“Where are you from, Leo?”
There was no way Leo was going to escape my usual question with which I commence my conversations with every Lyft driver after getting into the car.
“Really? You are the first person I know from Kazakhstan. The only thing I know about your country is your capital – Astana”.
“Well, it has a new name now – Nur-Sultan. But how do you know the name of the capital?”
I proceeded to explain to Leo how during Roger’s and my trip to Mongolia, on our way back we got stuck for 13 hours in UlanBator due to a massive sandstorm. The plane to take us to Kyrgyzstan could not reach us till the sandstorm had subsided. One of the gentlemen who also got stuck with us was a mining consultant and he was headed to Astana. He told us about the city.
“When did you last go to your country of origin?”
“Two years back”, Leo replied
“How would you describe your capital?”
“Have you been to Dubai?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“Well think of Dubai at a much smaller scale. And then put it in the middle of Kansas!”
That was a somewhat funny but fairly effective way of creating a picture in my mind.
“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”, I asked Leo who was in his mid-twenties.
“Photographer”, he said.
During the rest of the trip Leo told me about how passionate he is about photography. We exchanged a lot of notes on Nikon camera bodies and lenses. He has moved on to Sony now. We also talked about the pros and cons of going mirror-less now as opposed to waiting for a few years.
“When did you know you had a passion for photography?”
“When I had a near death experience”.
Well, that was not what I was expecting.
“Tell me more”.
I learnt that during one of his trips in Kazakhstan, he was traveling in one of the local transport vans. It was an old Russian Gazel. I remember seeing a few of them in Mongolia. Leo was sitting in the front and of course, there were no seat belts and all that. They soon met with a head on collision. Two passengers died instantly, one is paralyzed and one is still recovering. Amazingly, Leo walked away with minor injuries.
However, as he described, his first instinct in those few dazed moments after the accident was to take pictures of the vehicle. That was an instinctive reaction and there was no good reason for it. Much later, when he reflected on the accident and the aftermath, he realized that his inner instinct is to capture moments thru the lens of a camera.
Four days later, he flew back to USA and started his journey in photography.
“What if you cannot build a career in photography?”, I challenged him.
“Well, I am going to keep trying. And if nothing works out, there are so many ways to make money. Perhaps I will go back to school and learn about IT”.
“That is the spirit! This is what I tell my daughters too. They need to do what they are passionate about. Everything else will follow from that. I am sure you will be a world class photographer”.
We had reached my hotel. I got down and he showed me pictures of the mangled van and some of the photos he has taken with his cameras. He loves high speed car racing pictures but some of the near-macro stills (bokeh style) were outstanding.
He took a selfie of us and sent it to me. We became Facebook friends and decided to stay in touch!
My Kazakhstan friend count has jumped by 1 (admittedly from 0)
But my inspiration to follow my passion has increased manifold!