As the midnight train bound for St. Petersburg rumbled through the pitch-black Moldovan countryside, I tried valiantly to remain asleep, but my attempts were futile. The cabin was cozier than expected. We had plenty of room to stretch out and we were given care packages filled with comfortable bedding. However, the atmosphere was sweltering hot and unfamiliar. Romanian-Moldovan and Russian filled the air, and even though the train was nowhere near capacity, the cacophony of noise made it hard to drift into a deep slumber.
In the Southeast Asian nation of Laos, it’s common for boys and young men to temporarily commit to monkhood, even if they do not remain in service for the rest of their lives. This custom brings a merit to both the novice monks and their families. As the elder monks do, the boys shave their heads (we noticed the monks tended to do so all on a set day) and don the saffron robe.
Even on the most overcast of days, Hoi An’s streets are replete with color.
Salespeople stand before crumbling, mustard-colored buildings, enticing the young — and the young at heart — with bunches of fluorescent balloons.
Nearby, market stalls overflow with vibrant-colored produce. There are miniature bananas, silk scarves of every hue, and blue and white dishes with abstract landscapes delicately painted on them.
Fluffy, ginger-colored dogs rest on the pavement, watching the world go by.
And handmade lanterns brighten the streets — by day and by night.
A stroll through Georgetown gives one a sense of being whisked to several countries in a matter of hours. In this largely Chinese city, bundles of smoldering incense scent the maze of bustling streets as crimson red lanterns sway overhead. Bollywood music rumbles in Little India, echoing off storefronts dotted with colorful saris and bins of sparkly bangles. Women donning headscarfs whizz by on motorbikes. A pristine white clock tower from the colonial era commemorates the reign of Queen Victoria. Georgetown is indeed an illustration of contrasts.
Photography & text © by Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.
You may remember my having met German university student, Isabell Pfeufer, in late 2009. Introduced to her by a former colleague, I was invited to write a newspaper piece on Isabell’s experiences – as a blind student teacher – with a classroom of third-graders.
In the years following that interview, I’ve been delighted to have several chance meetings with Isabell on Heidelberg’s bustling Hauptstrasse, as she went about her errands and met up with friends.
Shortly before leaving Heidelberg for our Asian sabbatical, Shawn and I met with Isabell at a Heidelberg coffee house so that we could catch up. During our chat, Isabell talked about her dream to move to the United States to work with children or youth with special needs. Isabell is anticipating taking her final exams in October of 2012, so she still has a bit of time to find a position in an American city with a good public transportation system that will allow her to be independent.
We can not do great things on this earth.
We can only do small things with great love.
The man sat hunched over, with sunken cheeks, and spindly legs. As we walked along one of Ubud’s main streets, his empty stare, meek mumbling and outstretched hand caught our gaze. Our hearts sank.
I have seen many people begging worldwide, but something told Shawn and me that this old man was greatly in need.
Though we had a tourist destination to which we were heading, we unconsciously tossed the plans aside. We were determined to brighten this elderly man’s day in some way.
Other tourists and locals hurried by. Most of them did not make eye contact with the man.
Heading to a padang (traditional fast food restaurant) across the street, we asked a group of Balinese youngsters if it would be okay to help the man. They confirmed that we could buy him some food.
For 9,000 rupiah – just about $1 – we purchased some local nourishment: an egg and corn fritter, green beans, tofu and white rice. We were not sure what kind of beverage to get the man, and decided that the food alone would likely be greatly appreciated.
With the banana leaf and brown paper-wrapped food package in hand, we returned to the street corner where the man was sitting. Another tourist was approaching him from the opposite direction. In her hand was a beverage.
It was magical timing – a moment at which I felt as though the Balinese spirits were working to bring three very-blessed visitors and a Balinese man together. I instantly developed goose bumps and nearly shed a happy tear.
Our actions couldn’t have been better choreographed with the woman, who handed the man the beverage just as we gave him the package of food.
At first, the man look surprised. Then, a twinkle developed in his eyes. A wide, toothless smile blossomed on his gaunt face.
We felt an instant bond with the German female tourist, given our shared experience. We briefly interacted with her and she recommended that we eat at a warung (a traditional Balinese restaurant) just around the corner.
With our $5.00 meal before us, the waitress at the family-owned restaurant commented on the rice on my plate. It was formed in the shape of a heart. “Our heart for you,” she said.
Since the moment with the man had been so touching, I decided that I must try to capture the kind gentleman on film.
Returning to the street corner where our paths crossed, I was surprised to see that it was empty. Up a nearby, hilly street, I saw the man slowly walking. He was hunched over, with his hand neatly tucked behind him. He was carefully cradling the food package in his hand.
As I passed him, I showed him the camera and ‘asked’ if it would be okay to snap his image. His smile was my go-ahead to do so.
As we bid farewell, he turned a corner, going to a small home complex populated with a pair of roosters. I hope that he was going to enjoy an early dinner.
It was a small gesture, but one done with love. Happy Thanksgiving.
Malta is an enchanting island nation. It’s a tranquil place where residents christen their homes with titles meshing a couple’s first names. Its harbors are studded with elegant white yachts, as well as humble and colorful fishing boats called luzzus. Despite its diminutive size, Malta has heaps of history and culture, marvelous architecture, and a dramatic landscape that Mother Nature painted from a vibrant palette.
Where in the World?
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.