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Blaine Harrington’s Photo Exhibit

My friend, Blaine Harrington, is one of the most accomplished travel photographers in the world. He will be the featured photographer in an exhibit called “Unifying the World through Color” at the Denver Photo Art Gallery (for those of you in Denver it is John Fielder’s gallery at 833 Santa Fe Drive) starting on Friday, January 7 and running through Wednesday, March 2. This is just one small sample of his beautiful work. He will display photographs from his travels through Burma, Bhutan, Fiji, India, Namibia, South Africa, Thailand and the United States. Here is a photograph from Rajasthan in India with an explanation of how he got the shot.

Blaine Harrington's Rajasthan Woman

Blaine Harrington: One of my favorite things to do while traveling around the world is to watch people moving in their environment, going about their daily routine. Even better is watching women walking in India, wearing saris that are every color of the rainbow. I loved the motif of the wall in this scene and so waited for a woman in the right color sari to walk through. The bright red of this woman’s sari complemented perfectly the colors the floral background. As she walked the woman held a huge broom in front of her face to shield herself from the sun. The broom added just the right amount of mystery and made the photo less about her face or more about the shapes and colors of the scene.

Every year he invites me and many others to help him pick his portfolio for the Society of American Travel Writers competition. The pictures are stunning. If you love to travel, take photographs or just want to see artistry with light and color I highly recommend this exhibit. Blaine is a huge inspiration as I work on my photography. He has many more images from all over the world on his website. To see more of Blaine Harrington’s travel photography visit http://blaineharrington.com.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

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The Joy of Giving

What a beautiful message during this Christmas season! Narayanan Krishnan is a bright light in the impoverished streets of Bangalore, India. His spirit of giving can inspire all of us. He is one of CNN’s Heroes.  When I was in India I often saw desperately poor people squatting down and begging for food. Giving food was a way people would get good karma in their next life but I’m certain they received many more blessings in this one, just from the act of giving.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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BBC: The Joy of Stats

What a clever way to make complicated and essential statistics user friendly. The BBC hit it out of the park with this program. For anyone interested in global poverty and the inequities between the haves and the have nots, Hans Rosling’s demonstration is must see TV.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Photography: Stepping Up My Game

Just bought a Nikon D7000 camera and Nikkor 18-200 mm 1:3.5-5.6 GII lens. Have set a goal to teach myself to shoot and edit video in the year ahead. My television colleagues are trying to talk me into Final Cut Pro. Also looking into continuing education at the Santa Fe Photography Workshops. Need to enhance the skill set. Time to step up as a photographer and journalist. Nervous and excited. I posted my current portfolio on Flickr. Onward and Upward!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vickycollins/sets/72157625467469718/

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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A Westerner Ponders Arranged Marriage

One of the most interesting things I read in the newspaper while in Delhi was the matrimonials in the Sunday Times of India.  The section consisted of page after page of personal classifieds by families unapologetically seeking the perfect made to order husband or wife for children whose time has come to make a love connection. Some of the ads were very specific.  They spelled out criteria of caste, looks, religion, region and education.  Some ads were placed by families that spent a fortune sending children to the finest colleges and universities in India and abroad.  On the market were Drs., MBAs, and Ph.Ds who studied in prestigious schools in the U.S.A. and U.K. and now were ready for a mate.  Some families who were shopping for love were less particular.  Caste no bar meant that a boy or girl would marry outside of the caste.  In several ads families were requesting “homely” girls.  “Why would anyone want a homely girl?” I asked.  “In America a homely girl is plain and unattractive.”  “No,” my friends informed me.  “A homely girl is one who wants to stay at home.  Not a career woman.”  Do people really meet their soul mates through these ads or is it just families marrying other families, putting medieval rituals ahead of the happiness of their children?  “It is a tradition,” a young man I met in Jodphur told me.  “Those are for people who are desperate,” one of my colleagues said.

Finding a mate in India is definitely a family affair and most marriages are still arranged.  It is easy to impose our western values on India and decry this practice, but India is a country where family comes first and that means who children spend their lives with seems to be everybody’s business.  So in a country with 1.2 billion people it might just be more practical to launch a marketing campaign, especially when you consider the drama involved when young people try to find Mr. or Mrs. Right or Singh or Patel themselves.  Names are not included here to protect the innocent.  Some of the people I spoke with are hiding things from their parents (and as I’ve found out people actually do find and read blogs.)

A young army captain I met on a train told me how he found his wife escorting a friend’s sister home on a bus from the south of India.  They fell in love and wanted to wed but her parents refused to have her marry a man in the military.  Mind you this was a charming, intelligent, handsome man who wrote poetry, for goodness sakes.  He decided to send her father letters every day to prove he was worthy.  Dad finally brought the case before the entire extended family (and it was a very large one) and the council of in-laws gave their consent.

Another couple I know went through alot of drama with parents as they tried to marry.  He pursued her for many months and could not get her off his mind.  She took a great deal of convincing and played very hard to get.  At one point he told his parents it was over.  When she popped up again in his life his parents refused to even consider her.  They eventually married but I am told there was tension at the wedding and there still is a cloud over their union today, mostly because they broke tradition by moving into her families house after the marriage rather than moving into his families house.  Parents have a say in this too, it seems.

As we walked through the old city of Jaisalmer, a man I met told me about the love of his life who got away.  She was a woman from California who was there for three years doing social work.  They lived together and he wanted to marry her.  His parents refused and when he honored their wishes, she left.  That was six years ago and he has lost track of her now, but still longs for the relationship.  He is unhappy in his arranged marriage.  He says his wife is very selfish and treats his children badly.  They are now separated.  He asked me “Do you think I made a mistake, giving her up for my family, or should I have given up my family for her?”  I told him I thought he would have had regrets either way.

My Muslim rickshaw driver in Jaipur told me that he was dating a Hindu woman for a couple of years.  They were having a great time and his family didn’t mind at all.  But her family did so mom and dad forced them to break it off.  He says he doesn’t care what faith someone is.  All people are the same and as long as they treat each other well and make each other happy nothing else should matter, but obviously her parents did not agree.

A colleague of mine has been dating a young man for six years and intends to marry him but her parents don’t even know him because they will not approve.  When a family friend told her parents he noticed her with this boy at a bus stop a few years back they tightened the screws.  Another colleague’s parents seldom let her out of the house alone after about 8:30 p.m. in the evening making it nearly impossible for this 19 year old to have a relationship.

Western women would certainly never put up with all this meddling from parents, but the good news is even as fundamental traditions have stayed the same, the practice has evolved and women say arranged marriage can work.  A young mother and IT professional I met on the train back from Jaipur to Delhi was telling me her marriage was arranged.  Her parents placed an advertisement in the matrimonial section of the Times of India and that’s how she met her husband.  But instead of being passive in the process she was highly involved and could have walked away from the arrangement at any time.  Her husband could have walked away too.  They didn’t, and after a brief courtship, she is now happily married and living with her husband and first born child in the United States.  Arranged marriages are still the way most people hook up in India (even the Prince, grandson of the Maharajah of Jodphur, will have an arranged marriage when he weds.) Matrimonial websites like http://bharatmatrimony.com and http://shaadi.com are booming, but in this day and age, more young people are asserting themselves in their love life, especially those who are educated and don’t need to settle for less.

If someone hasn’t already thought of this, I think a great idea for a Bollywood musical would be an Indian adaptation of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  If you recall Reb Tevye had three daughters and as each one chose a husband they made choices that made their father progressively more uncomfortable.  Each daughter followed her heart and Tevye had to adapt.  I think that really sums up what’s going on in India today as many young people work around their parents or at the very least, alongside them to find partners.  Of course, arranged marriages can turn out badly.  If the wrong partners are found people can be miserable or abused.  That happens when we self select our partners too.  Still, choosing a spouse continues to be a family affair in India and for what it’s worth maybe having mom and dad involved can be helpful.  Maybe working backwards, marriage then love, can be possible.  Just look at the statistics.  Although divorce is starting to be a bit more prevalent among the upper classes of India, on the list of countries with the highest rates of failed marriages (America is #1) India isn’t even on the radar.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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The Camel and the Cell Phone

Andres from Switzerland, his girlfriend, Paola from Brazil and I were riding on camels in the Thar Desert outside of the western Indian town of Jaisalmer. We were in a spot as remote as I’ve ever been, 21 hours by train from Delhi, just 60 kilometers from the border with Pakistan. It’s a flat, arid locale, punctuated by sand dunes and populated by only villagers, camel wallas and shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats. To me it was a place that time forgot, more like the Middle East than India. It probably hasn’t changed much at all in a thousand years. I felt like a silk or spice trader heading west into the desert. I was deep into my reverie on a camel named Michael when suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the Nokia ringtone. Dadadadadadadadadadadadada. It seemed our guide, Ali, was a very popular man. For the entire camel safari his cell phone rang. It rang on the sand dunes, it rang under the tree where we stopped to have our vegetables and chapati lunch, it rang at sundown while we were drinking our beer. It rang after we went to bed under the stars and it was the first sound I heard at sunrise. The Nokia ringtone, piercing the tranquility of the desert.

 

Ali and his cell phone

 

The Lonely Planet guide book said the power generating wind turbines that have sprouted around Jaisalmer were altering the historic and mystical qualities of the area, that they made it harder to transport yourself to another time and place. But I barely noticed them. I found it was Ali’s cell phone that kept me coming back to now. I had a similar experience while working at the Olympics in Beijing. Dean, Jim and I took a day trip to hike the Great Wall of China. We climbed in Hebei Province, in Inner Mongolia, about two and a half hours outside of Beijing. We took a 10 kilometer trek from Jinshanling to Sumatai. Up and down stairsteps in a place far out of the way. Yet there was cell service. No place this remote would be served by AT&T in the U.S.A. My colleague, Jim, who probably shouldn’t have been on the adventure because he was so busy with his Olympic assignment as the head technical supervisor of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, spent the entire trip talking on his cell phone. I have no idea how he managed to catch his breath as he scrambled up and down the mountainside. It was truly the most difficult physical challenge of my life, yet he yakked the whole way on his mobile.

We have gotten to a place where we are so interconnected that you can no longer escape, even in some of the most remote spots on earth. While in India I have stayed in touch with friends by Skype, email and Facebook. I tuned in to an computer chat on http://msnbc.msn.com that my friend, Kerry Sanders, a correspondent for NBC News, was holding as he covered the rescue of the miners from Chile. There was really no update from family, friends and colleagues that was inaccessible to me from a half a world away. And even though I am grateful for all the technology and connectedness at my fingertips, and understand the need of the camel walla to stay in touch with his people when he travels through the desert too, I still wish the only sounds that day were my thoughts, the wind and the camels, and not Ali’s incessant Nokia ringtone.

For more on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Varanasi: Karma and Contradiction

My friend, Duncan, and I had wrapped up dinner at a restaurant in Varanasi, India and more than half the food was uneaten. We asked for a carry out bag, knowing in the back of our mind that we would probably never eat the food. While walking down towards the Ganges, we started to pass beggars, beaten down to the ground by years of poverty, and one by one we handed them little foil packages of leftover food. A man saw me place a bag in the hands of a blind man squatting on the street. “Good Karma,” he said. “Did you know this man is 100 years old?” At the waterfront we encountered another beggar. I handed him another small bag of food. A smile lit up his face. When I looked back at him he was fondling the gift of food as though it was Diwali. The reaction filled me much more than the dinner. We did not walk by and ignore him.

Varanasi, India is the epicenter of karma, the do unto others, reap what you sow force that leads people to a better life, or at least, presumably, a better afterlife. When we arrived in Varanasi, the holy Hindu city where people come to die, our guide, Deep, told us that people arrive in Varanasi with their hands closed around their worldly possessions and leave with their hands open. The only thing they take on their journey to the afterlife is their karma. The rituals of life and death are out in the open here. People come at sunrise to the River Ganges to wash away their sins in her holy waters, and they come again when their time is over, to be cremated on her banks. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week fires burn. Shrouded bodies are dipped in the Ganges and then the son or male relative of the deceased lights the fire that takes a loved one on their final way.

The idea of karma is omnipresent in this central Indian city of five million. But karma only gets you so far in the here and now and to have a worthwhile existence people need money. With that in mind those in the old city of Varanasi have perfected the art of the hustle. It starts when you are just a child. Pretty little girls between 8 and 12 implore you to buy their marigold flowered candles to put in the River Ganges, so your prayers will be carried down the river. They are relentless salesgirls with their pitch honed and refined from mothers and older sisters. Young male guides around 15 years old follow you through the teeming alleyways offering to take you to temples, reminding you not to trust anyone else but them.  They are charming and sincere. They don’t want money, they want friendship. All this as you empty your pockets.

Warsa and her flowers

It is a little easy to become uncertain or even cynical when the man at the burning ghat asks you to make a donation to the hospice, and a woman he says is a nurse comes out of the shadows to bless you and take your money. But as a traveler to Varanasi I wanted to believe in the purity of intention and the notion that the people here practice what they preach. I want to believe that little Warsa and Shivani, young Panka and Rahul, and of course Deep, will be smiled on by the gods Shiva and Ganesha and that they will find a righteous balance in their lives, and if they don’t, that the River Ganges will wash their sins away. And from this place I want to carry home with me a reminder to live my life in a more generous way. Even the farewell at the airport from Deep, evoked karma. We do not say goodbye in Varanasi. We say “welcome again.”

For more on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Dog Days at the Commonwealth Games

Stray dogs are one of my favorite sights in Delhi.  They are all mutts and they loaf around the city.  I have even seen them lying in the roadways oblivious to traffic whizzing by.  Delhi has cleared many of them away from the games and venues.  Today they were rounding them up at the field hockey venue. I hear they are in shelters and will be released when everyone goes home.  I have been assured that Indians will not harm them.  The dogs are sweet souls and today one of them stole the show at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium where the track and field events are being held.  Check this runner out!

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Waste Not, Want Not

The other night my colleagues and I ordered pizza to be delivered to our workplace at the International Broadcast Centre during our shift at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. There have been tons of issues with the catering here so we had food brought in. At the end of the evening there were still four untouched boxes of pizza that were cold and had been sitting around. We threw them out. On our way back to our hotels we walked past all the security personnel who would be on alert all night and regretted our decision to waste the food. With that in mind I was very gratified today to see what my colleague, Anu, did at a local shopping area. We were eating street food and she ordered something she could not finish. Instead of throwing it away, like we would do in the states, she handed her unfinished dish of lentils to a young boy who gobbled it up. In a country with so much poverty I found it inspiring to pass the food to a stranger rather than throw it in the bin. It was much more dignified for the lad to accept the kindness of Anu than to be hungry or beg or fish the food out of the trash. Anu said if she puts something on her plate she must finish it or she feels bad. If she can’t finish then she shares. It was a win-win for both Anu and the boy and food for thought for this visitor.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Delhi’s Commonwealth Games Face

When I came to Delhi in 2008 I remember the palpable culture shock.  It was overwhelming even for a rather intrepid traveler.  I had been in Beijing and Uganda earlier in the year so I thought I would be prepared for anything, but nothing I had ever experienced set me up for India.  On the roadway from the airport cows roamed the street.  The traffic was indescribable and everyone honked their horns. There were thousands of stray dogs loafing in the sun, then at night they would roam in hungry packs and turn aggressive.  Squatters camped along the roadways and children would race up to your car when you were stopped at intersections to beg or perform little tricks in hopes of a handout.  It took me about 24 hours to adjust and I still am ashamed of my ugly American moment when I couldn’t get the hot water to work.

Two years later, I see a different city.  For all the international ridicule Delhi suffered as it ramped up to the Commonwealth Games, the Indian capitol definitely has on its game face now.  The cows and dogs have been relocated for the time being to shelters.  There are few squatters and I haven’t seen one beggar yet.  Traffic is moving well and things are clean and tidy.  It remains to be seen what it will be like in three months when the international spotlight turns away (I still wonder how Beijing transformed once the Olympics were over.)  Of course Delhi will be left with the emotional and financial hangover these huge international sporting events leave behind, but for the moment, it is a new day in Delhi.  The only thing that hasn’t changed is the warmth of the people.  That is the same as it was in 2008.  Warm smiles and namastes.  Great hospitality to cure the worst case of culture shock.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.