Here is the shuttle Discovery on the launch pad the night before its final liftoff, soon after the removal of the Rotating Service Structure (RSS).
They would squint their eyes at me, then glance at each other, carrying on a vibrant conversation.
I had no idea what they were saying or what was happening inside their turbaned heads.
I smiled and mimed the wings of an airplane, telling them I was headed to the airport. They nodded and smiled back.
It was 1995, and I was heading home after a week in Thailand on a shoot for a TBS special. My little video camera and I had witnessed the extreme body-piercing and fire-walking rituals during the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket, and met a hill tribe medicine man who did magical tattooing in villages near Mae Hong Son on the northern Thai border with Myanmar.
As I headed home, I opted out of the comfort of a cab – which would take an hour and a half in the notorious Bangkok traffic to get to the airport – and instead took the hoi polloi train from the city’s Hua Lamphong station. A ticket cost only 5 Thai baht, which is about 15 cents.
The train car was packed with people. I was the only Western farang among them (farang is the Thai word for foreigner. But these Sikhs, most likely from India, were also foreigners in the Kingdom of Thailand.). As I rubbed shoulders with the locals in the dank, last car of the diesel train, I gripped the hanging loop strap over my head. In my other hand, I held a volume the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I tried to read as the train squealed and groaned, our bodies swaying as the car rocked and lurched along the tracks.
Then it dawned on me: The men were looking at the book. On the cover of this paperback version of The Two Towers was a striking image of Gandalf the White, with a magical orb of bright light hovering over his outstretched palm.
He looked as likely to be from Srinigar as from Endor.
These guys thought I was reading a holy text.
From filmmaker/photo journalist — and fellow Buckeye — Rebecca Sell. A film about important women’s work being done in Afghanistan.