Saturday, February 2, 2008

"Why" is not a verb.

I read somewhere that the food you enjoy is directly impacted by what your ancestors ate. Is it the same for decisions you make? I’m leaving in a week, 8 days to be exact, and my family keeps coming up with deeply supportive questions like “Why would you do such a thing?”

I don’t know why except that I want to get out of this box I’ve always lived in – the let’s help those less fortunate without ever seeing them box; the salon communist box, the bourgeois box. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those boxes, and not that what I’m doing is anything less than an easy to spot cliché. But I feel lucky to be able to do this, regardless of what stage in my life I am doing this at, and excited to tackle the fears, the "why?" inside me that wants to crawl under my plush duvet and talk about saving the world from my Northwest London living room.

Not that I'm planning to save the world in the next three months, but I'm looking forward to seeing a whole new bit of it. "Perspective" is a word that keeps bubbling up in my brain.

I can ask why for the rest of my life; right now it's more about how and what -- about doing instead of agonizing. I agonize enough as it is, and I'd like to wean myself off the paralyzing habit, thank you very much. I won't pretend I'm not scared. And right now, at times fear wins while at others, it's the excitement that takes hold. I prefer the latter.

Every person I've spoken to has their own way of traveling. Some read the guide books from cover to cover. Others ask everyone they know, visit every website they can find, post questions on discussion boards. A few adventurous souls have told me that they prefer to arrive in new places without background or history, preferring to rely on fate and see what happens. Having never done any of this before, I'm kind of doing a bit of everything in an attempt to discover what my favorite way of seeing new places is. I have the guide books, have perused the websites, am holding back from making any reservations other than the minimum required.

I find I am instinctively most worried about the big cities: Hong Kong, Bangkok, Vientiane, Phnom Penh. The cities feel less safe to me, easier to get lost in. There's more of a chance that I'll disappear forever in the chaotic streets. The prospect of not being able to communicate, the unfamiliar languages make me realize how lucky I am with the ones I do have. Somehow, the smaller places and the treks attract me the most. Pha To and a non-profit I’d like to visit there, Chiang Mai, Luang Prebang… I feel I'm going looking for quiet rather than chaos. But who knows?

In the mean time, as I prepare my departure, everyone around me has an opinion.
“You will definitely get sick in India,” one friend told me, “one hundred percent. Don’t eat any food outside of your hotel and only stay in the best places. Don’t eat any street or market food because you know it’s dirty and you’ll get all sorts of parasites.”
Another friend was just as outspoken: “The best food I had was in the street. I only ate street food. Why spend money on posh food – you’re not getting the full experience.” She never got sick. Not once.

I realize as my trip approaches, once again, how much of my everyday life is governed by fear. I see just as clearly where it comes from, however, and what kind of a role education and upbringing play in all of this. The women in my family are scared. They don’t like to speak about themselves; they pretend everything is wonderful even when it isn’t. This trip is definitely a mystery to them. I think that’s why I feel sick so much of the time: it’s the battle between what I feel, what I say and what I think I should be feeling and saying. Does that make sense? But here I go anyway...

Somehow I’m hoping that these three months will help me get over so many things. I'm hoping these three months will bring about a big, deep change inside me. As if three months can be a magic bullet and erase the past... I'm trying to be realistic at the same time and not put such weight on this trip -- see what happens, I tell myself. I'd like to remove all expectation, go with an empty head and heart to be filled up with the experiences themselves. I think this means I just need to go, stop thinking about it, get on the plane, get out there. Go.

Last week, a friend came over for dinner. I took her into my room to show her what I had already packed. She took one look at my hordes of pills and tinctures – to strengthen the liver, anti-parasitic, vitamin C, aloe vera, cat's claw, etc. etc. etc. -- and in a very wonderfully unBritish way simply said “that’s quite a heavy security blanket you’re taking with you.”


I haven’t removed any of it just yet. I’m mulling it all over for now. After all, I’ve got another week to figure out what I'll be taking along to strengthen, protect, hide behind … in the mean time, as always, I take comfort in cooking. I’m loving the soups in the blustery cold of Blighty. At the same time, I’m trying to ease myself into the curries in a small, ignorant but enthusiastic way. A combination of where I am and what is, hopefully, to come (there are those expectations again…):

Like this post, I'm kind of all over the shop...


3 large sweet potatoes
6 – 8 carrots
3 shallots
1 -2 small red onions
coriander seeds
caraway seeds
cumin seeds
chicken / veggie stock
coconut milk
coconut butter
fresh coriander as garnish

Sauté the shallots and onion in coconut butter until well-cooked.
While those are cooking, dry-roast the coriander, caraway and cumin seeds
Once the spices are dry-roasted (when the scents are amazing), either use a mortar and pestle or grind them. Add to the onion / shallots along with salt and pepper.

Once the onions/ shallots are well sautéed, starting to caramelize, add the chopped up carrots and sweet potato. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down and simmer until the veggies are soft.

Once the veggies are soft, add stock, coconut milk, salt, pepper, lemongrass and chilli to taste. Blend until soft and creamy.

Allow to cook together for another 10 -15 minutes.

Serve hot with some fresh coriander leaves as garnish

OH, and one more thing; here’s my general itinerary:
Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, India… and then Israel in May for wedding planning.

1 comment:

Andréa N. said...

Exciting!! And I loved the blog. Please update it regularly. Beijos and have a wonderful trip! Kisses to David too.