What Took So Long?

So, after a bit of a delay, I’m finally back with another blog. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any excuse like “Ive been travelling” or “I have no internet” or anything like that. I’ve just been a bit lazy, but I promise to make it up to you in the next few days by putting up a backlog of unposted messages!

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Before you read this, please prepare yourself for some splitting of hairs as I search for the right words to express some thoughts that just came to me a few days ago, as well, get ready for some thorough introspection:

A few days ago, I came home early from work to do some packing and preparations for a trip to Delhi. A few minutes after I got home, our “mum” from across the hallway in our apartment walked into our living room with two kids in tow. Now mum, she has lived across the hall while dozens and dozens of interns have lived here. To her, each intern is her “son” or “daughter” (although she does tend to show just a little bit of favouritism towards the boys). She is like our self-nominated caretaker, she comes and goes every few days, walks into our apartment without warning, and sometimes busies herself with some cleaning in our (sometimes disgusting) apartment. She speaks quite broken English and is always excited to see you when she walks into the room and gives you a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She also frequently talks about her different “children” (old interns) who are spread throughout the world. She does have one real son who lives with her who we see from time to time. She is a sweet lady and spoils us.

However, the children that she had in tow that day were not her own. Rather, I think they are kids from a poor family hired to clean her apartment, and occassionally she brings them with her to our apartment to do some sweeping and cleaning at our place. It was while sitting in our living room and trying to mind my own business (which is a nicer way of saying that I was trying to ignore what was happening infront of me and put my head in the sand) while these kids cleaned our mess under mum’s direction. These kids couldn’t have been any older than 6 or 7, and this wasn’t the first time that this had happened, but I finally felt that I needed to get something down out of me…

So I’ll begin with a question-When becoming an adult, is it normal for our own problems to always seem more important than everyone else’s? Is it normal at some point to forget that other people might even have problems bigger than our own?

Sure, we can all consciously compare ourselves to someone in a worse situation and admit that yes, our problems are small and maybe we have it easy. However, how often do we really think about this and let our behaviour be guided by this understanding?

Maybe its not that often for a lot of us.

When I think about this, its almost like the older you get and the more baggage you have, the more you’re able to think about yourself, your world, and what matters to you. Its like your own concerns or responsibilities are supposed to let you off the hook for thinking about other people unless you really need to or “should”. So how does this happen?

Right now, I’m tempted to throw out the word “ego” as an answer, but I don’t if ego is the right word, at least not in the sense that most of us are used to using the word.

In this case, when I think of the word ego, I think of it in the sense that it was taught to me in my first year of university, in my Religions of Asia class, of all places (which is slightly ironic, since it was this class that first sparked my interest in going to India). In that class, “ego” was the word that was used to describe someone’s attachment to their own sense of self and identity. It didn’t mean that a person had an ego in the sense that they thought they were “hot shit,” rather it meant that a person who has an ego was a person attached to themselves and their own world, their wants, their needs, their connections, their companions, and even attached to their own suffering, because it is these things that make a person who they are. Thess attachments are what makes me different from you, and you different from him or her.

If I’ve lost you, give me another chance to explain further…

It feels like, the older I get, the more of an “ego” I develop, it feels like blinders go up on either side of my eyes and slowly close in together, until I’m no longer able to look at things from outside myself and I become unable to put things into perspective unless I REALLY give it a conscious effort. In a way, my “ego” has grown enough to obstruct my vision of things going on right infront of me, such as the poor or unfair treatment of another person, or an unjust situation. When I was younger, I considered myself to be quite “in tune” with these sort of things, when I saw someone struggling or facing difficulties, it wasn’t something I could look past very easily. Now though, I find it much easier to ignore the things that are uncomfortable to think about and just go about my business.

So, how does this relate to the kids who clean?

First off, I don’t mean for this to be a criticism of mum or how things are here, I’m making an effort to be culturally sensitive and open-minded. However, the fact that there are young children who come to our apartment, where quite privileged and able-bodied people are living, to come to clean up after us, it bothers me.

I’m sure there are reasons for it, maybe these children need to do it to contribute to their family, maybe in India having children do this type of work is normal. Maybe mum is even looking out for these kids in her own way and trying to help them. Regardless though, I know that if I saw this three years ago, even if I rationalized it and tried to understand, the situation would still bother me. Moments after seeing this the first time I would have spent a good chunk of time thinking about it. I would have thought about whether we should stop this practice within our own house, then I would have thought if this action would actually make the situation for these kids worse (maybe it would take away a source of needed income). I would have thought about it to see if there was anything that I could do to make things better for them, or if I could at least stop contributing to a situation I didn’t think was right-even if my efforts were fruitless.

Now though, it took almost a month of being aware of this before it finally started to really bother me and before I really thought about it. It was always in the back of my head, but you know, I’ve been busy with work and friends, I was jet-lagged, I’ve been unhappy with my job, I only have four months to see India and don’t have enough time to do everything I would like to do.

By making my own problems seem like they mattered, I could put those thoughts at the forefront of my mind and put other things around me to the back of my head, the kids who clean our house being just one of a few things.

Oh well, maybe looking past these things is a coping mechanism, maybe thats what helps me live day to day without getting overly upset by things around me. Or on the other hand, maybe I’m just a bit slower with these things with age.

In either case, at least it happened eventually and I’m not a lost cause. Better later rather than not at all.

Rocks, Rishikesh, and Rapids

 

For the first time since I arrived to my new home, commonly referred to as “48” by the regulars, there is some peace and quiet, so I’m taking advantage of the break to get another post up. Most surprisingly, theres not even going to be a party here tonight. If you knew where I lived, you would understand why this is surprising.

 

Now, what’s behind the name 48? As I mentioned before, Chandigarh is a planned city with sectors, while nice and organized it also lacks a little creativity. Instead of street names and subdivision names like “Finch” or “Sherwood,” you have numbers and letters. For example, I live in sector 48. In my apartment there are people from all over, and there are constantly new people coming and going, arriving and leaving.

 

Our place is also the defaulty party house for AIESEC interns and their friends. So now, “48” is a part of my regular vocabulary, most phone calls beginning with “Hey are you in 48?” or “Hey, yeah, I’m in 48.” Its a fun time, but it can also get a little crazy when you’re having a party where you can identify close to 20 nationalities in one room with one thing in common. They all know how to have a good time.

 

So, now for a few random little stories from the last few weeks.

 

Rock Garden-Chandigarh is not necessarily a “tourist” destination. However, there is one site that the city is famous for, called the Rock Garden. The story behind the rock garden goes back to the beginning of Chandigarh. Before the city was planned, there were some villages in the city, but overall, there wasn’t really much here before the 50s but bush. Some villages and settlements had to be torn down to make way for the new planned city, so there was also a fair amount of garbage. So this one man, working independently at first, found a secluded spot and spent years building a garden complex out of rocks and garbage. Not an artists typical supplies, but the result is pretty impressive.

 

When the garden was discovered, instead of it being destroyed to make way for the city, it was preserved and the man was given workers to help him complete his project. Now, it is a bit of a labrynth of many many many sections divided up by walls. Each wall has only two small holes or “doorways”: one to come in, one to go out. In each section, there is a wide assortment of carvings and statues, of people, of animals, and some abstract figures, typically made from rock and all sorts of random materials. Glass, porcelain, discarded jewlery, plastics, you name it. Unless you get up real close though, you’d never know it. Some sections also had waterfalls, lots of greenery, things like that.

 

Don’t get me wrong, the Rock Garden is nice, but there is obviously a reason I find it worth talking about. As I said, each section has only two very small doors, only enough for one person to walk through at a time. Now, ideally, everyone would flow through the labrynth in the same direction, kind of like going with the flow of traffic on a one way street. Well, somehow us foreigners missed a huge entrance sign, and instead slipped in through the exit. At first we didn’t notice, we passed a few people travelling in the opposite direction, occassionally had to wait for someone to clear through the door. But then, after we got about halfway, the crowd arrived.

 

Hordes upon hordes of Indians crammed the labrynth, some locals of Chandigarh out with the family for a Sunday afternoon, others were Indians who had travelled for miles to see the site. Since traffic only flows in one direction through tiny little doors, you could imagine, that when you’re going against traffic, it can get a little difficult. But, being stubborn and/or determined, we refused to turn around and forced our way through the hordes for the next hour or two. Out of a few thousand people at the garden, we were the only ones who didn’t have this figured out. We have the tendency to draw attention to ourselves, but I think we drew some additonal stares as the crazy foreigners who were just doing their own thing.

 

The Parade-After finishing off our exhausting up hill battle at the Rock Garden, I started to veture off on my own to go pick up my friend Steph from the train station. I called up the AIESEC member who was supposed to pick her up to see if I could tag along. It was about 4, and she was arriving at 7. The AIESECer was nearby, so he came to pick me up and brought me to an event that was being hosted by the lake here to kill some time.

 

20 minutes later? I’m at the very front of a parade for an HIV/AIDS awareness event with about 800 people in tow. Yup, I’m wearing pins, a red sash, a campaign hat, under a big banner, and I’m holding a candle that is dropping burning hot wax on to my hand. Better yet, there are photographers for local news papers snapping picture of me all the while.

 

How did this happen? Well, I was walking in the opposite direction of the parade, just chatting with someone, when a stranger in the parade grabbed my arm and kept insistign that I help them and join their parade (they were going for the foreign effect obviously), before I could even respond,a candle is shoved into my hand, someone is dressing me, and I’m being ushered to the front.

 

Moments later, the other interns I had gone to the rock garden with, who thought that I had left to go to the train station about twenty minutes before walk into view. At that moment, I’m sure they began asking themselves: “Is that Matt…at the front of a..parade…with a candle? How the hell did that happen…” You just never know what’ll happen.

 

Rishikesh-Tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas is a small little town called Rishikesh, a wondrous little place where once upon a time the Beatles themselves escaped to in order to seek spiritual guidance from a guru. I kid you not, if you’re not familar, look up the title “the Happy Rishikesh song” by John Lennon.

 

Now, the town is referred to as the “yoga capital of the world.” It was a really cool place, definitely more touristy than Chandigarh, with lots of foreigners. All of them hippies for the most part, rocking the dreadlocks and sandals. There are a few different Sikh and Hindu temples, and every where you turn there a spritual men roaming the streets in robes of various colors, but often orange. Incense was burning everywhere, and you could hear Hindi music playing loudly on the streets. It was really cool place with a really cool vibe.

 

And no, surprisingly, I didn’t do yoga while I was there, although I would like to go back for that, there are classes and even places where you can stay for a week and just live in an ashram and learn yoga and clear your head.

 

However, I did do something in Rishikesh. That thing, was white water rafting.

 

White water rafting for the first time, in a valley in the Himalayas, in the middle of India was probably one of the coolest things I’v done up until now. I mean, who travels to India to go rafting? It was a lot of fun, and it was really quite a rush and it really gets your heart rate up, and most of the time I kept thinking about how great it will be when I get to do it again with my friends back home (a certain little getaway at the end of August perhaps? Even more stoked now!). Rafting was also quite a workout, what most people fail to realize is that, yes, you do have to paddle. A lot. Sometimes your life even seems to count on how fast you can paddle in order to avoid some jagged rocks.

 

After a hard days work on the rapids, whats better than going for a legit “ayurvedic full body massage?” Thats right, the next day, I was pretty sore, and got talked into going for an hour long massage for a whopping $11.

 

It was heaven. It even included a hand, face, and head massage, which were interesting,

 

It’s a Small World Afterall- So, everything about the world being a small place, it gets truer and truer everday. Believe it or not, I managed to meet a mutual friend in Chandigarh of all places last night. For AIESEC members at Carleton who were around back in the day, you might remeber a certain gal named Danai. Well, apperantly last night I met one of her close friends from back home in Athens.

 

Almost two years ago, Danai came to Carleton through AIESEC and worked with us for a few months. Last night, I met an intern from Greece who had also been an active AIESEC member back home in Greece, at the same local committee in Athens. Know that dumb urge to be like, “hey you must know Dave from Canada!?” Well, sometimes it does work that way. I just mentioned the name Danai, and she immediately knew who I was talking about when it clicked in her mind that Danai had spent time in Ottawa years ago. Crazy coincidence and what a place to meet up!

Well, I have a pile of laundry that is begging to be washed by hand (something I did not miss after leaving Cameroon), so thats all for now!

Welcome to the World of Globalization and Outsourcing

 

First of all, happy belated May 2-4 to my friends and family back in Canada. I hope you all had a chance to enjoy the long weekend and the usual festivities that go along with it!

As of today, I have been in India for about 18 days and now that I’m actually sitting down and forcing myself to think about my time here so far, I notice one thing that stands out in my mind. Last year in Cameroon I was almost obsessively counting days and keeping track of how long I’d been away and how much time I had left. Quiet or lonely moments were always filled with thoughts like, “Okay, so, only 87 days left until I am reunited with my beloved Canada.” Then the next day I would think “Shit, only 86 days to squeeze everything I can out of my Cameroon experience.” I was all over the map, but no matter what, I was always playing the number game.

Here, it has been almost the exact opposite. It took me a few seconds just to figure out how long I’ve been in India (the fact that my math skills are quite poor didn’t help either…May 26…subtract…May 8…ummm….18 days?). In either case though, sometimes I feel like I’ve been here forever, but at the same time it still feels very much like I just arrived yesterday. Sometimes it also feels weird and surprising to stop and think “hey, you’re in India right now!” I guess once you start to settle into a routine, its amazing how quickly that crazy fact can slip to the back of your mind.

So while the dates on the calendar have flown-by I have start toed feel like I’m in a time-warp or stuck in stasis. I’m not really sure why this is.  I’m also  not sure if there is something I can do to make me “un-stuck” or if I should even bother worrying about it. In either case, theres not much I can do about it now, so instead I’ll quit rambling and give you what you’re waiting for- a link for this post’s song called Sheela Ki Jawani, a popular Indian song I’ve been hearing frequently:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjZBuMlZj54

Welcome to the World of Globalization and Outsourcing-Life here in India is still moving along, I’m still alive and well here and of course I have a few stories for you. First though, I think I still owe you an explanation about my job and what I’m doing here-my “purpose” here in India so to speak. However, I haven’t gotten around to it untill now for a few reasons.

First, when working abroad for foreign companies or organizations you never REALLY know what you’re doing or what it will be like untill you arrive. There is always a risk that it won’t be perfect or that it might be a bit different than what you thought you signed up for. In my opinion, its part of the adventure, the mystery, and the experience. If you take the risk, you should be willing to take the result with little or no complaint. So, I haven’t spoken too much about my job so far because, to be honest, it hasn’t been all that great, ha! However, I’m not typically one to complain or to look on the downside of things. I’ve been waiting to find a way to present my job in a positive light, but instead I’ll try to give you the straight facts.

Second, I also needed to spend a few days just figuring out how this company actually operates. Its the most random business concept I have ever come across, the process is really weird to wrap your head around, and in my opinion the product is a little questionable. However, the company makes money and due to the natural forces that govern the business world and the free market, if an activity or an entity earns money without breaking any laws, it more or less has a right to exist untill it ceases to earn money. Techworks is an excellent example of this phenomenon.

Third, in a lot of ways, my actual day to day work has been so random at times that I haven’t even known how to present it to you. Even I find the fact that I came all the way to India to do it hilarious. It just goes to show, you NEVER know what life will bring your way. In either case, I’ll make the most of it.

Alright, so now I think you’re primed and ready for the legendary Techworks.

Techworks does content writing and online journalism and works with clients from around the world. What this means, is a company, a website, or a news agency, possibly from the U.S., the U.K., China, you name it, will contact Techworks with an order or Techworks will make a bid to do a writing project online. The client sends the project to Techworks by email then the employees at Techworks create content for websites, news articles, or editorials based on the preferences and specifications laid out by the customer. Its outsourced writing more or less.

For example, if the owner of a website in the U.S. wants to have an article written right away at a low cost, its something that can be done almost instantly from halfway around the world thanks to the wonders of the internet. Even when it is the middle of the night in the U.S. one of the many many news websites based there can have their site updated with the latest news by having an Indian (or an intern) write the news for them at a low cost. In this way, the press never sleeps in our globalized world. This outsourcing of news is best described using the term KPO or knowledge process outsourcing. Check it out on wikipedia for more information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_process_outsourcing

So, how does it work in practice?

When a hot story takes place somewhere in the world, the customer will give their preferred topic and might provide two previously written articles or sources about the topic. These items are sent to Techworks, employees there read the news (usually about stories, places, and people they know nothing about), and then they re-write the news in their own words under a tight deadline. One article shouldn’t take more than an hour to do-quantity is always more important than quality. Once it is completed, the article is then sent back to the customer, and a payment is sent to Techworks. There is a brief check to make sure that the article appears to be “unique” and “original,” then the article is published, usually online under someone else’s name, sometimes even on “credible” and “legitimate” news sites around the world. So basically, someone in India might be writing local news for a website in Canada, but someone else is given credit for writing the article (infact, I even wrote a story about the Ronald McDonald house in London Ont., how Random!).

 Does this sound a little preposterous? It did to me too. This is known as ghost writing, another concept you can check out on wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghostwriter

Know what the craziest part is? KPO and ghostwriting are both commonly practiced in news and content writing in this day in age. Its actually a big business in some places in the world and there is a long chain of writers, companies, customers and outsourced work wrapped around the globe. Have you ever noticed that there are a ton of different websites that offer news articles, usually on the same limited range of topics, and usually written by people who would never need to be experts or have any firsthand experience with the topic? Think of the number of articles floating around out there about bogus “health studies” that show that coffee causes cancer.

Makes you think about you’re reading online, doesn’t it?

Alright, so now you know the basics. Now its time for you to learn about another aspect of the business-SEO, also known as search engine optimization. SEO uses tools that allow you to know which key words are most commonly searched on google. The purpose behind knowing these key words is to use them to increase traffic to your website. For example, if there are certain words or phrases that are searched frequently around the world and you know them, you can make sure that the content on your website includes those keywords. In doing so, you improve the odds that your website will come up as a top hit on a google search. Now, this is a legitimate practice and also an interesting way to get an edge in online marketing or to draw more attention to your website. However, the customers of Techworks use SEO in an interesting way. Some of these customers may create random websites that serve little purpose but include content with these key words just so that their website gets a lot of traffic. They will then use this useless, yet frequently visited website as cyber advertising space to sell all sorts of online products to gullible people.

SEO article writing has become may area of specialty. I have been writing articles for a poor quality mens health website, which I have been lead to believe is trying to sell some sort of natural antidepressant to ecstasy users. Now why would I think that? I have been given the task of writing poorly researched articles on a variety of topics relating to ecstasy use. In each article, I am supposed to subtly slide in the phrases “natural antidepressant” and “ecstasy addiction facts” as often as possible, even when it is completely unnecessary for the actual article. The only reason we do this is because it will make the website more likely to come up on a google search. So, this means, the next time someone searches on google for “natural antidepressants,” “ecstasy effects,” “ecstasy addiction,” or “ecstasy facts” there is a good chance that they might stumble across an article written by me. It is also very likely that this site will attempt to sell some sort of cheap online product.

Believe it or not, some of the articles and key words I’ve had to use have been even more random and ridiculous!

So yup, thats my job in a nutshell. I don’t think I could even make up something better than that. I flew to India to write outsourced news articles and SEO content about drugs and just about anything else you can think of for customers from around the world.

Not your typical summer job now is it?

Now, beyond my actual “work” there might be an opportunity to challenge myself in a professional and international environment and try to get something out of this experience at Techworks. I’ll give you a hint, a fitting headline for this future post would be “Matt the Middle-Man.”

Stay tuned!

Newfies, News, and Naan

As of today I have been on Indian soil for one week, and I’m happy to report that I am still alive and well. Before I get into my first little anecdotal story, I thought I should first start by giving everyone some more details about where I am exactly and what I’m doing here.

My new home is in Chandigarh, a city of about a million people in northern India, about four hours north of Delhi. People from Chandigarh proudly describe it as India’s most liveable city-and although I haven’t seen much outside of Chandigarh, I believe them. Chandigarh is an interesting city and defies a lot of assumptions you would have about an Indian city. To give you a brief history, when India and Pakistan became seperate countries, the Punjab state was divided in half, and the Indian half was in need of a new capital. So in the 1950s construction of the city began under Le Corbusier, a French architect famous for wanting to create liveable spaces and for using geometric shapes. The result? A planned city divided into organized sectors covered in parks and green space. Its a really interesting combo, very inorganic shapes and architecture and designs, but with a vibrant citizenry. Chandigarh is also known for being one of the few cities in India for enforcing traffic rules, so even though there is still lots of honking, its a lot less chaotic than most places.

When I arrived, I did a brief home-stay with an Indian family. They were lovely, so warm and welcoming. They also figured out when my birthday was and made a big deal out of it, having cake, singing happy birthday. It was really nice of them. The mother also cooked me some DELICIOUS Indian food. Although my stomache and body are still adjusting to the new environment and food (leading to some slight unpleasantness), the food certainly couldn’t taste any better-its great! Also, I spent quite a bit of time with the son, who is around my age. One of the highlights? Once again, I’ve been returned to the back of a motorcycle! Although there are no moto-taxis here, like in Cameroon, I was able to tour around the city on the back of a friends motorcycle, I didnt realize how much I missed it until this week!

Now, I’ve moved into an intern apartment. Right now there are about twelve of us here, the others are from all over the world, Brazil, China, Europe, Africa, you name it. Although its certainly nothing fancy, and I’m camped out in the living room, the company here makes it really enjoyable. Also, unlike last year I actually have a fridge and a kitchen. Bonus!

The News is a funny thing…although I won’t get into detail about it on this post, I am working for a small Indian company called Techworks India (www.techworksindia.com). It was a concept that I didn’t really fully understand until I arrived, but I am working for a company that does outsourced website content development and writes online journalism. Thats right, I left Canada to fly halfway around the world to work for a company that does outsourced business. Go figure, globalization at its best. I knew a lot of things could be outsourced in this world, but the news I did not think was one of them. Again, I will get into detail about this process later, but all you need to know for now is that I’m basically a news-writer. I write articles that are ordered by companies from all over the world, including Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia. The concept is interesting and a little surprising but the work so far has been very dull. Its still too early to give my full judgemet of the job, but I’m at least fascinated by this process as a whole, even if it is quite boring to be one cog  in the machine of outsourcing.

Newfies sometime appear where you least expect to find them. This couldn’t be more true than in Chandigarh, India. After being here for only two days, I was stopping at an Indian friends house, and wouldn’t you know it, they had another Canadian visitor. I think he was either a friend or somehow related to the family, but this guy from Newfoundland was touring around India on business. He was quite the character, and we got into an inevitable discussion about drinking habits in central and eastern Canada. That was certainly not a conversation I was expecting to have fresh off the plane from Canada. To top it off, he wanted to demosntrate just how hot it is in India, and to prove it to his friends at home, he broke an egg on the patio and returned an hour later to snap pictures of a fully cooked scrambled egg. Like I said, quite a character.

Maiden Post

So, after much delay, I’ve finally gotten around to putting up my first post, although today is May 15th, I actually wrote this on May 7th. The length of this post might be explained by the fact that I had about 12 hours to write it. Enjoy my maiden post, more updates to follow!

…………..

As of this moment, I am officially 16 hours into my journey to Chandigarh, India. Only about 14 more to go, 12 of which will be spent in an airport in Delhi. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, I’m officially on Indian soil!

So far, other than being stuck in security and customs at the Ottawa airport for almost two hours (which nearly caused me to miss my flight) and realizing just how close Newark, New Jersey actually is to Manhattan (I saw the Empire State building for the first time from my window during landing!), the first steps of this experience have been pretty tame.

Unlike last year when I was en route to Cameroon, there has been no Icelandic volcano threatening my flight, and I haven’t even been asked to babysit any random kids at any airports. What’s more surprising is that I haven’t even been tricked by any airport officials into paying an unnecessary bribe. Infact, its been all quiet on the western front (or should I say eastern front since that is my current heading?). At this point, even I am unable to make any of the mundane happenings that have taken place sound adventurous or entertaining.

Don’t worry though, I’m sure that’ll change soon.

Now, quite a few of you have asked me if I was intending to keep a blog like last year, and obviously if you’re reading this now, you know the answer. Although last year I certainly took time for some serious moments and attempted to share them with you, as you may recall, the primary purpose of my blog last year was to entertain and to tell some amusing stories. I’m sure this one will turn out to be largely the same, but since I’ve had a lot of hours to myself during this trip, this first post will be pretty introspective.

Also, since I’m not one for breaking tradition, I will continue listing my blog playlist, so feel free to tune into Neighborhood #1|(Tunnels) by Arcade Fire as you continue to read.

Through my (admittedly limited ) life experiences, I have found that these little expeditions provide the best refence points when seeking to reflect and take a second look at things going on in my life. Experiences like this have a definitive beginning and end and they often represent a signigicant break from “life” and familiarity. In a way, they almost force me to take a step back (a BIG step that reaches halfway around the globe) and to try to look at things from the outside looking in.

Sitting here in a terminal at Delhi International airport (which is extremely nice by the way, quite new, and way less intimidating and chaotic than Douala), I have a better vantage point that allows me to look back to almost one year ago when I was sitting in the Ottawa airport. I’m able to compare how I feel now and felt then, both times on the brink of starting a new adventure. I’m also able to re-assess my motivations and desires for leaving home, and I’m also able to evaluate changes that have taken place in me and my life since then.

Unlike last time while sitting in the airport, I am not a ball of nerves. I also don’t have that little nagging voice in the back of my head asking me “what the hell are you doing!?” Instead I’ve been calm overall,with little doubt in my mind of my ability to handle what might come my way (lets hope I’m not being over confident on that one!).

Before heading to Cameroon, I was eager to learn what life was like in Africa, I wanted to try to pick up some more French, and I also just needed some fun and excitement. Last time, although I may not have touched on this much or talked about it to a lot of people, a large part of the reason why I went to Cameroon was because I wanted to prove to myself, and perhaps others, that I could do it. Taking off to visit exotic places may sound fun and all, but I’d be deceiving you if I made it sound like it was all easy. Being separated from everything and everyone you know can be extremely challenging and difficult. But I did it!

This time on the otherhand, if I were to have honestly described before April 1st why I needed to come to India, one of the reasons I would have given was, “Well, its India! Who wouldn’t want to!?” After talking to numerous people who have either travelled or lived in India, its hard to deny that there are a lot of interesting and exciting things that would attract me. While these would be the obvious “pull factors” there have also been some not-so-obvious “push factors” which changed the idea of going to India from a passing fancy to something that I needed to make a reality. Now, I’ll try to explain these “push factors” without being melo-dramatic.

I can’t place an exact start date on this, but over the last little while I have been feeling a little bit lost inside of my own head. By no means does this make me exceptional from any other 20 something year old. I mean, how many of you out there may be doubting your direction in life? Are you studying or doing something you really love, or that you hoped you would be doing four years ago? Has your understanding or perception of people and things around you changed over the years, some for the better, others for the worse? Have relationships with certain people not gone the way you always anticipated?

I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who can answer yes to one or more of these questions (thanks especially to some extremely significant chats over coffee, shisha, or other things with my close friends over the last few months, you know who you are!). Infact, I think these are all normal things to contemplate at one point or another. Perhaps this is part of that whole growing up thing we all hear so much about. Again, this is no different from what many of my own friends are experiencing, and I’m not in a bad place by any means. Nevertheless, every person has a way of charting their course through these waters. My preferred choice happens to be fleeing the country for months at a time to change things up a bit.

If you asked me why India after April 1st, my answer would be largely the same. However, there has been an additional sense of urgency that has been on my mind since then, probably because the last month of my life feels like it has been kicked in the crotch, jammed into a dryer, put on tumble dry, knocked around, and then stuck indefinitely in limbo. Most of you reading this will know exactly why April 1st stands out, as many of you have been equally, if not more, affected by the unexpected death of one of my best friends.

Before we go on, I don’t mean to be morbid or ironic, but my song choice has now changed to The Funeral by Band of Horses, a song that Chad introduced me to about 2 years ago by blasting it as loud as possible (coming close to rupturing my ear drums) while banging his fingers endlessly on his car steering wheel. Its been a song that I’ve associated with him long before he passed away, and its a song that I’ve listened to countless times over the last month.

So. What changed after April 1st?

Something a lot of you may not know is that I seriously considered cancelling this trip soon after Chad died. Having Chad gone has increased my desire to be with and spend more time with my close friends and family like a thousand-fold. I want to make sure I don’t start taking that time for granted, something thats so easy to do. However, after thinking about it a lot, I decided to stick with the plan. Thats my way of charting my course, and I think the next four months will go a long way in helping me deal with the loss of Chad and the other questions I have in my life right now. Hanging in limbo over the last few weeks has been one part of the process, but I think I’m in need of a little jump start in order to move onto the next step and I can’t think of a cooler place to find said jump start.

Above all else though, I now view the next four months as an opportunity to demonstrate to myself that it is possible to carry a great friend’s memory with me no matter where I am or what I am doing in life. This is important to me because those rare days or hours that have gone by where life has seemed too normal or I haven’t thought about my friend have freaked me out a bit. While I’m not trying to set unrealistic expectations for myself (you can’t think of someone you miss every minute of everyday) I have this fear in the back fo my haed that if I start letting some thoughts and memories slip away now they won’t mean as much to me down the road. And I really don’t want that to happen. For this reason, I have started to consider my time in India as a little test. If I still have those strong memories (both good and bad) of Chad come to my mind over the next months, even when there may be nothing to remind me of him here, I think it will help me gain confidence in the belief that I won’t ever forget him. For me personally, that will go a really long way to putting my mind to rest.

While this may only scratch the surface of the year in retrospect, it is likely that I have already fully saturated what will be the first blog post from my time in India. Hopefully this has provided you all with a better context going into this adventure. As I said, these experiences are a great reference point, and this blog will be one way of documenting and recording them. As much as I will write to entertain and amuse, this will also be my attempt to feel a little more connected to those people that I didn’t want to leave this summer. I hope I am able to keep you all entertained while giving some greater insight into my life here. Afterall, who knows what the next four months will bring?

So buckle up and enjoy the ride!