MY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: TRAVEL LESS

(Which might sound like an exercise in futility given that I moved to New Delhi two days ago, but let’s start at the start.)

I’m a sucker for a clean slate, a new beginning. It’s the appeal of going alone to places where no one knows me, hoarding beautiful notebooks that I daren’t write into lest I ruin them, and making New Year’s resolutions that I’ve usually forgotten about by the time I’ve gotten over my hangover on the 1st of January.

But this year’s biggest resolution has been lurking in the back of my mind for a long while and has so far made it seven days past New Year’s eve unscathed:

This year I will travel less. Continue reading

10 REMARKABLE SLOVENIANS WHO ARE NOT MELANIA TRUMP

In the course of my travels I have grown accustomed to meeting fellow Slovenians in the strangest of places, whether they were walking across the Gobi desert, wreck-diving in the Philippines or building ships in Sulawesi. For a country of only two million people we seem to have a great knack for travel and adventure.
I’ve also grown accustomed to the fact that most non-Europeans (and many Europeans) who thought they knew where Slovenia was were in fact thinking of Slovakia. Continue reading

AT THE END OF THE ROAD

I’m flying home tomorrow, exactly 16 months after I landed in Teheran at 3AM on a cold November night and started my journey.

I’m excited and nervous in equal measure, unsure how many of the changes in me will survive a return to familiar environments, uncertain of the future until the Gods of Academia at Humboldt University reach their verdict and absolutely giddy at the thought of finally getting my hands on a delicious Nobel burek.

A post-mortem of the trip will follow, probably, once 16 months’ worth of travel has been digested, pared down, streamlined and satisfactorily packaged into a single Experience. Might take a decade or so, who knows. For now trying to look back at the past almost-year-and-a-half in its entirety is enough to give me vertigo, so I think I’ll keep a safe distance at least until I make it onto the plane.
Continue reading

MY SCRAPHEAP OF BORROWED AND INVENTED WISDOM: 25 lessons, tips and advice from my first quarter century of fumbling through life

I turned 25 yesterday (laugh, sigh, cry) and, since party options are limited in rainy Dharamsala, I decided to distract myself from thoughts of impending wrinkles and doom by sharing my own brand of questionable wisdom with anyone that wants to read it.

We can probably all agree that 25 years, the first fifteen to twenty of which are traditionally spent in a state of mumbling confusion and incomprehension, don’t amount to much life experience. But it’s a start – below is a random assembly of things I learned while travelling a bit, reading a lot and spending the occasional evening drunkenly setting the world to rights with my friends.

 

#1 EAT YOUR VEGGIES, USE CONDOMS, FLOSS YOUR TEETH, DON’T BE A DICK

Ok, now that we got the obvious out of the way…

 

#2 TRAVEL

And while exotic locations and strange customs might be the main selling point of such endeavours, they are by no means the only, or even necessarily the best way to do it. These days plenty of people can afford to fly to the other side of the world and yet remain so firmly entrenched in their comfort zone that they might as well never have left home at all.

It is a mental shift, not the geographical one, that is the cornerstone of travel.

If you don’t have the time or money to mount an Arctic expedition, simply find a spot on the map nearby that strikes your fancy, make a sandwich, get on your creaky bicycle and go see what they’re up to there. Walk through a part of town you’ve never walked through before, with open eyes and ears and mind. Leave your damn phone at home. Be a stranger in a strange place, talk to people who think differently than you do. Go on a hare-brained adventure and don’t brag about it on Facebook later.

Don’t let the world be wasted on you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

#3 READ WIDELY, AND WITHOUT APOLOGY (Joyce Carol Oates)

The good, the bad, the transcendentally awful – there are no rules.* High school seems to do a pretty good job of convincing a whole lot of people that they are “just not into books”. While you might not be into Shakespeare or Joyce (and, frankly, who could blame you) those are not the only books worth reading and with the advent of e-readers you don’t even have to worry about the lady on the bus judging your low-brow literary tastes.

(*But I still reserve the right to judge you on the contents of your bookshelf, because I am a bit of a snob and also a flaming hypocrite.)

http://www.harkavagrant.com/

http://www.harkavagrant.com/

#4 GOOD PARTIES DON’T REQUIRE PLANNING. GOOD HANGOVERS DO.

So next time you’re getting ready for a big night out (or in, for that matter), spare five minutes for Future Hungover You and make sure you’ve got her back.

You’ll need the following:

  • A free day (or, at the very least, a free morning)
  • Lots of pillows and duvets with which to build your Fort of Headache and Doom
  • Coffee, cheese, salty crackers and all the OJ you can get your hands on (the good kind, with bits in)
  • A movie that provides maximum entertainment in exchange for a minimum of mental activity. I usually go with Tomb Raider, because Angie makes me feel like maybe being straight is silly, but then Daniel Craig coming out of the shower naked reminds me that it’s not all bad after all.
  • A friend who can convince you that your bad life choices will make for good stories when you’re old and saggy.

If you screwed up your party prep and left your hungover self hanging take some painkillers, brew a thermos of black, bitter coffee and tell yourself you’re a rock star as you drag yourself off to work/class. Do better next time.

This whole post is just an excuse to put this picture on my blog

#5 IF YOU’RE NOT SURE WHETHER YOU NEED IT, YOU PROBABLY DON’T

If you stop buying useless crap for a while you’ll soon realise that there is very little that you actually need, and none of it can be found on sale at your local shopping mall.

 

#6 GIRLS: JOIN THE 21ST CENTURY AND BUY A MOONCUP, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE A FREQUENT TRAVELLER. SERIOUSLY.

Boys: don’t google what a mooncup is. Seriously.

 

#7 FEW PROBLEMS REMAIN INSURMOUNTABLE AFTER A GOOD RUN, FOLLOWED BY A COLD BEER UNDER A HOT SHOWER.

Though, admittedly, some might merit a longer mulling-over in a bubble bath with a bottle of red.

 

#8 POWDER TOOTHPASTE IS GREAT FOR CLEANING SILVER JEWELLERY

Take it from a girl that’s been chaining her nose to her ear for over half a decade.Screenshot (104)

 

#9 NEVER PACK MORE THAN YOU COULD CARRY FOR 30 MINUTES IN 30 DEGREE HEAT

And trust me, you’re not nearly as fit as you think.

Reese never listens…

 

#10 WHEN PACKING FOR LONG-TERM TRAVEL DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE FURNITURE

When you’re travelling for six months, or a year, or even longer, your backpack becomes your home. Now you wouldn’t have an apartment with no furniture, would you? The place would be a mess!

Compartmentalizing your backpack will make it a lot easier to keep track of your meagre possessions. Finding the right combination of packing cubes, compression sacks and Ziploc bags might take a while, but it’s well worth the effort.

 

#11 YOU’RE NOT A GROWNUP UNTIL YOU’VE HAD YOUR HEART BROKEN

My mum came up with this cheerful little quip once and, being a loved-up teenager at the time, I thought she was just being Slavic and morbid. Don’t you just hate it how mums are always right? Turns out there’s nothing quite like a thoroughly brutal heart-mangling to trigger some serious growing up. Once you’re done being an embarrassing mess, of course.

(In deference to the presumed adulthood of those who are living happily ever after with their childhood sweetheart I would expand this statement to include all emotional-shit-hitting-the-fan situations.)

 

#12 NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT A SARONG, A SMALL SEWING KIT AND A COMPASS

You can build pretty much anything in the world with the first two items and any assorted crap you find lying around, provided you have put in the required amount of time watching McGyver as a kid. The compass is for finding north (duh) and to remind you that often the smartest solutions are the simplest ones.

He built that rocket from chewing gum and hay.

#13 TEQUILA IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA

Not now, not ever, and especially not when you’re already drunk enough to think otherwise.

 

#14 THE WORLD IS (PROBABLY*) NOT OUT TO GET YOU

(*and on the off chance that it is you’re screwed anyways, so you might as well stop worrying and order that tequila)

 

#15 MONEY MUST CIRCULATE

This is one of my dad’s go-to lines: “denar mora krožit.”

We all sometimes lose money in dumb and unfortunate ways – like the time I got fined 300 euro for riding a bicycle drunk, or the 170 euro I had to pay the locksmith after having locked myself out of the apartment on a stormy Sunday, wearing only boxer shorts and a t-shirt, the 15 euro fine I paid when it turned out that the tourist agent in Mumbai gave me a fake train ticket and I got to spend 10 hours sitting on the floor next to the toilet. That money’s gone, and dwelling on it won’t make it come back. Just shrug and think of it as your contribution to the global economy: “Money must circulate!”

 

#16 NOT WANTING TO DO SOMETHING IS REASON ENOUGH

Have you ever thought about how much of your free time you spend doing stuff you don’t really want to do out of some sort of sheepish politeness, or a nebulous feeling of obligation? Going to a party because that’s what you’re supposed to do on a Friday night, having coffee with that pretentious bore because you couldn’t come up with a polite way of saying no, going to an aerobics class with your friend even though cheerful aerobics instructors make you want to punch babies. Between paying your bills, vacuuming your apartment and getting up early, there is really no need to add more mildly unpleasant activities to your day.

Know your priorities and defend them unapologetically.

 

#17 SHUT YOUR MOUTH AND BE GRATEFUL

You don’t have to walk around with a dopey grin on your face all day long (please don’t), but if you’re reading this right now it’s probably safe to assume that you’ve had quite a bit of luck in the grand scheme of things.

You are literate, have shelter, internet access and probably enough disposable income to have bought some sort of slick the-future-is-now type of device so that you can watch cat videos while waiting for the bus. And perhaps your life sucks in just about every other way, and I am not one to ignore the cathartic beauty of a good rant, but there are plenty of hours in a day to dwell on your problems, bitch about your horrible boss and still genuinely appreciate the good things as well.

Try to find something to be grateful for each day – not because I say so, not because the science says so, but because Uncle Vonnegut said so.

5LSPjCo

 

#18 WHEN ASKING FOR DIRECTIONS IN ASIA, GET A LARGE SAMPLE

Not wishing to disappoint you or lose face, people will rarely admit that they don’t understand your question or don’t know the way, often just pointing you in a random direction instead.

I usually ask at least four different people for directions and triangulate the most likely correct answer from that sample, which gets me to my destination about 80% of the time.

(If it is absolutely imperative that you get where you’re going in a fairly straightforward manner, an offline maps app like OsmAnd or Maps.me can be a life saver. Speaking of which…)

                                                                                                                 

#19 TECHNOLOGY IS A WONDERFUL TOOL, BUT A SHITTY FRIEND

I’ll be the first to agree that the internet, and modern technology in general, are pretty damn incredible in their unparalleled potential for both education and distraction.

But here’s the thing – unless you are actually Barack Obama (in which case, thanks for reading, and don’t forget to tweet about it!) the world will not grind to a halt if you drop off the grid for a bit.

I find it a good rule of thumb to not go online before noon, and have at least one offline day a week.

Also: Stop taking Facebook so seriously.

Can’t argue with the Oatmeal (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/log_out)

 

#20 LEARN TO BE ALONE

You are, by definition, the only person you will spend the rest of your life with, so you’re pretty screwed if you can’t enjoy your own company.

 

 

#21 DEATH IS COMING

No, you’re not exempt. And you are one day closer to it today than you were yesterday. That’s not just me being morbid and depressing – it’s quite simply a fact. What’s depressing is sleepwalking through life, killing time and waiting for life to happen to you.

I’m not saying that you should “live every day like it’s your last”, unless you want a future of diabetes, drug addiction and syphilis – we both know you wouldn’t choose to spend your last day eating salad and doing yoga.

But it might be a good idea to remind yourself of your own mortality every now and then, if only to make sure that you are devoting a day to watching Game of Thrones while eating Nutella from the jar because it’s a damn fine way to spend a day, and not just to distract yourself from living.

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(And while you’re waiting for it to come you could do worse than to watch the rest of Amstell’s stand up Do Nothing, for some oddly insightful morbid hilarity)

 

#22 BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW…

… and then chomp at it until you either manage to get it down with a glass of water, or get lockjaw and have to feed through a straw for a week.

That is to say – if you wait until you feel ready to take on that daunting project you have been dreaming about, you’ll wait a lifetime without having done fuck all. Throw yourself into it and, if the stakes are high enough, you might find that your survival instinct gives you an edge and the sort of shitting-your-pants determination that you could never have dreamed of when safely tucked away in your comfort zone.

If you succeed, you’ll be all the better for it. And if you crash and burn… well, in the long run you might still be better for it. Speaking of which…

 

#23 FAIL, FAIL AGAIN, FAIL BETTER (Samuel Beckett)

Especially when you’re in your twenties, with a minimum of responsibilities and time on your side. Now’s the time to take risks, fail epically and learn from your mistakes.

 

#24 THE FIRST STEP TO LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE: HARRY POTTER

I am a proud member of the Harry Potter generation and it would sicken you to know how well I know those books. They were some of the first books I read in English, unable to wait for the Slovenian translation. In high school, I read them in French in preparation for my final exams and during those dreadful months spent learning German before enrolling in a German university (see #22)  I went to sleep every night listening to an audiobook of Harry Potter und der Halbblut Prinz (and yes, it was just as soul-destroying as it sounds). Out of the madness a method emerged, and now buying a Harry Potter book is the first thing I do when I start learning a new language.

Those of you not part of the Potter Brigade (shame on you) might find another book that suits your needs. In my experience, the following criteria is important in finding your literary Rosetta Stone:

1) You know the book very, embarrassingly, oops-did-I-just-quote-that-out-loud well, so that even if you only understand three words in a sentence, you can guess the rest more often than not.

2) You first read (and re-read, and re-read again) the book in its original language. While there are differences between a source text and a translation, they are rarely so big as to cause problems for a beginner on the hunt for verbs, nouns, adjectives and basic grammatical structures. But the gap between two translations of the same work is too big for a new student to bridge.

3) The book uses contemporary and conversational language. Harry Potter, save for the names of spells and other fun magic stuff, is written in fairly neutral British English, with plenty of useful dialogue and descriptions. Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, might do more damage than good.

4) it is not your favourite book, unless you want to end that relationship once and for all.

 

#25 YOU’RE A DUMBASS

No, really, you are. But that’s fine, cause I’m a dumbass too, and so is everyone else. We’re all just making it up as we go along, and anyone that claims to know what it’s all about is either delusional or lying.

Right? Right??

 

-K

***

Well, there you are. As you see, I still have quite a long way to go… do you have any advice, big or small, for the next quarter century? Comment below!

TROUBLE IN PARADISE: the Dirty Secret of Long Term Travel

Over the past six months we looked under the veil in Iran, traced Sri Lanka’s tender scars in Jaffna, ran across the sun-baked boulders of Hampi and failed to find ourselves in Auroville.

So I hope that by now you all think of me as a slightly more feminine and literate version of Indiana Jones, effortlessly penning witty and insightful prose as I cling to the side of a rumbling volcano, or else partaking in some arcane tribal ritual before flying a helicopter over the Himalayas in search of Bigfoot. But I would have to kill all my friends in order to keep this illusion alive and I can’t be arsed to make new ones, so I might as well level with you.

So here it is: long-term travellers are just as lame and just as awesome as anyone else.

I know! It seems so obvious, right?

So why is it that we only ever talk about the wonderful adventures, crazy parties and new friendships, and keep the moments of exhaustion, sickness, loneliness and good old fashioned misery to ourselves, hoping they will soon be forgotten? In my more cynical moments it looks to me as though, in the era of cheap flights and careful personality curating through Facebook and other social media, travel has turned into little more than a geographically promiscuous exercise in reciprocal ego boosting. “Look at me in this awesome place that you’ve never heard of, hanging out with awesome people that you won’t get to meet, being awesome in ways you couldn’t possibly comprehend!” Sure, people might spin elaborate tales of tedious train journeys or exotic illnesses, but only in a context that highlights their adventurous nature, resilience and general awesomeness, turning them into a badge of honour.

***

One evening in Kerala I was having dinner with a girl I had only met a couple of hours previously. It was her first time travelling by herself for any length of time and after a couple of drinks both of us ran out of the usual stories that backpackers regale each other with. The silence lengthened.

“But, you know, sometimes I get really… lonely,” she suddenly blurted out. She avoided my eyes, embarrassed as though she had just admitted to eating boogers in her spare time.

»And sometimes it’s, well, boring

Her trip was not going according to plan, and she was thinking of going home early. She had expected it to be a montage of Facebook highlights and felt that she was somehow doing it wrong.

We can deal with the hard times – we feel a sense of perverse pleasure in taking on the difficulties of travel and a sense of pride in having come out on the other end just a little bit tougher, just a little bit braver. Besides, they make for great stories after the fact. But the tedium and mind-numbing boredom don’t fit into the narrative of a traveller, despite being an inevitable part of life.

You rip yourself away from everything and everyone you know, stride boldly out into the world and shout “Show me what you’ve got, you bastard!”

And sometimes you end up with a black eye and a new story in your arsenal, and sometimes there’s just silence as you slink back into your little cave, your bravado just a little bit diminished by a world that doesn’t give a shit.

When you leave behind the comforts of home and hit the road you enter into a relationship with the unknown. And, like any relationship, it’s not all laughs and cuddles.

Come to think of it, travel is a lot like sex – when done with heart and passion and abandon, it really doesn’t look all that good. It strips you bare and knocks all those silly ideas you had about yourself right out of your head. Sometimes you find yourself so wildly in love with life that you just might burst out of your skin and sometimes it leaves you wanting to crawl into a dark corner and die for a bit. And every once in a blue moon you have to admit that it really wasn’t worth the hassle and you should have just stayed at home with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.

And, yes, it’s just about the best thing in the world and you know that you should be glad you’re getting laid when so many people aren’t but, dammit, sometimes you just don’t feel like it!

***

Travel has been and remains the most enduring and defining love affair of my life and as we were reunited at the beginning of this trip I threw myself into it with all I had. Ever the infatuated mistress, everything else took the back seat and it was months before I came up for air, happy, exhausted and completely disoriented. Slowly we settled back into our old routines, caught up on sleep, had our first catty fights and sullen silences. Six months into the trip the honeymoon was well and truly over as I noticed myself getting annoyed at the little quirks that I used to find endearing. The grubby hotel rooms. The constant hassle of getting from A to B, the crowds, the stares, the streets crawling with mangy curs.

I desperately needed a break, but the timing never seemed quite right. All of April, as I travelled through some of the most beautiful parts of India, I knew that I wasn’t really doing it justice and felt myself teetering on the verge of burnout. In the magical jungle world of Meghalaya we found some of that old spark, but by the time I reached Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, I was running on empty.

The mention of Nagaland might conjure up all sort of exciting ideas about remote tribes, head hunters and skewered rats for dinner, but Kohima is a very vanilla sort of town, pleasant enough in its uneventfulness. Its main attraction is the War Cemetery, which doubles as a hang out spot for the local teenagers. It is not particularly interesting, exotic or sexy. I knew that I would be bored out of my wits. And I knew that was exactly what I needed – to reach such levels of restlessness and boredom that continuing my travels could be nothing short of an orgiastic moment of excitement and joy.

I found a hotel, paid in advance for five nights and ordered myself to stay put, effectively banning myself from any travel-related activities.

In my tiny shoe-box of a room I binged on Neil Gaiman and trashy noir thrillers, spent a lot of time staring at the blank page on my screen, browsed listlessly through the half-dozen drafts eagerly awaiting completion and procrastinated by reading writing tips from famous writers. Then I failed to write some more, told myself off for worrying about it, and settled on reading American Gods instead.

The staff at my hotel looked at me with something uncomfortably close to pity – I doubt any tourist voluntarily stays in Kohima that long. In an urge to justify myself and my lazy ways I made allusions to having been sick, and taking time to recover.

In my more presentable moments I went to Dream Café where I spent hours sipping their better-than-awful coffee and reading the faded National Geographic magazines that were gathering dust on the shelves.

In my darker moments I ate cookies in bed and watched the finale of Pitch Perfect four times in a row, because it’s impossible to feel bad about anything while watching perfectly choreographed a capella mash-ups of cheesy pop songs. The next day I graduated to watching all of Pitch Perfect while eating some pretty strange-tasting cake. In bed.

Afterwards I took a nap, because all that lying around was really exhausting and the cake made me feel ill. In short, I turned being a lazy slob into an art form.

I could not always ignore the uneasy presence in the room – my scorned lover, the travelling life that I was so eager to take a break from. It would sulk in the corner, muttering darkly about missed opportunities, about being taken for granted. A couple of times I almost caved in. But I knew I had to stay strong, for the both of us.

“I’m sorry babe – it’s not you, it’s me!”

***

My stay in Nagaland, the land of the head hunters, was not particularly exciting, and not even remotely cool. But by the fifth day I found myself missing that unpredictable, infuriating, gorgeous lover of mine. We held hands as we boarded the night train back to West Bengal, and laughed together every time I hit my head on the ceiling when climbing down from the upper berth.

As in any long-term relationship, the travelling life and I still have our ups and downs. We have candle-lit dinners and explosive fights and, every now and then, we get stuck in a really depressing rut when we just can’t seem to muster the energy to put up with each other despite all the love we have for one another.

But in the end I keep going, because no life is perfect, but mine is better than most.

And I really think this one’s a keeper.

 

-K

THE MANY FACES OF PHOTOGRAPHY: A Cover Girl’s Rant

Our faces are both the most personal and the most public part of us. Their contours and contortions can betray our emotion and intentions to complete strangers, but also let us share a laugh with friends and forge connections with other people through an interplay of expression and empathy. Our brain is hard-wired to recognise faces and they are, in our society at least, the emblem of a person.

Our faces are a part of our life story, and it is a part that I like to keep fairly private – I very rarely put pictures of myself online and have never in my life felt the need to take a selfie.

So I was less than thrilled to return to Pokhara after an aborted trekking mission only to find my face on the cover of a Slovenian magazine. My father is a travel writer and photographer and, as part of submitting a feature about our month in Iran, he also volunteered my portrait for the magazine cover. Without consulting me about it, of course.

My first instinct was to fly back home just so I could throw sharp objects at him.

Fuming, I went for a trot along the banks of Fewa Lake, muttering to myself and alarming a gaggle of sweet Nepali ladies in the process – how dare he??

"Little Kaja goes around the world"

“Little Kaja goes around the world”

Funnily enough this is not my first foray into cover girl territory. My five-year-old face is on the cover of the children’s book my dad wrote about our first round-the-world trip in ’95. Back when the book came out I was too young to care one way or another, and now I treasure it as a wonderful reminder of an unusual childhood. Twenty years later I find it difficult to believe that I am the same person as that blonde little girl trying to hear the ocean in a seashell.

But this was different. To have my face displayed to an unseen audience without my permission feels supremely creepy, insulting, and completely, blindingly, infuriating.

It is not a question of vanity – I think that it is a good photo and I’m sure I will be happy to have it when I am a saggy prune-faced 80-year-old spinster. But I am an adult now (or at least doing my best to be one) and it should be my choice. My hatred of being photographed is no secret and my father knew perfectly well that, had he asked my permission, my answer would have been “over my dead body.” To have no say in the matter feels incredibly humiliating – I hated being treated as a child when I legally still was one and have not grown fonder of it since.

A couple kilometres of furious running later I ran out of breath and out of anger. The rational part of my brain, always so eager to work overtime, kicked in.

Do I have the right to be so outraged about this without being the worst kind of hypocrite?

On this trip I have reluctantly started dabbling in photography myself, knowing that travelogues with no accompanying photos had no hope in hell of being read by anyone besides my mother. With time I was surprised to find that I was beginning to enjoy it and I especially get a thrill from a good portrait shot. I make a point of asking permission before photographing someone, but of course I have neither the time nor the language skills to ask each and every one of them whether they agree to having their portrait published online.

And if National Geographic ever wanted to use one of my photos on their cover I would happily give them my entire portfolio and my first-born son to boot.

Sure, they’re their faces… but dammit, they’re my photos.

 

A gross invasion of privacy Vs. a beautiful piece of photojournalism?

A gross invasion of privacy Vs. a beautiful piece of photojournalism?

In June 1985 National Geographic boasted a cover that became arguably one of the best known portraits of the 20th century – the Afghan girl.

Her portrait was just one of the hundreds of photos that photographer Steve McCurry took that day during his visit to the Afghani refugee camp in Pakistan, and when it was chosen to be the issue’s cover I doubt anyone expected him to return to the camp and ask her permission. And if he had, I can imagine what her answer would be: “Over my dead body.” She comes from a conservative Pashtun family where girls enter purdah, or seclusion, at 13 years of age and has not been photographed before or since. Not until McCurry decided to try and find her 17 years later.

Her name is Sharbat Gula. By the time McCurry had tracked her down she had returned to Afghanistan where she gave birth to four children, one of whom died in infancy, and lived her life completely unaware of her unwanted fame.

How mortifying it must have been for her, a woman who has spent over half of her life under the veil, to realise that hers is one of the most looked-upon faces of the 20th century! If her interview is to be believed, she considers the burka “a beautiful thing to wear, not a curse” – and I think it’s safe to assume that she doesn’t take selfies either.

And yet… I’m glad this photo exists. This portrait, along with countless other photos taken and published without permission, is a beautiful example of the visceral power of image and the transformative potential of photojournalism.

Now of course Ona magazine is not National Geographic, my father is no McCurry and I am, luckily, not Sharbat Gula. But does that change anything? What makes her cover a beautiful piece of photojournalism and mine an invasion of privacy?

On the emotional, childish, egocentric level the difference is clear to me – this is my face we are talking about, and I’m a unique fucking snowflake!

But rationally I can hardly justify raging about it while I keep taking and publishing portraits myself.

In a broader sense, is my reaction not symptomatic of a more general cultural bias?

White girls chose to be models. Regardless of how many selfies we post on social media on a daily basis, we still expect to be asked permission before our face is made public by others. And, preferably, we expect to be paid as well.

But if you are an Afghani refugee, a Somalian tribeswoman or a toothless Tibetan granny your face is ours for the taking – as a magazine cover, a holiday snapshot, a cultural artefact.

Our faces might be the most personal and the most public part of us, but having a say in how our image is reproduced is a privilege reserved for the very few.

As a rational person, an anthropologist and an amateur photographer I can’t expect to be treated any differently from the countless women and men I have photographed and whose photographs I have admired over the years.

But as a daughter and as a unique fucking snowflake I am pissed.

Dad, you owe me my weight in beer when I return – and if you do it again I’ll use you for target practice!

 

-K

******

What do you think? Can these double standards be adressed? Shoud they? Is the power inbalance between the observer and the observed an inevitable part of photojournalism? 
Or has my study of anthropology just made me incapable of going through life without asking all these inane questions and I should just have some cake and get over it?

Comment below!

 

Sooo… how does this thing work?

Oh, okay, it worked! So. Here we are. Welcome! Nice of you to drop by.

As those of you who know me are well aware of, I am embarking on a kind of overland, kind of slow-travel, kind of let’s-do-it-differently-this-time sort of ramble from Iran to Indonesia, which will probably take me a year and a half, and possibly quite a bit longer.

As for those of you who don’t know me, well, bummer. But let’s go for a beer sometime!

Now if you get the feeling that I might not have this thing wholly planned out yet, you are right. However, you might also be relieved to hear that this is not the story of a 20-something ingénue braving the big bad world for the first time, finding herself and faith in humanity along the way only to get almost run over by Javier Bardem right on cue for a happy ending. Should I ever start wandering off in that direction feel free to drop by and slap me silly. But knowing what you don’t want to write is a damn sight easier than knowing what you do want to write…. And this is where this blog comes in.

But I’ll write one of those introductory posts explaining who I am, what I am doing and why you should care at some point in the future, possibly while drinking something colourful and alcoholic on a beach somewhere – my plane is leaving in 15 hours, I haven’t finished packing yet, I should really go to sleep at some point and addressing those questions is just an existential crisis waiting to happen. So. Logistics!

Currently the plan is as follows: I am flying to Tehran tomorrow, where I am meeting up with my dad, who has spent the past two months riding his motorbike from Ljubljana to Iran. In what I hope will be a great way of easing back into the travelling mindset, we will spend a month discovering Iran from the mountainous north (weather allowing) to the southern deserts, taking full advantage of the freedom that only having your own transport can bring. Then we will load the bike and ourselves onto a ferry and head over to Dubai, where we will probably spend a night in the cheapest (but still horribly expensive) hotel we can find, chewing on toilet paper because going to a restaurant would mean certain bankruptcy. The next morning, grumpy and starving, we will point our bike in the direction of Oman and cross the border asap. In Oman my mum will join us for a couple of days of family fun. 6th of December marks the beginning of my own trip (because having my daddy drive me around feels like a bit of a cop-out) as I fly to Sri Lanka, leaving my parents to frolic on the photogenic sand-dunes of Oman.

From there onwards things get a bit fuzzy. The general idea is to head across India to Nepal, taking my time in Kerala and Tamil Nandu, and skipping the Delhi-Kolkata-Mumbai triangle of doom as much as possible, because once was quite enough. After that I will probably (but maybe not) just wind my way from Nepal down to Indonesia – Bangladesh, Burma and bits of the SE Asia backpacker circuit are bound to make an appearance. But all this is liable to change, as the beauty of travelling all by my lonesome self is that I can change plans on a whim, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Ha!

I think this will do for now? I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to work on this blog in Iran, but I’m hoping to whip this bad boy into a more presentable shape by mid-December, once I am in Sri Lanka…

But now it’s high time for me to finish packing my deceptively small backpack (a.k.a. the TARDIS) and hit the road.

 

Geronimo!

 

K

 

P.S.: As for the current state of my blog – I imagine the blogosphere cringed at the genesis of this clumsy, stuttering, half-baked brainchild of mine. Seriously people, sorry.

Since I am a master procrastinator, almost completely devoid of any techy knowledge and, it would seem, a glutton for punishment, I am now in the awkward predicament of setting up a self-hosted blog a day before my flight. So. Serves me right.

In times of need Google is a girl’s best friend, but even so I seem to have a steep learning curve ahead of me, since my area of expertise so far has been the tipsy writing of letters in exotic locations. You know – pen and paper, occasional drawings of the fish I had seen on that morning’s dive. I have so far uncovered the meanings of such mind-boggling expressions as favicon, widget and plugin (the latter two vaguely familiar, but far from intimate acquaintances) and am reluctantly excited to explore this brave new world of cyber word-smithing. Unfortunately, this blogling will definitely remain a stunted eyesore until I reach Sri Lanka and probably afterwards as well… but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? Right??