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Archive for the ‘Traveling at Home’ Category

In Washington there are new, shiny apartment buildings going up in neighborhoods that haven’t enjoyed growth for decades. That isn’t to say that they enjoy this particular brand of development; the influx of wealthy young professionals into black, working class communities is always a bumpy transition. In every glass-walled, terraced condo building that opens, a row of restaurant and shopping chains sprouts up in the street-level storefronts, like invasive mushrooms popping up between the roots of a non-native tree transplanted into a forest.

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I wrote this over a year ago. It had been 14 days since I was in Asia, and it sums up many of my thoughts about this whole over-arching experience.

Asia is gone to me, snuffed out in a way I anticipated but didn’t fully acknowledge. And I feel a sense of loss. I miss having no preconceived notion of what I will find around the next corner. I miss the signs of life that are unavoidable on the street, in every window. I miss the interactivity that comes from being a curiosity.

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A prayer for the long-term traveler: Let me always remember that this world rewards my attention handsomely. Beware the whirlpool of meaninglessness that lurks when I lose sight of the horizon, when the world’s endless mosaic before me seems daunting and impossibly demanding. There is a hazard to travel over the long term: that it become a chronicling or mere tracking of the “galvanic twitches of the eternal pointless present,” as Wallace Stegner memorably puts it. Too many people and sights that become interesting in the same way, too little agency to act beyond my prescribed role as a stranger in these contexts. But I have faith that, as I keep learning about my surroundings and keep my eyes open to new kinds of surprises, this experience can be endlessly engaging. (more…)

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It is Christmas Eve morning and Ryan and I find ourselves on the corner of Heidelberg St & Mt Elliott St, Detroit. The streets are deserted, the houses dilapidated, some boarded up, others burnt out – few of them look inhabited. Every second plot is empty. It is freezing cold and snow is on the ground.  And out of nowhere appears – a cyclist! In a county designed for driving, a city built by the car industry, a part of town with few amenities and no major grocery stores, this middle-aged man cycling in the freezing cold on a dilapidated bike, was as astounding and shocking a sight as the boarded up houses.


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The photos in this post were taken on our last day in DC. Caleb and I wanted to spend our last day doing what we loved doing during almost three years of living in DC. We took a long walk of exploration. We steered into Northeast, behind the farmer’s market close to Gallaudet University, and there along the train tracks we committed home invasion: freshly washed clothes lying on a wall in the sun, a bag of groceries, a cooking station. I remember thinking: In what ways could this person’s life possibly be anything like mine? What do we share?

Traveling in India feels like a constant act of home invasion. Vulnerable aspects of peoples’ lives are laid bare. I am witness to intimacies that should be reserved for lovers and families, not strangers like myself. It feels both wrong and sacred. Discretion is an unaffordable luxury for most. Unlike the person whose home we observed by the traintracks in DC, there is not much I can do to protect the privacy of people in many places in India that we visit.
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