The Moment Begins Now.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Who We Were (Who We Are)

The blistering, blinding African sun was too hot today, giving the horizon a shimmering, glossy texture, making me question if it was even real at all. I sought shelter at a corner store and emerged with a large, ice-cold bottle of water in hand. Sitting in front of me was the vehicle of my youth. I circled it twice, checking to see if it was a mirage, then got lost in a story from my past; a story which directly relates to the present.

The Van! IT'S THE VAN!
The morning we left was always a crazy, disorganized half-conscious stumble to the van, which was already laden down with supplies and idling in the driveway. With the stars trading places with the purple and pink acoustics of the Alberta prairie sky, we would be off. A modern-day Oregon Trail, I used to think. Six of us (four kids) piled into a variety of vehicles over the years, but it was the Toyota Previa, the ‘eggvan,’ that became the legendary mode of travel for our family.

That van, and those trips helped define our family. They helped define me. Mom and Dad ingeniously put the two rowed backseats flat and covered them with blankets effectively converting the van into a hotel, wrestling mat, card playing table and probably the most conducive environment in which to moon fellow vehicles (“Dad…. Angie’s mooning cars again”). I never really knew where we were going, as a kid that’s not what mattered. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure that even Mom and Dad knew the route, destination or duration of the trip, but regardless, we went without fail every summer.

The van was the viewfinder for the world, using our short two month vacation from school to escape Ponoka, Alberta. The landscape outside the van was a kaleidoscope of North America, changing frames with each sunrise. From the barren plains of blue sky Saskatchewan to the busy urban sprawl of Toronto, or the shining of the crystal clear Lake Havasu, we found the world unfolding into a larger… much larger place than our small hometown.

The van was our courthouse; where law, order and pee-breaks would be decided by the parent who was not behind the wheel. I vaguely remember the occasional threat of, “That’s it, we are pulling over. You are walking home.” Urine-bottles were needed for the weak of bladder and the butt end of many kid jokes (“Hey Rish, want some apple juice?”).

The van brought culture in music; from my parents Bollywood cassette tapes which would always make me cringe, to the always popular techno-house dance beats of Chris Shepard’s Pirate Radio (I know what I want, and I want it now. I want you, cuz I’m Mr. Vain.)

As the hours slowly stretched into days, the van became our jailhouse. We would invent games to pass the hours, such as Hand Freeze; where we would see who could hold their hand out of the barely opening back windows longest in times of rain or hail (ow-ow-OW!). Another famous game growing up was Make Rishi Cry. There was no skill, or pleasure, or really effort in this game, but we played it anyways. In fact, I don’t think anyone, except Angie, took much pleasure in this game, but it passed time nonetheless. To this day, we still don’t know why he cried so much, but we’re quite glad he grew out of that phase (love, Rish, love).

The van was our glue. We crammed one-on-top of each other for days on end, and bonded as a family. We dealt with sibling disputes, lengthy detours (We missed the sign… 150 kilometers ago), an increasingly fish-smelling van, suffocating hot days, difficult border crossings and the occasional car accident, as one. Whenever a problem presented itself, we would simply shrug our shoulders, and pile back into the vehicle. That, after all, was all we could do. We roughed it, only rarely opting to stop at motels (by no means luxury), usually preferring gas station bathrooms as our sink-shower and tooth brushing centre.

Our van was love. One cloudy day in Wawa, Mom decided to neglect the road and utter the now infamous line still used with incredibly hilarity today, “Look at those pretty cottages.” Promptly, we smashed into the lineup of cars which had stopped for construction. The seats were down bed-style and I was sitting up in the middle row, so the accident started my temporary experiment with flying. Dad was lying closest to the front captain seats, and protectively, instinctively barred his strong, loving arm across the seats and stopped me cold on my journey mid-flight, as if I weighed nothing more than a feather. In that moment, I recognized how deep a father’s love is as he said, without saying anything,

I’ve got you son. You are safe here.”

From these trips, something changed in the world I knew. I developed a passion for the road, for traveling, for adventure, for stories. Writing this entry from a dark computer lab in Kigali, Rwanda, I cannot help but fight the sneaking suspicion that those impromptu summer journeys played a role in getting me here.

The years passed and times changed. The kids grew up and moved on to school and work in the big City while the van, unused and unappreciated, was sold. There are no more summer vacations and no big, blue van to pile into and depart across the continent in.

Our family, however, remains together; getting along more like close friends than family. That van changed everything growing up, forcing us to spend time in a way we never would at home. We bonded and grew up but still share a closeness I now realize is rare in today’s world. In a way, we’ve always been traveling the same road together.

In a way, I don’t think we ever got out of that van.

Love, Just Love.


  1. very sweet entry, ravi! laughs and smiles throughout. but I do object to your spelling of "wishi".
    it sounds like you're getting a great experience over there! best wishes!

  2. Ravi, you are a man after my own heart. I was also unknowingly raised in a Previa (the bullet, as we called it). I am so happy and thankful to read this entry!!

  3. My dad loves that song 'Mr Vain'. He has the CD single somewhere.

    Also, your dad looks like James Brown in that photo.