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Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

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I once again find myself this night, like so many nights over the past year, not far away from a dying fire.  But this night is different.  We’re not out in the woods somewhere; we won’t be sleeping in a tent tonight; we won’t be biking long distances tomorrow morning; the fire is burning in a wood stove fireplace.  We find ourselves this night in the warmth and comfort of a place I call home–Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

The past few days have seemed like a blur to me.  In fact, ever since we arrived in the US things have started to blur.  We have been blessed to see so many friends and share in so much generous hospitality as we moved closer and closer to arriving in Minneapolis Sunday afternoon that my memories are getting fuzzy edges, bleeding like watercolors into the promises and possibilities of the future.  (”Did I see them or did I make plans to see them?”).  And all of this kindness and attention culminated at an Edina church yesterday where parents, family, and friends gathered and spilled into the road with their encouraging applause, happiness, and relief as we rolled to what would be our official stop after 10,500 miles.  It seemed everyone was talking at once, and there was chili, and lots of sweet crumbly and chewey baked items, and we talked to as many people as we could and felt a little dazed and played some songs, talked…

It’s quiet here now in Fergus Falls.  I can hear the embers expanding their last heat with small cracking noises, and Nakia breathes easily in warm sleep on the couch.  Did we really…?  Did we really bike into the cold wind that turned to night and insistently pushed against us as we struggled up what we desperately hoped was the last hill on Saturday two hours after dark?  Did we really bike into the streets of Paris, past the Notre Dame cathedral, under the Eiffel Tower less than a month ago?  The same bike that now leans against the garage wall at 1010 Meadow Hill Lane, did it really climb mountains in Serbia?  Of course yes, but the answer is not as simple as “yes we did.”  The questions are a search for meaning in the jumble of hopes and realizations that make up the past year and a half, mixed with what came before– a tentative effort at coming to terms with time, and foreign experiences meeting familiar places — will they get along?

I’ve expected to have some culture shock; how will it come?  We shall see.  For now we shall push on with our plans to record music and prepare for some presentations.  We have stopped our biking, but things have continued to pick up speed.  Let the days come.  It is necessary to be here, now.

Chicago, USA

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

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Hello friends, family and occasional browsers. We have arrived in the United States after thirteen months and ten thousand miles.  Our journey to Charles De Gaule Airport in Paris found us biking through deserted city streets at 4 a.m. Oct. 21 in the gathering rain, but we missed the heavier traffic so we arrived newly wet and safe for our 10 o’clock flight.  Packing up the bikes went smoothly, the check-in set us back about $60 per bike, but considering everything we were hauling (trailer, two guitars, laptop, drum + all our stuff) we thought we made out pretty well on Aer Lingus.  Going through the scanners I lost one of my cheeses, (it was too soft…) but otherwise we made it complete. In Chicago we were met by my parents and sister (the Spidahls), and Kate Ritger and Amanda Schmitz —  Chicago residents and graduates of CSBSJU.  We gorged on deep-dish pizza and soaked in the traffic noise and curious familiar language of strangers’ conversations…    After several days of enjoying Chicago and reconnecting with some friends, we’ll be off tomorrow morning to brave the late October weather of these United States in the north, headed towards Minneapolis but not forgetting friends along the way.  Homecoming is an odd affair, with mixed emotions, but I can say for my part I am happy to be back.  More soon, from this side of the border. 

Turkey Turkey Turkey

Friday, July 11th, 2008

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I have to confess that even after commiserating with Jim’s last blog about our uncertain situation, we are still managing to enjoy ourselves while we wait in Turkey.  Not that the last few days have not had their faır share of emotional ups and downs (with Nakia shouldering the brunt).  Here’s a brief (ha ha) recap of our last few days’ experiences:

June 26, Thursday — After spending the night on the sidewalk with other would-be travellers to Bulgaria, Nakia waits in line while we wait on the curb until 12 p.m. when they tell us there will be no more people admitted today.  “Come earlier tomorrow,” the guard says.  Peter doesn’t appreciate that comment and points out clearly that it would be difficult to come any earlier as we SLEPT OVER THERE ON THE SIDWALK!  His persuasive techniques coupled with Nakia’s threat to get her money back finally allow Nakia to get in to apply.  We sigh with relief and celebrate with icecream and pizza–we have to wait for a week.

June 27 - July 2 — We spend the weekend hanging out with our new Turkish friends and playing music on the street in Taksim Istanbul without complaining when people throw coins in our open guitar case.  At first we are angry about the week wait, but we realize the signs are lining up leading us to focus on music: 

1.) We meet a student named Fatih who hears our music and tells us we have to play on the street!

2.) We are staying in a house full of artists and musicians for the week, who introduce us to their friends who are also street musicians.  We play with them on Saturday night and watch how it’s done.

3.) We have nothing to do but wait in Istanbul for seven days.

4.) Our first attempt to play on the street yields genuine interest, good conversations, and around $100 USD in change and bills!  We are elated…

Our debut on European streets: Taxim, İstanbul 

July 3, Thursday 12 p.m. – We go to pick up Nakia’s Bulgarian visa only to find out they have denied it.  She tries to ask but gets no explanation — only doors closed on her, literally. 

We sit with thick anxiety as we brainstorm our options over lunch.  After making several calls and spending some time online, we decide to leave Istanbul for the border town of Edirne at 5:45 p.m.  By 7:30 we are out of the city and shopping in a small town for our usual bread, yogurt, and jam dınner with tomatoes and cucumbers when we are invited to stay at a house.  Doa, a twenty-eight year old career woman with great English, invites us to her beautiful country home suggesting we can camp in the garden.  We have a hot shower, tea, pleasant conversation, and breakfast with the Dad (an uncommonly proud Turk with a warm heart) before we continue into a beautiful sunny summer day.


July 4 - July 7 — We pedal up and down big hills.  The first day we are hailed by some construction workers while we stop to gaze out across the Black Sea.  They give us three of the “constructıon worker lunches” — chıcken, yogurt, peach juice, bread, rice pilaf — and big smile.  We eat with a couple of them and are on our up-and-down way.  We camp in the woods.  Then we camp in a field.  A friendly cafe owner gives us utensils to eat our watermelon, coffee, and finally Turkish books as a souvenir (mine is seriously bigger than most Bibles but I managed to stuff it in my pack after smiling thank you).

July 8, Tuesday — We make it to Edirne border town just before 12 p.m., when we understand the Bulgarian consulate there closes for applications.  We are hopeful after Netzy’s conversation with the Consul a few days earlier that Nakia’s visa will be no more than a two day affair.  I call at 11 a.m. along the road to make sure they know we’re coming, but am warned that no visa can be issued if Nakia doesn’t hold a visa for the next country on our journey.  Boom–pıt ın the stomach.

At the consulate the story is the same.  We spend the day trying to call and do research about our optıons.  If not Bulgaria, then what?  Greece says you must be a Turkish citizen to get a visa from them at their consulate.  Germany says the same.  We are tired and frustrated, but not without hope.  I am reminded of a parable Jesus tells from Luke 18 about a persistent widow who gets justice finally from an uncaring judge.  The moral of the story is to be persistent in prayer, because God is not uncaring like the judge.  We pray.  A few moments later, half-way through lunch we are greeted by a middle-aged man with a moustache and a good-natured frown.  He speaks to us in Turkish and we respond as best we can.  He is interested in our musical ınstruments, and before I know it he has me by the arm and is towing me across the square toward some unknown destination.  “See you later,” I call to Nakia and Peter as I am hurried away.  The man turns out to be a music shop owner who wants us to play at a bar, I think.  My Turkish is slowly improving out of necessity–but cannot actually be called Turkish because I can make no real phrases.  After about an hour I figure out that we should meet him at 7:00 p.m. and call a bar we will go to later to play music.  Okay–it’s like a scavenger hunt, and we’re getting the clues.  “Go to the music shop at seven and get the next instructıons.”  Seven hours later at 10 p.m. we are playing completely plugged-in at a music pub, and people are digging us.  We meet a young man who is also a musician and speaks good English.  He helps us find a host family.

July 9, Wednesday — Nakia and Peter manage to get in to the Bulgarian Consulate (a significant achievement in itself in our experience) and apply for the “quıck” visa–2 days– for 120 Euro.  Ouch.  But this is our path and time now is of the essence. 

We are able to spend the day using internet at our friends office to contact anyone we can think of who might be able to pull some strings — Bulgarian officials, US senators, Moms… you name it.  We wait to hear the news on Friday.

 July 11, Friday (a.m.) — I finish up this blog in the apartment of the Kahya’s as we wait for breakfast and wait for 12 noon to find out about the elusive Bulgarian Visa.  We have been treated as family here, having a place to wash clothes, sleep, shower, and sharing traditional Turkish meals with the family twice a day.

 The Kahya family: Naciye, our adopted mother, Volkan (far R), Aşkim a close friend, and Gurkan (back center)

 It has been emotionally draining turning through hope and uncertainty like the pages of the latest Harry Potter novel, but there is this thread of glistening hope and direction and blessing–as strong as steel–leading us along the way.  Whatever happens today, I am grateful to be a witness and recipient of such generous providence and unexpected adventure here in Turkey. 

As for our next step… TO BE CONTINUED ~~


Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

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We have landed in Istanbul, Turkey, right on the edge of Europe. Normally we don’t land, of course, we just roll up to a stop–but it seemed a flight from India to Istanbul was our best option considering all the red tape facing us for an Iranian visa (a required guide at 100 USD per day plus an indefinite wait) and since June was already upon us, we left the ground for the second time in over 10,000 km of biking.

Thanks to a brief conversation in Kolkata we found a flight on Air Arabia that would just fit within our budget.  The catch was that it involved two red-eye flights back to back with a 12 hour layover on the Arabian peninsula.  For us, no problem.  A few of us decided to see part of the famous city of Dubai (comparable to Las Vegas) while we waited in the United Arab Emirates for the waking hours.  This was our first transitional shock.  We went from India’s cheap local food and foot traffic to excitedly pointing out establishments like Krispy Kreme, Pizza Hut, Hardees, Baskin Robbins…  In the outskirts of Dubai we encountered heavy automobile traffic and high rise buildings, reminding us of U.S. cities, but interlaced with ornate mosques and minarets rising between the storeys; all of this plopped in the middle of sand for miles around.  Curious, we checked prices at the local supermarkets and found them to be more similar to U.S. prices as well.  That evening we ate our packed peanuts and bread supplemented by McDonald’s ice cream cones and wondered  what the “Europe Leg” of our trip would be like.

And here we are, facing Europe just across the Bosphorus Strait.  We are staying on the Asia Side of the city, in a very nice apartment in a very comfortable neighborhood.  The young Turkısh woman we talked to in Kolkata back in March, who told us about the flight, also invited us to stay with her when we came through Istanbul.  She gave us her sister’s phone number and the address to the apartment, and told us she would arrive a week later.  We met her sister for the first time just outside the apartment, and were welcomed as if to our own home.  Here we can cook, wash clothes, shower, use the internet, and even watch a DVD in English occasionally!  We are well provided-for.  

As part of the transition to the European continent we have been eating fresh bread, cheese, and pasta rather than rice.  (Our fuel tanks are equipped with highly developed converters).  So far this culinary change seems to have had no ill effects, and we are greatly enjoying the new flavours of Turkey.

Another important transition for FBR came together two days ago when we added a mom to our crew.  Jim’s mom flew in to join us for the summer as we cross the Eastern side of Europe.  Welcome Netzy!  Once again we are five members–with a new mom dynamic–about to tackle a new continent.  We look forward to hearing her perspective from this side of the blog.

In the next couple days we anticipate touring this ancient historical city of over 15 million, seeing some sights, checking on visas, enjoying our new friendships, and finding two bicycles–one for  Netzy and one for myself so we can continue pedaling our way to Paris.  Stay tuned…


A Day in Agra

Friday, June 13th, 2008

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I’m sitting in the thick shade eating my kilo of lychees and taking handfuls of self-made trail mix. It’s hot. I can feel my sweat trickling from the effort of eating, and stuff is falling around and on me. The first thing was a dead ant, its legs crinkled. Next was a leaf substance of some sort. The hostel manager comes over to talk to me about where we’re going next and how hot it is. Behind his head the culprit peeks down sideways from a hanging branch: a parakeet. Its green color is hard to pick out of the foliage, even with the scarlet beak. Most birds move in quick, jerky spurts, or bob about; not parakeets. They move more deliberately, steadily pulling the branches towards themselves as they make their way around, slowly. This one seems mostly unperturbed by our presence, and continues foraging, heedless of the litter he drops on his human neighbors.

It’s not only the parakeets. It seems like litter is everywhere–even surrounding the “Clean Agra Green Agra” signs. Before I bought my lychees I was riding down the narrow shop-lined streets, frequently braking for motor rickshaws (three-wheel taxis), motorcycles, honking cars, an the occasional ox cart or stray ox. The cows like the litter. I don’t know whose they are, but there are cows here and there, eating through the garbage or just standing with dulled eyes in the middle of the street, oblivious to the traffic rushing and stopping in jerks around them.

On a quieter street a ways back, closer to the Holiday Inn Agra, I had stopped to ask a man selling lychees off his cart, splashed with water to keep them fresh: “How much for ek kilo?”

“Ek kilo, 150 Rupees.”

Thirteen yellow flags fly up in my head, five of them registering on my face. 150 Rupees is roughly $3.75. I look at him and squint my eyes. I know this price is way too much just like he knows I’m not from around here.

“I’ll look around,” I say. I make to start off and he holds up a 100 Rupee note.

“Too late,” I mutter over my shoulder as I pedal off. It shouldn’t make me angry anymore, but I can’t get used to being taken advantage of. I want to trust people to be fair.

“Guest is God” is a Hindu saying suggesting guests are to be honored and treated with the utmost attention and respect. Sometimes we’re Guest, sometimes we’re Tourist. I haven’t heard the tourist saying, if there is one, but I could probably come up with a fairly accurate guess. Something like “Tourist is Target (for high-profit ventures).” Well, I’m just looking around anyway.

The shops seem to be themed in various areas. Here are the carpentry shops, making and selling furniture–mostly beds. Here are the hardware shops with plumbing and such. Here now are the small fried food shacks and snack shops selling a quick mixture of betel, tobacco, and spices by the packet. All the while I am winding and weaving down the road, taking forks at a whim, trying to go in a general south-east direction. Some movement along the building above me to my left grabs my attention; a monkey navigates a narrow ledge making use of pipes and wires above the crowded streets. They, similar to cows, have holy association here in India and can be found along the country roadways and in the city streets–particularly around temples or wherever food can be easily gotten.

In some areas we passed I saw signs saying, “Please don’t feed the monkeys.” I guess it gets to be a problem. I remember at The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa some years back the baboons had learned to spot a tourist with food. There the local staff warned everyone: “Don’t have ANY food showing, anywhere. Eat only in designated areas.” We thought little of it, until we saw our advisor turn his head from eating his sandwich and a baboon dropped from the roof above the table, snatched half of it, and was gone in less than three seconds. Later, a child walking behind his mother was slobbering on a popsickle. A baboon loped up to him, stripped the iced suger snack from his hands, and finished it a few yards away while the stunned family justed gasped and stared. “Tourist is Target” apparently is a well known maxim shared among more than just the local human population.

“Ahh, another lychee seller…” I pull over to find out what these small red fruit go for on this street. I stand there like a patient idiot for a few minutes right in front of his stand, as is my custom. Sometimes people are embarrassed because they don’t speak English, so they kind of ignore a foreigner. Others seem to grab at you when you least want their product. (”You want rickshaw?” “Um, I have my bike…”). This man seems just occupied in what he’s doing and biding his salesman time. When we finally make eye contact I ask, “How much?” He flaps a 50 Rupee note. “Hmmm, that’s better,” I think to myself. Still, I wait and watch other buyers. It’s my best trick; and it buys me time to think through negotiations and comparative prices of other fruits I’ve bought. Another man nods at a cluster of lychees.  “Teesh,” the salesman says. I rejoice inwardly that I know “teesh”. Teesh is Thirty in Hindi. (You pick up some things after a few months). Still I wait. A woman asks; “teesh” I hear again. In the meantime the assistant is measuring out a kilo for me and bagging it, to facilitate the buying process. He hands it to me. “Teesh?” I ask the salesman, somewhat rhetorically. He hesitates, then nods and averts his eyes. I hand him the money and leave, feeling a sense of triumph and curious emptiness. I got the price, but I just want to be human without battling for justice. I want to belong, not to win. Well, he got a fair price and I got some juicy lunch, so maybe that will help to fill me up.

What I need now is to find some quiet space to read and eat and sit, away from the business interactions and rush and stop of traffic, honking and revving. I head back to the hostel to find some thick shade in a place where I belong, if only temporarily, and hide my head from the heat of the day.  “Ahh, solitude.  Solitude and food,” I think to myself, “Great–What’s this?  Where did this dead ant come from?…”

FBR, (we now pause for status identification)

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

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We have arrived in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.  When I say “we” I mean the three guys — Peter, Jim, and Drew.  We don’t know exactly where Nakia is, but we hope she’s safe in Nepal, where she intended to be.  You see, she had already visited Agra and Jaipur, the two cities we were latest seen frequenting, and since she didn’t get a chance to check out the Himalayas, she opted to trek for a few weeks in Nepal while we cycled through India.  So, last we heard, our fourth member Nakia was heading up to Everest Base Camp. 

Nice to hear from Adam in the States — he’ll be in India and Nepal shortly, as far as we know.  So, we keep doing these crazy loops around eachother–around the world, but still hold on to this identity that will face a serious challenge (and already is from the chapati based diet here in the north): Fueled by Rice.  We eat just enough to keep our integrity.  I’m not sure what we’ll be eating mostly once we hit Europe… maybe grass and roots, if the Euro holds out against us.  I’ll certainly enjoy a Donor Kebap in Turkey though.  “Could you just sprinkle a little rice on that for me?  Thanks!”

Stay tuned for thoughts on Agra and experiences in Rajasthan, and maybe even some from Nepal sooner or later. 

 Cheers, FBR

So the plan is for the four of us to meet in Jaipur at the Airport and fly to Istanbul in five days, about when Adam makes it to Nepal.  Of course, we’re still a team–just not always in the same place at the same time.  But when we are, we’re always in the same place at the same time.

Going Up Hill

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

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[This is Drew again. Careful readers will note that I have posted two old posts about the mountains. They will also note that Jim and Peter have been dominating “post time” and consequently I have had to dredge my inbox for quick-post literature in order to re-appear on the scene with some authority. What. Hope you can handle the time warps. I had written this hopeful for the Fergus Falls Daily Journal end of April, should they be interested. No word as of yet… but I’ll keep pressing on, one pedal stroke at a time.]

Going Up-Hill

My knuckles are tight against the handle bars, my back bent and aching, my shirt soaked in sweat. My legs are burning and my muscles cry for me to quit; my breaths are shallow and quick, quickening. I can hear them in the silence of the heat, a frantic metronome for my tires crunching bits of gravel on the pavement. Even though I’m in the lowest gear of my 21-speed mountain bike, it’s all I can do to keep the pedals turning, keep them turning, one pedal-stroke at a time…

That’s part of our bike trip mission statement: “Fueled By Rice: Spreading the spirit of tolerance and cooperation around the world one pedal-stroke at a time.” Admittedly it sounds a bit pretentious. We have no specific plan based on research analysis for spreading tolerance and cooperation, which (after many exhaustive consultations) is funded by a reputable philanthropic organization. We have no scientific system to measure our success at helping to create a more tolerant and cooperative world. We are just five Twenty-somethings with an idea to bike across half the world, and a hope that understanding between two countries, like the understanding between two individuals, can start with a simple smile. One smile at a time, one pedal stroke at a time… But never has this idea been so literal to me as now, climbing into the Himalayas.

We began our trip west from Beijing in September 2007, five graduates from The College of St. Benedict and St. Johns University planning to cycle 9000 miles across fourteen countries over the course of one year on a budget of $2000 USD per person. Beijing to Paris in one year, by cycle. I also thought the idea was a bit crazy. But when it was decided that as part of the trip we would carry two guitars, a South African bongo drum, and an erhu (pronounced “Are-Who”; a two-stringed Chinese violin) and try to make music together, I thought we should go for it. After all, what is an idea worth if you never give it a try? But of course, that was before reaching the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range. Now pulling a trailer full of instruments up a mountain didn’t seem like such a great idea. What was keeping me going?

Of all the possible influences that kept me pushing on, one thing was certain: to keep moving forward I had to be coached. I had to talk myself through it moment by moment. I was coaching myself forward, and a mantra was being repeated in my mind like an echo from the past: “Keep ‘em turning! Keep ‘em turning!” These were not my own words; instead, they had been given to me by my high school Track and Field coach at Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, Mr. Backstrom. I can still hear his voice talking me through each lap of the mile as he ran back and forth across the football field to offer encouragement: “Okay, you’re right on time, doing fine, just keep it up; keep ‘em turning, keep ‘em turning…” Now here I was facing a different physical challenge, and his voice had become my own, giving me the strength to keep going.

These weren’t the first hills I’d ever tackled. Although not as seemingly endless as the Himalayan mountains, the hill at Cleveland Elementary School was daunting enough to the determined Fergus Falls soccer players during that week of training at the beginning of the season affectionately known by the athletes as “Hell Week”. Each year that I played for the Fergus Falls High School soccer team, Coach Bjerke would gather us at the base of the hill and say, “Okay boys, let’s hit it hard. The payoff is at the end of the season. The payoff is in Sections, boys. Give it what you got; first group, ready, Go!”

The payoff is at the end. This message also trickled through my memory to give me hope. Now is the pain of pedaling; then is the glory of achievement. The payoff will be down the road (or up rather!), when I reach that windy summit and see the hills fading into the hazy distance. The reward for this pain will be the rush of humming down, down, through pine forests, letting gravity offer the breeze to effortlessly cool my exhausted body. The hard work of now will pay off in the end.

Of course, these collected thoughts are the benefit of arriving, of looking back. I can look back and see how even now, in north-eastern India, I am pushed to greater achievement by my coaches from Fergus Falls, Minnesota. At the top, at rest, I can reflect that in life I will face other metaphorical hills that will require me pressing on, and that any success I might achieve is thanks to the various coaches who gave me their encouragement, wisdom, and inspiration—parents, teachers, family, and friends, as well as sports coaches. But join me back on the hill as it switches endlessly back and forth, threatening to discourage my aching, sweating body from pedaling on, and these encouragements meld into a buzzing of voices and impulses. “The payoff is at the end; keep ‘em turning, keep ‘em turning; one pedal stroke at a time, one pedal stroke at a time…”

Agra, city of the Taj Mahal

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

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Well, we have made our weary way to Agra, and arrived (yesterday). We pulled in about 9 a.m., doing the last 40 km in the cooler part of the morning–from 6 am to 9 am with breakfast in there somewhere. The International Youth Hostel here was very accomodating and quite affordable, so we registered and fell asleep. I was woken by a the strange suffocating sensation of still heat that makes the sweat bead on your forehead and chest. I went and sat in the hall so the sweat could trickle down my back as well. It’s hot here, and occasionally in a regular fashion, the electricity goes out and the fans slow to a sickening stop. It was after noon anyway, so I decided to stay up and check out lunch options.

The reason we were so tired was partly due to highway travel — the constant rush and roar of fast moving vehicles coupled with the horns and jams of the occasional cities along the way–and partly due to two nights of small sleep.

The first night out of Delhi we met some other Indian travellers who had us discussing/listening to US politics and downfalls until 11 p.m. The mosquitos were just starting to party then, but managed to save “an FBR feed” inside our tent that night for between 1 am and 4 am. We were up at five with the sun.
Second night we spent camping in the eerie light of a refinery’s bursting torch tower, not far from a McDonalds (?!). One of the strangest atmospheres yet. Five a.m. just comes too early and the nights don’t cool…

But I didn’t mean to complain the whole time about lack of sleep. We’re doing better now, and I hope to see the Taj Mahal this very evening. Jim and Peter saw the morning version today. Besides that we’ll be enjoying the winding, flea-market streets of Agra for another day before we pedal west to Jaipur.

We’re feeling caught up on sleep and major monuments, mostly. Thanks for catching up with us.

Encounter in the Himalayas

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

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This is an article I wrote for Faith & Fellowship magazine–my denomination’s church publication–about meeting a childhood friend randomly in India mid-April.


Crossing Paths: Chance Encounters with a Fellow Alien



Just a couple weeks ago I got an email from my brother titled: “David Nordtvedt in Calcutta”.  To most people this would be entirely unremarkable.  But this surprised me on two accounts.  First, David Nordtvedt was a fellow Lutheran Brethren missionary kid (MK) I knew from childhood in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  Second, I had just left Calcutta.



My friends and I were heading north in Eastern India, seven months into our year-long bicycle tour from Beijing to Paris.  At the time I had no idea where in the world David Nordtvedt was, but it would seem that David and I had barely missed a fortuitous chance encounter in a random city half a globe away. 


Since we were traveling by cycle, we would still be in the area for a while.  Our next major stop was a tea-growing city in the mountains of West Bengal called Darjeeling.  We would be there in about a week, so I sent David an email saying, “Wow, sorry we missed.  You wouldn’t happen to be going to Darjeeling in a week…?”  Since internet access is sporadic, I didn’t get David’s response until I was sitting in a computer lab in Darjeeling four days later: “As a matter of fact…”



That particular weekend happened to be the Bengali New Year, and he and some friends from Calcutta were planning a get-away to Darjeeling.  Great!  Our fortuitous chance encounter seemed to be guided by other forces. 


We finally got together over dinner and spent the next day hanging out and catching up.  It still seemed quite strange that while we had had no contact, our paths would cross like this.   I got to thinking: what are the chances of meeting a fellow Lutheran Brethren MK anywhere in the world at any given time?  Actually, better than you might expect; it seems there are MKs scattered all over.


When we met up with David and friends we hadn’t been in touch, so as we wandered the alleys and sampled street food he told me about studying in western India, volunteering in Bangladesh, and his current plans to enroll in graduate school in the Philippines this Fall.  His older sister, Annalise, has been working for the past several years at the international school in Taiwan where the Nordtvedts were missionaries.  Micah, the oldest, is living in Seattle but working on a project that documents the lives of missionary kids around the world, which finds him traveling just about everywhere.  I think of my fellow MKs in Cameroon.  That I know of, two (Mark Hunter and Steph Lazicki) are currently living on the African continent; Pat Lazicki spent some serious time studying in Ghana; her oldest sister Suzy has been living in China for several years; and Alyson Gerstmann is traveling all over the United States as a truck driver.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised to meet David in India.


Being a missionary kid doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t settled somewhere normal, but there is a good chance you haven’t—or you just haven’t settled. 


A little over a year ago my family and I were casually milling at the home of Dr. Paul Hiebert, my dad’s friend and PhD advisor.  Dr. Hiebert had been a missionary kid as well, and subsequently spent much of his life in India as a missionary and anthropologist.  He said to me then, with a twinkle in his eye, “You know Andrew, being a missionary kid means your fate is sealed.  Either you’ll end up a missionary or you’ll do some sort of anthropological work, but you’ll never feel like you have your own culture to call home.”



For our high school graduation my friend Ryan Garvin sang a song with the words, “Home is a place I’ve never been.”  These words stuck with me.  They call to mind a passage from the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament.  The early Christian leader is telling about the great men and women of faith who have gone before.  He says,

        “All these people were still living by faith when they died. … And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:13-16 NIV).


The assumption is that all who live by faith also experience a deep and curious longing for a better country – a better existence.  For some these feelings are undoubtedly stronger than for others, or perhaps occur more frequently.  I think MKs have a special perspective on this passage.


For an MK, the early fabric of identity is woven through the various colors of sometimes vastly different cultures, which means that we may have few qualms about traveling to a place where the daily market includes freshly butchered chickens and tubs of live eels, but it may make us uneasy to spend time at a mall, a party, or a dance club.  Even if we develop the ability to enjoy such things (we are trained to adapt), we may never feel like we truly belong.  Of course this can be isolating at times, but it should not be a lament.  I would never trade my experiences growing up in Cameroon for a different, more homogenous life – even if it means I remain caught between cultures, interested in many but belonging to none.


Our several days in Darjeeling were a nice rest before we moved west to Nepal, and the unexpected meeting of a fellow MK made it all the more special.  As we were preparing to once again go our separate ways, David asked, “Do you mind if I pray for you guys?”  We gathered together, and I was grateful for this bond that we shared through prayer.  Though at times we may feel like wandering aliens and strangers in this world, we belong to a special community – those that can talk to and trust the Author of Life.  And so together we hold on to this hope for which we live: that we may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Poking around Pokhara

Monday, May 5th, 2008

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Three bearded boys from FueledByRice made it to the center of Nepal two days ago, to a town called Pokhara.  This is the gateway to trekking in the Himalayas, and so it is the most tourist-visited area in Nepal (according to one guide book a-skimmed).   The beauty is certainly an attraction.  The town is situated on a mountain lake, hemmed with pines and the green slopes of foothills.  When clouds aren’t cloaking them, the white peaks of Anapurna and M…. rise from the Himalaya heights for a stunning backdrop.  (I’ve seen pictures — the clouds haven’t yet lifted but enough to see just a glimpse of white rocky slopes one afternoon after a rain).

The town’s feel is laid-back, a nice contrast to Kathmandu’s Thamel area bustling with hustling and hawking and honking.  So, we run into other tourists and have English conversations and go to eat together at times.  Last night we met a nice Dutch cyclist for dinner who’s doing basically the same route as FBR, only backwards in time for the Olympics (anyone inform CCTV?).  We also met a German cyclist who gave us tips about Europe and a warm invite to his place if we go by.  A group of three Israelis are motorcycling, but are interested in trying out the Bi-Cycle, motored by legs and rice.  They’re staying at our same hotel.

So, we poke around Pokhara, not trekking–to the chagrin of many-a-would-be-trek-organizer–but rather resting and eating and reading and frizbeeing and meeting others, with a little time here or there on the vast network we like to call cyberspace, and resting the puzzling soreness of our posteriors (as Jim might say).