Discovering Mumbai - reaching Nepal (and getting pissed on by a boy)
Day 1,935 since October 10th 2013: 169 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross)
What are we capable of?
Am I a one man army? Am I a leader? Am I a drop in the ocean? Did I get this far on my own? Would I have gotten this far without others? Are all the ocean drops equal? If one man can reach 169 countries in an unbroken journey completely without flying...then what can five people achieve when they stand united? How about 7 billion? Are people lazy? Do people need leaders? Get zero answers to any of that in this entry ;)
Steve and Devorah Felder are the proud parents of Seth, Eden and Dale. Dale is like a knee high giggling tornado who at her young age steals a lot of the attention. Dale calls me “Flor”. All three children are adorable, intelligent and lots of fun. The family is South African / Lithuanian and highly international. They are Jewish which plays into many aspects of daily life but foremost they are really wonderful people and formidable hosts. Their expat home in Mumbai became my home for three nights as I explored Mumbai and reunited with the Felders. You see, I first met them in Nairobi, Kenya, back in December 2016. Steve is Maersk’s Managing Director for India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Back in 2016 he was based at Maersk’s Nairobi office. Maersk is a Danish company and the world’s largest container shipping company. They are not an official partner of Once Upon A Saga however I do wonder where this project would have been today without them? My relationship to Maersk began developing in the Indian Ocean and in East Africa back in 2016. I had made a few Saga presentations across a number of Maersk offices when I one day received an ultra-short email from some man named Steve?
I was in Tanzania at the time and by doing a quick search on LinkedIn I soon realized who Steve was. He was the regional manager and I was in his region. I travelled from Tanzania to Burundi, via Rwanda to Uganda, into South Sudan and back to Uganda and eventually reached Nairobi in Kenya where Steve welcomed me to his office. I met with his staff, made a one hour presentation and then followed Steve into his office. That was how that all began. Since then Steve has introduced me to family, friends, colleagues, clients and a variety of contacts which in various ways have enriched the Saga. I’m not sure how I would have crossed the border from Somalia to Djibouti without Maersk’s help? The businessman who arranged for my Libyan visa and safety during that visit was a contact of a contact of a Maersk employee. The Algerian visa was also assisted by Maersk...so was the Sudanese visa for that matter. The story goes on. Maybe I would have found another way but as the story goes Maersk has been a good friend for years. I have spoken at 35 of their offices across three continents and I have fared on board eight of their container vessels. And throughout the past years Steve and I became friends.
A night out with friends at Peshawri!! :)
Steve promised me it would be the best lamb I ever had! It did not disappoint!! ;)
Devorah and Steve looked good. The kids had aged with a couple of years and did not remember me. This life of mine is something else. I have for many years admired Hans Christian Andersen’s legendary ability to speak to all classes and ranks of society. H. C. Andersen came from a poor home in Denmark where he lived more than 150 years ago. He had a profound understanding of language and would be able to speak the common tongue with street children or debate sophisticated topics with nobility and royalty. He was a social chameleon. He would spend some nights among high society and others walking along the gutters of the impoverished. He was a brilliant author and play-writer but is best known for his fairy tales. Now I’m more so a product of a middle class family and while I have occasionally met some royalty I haven’t been offered to spend the night or debate anything in particular. I do however find myself fluctuating between various lifestyles. I have slept on the ground in parks, at a gas station and on a bench in Honduras. However I have also been invited to stay at many five star hotels long outcompeting my homeless nights. As a regional manager and expat you can bet Steve and Devorah home in Mumbai is nice. I was given my own room with my own bathroom and a clean bed which smelled fantastic. The room temperature was perfect and it was quiet at night. All meals were provided for me and Devorah even bought me some dark chocolate after learning that I like it. I would greet security on my way into the building, use the fitness centre on one occasion, okay with the children, dine with the family and catch up on past events with Steve and Devorah. Their driver Nilesh also took care of me and would chauffeur me around a few times.
Reunited!! Steve and Devorah took me and the kids to the country club for a few hours of taking it easy.
My personality has been tested on various occasions and I’m what they call ambivert. Generally people fall into being introverted or extroverted but some people land in the middle of the spectrum and I’m one of them. Extroverts and introverts do not only reveal themselves in how they behave. Their traits also involve where they lose or gain energy. A true extrovert will feel rejuvenated after having spent time with people while a true introvert loses energy in the same environment. And vice versa. I think people think I’m extrovert. And I do like performing and engaging with people. However my personal batteries are flat after speaking to an audience for 90 minutes, taking selfies and answering questions. I recharge when I sleep, go for a run, read a book, isolate myself, watch a movie etc. So I guess they are right. I’m an ambivert and enjoy both sides of the fence. However one side drained me and the other recharges me. I did six speaking engagements while in India and two interview. For the interviews Steve put me in touch with Maersk’s PR agency Cohn&Wolfe Six Degrees. They found an angle and set up an interview with Curly Tales and another with Condenast Traveller Magazine. Both interviews went well apart from the cup of tea I poured in my lap while I was speaking about Iceland.
Hanging with the Maersk team in Mumbai!! I Had a BLAST!! One of my largest crowds if not the largest?
I spoke at Steve’s office in Delhi last week as well as at DSV which is another Danish company. DSV is a transport company and a top client at Maersk. The first time I spoke at DSV was in Kenya. That’s just a coincident and nothing more. I was delighted when DSV reached out to me regarding speaking in India because that means someone kept track on me. Now in Mumbai I was invited to speak at Steve’s office, at DSV (again) and at the American School in Bombay, which is the international school where Seth, Eden and Dale attend. With the younger generations I just make a brief introduction, tell them that I’m an explorer and adventurer and then I let their questions guide the rest of the session. That works well. For adults I talk about history, culture, perception vs. reality, people, adventure, strategy, tactic, planning, execution and problem solving. Overall I break my presentation into the main bodies which the Saga contains: 1) a logistical masterpiece, 2) history’s greatest attempt to unify the Red Cross Red Crescent moment and promoting it, and 3) a positive promotion of every country in the world in order to “bring down walls” and inspire people to see other countries in a different light. I usually finish with a series of questions and answers and finalize with a story. People seem to like it. I’ve done 81 now.
Grateful for a great time with DSV in Delhi!!
I had another brilliant time with DSV in Mumbai!
Let me vent for a second: Denmark is the destination. Not the journey as people popularly say. This project is no more a destination than what studying at a university is in relation to get a job in the future. Some of the journey is nice but most of it is work and all social media including my blog is misleading. If the blog or social media had to reflect my real life experience of a often Kafkaesque world. The amount of work I put into all of this does not at all get rewarded but I hope it will down the line. I work more than 50 hrs on a slow week and above 100 when it gets crazy. I work 365 days a year while the rest of you do around 220. I do not have a base. On average I change my surroundings every 11 days and rarely return. And that has been going on without a break for more than five years. The reality is different than most people’s perception of this project. I have been more or less constantly tired for several years. If anyone ever tries to copy this I will laugh and laugh and laugh.
Okay...I’m done venting....
This entry doesn’t contain much about India. I’ve already done three blogs about India since I arrived. You can find them right here if you want to learn more:
Mumbai's coastline is along the Arabian Sea.
India is such an interesting country. Half the time I’m grinding my teeth and the other half my heart fills with happiness. India has really been a rollercoaster of emotion for me. The culture, history, sights, food and hospitality is outstanding. The noise, bureaucrazy, air pollution, filth and traffic is less amazing. As per information in the other blogs about India you can read about India’s fast growing economy, my visit to India nine years ago, my fiancées visit over New Year and other interesting things you probably did not know ;)
Taking questions (lot's of questions) from the children at the American School of Bombay.
The Saga took about ten months from the initial idea and until I left home in 2013. I call that the planning period although lots of other stuff was going on in that period too. Three friends joined me in various ways regarding planning and I call them the project group. These are friends that all have children, jobs, responsibilities and you name it…so I do the bulk of the work but they are on and off there to support me. One of them is Parth Nilawar from Maharashtra state in India. India has 29 states and is truly a mastodon among countries and I can’t help comparing India as a country to Africa as a continent although Africa is far larger and more diverse. It’s just the way you in minutes can go from a top modern city to a primitive yet beautiful rural area. In trains I have noticed that the window characterizes as an “Indian waste bin” which I take distance from as I did across numerous African countries. I would never through waste on the ground unless the waste is organic. I’m Danish. Danes don’t throw waste on the ground. We carry it for hours until we spot a waste bin and then discard it. I was recently mocked by Indians on a train for not throwing my cup out of the window but I will not throw garbage on India!! I have not been mocked for that since sitting in various buses across African countries. Also the sheer diversity of India is mind boggling. They are so diverse in language, appearance, traditions, music, rituals etc. that it reminds me of how different one African region was to another. Mumbai alone has 55 billionaires living in the city!! 55 billionaires!! Mumbai also has slum areas but the truth is that most people are found in between those two extremes. And so do most Africans mind you ;)
Well, Parth happened to be visiting family in India. He lives in Berlin (Germany) with his beautiful wife and very bright daughter. Their daughter is not yet two years old but can tell a Van Gogh painting from a Monet or a Rembrandt. She knows all sorts of vehicle logos and points to them while stating: Citroën, Mercedes, Audi, Ford and so on… Parth himself is a pretty bright cookie and we go back as far as 2011 when we were both working in Bangladesh. He does graphic design / innovation and leads a team at his office in Berlin. Parth has done nearly all the graphic work you can see in the Saga including the emblem on my chest, the website, the Saga cards I hand out and more. We last saw each other when I was in Berlin so it was nice to get the opportunity to reunite in Mumbai. He asked me to meet him at a mall and together we headed out to his alma mater which is the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai. The university is among the very top across India and their campus in Mumbai is probably the top. It is known as the MIT of India and Parth did his two year masters there. Great catching up again!
Parth and I designed our own bit for the new stickers which people voted for.
A legendary place of great thoughts at the Indian School of Technology according to Parth. We sat there too ;)
I let people across Facebook and Instagram vote for the new stickers design AND BOY were people active!!!
The workload of the Saga has been increasing for years. I do find that the work load fluctuates but generally it’s never less than fifty hours per week and sometimes it goes above a hundred. So I reached out over social media to see if anyone could help me by taking a few administrative choirs. THANK YOU people for your overwhelming response and willingness to help! Simply amazing! I’ve now got two extra helpers which include Raj and Jadyn. Debbie has been helping me with some tasks for more than two years and keeps on keeping on. It’s looking good with Raj and Jadyn so I hope that will help turn the workload into something smaller for me and perpetuate the Saga into a greater success as we move forward. One could argue it’s a pretty big success already (we haven’t left a country behind at any point).
The Gateway of India.
Bandra Station. Mumbai has lots of charming buildings left from the past.
Now I cannot overstate the warmth and help I got from the Felder’s in Mumbai. Such bliss to have people like them in my life. However the curse of the Saga is constantly having to pack up and leave and that I did. I don’t know if it was the Jewish part of Devorah, the fact that she has three children or just generally her good heart. But she did whatever she could trying to send me off with some food ;) Nilish drove me to the train station and made sure I was there on time. I found my seat on the non aircon sleeper which was all I could get after an enormous ticket hunt with Nilish a few days earlier. Something I find to be common among many Indians is their ability to never say “I don’t know”. And within their explanations they can seem magnificently convincing while sending you on the wrong path. As such Nilish and I wasted some time at a tour agency, wasted time in traffic getting to the station the agency sent us to, wasting time at the station learning that the special “foreign tourist desk” was at another station, wasting more time in traffic, wasting time being sent all over CST station (former Victoria Station) and eventually securing some of the last tickets for me before they were sold out. I don’t even want to think about the hours lost in traffic over the past five years. I’m by the way not ignorant to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which many people regrettably lost their lives, friends and families. I am simply of the opinion that the horrific incident has been covered well and that it was eleven years ago. Today’s Mumbai is so much more than what happened in 2008. Fortunately people around the world are remarkably resistant and life goes on…it has too.
LTT station, Mumbai.
So this brings us to the end of this entry because I’m really exhausted and way behind with interviews, research planing, emails, sleep and eating well. The eating well part is just from the past three days since I left Mumbai. The train took off and quickly proved to me an interesting experience of which liking's I had not seen since taking a former soviet train from Minsk to Moscow. There were no doors or closed compartments. It was a very social and very noisy train ride in which we shared our voices, body odor, gas in various ways and apparently also pee. I’ll get to that. It was also a train ride of kindness, handshakes, smiles, selfies, brilliant landscapes and very little sleep. An amazing couple across from me had a gorgeous daughter and her mother looked like Thandie Newton. As the four year old daughter grew bolder she eventually approached me and we had some great conversations in which she spoke Hindi and I spoke Danish. That seemed fair to me. She would play with me, smile at me, share food with me and when she got tired she put her head in my lap. I gave her a gift from Pakistan which was a small wooden box and she got very creative with how the box could be used. Her father would sometimes order me masala chai (spiced tea) even when I said no thank you. He worked as a technician at a fire brigade. The family invited me to come and spend a night at their home and who knows which stories that could have led to? However I’m on a tight schedule having to reach the Bhutanese border on February 1st. And I’ve got stuff to do in Nepal before that.
The daughter of the "Indian Thandie Newton" looking at India whizzing by.
The beauty and sometimes primitive rural agriculture in India also sends thoughts back to some African countries.
On my second night on the train I was able to lie down at 11pm which was better than the first night. I had the lover bunk with two other bunks above me. I had no choice (I would prefer the top bunk on a train). I was dozing off but not quite asleep. The lights were turned off so I guess I wasn’t the only tired one that night. Suddenly I felt something large moving across my lover leg and somehow thought it was a large spider!! Half asleep I reasoned that it was highly unlikely that there would be a large spider on my leg and tried to ignore it for being the beginning of a dream. But eventually I had to react and as I observed my leg I saw that a liquid was coming down fast from the bunk above me!! I quickly got on my feet and knew what it was. The boy laying above me with his father had wet himself in his sleep and gravity had ensured that it found my lover leg and created a puddle on my bed!! Darn you gravity!!! I will get you next time!!! So in the situation I could reassure myself with that my pants were quite water resistant and that pee after all is 95% water. My abrupt getting out of bed got the attention of several people around me and eventually everyone was in on what had happened. Westerners generally hold the highest regard among Indians so the matter was taken quite serious and presumably the mother immediately got to work drying up my bunk and really cleaning it afterwards. However the comical situation was not lost on people who began giggling although fairly controlled. I didn’t laugh but I saw why everyone else did. And how can you be angry while looking at the young boy who was still fast asleep…
Not always smiling...
That was a long train ride!! A bit to social for me. I had some food now and again but not nearly enough as I was a little cautious about the meals on board. Sometimes it would just be random salesmen who jumped on the train to sell samosas and who knows how old they were? I’m certainly not gambling with my stomach on a train. The days of people sitting on the roof belongs to the past in India. Some say you can still see it in the south but I don’t know. I think it is over. Government has cracked down on the hazard. Government has also banned plastic bags in India since 2018. That is a big deal in a country like India as the population represents a significant part of the population. I remember Italy banning them in 2011 and Bangladesh did it long before that. Our planet is not perfect and we are screwing some things up…however I guarantee you that the world we have is far better than what most people perceive. Much is getting better every day although it hardly seems so in the information stream.
A taxi got me from Gorakhpur in India to Sonauli which borders Nepal. I walked across, got a simcard, exchanged money and boarded a bus to take me the 261 km (162 mi) from the border to Kathmandu at 1,400 meters (4,593 ft) above sea level. That was a winding road with lots of traffic and I was welcomed with rain, thunder and lightning. We had an average speed of 23 kph (14.3 mph). There was no room for my legs WHATSOEVER and the bus was as the Indians say: “jam packed!” Ah well…we did make it. Namaste Nepal. It is good to be back again ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - the future looks bright.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga