A Minor Diversion Comes Home

Over a year ago we packed up our lives in Manhattan. We spent the following 10 months traveling through 10 countries. We slept in 32 different places. A few months ago we moved to Atlanta. Throughout all of this, we always felt as if we were home.

Before we left on our journey, we had a somewhat conventional definition of home. To us home was about a physical address, around which revolved certain routines and familiarity. There was the local coffee shop and dry-cleaner, Sunday dinners with friends, spontaneous drop-ins from family and weekend runs along the East River. During our trip, home became fluid. Many times we found ourselves in strange places. Other times, we were surrounded by family or busy making new friends. The more time passed, the more our family realized that home is a feeling, not a place. Home was where we could appreciate each other. Whether in Thailand or Namibia, the kids always found serenity in a goodnight routine. Whether busting out dance moves in India or playing dress up with kitchen towels in Atlanta, the kids had ways to express and be themselves.

Atlanta Towels

Everywhere from Cape Town to Istanbul we managed to generate familiar smells from our kitchens. The more we drifted away from our Manhattan home, the more we realized that home was a feeling that traveled with us, and that we controlled being home regardless of our physical surroundings.

Since we were traveling light, we only allowed ourselves to pick up two things from each country. The first was coins, so that the kids now have a full set of coins from every country (who knows when the Euro may be a collector’s item). The other was Christmas ornaments. This weekend, we hung our ornaments for the first time, and we remembered stories from each of our past homes. The kids recalled going to school every morning in India, hunting for lions in Namibia, and having fresh juices for breakfast in Rio. Ava remembered her fourth birthday in Greece and Kayan wanted to smell wine again in Cape Town. We found ourselves feeling homesick.

Atlanta Ornaments

On a recent business flight back to Atlanta, my plane flew over a very familiar Manhattan. As we landed in Atlanta, the swirl of lights on the highways formed a confusing doodle. With over 100 roads named Peachtree, I’m convinced we’ll never find our way around. In many ways, Atlanta has been as foreign as any country we have called home on our trip. Understanding the Southern drawl and slowing down to match the politeness has been a cultural adjustment.

Atlanta Southern Signs

The house, the two cars and the multiple bathrooms are a long way from our Manhattan comforts. However, because Ava and Kayan still race to the front door to welcome us, because we still snuggle together at bedtime and make a gigantic mess at breakfast, because we still express ourselves in all our silliness, because we are doing what we love to do – evolve an adapt to everything around us, because of all these things we are still home.

Atlanta Silliness

This post was triggered by a question posed to a group of traveling families – How has travel changed your definition of home? Click through the links at the bottom to read about what others families have to say.

Bohemian Travelers – Home is Every Where 

Flashpacker Family – My Heart Doesn’t Lie at Home

Living Outside of the Box – Where Is Home?

Life Changing Year – I Never Thought We’d Be Home For Christmas!

Grow In Grace Life – Home… Where Ever We Are, There We Are

Witness Humanity – Things I will miss about New York (or a Guide to the Awesomeness that is NYC)

Discover Share Inspire – How to Always Be Home For the Holidays… No Matter Where in the World You Are

The Barefoot Nomad – Where’s Home for a Barefoot Nomad? 

Simon Says – Where are you from?

Gypseekers – Are We Home Yet?: Re-entering Society After a Round the World Adventure

Expat Experiment – Traveling Home

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Everyday Signs That We Are Back in America

We have been back in the U.S. for a few days. We’re still getting re-acclimatized but have noticed several things that struck as as relatively strange about America. Most of these are everyday things that we never thought about when we lived here but seem odd after 10 months of being away.

The strangest material thing has been Styrofoam. On our flight back from Rio to the U.S. we were served coffee in Styrofoam cups. We didn’t even notice it until Kayan started eating the Styrofoam. It struck us that we haven’t seen Styrofoam cups, or much Styrofoam at all, since we left. It turns out that many countries have banned it due to its negative health and environmental impact. Only on our flight back did we remember it had been part of our lives.

While we’re on the topic of coffee cups, let’s turn to coffee sizes. In Turkey and Greece, the coffee came in small dainty porcelain. Even in Brazil, the standard caffeine boost comes in the form of a cafezino, short and black, often with a wallop of sugar. Take-out coffee is not a common practice in most countries we visited, where food and drink are meant to be enjoyed at leisure and are excuses to break from commitments, not rush towards them.

Coffee cups aren’t the only large things in America. The size of cars has also been an adjustment. It’s no wonder. Gas prices in the U.S. are the lowest of any country we visited. Turkey has the dubious distinction of having one of the most expensive gas prices in the world, and we felt every Lira on our drive from Cappadocia to Istanbul.

Dealing with dollars also seemed strange. The only time we used dollar bills was in Myanmar, where they had to be in pristine condition in order to be traded for Burmese currency. We haven’t seen a wrinkled dollar in 10 months. We’re also getting back into the habit of using credit cards everywhere, even at the smallest of establishments. We spent so much time counting money at food stalls and in taxis that paying for a slice of pizza and a cab ride in New York a Visa made us feel as if we were skipping on the cost.

We have made a lot of effort trying to adapt to customs around the world. While we were told to keep our clothes on in certain places…

We were never advised on which side of the walkway to stand.

After 10 months of oscillating driving sides, this was a helpful reminder than Americans drive and stand on the right and pass on the left.

In a few weeks we’ll be paying for huge Styrofoam cups of coffee with credit cards, filling up our huge cars with cheap gas and hopefully driving on the appropriate side of the road. Until then, we’re still adjusting back to everyday America.



Filed under New York City

Back in New York City Dazed and Excited

Over the past 10 months our family has been a very tight unit. Because we built bonds with new friends and met old ones and family along the way, we never felt homesick. However, on arriving in New York and being greeted by family we realize that, while home has been a portable concept for the four of us, we still had a lot of home to come back to here. Sitting down to a meal made by my mother, a cake lovingly selected by our aunt and having the kids swept up by a horde of eager arms were feelings that we realized we missed.

On November 1, 2011 we left New York City, determined to hit ten countries in ten months.

Getting Ready to Leave at JFK

We succeeded in our mission and arrived back yesterday, somewhat changed. There are obvious differences. Our bags are dirtier and we no longer need to worry about pacifiers.

A globetrotting friend said that sometimes a journey needs to end in order for the reflections to begin. We hope that this is true. We know that this journey has changed each of us and adjusted the lens from which we see each other and our world. Over the next few weeks we’ll share reflections of our journey and explore the joys and challenges of settling back down again. After all, this trip was a minor diversion and getting back on track is part of the course.


Filed under New York City

Seven Year Journey Celebrated on Cloud Nine

Today is our seven year anniversary. On August 14, 2005, hundreds (we don’t quite know the count…) of people traveled from all corners of the earth to celebrate our commitment to each other in Kerala. We got married in The Santa Cruz Basilica, a Portuguese church built in 1558. It was around that time that Portuguese explorer Pedro Alverez Cabral discovered Brazil (on his way to India via Cape Town, no less). After getting married in a Portuguese church we think it’s apt to be closing off seven years of marriage in a former Portuguese colony.

Given that we are both world wanderers since birth, we have chosen to celebrate each of our anniversaries with a trip. In 2006 we were set to mark one year in the Lake District of England for a friend’s wedding. I had to work so Sandeep went a few days ahead of me to support the groom. While he was gone I started losing sensation in my body. A neurologist told me I may have multiple sclerosis. Looking back I’m not sure if I was more disappointed at the thought of canceling the trip or scared of the prognosis. I called Sandeep in tears and he was on the next flight back in NYC. We ended up spending our first anniversary testing our vow to care for each other in sickness and in health. It wasn’t the Lake District, but somehow, in a sterile NYC clinic, our appreciation and love for each other inexplicably deepened.

In 2007 and 2008 we went to Maine. We drove to what seemed like the end of the earth, rented a cabin, ate lobsters and cut ourselves off from the world. We celebrated our fourth year in Portugal, where our love for the culture was solidified over copious amounts of port and dorado. The travel escapades continued at a castle in Salamanca, Spain in 2010. We’re not ones to think of such romantic destinations and were there to celebrate another friend’s wedding. It seems that a lot of people get married over the summer months because we marked our six year anniversary at another wedding in Toronto.

After the realization that I had a chronic disease, Sandeep and I reevaluated our lives. We decided to have kids sooner than we had originally planned, and our identity as parents has existed nearly as long as our identity as spouses. We wanted to focus on creating new experiences together as a family. The kids, as much as they perplex us, have made our journeys as a couple all the more meaningful.

We’ll be spending our seven year anniversary flying from Brazil back to NYC, ending the last international stop in our around the world journey. A Boeing 767 is not a romantic venue in the conventional sense, but for two souls bound by travel it’s perfect. This ten month journey has confirmed that we value each other and shared experiences more than we care about stuff. The things that accompanied us for 10 months are packed one for last time into two bags and ready to make their way back to their port of origin. We’re getting ready to start the next chapter of our lives. With each other as co-captains, and our two babies as in-flight entertainment, as it’s bound to be an adventure.


Filed under Brazil, New York City

Tchau Ciudad Marvelosa – Goodbye Rio

We’re closing out our two weeks in Rio de Janeiro, a city that was added to our around the world journey on a whim and as the last stop before we return to NYC. We didn’t know much about Rio other than it had exotic beaches, caiparinhas and great music. What we learnt is that Rio is undervalued.

Apparently we aren’t the only ones enamored by Ciudad Marvelosa (Marvelous City). In July 2012, UNESCO added “Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes Between the Mountains and the Sea” on its list of World Heritage Sites. That’s essentially the entire city. We don’t blame UNESCO. It’s hard to pick just one aspect of Rio to call marvelous.

One of the most striking this to us was Rio’s landscape. Standing atop Corcovado, where Christo Redentor looms tall, the city is a dramatic mix of lush hills piercing blue oceans and white sands rubbing metropolitan shores.

Brazil opened up a new culinary frontier for us. We never considered Brazilian food as world-class but we now associate Rio with fresh seafood and sushi, perfectly succulent meats and ripe fruits of every variety. While we knew of Samba and Capoeira, we had to come here to appreciate what a central part music and art play in the lives of the everyday Rio. We witnessed several impromptu Samba parties and Capoeira practices from our apartment on Largos dos Neves in Santa Teresa. The neighborhood, young and old, comes out until the wee hours to hang out, relax and enjoy the warm Brazilian air. This video, taken outside our house last Friday evening at about 10 PM shows a group dancing Jonga, people working on their laptops, kids playing around (ok, those are our kids), as well as pop-up caiparinha and grill stalls.

The atmosphere in Rio is the most relaxed of any large city we have visited thus far. Cariocas (people from Rio) take their meals seriously. Even coffee is enjoyed over a good dose of gossip. Importantly, Cariocas are proud of their heritage and city. It is a rare Carioca that speaks English and they make no apologies for it. Every Carioca is excited to show off their city to the world at the upcoming World Cup and 2016 Olympics. We’re not the first visitors to Rio and between the fame of its UNESCO recognition, the World Cup and the Olympics, the city will see a deluge of tourists over the next few years. Ordinarily, a tourist influx raises concerns that a city will lose its charms. However, with its gorgeous landscape and proud Cariocas we’re pretty sure that Cuidad Marvelosa will hold steadfast to its identity.

Rio – we surprised you by adding you to our around the world journey. Thanks for surprising us back.


Filed under Brazil

Adopted Godparents From Our Around the World Journey

Some people have called us courageous for leaving life behind to travel around the world with two little kids. Others have called us crazy. We’ve been a little bit of both thanks to guardian angels we met along the way. We call them our adopted godparents. They have given us courage when we were lost and caution when we were too intrepid. In every corner of the earth, they helped us dream and they planted us in reality. They became a part of our family, if only for a short span of time. We didn’t know a single one of them before embarking on our trip, but all of them treated us as if we were family members and took it upon themselves to watch over and care for us in their home countries.

We found these godparents in the most random ways. Our godparent in Chiang Mai was a colleague of one of my parent’s friends. In Istanbul, a distant friend of one of Sandeep’s distant friends became our good friend. In Penang, Vouliagmeni and Cape Town, the women that owned the houses in which we stayed took us under their wings. They filled our fridge, clothed the kids and nourished us with hours of conversation. Perhaps it is our distance from home or our availability to nurture new relationships that enabled us to form connections with each of these people in a short amount of time.

Our most recent godparent is an 85 year old Carioca (native of Rio de Janeiro) man. He happens to be the actual godfather of Ava and Kayan’s actual godmother. However, he and the kids’ godmother haven’t met in over 30 years. We figured he would be a very loose connection, but decided to give him a call anyway, if only to connect with a Carioca who spoke English. After several minutes of phone confusion, he pieced together who we were. From then he insisted that he help with anything we needed in Rio. He became a godfather to us in a way that he was never able to be for his own goddaughter. He drove an hour from his home to take us to the Christo Redentor, the imposing 130 foot statue of Christ that stands guard over the entire city. In 2007, the statue was named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Two days after that he drove to pick us up and take us all the way back to his neighborhood so that we could experience the real Rio from the eyes of a local. In his care we had the best Brazilian lunch at an obscure pay-by-the-kilo restaurant. He then insisted on dropping us back home, which meant he spent four hours in his car just to make sure that we were in good hands for lunch.

We’ve told each of our adopted godparents that we would love to show them the same care when they are in The States. Perhaps we will see some of them again, although we assume that many of them we wont. Even if they were to come for a visit, we struggle to imagine ever being able to return their hospitality. We’re so fortunate that each of them became part of our journey and gave us the confidence and support need to create our memories. Without them we wouldn’t have been nearly as courageous nor as crazy.


Filed under Brazil

Spoiled By Fresh Brazilian Food

One of the things that we have enjoyed throughout our trip has been the availability of fresh produce, meats and fish. From India to Cape Town, the highest quality local ingredients went into almost everything we ate. Regardless of preparation, the food has been great because the ingredients have been fresh. We are somewhat nervous to go back to the mega grocers of The States, where bananas come from Central America and rice from Asia. Even though there is a movement towards local produce, the variety is thin and it usually costs more than the mass-produced fare at the mega marts.

We have been particularly spoiled in Brazil, where the abundance of produce, meats and fish is prepared in keeping with the country’s cultural kaleidoscope. African slaves, European settlers (mainly Portuguese, but also German, Italian, Spanish and Polish) as well as Japanese and Arab immigrants have all left their mark on Brazilian cuisine. This means that there is something for everyone in our family. At our neighborhood samba party, we each were able to choose our favorite skewers from a local grill vendor. I had cheese smothered in oregano, Ava chose German sausage and Kayan wanted meat rolled in maniac floor.

Much of Sandeep’s culinary escapades involve searching for good meat. We went to kebab places in Turkey and grill houses in Greece seeking  the best carnivorous fare. All were fabulous. However, there is nothing quite like the variety of meats at a Brazilian chuhascaria. Waiters parade dozens of different cuts from beef, pork, lamb and chicken around the dining hall. All of this is additive to an already enormous buffet spread that consisted of some of the best sushi we have eaten.

The entire family enjoys fresh fish. Even though we have braved the grimiest fish markets in the world, we have never been able to buy a selection of fish from a sprawling market and then have it cooked on the spot. That’s exactly what we did today at the Sao Pedro fish market in Niteroi, across the harbor from Rio. The split level market sells fish downstairs and houses casual restaurants upstairs.

Intrepid foodies can select from fish roe, shellfish, any variety of fresh and salt water fish and seafood and then take it upstairs to be cooked as desired. Less industrious visitors can just head upstairs and order from the menu. We decided to go with grilled shrimp and fried sardines. Our only regret was not coming with more people so that we could try more food.

All of this Brazilian food gets washed down with fresh drinks. Sucos bars, or juice bars, are as ubiquitous to Rio as nail salons are to New York City. One is never more than a five minute walk from a sucos bar, which sells every imaginable combination of fresh fruit and vegetable juice. One of our favorite discoveries is avocado smoothies, which have become part of our breakfast routine. On this particular mid-day sucos stop, we got one mango, one watermelon and one bull’s heart (custard apple).

No discussion about Brazilian drinks would be complete without paying homage to the caiparinha, a cocktail made with cachaca (sugar cane liquor) and fresh limes. Just as sucos bars dot the city, caiparinhas are never far away. Neighborhood stalls sell them in small plastic glasses and cachacarias (cashaca bars) offer hundreds of different varieties.

We have eaten our way through much of our around the world journey, but our time in Brazil has turned into an all out binge fest. Perhaps we know our time is coming to an end and we want to experience as much culinary culture as possible before we get home. We suspect that is only a small part of the story. The food and drinks here are mesmerizing enough to keep us on a constant adventure. Short of growing our own fruit and raising our own cows by a private lake brimming with fish, we don’t think our culinary experiences here will be recreated back home.


Filed under Brazil, Food

Meeting the Artist Who Created The Stairway of Heaven in Rio

The street art around Santa Teresa gave us the idea to have the kids paint on walls. Today the stairs that connect the neighborhood of Lapa to Santa Teresa made us wonder if the kids should start with stairs.

We visited the Escadaria Selaron, a masterpiece of street art that Jorge Selaron calls his tribute to the people of Brazil. The Chilean born artist traveled the world before deciding to settle into a rather dilapidated block of Lapa, adjacent to a concrete staircase of 250 drap steps. Selaron’s passion is painting, but he took on the hobby of beautifying the stairs outside his window in 1990.

The 125 meter staircase is densely packed with mosaic tiles and mirrors. At first, due to budget constraints and lack of public interest, Selaron started with tiles salvaged from Rio construction sites. Now visitors from around the world bring tiles to add to his vision. Things are different today than they were when Selaron was a struggling artist. He now has apprentices. The staircase is an an ever changing landscape and we were lucky to see Selaron at work, happy to take a break from the tile snapping and gluing.

As you may be able to tell, Selaron is rather eccentric. He snapped off two very sharp shards of red tile to give to Ava and Kayan. We didn’t want to be rude and yank them away, but had images of Ava and Kayan’s blood sprinkled over the already vibrant splashes of color.

I asked Selaron if he needed permission to work on the stairs, to which he responded, “Permission? Permission! I no need no permission! I do all of this myself.” The city of Rio is hardly complaining. Thanks to Selaron, what was a decrepit block has now been featured in U2 and Snoop Dog videos, commercials, as well as in the video of Rio’s successful bid to host the 2016 Olympics.

The Escadaria Selaron has tiles from all corners of the earth and we tried to locate as many as we could from places we went on our journey.

Throughout our journey we have met people who are passionate about what they do. Selaron is certainly one such person. Even though he has reached worldwide acclaim, it is his passion that continues to drive him to evolve his masterpiece. If only we should all be so fortunate.


Filed under Brazil

Kayan Gets a Haircut on a Fifth Continent

Last night Kayan took a fist full of rice and smeared it into his hair. When it took longer than a minute to get all the grains out, we knew it was time for a haircut. In addition to aesthetics, there are practicalities of keeping Kayan’s hair short. Rice roll off short hair. Sand doesn’t get lodged in hidden corners. Ava’s hair accessories no longer become a source of competition. To keep Kayan’s hair away from trouble, we’ve been averaging a haircut every six weeks while on our trip.

In tandem with Kayan’s haircuts, we have maintained the International Toddler Haircut Index, a measure of the cost services around the world. Here is a summary of Kayan’s around the world haircut tour.

– North America – Greenwich village salon for $40. We still cringe at the price.
– Asia – Chiang Mai for $2 and Penang for $2.
– Europe – Turkey for $5
– Africa – Cape Town for $9.50

Today, South America became the fifth continent on which Kayan got a haircut. That leaves us with Australia, unless we figure out a way to purchase a haircut on Antarctica. However, when a two year old kid has had haircuts in five different continents, anything is possible.

Here is our neatly trimmed boy belting out yet another inappropriate Katy Perry item. He was obviously feeling rather confident in his new look, but is confusing Copacabana girls with California girls.

Kayan’s haircut at a random salon in Copacabana cost 14 Brazilian Reais ($7), putting Brazil in the middle of the pack in terms of service expense.


Filed under Brazil

Why Our Children Will Paint on Walls – Santa Teresa Street Art

Our quiet neighborhood of Santa Teresa seems a world away from Rio’s bustling 6 million people. The hilly area harbors nineteenth century mansions hidden among its winding and steep cobblestone streets. It retains a very local feel and it is rare to see a tourist or hear English. This has become more so since the area’s main lifeline, a yellow tram called the Bonde, stopped running following a fatal accident in 2011. The Bonde used to carry tourists into and locals about this otherwise secluded enclave of Rio. While the Bonde itself has stopped operation, it is memorialized across the neighborhood in the form of street art.

Street art is very much a part of the Santa Teresa neighborhood Rio. We usually think of graffiti as crude block lettering set against large industrial walls, in sketchy areas such as by train tracks or parking lots. It is rare to see high quality street art blanketing a neighborhood of nineteenth century mansions. As odd as this may seem on the surface, the street art works beautifully in Santa Teresa.

It turns out that the reason street art works in this historic area is that most of it is a collaboration between the artists and the community, rather than acts of vandalism. As of 2009, graffiti/street art is legal in Rio with the property owner’s consent. We don’t know much about graffiti culture but there is a difference between “tagging” or vandalism and street art. Street art, particularly where the artist and property owner collaborate, has come to serve the communities in Rio in many ways. In the 60s and 70s, artists started moving in to neglected mansions and homes, leading to a creative and bohemian culture. Street art became an economic way of improving property facades. Commissioned street art also deters tagging. The result is that the Santa Teresa neighborhood bursts with color on every street.

We always told the kids that paper is for coloring, not walls. However, street art, when done thoughtfully, is changing our minds. These vibrant drawings in Santa Teresa breathe life into quiet streets. In the few days we have been here, we have learnt to tell direction by using street art as markers. Street art also serves as great conversation. If Ava or Kayan were ever good enough to be commissioned to create street art, we wouldn’t stand in their way. However, until then we still say no to tagging walls – at home or on the streets.


Filed under Brazil