By Michelle Morañha Winner
Edited by Callan Loessberg
Photography in Cowgirl Article by Marc Lecureil
Definition: Noblesse Oblige:
Webster’s: “Literally, nobility obliges; people of high rank or birth should behave nobly toward others. The obligation of those of high rank to be honorable and generous (often used ironically).”
Wikipedia-“ Social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force.”
The phone rings and I pull over into the driveway of a Portland fire truck fabricator in a crumbling industrial area and yell out :“ I’m- on- the- road- can- I- call- you- back?“It’s Alexander Souri. He’s in between something important and something else that’s very important so he offers me this window of exactly twenty minutes of his time. His Relief Riders International has been nominated for the 2010 United Nations NGO Positive Peace Award ** and he is working interviews and writing press releases.This is a man on a mission and one who never seems to stand still. So I take the call and we finish our interview.
Relief Riders International began in a dream. A few years ago Alexander lost his beloved father and then, shortly after, four friends. He found himself mourning their deaths and living with a debilitating sense of loss. He would be driving down the road deep in thought and then be pulled back to present by hearing whinnying horses passing him in a trailer. Or on a busy NYC street he be daydreaming in the middle of traffic and a mounted police horse clomping alongside would neigh, yanking him back. Deep in his night dreams over and over again, he’d see himself riding a horse through the desert. Always the horses. In his visions, in his dreams; it was always the horses.
Born of an Indian father and French mother, Alexander grew up in the United States and was educated abroad, but remained connected by lineage to India. Elegant and handsome, he moves effortlessly among Rajasthanis and Anglos and cuts a dashing figure in his jodhpurs and English riding boots. His colorful history includes fourteen years working in motion picture production at a studio in the South of France, filming television commercials in China, working on the special effects crew of The Matrix and X-Men movies, public relations and special events at the Cannes Film Festival, and production of a three million dollar masquerade ball in Venice, Italy for a computer mogul.
Why then is he heading a “voluntourism” ( adventure travel and humanitarian service)company that takes a few riders to Rajasthan each year to ride in the desert, sleep in tents, deliver medicine to isolated villagers, and pay for the privilege ? Because in his own words, he is the instrument. The gatekeeper.
This previous puveyor of world-class drama and opulence jokes that if anyone looked at a linear resume for him they would not see sequential growth. But the reason for his eclectic experiences now very clear to him. To create Relief Riders he says, “ I drew on my experience and strengths. I used the knowledge gained on event projects; travel to far-away lands, production of creative ideas with “x” amount of dollars available, and deadlines. Every time I thought something was impossible I went in that direction ( not away form it). And the more I believed, the more it was all happening. As if the path opened up right before me.”
Alexander told me that to accept the loss of the people in his life he dove headlong into his new mission. He began to see that he would literally ride that horse in the desert. In fact he’d ride that horse and do something to help people. He would lead others into the desert.
“And” he says, “ to create a life more dynamic, I’d share, really deeply, what this experience is about.” Indeed, he is compelled by this idea of creating ‘the life dynamic,’ explaining, “ultimately I was driven by a motivation to help others . To get comfortable with the idea of : why can’t I simply give everything I have in my pocket or bag to a complete stranger in need? Realizing and addressing that issue in myself would open the floodgates to a life more magical.”
Doubts? Of course. Obstacles? Well yes. Negotiating with the Indian Red Cross, the individual villages, and navigating government red-tape and political platforms was not easy. Yet to escape the dreams and embrace the mission, he had to push on. Eschewing the non-profit status model in favor of the freedom to make his own decisions without convening a board of directors, he jokes at his audacity and tells me “ eight years ago this little punk started off.”
Self-proclaimed punk or not Alexander has a deeply spiritual side. The true manifestation of his being lies in his actions. In his fourth decade on the planet, he has experienced more of the material world than most of us, and, in a telling example, now chooses to embrace spiritual work by facilitating the Relief Rides. “This is my life,” he tells me, “I lead all of the rides, everything Relief Riders does. I interface with our team in India. I enjoy it , on every level. ”
Deepak Chopra, quoted in an article in Motto magazine, has called Alexander Souri “ an agent of change.” He credits Souri’s “social entrepreneurship” as a quality business model that rewards both on a social and a financial level. The ride also offers a purposeful re-examination of one’s life. The benefit to the human race-the aid and goodwill provided to the recipients – is important , but the experience itself can be a spiritual journey for the rider.
Alexander offers a fifteen day ride to Rajasthan three times a year, with twelve to fifteen riders participating in each. For those who really have enough, Releif Riders International offers a wonderful way to celebarte the giving season: a ride that departs on December 28, 2010, and rings in the New Year in the Indian desert! If you can’t make that one, ride into 2011 helping others January 25 , 2011. The final opportunity for beginning your “life dynamic” in the New Year is Relief Rider’s February 23, 2011 departure.
But what is it really like ? I read some personal accounts from riders. One woman was questioning her riding ability after traveling thousands of miles to meet up with the riders in Delhi. Enduring miles of dusty roads on a jostling bus; her internal dialog of unworthiness continued to bounce around in her head. She met Alexander in Jaipur, and the next day they mounted up their noble Marwari horses and headed out on a fourteen day mission with the Red Cross supply caravan. Doctors, dentists, translators and mobile clinic made the half – day ride to the first village, and at once she understood. It wasn’t about how to ride. It didn‘t matter that many hours in the cavalry saddles had made her back stiff. Nor that once she had to bathe in a bucket. Or that the Thar desert sun was so hot that the horses, riders and even the camels had to seek rest and shade midday. When they arrived at the village, there was the sui generis song of children to wash over her and the simple welcome of marigold flower necklaces. And when she looked into the villagers’ expectant faces, the deafening sound of horses hooves on desert clay seemed to be radiating back from their dark eyes. “The Ride” was in her.
Visit www.reliefridersinternational.com for ride descriptions cost and details.
Rajasthan is a semi-independent sector in India. Never fully conquered by the Mughals, Muslims or the English, Rajasthanis attribute this distinction to their Marwari horse used in battle. Marwari are an ancient, brave mount with unique curved ears that swivel in all directions. They are lighter in body and hoof to run in sand. In Hindu mythology they are believed to be winged deity superior to man. In reality only royal warriors could ride them. Indeed they were so linked to nobility that they faced demise in modern India and their bloodline was nearly wiped out in part by the efforts of the English to kill the indigenous stallions and mustangs whose Thoroughbreds couldn‘t keep up with them. . . Today to see one of these horses is considered good luck. Alexander Souri shared this anecdote about what these horses represent to the local people, “ I saw an old man on the roadside,” he says, “staff in hand, turban on his head and thick coke- bottle glasses over his eyes. I wasn’t sure he could see, but he could hear us. ” Oh the kings horses!” He flushed with excitement as we rode by . . . Learn more at : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marwari_horse
**To check out the 2010 United Nations NGO( Non-Governmental Organization)
Positive Peace Award: http://www.celebratepositive.com/nominations/about-positivepeace-