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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30in30: “We make sure that all in our family share at least one meal every day.”

I wanted to make a small break in Spokane WA, the first stop in that state. A friend googled up that town and told me about Dr Sanjay Logani who is a pathologist in Spokane. Found his number and called up his office. The secretary told Dr Logani that a documentary film maker from India is on the line and asked if Dr Logani would speak with me. He was kind to take the call. After few questions to establish  trust and authenticity , he agreed to have his family spend some time with me. When I reached there in the state park, there was not one but three Indian families in the park where they had come for picnic. For the first time in this trip, I met an Indian family. When I asked him about his family, he said, “We make sure that all in our family share at least one meal every day.”

 

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“We could not care less about New York”

This was a consequence of a plain door knock. As I was driving through the ranches on my way to Jackson  Hole, WY, I wondered what these ranchers are like. Are they like the cowboys of the Brokeback Mountain. So I drove into one of them. I knocked the multiple doors of the house there. No one answered. Not disappointed, because the town was full of ranches, I drove out and looked for another ranch while driving further. Then I passed Warm Creek Ranch. I don’t know why, but this looked promising. I drove reverse in the pull out lane of this highway for a quarter of a mile and got into the ranch. There was a young looking couple moving some heavy equipment. I said Hello and introduced myself and told why I was there. The man asked me to talk to his father in the house. And so I did. Father came out of house and I learned that his name was Larry Cooke. He was a real cowboy. He had his hat and boots on. He asked me to wait while they moved the heavy equipment. I offered to help and together we moved that boiler / engine / I-don’t-know-what.  Now that that was out of way, I was to re-introduce myself to Larry to resume but my hands were full of mud from that moving. So I quickly ran to my car and cleaned them with sanitizer and told my story to Larry. He agreed to speak with me. His wife too joined. I learned they never left this town of Victor in Idaha with a population less than 2000. Or at least his wife. I asked her if she missed anything by not living in a big city, say, New York.

“I could not care less about New York. I don’t mind if I never get to see it”

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30in30 : “If world were a single human body, India would be its heart!”

That’s what Mary here told me when I asked what image came  to her mind when she thought of India. Mark and Mary have been performing transcendental Meditation for 40 years now and that was visible in their happy peaceful  nature.  Sometimes I seek people, sometimes people seek me.  As I got back into the parking lot, standing next to my car was this couple who startled me by saying, “Hello Mr Gupta” ! My decked up car caught their eyes and they sought me!
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30in30: Intermission

This Saturday, I will be completing two weeks of the four week Indo-US friendship tour across the United States of America. From Central Park in New York City to Greeley Colorado, I have crossed  the heart of America on my way to the western coast. I have heard stories of quite different types of families – a nice couple in a small town of Pennsylvania, a single Colombian woman in Cincinnati Ohio, an elderly couple in seventies in Bloomington Indiana with life long thirst for knowledge, a big family in Indiana with two dads and eight kids, a big family tree in Illinois with three generations to welcome me, a lively couple in Wisconsin, a birthday party in Minnesota, a widowed old artist in the sleepy town of Soux Falls, SD , three camping families in the Badlands of Dakotas, a native Indian family in America’s poorest region of Pine Ridge, a badass scholarly couple in Colorado with remarkable zest for life in their attempts to make the world more compassionate – and  countless men and women and speeding ticket issuing officers at gas stations, diners, rest areas, pullovers on highways, churches, bars, schools, pharmacies .. phew!

In all these stories, it might be a coincidence, I find a hope. Hope to live for tomorrow. There is lot of diversity in how the home is set up. How family chores are divided. What stage of life these people are in. Quite a lot of them seem content. Quite a lot are rebellious ones. Some of them know what they are doing and why. Some others still figuring out. Some have genuine fears in life. Others could not care less. But almost all of them share their concern for the world when asked what they think of tomorrow or if they have worries in life.

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.

And I have touched not even the tip of this iceberg called America. I have not entered the home of an African America or Hispanic family yet. I have not had supper in a blue collar family home. I fear that if I broadcast that desire of mine too much, I might be accused of race tourism or poverty tourism or other things to that effect. But I rely on some random stroke of luck to have a family like that open door for me. I hope my genuine curiosity about them will be seen,

I look forward to the rest of the journey. I don’t have very many families or homes lined up as I go further west. But I have hope. Hope to go west another day.

Meanwhile, we have only fourteen ( 14 ) days to go before this kickstarter campaign gets over. We are little over the half mark of $2500. If we don’t get that in next two weeks, project will be scrapped off and movie won’t be funded. I am already deeply grateful for you for your support. Every buck counts. So please help spread the word. It is not the value of each contribution but the total number of backers that will get this project included in the list of FEATURED PROJECTS on this site. I believe in you and myself! Yes We Can !

Adios Amigos !

Gupta Goes Greek !

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30in30: Badlands of South Dakota

In Badlands National Park, I was fortunate from the get go.  As soon I entered the park –

Badlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was told that camping sites are almost full and I may not get one.  By sheer stroke of luck, I was able to secure the last available one!

Car camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, I wondered if  camp grounds could be  a place for meeting American Families. And I was pleasantly surprised. First I met this gentleman who had the road to he does not know where. His diverse life and career was  indeed marvelous. His was like a free flowing breeze –

Family - Dan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He gave me this as a souvenir –

Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I met this sweet couple who were on their annual pilgrimage to visit their grand kids around the country –

Family Florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, with lots of apprehension I approached this family. But their sense of openness and friendship really overwhelmed me.

MN Family 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Little Emma gave me this as the parting gift –

Flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I indeed was a happy camper !

Me