I’ve touched down, my feet have been on the ground for a solid week and it’s been an interesting transition to being in one place, sleeping for more than 5 hours and getting to take my time through the day. The last nine months of my life have been life changing in absolutely every way. Breathing the air in 84 different countries, seeing everything from palaces to disaster sites and meeting presidents to orphans has shaped the way I will the world from now on. In a way it feels like an epic dream, a movie that played in my mind while I slept and now that I’m home and thinking about it all I realize how huge it all really was.
I was feeling a bit lost in trying to summarize everything into a blog post, so I turned to Facebook and asked for questions and got some great ones in return. Enjoy the read and hopefully this isn’t the last time I get to write about such an amazing journey!
What is your fondest memory of the trip?
That is such a difficult question to answer, there are so many to choose from but I think one of my favorite moments was one of the last moments. We visited Rikuzentakata, a town in Japan that was virtually flattened by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. When we arrived the mood was obviously sombre and quiet but through the day we could feel the energy of the people lifting. They performed a sacred dance that hadn’t been done since before the earthquake and then participated in a football match featuring some of the most famous players in Japan. By the end of the day, a concert by Naoto Inti Raymi, the crowd was in full celebration mode waving scarves and jumping with happiness and even crying. The sun was shining and I swear you could see the happiness radiating from every single person and it was one of the most powerful days on tour.
What was the most life effecting/enhancing/changing moment you witnessed/experienced?
Without a doubt it was visiting Haiti. I never been to a third world country before and Haiti is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. I had arrived after coming back to Canada on a rapid trip to get a visa and had spent the night before on a layover in the airport so I was already tired and in emotional overdrive. When I stepped out of the airport, I was immediately overwhelmed by people yelling and offering me rides and to carry my bags. I was quickly taken by a driver and security guards to a car and we drove through the city in the setting sun. Watching out of the window at true poverty was heart breaking. I had never seen people sitting on garbage, wearing nothing and just wandering. There were moments where it felt like an apocalyptic movie, the roads were cracked open and buildings were still crumbled and spilling onto the streets, people were walking with a vacant look. I didn’t sleep in Haiti, I couldn’t shake the feelings of guilt and powerlessness as I sat in a hotel looking out over the slums of the city. I remember the team’s mood was quieter than usual, I cried every day just knowing that this place, these people were still struggling so much. Ever since those 3 days in Haiti, I’ve been much more aware of my opportunities, of my good fortune, of what I have and what I can give and I’ve made a conscious effort to complain less and contribute more.
What was the scariest thing you had to overcome?
Aside from the personal fear and apprehension about visiting Russia I think the scariest moment for me was the drive between Israel and Palestine. Again we had arrived after a long flight from Belize and were about to do something that not many people, let alone companies do; drive through the separation wall between Israel and Palestine. The bus ride was quiet, we all knew how important this was and knew that a lot of people were watching what we were doing. The moment that we drove inside the wall and the doors closed I felt a fear that was fueled mostly by the thought that we didn’t have any control over what was about to happen. To have armies from both sides standing on opposite sides of the holding cell we were in was sobering and it was the fastest 10 minutes I’ve ever felt. During our stay in Palestine we were evacuated from the building we were in after tear gas and shots were being fired from one side of the wall to the other, getting grabbed and basically thrown inside a random car was the first time I thought that maybe I could actually be in trouble during this trip.
How did your life change? What can never go back to the way is was?
My life changed in almost every way possible, from the relationships that evolved and changed and in some cases ended to the way I saw different cultures or countries in a way that I didn’t expect. I think that my life changed for the better, each of the places we went to left an imprint in my mind and heart and the people who shared their stories, their lives and their countries with us helped me to feel more connected to the world and to myself. I think that my patience for “first world problems” is something that won’t exist anymore, it’s hard for me now to see and tolerate people complaining about things that don’t actually matter.
did you find a universal “something” that ties the world together?
I think music certainly is something that ties the world together, we often saw people dancing and moving to the music that was playing but I think over all I noticed that genuine happiness was something that I saw in every single place we went to. Whether it was happiness being around the trophy, happiness at seeing the plane, happiness while being with friends or just happiness to be in the sunshine, it was such a great feeling to walk around each country and find someone with an infectious smile.
I’d just love to know little anecdotes about life on the plane, was it as glam as we all imagine, or was it tour bus chic?
Haha, there were definitely glam moments. Not having to go through security, sometimes just driving up the steps of the plane were always nice moments. Getting to sit in the cockpit, hang out underneath the plane and just have our freedom inside was really fun. We had a lot of fun in the plane, we did yoga and had dance parties and celebrated birthdays and christmas on it. Mostly though it was our home and office, we slept a lot, we told stories and got to know each other and it was “our” space. Certainly there were times when it smelled weird or the food wasn’t that great but those times of champagne and random dance parties certainly made up for it!
Were you homesick for your home/Canada/loved ones? How did you deal with it if you were?
It sounds terrible, but I think I was too tired and busy to get homesick. There were certainly moments where I wanted to be at home, on my couch with a coffee just enjoying a slow day but for the most part I was so distracted with everything going on that I didn’t have time or mental energy to be homesick. I think as the tour went on I started missing being outdoors in the wilderness and going for long runs outside so I tried to spend at least an hour outside, alone in each place just walking or sitting so that I had that reflective time that I’m used to here.
What was your biggest regret during that 9 months ?
That’s a good question. I think I regret isolating myself at times. I’ve always been an independent person who is perfectly comfortable spending time by myself and processing things inside my own head but I think that I did that to a level that wasn’t helpful on this trip. I think that I didn’t communicate with people as much as I maybe should have and I spent a lot of time inside my own head when I could have been talking with friends and family to help me through the things I was thinking about.
In your travels where did you think to yourself “I could live here”.
A lot of places we visited were exciting and really nice and had so many great qualities but there were few places I could see myself actually living in. I think that certainly I wouldn’t mind living in one of the Caribbean islands for a few months and I really enjoyed countries like Argentina and Peru. I think out of all the places we visited, the UK and Sweden were the places I felt most like “home” to me mostly because of the people and the atmosphere of the countries, it felt very much like “home”. Who knows, maybe one of them will be “home” in the future 🙂
Did you collect anything along the way to tie the trip together forever?
I realized quite quickly that I wasn’t going to have a lot of room or time to try to find “one” thing in each country but I did start collecting money, almost by accident at first and then by the 5th country I decided that I would try to collect a coin or bill from each place. I think I’ve managed to get all of them except a few that hopefully I can go back to and visit 🙂 It’s kind of neat to look at money and think about all the places it’s been and who has used it and what’s it been used for.
What was your biggest ‘pay it forward moment”.
There were a lot! Sometimes just small moments like bringing someone a coke or giving them a key chain. There was one moment thought that I think was a cool pay it forward moment. When we were in Myanmar I was struggling to find subjects for the campaign photos I was shooting, I was about to leave the stadium and go into the city in hopes to find someone playing football when I came across a group of boys playing in the street outside the event. Most of them weren’t wearing shoes and it was hot out. I went back and grabbed them each a bottle of Coke and then went back and asked if I could take some photos of them playing and they were great, laughing and the photos were some of my favourite for this campaign. When I asked if they got to see the trophy yet they told me they didn’t get tickets and couldn’t go in. So I went back and we found extra tickets and made sure that they had their chance to go in and enjoy the event. It was such a good feeling to know that something that was a simple as a ticket to an event could bring something positive to someone else.
interestingly enough, two people who are not only on opposite sides of the world, but opposite in almost every way. The first is certainly this boy from Haiti.
We invited some orphanages to our hotel to see the trophy and have a chance to be involved in the tour and almost immediately this boy latched on to me. He spent the afternoon walking around with me, sometimes holding my arm or clutching the back of my shirt. He asked a lot of questions about my camera, about Canada and then suddenly out of nowhere told me that “I have no sister, no brother, no father and no mother. And it’s sad, really sad.” My heart broke and I just didn’t even know what to do. His face and his story have hung in my mind every day since and have been a constant reminder to be more compassionate, to give back and to appreciate what I have. I am currently trying to find out the orphanage and his name so I can send him something.
The other person was actually the King of Bhutan. We visited Bhutan right after a hectic stay in Bangladesh and the peacefulness of the country was felt immediate. When we went into the palace and were introduced to the King, it struck me how calm and “normal” he was. He told us stories of his life and was one of the most genuine and calm people I’ve ever met. He told us that he didn’t live in the palace but in a small house behind because that’s how his people live and that’s how he should live. I thought it was a good reminder of how to live a simple life and a kind life. *no pictures were allowed, so unfortunately I don’t have one of him*
All good questions! Thankfully we didn’t have too many flights that were extreme in regards to time zones but there were a few that certainly knocked me down. The flight from Vanuatu back to the USA was the first one that really hit me hard and the flight from Indonesia to Chile was the longest flight (30+ hours in transit) and was hard to shake, the hardest I think was from Japan through Alaska to Washington D.C. I think it was a week before I felt normal again! I didn’t keep too many hotel keys on purpose but going through my bags yesterday I found about 20 of them floating around. My diet thankfully remained fairly consistent, there were certainly days where I ate more than my fair share of croissants and amazing local treats. I always tried to eat something local and something that was very specific to that culture but I definitely enjoyed pizza in some of the strangest places 🙂
I think that I spent a lot of time in my own head, even when I was with crowds of thousands and during that time inside my own mind I was trying to figure out what exactly made me, me. I wanted to know who I was before this trip, who I was during this trip, and who I would be after it was all over. I think each day I discovered something new about myself and who I am and I was looking for more of that discovery. Now that I’m home I’m looking for the next adventure and the next path!
What is your favourite ‘new to you’ food you ate during your travels?
I think one of my new favourites happened by accident. I’m a strict vegetarian and while I try to eat vegan while I’m at home it was nearly impossible to eat a vegan diet in some of the places we were in (some days I barely ate as it was!). In Kiruna, Sweden a teammate and I were on the hunt for food late at night and came across a pub and the vegetarian option was Halloumi, which is a grilled salted cheese and it was pretty much the most amazing thing I had tasted in a long time and I’ve been craving it ever since!
What was the most difficult decision you had to make in this trip?
Deciding what the next chapter in my life would look like and who would be there in it.
I will miss the daily “newness” of being in a new place, seeing new things and meeting new people each day. It was thrilling to look out the window and see something new almost every day. I think that I’ve incorporated many things into my daily life. Meditation, giving thanks and trying to be more aware of how fortunate I am so that I can give back and share that fortune with others is something that I’ve been trying to instill in my life now that I’m home.
I had to take a big step back in my personal work during this trip, mostly just due to time and energy. I like to be in an environment for a while to feel it and know how to use it and it was tough to only spend a day or two in each spot. I found it hard to come up with concepts and ideas but I trusted that they would come back. I think this trip has opened my eyes to different forms of photography and helped me see the value in other genres and certainly makes me want to try new styles and themes.
One of my teammates, an amazing friend who works at Coke Brazil, and I had many conversations together on the plane about changing the world and being the change and I’ll always remember one line she said to me one morning “you can do anything you want, if you believe you can and you believe it’s worth doing”.
What’s the strangest thing you picked up?
In Israel I gave a team of young players each a trophy key chain and they were so happy and it was a good feeling to see them so excited. A few minutes later their coach, who is also a FIFA referee came up to me and handed me a green card that he explained was the “Fair Play Card” that is being introduced to the game. A sign of fairness, compassion, good attitude and sportsmanship and he wanted me to have it. It’s my favourite gift out of all.
I think admittedly I was naive and ignorant to a lot of the Middle East countries. I wanted to visit places like Palestine and Qatar because I didn’t know that much about them aside from what I’ve heard in the news which isn’t always positive. There were so many people in these countries that brought a smile to my face and made me feel like we were doing something valuable and worth while. I left Palestine feeling a new understanding and respect for the country and the people in it.
I have plans! I’m going back to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup, working with an amazing project with Copa Coca-Cola. I’ll be touring the USA and Canada this summer with The Wild Ones Workshop tour and then it’s whatever comes my way!