travelogue

In Helen’s Troy, a memory of Dhaka

En route Troy. Our tour guide, Orhan, says he was born here. He has so much pride about belonging to a piece of history. Who wouldn’t? Before the tour, he shows us the nine cities of Troy, nine lifetimes. The first one was lost after a fire.

He says, “They say the Trojan war was fought because of the most beautiful woman Helen. I have another theory. Money. Let’s take the tour, and then I will ask you what you think.” I almost feel bad for him. Who will tell him there is and has only ever been one reason behind wars: men. Violence to create imagined victories. Helen—beauty and woman—was always an excuse, not reason. I don’t say it. Maybe by the end of the tour, I will.

He says his father was also a tour guide. Orhan himself grew up watching the replica of the Trojan horse being built. There is so much enthusiasm in his voice: you can almost hear his childhood in it. He says he’s been a guide for 20 years now. 20 years. Same story. Everyday. How does that feel? I ask. He says, “Same story. Everyday. But different people. Different energy.” An Austrian family is with us on the tour. The father is a nice man, he asks me questions. The daughter corrects Orhan for a slight slip he made about Hector and Achilles. She says, “I kinda know this already.” That is the ultimate victory of the white man—coming to someone else’s story to tell them how much better they know it. 

Orhan tries to correct himself and is fumbling. She doesn’t realize why he is struggling to articulate it. I’ve seen it. That space between your pristine childhood and a white woman correcting you, how your tongue shrinks. I can hear it in his voice. 

After the tour ends, he doesn’t ask us the reason behind the war. He takes us to his store, we meet his mother who is so excited to see us. I buy a miniature horse for Ma. She was more excited about this trip than I was. 

On my way back, I switch on my phone, read about the fire in Dhaka. People jumping out of a building to save themselves. They knew they couldn’t count on the city to have their back. I think of the first of the nine Troy cities. Who will tell them? We’re all here. Still. Doing the same things. We just tell the story differently.

San Francisco in April: a lovestruck Juliet

Here’s a glimpse of the window I’ve been falling asleep next to for the past three weeks. I’m all about privacy but something about this makes me feel very attached - to the city, the streets, and the beautiful view I have from my room.  This city is as beautiful as it is ugly. The street paintings and tall buildings are breathtaking, and I make sure to stop and take it in everytime I’m awestruck by its art. It feels like magic. And that’s the thing about magic, right? One moment it’s all sparks, and the next it’s all thin air. Magic, it disappears. So I take it in as much as I can.  The ugly is in the city’s homeless population. It’s huge. And most have some sort of mental disability, which doesn’t help their case. The difference between homelessness here and back home is that the homeless here are so lonely. And isolated. It’s in a stark contrast to the aesthetic beauty of the city, so unified in its art, under its breathtakingly blue sky.  And that’s the other thing I’m in love with - the sky here. No matter what weather or what time of the day it is, the sky here is beautiful. So wide, so stubbornly blue, stretching its arms over our head like she’s…God.  I’ve been walking a lot. This is precisely one of the things I’d been looking forward to the most about coming here. And I’m enjoying every bit of it. I like it especially in the evenings when musicians play their chords and the tunes travel to the peak of the streets and then all the way down. Something about being part of such beautiful spirit feels very meaningful. Like my life is a piano and these strangers are playing their chords, holding the universe together, as we all dance our dances. Some tripping, some falling, some just…in motion, without a destination.  The street-side musicians remind me of Edinburgh; the waves of the hilly streets make me remember Stuttgart; the trip to Angel island made me think of Hai Van Pass in Vietnam. I guess each city has its own siblings hiding across the oceans - and us humans, we foolishly bask in our heroic pride thinking we’ve been able to separate them by borders.  It’s close to midnight here and I’m sipping on my last drink before I hit the bed. I’ve been sleeping quite early these days (as early as 9:30). Something about this solitude gives me peace enough to sleep. Sleep enough. There are constant honks or fire trucks or the wind or homeless people screaming outside and yet, something about this chaos makes me feel like I belong. Here. Not to the city per se, but this chaos.

Here’s a glimpse of the window I’ve been falling asleep next to for the past three weeks. I’m all about privacy but something about this makes me feel very attached - to the city, the streets, and the beautiful view I have from my room.

This city is as beautiful as it is ugly. The street paintings and tall buildings are breathtaking, and I make sure to stop and take it in everytime I’m awestruck by its art. It feels like magic. And that’s the thing about magic, right? One moment it’s all sparks, and the next it’s all thin air. Magic, it disappears. So I take it in as much as I can.

The ugly is in the city’s homeless population. It’s huge. And most have some sort of mental disability, which doesn’t help their case. The difference between homelessness here and back home is that the homeless here are so lonely. And isolated. It’s in a stark contrast to the aesthetic beauty of the city, so unified in its art, under its breathtakingly blue sky.

And that’s the other thing I’m in love with - the sky here. No matter what weather or what time of the day it is, the sky here is beautiful. So wide, so stubbornly blue, stretching its arms over our head like she’s…God.

I’ve been walking a lot. This is precisely one of the things I’d been looking forward to the most about coming here. And I’m enjoying every bit of it. I like it especially in the evenings when musicians play their chords and the tunes travel to the peak of the streets and then all the way down. Something about being part of such beautiful spirit feels very meaningful. Like my life is a piano and these strangers are playing their chords, holding the universe together, as we all dance our dances. Some tripping, some falling, some just…in motion, without a destination.

The street-side musicians remind me of Edinburgh; the waves of the hilly streets make me remember Stuttgart; the trip to Angel island made me think of Hai Van Pass in Vietnam. I guess each city has its own siblings hiding across the oceans - and us humans, we foolishly bask in our heroic pride thinking we’ve been able to separate them by borders.

It’s close to midnight here and I’m sipping on my last drink before I hit the bed. I’ve been sleeping quite early these days (as early as 9:30). Something about this solitude gives me peace enough to sleep. Sleep enough. There are constant honks or fire trucks or the wind or homeless people screaming outside and yet, something about this chaos makes me feel like I belong. Here. Not to the city per se, but this chaos.