When the security guard in the Tokyo Narita Airport asked to put my bag through the X-ray machine a second time, I couldn’t help but tense up.
“Hi,” I said, assenting in Japanese. It was one of the few words I knew—along with some basic greetings and a handful of numbers. My language was limited, and as the bag went back to the conveyor belt, I started running through worst-case scenarios: With my limited Japanese and their limited English, how would I explain the thing I was carrying in my bag—the thing I knew they were looking at, the thing they couldn’t quite understand?
I wasn’t carrying anything illegal. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
But as they unzipped the lowest pocket of my pack, plastic gloves on, and asked me if they could search my bag, I braced myself.
As a writer, one of my favorite things to do is to read. All throughout my journey, and especially after the election, I’ve been trying to pull together books that will help me see the world in a broader light and make me a more empathetic human and effective advocate.
Here are five books that have been on my shelf the last couple months. Hope you might enjoy (and learn from) them as much as I did!
After the election, I felt pretty powerless in terms of how to respond and also realized I needed to learn more about engaging with the racial justice movement and integrating anti-racism work into my other advocacy. This book was a great primer for me regarding work being done to end the prison industrial complex (and its inherent racism) as well as an awesome guide for movement-building in general. I recommend it for anyone working in advocacy and activism and for all my non-profit sector friends. Find out more online here. (Available on Kindle for only $0.99USD!) Continue reading “The Traveling Bookshelf: Five Books to Read on Race”→
An introvert at heart, I could feel myself shutting down. Some quiet time our last morning in Dharamsala and some rejuvenation at the Golden Temple in Amritsar boosted me enough to make it to Rishikesh in one spiritual/mental piece.
And once there, my first thought was “Rishikesh is heaven.”
Rishikesh is considered by many to be the “yoga capital of the world,” and as such, it is unsurprisingly filled with yogis from all over the world and, thus, a considerable number of tourists (for better or worse).
I was sitting in front of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the sun warm on my back, musicians playing and singing hymns before me, on the day I could’ve heard the Dalai Lama speak in Dharamsala.
Three days before, we’d arrived in Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan-government-in-exile. While there, we found out that the Dalai Lama was actually in town (a rare occurrence with his packed, worldwide speaking schedule) and that we could sign up the next day to be present for his next public audience.
The only snag was that he would speaking two days later—when our tour was already going to be on the road for Amritsar, a city in northwest India, a half-day’s drive and train ride west of Dharamsala.
Prayer flags trembling in the breeze. The firm, golden gaze of a seated Buddha. Artists’ hands at work, creating something holy. A single sign of imperfection, and hours—days—of labor would be cast aside.
When we arrived at the town that is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, I expected to be overwhelmed by the place’s holiness. Certainly, numerous pilgrims come from around the world to meditate or engage in in alternative therapies or to try to get a glimpse of the holy man himself. Others simply come to the temple that adjoins his house, offering supplications to Buddha alongside maroon-glad monks with shaved heads.
This project began last summer as a documentary film following two queer, gender non-conforming/non-binary South Carolinians on a journey across the globe (currently in post-production–see teaser below). Since then, it’s grown into an active travel blog and social media presence with thousands of readers/followers.
For any of you who have read my fiction, you know I don’t like telling linear stories.
I’ve struggled with this while writing this blog, as I’ve felt compelled to break my travel narratives up into blog-sized bites. To make storylines that make sense. An arc across India and Asia.
But my timeline has been disrupted by events beyond my control. And besides, time never moves in a straight line anyway, and neither do my stories. There is always some piece of the past that makes itself known, some dream of the future.
I am writing this in a tea house in Myanmar. I will go to Vietnam soon.
I still have so many stories to tell you—from India, Korea, Nepal. Those will come, I promise.
But just not now.
Trump’s election and the ensuing fear and grief I (and my community) felt have derailed me. I’ve spent hours on social media, sharing together, raging together, trying to understand, to educate, to advocate while still loving all humanity. Still trying to bridge the divides among us.
I don’t always know how to do so while still speaking out against the violent oppression that is happening. I don’t know how to explain to you how the leaders Trump has drawn together to aid in his transition and potentially lead his administration scare me just as much—if not more—than Trump himself. Continue reading “An Open Letter to My Friends Who Voted for Trump”→
After the noise and crowds of Delhi, Shimla was a welcome rest. The mountain air. The quiet(er) streets. A chance to take a walk among trees. The stacked shops and stunning views. The old Viceregal Lodge, where the British colonial Viceroy once lived and which later became the summer home of Indian presidents.
I drank it in (and also took in a mediocre Bollywood movie called Banjo that at least had good music). And after a couple days, we moved on to Mandi, also known as the mini-Varanasi for the number of temples it has, corner after corner.
This is what I remember: Shopkeepers standing in open storefronts. Oil sizzling in big, big pans by the sidewalk. Puffs of bread emerging. A tailor looking up as we passed, surrounded by colorful fabrics. An old Raj—a man who should’ve been king if India hadn’t become a fully unified country under one government (post-independence).
We stayed in said Raj’s palace-turned-hotel (The Raj Mahal), and the history stared down at us from the walls—pictures of kings gathered in Delhi, a portrait of his father before him, paintings, black-and-white photos with color added (circa 1935).
And down the streets of Mandi, the temples on every corner. The river. Shiva’s temple watching over—Shiva the destroyer. “He’ll take anything,” our leader said. Shiva does not discriminate. “But we worship Shiva because we know things have to be destroyed for life to be possible. It’s part of the cycle. Destruction and creation.” Continue reading “Thinking of Shiva”→
If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far this journey, it’s that I love train rides. And slow travel, more broadly, but train rides in particular. Keyes and my train ride out West. Multiple trains across Japan and Korea—some slower than others. The 38-hour ride from Bangalore to Agra on the overnight train (top bunk with air conditioning—don’t worry, I didn’t suffer too much).
And then the beauty that was the train ride to Shimla. My tour group (via Intrepid Travel) took a regular train first to Kalka and then transferred to what’s called the “toy train” to Shimla, a hill station (mountain town) north of New Delhi. It’s called a “toy train” because, unlike its other Indian counterparts, it’s a smaller train on a narrow-gauge track that chugs through over a hundred tunnels (and hundreds of bridges) that are of their original design (from the late 1800s).
Shimla is now a honeymooners’ getaway (and a state capital), but it was once the summer home of the British colonial government, when they wanted to escape the heat of the then-capital of Calcutta. It was also where some of the first discussions about independence were held between British and Indian leaders in the mid-1900s. And in many ways, it still reflects the effects of its colonial legacy (check out this article in The Guardianfor an interesting reflection/critique on Shimla’s past and present). Continue reading “Riding the Rails to Shimla”→
This morning, I woke up in Myanmar to a world where Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States.
Yesterday, I spent half a day watching the results roll in, reading post and tweets cataloguing the dismay and heartbrokenness and fear from many of my friends.
Particularly my trans, queer, and LGBTQ friends. My friends of color.
Friends with disabilities, immigrants, Muslim friends, women—anyone
Donald Trump and his campaign have managed to threaten, alienate, or
Harm: encouraging Islamophobia and fear/hatred of Muslim people.
Harm: violence done simply by words—and yes, words hurt.
Harm: categorizing as “less than” or “Other.”
Yes, he and his supporters have done harm. I have no doubt he will do more.
I shared this grief and anger. As the wee hours wore on in the US and early afternoon turned late in Myanmar, I was struck by suddenly not knowing what to do. Not knowing how to put one foot in front of the other.
As I told my friend and colleague Jane, it was hard enough working for LGBTQ rights and working to end gender-based violence during the Obama years (the bulk of my career).