Exceptional Lives - Pilgrimages about People

I've often said that one of the greatest joys of my work is the exceptional people that I get to meet and to develop friendships with. Whether or not it's Salim Mohamed and Sammy Gitau in Kenya, Murali Ramisetti in India, or Theresa Williamson in Brazil, I have been blessed to know so many people who are busy painting their visions of a better world into reality. So I've often wondered, "What it would be like to just go on a pilgrimage to find and learn from such people?"

Well Exceptional Lives, the blog of Dublin, Ireland's Clare Mulvany, is chronicling such a journey.

Clare describes her trip:

I am currently embarking on a ten month journey around the globe to interview 'people who change our world' about their life stories. I'll be meeting 'social entrepreneurs' working in a range of fields from education to business, dedicating their lives to making the world a better place for us all to live in. Nairobi is the first port of call, and from there I'll travel overland to Capetown. It is then on to India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa and the USA.

Clare's journey has taken her to many of the places where I've lived and worked on BoP projects, and she beautifully describes her encounters with social entrepreneurs through both written word and photography. Clare just finished the latest leg of her trip - 7 weeks traveling through India - and she summarizes the experience in her latest post:

Seven weeks in India. Seven weeks of what?

Of colour, lots of it. Colour as iridescent saris blaze around every street corner. Then the glossy black and yellow of taxis and the glaring orange of festival flowers. The piquant green of tea plantations. The lush green of coconut plantations. The lazy green of cardamom trees. The black of a girl’s oiled hair, the black of men’s moustaches, the pupils of eyes (you staring at them, them staring at you). The chorus of colour as Diwali swings into fare; fireworks painting the sky like a circus. The pink of pickle. The night blue of night trains. The bright light of bright days.

Seven weeks of bright, busy days.

There's a lot of great material on Exceptional Lives, so much more than I've had the time to go through, but Clare's stories and pictures are certainly worth immersing yourself in. After all, every exceptional life we touch makes our own more exceptional. As for me personally, it's always inspiring to see someone put into words what you yourself have experienced but have been unable to express.

I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve been exhausted. I’ve been exhilarated. I’ve been learning. I’ve been trying to make sense of it all.

Travel does this to you. It enriches as it shakes. Perceptions start to shift and alter. You start to shift and alter. You take a step and the world unfolds with colour and learning. You take a step and the world takes the next ten.

The world? Well, it’s the people you meet along the way who point you in the right direction. Or a book you read which clarifies a point. Or a film you see which sparks a train of new thought. Or that kid you play football with. Or that mother you make eye contact with. Or that beggar you pass on the street.

Seven weeks. I know. I can hardly believe how much can be packed in. A lot has happened, and there is still a lot more to come.

I am thankful. I am lucky. I am learning.

I'll share a couple of quick anecdotes that Clare's stories bring to mind. The first is simply something a young man in Kibera (Nairobi's largest slum) once said while we were living there, "To me you are like birds, you can land and then fly away when you want. But we are stuck in the mud." The second is from a homestay I did in the Indiramma Nagar slums of Hyderabad, India. I distinctly recall the moment when I - a supposed veteran of homestays in villages and slums - finally opened myself up to the poor Muslim family that had been hosting me… it was like the sun had risen, how much more I could see when I finally let them see me!

Clare Mulvany's journey therefore reminds me that our ability to pass through so many lives is an incredible freedom that comes with great responsibility, not only a responsibility to pay respect and to bear witness, but a responsibility to touch and be touched. She seems to be doing that quite well.

I am thankful. I am lucky. I am learning.

Words worth repeating. Here's to all of us touching more exceptional lives.



Much thanks to Jean Russel for introducing me to Clare's journey.