30in30 : The Family That Teared Me Up

Indian Family

A family in Colorado set me up with this family in El Cerritos, CA. I am fascinated by this chain of trust that has made it possible for me to complete this journey. Sri and Ram have made America their home for more than a decade now. Sri studied bio chemistry in India and became a flight attendant in Lufthansa and later switched to career of teaching and educating children about science. I believe this creativity and audacity of life choices is reflected in her food as well. She served me a lunch of Indian style Quesadillas !

When I asked Ram what images to come to his mind , when he thinks of India, he said, “My parents”. This was one of the few families that teared me up. I don’t know why, but I was struggling to fight my tears as I was seeing this family from behind the camera. May be it reminded me of how much I desire everything I saw there – kids of my own and a significant other. The love amongst Ram, Sri and their sweet little son Neel was so much palpable. I am sure it would have been even more overwhelming if I had seen their toddler daughter too.

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30in30 : What Makes A Family Anyway?

L-R: Me, Matt my host, Rob his landlord.

R-L: Me, Matt my host, Rob his landlord.

I sometimes see myself conditioned about what to find when I enter a family home – a man , a woman, two men, two women, may be a child, may be a living a room, sometimes a pet, and definitely a kitchen.. and things to those effect.  All those things give a feeling of ‘normal’ or ‘safe’.

Last night, moments before putting my camp in the Harris Beach State Park, I heard from a couchsurfing host Matt Stump that he could host me for the night. I decided to go check the host and his house before freezing myself in the park, like I did in Yellow Stone. As I entered the house, and did a quick mini tour, I was scanning not just the house, but also my own thought process. There were doubts, questions, suspicions in my mind. Absence of a kitchen kitchen and lack of a  ‘regular’ structure of house and its walls were not helping it either. My mind was racing to place Matt and the house in some imaginary bucket to make a sense of things I was observing. I was not answering his questions with complete thoughts because a part of my brain was processing something else. Matt asked if I would like to get dinner at a neighboring restaurant. With the compliant nature that I have, I answered in affirmative without saying Yes to myself first.

As we entered the restaurant, and I saw that he knew people and people knew him and were happy to see him, I felt better. When we sat down, and I bombarded him with my questions like where he was born and raised, where his siblings , parents were, what he likes to do, I  realized that he is a family. He is a hardworking man, who has reached where he is today without any fancy education degree. He is a single father raising a daughter. He follows Buddhism and tries to find inner and outer peace with that. He manages computer administration at a state prison in the town and earlier worked for Intel.

He then introduced me to his landlord – Rob and Dave. These two British brothers came to Brookings OR fifteen years ago. They run a printing shop here and enjoy the wilderness , the surfing, and the ocean here. That’s why they left London for Brookings!  Matt actually  cooks in the kitchen of Rob and Dave. And the brothers take shower at Matt’s. These people hang out often and they have created their own interesting family structure here that support each other.  I felt comfortable enough with Matt to confess my initial doubts which thankfully had evaporated by now. Matt told me that the image I carried in my head about a family was what it was there in United States in 60’s, pretty much everywhere. But then over the years, that has changed due to various reasons including economic ones. 

This road trip is definitely making me more comfortable with such alternative families and home structures. All theses hosts have been kind and gave me a safe shelter each night. That’s why I think that couchsurfing helps to break stereotypes and to un-condition our minds. It is helping me understand that it is love, respect and care that makes  a place a family and not necessarily certain gender or certain number of people or certain number of rooms. 

He offered me the bed of his daughter  who had gone to the grandmother’s place. So my twenty-nine year old self slept on a nine year old’s bed!

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And the house has these interesting lights all around.

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30in30: As I Approach California

Almost thirty days ago, I started from Central Park in New York City on a journey to meet 30 American families in 30 days before concluding my Fulbright education in America and return to India. Tomorrow, I reach the end. In San Francisco. I feel indebted to every family who became a part of this journey as I kept moving west.

I look back and I can see the happy faces of kids, dogs and parents in those families starting from first stop in Harrisburg PA till Sheridan OR yesterday. The journey has thrown many surprises, thankfully the pleasant ones. I was happy to note many tight knit families where it was hard to distinguish who were cousins and who were siblings. I was glad to find shelter in the homes who I had no common friends with. They opened their door just on plain human faith. I am quite touched but their openness and kindness. Some of them at least knew of me. At least a day in advance. Some were total strangers. Some didn’t know of me till the moment I knocked their door. Yet, the response and kindness to talk to me, or feed me or shelter me has been incredible to say the least.

As I approach San Francisco, I have some regrets that I could not see more of it. I feel happy that I have come this far. I feel longing for my home in New Delhi. I feel excited to smell ocean and enter California!

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30in30 : The Ballerina Who Walked Across the Country

granny

The first home whose story I captured on my camera on this journey was that of Frankie Price Presslaff in Indiana. They knew this woman called Granny Mary in Portland. Back then I was in Bloomington and Portland was so far on my road to west that I could not imagine who is Granny Mary or what she did or what she looked like or what she was all about. Frankie and Granny had never met. They had hardly even spoken on phone. Yet they have known each other for twenty years through internet. I am, thus, fascinated by the power of human faith – Granny opened her doors yesterday for me on one request of Frankie.

Granny Mary is the woman who WALKED across the country – from San Francisco to Boston in late 1988 to raise awareness about HIV and create support for women and babies fighting with the disease. Granny Mary is also a retired Ballerina – she waltzed since she was 9. She is also an admirer of cuisines from all over the world – no wonder she made Indian dinner for me. Oh god, she is so many things. One day is just not enough to know her life. I can spend weeks and months in this dusty old town of Sheridan in Oregon to know about her. Moreover, her partner Ralph and his fascination for Hexagons are so mesmerizing that one can keep digging this couple layer by  layer to uncover the mysteries. He has hexagons everywhere – on walls, on car, on the tiles in Kitchen, on the covers of cushion, their living room is hexagonal – like everything!

Their home and they themselves offer a vibe of  utter familiarity. When I first saw Granny as she got off that black jeep in the ‘downtown’ Sheridan, her eyes immediately gave energy of kindness – the one you imagine in the grannies you read about in fables and bed time stories in your childhood. My maternal grandmother is not around any more, I loved her a lot. My paternal grandmother is far. After meeting Granny, I felt profound familiarity. I was cutting my nails in their home without even asking. It felt like my nanny’s place in Haryana – it was just home.

When I asked her how she walked so much at that age, “Oh I am strong as a horse. A ballerina has got to have strong muscles.”

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30in30 : On Heaven And Hell

My aunt Mary set me up with this family near Portland. Tom is a gardener. He likes to see life grow. Stephanie is in instructional education. When I asked Tom about his faith and religion. He said, “I have not seen any one coming back from grave and telling me how is it going there. How can I believe people go to hell or heaven when no dead man ever came back and told me about that!”

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30in30 : Surprise from Switzerland

In the Yellow Stone National Park, a family from Switzerland was chatting with me while seeing the Old Faithful erupt. When they learned about the trip, they asked about how I was funding the trip. On learning about Kickstarter, they were overwhelmed and said , “Please don’t mind but allow us to support this” and made cash contribution on the spot. In the moment of gratitude I forgot to even take picture with them. They told me they would write to me. And then they mysteriously disappeared. Don’t know if I get to see them again. All I remember is that they were Oliver, Valerie , John and a-difficult-French-name from Lucerne.

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