Every stitch on her costume, every threaded bead she decorates herself with, every wrinkle on her face plays a part in telling her story, a life so different to ours, a world so alien to 21st century culture, an existence rising out of old traditions, she belongs to a tribe that allows strangers no access. All I could capture was the sense of her presence and the few photographs that I always hope could link to the state of standing in front of these amazing people.
Every once in a while I meet an incredible human, and they remind me that aging is a natural process that only claims our physical body. The spirit is always effervescent if we allow it to be, the soul is only more experienced and our mind can only grow richer if we feed it in the right way. This lady I met this morning, early at sunrise was giggling while doing her morning exercise and very proudly telling my friends and I that she is 85 years old and still feels young and full of energy. She was infectious in her enthusiasm and bright spirit, light as a feather and innocent as a small child. She renewed my hope in life and its beauty and easily added herself to my list of unforgettable people.
The mountains, the rivers, the oceans, the planet, have been here for millions of years. We, we are just passing through.
A new month, a new place, part of the Guangxi autonomous region of far Southern China, is the beautiful and enchanting Guilin. When I travel in the heart of China or any other country, I find myself impressed mostly with the local people, the essence carriers of the land. Guilin, Yangshuo, Longji and the small villages along the Li River are inhabited by some beautiful people with a very rich culture just waiting to be explored and appreciated. I travelled to Guilin back in 2009 with a great friend from New York and we spent all our days and nights between its beautiful people and the hills. This old lady was washing clothes by the side of the river and she granted me several portraits that I treasure dearly. Her name she told me through a toothless smile several times but I just could not get it, and it does not really matter. She is so much more than a name.
Some experiences remain etched in our minds not because of their importance, but sometimes because of their simplicity. I was riding the roosevelt island tram one evening (you know this strange red cable car that crosses over at 60th street to the island), and next to me sat a beautiful old lady in her 70’s. She said hello and then she said “pearl necklaces”. On seeing my puzzled face she went on to say: “the bridges, they are so beautiful at night, don’t they look like pearl necklaces?”. Since that evening, I can only think of pearl necklaces when I see a bridge lit up at night as the Queensborough bridge was on that evening. That lady had the gift of seeing beauty and art in everything and she left me so inspired.
In Yunnan province in China, there are at least 26 ethnic minorities living in small villages up and down the lush green mountains. We drove through these villages and met some of these amazing people who were said to have come from the mountains of Tibet before settling in Yunnan.
The Hani believe that all things on earth have souls They offer sacrifices to mountains, rivers, dragons and heaven, and, as often as every week, to their ancestors. Animals have spirits that are honored in hunting rites.
It was such a gift to walk among them, witness their unique lifestyle and see faces that are still connected to one of the old natural religions of the earth. Their faces told their stories…
~Curiosity thrives behind half open windows~
At an elevation of almost 3900m above sea level and close to the Pakistani border, the Kyrgyz nomadic people live in round tents called ‘yurts’ and enjoy an unbelievably clear blue sky during the dry season. They herd camels and yaks and offer the salty yak milk tea to visitors who suffer from elevation headaches. I found them to be very friendly, hospitable but extremely strong people. The sense of togetherness of their tribes allowed no intrusion from outside and they moved and thought together as a single unit with one mind. It was very fascinating to watch their behavior.
The lady photographed embroidered these colorful throws, pillows and blankets and sold them to the travelers who passed by the area and stopped at the yurts. She sat that day outside in the blazing sun surrounded by the lake, the fluffy clouds that hovered over snow-capped mountains and the great reflective waters of the karakol lake that doubled that magnificent beauty.
I was riding a boat on the waters of the Tonle Sap around sunset. The sun was shining a very bright gold and there was light breeze that gently toyed with the surface of the water. It felt as though I was transported to a strange future, a post natural disaster of some sorts, where all around me were stilts, make shift floating homes and boats, humans in rags smiling wistfully and surviving with the bare minimum. Then I felt a face gazing at me from a boat passing nearby, and there was this lady with her beautiful kind face and her warm smile. She allowed me to keep her radiance and to share it with you.
When ‘joy’ is able to attend you, life takes on a brilliant glow…
Imagine these simple moments of connection, when meeting some stranger’s eyes can cause you and them both to overflow with joy, with a contentment and a knowing that all is well and a great unexplainable happiness is present at the thought of meeting another human.
Joy, so difficult to come by in our day to day lives today, but so abundant in those places where people choose to live a simple and uncluttered life.
Even after 15 years, I can remember this face that glowed and radiated while the lady was trying patiently to tame her daughter’s unruly hair in a desert settlement in Nubia.