The next question that people often ask is "Why?". In addition to being thrilled to get the rare opportunity to experience a new culture, we were invited. Last May, the U.S. State Department, Bureau of Educational Affairs, sent a group of seven South Asian artists (musicians, painters, writers, etc.) to Rochester through the International Visitors Leadership Program. One of the items on their itinerary was to visit the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, housed at the University of Rochester. I presented my social intervention work and, as a result of doing so, I had the opportunity to meet all of the artists, including Theja Meru, an accomplished musician and creative social activist from Nagaland. I'm not exactly sure how the conversation went over the days and weeks that followed--I should look back on my emails to see--but it probably went something like this:
(Theja) "You should come to Nagaland."
(Heather) "I'd love to go to Nagaland!"
(Theja) "I spoke with the Vice Chancellor of Nagaland University and he is interested in inviting you to work with the students. Would you write up the five topics that you would be most interested in speaking about?"
I really wanted to travel to Nagaland in theory. When presented with the actual opportunity, however, I froze. Imagining Nagaland and actually going there were two different things. If I remember correctly, my hesitation had to do with (I'm laughing as I write this) headhunting, Naga warriors, eating grubs, the fact that the region is considered a "Restricted Access Zone" by the Indian government, that it shares a border with Myanmar and we had just watched "Burma VJ", that entry requires a special government permit, that travelers can only enter in groups of four (unless married), and that governments from English speaking countries around the globe basically said, "Don't Go". The Australian Government advised its citizens to "Reconsider Your Travels". The New Zealand Government rated the security level at "Extreme Risk" from a scale of no risk to extreme risk. The Canadian government stated that citizens should "Avoid all travel." The United States Travel Bureau warned travelers about terrorist activity and insurgent violence but clarified that U.S. citizens have not been specifically targeted in the Northeastern states. In addition to the threat of terrorist attacks in India, however, they listed warnings about theft, harassment, scams, earthquakes, diseases, monkey bites, traffic-related deaths, the volatile nature of religious demonstrations, life-threatening stampedes, swimming, and crocodile attacks. Perfect. What you must consider is that we also had the option of going to St. John with friends the same week to snorkel, swim, and sit on the beach with margaritas.
Theja sent us the link to the Hornbill Festival in late May, though, and it looked spectacular.
Months passed before I finally sent the five abstracts that Theja and the Vice Chancellor had requested. I found every way of avoiding the fact that I would have to ultimately make a decision. I have to admit that, when I finally sent the document to Theja, I even hoped it would take him as long to respond. Of course, this was not true. He responded promptly and set the entire trip into motion. August and September part of October passed and then, finally, Brian and I decided that the fear of NOT going and regretting it was worse than the fear of going and regretting it.
Now, with only 16 days to go, I am thrilled with the decision we made. We'll leave ROC on the Tuesday morning, 11/23, and fly through JFK to New Delhi and finally arrive in Kolkata late Wednesday night. Our fourth flight (the one that would get us into Nagaland) was canceled on Thursday, so we'll spend that day in Kolkata and take the next flight out to Dimapur on Friday. This will be the first time that Brian and I have traveled to Southeast Asia.
In addition to giving talks at the University and seeing the 16 tribes come together for food, dancing, art, and music at the regional Hornbill Festival, Brian and Theja will also be starting GLOCAL, the first Youth Film Festival in Nagland, where they will screen films made by teens from Nagaland and Rochester together. Brian will bring films there and then he'll bring films made by Naga youth back to be screened in Rochester. I will be having a solo exhibition, "Parables for a Compassionate Revolution" and I will have works in the first International Photography Festival. We are visiting museums, traveling through the country, meeting with local woodcarvers, and learning as much as possible about the past, present, and future of this place that so few people (including ourselves until just six months ago) know anything about.
We'll blog throughout the trip as time and technology permits.
You'll find (as soon as we get it up and running), Brian's blog here: