March 24, 2007

scroll to the bottom of this page to begin the adventure when i began

(i arrive in Bangkok after the first few entries)

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March 21, 2007

Power to the Peaceful -- Portland Style!

Faces of Peace: The Soul of Portland
Photographs from the new peace movement.

Dear friends of past and present,
I wanted to share some of my new photographs with you. These are some of my favorites from an incredible peace march that happened this last Sunday here in Portland, Oregon. I had a wonderful time making them and I felt really inspired by the whole event. An estimated 13,000 people showed up to add their voices and their presence. I felt particularly hopeful because of all of the young people that were there. For many, it was the first time they had participated in a rally for peace.

I wanted to create a document about this time that we live in. As the future unfolds and the years roll on, I hope that these images will become even more meaningful in that they will have recorded something important and will have provided some insight as to what things were like in this time of our lives. Made on Sunday, March 18th 2007.

The slide show is about ten minutes long. There's audio so if you want it, turn it on. It may take a minute or two to load depending on how fast your connection is. Please be patient and you will be glad for it.

Please pass this on to anyone in your communities who might also enjoy it.

Stay tuned-in to over the next month. There will be some important revisions and some beautiful additions from my travels over the past year. I spent time in Bangladesh, Nepal, India, and Cambodia. You won't want to miss that!

Raku Loren

Photographer | Designer | Teacher
503.290-6655 (cell)

8:00? 8:25? 8:40? Find a flick in no time
with theYahoo! Search movie showtime shortcut.

June 01, 2006

May 19, 2006

Portraits of a River

[this introduction is for a selection of photographs that I am preparing for exhibit]
Portraits of a River
From the Mountains to the Sea: Travels Along a Sacred River in Northern India

A river is much more than a thing. It is a system, a network, a web of interconnected life-ways. In a sense, a river is a living entity. It often provides both physical and spiritual sustenance to those who interact with it. The Ganga (Ghan-Ga), or Ganges as it is more popularly known as in the west, is just such a river. If one combines both the numbers of peoples that benefit from the river with its religious and spiritual significance, it could be argued that it may be the most important river in the world.

Most Hindus refer to the river by the endearing and more appropriate name, Ganga-Ma, “Mother Ganges” out of respect for this river entity. This waterway feeds hundreds of millions of peoples, from the high Himalayan mountains to the Bay of Bengal off of Bangladesh and it serves as one of the most important temples for the more than 800 million Hindus of South Asia.

The Ganges, like so many other major river systems is much more than one line, one body of water. Its tributaries and offshoots are the appendages that allow hundreds of villages to provide for themselves and to cultivate their own futures. But perhaps more than other waterways, Ganga-Ma is a sacred river, revered for thousands of years for its cleansing, healing, and rejuvanative properties.

Each time I have visited or traveled along this river, I have felt compelled to watch and perhaps learn something about the capacity for a human to connect with a supposedly non-living entity. Watching, I feel inspired by the relationship that people have cultivated with the river. I am struck by the devotion and respect that a person can have for this “thing.”

A river doesn’t end at its banks. Its influence permeates throughout the peoples and communities that sustain themselves along its shores. Thus, to photograph a river, sometimes one must look away from the water. I hope that these images speak with reverence for the river and also say something about the places that have built relationships with it.

The headwaters of the Ganges begin near a place called Gaumukh in the Indian Himalaya. In this place, the river emerges from beneath a massive dirty blue glacier. Large boulders of ice tumble along in the new river currents and pilgrims, some of whom have walked for hundreds of miles (some barefoot) to get here, submerge themselves in the ice water as a sign of their devotion to the river and the Hindu gods that are associated with it.

The masses of India’s devotees make their pilgrimages to places along the river in the northern plains after it has come from the less accessible mountainous regions. Although, most Hindus hope that at least once in their lifetimes, they will be able to visit Gaumukh, the source of the great Ganges river.

It is believed that a dip in the Ganges washes away one’s past misdeeds, cleaning the slate, thus providing an opportunity to start afresh on their creator’s scorecard.

Varanasi is perhaps the most well known city along the Ganges. Individuals and families from all over the country come to bathe in its waters here. And in the itineraries of tourists coming to India, Varanasi is about as essential as the Taj Mahal. I might suggest that while the Taj Mahal is as beautiful as any other palace in the world, the Ganges is a more meaningful symbol of India and its peoples because it is a living history. It is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. However, in both of these places, the curious tourist must still actively search out meaning and feeling so as to dive a little deeper into the wonderful mystery that these energy centers offer.

I remember sitting in the old city of Varanasi and along the banks of the Ganges there feeling the history of thousands of years of pilgrimage to this place, and perhaps to some of these same places along the river! And this feeling is something that we rarely if ever feel here, in this relatively new country.

It is believed that to die in Varanasi, one is released from the painful cycle of being reborn as a human and having to continue to work things out with one’s karma. So obviously a lot of people come here to bathe and in the last stages of their lives, to die. And they have been doing this for thousands of years -- with this same conviction. And so there is a texture in the air, in the smell, in the constant activity along the river’s edge night and day that makes this place a center of life and a center of death, both simultaneously.

But in India, when one has finally accepted the dirt and decay, one begins to become present to the place in its modern timelessness.
And eventually down to the ocean where the river meets the sea, where water merges into water and with the sun’s help, a meeting with the high mountain passes comes again in the form of falling snow. It melts and carries with it rock and mineral, nutritious silts to the farmer and becomes an entity for worship for millions.

And this cycling of water, over and over, from tropic to arctic and the amazing journey back down amazes me every time I think about it. The journey cultivates the lives of many beings, relationships are nourished, life propagates and then the water meets the sea – for a few moments.

The river means many things to many people. For me, it is the web that connects an enormous amount of history to our modern world. And this continues to fascinate me. It has provided me an opportunity to explore the unknown and to look a little more closely at a different kind of relationship, one between people and rivers. It has catalyzed my enthusiasm to look closely at the importance of rivers within the fabric of a cultural landscape in addition to the more practical and utilitarian ones.

These images, I hope, will be the beginning of a much larger project on rivers and people. How are rivers changing because of a growing human population? How in turn are these changes changing the peoples who have had relationships with these waterways for many generations? Considering that most of the world’s peoples depend on rivers to sustain their own existence, these questions seem to take on more meaning.

Thank you for taking the time.

May 05, 2006

On the Way Out

A Buddha statue at an entrance to an acient temple in northern Cambodia.

She had to move up to my seat because a couple just got on and they wanted to sit together, maybe to support each other on what all of us had read in our various guidebooks, was to be one of the worst main roads in Asia. We were on our way out of Cambodia, back to Thailand.

Divine inspiring divine at a temple in northern Cambodia.

The temperature was to get into the upper nineties today and our minibus had no air conditioning – of course as it was supposed to. We all paid extra for the tourist bus thinking it would be more comfortable than less expensive options. Everywhere that sold tickets said, “Yeah, air conditioning, this is the picture of your bus.” They would point to a color photography of a shiny new luxury bus. When one has traveled in Asia long enough, promises like these are far from legally binding. We just had no idea the bus would be as bad as it was. Some people wanted their money back after seeing it.

But there was nothing we could do unless we wanted to march back to a guesthouse with all of our stuff and wait to see how the bus tomorrow looked. When I saw the outside of the bus – I knew – a working air conditioning system was going to be highly unlikely on this thing and that it appeared that the bus needed so many other repairs that air conditioning had a yeah right kind of importance to it. Maybe it was because when it got closer and pulled up to where we are waiting, with open windows, that was the big clue. It’s weight without any passengers was already heavy on one side, the entire body was scratched and dented, and it looked like it had been pretty much entirely hammered out from fender (and door and side) benders. It looked like it had been driven around the world -- several times. It looked like they had imported it in from Afghanistan. Had it been rolled? I was looking to the roof, looking for any big dents before I made my final decision to get on or not. Nothing screamed out at me – just an unplaced, nearly inaudible hiss. I relegated that do the radiator and climbed on.
She moved up to my seat and that’s where we met. We didn’t formally introduce ourselves and while we talked and talked, I think, with the more time that went by, we both felt a little silly asking, “Umm, what’s your name anyway?!”

Stone blocks, temple wall, northern Cambodia.

The first half hour of the drive was pretty good. I was wondering if the guidebook was wrong on yet another fact. Then, WHAM! The pavement stopped and dirt moguls began. Our driver was taking them like he was on a slalom course. After an hour of this madness, looking around, through a cloud of red dust, seeing people holding whatever material they could find, bunched up over their mouth and nose. A few were holding their hands over their mouths. I chuckled, After an hour of this madness, looking around, through a cloud of red dust, seeing people holding whatever material they could find, bunched up over their mouth and nose. A few were holding their hands over their mouths. I chuckled, yeah, that’s gonna filter everything out! A few others were bent over. I wasn’t looking for details. We were all bouncing off our seats as we hit the bumps.

A monk climbs the steps into a temple, northern Cambodia.

The windows were rattling hard. They were self-opening with the vibration. The noise from the shaking of glass and metal was like being at a rock concert – except it was one long drum solo. Red dust from dirty clay road streamed into the bus constantly, kicked-up from the trucks in front of us. On the one hand, we all despised the dust and would have just kept windows closed but it was so stifling hot in that little oven-on-wheels that we kept the windows a little open, thus suffering from both hardships because all of one would have been probably worse.
I made the mistake that morning of putting on a clean white shirt. It was now quickly turning red especially on the window side and where I was perspiring –everywhere—the shirt was red and wet and I knew this was the end of this shirt, that it would never look clean again.
I turned to her with a smile that said, can you believe this? She shook her head and said, “Yeah, and there’s supposed to be two more hours of the same!” In that moment, I dropped whatever was covering my airways and let my jaw slacken down so it was near resting in my lap. “No way!” “Well, that’s what the book says.” We both scrunched our brows up and resumed the one hand on the dust mask, the other hand on the seat in front of us position.
Through hardship we found communion. And so for the next ten hours, we traveled together, still, we didn’t know each other’s names.
We got into Bangkok and were walking down the street together when I stopped her and said, “We’ve been traveling for ten hours together, from one country to another, on one amazingly bad road and now we’re going to share a room for a few nights -- umm, what’s your name anyway?” We had a good laugh about this.

Moments before the rain began to fall, the storm rolling in was spectacular, southern Cambodia.

It’s like that when you’re traveling. You’re always meeting people, talking to people. Often, names go into one ear and out the other. Interactions are often so fleeting – and you never know how long you will know that person – that names often come later. In this case, a lot later!

My yoga meditation, sunset, southern Cambodia.

April 28, 2006

Sun Rain

When I awoke this morning, it was late already. My head felt heavy from a late night of reading – a smart thriller that I couldn’t put down. I emerged from the cocoon of my mosquito net fortress-in-shambles and ambled over to the window. The sounds and energy of the traffic from the street below indicated that the day was somehow different. I grasped the bars over the window and flicked the wooden blinds open with the tips of my fingers. Sunlight poured in and I felt both a welcoming relief and a bit aghast at the unaccustomed brightness of the outside world. This was the first real sun in several days of cold, rainy, monsoon wetness. Holding onto the bars, I sank back, stretching my arms and torso long, opening my lungs up, I took some long deep breaths in and blew out all of the sleepy stagnancy that I was still holding onto.

I had left the bomb blasts of Bangladesh and come into the cyclones of Chennai. In two days I skirted India’s eastern coast by train. Chennai is a coastal city in the country’s southernmost state, Tamil Nadu. Somehow, I had forgotten about the other monsoon that India gets. The south gets a summer monsoon that comes from the south-west and a winter one which comes from the north-east. I wasn’t mentally or materially prepared at all for the torrential drenching I would encounter, the streets that would become rivers in a matter of minutes, the problems associated with getting from one place to another or just trying to dry my laundry.

But all of this is part of the rhythm of this place. For ages, this is the wind that has blown. And so the people have also adapted to this. The farmers who grow rice in the country and the housewives who always have an eye to the sky so they can rescue the clothes drying on the line up on the roof. During these monsoons, blue sky and bright sun can become dark brooding clouds in a few minutes. When this happens, one has only a few minutes to strategize their next move. The sky changes, the winds kick-up in swirling gusts, the air becomes charged and the crows start making a run for cover.

I had just gotten a couple of books from a shop just down the street from my hotel. The shop keeper had brought out a couple more that he thought I might like and I was perusing when I looked over my shoulder – I felt a new presence. It was water pouring from the sky in such force it was bouncing off the ground and raining upwards again. In such a circumstance, I normally would just cozy-in somewhere undercover, wait it off, hold onto a warm glass of chai. But I remembered something that was going to disrupt any idea I had of staying dry.

On seeing the sun this morning, laundry became a focal point of the day’s activities – one never knows when the next offering of dry, warm sky will be. And so with many other like-minded folks on rooftops far and wide, we hung our pants, shirts, socks, and saris. In two moments, I thanked the bookseller, rubbed my fists together and pointed up to the top of the building and then to the rain coming down. He understood and in two steps, I was on the sidewalk taking a half-moment to psyche up for the mad dash back to my hotel.

Street vendors were frantically pulling tarps out to blanket over piles of their books, fruits, clothes, and wares. All around me people were scurrying about. Everyone was running for cover with either a fearful grimace that contorted their faces or with one which seemingly recognized the cosmic joke that all of this was. I thought of the scene just outside of an ant hole in the garden after the sprinklers come on. That’s us right now!

I leaped off the curb and made the forty yard dash to my hotel. In these first few moments that the rain falls, people are frantic to stay dry. It’s the kind of rain that is so thick, it can soak you in no time at all. Everyone is running, hunched over, holding whatever object is convenient over their heads, high-stepping to keep the sandals on their feet on. On my way, I am dodging and spinning around parked rickshaws and possible tackles from people on moving scooters who are also scurrying – at high speed – and whose only vision is from the squint in their eyes, the scrunched faces apparently keeping them somewhat drier than a relaxed face. I am also trying to keep my sandals on.

I arrive at my guest house and am sprinting up five flights of stairs to the rooftop where my nearly dry clothes are no longer nearly dry. The rain is crashing down and I am trying to expediently untie my clothes from the lines. Now I am the one squinting, rain streaking down my forehead to my brow. I collect everything, pack it under my arm and dash back in for cover. I’ve made it.

Then I look down at the clothes I am wearing; I wonder what clothes I was trying to save from getting wet! The absurdity of all of this – Ha!

More signs that make me wonder...

A man waits for a bus in the late afternoon sun next to a street stand displaying various fabrics.

From a Bengali movie poster. Are those women running out of the surf carrying machine guns?!

From a Calcutta Metro Do and Don’t list inside the train car, along with where to stand and directions on what to do in case of emergency:
“Please avoid listening to and spreading rumors.”
and another,

“Metro cares for you. Please do not get panicky.”

street billboard

“100% virgin plastic.”
From a big round sticker on a plastic bucket outside of a chai stall near my hotel that I go to in the mornings.

Political sign painted on the outside of someone's house. Rickshaws parked out in front. Notice the drawing of the traditional style boat near the door way.

Outside of post offices, there are people selling envelopes and pens, those who will wrap a parcel with the obligatory cotton fabric and than stitch it together with needle and thread, there are notaries, there are men with type writers on little wooden tables who can make something look official or transcribe something into Hindi or English but mostly to write for those who never learned how, there are others like this man who will seal the seams of a letter or a parcel with wax stamps to ensure it arrives untampered with.


Lung Fung
The name of a Chinese restaurant that I am pretty sure I don’t want to eat at!

April 27, 2006

Snapshots From a Train

A white cow with sharp, in-curled horns
Lays in the grass
Next to a white egret
who is ankle deep in a small pond of water.

Long stalks of dry grasses bunched together
Stacked on their ends
Leaning inwards, forming small teepees
Under the sun.

A dozen railcars, cargo cars, stopped
On the nearby tracks
Chest high piles of broken coal beside them.
Young men, their skin and clothing black from the dust
Heap after heap
From one pile to another.
A grey cloud over their heads, the black dust everywhere
Inside and out.

Three small boys stand next to field of sugarcane.
They watch our train passing by.
They all have big smiles on their faces.
They are waving to everyone and no one.
But they are sincere and so I struggle
to quickly push my hand out the window,
hoping that just one of them sees
my hand waving back.

There is a white haze
maybe an early evening fog
that has settled over the fields.
Trees in the distance fade into silver and then into the color of the colorless sky.

Fields of bright yellow mustard swim in the wind
Pools in a vast sea of vibrant green grass.

Patties of cow dung and bits of broken straw
Pressed firm with the print of a woman’s hand.
Clusters under the sun
They blanket the ground, drying.
Some are balanced against each other, both standing on an edge,
hoping to catch a little more of the low sun.
Dry discs are neatly organized in ascending round piles.

Women carrying loads
Balanced atop their heads
In the fading light of a periwinkle sky.
A bundle of laundry
Branches for kindling or for some fence
A sheet wrapped sack
Full with green leaves for the animals.
Some carry clay pots of water from a nearby well.

Men on bicycles riding along a narrow
desolate road
On their ways to places I can not see on the horizon.

In looking through many images
And remembering ones I have made in the past
that I don’t seem to tire of,
I am seeing my own experiences of being here,
of traveling and existing.
And they are in the eyes, faces, and non-verbal gestures of the subjects
whom I find drawn to make photographs of.

I am seeing more clearly that I have been looking at pieces of myself, of my being, of my experience. Many of these images are the reflections of the glimpses I have had of my own looking-in and the struggles of my own existence here and at home – everywhere that is.

Holi and the White Man

The origin of the Holi celebration comes from a mythic story which is really quite beautiful. Following one of the standard Hindi Bollywood masala films that are a staple and a mainstay in modern Indian life (see A Night at the Movies) but actually predating and probably being the primary influence on Indian film itself, the perennial favorite of the Hindu deities, Krishna, falls for this girl named Radha but of course, there was one problem, his skin was much darker than hers and this caused him much angst.

He went to his mom and voiced his frustrations. His mother said, “Look, take this colored powder and joyfully toss this on each other. Then see that there are no differences.” Of course, she was saying that this difference of skin color was a minor, if not superficial, indication of one’s person. It is beneath this where the importance of our beings dance. That is what we should be striving to see and to experience.

And so on this day of festivities, most of Hindu India celebrate in one of their favorite festivals; it’s called Holi. I pretty much new what to expect around the tourist ghettos: all of the workers in the area that had to serve the jerks and air heads from the last twelve months finally had license to let off some steam with probable group ambushes using special force like choreography all in the name of a little fun and celebration – yeah right, that will be a lot of fun. I knew it would not be fun for everyone for very long so I decided well in advance that I would be somewhere else on that particular day.

I asked several people where they thought I should go for Holi. “Where will people really be celebrating in a very Indian way?” is what I would ask. A village several hours away called Shantiniketan kept coming up. Besides several hours of travel, I would have to leave several hours earlier than I normally wakeup to ensure that I arrive for the climax of the festivities, in the morning. But because the name of this village kept coming up, I thought it must be a sign; the same recommendation from all of these people, I must go. And so I did.

Not long after my arrival there, I realized that the fear I had had of being at the center of a lot of unwanted attention wasn’t just some unfounded fiction and it wouldn’t be quite so easy to dodge. It was real and it would prove to manifest itself in a variety of forms. Here, it wasn’t just what the lightness of my skin color represented, I attracted an excessive amount of attention because I was one of the few non-Indians there, in this little village, I really stood out and so people would stop what they were doing – and I would see this over and over, turn towards me as they elbowed their friends around them and then begin to converge on me like walking Frankensteins . I felt like I was in some strange Indian zombie movie. Attack of the jolly Hindus!

People from all around had made a pilgrimage to this village famous for it’s University named after the beloved renaissance poet/writer/playwright/musician Rabindranath Tagore. There seemed to be plenty of merriment all around even with the traffic of rickshaws taking people to and from the campus that had open-air classrooms and many large shady trees.

Yes, everyone seemed to be celebrating with playful vigor but my presence convinced me that I must have something that resembled a small disco ball attached to the top of my head. My being there caused heads to turn and feet to move – towards me – with clenched fists full of powdered dyes of radiant hues. There was always the convivial wide, full tooth smile and the “Holi hai!” or “Happy holi!” After a while, my first mental reflex was the second of a three part experience. Just after their eyes met mine and the switch of my seemingly electromagnetic pull turned on, I would think, “Yeah right! Here we go – again.”
One would begin by politely smearing a colorful powdered dye on my forehead, cheeks, and anywhere else on my face that hadn’t already been tagged. Then I would feel the tumbling drizzle of powder falling down my back, between my white shirt and my sweating skin. Everyone had to have their turn with me. Each with an overly-enthusiastic smile, and the happy holi! bullshit. The smearing and then the avalanche of unnaturally bright synthetic dyes cascading down from the top of my head to my feet, dusting my skin and finding small creeks of perspiration to coalesce into. My hair became a dry mat conglomerate of the six or seven most popular colors. My skin would have to be vigorously scrubbed in the shower for many days after. And my clothes, well, they would never look the way they once did. That I knew from the first minutes after my arrival.

For this white man, Holi was fun for about the first three minutes but then became redundant with the tiring thrill of “Hey, there’s a tourist! Let’s get him and than ask him some boring questions that he must hear 30 times a day!” of course what I thought would be a jackpot of photographic opportunity became a challenging (and frightening) experience due to all of the powdered dyes flying around and the cheeky Indians who thought they were clever to sneak up on me and surprise me with a billowing cloud of yellow powdered dye thrown over my head. Yeah, another original idea – let’s ambush the tourist! But here are a few images I thought you might enjoy. I made them when my camera wasn’t hiding in a zip-lock bag, tucked in the pit of my arm.

I met and became friends with these great people, amazing dancers. I am wearing what was once a white shirt.

March 18, 2006


The only reason I am staying in India at this point is for the yogurt.

I have been eating about a half kilo each day and it’s surprisingly easy to do.
In the evenings, the milk is boiled, cooled, and cultures are mixed in. The warm concoction is poured into large clay bowls and overnight, a wonderful symbiosis between humans and the bacterial world is manifested.
Yogurt, or curd, as it’s commonly known as here has been used for a really long time, perhaps since the birth of the curry! There is little else that can balance-out and cool the fiery spices of South Asian cuisine. My digestive trail is particularly grateful for this side, especially in the swelter of the pre-monsoon heat.

Okay, the only other reason I am staying in India is for the hot milk in the evening time. Because the milk is raw and fresh from that morning’s milking, it tastes different than what’s readily available from the stores in America. Consider the difference between a cup of Folgers’s Crystals from an archaic and overly diluted drip machine, from the back of PuPaw meeting, made two hours before, or a deep mug of just-roasted organic shade-grown from a French press on a Saturday morning, with your lover, sitting in the sunshine in your garden. Or if you have been drinking Maxwell House for the past ever-since-you-can-remember, consider the difference between freshly squeezed orange juice and its quiet frozen cousin. But then, if you drink dead coffee, you probably prefer dead juice and milk too. There’s another way!

Fresh, raw milk is full, creamy, and it’s literally still alive. At least once in a life, one must experience the simple gourmet from a raw food restaurant. It’s just in a different league of taste. There is something else but sometimes one must work a little to find greater wisdom.

In a huge wok, the milk is heated over red and orange flames from smoldering chunks of coal. A metal cup or ladle is dipped into the steaming white pool, filled and then poured back and forth between large cups with a little (or a lot) of sugar thrown in. The pouring froths-up the milk. Finally, some milk cream is spooned on the top and it is ready for prayer and consumption. That is why I am still here. Well that, and it’s still near-freezing in Oregon.
Hot buffalo milk -- fifteen cents for a glass of this nectar of heaven, or cow sweat – however you want to think about it.

I enquired about how much it would cost to send a water buffalo back home but you wouldn’t believe how much they quoted me for airmail! Plus I can’t figure out where I am going to put all of the stamps! Still working on the details such as the accompanying mud bath/bed and typing up all of the notes so that the ship workers know to milk her twice a day and to sing to her in the evenings before bed.

On this note, please take a few minutes to educate yourself as to what the current administration is trying to do to regulate the personal and small-scale keeping of animals. They are wanting to make it illegal to have an animal without a license and probably a computer chip inserted into the animal. This not only affects your personal freedoms but hurts the small-scale industries that deal with locally produced animal products – like fresh milk! Please see these sites for more information:
Read the USDA's "Draft Program Standards" & "Draft Stratigic Plan" at on the web. You will see that this plan was developed by the livestock "industry" and RFID tag equipment companies.

A letter or two to your local newspaper and politicians (sample letters available) can ensure that this measure does not gather any more momentum in your state. It has, I am told, already been passed in some states.

Everything you need to know about Indian symbols and culture, available now, signed, sealed, packaged, and delivered! Call 1-800-555-1212 (ask for: Krishna Krishna Hari Ram). Only $29.95 (for each of the ten installments). Call now!

new school

Okay, there are maybe one or two other reasons I am sticking around. I love to watch the ways in which children improvise being children. It’s a place that at first doesn’t seem conducive to being a kid. Why? Few open areas to run and be a kid. The streets are chaotic and dangerous, there is pollution in the shared air, the shared places for swimming, on the grounds beneath one’s feet. But somehow, they manage, in the face of adversity, they are able to be creative: on the streets with sticks, tennis balls, bicycle rims, even other moving vehicles!

On the rooftops with small paper kites dancing in the breeze at the end of a long spool of string. Some children still are able to be children here. Even without the “proper” facilities, they find ways to celebrate the simple joys of living in the moment, living with all-consumed joy – despite the physical obstacles, the noise, the grime, and the chores of work, many even have full time jobs.

Yes, of course, there is also the dark side -- children work here. Many are not given the choice or luxury of really being able to be a kid. As soon as they can do something they must. And so at the same time that I see immense adversity wither with a young person’s laugh or smile, the joy of letting oneself be consumed with the simple wonders of physics in this world or of its critters, I also see children living as virtual servants for little or no pay. I see this everywhere I go in South Asia. Sometimes my mind gags at wanting to label it as bad or tragic when it just is what it is. It’s different here than it is there or over there. But there must be basic human rights that are specific to children that we must all recognize and support. I want to believe that there is more compassion possible for the vulnerable, the inexperienced, the unknowing ones, the ones who are the most receptive to influence.

As I move my body from place to place, my mind takes up new residences also. I open these questions of possibility and being the person I am, I sometimes come up with a plan. I’ll open a school that will board those populations with the least opportunity for social change it will be for those seen as poor, backwards, and illiterate. This renaissance school will cultivate a garden of forward thinking individuals. Everything will be provided for the students.

This will be a place where young women and men can celebrate life through language, art, and sustainable living practices. The core threads that will support this growth will be music, dance, drama, drawing, film, science and math, business and accounting, world religions and philosophies, conflict resolution, public speaking. Daily yoga and meditation, organic farming. Small classes, most everything will be hands-on or group discussion. Students will be able to speak and write in their local language, the national language, English, and an additional language. Cooking. Classes will be taught in 2-3 hour blocks for course lengths of 2-3 months. Open air yoga, dance, and meditation rooms. Students will be well-fed with delicious self-harvested foods.

This school will be from 9-6, six days a week since it’s been shown that children learn better starting later in the morning, because they will be living at the school, and because school will be so cool. Throughout the day there will be many opportunities for physical, spiritual, and mental growth. And because sustainable living practices will be one of the core themes of the school, students will be innovating, designing, and building their work and living spaces, planning, planting, and harvesting their foods, constructing energy and irrigation systems. And in all of this, students will practice sowing these seeds throughout neighboring communities in student-led seminars and adult education classes. Imagine adults learning from children!

I think to begin with, great teachers will be lined up to be part of this school. India Corps and Peace Corps workers may also want to be part of the running of the school. I want to go to this school!

Of course there are lots more but imagine an education that can transform the lives of children who work all day with gunpowder on their hands making fireworks so that their families have a few more rupees than they would if the children were to go to school. I would make it worth the family’s while with fresh organically grown boxes of foods that the students have learned to grow and harvest through the most current techniques of biofertilizers, permaculture, and biodynamics. Teachers will know their field and be committed to learning other ones so that the web becomes stronger in their own lessons.

I can see this kind of school being successful in many different places, focusing on each region’s unique biogeography. Imagine a place where learning happens where the students and the teachers eat good foods, exercise, cultivate a quietness of the mind, and learn practical skills that will assist them to be not only productively creative members of a new kind of society but real renaissance individuals that can catalyze a new future for humanity. Wow, that’s going to be a lot of work! But it sounds fun doesn’t it?!

On other days, I just think about moving out to the Pacific coast in the Northwest and opening up a milk bar (that also serves Indian sweets!).

sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping

“Do not imagine that the journey is short; and one must have the heart of a lion to follow this unusual road, for it is very long. One plods along in a state of amazement, sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping.”

Farid ud-Din Attar, The conference of the Birds: A Sufi Fable

March 13, 2006

riding ganesh

I am meditating on an elephant
Well, not really on one
But in one, within one
I am riding the energy of one
-- an elephant God –
and directing its essence, its life force
up, up, up!
Up through a yellow square with an upside down red triangle
into a breathing pinhole of light
onto my perineal mooladhara chakra.
Breathing light
into and through
even in darkness
into the fire, the furnace,
the cauldron that generates my own alternating current
of life force. I can feel it. Distinctly.
Where was I without this sensitivity?

A plant medicine is pulling open
my own horse-blinders
A little more. Creak-creak. Chips of rust fall away.
I am listening to John Coltrane’s
A Love Supreme
And I am getting it. I am getting it! I am listening to it everyday
And it is f-ing brilliant. I am listening when I couldn’t before.
I am listening and listening. And I like it. This is a new book in a new language.
I am enthralled by the opera of beauty and emotion in the sharing between
and the individual scream.

What has happened to me?

If you want to know, the only way is to become a participant in my being.
Rather than a spectator, you will have to participate in my experience,
overlap my boundaries.

March 09, 2006

the hustle and flow

... of crossing the street in Kolkata!

I am in Kolkata again. Nearly every day I am here, I feel deeper and deeper that this must be my favorite place in India. Well, it's probably tied with Ladakh but Ladakh (in the Kashmir area near Tibet) doesn't really even feel like India and it's the bipolar opposite from this Bengali megacity so they're just in different categories. I love that this is one of the few places in India where every day, and after many trips here, I am still surprised, engaged, occasionally dumbstruck.
It's wonderful and awful, beautiful and horrific at the same time. It's Indian and it's easy to get lost here, shut out from the walls of my own preconceptions and expectations. In fact, getting lost is something that I actually try and look forward to doing here. And after I have left this place, I try to remember the smells. I think about all the ingredients I would throw into the blender: coal smoke, damp dust, ripe and over ripe fruits, old piss, diesel exhaust, and a mysterious Indian masala. And from this description you might surmise, it's hypnotically repulsive.
Things here, unless they are repainted, turn dark. Perhaps that is one reason why people celebrate color so much. And these colors seem even more impossibly rich because of the contrast. I walk, I sit, I watch. I walk, I sit, I watch.
And I make photographs of the crisscross confluence of the unconscious cha cha which is life here. And I feel alive. And I feel tired. But I feel alive.
It's been 95 degrees here and so I have been transferring that sense of climate to Portland and occasionally I fly through in my mind. But I just saw Portland's forecast for today. Its high was more than 50 degrees colder than the high here. The low was below freezing. During the night, I sprawl out underneath a fan and an open window to keep cool. It's still winter there and whatever was winter here is long gone. This is the beginning of the unbearably hot buildup to the summer monsoon season. I am trying to time my arrival back in Portland to "Daytime highs will reach the mid-seventies today. A great day to head out to the coast."
So after a hiatus from this blog, I am back on for a bit. I am back because of a few friends who kept tapping me on the shoulder to start again, to bring myself a little closer. It will be difficult (and it will cost me a fortune at this internet cafe) to recount or summarize where I have been and what I have done in the last two months. Soundbyte: Most of it was in Nepal. Some wonderful adventures in the mountains and exploring Kathmandu. Rest and good eatings. I made many photographs. Today I spent time editing through the ones from Kathmandu, watching slide-shows of these memories and awake dreams. I listened to music while I watched images fade into another and another and I realized that there was something amazing in the collection. There was a thread and a beauty and a new looseness in the work that I really like. I feel excited to see them big.
I've got a confirmation for a Portland show in June. More info on this later.
Ciao friends. Thank you.

January 24, 2006

Barely made it into Nepal after following the great Ganges river through northern India. Early tomorrow morning, I will be starting a journey within this bigger one to walk for three weeks through the Himalaya. It's been a dream of mine for some years and so I am really juiced up at the moment.
Nepal in the meantime is slipping into totalitarian madness and neets a few minutes of your attention and prayers for the wonderful people here. Love to you all.

a proposal !

Hello. My name is Saag Paneer and I would like you tomarry my daughter dhoti. I have made all of thenecessary arrangements. I understand that you comefrom a fine family, Mr. Loren, and that your papersare all in order. You may come and beg me for myapproval, which I have already granted (this is aformality, of course, no need to break a sweat?) at myabode in Chennai. The address is 23 Nazashreem road#2. Please Mr. Loren, wear your best whites! You area fine fellow...your Web site is very picturesque andphotographic. May you please tell us your birthday andtime for the local astrologer? (this is also worries!). Dhoti tells me so very verymuch about you. She has strong feelings about you, butshe is strong in her feelings about most things. I amhappy to offer you my 1970s Mercedes and four goats.Oh, by the way, please receive a complete physical exam and forward the results to the above address..Yours in familial anticipation -- Saag

January 04, 2006

Two audio recordings, a test really, of stories of being on the road, read by yours truly. Let me know how these work in the comments section below. Ideally, they will begin to "stream" (play automatically) although you might have to click an open button. I hope having these read gives some more texture to the experience.

Travelling and Existing
The Stare Factor

I am also taking requests for the next blog story to be made into audio.

Early Morning Fish Market

Early Morning Fish Market, Bangladesh

Before the sun rises, before the moon has set, the men and women that farm the rivers and seas are starting the second part of their day. Men who have been out at sea or far down the rivers, working hard for days, are arriving in port with their catch.

Fish provide the main protein source for most of the people who live in Bangladesh, particularly along so many of the country's vast river networks.

In the first moments of daylight, the outdoor fish market is already packed. Thousands of people swarming -- a beehive of frenetic energy. Boats are unloaded by hand, the fish are loaded into trucks that bring the catch into the "hive." As the loaded-down trucks slowly ply through the crowds, their beds are filled with the fish in crushed ice, wicker baskets are busily filled-up by waiting coolies. These delivery boys carry the heavy loads throughout the market to the next intermediary who weigh the fish, scribbling the notes from each delivery into their ledgers. Moments later, the fish are piled back into the baskets and brought to other people who may prepare the fish, deliver the fish further afar, or to the salesmen and women who hawk it right there in the open air market to the general public who prefer to buy their animal meat as fresh and as close to the source as possible.
There are surges of energy which pass through the market like electricity. It's like the floor of the New York stock exchange. Everybody's calling out to someone else, shouting and pushing, trying to get from one place to another. Haggling is ubiquitous and tensions sometimes run high enough that fights break out over someone feeling they were taken advantage of. Many of the delivery boys are literally young children who carry the loads of fish on their heads. They are barefoot and have only a folded plastic bag that they pull over their heads to protect from the dripping fish and the sharp wicker of the baskets. They work tirelessly making a couple of taka with each delivery. Sadly, they are pushed around by many of the adults. It's not uncommon to see men carrying bamboo sticks which they use on the children as if they were cattle.

Other workers join the fishermen and spend hours working on the old wooden boats and meticulously repairing the nets for the next outing. Although it's still mid-morning, the sun's light is becoming intense to the touch and the men who have been up all night who have just come in with their catches are winding down, getting ready for their next sojourn into the open ocean.

The images.

The Dock Workers

The Dock Workers of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is really a country of rivers. Much of the economy, the country's transportation network, and the social fabric is built on the shifting nature of the rivers. Rivers are the predominant geographical feature of this relatively flat and low-lying country. The rivers of Bangladesh are the tails of the some of the world's most important and most sacred waterways. Nearly all of the rivers begin in the Himalayan range or high up on the Tibetan plateau. During the monsoon season and the swelling of these great rivers, much of the land naps under water. This is one of the great hardships of living on the land here but it is also one of the saving graces because with the flooding, fresh nutrients and minerals are deposited and thus, the land is some of the most fertile in the world.

the wheat grain is weighed before the jute bag is sewn up

Because so much trade and goods transportation is by boat, the workers along the docks are some of the cornerstones for the country's own sustainability. The days are long, the work is arduous, and the pay is barely enough to get to the next day. In these photographs, workers bag and remove the grain of Russian wheat, bringing it to trucks who will then distribute it throughout the country.

standing deep in wheat, workers fill bags with the grain beofre they are weighed.

For more images, visit this gallery.

December 30, 2005

A Night at the Movies

Film in South Asia

The Indian cinema is an institution. It’s stars are the modern gods of society. They are seen in television and billboard advertisements for any number of products from undershirts, to mobile phones, to skin lightening creams! Many politicians started out as famous actors and later used film as their means to ascend into the arena of influencing public policy. Incidentally, I suppose the same is true in America. I mean, even if they knew nothing about the issues, could a Tom Cruise or a Bruce Springsteen lose an election against what’s available? Besides, our politicians are all actors anyways! Some have come from the big screen, others from the pro-wrestling ring. In California, our governor’s training was as a cyborg with a few memorable one liners.

So in that way, things are not that much different here in India but the role of the cinema is much more the pulse of culture. Popular music is first heard in the movies, walls are plastered with movie posters, and for the common man, there isn’t a cheaper way to dream-on-demand. South Asia is the movie capital of the world. Fifteen thousand films are made each year. I didn’t say made well made but they are produced. They all use the same three formulaic ingredients: romance, violence, and music. Together, these films are known as masala movies and they are pure melodramatic escapism for the masses.

While I can’t say I am a huge fan of these films, on occasion, I do like to see what the all the buzz is about. Once I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to be asked to play a small role in an Indian movie. After being dogged for several days by the production manager, I acquiesced with the promise of free food and cold drinks. Later I found out he wanted me to be in an elaborate fight scene. While most Indians would have dropped their pants for this opportunity, I side stepped it and asked for a smaller part. Later I was to find out that one of the major stars in Malayalam movies was one of the actors on set – I had no idea.

What’s interesting to me now is what shape the film industry will take as televisions and satellite reception play a greater role in society. How will the movies change? In photography, digital has taken center stage and made film almost extinct. How will they be made, shown, and what about the rich tradition that cinema has provided society?

I hope to learn more about the answers to these questions and maybe have a little fun along the way. Bollywood, named after Bombay, now known as Mumbai (I don’t think they’ll be changing the name to Mollywood any time soon) used to produce most of the films from the Indian subcontinent. Now, Chennai, in the south, can make this claim. There are Tollywood films because they are in the Telegu language. In Bangladesh, where I am now, the films are from – take a wild guess – Dollywood because they are from the country’s capital Dhaka.

I started making some notes with a couple of visits to the cinema hall in a small town in north-central Bangladesh. Of course, it wasn’t long before I was up in the projectionist’s booth. The images are from the Padma Cinema in Kushtia. The projectionists are Abdul Raja, Aporta, and Hamapara. They used an old Radio Cinema Service projector. Some of the scenes are from outside the cinema where snack vendors offered chai, fresh steamed peanuts and other nuts which were put into cone-shaped pieces of recycled newspaper. One time, my “plate” was made from a page of some student’s math homework! Some of the numbers were recognizable, others were in Bengali.

These images are from those evenings. Enjoy!
If you've seen the images and want to explore more, visit some of my recent galleries.

Images and Text © 2006 Raku Loren
If you would like to use an image for any purpose, please obtain written permission from Raku Loren first. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Images of the Sand Workers (are here)

Okay, if you read the story about the sand workers (a few entries below), you were probably wondering about the link to "the images." Well, through the miracle of technology and a lot of web design frustrations (hehe), I've figured out a better way to show you more photographs. Some of you thought I put down my camera to just write. Nah...
Here they are: The Sand Workers of Bangladesh
Please read the short story if you have not already. It will give some more context to the images.

December 26, 2005

Travel is fatal...

Travel is fatal
to prejudice, bigotry, and narrowmindedness,
and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.
Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things
cannot be acquired by vegetating
in one little corner of the earth
all one's lifetime.

-- Mark Twain --

December 18, 2005

travelling and existing

So much of traveling is just the ordinary routines and rhythms of existing. It’s laundering clothes in a bucket, wringing them out and setting them on a line to dry. It’s walking barefoot over the concrete terrace in the evening, warmed from a long days sunning and looking out over the neighborhood. Glimpses of dramas and anti-dramas through the portals of windows, doors and other rooftops. It’s Hitchcock’s Rear Window every time I look over at the neighboring building. Each dwelling is faintly illuminated from the inside, each rooftop another world of custom and culture but I know there is a thread between my world and theirs. It’s the listening to the cawing birds and irate monkeys, it’s the smells of kitchens that waft spice and aromatic delights with the shifting breezes in the early evenings.

The more I travel, the more I feel not of one place, but of many. And it is these ordinary acts of feeding, of washing, of getting from one place to another that occupy a big chunk of my time and being. When I am in a place long enough, my own rhythms begin to integrate into the weave around me. I’ll take tea at the same street stand in the mornings. The man who sits cross-legged on the side of the road has my newspaper folded up, ready for me as I approach – whether I want it or not. And while I usually don’t, I’ll get it anyways because the interaction alone is worth a couple of rupees. Again and again, my path connects with the young boy who washes dishes on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant from morning till night and we exchange side-to-side head tilts, smiles, and some kind of subtle yet satisfying acknowledgement for each other’s existence. It’s the juice-man’s smile and it’s the guard in front of the bank in his overly official looking uniform that sits unmoved hour after hour whilst busses and taxis blare horns and cough exhaust just meters away. Unflinching, he’s completely absorbed, dissecting every bit of his newspaper. And the neighbors who I sometimes see on the roof of the next door building and sometimes down below on the street, sitting, talking, gossiping, as their children run in circles, laughing. It’s seeing these people each day and our brief expressions of communion through words and gestures that help take the edge off being alone – or at least feeling that way most of the time.

Being on the road in the ways that my experience is driven often means sitting, wilted-over, staring at the floor or the wall, alone in my room, trying to make sense of something that I may not even be conscious of yet. But there too are wonderful moments when through the dark of night, the sounds of classical Indian music haunt the stillness of space between the gods and wherever I am. A woman singing with her harmonium and there is no place that I would rather be than across this bit of still air and flowers of jasmine. And then there are the children that dance small homemade kites from rooftops from here all the way to the horizon that create a sea of birds in the orange hazy fire of a big setting sun.

Being away like this also means seeing more clearly where I have come from, where I have been, and where I want to go. Most importantly however, being away seems to help me see that wherever I am, it is just here – wherever that may be. And so I learn that it is less about here or there but just being in the world and noticing, seeing the beauty in the everyday expressions of existing, feeling my being in the present, and allowing it to communicate with what seems unknown, challenging, irritating, or uncomfortable. When this happens, the notion that I have traveled somewhere else drops and I realize that these places that I go are part of my being, part of my practice in just being. Choosing to go where there will be the alarm clocks of unknown territory help me ensure that I sleepwalk less and remember more.