I’ve travelled to some bizarre places, mispronouncing at least half of them. In my current country of residence, Australia, they’ve mixed and matched British names such as Newcastle and Perth, pretty easy, with indigenous ones, which, well, leads to problems. There’s no easy way to lead up to this, so here goes. The longest name of a place in Australia is Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya Hill. I congratulate your miserable fumblings if you attempted it. By the way, the people opposite you are wondering why you’re making a face like a chimp and babbling like a baby ….mamung koo kooo! Oddly, the name means “where the devil urinates”, which hardly whets appetites. How do they even come up with place names like this? “Mate, this place fackin reeks! It’s like Beelzebub has just pulled down his dacks! It’s in me throat mate, right at the back of the bloody throat!…facccckkkk this devil pissin bastard!”
It’s on journeys to some of these weird places that I’ve shared lives with some spectacular people, even if for the most infinitesimal fleeting periods. Whether Iranian truck-drivers, Pakistani Army Majors, Russian doctors, Australian circus performers, Hollywood Acting Agents and actors, charity workers, even lawyers (I know, right!) they all had the same thing in common: human kindness. Even the lawyers. One of the most interesting was also one of the youngest, because at 22 years old Andy left Austria to travel the world, finding a truth that would change his life. In Australia he picked up a didgeridoo and become quite adept, quickly mastered it from tribes in the outback and then had an epiphany: in meeting a Medicine Man of the tribe, Andy decided to quit his current degree of aeronautical engineering and switch to medicine, on the premise that helping people and making a difference was far more beneficial. Along the same lines but years later I would meet a South African that resigned from his office-job and join the police force, again on the premise that making a difference in people’s lives was far more important, and rewarding. Late night conversations as I’ve got older often stem back to this, and I surmise there are only a few proper jobs in the world where you directly affect people’s lives: doctors and nurses; armed forces; teachers; policemen; firemen…these are real jobs where if you don’t turn up to work, it genuinely matters. You can have an inspiring job like Sir David Attenborough, but these are few and far between. That boy, Andy, was onto something. For the rest, including myself, we push paper around, but boy you should see me push that paper, I’m like a firkin ninja with that paper. I push it and it remains pushed! Until I get it back, then I file it, and bam, it stays filed! But pushing paper has put money in my pocket, affording me something spectacular: perspective. For me the sense of freedom in feeling something new, something breathtaking, whether art or landscape or music or kindness or happiness, is my self-healing. Each instance reminds me how incredibly lucky I am not only to be living in the time I do but with the means that I do.
Travel has enabled me to be transported from my desk by memory all over the world: to the chill in a dessert morning as the sun rose across a red Monument Valley in Utah; high into the air when paragliding over the snowy Alps in Grindelwald, Switzerland; standing stock still in Kenya’s Masai Mara as three lionesses padded a few feet away in complete calm; my eyes breaking through their sockets as a huge Great White shark serenely developed from dark blue nothingness to within touching distance; spending a Christmas morning being playfully followed by a small boy selling coconut on the beach in Chuang Tha, Burma, with a beautiful smile on his face that melted me completely. These snippets of life mean more to me than any physical asset I could possess (my girlfriend will kill me if she reads this).
What I take with me on every journey, even to work, is a sense of joy at the sheer privilege of the experiences I’ve had, but also knowing that whatever my job, and whatever your job, you can influence lives of those around you by simply being a compassionate human being: whether consoling a work colleague having a bad day or breaking bread with a stranger these microcosms of kindness, these minuscule interactions in life make a difference and that’s the same whether in Wales, Esfahan or Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya Hill.