Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Sea Mom

The stories of certain people require their own time in the spotlight. 

The story I share today is one that I have wanted to share for a long time now; of a mother I met in Antarctica. She was my first story on my first trip during my year of travel. 

I watched her daily, over the 12 days I shared with her on a ship. Always on the ship's bow, searching for wildlife, in the cold winds of the Antarctic. 

Natural for her probably, as I later learned she was a marine adventurer from a young age. I could not help but want to find out more about her story!

That wintery December on the way back from Antarctica two years ago, Gail sat in front of me, past the table, giggling with nervous anticipation, "I'm not so sure about this now". She is handed a certificate immediately afterwards congratulating her on her night of outdoor, under-the-sky camping on the Antarctic peninsula. An experience that is unparallelled!

Gail begins talking with her son, Dominik, about our conversation the previous night. We had talked about technology and its influence in disconnecting us from nature. As she was travelling without technology at the time (as was I since there was no network), we both connected with each other about the value of travelling technology-less and experiencing whatever is out there.

A single mother who wanted to be a nurse and ended up in teaching; the bigger story in her life is that of her marine adventure - her years-long travel doing odd jobs and finding herself. 

Gail has a love of sailing. In fact, right after I met her in Antarctica she planned a sailing trip to Cape Horn, to reach there on her birthday. Years ago, in her 30s, she had taken a much longer marine trip when she decided to respond to her friend's email by planning to sail from England to NZ.

At that time, like many people at differing stages in life, she was at a point in her life where she questioned herself asking, “Is this all there is? Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?”. Knowing she wanted to make changes but not knowing to what, there followed a long process of how, what, and where?

It was during this process that a letter arrived out of the blue from New Zealand from a college friend, and she suddenly knew it was where she wanted to go. The next question was how....?

Get on a plane and go...? Not really… Flying from one world city to another...? It was the journey , the journey is from where new beginnings can come.

She thought about what she liked to do (sailing). She collected a couple of charts, talked to a few friends, and mapped out her route to NZ. Once she found out that a boat needed to be delivered from England to West Indies, she sold her car, wrote a will, stashed her 4-month savings, ignored the words of those who felt she was being irresponsible, and set off on her journey...

A physically and mentally taxing journey of nearly 2 years....

As she set off, she shared a boat with two men and recounted how awkward it was, although one was polite and the other not so much. Nonetheless, she was on a journey and sailed across the Atlantic.

The uncertainty of facing the unknown was most acute at the first arrival point after leaving home - an island in the West Indies - a totally unfamiliar culture and new to being alone from the security of home. Many months later, she landed in NZ and felt like she was home. 

For her, in hindsight, the fear, trepidation, and uncertainty of tomorrow became easier as the months went by. There were difficult times but on refection she says she learnt to have a faith and trust in tomorrow.  As I sit there listening to her, I think about the courage she had to do what she did. She says that when you are younger, you can adapt to new situations. And I agree. 

After all, that is the reason I decided to take a year travelling alone around the world while I was still in my early 30s. Gail's story was remarkably similar to mine, waking up to a different story every morning, in new cultures I may not fully understand, and still adapting to new situations while experiencing the physical and mental struggle associated with responsible and respectful travelling.  

Yet, her story is much bigger than mine. Setting sail across the Atlantic, living on a boat, working odd jobs along the way. 

Gail is now a single mother to Dominik, now a young man likely with his own story.

When I spoke with her on the morning on the way back from Antarctica, Gail talked about an Argentinian pharmacist she met right before her trip to Antarctica. A cyclist who travelled by bike up to and past Istanbul – another story that is impressive in its own right. 

Gail talked about how the pharmacist travelled by cycle with a small stove. Her meal consisting mainly of rice, and her hospitality in offering tea to Gail and Dominik when they met were something to be admired. A sentence or two about her own journey would not be able to capture the difficulties that this cyclist must have faced on her trip; still persevering and optimistic to achieve her goal.

Gail has continued to travel to India, Spain, Ireland, France, Chile since I last saw her. And she plans to "set sail' again to somewhere in Africa next.

Over the years, she has not only sailed, but she has taught and worked on sheep farms - her personal, new-found passion. She and others like her prove that age is an overrated number. And, she recognizes "people out there (are) taking on (the) challenge of the unknown (all the time)".

Gail is one of those sea moms who has faced challenges of the unknown, and inspires those younger than her to dream big or go home. A force of wind that noone can stop… 

The trip she took in her 30s was a personal journey because she was questioning her life and wanting to take a new direction... It was a physical journey where she experienced some of the most beautiful places on earth, but probably the inner changes brought about through this process were very significant that she believes have given her courage, strength, and faith in tomorrow....

From me to you on the first blog I have written since many months, I wish you inspiration to embark on your own journeys. Please stay tuned for more blogs about the people I met on my trip, my own experiences and tips travelling the world, and some general checklists that you can use for your own trips to any corner of the earth!

Friday, 30 December 2016

"To Infinity and Beyond"

A year ago, I began my year of travel in the last continent of Antarctica. A year later, I have now returned home. 2016 is now coming to an end, and it has been a while since my last "chat" with you. 

So, where have I been?

When I left you in July, some of you reached out to me asking me "Where's Asma now". It was a pleasant way for me to keep in touch with you. There were many others I left in the dark. They waited patiently till I completed my trip so they could hear my stories and share their own. I would like to thank you as well. 

In the last half year, I have experienced loss, rekindled my ability to feel small joys, and met old acquaintances. It is not easy for me to say, but after the first 6 months of my trip, I was fairly broken. Emotionally exhausted. Logistically I was a marvel and could plan a trip at a moment's notice, but compassion fatigue had set in and I needed a break.

As I reflect back on my year with you, I realize that it was not the people or the places that made my trip. It was not even the moments. It was the minute acts of kindness; the hope that there was some empathy, generosity, and bond between a stranger, a family member, and myself for a brief passing minute. 

After my trip, there was no transformative happiness and I sensed a feeling of disenchantment, apathy, and hopelessness. After all, change requires time, and my brief interactions with people were not sufficient to support or change thoughts and beliefs in a meaningful way, a way that supports kindness and compassion . In fact, some may never change.

I had hoped to inspire. But my impact is unknown, and that is okay.

The past year has been tumultuous in many ways, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see the world at exactly this time. It has been a time when we wonder if our differences will be recognized and understood - age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and political views. A time when we wonder if it is important to change beliefs as long as actions do not harm. A time when we were unsure how to help, and whom to trust as sources of information.

Is it necessary to make a difference, or is it necessary to just act differently?

The good news is - I have truly recognized the power of hope. An opiate that inspires many to form a bond with strangers, to give a compliment, to trigger an emotional reaction which brings them to make a donation, to offer a seat or a smile or say sorry for being in your way. Although it seems that those with hope may be unrealistic, living in a childhood fantasy, doomed to realize that nothing will change. It is a force that helps us live. 

This new year brings hope to those who would like to leave the past year behind. And while I may not wish to do that, I will be accepting my new life and old routine as most of the world does and dream of a future where we work to live and not live to work. This new year, I will continue my blog posts and hope to see your comments, but I will hope without expectation as I know this is a venue for me to express myself and for my hidden readers to connect with me in thought even when they remain hidden. 

In solidarity and yours very truly, one-woman-who-hopes-she-is-empowered.

I wish you a sincerely happy new year with unreasonable hope and fantasy *wink*.

Courtesy certainasthesun/Redbubble

Saturday, 2 July 2016

How to overcome your fear of solo travel

I have decided to start a new "How To" series as a way to respond to many of the questions you have asked me along the way. This is my way of sharing my tips, asking for yours in the comments below, and also a means to support your own travel dreams.

To the moon and back my fellow travelling enthusiasts!

The one question I am asked frequently is whether travelling alone is scary and how do I do it? As I have now travelled to quite a few countries, can safely say my tips are now more informed as I understand your challenges better.

But, I would like to hear from you about whether your have other tips and challenges I may not have considered.

#1. Travel with a group

Okay, let's say that you are just not ready to take on the city by yourself. Preplan a group tour that picks you up and drops you off at your home, hostel, or hotel!

Some tours even arrange for a one night stay at a hotel before your tour.

You get to meet others who may share your interests, visit the places that you would like to, and no worries about getting to and from there.

Great way to start. Just like I did!

#2. Share a room

I find that when I am in a dorm room with other active travellers, I want to explore myself.

Yes, sometimes, I seem to share rooms with travellers who prefer to stay in bed or keep to themselves. But looking outside at the sun and sky and seeing my fellow travellers staying inside is just as much a motivator for me to leave the room!

#3. Your base, your entry strategy

What's that?!!

Well, we may be all gung-ho to start our trip - we got frustrated, we know what we want to see and how, or we booked a group tour. But we are still frightened as woah!

Why? Because we aren't used to living by ourselves and knowing how to get there in a foreign city.

No worries - There are tried and true ways to find accommodation. Canada - Hosteling International; Australia - YHA; Asia - Reviewed hotels; South America - Reviewed hostels! Use or to find your accommodation, and before booking look online for negative reviews.

Make sure it has free WiFi, laundry, and a shared kitchen to save you money. And, they sometimes even help you get to their place with an airport pickup.

#4. Get frustrated

When I found it easier to depend on others rather than face my fears travelling solo, I found that my best bet was to get so bored and frustrated that I picked myself off that cozy bed and stepped out into the open.

The reason ranged from the fact that I had spent so much money to get there, or I was hungry, or noone else was available to accompany me but gave me directions to meet them somewhere at a certain time.

Whatever the reason, use your frustrations and plan an exit strategy!

#5. Plan an exit strategy and destination

My favourite exit strategies?

Google - Find which destinations you would love to visit in your tourist city. Does your city map draw you a route from one tourist attraction to another?

Arrange your transportation - Do you need a city pass that you use to pay for public transport? Do you need to get off at certain stops? Or, can you book a cheap taxi ordered straight to your door via a mobile app or your hostel or hotel.

#6. Find your biggest supporters

Who are the people (or person) in your life who support your dreams, no matter how scared they themselves are?

Sometimes it's family, sometimes friends, sometimes coworkers, and sometimes fellow travellers. These are the people who tell you - you are the champion, you got this!

In fact, they get so excited that they even research activities, destinations, and hotels for you to enjoy your trip.

One cheerleader is all you need!

#7. Ready to do it without a plan?

Once you have a bit more experience, book just one day of accommodation. You will realize flights, accommodation, and tours are cheaper found on the go. And sometimes you get the best tips from locals.

Use for hostels and reviews along the way, flights can be found by googling and choosing the best dates and airline companies, and tours can be found by asking travel desks and tour companies physically located in your vacation destination.

Sometimes friends can be a great resource if they have visited the place or live there, and sometimes Google is your best friend. I mean, I recently booked a 3-day tour the night before I had to leave for it, and I had a great time and learned a lot.

I hope these tips help you as they helped me. Please share your own tips in the comments below, and share this post with others who may find it useful.

Enjoy your trip!!!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The elder

I dedicate this post to my grandaunt, who has looked after us, scolded us, loved us, and spoilt us with sugary treats.

Some of you may remember that I had originally planned to leave for Australia at the end of March. With my bad health and later, news that she was also not well, I decided to extend my stay in India till June.

Seeing her deteriorate in the hospital in May - one of my hardest experiences. When I had to leave, I made a difficult choice supported by my entire family. But every step I take onwards will be in her memory.

Who was she?....

I recently visited my grandaunt's apartment in Surat. As I walked up the steep steps, all my memories flooded back - of my childhood, sitting on tiny stools in the kitchen to eat, playing on the rocking horse in the adjoining room, looking out onto the streets whenever we'd hear music from a wedding party go by, running upstairs to a neighbour's to catch a few minutes of TV.

As I sat there listening to her about how much pain her legs were in and how lonely she had become, I thought back to how she would command our respect.

Don't nod your head; say yes. Clean the room. I learned how to tuck in my bedsheets from her, you know.... Even now, in her ripe age, she still scolded us about how we must learn to cook, take care of our elders, and save money instead of spending it foolishly. Oh, and take sweets from the cupboard whenever you want, ok?

Growing up, she would stand at the door waiting for my grandmother, then in her teens, to come home from school. When it was time for her to get married, she took care of her ill mother financially and physically. She took care of the house, meticulously noting down the household expenses. Soon, she was balancing her work and household life on her own, after my great grandmother expired.

But my grandmother would visit her often. And she would also travel down south to visit my uncles and aunts.

As she entered retirement, she gave up the world of work, but her personality and convictions remained the same. Respect for elders, a clean house, hard work, and meticulous bookkeeping.

But, she grew to feel that she would have benefited from the presence of a male in the household, someone to take care of duties she no longer had the physical ability to do on her own.

I will still remember her though as the family's strong voice, one with the ability to be strict till we cried, and loving too.

As she passed away today, our family is in mourning and we remember her, strong, stubborn, and loving. A champion for some of us in our hardest times.

After all, she was the first person in my family to know and support my dream of travelling the world for a year.

Even if we try we will be unable to meet her level of self-sacrifice. We love you.

The yoga teacher

Story #3 – Alefiyah Siamwala

Alefiyah is my cousin, the future of India, a jewel in the rough you could say. Her energy, her grace, and her dynamism is what I see in almost all young women in India today. How do I even begin to tell her story?! A fashion entrepreneur, a freelance yoga teacher, a photographer-in-training; these are just her current pursuits! And she has many more experiences to boot while growing up in Mumbai.

When Alefiyah was in school, she was, in her words, "a complete introvert, scared of what people would think about her if (she) dared to open (her) mouth. She did not have any friends and had very low/no self-confidence. She did not participate in competitions and was in a state of depression by the time she reached the 10th grade". These are powerful words from someone who has shown her talent and her mental strength in many ways over the past few years....

The day she left school she promised herself she would completely transform herself. When she entered college, she pushed herself to be social. Her degree also gave her a platform to speak in front of audiences. She remembers a particular speech she gave on "The Girl Child”, to which she received a lot of recognition. With each presentation and each new event she organized, her confidence grew. 

Despite her new found confidence, she had to regain herself after graduation. Today’s young women are faced with an enormous responsibility to either get a steady 9 to 5 job, or get married. But there are so many options that they forego because of these boundaries. Due to many different reasons, Alefiyah was also caught in a vicious cycle and could not find a job that she could continue. She also could not find guidance on where to turn next in her career, and relied on friends and her mother for emotional support. She stopped attending events because she would be asked what she was doing.

Today she is happy to say she is a ‘multipotentialite’. We do not need “one true calling”; it is perfectly alright if we are good at many things. In her current pursuits, Alefiyah is able to be creative, and work on her passion for fashion, photography, yoga and writing. Yoga, she says, has brought her a peace of mind which was hard to find earlier, and teaching her clients has given her a contentment no job could ever give her. She has also started her own website and blog called “Trends and Trails” and is a co-founder of an accessory brand called “Threads and Stones”.

Her advice for the younger generation, "People who matter will support you no matter what, and family will come around if you show you love what you do. Go ahead and chase your dreams, live for your passion and make sure the person you look at everyday in the mirror is happy internally as well as externally!"

The entrepreneur

Story #2 – Shamim

Two weeks ago, I sat in my aunt’s kitchen waiting for Shamim to take me to her house. An epitome of inspiration and yet one of the most humble women I have met, her energy was infectious. I watched her speak animatedly about the importance of a regular health check-up. She had returned from booking an appointment for her and her friend, even though her friend was hesitant. Fast forward 30 minutes and we were weaving through gullies to reach her home.

A two-story house with tiled floors, a tiny kitchen, cupboards lining the walls; the bedrooms were upstairs. It also had a bathroom with working sewage facilities; a rare occurrence where this house was located. All due to Shamim. Shamim is a cook at my aunt’s house and she lives in what is known as the slum area; a word I do not like using since it typecasts the people living there as someone desperate and needy. Instead I would like to say that many living here are extremely entrepreneurial. 

This is Shamim’s story.

Now separated from her husband, whom she had helped to get a job many years ago in Mumbai, Shamim is the champion of change in her household and with her community. Her husband has not spoken to her for 2 years. Yet, Shamim, a powerhouse of a woman, has managed the budget of the household, created a network of clients through referrals to homes and events, and is the manager of an informal venture capital fund that collects 5,000 Rs per month from each of 10 members and then donates a random member each month 50,000 Rs. This has helped them buy homes, fund the education of their children, and provide for many other necessities.

Shamim has studied until Grade 7 and was married at the age of 20. As she speaks about the power of education, she says that women need to know that they can be independent financially. She speaks about the desires and aspirations of young girls today and how they need to study, so they can work even after they are married; this is a significant issue in some families in India regardless of socioeconomic status.

She has advocated for the education of her two children, and her nephews and nieces. In their late teens and early 20s, they are pursuing different fields of service that will lead them to stable jobs. They speak very fondly of Shamim, her struggles, and her inspiration.

How can anyone not be inspired by a mother, a sister, and a confidante such as Shamim….

The doctor

Story #1 – Dr. Shobha Kale

I met Dr. Kale years ago when I had a case of Delhi belly right in Mumbai. I still remember her placing her hand on my stomach and diagnosing what I had right away. She left an indelible impression on my mind, as I was back to my kicking self within a few days.

My paths crossed with her this time in Mumbai, as I was seeking advice for the baby in Jodhpur whom I mentioned in my previous post. As she spoke about the resources I could contact, I realized that I could not miss the opportunity to interview her. As a woman in her 70s, still running her practice, I knew I would hear an incredible story about her childhood, and that is exactly what happened!

Born to a family of 4 girls and 2 boys, Dr. Kale grew up in a household where girls were given the opportunity to study, but boys were still the “kings of the household”. Water for the boys? Let the girls get it! Land inheritance? Boys first. But, Dr. Kale along with her sisters woke up every morning, completed their domestic chores, and then went to school. The family did not have a doctor, a huge prestige for any family in any community in India; so Dr. Kale was asked to pursue the profession. “Listening to our parents is how we were brought up”, she said to me.

Now in her 70s, she still believes that parents must guide their children, but she also speaks about families that do not support their daughters and daughters-in-law. Eat after the husband; do not talk to any men, except for the husband; do not work after marriage; why invest in a girl when she will get married eventually anyway. I even learned of stories where, if a husband is not happy with his wife, he leaves her even if she has children, and marries another woman.

As I listened to her story and the stories of many other families, I began to feel impassioned about the rights of women. These are not stories that are told, yet these are stories that exist in every family, regardless of class and level of education. And in some cases, through domestic abuse. It is a sad state of affairs when any life is not given the importance it deserves. 

I ask her what can be done; that I cannot sit passively while women around the world suffer in silence. She replies “This is how it is; it is difficult to change the system”. But, as we continue talking, her words imply that change is possible.

She is a prime example of possibility, just like many other families in India, including my own. In fact, she has also provided logistical and practical advice to many young women and men about how they could overcome their obstacles. What is special about her is that her nuanced advice is offered in the context of family dynamics, in a way that seeks to bring harmony in the household but also empower each family member wherever possible. Because of mothers like her who suffered in silence, daughters are now being provided every opportunity despite the naysayer in the family, the community, and the world.

I dedicate this story to our Doctors, our true intellectuals, and the elders of India; those who seek to amplify the good and always see the potential in every life!

Friday, 27 May 2016

5 Times I Fell in Love with Asia

My last post was filled with disappointment about the struggles people face in Asia. There were rays of hope though. And, I thank you for your words of encouragement in your comments!

As I get ready to leave Asia and move on to my next continent, I can't help but reflect on the times that I truly fell in love with this continent. So, in honour of my ancestral home, my family and friends who I will miss dearly, and the many new countries I have visited and people I have met here:

5 Times I Fell in Love with Asia

1. Travelling by myself in Hong Kong

Feeling like I could travel on my own again, experiencing the self-confidence I had lost a short while before, was empowering.

I chose to step out of my hostel; I chose where I wanted to go and problem solved how to get there; and then I walked, trained, and explored the area by myself!

Of course, I had my airport map, advice from roommates at the hostel, suggestions from close friends in India, and Google. After that, all I needed was initiative.

The few days in Hong Kong during the day were necessary for me. With my self-confidence back during the day I could visit friends at night, and really experience the city for what it had to offer - bright city lights, lush green islands, and beautiful parks with exotic birds!

2. On a private boat on Inle Lake in Myanmar

The one place I really wanted to visit in Myanmar - Inle Lake!

Taking the bus to the Lake was an experience in itself. On a top of the line VIP bus, served by an usher, provided fresh snacks for the night journey, and surrounded by earphones with which we could watch our own private movie on the seat in front of us. And, a reclining chair. Wow!

Once the bus stopped at the village close to the Lake, the next 10 minutes were spent in a private car, and the car (when requested) took us to a local service provider for boat tours.

As I sat in the boat, I covered my head with a scarf, to shield my eyes from the sun.

Soon, I was told I could lay on my back, while the boat drifted on the water. How could I refuse?

As I slept there facing the sky, I could see the clouds. And, each time the boat passed a fenced gateway, the water level would drop, and the boat would take a small nose dive into the water.

The best moments in life are in nature, silent, feeling fresh waves and a beautiful breeze.

3. When I visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

The Golden Temple in Amritsar was on my bucket list for a few years (because it was on my dad's bucket list for most of my life). I had almost given up hope that I would be able to visit it, because of the social unrest in Northern India at the time.

But, because I fell sick and had to cancel my flight to Australia, and with the help of my close friend and his best friends, I was able to squeeze in a detour to Amritsar before leaving India.

Walking at night on the cool floor, watching the temple light up golden against the night sky, by a man-made pond of bright fishes, hearing the religious hymns praising all religions and humanity - I could not help but feel overwhelmed that I had finally ticked off something from my dad's list.

4. When my friend's mum showed me her ancestral home in Jodhpur

I began my trip through Asia in Jodhpur, India in January, 2016. At the time, my new friend and his family were planning renovations to their home and I was planning my route through Northern and Southern India. I spoke about how I wanted to visit all 7 continents in a year, and about how I needed to shoot videos and take photos that documented my journey.

With a twinkle in her eyes, pride in her voice, and an infectious energy, she suggested her ancestral home in Jodhpur. She hailed a rickshaw on a main street and with all my gear, we set out towards her home. As we passed each street, she pointed out the street where her husband worked, and spoke about how she would walk from her home to her parental house in her younger days.

Reaching her home, she even asked me to take a photo of the nearby well, the doors and windows of her house, and spoke about how close it was to Mehrangarh fort.

As I walked through the gates of that home, I could feel history living in its rooms.

5. Finally, loved by my family in Mumbai and Chennai, India 

As my trip was not pre-planned, I was not sure when I would be able to visit my paternal and maternal uncles, aunts, and cousins in India.

In Mumbai

When I finally arrived in Mumbai, I took off for my cousin's home to see my 2-year old niece. After her brief fascination with my Merrells, and my quick fruity snack, the three of us booked a taxi and set off for my uncle's home. My uncle - who was concerned about my trip and made sure that I had all my needs met; my aunt - who would defend my trip on my behalf to anyone who questioned.

As I met each part of my close family, I noticed how much they wanted to support me. From one of my uncles who traced my entire round-the-world trip on a large map, to my dad's cousins who opened up family albums to show me what he looked like when he was a child.

The love was palpable.

In Chennai

When I arrived in Chennai, at the end of my trip in Asia, I was given a tour of Chennai.

But, not just any tour!

Sitting on the passenger seat of my uncle's scooter - the same scooter I used to stand on as a child - I snapped photos of the college where my mother studied in Chennai, the beach where my mum used to "hang" with her friends, and the home where I was born.

I listened as he spoke about my grandfather's successful export/ import business, our family's ancestral wealth, and how he travelled in his own buggy and car when few others had them.

Despite the struggles we face daily now, to earn an income, to balance household chores, and to take care of ill family members; knowing where my mother grew up, studied, and gave birth to me filled me with a sense of history, a sense of pride about my beginnings.

As I bid adieu to Asia, I know that I will have learnt the most from this vast, largest continent of ours. Antarctica will always have my love; but Asia is home.

Stay tuned for my next post as I visit MY LAST CONTINENT - the land of the outback!

And don't forget to share your comments here on my blog, subscribe to my blog posts, and follow me on Facebook (One Woman Empowered) and Instagram (@onewomanempowered)!!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

7 Lessons I Learned While Travelling in Asia

When I first started planning my round-the-world journey, I had a simple plan. I would take a year off to travel to the 2 continents I had not yet visited. Antarctica and Australia! Along the way, I would visit new countries. I would experience their natural landscapes, lush green hills, and forests. I would even spend time with friends and family I had not seen in years. All before I turned 31!

As I began travelling, my expectations began to rise. I wanted to inspire young women to pursue travel, to pursue their passions. I wanted to discover whether I could travel as a single woman to far away countries, proving that the world is not as unsafe as we perceive.

My journey has been a difficult one; my
 increased expectations crashing and burning in the presence of my original plans. My family and friends struggling. Myself learning new lessons.

In this post, I wanted to share my innermost thoughts and lessons with you. Many of you asked and I listened. So, please read on! Because there is a good news too! 

Lesson 1. Family and friends come first

You may have noticed long periods of silence between my blog posts.

As I continue travelling, I find it necessary to take these breaks to recover when I fall sick, to feed a hectic travel schedule, to work on my next blog post, and to spend time with family.

This trip has taught me that charity begins at home. We know the personalities and needs of those closest to us; we know how to steer them in the right direction and to provide them with emotional support. In the process, we also know our own body's needs and must take care of ourselves too.

Balancing an appreciation of self with selflessness for family is difficult. Maintaining self-confidence and independence in the midst of this balance, even tougher.

Lesson 2. Everyone is inspirational

You asked me when I will be writing my remaining 4 stories. I have come across so many stories in the past 4 months. Without enough background on each of those stories, I am unable to write about them. But, one thing has made itself clear; that each and every one of us faces challenges and each and every one of us is inspirational in the way we survive those struggles.

Educated, loving mothers in the most average of families have been fed false information; their daughters suffering through female genital mutilation; sons unaware. Wives have been physically and/or emotionally abused by their husbands; they are encouraged to leave by their families, but stay on for their children. Single women, who spent their lives supporting their siblings, are now old, sick, and alone; their nieces and nephews around the world are bonding to show them love, balancing commitments to their own ill health, their own families, and their jobs. 

Yes, I have even seen blatantly visible sex shops advertising sex with women; men selling sex on menu cards and naked women in photo albums.

To top it all, I have heard many negative assumptions about other religions and other people.

But, I have also seen a lot of positivity. Women in "developing countries" running their own businesses, travelling to and from work alone, acting as the sole breadwinners of their families. Muslim countries giving the most "Western" of freedoms to their daughters and mothers; boys dating girls; girls free to wear the clothes they wish; women working as policewomen and pilots.

My belief in the media has greatly reduced!

Lesson 3. Love and let be

On this trip, I have also lost my once-admired ferociousness. My pop's favourite name for me - "tigress". But, on this trip, there have been times I have doubted myself, even been scared.

I have sat in my hotel room all day, afraid to step outside, afraid to walk down the street alone. Why? I do not know. Maybe because there were people on the other side of that door; what would they think of me; how would they look at me. What if someone found me out - that I was not a local. What if they took advantage of me. What if I took the wrong bus and ended up in a shady street, with men who would rape me with their eyes. What if; what if; what if.

The reason does not matter. I learned a valuable lesson. It is easier said than done.

Asking people to grab a hold of their inner passions and take that first step - it is easier said than done.

How did I break out of that mold?

My first step was to allow others to step back, to tell me they were busy. I had to find my own way to pre-determined addresses where I could meet them. I would then use my mobile app to order an Ola cab, shower and get dressed, and then wait for the call from the driver before I made my way down to the hotel entrance. Once I was in the cab, I would hold my breath until I reached the destination, which I would have Google mapped in advance.

Something that was and is so trivial for me in Canada took me a great deal of willpower to do in India.

My lesson - just love those who are unable to do. Understand that they may be unable to do what you are asking them to do. Give them an opportunity to learn through the babiest of steps, and maybe they will overcome. If not, just be there for them emotionally. 

Lesson 4. Travelling solo does not mean travelling alone

Some of my favourite moments have been in the company of new and existing, young and old friends. But, there were times where I could not enjoy the moment because I thought I was losing my independence, which was not true.

Once I realized that I could be independent even in the presence of my friends, I began to appreciate new experiences even more. Like the time I laughed endlessly with my aunt and cousins in Mumbai about how I was destroying my English just to fit in. Or when I shared a car with my friend and his childhood friends, watching them laugh with each other, playing their favourite songs on the radio.

In an effort to reclaim my independence - carry my own bag, make my own plans, problem solve my own way in each city - I forgot that it was okay to work collaboratively with others and still feel accomplished and successful. I knew this was important for work, but this trip taught me it is true for travel too. You just need to find the right travel companion

Lesson 5. A child's fantasy

Recently, I had the opportunity to share an AC private cabin on a train from Jodhpur to Delhi. Not something that is easily available. A god-send as the heat in India is deadly at this time. I was in a bad mood though, and could not enjoy the cabin as I should have.

I lied on my back on the lower bunk of the bed in the cabin, and realized that I may never have such an opportunity to see villages and cities in India. As I lay on my back, I shifted the curtain slightly, and looked out the window at an upside down world, passing by like a movie reel. Looking at the world like a child made me appreciate it all the more.

Lesson#1 - Absorb each new experience, artefact, building, beach, and park like a child.

Lesson 6. Life is (not) beautiful

Tucked away in the suburbs of Canada, I had mastered the art of a simple life; one in which I was learning to be independent, confident, selfless, and understanding. No lies. No duplicity. 

As soon as I stepped out of that safe haven to experience the beauty of life, oh what a shock!

My naivety that all people have an inkling of good in them was shattered; that everyone can be understood, and that to steer them onto a path of selflessness and compassion, they only need to understand.

Not true!

Fact#1 - Each of us is inspired by movies like Wild and Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara and Highway. We forget the pain of the characters, and focus only on the extreme moments of joy they experience while travelling. Have you watched 127 Hours instead?

Lesson#1 - Accept the fear of travelling solo, the possibility of harm and/or death, and embrace travel for the rollercoaster that it is. If not, don't despair, travel to a park close to you and build your self-confidence. Until then, you can also visit new places using Google Street view - thank goodness.

Fact#2 - Cities are an infestation of exploitation and probably have a history of war, conflict, loss, and death. Each city I have visited, each lake-side village, I could not dissociate myself from the possibility that behind closed doors there are people who are struggling for their daily bread, have broken relationships, and are sheltering abused wives and children.

Lesson#2 - There are only four options if you want to enjoy travelling in a city - 1. Do not overthink; 2. Volunteer with a local NGO, expecting to learn from them instead of teach them; 3. Limit yourself to tourist destinations to avoid reality; 4. Stick to nature - your mental health will thank you for it.

Fact#3 - Travel bloggers do not lead a life of luxury 24/7. They work hard. For example, I found myself, in every new situation, formulating my experiences into words that I could articulate in my next blog. Every moment had to be captured in a photo or video. Every dish I ate. Every alleyway. And once that was done, came the sorting, the writing, the multiple edits over days and weeks.

Lesson#3 - If you are travelling for yourself, do not write a blog. If you would still like to start a blog, check out the blogging tips by World of Wanderlust, posted on my facebook page.

Lesson#4 - Successful travel bloggers may not be staying in hostels and backpacking. They have worked very hard to promote their blog and win free stays at spas and hotels.

Lesson 7. Media is marketing

Fact#1 - You will be bombarded with negative stories from social media - sexism, destruction, exploitation, and loss. On the other hand, you will notice travel bloggers post beautiful photos of the places they have visited and the people they meet. Both worlds are make-believe.

Lesson#1 - Experience the world in your own way.

Lesson#2 - Music always helps enhance your travelling experience. Try out these Hindi travelling songs on YouTube - Road Trip Songs. They helped me.

In my next post, I hope to share more definite tips about what has made my travels easier, including apps, finding your way around a new place, and finding company.

Please stay tuned, and continue to support my travels by reading, sharing, and following me on Facebook and Instagram! And, don't forget to leave a comment for me below!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Behind the Looking Glass

Imagine. You are standing in front of a clock, round, with 12 hour hands and 60 minute hands. Take one step towards the clock. The hour hands begin to take shape; forming arms and legs. Another step forward. The heads of the hour hands transform into faces of travellers known to you; travellers who inspire you. Another step forward. The minute hands form words so miniscule, you can only imagine they are the stories narrated by these travellers.

Drawn into a trance, you take a few more steps forward and have now entered the insides of the clocks, watching the wheels turn. But wait. You hear whispering.
"Psst; Not that photo. How about this one". "There's this one too". "Yes, that one looks good". Sudden silence. A flash. You look down at your clothes and see images playing on them. Turning around, you are surrounded by an aurora borealis of colours. The colours form inverted images, infinitely bigger than you, on the backside of the clock face.

The images make no sense to you. But you hear gasps from outside the clock. "Wow; that's where she went". "Oh so beautiful". "I wish I could go there". You suddenly realize the projected images are yours; the compliments on the outside are for you. You smile and whisper to yourself, "thank you".

I smile and I whisper  "thank you".

My favourite new Merrell footwear

This post is dedicated to the readers of my blog, who have shared my posts, supported me through my travels, and together built up my views to 5,000 this month!

There have been times where I have been busy travelling, fallen sick, or needed to support my family and friends in need. This has meant a long hiatus in blogging. There are also times I am unable to share parts of my travel to ensure the privacy of those I meet.

In all my travels, one fact holds true. Despite the struggles that I have seen people face (physical illness, mutilation, meagre finances, exploitation, and depression), communities build people.

You have continued to read and build my readership, and I thank you as my own community for your love and support! Au revoir until my next post!

I will continue to update you more regularly on my facebook page "One Woman Empowered", and my Instagram account "@onewomanempowered".