Today my twin brother messaged me saying he always knew I’d move away. He’s right, I love to travel. It’s not the act of travel (business travel can be especially dull) it’s the experiences and people which are the magic.
“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton
As I write this I’m in the bar area of a boutique hotel in Copenhagen Denmark. Having just had a long chat with a member of staff, I’m now drinking a free beer and have tips on where to go after work tomorrow in order to eat some good Danish food – that’s some magic of travel right there.
We all have a thirst for travel, we’re born with it. Some of us realise, most of us don’t. As a child of the 1980’s I’d watched Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark. The opening theme music pretty much had me when it came to feeling alive with a thirst for adventure. I suspect Indiana Jones has inspired many adventures for people over the years. Our 4-year-old son Mack often dances to the main theme and when I’m with him it’s easy to see his thirst for life. I’m confident he’s going to have some travel adventures.
I wanted to travel and be my own type of Indy. By my early twenties, I had the idea of mixing travel with something deep and meaningful. I looked at many options, I signed up to a Kibbutz but decided not to do it, I almost joined the Royal Navy to explore the world and learn engineering, I bailed before signing the papers. I’d been to Turkey and got a taste for mountain adventure in Land Rovers and canoes, it wasn’t enough. I was finding adventure and adventure was finding me, though no-one but myself was or would be benefitting, I wanted to do more.
The world has heavenly places and hellish places. Part of what I needed to discover was a more balanced view. For me, this meant experiencing more hell. That’s when Nigeria entered my life – in 1997 it was the most corrupt country on earth (according to Clive Anderson) and I decided I needed to experience it.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Aubrey Marcus
One thing I’d discovered was that Nigeria would welcome the engineering skills I had. So I went to a volunteering conference in the city of Bristol (UK). There I signed up to a stint teaching local Nigerians engineering skills, with the goal of large corporations employing them instead of ex-patriots from other countries.
Not even Clive Andersons great journalism could have prepared me for what was ahead. From constant police harassment, the need to bribe authorities for everything, major bouts of dehydration and lack of food, being held at gunpoint, seeing dead people at the sides of roads, accused of being a drug dealer (where a guilty sentence carried life-threatening consequences), lack of running water and electricity, being the chosen one for a wealthy families daughter (arranged marriage) and leaving the country due to severe illness. I had experiences I would never forget.
It was an awakening, one that changed me forever…more than anything before and anything since. There are things I witnessed I’ve still not been able to tell anyone and things that happened to me that no 24 year old should have happen to them. The strange thing is, I wouldn’t change my choice given the chance to go back in time. I made great friends, I suffered as I would never want either of my sons to ever suffer, though I came back a changed person. A person who I could never have become without Nigeria, a better person, one I was proud of.
“You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.” Alain de Botton
There are lots of people and books that shape us. From close friends and work colleagues to authors (pertinent ones like Jack Kerouac, Alain De Bottonand Marcus Aurelius), yet it’s the real experiences that truly shape a person. For me, in Nigeria, I changed from being unhappy with what life had dealt me, to being grateful for waking up each day and having opportunity. I still look back fondly on my time there, despite the hardship and struggles.
We all need to go to the edge of our comfort zone and then jump. It’s what differentiates those who are merely alive and those who feel alive.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain