It all began with a rickshaw...On the first day of a 3-week trip to India to visit friends, a driver named Sajid Hussain picked up my companions an me (Greer) from the Udaipur airport. We were jet-lagged but eager to explore. We dropped our bags at our hotel and surveyed the city with Sajid for a few hours. We wandered huge markets and tiny streets, awed by array the wares for sale. Seemingly, there’s not an inch on the subcontinent where something isn’t being made, bought or sold. The vibe is electric, addictive even. When picturing India, decadent ornamentation and kaleidoscopic handicrafts spring to mind. But step beyond the tourist markets and there are more utilitarian objects, humble yet striking. In stall after stall, one person sells raw copper, another forges it and finally a shopkeeper peddles copper products. Full cycles of manufacturing, distribution and commerce are evident everywhere. Turn left, you’re in the marble district; turn right, stainless steel. And of course, there are textiles around every bend.
The greatest reward of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time. — Bill Bryson, Travel Writer
Thoroughly enjoying our whirlwind day, and Sajid's endearing (and unheard of) No Horn Honking policy, we planned to reconvene with him the next morning. One day led to the next and eventually we’d spent a week with Sajid, met his family, learned how to make chapati in their kitchen and exchanged WhatsApp numbers with his children. Before I even left, I knew I'd be back.
The most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.
— Robyn Davidson, Memoirist
We kept in close contact,and I learned several months later that Sajid’s cranky old rickshaw had broken down beyond repair. We discussed his options and the economic peril that a blown engine can cause a hardworking family in India. Should they downsize to a 2-room flat? Pull Sammer and Shifa from school? Could he and Shabnam host travelers or teach other tourists the art of chapati flipping? None of this was feasible. What could I do? I could offer a month’s rent ($87 USD), I could crowdfund for a used rickshaw ($2500 USD - goal met, rickshaw procured!). But these were bandaid solutions that didn't address Sajid's need for a fair and reliable revenue stream. Lightbulb moment! I could open a shop of my own – a long-festering dream – source products from India, and employ Sajid as a buyer! With shockingly little more thought, I bought a ticket to Udaipur, secured a 1-month lease at Bow Market and set to work on my proverbial shingle.
After a successful pop up in Somerville, I moved my big idea to the smallest commercial space in Cambridge, the beloved O'reilly Spite House, giving Abroad Modern a permanent mark on the map — A destination for GOOD.
The first iteration of Abroad Modernwas a love letter to the backstreets of Rajasthan and a testament to my cherished relationship with Sajid's family. It was a jumping off point for more travel, more appreciation of other cultures and many more mutually nourishing relationships all over the globe. What I didn't realize at the time was that one such relationship - not only nourishing, but truly transformative - was formed just two doors down my opening day at Bow Market.
And the next stop is...