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© john david becker 2010

a mug for my coffee.  it’s an object.  sits on my desk day after day.  it serves a purpose.

this particular inanimate object somehow came alive the other day.  it’s purpose was different.  it radiated an energy that i had somehow forsaken.  it has less with what this mug said to me at that moment —  it was actually what this mug said to everyone else that arrested my attention.

i started compiling a list of the life affirming gifts i received from sailing on Semester at Sea in 2003 and again in 2008.

1.  my wife.  i met her early on in my first voyage.  i remember everything about that moment we first spoke.  it transpired into long talks off the coast of Singapore while refueling, overnight trains up to mountain villages in India, and long long walks on island beaches off the coast of Brazil.  eventually we married and it has been an incredible ride the entire way through.  half the people at the wedding sailed around the world with us that first time.  within a year of our marriage we were on the new ship to sail around again.

2.  i sailed around the world.  point to point.  twice.  over 28,000 miles each time.

3.  i survived 30+ foot seas off the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  i’ve also seen the calmest seas imaginable and some of the most awe inspiring sunsets.  there’s always a give and take.

4.  i sailed through the panama canal.  sounds silly, but it was my gateway to a full circumnavigation by ship.  the first time there was a 3,000 mile gap closed by airplane.

5.  i was drinking sumatra coffee one morning and my friend Brian told me to look off the port side.  what was there?  the island of sumatra.

6.  i’ve seen snapshots of the world twice and can tell you what kind of difference five years make in third world countries (and some 2nd & 1st world too).

7.  i can differentiate stereotypes from archetypes in societies dotted around the globe.

8.  i’ve been swindled, cheated and blindsided but never hurt, maimed or killed (obviously).  i have more fears and reservations about American Suburbia than international travel destinations.

9.  the work i’ve done, whether in the realm of photography or volunteer work, while with Semester at Sea has been the most rewarding i’ve ever done.  seeing my work used for promoting such an amazing program makes me proud.

10.  i am a different person thanks to my work with Semester at Sea.  the people i’ve met, the experiences i’ve shared, the things i’ve seen have all culminated into the person i’ve become and the values i hold dear.

the intention is not to brag about accomplishments, but to remind myself of the incredible experiences i’ve been fortunate enough to share with dear friends and most importantly my wife.

we move through our days and we live in the moment.  to be reminded of your journey can make the destination that much sweeter.  if someone see’s that mug and asks me about it, i can share some of the most important stories of my life.   thanks mug!

F’03, S’08 and E81

Varanasi deserves a visit from everyone.  you want to put your life in perspective?  what happens in Varanasi is life in it’s various forms being played out for you.  what would normally be personal and intimate becomes public.  it’s the full cycle of life and death performed by thousands of faces each day.

Ganges River at Dawn. Varanasi, India 2009

The sun has not yet risen but thousands of visitors are ready to greet her arrival.

Varanasi, India

i would love to know the story about this structure.  what seems like part of a temple is now half sunk in the river bed.

Prayers to the rising sun. Varanasi, India

everyone has their own way, but showing deep appreciation for that which gives us life is essential to the compassionate heart.

Morning bathing in the Ganges River. Varanasi, India 2009

just one touch will absolve you of a lifetime of sins.

morning worship of the sun. Varanasi, India

this morning ritual is part of a larger, more grandiose display held every night in front of this ghat.  it is a huge tourist draw (both domestic and foreign) as well as a huge money maker for the ghat.  Other ghats have seen it’s success and try to emulate it.  Oddly enough most of the performers are from Nepal (cheaper labor).  This ritual in the morning has no audience and therefore feels like it retains authenticity…

fishing gear. Varanasi, India

these fishing baskets were scattered along the ghats but i didn’t see them put to use.  the ganges is so polluted it can hardly sustain life.

bathing in the ganges from the opposite bank of the river. Varanasi, India

large groups of people gather on the opposite banks of the river to bath.  they set up little camps where they can worship or change or even sell food and drink to other visitors.

guided prayer. Varanasi, India

once this man finishes his prayer, a tilaka will be placed on his forehead symbolizing the third eye or minds eye.

sadhu earlier morning prayer. Varanasi, India

one of the few things i did not capture extensively was the burning ghat.  i sat there for an hour pondering it.  photography was frowned upon at the burning ghats but when the locals weren’t constantly reminding me of that, the foremen in charge of the daily cremations would promise me up-close access for a bribe.  I thought it best just to move on.

Varanasi is compelling and is saved from being labeled a tourist trap thanks to the legitimacy of it’s religious value and stature.  I’m glad we went and I’m glad we’ll never need to return.