Make Everyday a Journey

Though I’ve ended my Fran’s Lands 7-month adventure, my spirit of trying new and crazy things is here to stay.

         I’m back!!!!!!!!

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When I was 7-years-old, I dressed up like a princess with a magic carpet for a rabbit costume competition. We could travel anywhere then, and we can travel anywhere now!

I can’t say I was eager to return to America, but life always catches up with us, even when we wish it wouldn’t.

Back to Cornell University. Back to courses and jobs. Back to TAing, Bible study, and conferences. And of course, back to friends and family, who’ve been beside me since before my journey began.

The same ol’ Francine is back. But I insist that being gone for 7 months and in 7 countries has changed me. How could it not?

This post is the final wrap-up to my Fran’s Lands journey. So what could possibly make my ultimate Fran’s Lands list? Read on!

 

 

Things you’d never learn if you were a travel-phobic American homebody:

 

  1. Legitimately spicy food exists… and can make you happy.

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This pic is from my friend Camille’s Instagram post of my spicy noodle eating (and water gulping!) at Satan’s Noodles. The words in the post mean, “Go Francine! You can eat spiciness level 5!”

I’m from the American Midwest, where food is tasty but lacking in the spice department. It took lots of Mexican jalapeño salsa and exploring world cuisines for me to develop taste buds that even accepted mild tang!

During my Fran’s Lands journey, my spice tolerance hit an all-time high. From winning a South African chilli-eating competition against 3 tough guys to downing noodles with 50 cabe peppers at Indonesia’s infamous Satan’s Noodles restaurant, I’ve developed a passion for spice. In fact, when tangy food prods tears down my cheeks, I’m ecstatic!

 

 

  1. Whiteness (and Americanness) is real.

Being abroad was a huge eye opener because I learned that race matters. And as a white person, it’s a position of privilege.

On the streets of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, I can’t tell you how many times women and kids set their hands smack-dab in front of my face begging for money.

I also can’t recall how many people approached me wanting to be friends and, as soon as they learned I lived in New York, would say something like, “Ooooohhh! New York. The city that never sleeps…the city where everyone’s dreams come true.”

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Privilege also means opportunity. During my research in India, my fellowship provided enough funds so that I could give each respondent household some kitchenware.

I would rarely tell them that New York was a state—not only a sprawling urban center—and that there’s challenges there like the rest of the world.

“I’m saving my money so one day I can go to America too,” many of them would say, often mentioning a friend or brother or cousin who had gone through the immigration fiasco to get there. I’m a lucky, white American – I won’t deny it.

 

 

  1. There’s never a good excuse to say ‘no’ to fitness.

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One of my favorite activities is climbing mountains. Here I am on Mount Bromo in Indonesia!

I could have been healthier the last few months, but as a lifelong foodie, how could I resist the decadent international dishes? Besides, it’s part of the experience.

However, as far as exercise goes, I give myself 5 gold stars. Fitness, I learned, can be adapted to wherever you are.

In Indonesia, I took on Muay Thai, a Thai martial art that was perhaps the most intense physical activity I’ve attempted. You use hands, elbows, legs, knees, face…

In South Africa, I got involved in a hiking club and found a few mountains to scale every couple days. When nature’s around, make the most of it!

Most recently in India, I did one of my favorite activities of all: riding bicycles! My research center had plenty of peacocks, so I enjoyed evening rides to watch those awe-inspiring creatures in action.

 

 

  1. Having a bizarre foreign accent is pretty cool.

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I know one thing: I couldn’t have developed my bizarre accent from speaking Indonesian for 2 months! Here I am with Mbak Mei (left) and Mbak Vita (right), my Indonesian language tutors.

I don’t sound American anymore, and I don’t sound British either. People tell me it’s like a fusion of the 2 accents. How did that happen?

Well, most of the countries I’ve been to were formerly British colonies, so I could have picked up their pronunciations.

I also have a habit of speaking clearly and slowly, sometimes over-accentuating words, especially when I’m with people whose first language is not English. That could have contributed too.

Is my voice strange now? Absolutely! But I don’t care – I’m unique!

 

 

  1. Traveling can make you realize, accept, and embrace yourself.

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At Phang Nao Bay in Thailand, I felt as alive as I physically, mentally, and emotionally could be.

I wasn’t very outgoing growing up, but I always had lots on my mind that I wish I had the courage to say.

Traveling, particularly traveling solo, made me rediscover my bubbliness, humor, and other personality traits I had always had but had somewhat closeted.

I figured that for each person I met I could start on an empty slate.  I began living every moment as the best version of myself. In the process, I found people who liked me for me, not for my accomplishments, Americanness, or background. Just plain ol’ Francine.

 

 

***

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Hiking in South Africa with my hiking club! I’m not sure what this look on my face means.

That was my fun final Fran’s Lands list, but since it’s my last post, it’s time for a sentimental closing note.

Throughout my Fran’s Lands journey, many people have told me that I’m living their dream. And I would respond by saying that I’m living my dream.

I had wanted to travel because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to see and understand people’s needs and use my pen, academic training, and wit to do something about it. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in that, but I do know that I’ve tried and that whatever career or rabbit hole I end up in, I will do something that positively matters.

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Woah! Zebras on the road. A South African safari never felt so thrilling!

Being internally changed by being abroad was just a side effect of my experiences. I learned that my words are powerful and influential, and when used with authenticity and conviction, there’s little they can’t do.

I also learned that confidence is one of the hardest lessons to pick up but among the most rewarding skills to have.

And on a personal relationship note, I discovered that even if a guy likes me—maybe even says he loves me—I should never feel obliged to return his feelings.

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Looking silly but feeling amazing! For my final Indonesian presentation, I discussed my research on cats’ tails… and dressed up like my feline friends.

The more I explore and the more I accomplish, the more I understand that the same things are just as important today as they were the day I was born: my inner worth, my family and friends, and God.

Even if your name isn’t Fran and even if you never have had a Fran’s Lands journey, I implore you to not be afraid to do something you’ve never done before. Chances are you’ll fall flat on your face while doing it, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is living your life in your own little nook, torturing yourself under the haunting question: “What if?”

Be a Fran. Make everyday a journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If I could marry a country, it would be India.

When I first arrived in India nearly 3 years ago, I thought the country was overrated. But the more time I spent in it, the more I realized that I was developing feelings for it.

India is the only country that I’ve deeply fell in love with.

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A girl drawing special shapes for Pongal. It’s a 10-day Hindu festival in Southern India that commemorates the harvest. It’s a really big deal here, much more than Christmas was!

Did its catchy Bollywood romances, dances, and tunes do me in?

Or perhaps its addictive curried food. It did make me cry not just from zest but also soul-pleasing, tongue-enrapturing flavor!

Or maybe it was their weddings- so time consuming yet beautiful, meaningful, and radically different from the white dress events in my country.

Anyone can explain away love yet fail to pinpoint the real reason behind that buttery feeling.

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Me with my focus group female respondents in Aurepalle Village. Compared to my respondents in Dokur Village, these ladies are feisty!

Yep, I adore India. And these past 2 weeks, collecting socioeconomic data in its villages has made me as fulfilled as a person under love’s spell can be.

While I can’t make you fall in love, I can at least entice you by telling my experiences. Beware: what I’m about to say is not all giddy happy. Besides, love grows both blossoms and thorns!

 

 

India Love Lesson #1:

DON’T get too close to wild animals!

Sometimes lovers need to give each other space. I had to apply that lesson when interacting with a village monkey this week.

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Here’s a monkey, probably the same one that attacked me a couple days after this photo was taken.

He was about the size of an 8-year-old boy, sitting about 10 feet away from me on my village house’s staircase to the roof. As I sat there typing on my laptop, he busily gorged himself on a big ol’ palm fruit. Then suddenly we freaky scary locked eyes.

I stood up, thinking he’d scat after seeing I was bigger than him. How dim-witted that was! The creature charged, jumping on me then vigorously pulling and biting at my cloak. I shrieked horrendously loud as if a murder was in progress, which at the time seemed feasible. He ran away as my language translator sprinted up the stairs to see what on earth happened.

 

India Love Lesson #2:

Don’t be surprised if people have a different definition of toilet.

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At the same school where kids are banned from pooping.

The more lovers know each other, the more they—often the females—realize that their better half’s bathroom habits are insufficient or incomprehensible. So it is with India, where nearly half the population doesn’t use toilets.

 

At one village’s government primary school, I learned that the students aren’t allowed to use toilets if they have to go #2. In fact, they’re commanded to openly defecate because the pit toilets smell bad and water isn’t readily available to clean them. Yet that same school’s science curriculum also teaches students that open defecation is unhealthy and unsafe!

 

India Love Lesson #3

Drink wisely.

Love can (and often does) involve alcohol. It might surprise you that Indians are fond of drinking because they’re already chai masters. But in Southern Indian villages, palm wine, or toddy, is a favorite.

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Here are 3 bottles of toddy, fresh from the palm tree. The drink only lasts 1-2 days before spoiling.

One particular Backward Caste group has passed their toddy tapping secrets from generation to generation. During my village research, I bought a liter of toddy from a household for only 30 rupees (less than .50 USD). A half-sip of the sweet-sour beverage was enough for my exclusively water-conditioned self!

 

 

India Love Lesson #4:

Know that you can’t always change what others think.

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It’s hard to reverse a mentality of throwing waste everywhere. In Dokur Village, this is a common site: trash, murky water, and wild pigs.

We all wish that Romeo and Juliet’s families liked each other so that the lovers didn’t need to commit suicide, but that’s just not how things were. In India, the caste system was outlawed decades ago yet it’s still very much a reality.

The former harijans (untouchables), now part of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, are still generally the most disadvantaged people in the country. When surveying villagers, I found that my upper caste respondents almost always refused waste cleaning jobs. “That’s just not the type of work our people do,” they’d say.

 

India Love Lesson #5:

Following your passion never hurt anyone.

Some lovers express their affection through painting, others through songs or old-fashioned letters. I show India my love by going there to research its villages’ sanitation and waste management, which I believe are among the most under-explored issues in the country—and world—today.

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In Aurepalle Village, the government hires a rickshaw walla (bicycle rickshaw driver) to collect households’ waste.

In one village I surveyed, people toss their waste everywhere because a trash pick-up system simply doesn’t exist. In another village, the government hired a man to drive a bicycle rickshaw to pick up waste from each household. However, he’s a drunkard who appears to take advantage of households’ bribes.

On a whole other note, I’ve developed a huge disdain for plastic bags! They’re everywhere in these remote villages!

***

So ends my love letter. A week from now, I’ll be headed back to the states for the first time in 8 months to finish my junior year at Cornell University. And I’ll go back with the belief that distance can NEVER squash true love. If anything, I’ll return to India even more smitten, with a new Bollywood soundtrack to hum, research to conduct, and of course spicier dishes to kill my tastebuds!

 

Here’s some extra photos from my village experience:

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Dosa is my favourite Indian breakfast food. Its main ingredients are rice and black gram and it almost always has an accompanying chutney sauce.
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This is bajji, which is fried chillies. Not as spicy as I expected.
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Me with a husband-wife toddy (palm wine) tapping team. Usually the man is the one who goes to the top of the palm tree to get the toddy while the woman sells the beverage.
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Here I am doing a mapping exercise with school kids in Aurepalle Village. I’m interested in knowing where men, women, and kids think the village’s top waste sites are.
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Kabadi walas play huge roles in Indian waste management! This guy goes to 20 villages on a regular basis to buy people’s plastic and glass bottles, which he resells for recycling and scrap purposes.
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After giving birth to 4 girls, this woman succeeded in bearing a son! In India, gender inequality is still very real.
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This lady was elected to the gram panchayat, or village government. However, she only holds the position because it fullfills a government quota stipulating that 4 out of 10 gram panchayat representatives are women. Who’s actually making the decisions? Her husband.
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Here I am with Dokur’s sarpanch, or village mayor.
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Dokur’s open drains are a favourite pecking site for chickens.
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Dokur’s villagers were not afraid to tell me about their go-to dumping spots. This is probably one of them!