The start of 2015 has not been easy on many people. It seems to be the time for trauma, illness, heartbreak, accidents… People deal with this in their own way, but my response was to pack up my bags and move geographical location. New place, people, adventures and a chance to follow my passions. Hence, I set off on a culinary and agricultural tour of South Asia and Europe, starting in India for four months.
In reality, my trip lasted two weeks. I am not proud of my decision, but I am definitely not regretful nor unhappy. The passion and dream of a worldwide culinary tour is still there, it was just not the right time. Having said this, two weeks in India felt like four months, and the lessons I learned from going on my failed trip will stick with me for a long time.
First, one should never expect anything from a place or person, especially if the expectation is a solution. My expectations of India were high: two years ago I met the most wonderful families and individuals in the Himalayas, ate delicious vegetarian food, and saw mindblowing monuments like the Taj Mahal. India captivated me and I was so excited to be tangled up in its chaotic but colourful web once more. Chaos is a double-edged sword, however. This time, I was thrown in at the deep end from my first night: scams, sexual harassment, bike accident, broken bank cards, illness, family issues at home, and a hacked blog. Perhaps if I was stronger from the start it would have been OK, but wherever I went, bad luck followed like an unwanted stray dog.
Second, when you travel to find joy, excitement and comfort from a new place, you realise just how much you left behind. When shit hit the fan in India, so many people were kind enough to give their time and energy to help make things slightly smoother: the ironic thing is that 90% of these people were based right on my doorstep at home, right where I’d left them.
Third, never underestimate the kindness of that extra 10%. In other words, strangers who become your friends, surrogate family and even lovers. If you’re open to this kindness, they will give it in heaps. From giving me a flower every time I met them to slipping a lovely postcard under my door before I left, it is these strangers (now friends) who deserve to shape my memories of India.
Finally, I want to merge all three of these lessons into one. When you do not expect anything, you can be open and honest in the situation you’re in. You can see the kindness, love and excitement people and places have to give, which you might be blind to if you’re searching for it. I want to give one anecdote to exemplify this:
Now back in Oxford, I have started a full-time job at an organic delicatessen. Yesterday, I served a young lady who excitedly told me that she writes a food blog about the psychology of food. My initial reaction was interest and enthusiasm; her blog sounded fantastic, unique and had a lot of parallels with my own. Perhaps we could work together, combine forces and change the food system!
Then I remembered that one vile person had come in and deleted several years of my work without giving a shit about the emotions, time, passion, research… They just wiped it all in an instant. She asked if I can recover them, I bluntly said that there isn’t much point: simply copying and pasting old blogs just transforms them into effortless words. I had to continue serving customers, so promised I would check out her blog and hoped she had a good lunch.
A few hours later, she came back in. She passed me a letter titled ‘to the lady who lost her blog’. The letter went like this:
I was so touched that even before opening and reading the letter I gave her a hug. She may not know it, but she has well and truly made my year so far. And, she will influence the rest of 2015 too: my blog may not be the same again, but I will aim to start filling it up with food puns, taste investigations and insights into politics behind the food system once more. And, like Annie offers, perhaps we will get the chance to combine forces after all…