Learning to Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival – Alison Wright – 2008, Plume (Penguin Group), New York
In January of 2000, world-traveller and photojournalist Alison Wright was travelling through Laos, looking forward to a spirtual retreat she would attend in India in a few days. In a matter of seconds, her life was changed forever when the bus she was journeying in was hit by a logging truck on a narrow, twisting part of road. Near death, her injuries massive, Wright struggled to stay alive until she received medical care, stranded in a part of the country where X-ray machines and skilled surgeons are incredibly hard to find. After fourteen excruciating hours, as Alison used every ounce of her strength, belief in the power of meditation, and the kindness of strangers, she finally arrived at a hospital in northeastern Thailand, where a respected surgeon from Bangkok worked a bona fide miracle to put her back together again.
Several months and many gruelling surgeries later, Wright is back on her feet, daring herself to bungee jump in South Africa, kayak in Alaska, and scuba dive in Tanzania. She climbs Mount Kilimanjaro for her fortieth birthday and circumambulates the Tibetan holy place Mount Kailash. Her inner – and outer- strength is astonishing, and as she reflects on her many travels and work all over the world (but particularly in Asia), it is clear that combined with indomitable determination and fearlessness, Wright’s faith (heavily influenced by the tenets of Buddhism) is her cornerstone, and possibly the greatest reason why she survived such a devastating accident. How she decides to give back to children and communities in Asia and Afghanistan with her Faces of Hope Fund is part of the inspiring path she continues to tread since her near-death experience.
Learning to Breathe is at its best when Wright is recounting her adventures and assignments from around the world: working as a barmaid in a sketchy pub in West Australia, caught in a bloody demonstration in Nepal, travelling among the Samburu and Masai tribes in Shaba National Reserve, or consulting a shaman in a Tibetan refugee camp. The details of her many, many parasitic infestations, malaria and the critical injuries she sustained during the accident are stomach-turning, but not played up for gore or sympathy – Wright is more concerned with describing how all of these hardships shape her world view. Definitely an uplifting read!
Wright’s website (which contains some of the incredible photographs she has shot over the years) is at www.alisonwright.com.
Tagged: Alison Wright, Asia, autobiography, book review, books, Buddhism, Faces of Hope Fund, Learning to Breathe, memoir, Mount Kailash, Mount Kilimanjaro, nonfiction, photography, photojournalism, spirituality, travel writing, Travelogue