Sunday, September 12, 2010

Take a picture

Technology is amazing. To be able to easily have a presence on the world-wide stage, turn on the computer and my pictures suck through the air into space to be viewed by any who visit them. My thoughts and stories zipping into the ether to be retrieved at whim by others.

Technology is also a trap. Snap! Click! I have a picture to prove I was there, that I’ve “done” it. This is part of the drive-through life I have been working to avoid. It’s the easier thing, to run around breathless snapping pictures. To see, but not to look. To rely overmuch on the visual sense, rather than soaking in with the others. What did the Taj Mahal smell like? Did I notice? As the guide rattled off some interesting facts and took me to the places where I could get the best photos, did I notice the feeling of the place? Now I’ve “done” the Taj, what does it mean to me?

In Europe I’ve entered a stream of other travelers, most of which are trying to “do” Europe in 1-2 months. They can rattle of lists of place names, common or not, and they have the photos to prove it. Did they, as my grandfather demanded to know, find out “what the local people eat?” Did they talk to the locals at all?

Everywhere on my trip (less so in Nepal and India) I have been in exceptional places surrounded by people with their noses buried in their cell phone, sending messages, pulled away from the now. One particular example was when the teenage daughter of my Mongolian family was trying to sort sheep while texting. After a few got through that were supposed to stay in the corral, her mom curtly told her to put her phone away. It is one way I check in if I find I’ve drifted away in my mind. “Are any sheep getting away in my distraction?” I can hear Enhee’s voice pulling me back into the present.

Sometimes on this trip I was somewhere I wasn’t allowed to take a picture. I felt stripped somehow. The reflex to click moving my finger of my camera-less hand. I’d try to take a picture with my mind and my senses. What is there to see and feel here? Other wondrous moments I would be immersed then think, “Oh, I should take a picture!” In Nepal, Niraj and I walked past 5 ladies young and old sitting on their porch of a stone house doing some kind of sewing work. They laughed and chatted in the sun, a wall of bright colored flowers ran beside and below where the house sat on a rocky ledge. I stopped and smiled, waved at them, and they greeted me warmly with “Namaste!” Niraj said, “you can take a picture,” but I had the feeling it would cheapen that moment. Instead I worked to fix the details of it in my mind.

In Asia, most of the time I wasn’t around other Westerners. With the exception of the Taj, I was able to sink in with my senses and soak it in. My pictures trigger memories that inform the surface image. Now that I am one of many travelers, in a cultural norm of passing through and checking off lists, it is much harder to remember to use all my senses. It makes me wonder how well I will carry what I’ve learned into the drive-through culture of the US. I have the picture. I must have been there, right?

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