it. But we have a breaking point too, one which even us do not know when it’s around the corner. We explode sometimes, in a terrible and ghastly accident, we move, we bleed lava, we cry tornadoes, we detroy and we renew the process and we start all over again. We are inseprable and we will be here when you need us.

Some of us are the transports. We take you from one place to the next. We spice things up. We introduce other people to you. Some as challenges, some as lovers, some as companions for the duration of the trip, some just for that brief moments. We show you places but only briefly, because we are only meant to get you to a particular spot. Once there we bid you farewell, the rest of the journey is yours to complete. We’ve played our part. If you are ready to walk this path again, you definitely can come back.

Then there’s some of us who are there today and when you return we’ve moved on to someplace else – like art. We take ourselves wherever we are appreciated the most. We will stay as long as we feel needed or wanted, but will pack up and go when it’s time for us to.

Our lives revolve around people. How we treat them really does matter. We really are tourists in each other’s lives. Let us treat each other with love and respect, and then maybe we can collectively change the world.

WAKANDA FOREVER: CAPTURING THE GLORY OF MAMA AFRICA!

BY SPENCER NJOYA

EDITED BY KENNETH FOMUNUNG

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So we are just a few days away from one of the most anticipated movies of all time–at least for most black folks. I don’t think there’s ever been so much hype around a film in my time that resonated very deeply with the African community. Maybe not since Chaka Zulu. I was just a kid then, and yet I still remember when my dad brought home the VHS tape; it was a family screening day, and we were not disappointed. So here we are again with another banger–a black superhero. Scratch that–a family of black superheroes from an incredibly wealthy nation in Africa fighting other black superheroes or supervillains if you will. Read that again!

While most of the movie was shot abroad with an almost all-black cast, it nevertheless tells the story of a wealthy nation (as most African countries are), which managed to own and control its own resources (as most African countries should), with internal power struggles (as most countries in the world do). However, besides the exalted action, the movie has borrowed several cultural aspects from across the continent, some of which I would like to highlight. This article is an effort for non-native audiences to understand why distinct visual features in the movie are the way they are. As an aside, the fact that I am promoting the African elements herein doesn’t mean that I am against their Western counterparts. I merely feel it is imperative to understand and respect the African cultures the latter has borrowed from for generations. I also urge you to read with an open mind and refrain from judging the culture from just your cultural standpoint.

The fictional African nation of Wakanda is a country rich in resources, one in particular called vibranium, upon which its citizens built the realm itself. This notion is pure speculation as I have not seen the movie yet nor have I read the comics, but I assume this is how they leveraged this unique, scarce resource. Today, in the real Africa, some of the rarest and most precious metals lie in abundance throughout the continent, but ironically, many citizens of the nations that contain these gems are living below the poverty line. There are countless debates on how this could be improved, but I digress. The richness of the continent cannot be measured, but if you take a moment and explore or do some research, you’ll notice a few things. Your phones and laptop work efficiently because of a particular rare metal called tantalum, mined in the Congo. Moreover, bananas, timber, cocoa, coffee, and many similar raw materials and natural resources all come from this beautiful but often inaccurately depicted continent. Now, let’s dive into my cultural highlights from the sure to be blockbuster flick:

Face Paint

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Considered primitive in the Western world, for most tribes in Africa, this is an indication of beauty and also a status that conveys a strong cultural message. In some tribes, the men elegantly wear face paint to attract their female counterparts. It is slowly disappearing in the regions that are becoming more ‘modern’ but can always be spotted worn at cultural celebrations and by families or people with a distinguished lineage to protect.

Scarification–as seen on Erik Killmonger.

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Another rarely seen feature, this practice is a core part of African history and tradition. Depending on the pattern or location of the scars on the body, you could easily deduce from which tribe the bearer hails. Sometimes, the scar bearer viewed his marks as a rite of passage, and proudly so. In some West African countries, it was considered an indication of one’s life stage, such as adulthood/puberty, and marriage. You could also identify what social class a person belonged to by their scars. Sometimes, the bearer acquired these marks as a treatment to a particular type of sickness, wherein the traditional doctor or “medicine man” scarred the skin and placed the remedy just underneath the surface.

Spirituality and Ancestry.

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Ancestry is one of the most notable aspects of the many diverse cultures across Africa. Why is this spiritual? Well, because in African culture, there is ultimate respect for the people who came before you, your elders; more so, those who have passed away ahead of you. Till this day, people often speak of their grandparents and great-grandparents as though they were gods; their names are considered holy, and their descendants take much consideration before naming a child after them. People also made pacts in their names, and some people were cursed in their names as well. Their names carried power and near-deity status. In certain places, if your father placed you at the edge of a cliff and asked you to jump, the only question you could ask in response was, “How high?” While this might seem harsh, it is not; it is considered an exercise in building strength and trust in the leader preceding you, a leader you would become someday. In such a culture, you inherit what your elders created, and you build upon it, protect it, and ensure that it is respected, just like young T’Challa inheriting the kingdom from his father, T’Chaka, in Black Panther.

Spirituality and Masks–as worn by Erik Killmonger.

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Here is another rich, vibrant, and a diverse cultural feature that is also–unfortunately I might add–often associated with primitiveness. On the contrary, in Africa, it is associated with spirituality. The person who wears the mask loses their human identity and transcends into the spirit represented by that mask–commonly known as juju back in my place of birth. They become superhuman, not bound by the natural laws of the human dimension. Some of these jujus rarely surface in public view and, when they do, something remarkable is unmistakably up. You can say both the Black Panther and Erik Killmonger transcend into a different realm or higher plane of being by wearing their respective masks. They become superhuman, fittingly.

Architecture.

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While the most common representation of Africa by the Western media is one of safaris and huts in the wild, Africa possesses some of the oldest structures on earth, built long before the Colonial Era. For example, there are pyramids in Sudan we never see pictures of, Stone Town in Zimbabwe, which is now a world heritage site, the Nubian pyramids, just to name a few. Believe it or not, I could go ahead and write more, but I felt that these represent the few most famous African cultural traditions I could bring to your attention from watching the trailer. I imagine the full-length movie will reveal a host of other such intriguing cultural elements worthy of a follow-up article. At any rate, I hope you found this write-up useful and join us in celebrating this glorious work of art that is soon to unleash the glory of African lore and heritage all across the big screens nationwide and take Hollywood by storm. In conclusion, I have just one more thing to say, “WAKANDA FOREVER!

Stop taking life too seriously!

On Friday I spent 4 hours listening to a mystic – Sadhguru. He’s the first guru I have watched live delivering his speech to about 6000 people. When I heard he was coming to dubai I had already committed to doing something else with some friends and just didn’t know how i will make it there. I anyways put it through to the cosmos and let everything play out for itself. The day came, I honoured my prior commitment and left to see Sadhguru speak. Everything was falling into place. I am one of those people who lives to see the day that science and spirituality are bonded together and he spoke of both in unison which made it even more exciting for me.

He broke down his talk into 3 sections but talked about them all together referencing one or the other at certain times – self significance, Pride and Ego. What amazed me was the ease with which he spoke, he made it seems so so easy with the way he delivered, making you wonder why you make the decisions you make which only come back to haunt you. I’ve never paid attention to someone this much but not really paying attention because he wouldn’t let you to, he cracked a joke every 2 or 3 minutes, and if there was one thing I could take from his talk was that we should stop taking life too seriously – Self significance. We should enjoy life as we are meant to, enjoy the moments. He spoke of how we have evolved to a species where we have pretty much sealed our survival through evolution and we do not need to worry about survival. Now that that is taken care of we have to focus on living, living the right way, living through experiencing life to the fullest, noticing the things going on around us and those special moments. He spoke of how we have more often than not decided to make sweet moments brief and painful ones long! How we go about creating drama in our lives instead of just letting life play out and we enjoy it. Like someone or a kid who sees a butterfly for the first time – the excitement is usually through the roof – they become the butterfly as in they start jumping and flapping around in excitement themselves. Then he spoke about us and the cosmos, our place, that nano spec that we are relative to the size of the cosmos, we feel bigger than ourselves, than others, than nature, fighting it in every way we can trying to conquer it because we truly feel like it’s ours to conquer – and being serious while doing so identifying with the compulsive self instead of identifying with our consciousness. You can’t fight the cosmos, it has always been here, it’ll always be there, we will perish, everyone has a final destination on this earth- at least for now – death. No one is getting out alive of this one. We need to learn about the union between ourselves and the other, the other being everything else, we are because they are. Without the other there really is no us- makes sense? And about life- we decide what our experience of life is, everything happens within you. You decide how to react or not. Everything comes from within, we are all of this world and not apart from it.

On to intellect – our intellect works with what we identify with. The things you identify with build you into who you are, some of them are easy to comprehend, others not so much. The advise was to identify with our ignorance. When you know that you don’t know but willing to know that is where you grow, that is where you move upwards if there was a direction to move to. The enlightened one is not the one who knows everything, it is the one who doesn’t stop learning, the one who takes every piece of information and looks into it. We mistake information for intelligence, what if we had the wrong information?

Then he ended by saying the sun came up on time today. I wasn’t sure what to make of it but he went further to explain. We as a race have decided that the sun comes up at certain times throughout the year, the earth spins around the sun as so do the other planets, uniquely positioned in such a way that each planet stays on it’s lane, the orbit and wobbles while doing so creating the various seasons we have, but the sun is there- it is always there, we are moving around the sun, not the sun going up or down. If we were left for about 18 minutes (or hours, not quite sure) without sunlight every living thing on earth will perish completely. Now when you think of it this way – yes the sun really does come up on time every single day. It is significant and these are the joys we should be paying attention to every day, the simple things. Like breathing, the day you stop breathing is the day you transition back into the other realm of the cosmos, can we confidently say we are ready to make that transition today? Live wisely, don’t take life too seriously, a quarter million people die every morning – if you are not one of them, that alone is a reason to be ecstatic about life.

Jordan! The happy surprise. (part 1)

This seriously was a big risk! We had conveniently picked a long weekend so that we could minimize using more leave days than we had to. We had booked our tickets way in advance and my visa took a total of three months to be ready, it the longest I’ve ever had to wait for a visa. But it was understandable, they were are war, their president had strapped himself in a fighter jet was leading airstrikes against the crazy terrorist group of Iraq and Syria. Their country was in a heightened state of alert and risky according to the popular international news circles. The media were scaring the crap out of those who were not in the country. I thought there was a chance of us being kidnapped. Vika’s parents were obviously freaking out, our friend Natasha who came with us had her mom on the phone all the time to make sure she was ok. Well for me, I was going to tell my parents I was there only when I had gotten there. I had emailed them a copy of my life insurance the night before anyways 🙂 We had everything booked and it was too late to turn back now. One thing we were sure of was that we were going to be in awe of everything we were going to see.

Landed safely, I had the usual hiccups with immigration, I’m usually the first Cameroonian some immigration officers have seen or heard of. This usually requires additional checks for me, two or more officers need to confirm my passport and visa are valid and whatever other checks they had to do. Something which deeply troubles Vika but something I have made my peace with and educate every eager person about me and where I come from. Passport stamped, got through and our driver was there waiting for us with a sign across the rail. So I’m rushing towards him and then I see another sign which read “Mahalos” and hear a familiar voice calling from that direction. I can’t believe it, I know that sign and that voice, I look again and it’s my best friend waiting for us. I immediately became ecstatic and jumped over the rails and we start hugging and almost throw ourselves on the floor. I hadn’t seen him in about 7 months and had no clue he was coming. I had asked if he could but he was all the way in china and couldn’t make it yet there he was. Vika had secretly arranged with him to join us on the trip and surprise the rest of us at the airport. This is a guy I had met in India over 4 years ago and we shared some of the best experiences in my life together. One of the most chilled people I know and one who wouldn’t stop at anything to get what he wants. Just a year earlier I was transiting through Istanbul and had a 12 hour layover. He’s Turkish and set out to meet me at the airport as I was not allowed to leave. He managed to get to the airport without his passport and talked his was through all the checkpoints to meet me in the transit area under supervision! It was mind blowing how he achieved that but such is his determination. We have since grown into best buddies and still going crazy 6 years on. I’m still in my ecstatic state as we drive through the city to our hotel and just noticed it was a bit freezing. It was chilly but ok. We dropped our bags, prepped ourselves for adventure while the driver returned to the airport to pick up two more of our friends who were arriving.  It was a happy reunion. We forgot the risk we had taken to get here and just chatted away. All six of us coming from different countries had met in India a few years back and developed this strong bond which is still going on till today. When we meet its talking, cracking jokes and dancing away into the night. We are like dolls with switches, we get into play mode, dancing mode, deep talking mode, rest mode, all the friend modes you can think of.

10505254_10155363757145052_9128207902440318697_o.jpgWe set out to explore the city, our driver was excellent. We told him we wanted our trip to be remembered as the least touristy one in terms of food and wanted to eat local food at the best places in the city of Amman. He took us to one of the oldest known restaurants in the city called Hashim. The humus and falafel here are legendary. The restaurant wasn’t hidden but you could tell it was really old, broken tables and chairs, reconstructed walls et all.  Our driver Marwan helped us place the order as non of us spoke Arabic. We pleaded with him not to order too much as we wanted to have lunch at another place. He placed the order and within minutes the food started arriving in trays hot from the oven. We started eating and about three minutes later, more food arrived. We just kept on eating, and more kept on coming, humus, bread, falafel, tea, repeat! That’s all they had and that’s all we ate satisfactorily. We weren’t sure how we were going to have lunch at lunch time because we had greedily packed our stomach with all the food we could eat at Hashim. We visited the main touristic sites in the city, starting with the remains of the Roman theatre at the centre which left us in awe. It was massive and I still ponder how the people who addressed the crowds here did with no microphones or public announcement systems. I believe it was a job you had to be born to do and that is why most of the people who did were really great orators and had such a huge influence with the people of their time. We walked around it for a bit, turned down offers from people trying to get us to pay them to tell us more about the place. Soon after, we got into play mode, we decided to go to the very top of the theatre. This, however was not an easy feat, the steps were very steep but it was fun going up and when we finally did, cameras and phones came out, we took a bunch of funny pictures for a bit and then turned around to see the view from the top and it was truly amazing. Everyone sat in their own space, recovering and at the same time observing the theatre from above, picturing how it would have looked like if we were watching one of the romans addressing the Jordanian people. It still baffles me though how they accomplished it. After a while we begun our descent which was another funny task, the guys macho spirits came alive and it was a fairly easy task but then we had to slow down to help the ladies get down too.

 

10848692_10155363758555052_2243801985850729119_o.jpgOur next stop was the Citadel. I enjoyed the short drive up there and engaged in conversation with Marwan. I asked him how the city had changed since the start of the nearby war. He told us they are a peaceful country and have accepted millions of refugees, it has changed the dynamics of the city but they were happy to help. He spoke of how everyone was free to practice their religion and how great Jordanian people were. I asked him about his family and he told us he had two beautiful daughters who meant the world to him. you can tell how much people love someone or something when they talk about them. His face lit up as he spoke about his girls, you could literally see him looking at them by the way he spoke. You could see and hear the memories running through his words and the  brimming smile on his face. He looked like a very loving and engaging father who would do anything for his daughters. They brought him life and joy. He told me that was his life’s purpose and I believed him. Who wouldn’t be proud to have two amazing girls?

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We reached the citadel and it was going to be hike around as well. We got our tickets and walked in. It was also in ruins but had guide posts from which we could read about the place or area we were in. A gentleman walked up to us, introduced himself and told us he could guide us along and tell us more about the citadel. We were going to say no at first till he told us this was the job he was doing was for a good cause. We signed up with him and he gave a brilliant tour of the citadel. The number of times it had been destroyed and rebuilt, the legend of Hercules and remains from broken statues to back up the claim he actually existed which was quite intriguing. The tour lasted about two hours of which we saw so many broken stones, bones, mummies, burial pods and chambers. We finished at a place which was one of the highest points of the city and had a beautiful view of part of Amman. It was built on small hills and the houses looked like they were stacked on each other in a nice way. We were hungry again and put Marwan up to the task of finding another local place for us to feast at which he gladly did. Natasha, the foodie of our group had being talking non-stop about the mansaf. She had done so much research on it and just couldn’t stop asking when we were going to have it. It is the national dish of Jordan which comprises of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt served with rice and bread. Marwan found a place for us and we all ordered mansaf. What we didn’t know was that the portions were massive!! When the first two plates arrived we knew we were in trouble. Vika doesn’t tolerate me not finishing my food, if you ordered it, you ate it and you finish it. That was her rule about food. I’ve gotten into trouble so many times for not cleaning out my plate. We had to cancel two of the six plates we had ordered. The mansaf truly did live up to the taste Natasha had been telling us about. It wasn’t similar to anything I had had before and came with its mouth senses explosions which I did like. So there we were again and had managed to get induce ourselves into yet another food coma on the first day of the trip. We waited it out and then headed back to our hotel to rest a little and prepare for a night out in the city.

Marwan came by and we drove to the city centre and just walked around for a while, checking out stuff and chatting amongst ourselves and cracking jokes and poking one another. I spotted a small target practice shop and decided we try to shoot some rounds. So there was this one time in Singapore where Vika and I were watching a movie and they kept on referring to an AK and she asked me what it was. I paused the movie and went into teacher mode to give her what was my understanding of the AK-47. I graciously told her how it was the best thing that had probably come out of her country Russia according to some and went to explain more. It was the kind of explanation you finish and expect a clap or some kind of approval of your brilliance. She just looked at me and I was baffled as asked why she was not impressed, to which she replied “I know how to dismantle, assemble, load and fire rounds with an AK-47!” Which froze me for a couple of seconds as I hadn’t seen that coming. So here were were, and I wanted to see what she was all about with guns. I thought it was something I would easily get, but I fired the first couple of rounds at the targets and missed them all! Then she comes around and schools me on my posture, how to aim and how to fire, the method of release, how to breathe, all of that. She knew what she was doing! I followed her instructions and hit some targets while she observed calmly from behind. I finished and she gave me the thumps up with a cheeky smile as if to say “now you know”. We finally got around to finding a place to have dinner, we were still full from the afternoon so we decided to eat really light. we walked into a restaurant-bar and put two tabled together. It was only after we had sat down that we noticed there were only men in here. Not a single lady in sight, which immediately made the girls feel uncomfortable. Marwan explained to us that Jordanian women hardly ever go out at night except on very rare occasions. We pressed him to know if it was some sort of pressure from the men not to allow women to go out or it was just something they had in their culture. He tried to explained and I immediately realised I was judging their culture from my own cultural standpoint which was very wrong of me. We killed the conversation, had our food hastily and left to rest to be up early for a drive down to the river Jordan, wadi Mujib and the dead sea.

10458795_751566374963449_9062319517307684146_n.jpgRise and shine, it’s time to drive to river Jordan. Marwan arrived on time, we loaded ourselves up in the car, stopped by a small coffee shop and grabbed quick breakfast and jumped back into the car. Marwan warned us not to be sticking our heads and arms out of the car in order to take pictures in certain places. We noticed there were lots of army personnel as we drove out of the city and a few checkpoints. The drive itself was a very calm one until one of us decided to take a picture of something and we got stopped at the next checkpoint. We had been spotted! Marwan explained we were tourist and may have mistakenly taken the photograph, we had to surrender the camera for the officer to inspect and he handed it back to us. My crazy friend Cet decided it would be a good time to have the police officer take a picture of his own with us. He’s always doing crazy stuff like that and…the officer did agree so he got his other colleague to take photos of us all with him. We ended up talking for about 10 minutes with the officer and answered questions about where we were from and asked him about his. Out of nowhere we had dissolved what was a tense situation into one of exchange of names, laughs and pictures. He bid us farewell and wished us well on our adventures.

1939768_10155363772825052_494652024977441919_o.jpgFirst stop of the day was the river Jordan and the religious sights which came with it. As we drove on we saw something small crossing the road and observed it carefully to notice it was a turtle. Marwan’s face lit up, he told us the night before one of his daughters was asking if she could have one and here it was trying to cross the road. He picked it up and kept it safely in the back of the car in a box with some grass for it to eat while we drove on. We got to the river jordan checkpoint, got our tickets and went it. The river runs between the borders of Jordan, Israel and Palestine and is the lowest lying river in the world at -400m below sea level.

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Marwan showed us what is believed to have been the exact place where the prophet Elijah ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire. My mom would have loved this! what for me is just a trip or holiday would have been a pilgrimage for her. I was about see a lot of the things and places referenced in the Bible and pillars for Christianity. We came by the river, we had been warned not to try to cross it as there were snipers in the bushes on the other side of the river bank. That sunk in deep and we stayed way clear of the border.

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We saw the place believed to be the baptism place of Jesus. There were many other people here all travelling as pilgrims to the holy land. The place was filled with so much detail about Christianity and Judaism. There was however a place where we could dip into the river if we wanted to. On the other side of it was Isreal and had it’s own pilgrims who had made the trip from that side of the border. A guy was preaching and others were singing, it felt like an outdoor church. We soaked our feet in the water for a while and observed more of the area. We shifted from pilgrim mode into sniper spotting mode soon after. We were intent on finding at least one sniper. our search was futile was we headed back to the car. It had nonetheless been a great visit, I took a lot of video logs for my mom. She was going to love them.

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We the headed to the dead sea and we were all very excited. We had heard of the amazing once in a lifetime experience of floating in the dead sea and were eager to try it. The water is so salty nothing can live in it and which contributed to making anything dropped into it to float right back to the top. We got there, changed and ran into the sea right up to about knee-length deep then dropped! As soon as you dropped you floated right back to the surface and that too effortlessly. It was mind-blowing! So we began floating, we had magazines packed just for this, we were going to be floating unaided on water and reading magazines and news papers.

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It was so much fun and we played for about an hour in the sea , we were like kids on a playground. We had dead sea mud on ourselves as we had been told it was good for the skin because of the presence of an overland of minerals in the mud. We believed it. One thing to note though- DO NOT SHAVE before getting there, give yourself at least two days prior to arriving at the dead sea without a shave. The stinging pain as the water got in your skin cracks is one you will never forget! Some of us learnt this the hard way. Be warned. We forgot about the pain anyways and focused on floating after a while. This was a serious high on the trip and one which I don’t think I can ever forget. We showered down, had some shisha and left for wadi mujib.

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Unfortunately the entrance to the canyon had been closed off for renovation and preservation work. We were sad as we had seen really amazing pictures of the canyon and really wanted to hike through it. We later on realised we wouldn’t have had enough time and made our peace with it. We drove back to  Amman, the following day was going to be the last sight seeing trip to Petra then a drive to wadi rum in the desert where nothing went as planned but everything left in complete awe as we experienced bedouin life! (watch out for part 2!)

 

 

The magical Leh Ladakh

The first time I ever left Cameroon was to travel to India and since then I have been hooked. In four years I have made at least 5 trips back here. There’s always something new calling me back to India. This time it was the mountains of Leh Ladakh. This time it was a journey to challenge myself to see how well I was going to do in the wild and survive freezing nights in a tent and trek for a couple of days from an altitude range from 3500m to about 5600m. I was scared, yet excited and that’s how I was sure I needed to do this.

Leh Ladakh is a highly disputed region in the Kashmir mountains on the Himalayan range. You’ve got Pakistan on one side, Tibet on the other side and India in the middle. Somehow, all three countries have found a way for each other to keep a piece of their side so that the people of Ladakh can live peacefully. This however is not as simple as it sounds as I noticed a very heavy military presence in the regions.

Leh, the capital of the region sits at a base altitude of about 3500m and is a very colourful town. As soon as you touch down you can feel the presence of the mountains. They are peaceful yet intimidating and have claimed the lives of hundreds of people who have not heeded to the advice of the locals. So the first thing you want to do is check yourself. Many people come to Leh for various reasons. For most Indians it is the ultimate road trip,mostly by motorbike which starts from New Delhi, through the lovely provinces of Uttarakhand and  Himachal Pradesh stopping by the ever green and chilled out Manali, the spiritual Dharamshala  then a steep climb all the way to Leh. A trip which sees them cover at least 1300km by land in one of the worlds most dangerous routes. Going through glacier passes depending on the season and sometimes having to wait in line for hours for repair or recovery of vehicles which have given up to the mountains. I decided to skip all of this and took a 1hr 30min flight.


The first thing you want to do when you get to Leh is acclimatise. This is the simple process of letting your body get in tune with the altitude change. You may be a very fit person but might still require a couple of days to acclimatise properly. All you have to do is sit and not move around a lot for about 24-48 hours (varies per individual). You will feel your body change, you will feel drowsy, loss of appetite, breathing becomes even more difficult as the air is very thin with less oxygen. Take a rest, eat and take in enough fluids to keep your body going. If you must move, then visit the monasteries and markets around. My headaches lasted for about a day and I felt I was good to go the next morning. I planned my trek with the help of a local tour company I had found (there are any of them) and the next morning I was up at 5am to start my adventure.

I was introduced to my guide, Tundup. He was going to try to keep me alive. We had a porter and a cook with us as well as 3 horses to help carry our supplies. This was already interesting. Tundup and I spoke for a couple of minutes, he made sure I was healthy and told me to always listen to him, to let him know how I as feeling and to ask him stop if I didn’t feel good.

We took off shortly and left the porter, the cook and the horses behind. He said not to worry as they were going to catch up quickly. We opened conversations. I had come here to learn, I had come here to educate myself through listening and first hand experience. I asked about the laws of the land, how different things are now that the region is open to many tourists and how it has affected the locals. What was the buddhist way of life and how can I translate that to my own life. In pure buddhist fashion, the answers were simple yet thought provoking. Most of them went around the wheel of life, karma, and greed. Greed is what corrupts the human mind more than anything else. They were peaceful and self sufficient before many people started arriving and found a way to monetise the region. He spoke of how it has helped them greatly but also of how so many values have been lost because of greed. It was becoming increasingly difficult to live normally as everyone was focused on making money. But there were a few who were not to affected by the negatives; the small villages on the way during our trek. I came by a village or settlement which was self sufficient. They had everything they needed, they had their cattle for food and their waste as fuel during the winter months. They grew their own food, barley, wheat and even had their own mills being run by man made irrigation systems. The irrigation system had channels through which water could be diverted to help run the mill. There wasn’t a single shop in sight, not even a small store where you could buy anything. Money hd no value in this village and I loved that about it. I had been looking forward to getting there thinking I was going to be able to find a shop or store and buy some bathing soap…nope…there wasn’t even a proper bathroom. So being in the wild we had to do things in the way of the wild. I had to shower from a small waterfall. I was excited about this but had completely forgotten that this water were all run offs from melting glaciers…I jumped in, my lungs froze and and jumped right back out, gave out a loud hearty laugh and went right back in. I was loving it, it was was freezing but I was enjoying it. Come to think of me back in the city who wouldn’t have a cold shower and I am here having a freezing one and enjoying it. These are the things I miss and that is why I travel this way. This was just one of the many things I loved about this trek.


They say if you want to find yourself you need to take long walks by yourself. Well, this was it for me, trekking and camping in the wild. I trekked each day for about 5- 6 hours and I spent about a quarter of the time listening and asking questions to my well informed guide. The other quarter of the time I will be focused on where to put my foot next and the last half of the time in utter silence, listening to my thoughts and memories. Memories of my childhood kept on going through my mind which came as no surprise as I was here to appreciate my life more, hence, it covered everything I had experienced or grown up around since birth. The more these memories ran through my mind, the more I appreciated my life and you can’t help buy feel gratitude. Gratitude is what creates abundance in my life. Focusing on hat I have and being thankful for it rather than what I do not have and being sad about it makes all the difference. I have  ups and downs like everyone else but I started focusing on the things that were going right and was very happy for them. That was the shift, that made the difference. It is difficult to stay in this frame of mind all the time but if you try you will get there and you will see how much of a difference it makes, how liberating it is and how much simpler your life could be if you focused on the present things which were going on in your life at this moment. My time on the mountains were filled with these flashes of how awesome my life had been up till this point and with each flash came a wave of happiness, a wave of joy and a huge smile on my face, you know, the type that warms your heart. I shared some of these with Tundup and he loved hearing them.


I had listened to a TED talk which was about travel and how to make your travel experience one you would never forget. Travellers are always focused on taking pictures and asking questions to the locals, more interested in knowing about the locals than letting the locals know about them. The advice was to take time to make the locals learn something about you, something which corporate media would never show, something which is unique to you and your people wherever you come from. It was simple, all you had to do was ask the local to ask you anything about yourself, anything at all. Beside being a tourist, you were the ambassador of your country. This was a learning exercise for both parties. For me it was how to present my culture and country to a stranger, for the listener it is an opportunity to confirm or get rid of his prejudices about someone. Tundup was quick to fire, no one had ever asked him this before. He asked about famine and war, about kids dying from hunger and poverty, about the type of clothes we wore, did we live on trees etc? They were very funny but I realised this is what movies portrayed about Africa. That was the information he was being fed. We laughed together as I debunked each of these preconceptions he had. I told him how we grew up in a community style kind of way, where everyone looked out for the other, we had big houses and enough food to feed a lot of people daily, we played in fields and climbed on trees to harvest fresh fruit, we did go hunting and fishing sometimes and we went to school as well. It was a perfect mix. I was very happy telling him about how I grew up, being able to do all these things. Yes some places were dangerous but it was overall fun and I’ll do it again in a heartbeat. He asked about what kind of music I listened to and was shocked I wasn’t a big fan of hip hop. I told him why and how I found more meaning in deep house music but still danced to hip hop when the chance presented itself. I had my phone with me and had some podcasts downloaded and saved so I played him one of my favourite 1hr podcast by Sam Feldt (podcast title; Nazomeren). I love this podcast  series because it always started with a very positive message then the music drifted in slowly. We took a break from trekking and sat down under the shade of a rock to listen to it. He loved it, he loved he message at the start of the podcast and we went into another conversation about it. I loved that Tundup wasn’t just a guide, I loved how we could both teach each other about two completely different world and yet find common ground in the simplest things.


The nights were windy and freezing and I was on a mission to capture the milky way. This would have been easy if I had actually read on how to do it and not rely on meeting a photographer friend of mine who fell sick and couldn’t make the trip on time. So I’m out there at 11pm, a sky full of stars and I can’t set my dslr to the right shooting mode. So I keep ducking back into my tent, switch mode, come out, shoot…nothing happens. I did this for about an hour then finally gave up, took my sleeping bag and wrapped it around myself and just sat there and took it all in. It was an amazing sight, one which I had missed while failing woefully with my camera. The moon wasn’t in sight on this night and the magic known as the universe was in the full range of my eyes. It was truly a sight. I had never ever seen it a clearly as I had on this night, being at an altitude of about 4700m, no light pollution, no sound of cars or of people. On this night, it was just me, my tent and the rest of the world before my eyes. Whatever god you believe in or not, this was confirmation that there is something or someone out there bigger than the rest of us and watching over us and that we are just part of a very large and complex system we may never fully understand but that giving into it gives room for so much more. This was a bigger than life moment for me. My place in the universe was just a tiny spec of dust we have called Earth and we are on a mission to destroy it as if we could just up and go to another one. How sad! When I couldn’t bare the cold any longer I went into my tent and had a good nights sleep. I woke up the next morning, opened my tent and just gazed out into the ice capped mountains which were laid out in front of my eyes. I was consumed by my thoughts once again and only snapped out of them when Tundup came by to announce we had to  start getting ready for the second part of the trek.

This was going to be the most difficult part of the trip. We were going to ascend up to about 5300m and the slopes we were trekking along were slippery and very steep. As mentioned before the air is really thin and gets thinner the higher you go and here every step has the be well calculated before taken. You could feel the lightenes sod the air in in your lungs and you would know better than to push yourself. I learnt later that at this altitude the caloric demand of your body is in the 6000-7000 range daily as opposed to 2500 when you are at your regular altitude. This was the most dangerous part of the trip and had to be executed properly. We will go up to the top of the passes and then descend into the valleys and up again and down again. This feat will continue till we reached our resting place for the day. I experienced first hand nature providing for us. The sun is very harsh here and whenever we felt like we had had too much a cloud appeared to cover us, when it was too hot a cold breeze was sent from the ice peaks to cool us down. The valleys were green and had springs flowing through them and we would fill out water bottles, dip our feet I the spring to cool off and wash our faces then start the dreadful climb up again. More reflections, more self assessment, more realization and more appreciation and gratitude. That was the practice on this trek and it truly felt awesome.


On arrival at the top of any pass my guide and I will cry out “Ki ki so so lha gyal lo” is the prayer a Tibetan will recite at the summit of a mountain pass. My guide told me it translates to “victory to the gods”. They believe that it is at these high mountain passes that the good gods fight with the evil gods and that the lung-tar (coloured paper printed with prayers) and prayer are an offering to the good gods. Offering these prayers at mountain passes is especially auspicious because it is believed that the high winds will be of benefit in carrying the prayers. It was also a huge sign of relief when we got to a pass, that meant the climbing had stopped and we were going down which was easier to do that climbing.

On this night though I managed the view the Milky Way and took an almost good picture  of it finally. There was a big golden Buddha at this village and I went up to the monastery and spent some time there trying to listen to my thoughts. A local came and he and I engaged in conversations about Budhism and how the Buddha I was looking at was different. He had his hand touching the earth. This is because he had been asked to prove his enlightenment and his response was “only Mother Earth can know” and with that touched the earth. He then explained how we mustn’t always do things to get credit for or to be noticed but for the greater good. Only you and the earth you walk know and understand your struggle. I don’t know why these Buddhist always had very philosophical answers to me. They were simple answers by them but each of them was thought provoking. More self assessment and more realization and more changes to be made. I was loving this and was sad it was about to come to an end. I had learned so many things about myself in these mountains. I had had conversations with myself and found certain truths and had doubts about some. It was going to change my approach on life when I got back to the city. I was happier and wiser than when I arrived here. The rest of the trek was pretty much to same till I got to my pickup point where I said goodbye to the horses and the porters, jumped into the car and passed out. I woke up in the city of Leh and started looking for my late friend. She had after all felt better and made the trip. Found her and got on to telling her about my adventures in the wild and my massive fail with the camera. We made plans to visit one of the iconic lakes which was a 5 hour drive from the city and also to the highest motor able pass in the world at 5700m which was an adventure on it’s own because of the mad way our driver was driving. Let’s just say I appreciated driving slow in traffic after this ordeal. The last part of the trip was shopping for stones as my dear friend had just come out of surgery before I left and requested I bring back a rock for her. Seriously? A rock? So I decided to get one which was somewhat rare and she loved it. Flew back to Delhi and was obviously happy to get a fresh shower bath and regular food. Like I said before, the whole trip was about appreciation of the things I take for granted everyday and to learn as much as I could from the fellow Buddhist high up in the mountains.

Life is not complicated, we complicate life with worries and desires born from greed. I have always known there is a way to live a life filled with content and love and I will keep putting the pieces together and someday I will be free of worry and full of life and radiate that energy wherever I go. I survived the cold chilly nights and the altitude sickness that comes with the environment. The fear I had at the beginning had been conquered and the power of excitement and eagerness had triumphed. I had learnt new ways of life and my perspective on life has yet again definitely shifted to a better place. I “Kaizen-ed” up there.