Last Night I Dreamt I was a Refugee

“Last night I dreamt I was a refugee.” Michaelle Tauson, stepping into the imaginary shoes of those who have faced this perilous journey across ocean and those who may yet still. It doesn’t surprise me that Michaelle would dream this way. I am moved along with her, by the tragedy of our global refugee crisis.

3 Women 3 Journeys

Last night I dreamt I was a refugee.

I was offered an opportunity by a stranger, “leave with us or stay here and die. If you go with us, you may also die, but you may also make it to safety and have a future. If you stay here, there is no future. And if you die, at least you die trying to survive, here you are a victim.”

Making the decision was the hardest part. They said I could never come back if I got on the boat, they said there was no way back home. There was not even enough time to say goodbye; if I did not make it safely to shore, my family would never know what had become of me.

I was in love in my dream, and I knew I could never see my lover again, and it filled me with agony and distress…

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One of the greatest examples of empathy

“For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes” (from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera).

One story has stayed with Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 3.25.47 PMme since I read it in January this year. I was so deeply touched by the resilience of this 66 year-old man who, despite his sons being killed by the Taliban, has remained neutral to the war in his country and continues to ferry bodies of the dead from both sides of the conflict.

I don’t believe war is ever won through force because its deep scars become entrenched in the psyche and induce ongoing suffering so that “victory” through war can be only an illusion.

But acts of deep compassion overwhelm and have the power to transform. I cannot feel my own suffering when I hear this story – it is replaced by the imagination of his own.

It will at times require an almost unimaginable capacity for empathy, but whether in the day to day or in the face of deep ideological divides, compassion should not ever be underestimated as a tool – or weapon – to resolving conflict.

Being Understood – an Antidote to Fear

The gift of friendship!

3 Women 3 Journeys

A couple of months ago, I moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and felt again that great rush of excitement as any new chapter reveals itself. This excitement hasn’t dissipated – it’s been an incredible experience so far. But it’s also been accompanied by a sense of real isolation from friends and family.

I am living alone for the first time in about 6 years. My friends are constantly posting photos of their lives in places that are not Phnom Penh. And for the first time, I’m starting to see really big changes happening within my immediate family – new members are being ‘recruited’ or born, homes are changing and we are all ageing. It’s provoked in me some existential questionings – am I where I am supposed to be? Am I making the right life choices? Would I be better off abandoning my love of life abroad to return to my…

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27375 days on earth. But how to spend them?

I recently travelled to America to support KICK GAS, the film about our epic journey across the USA and also to reconnect Terry Hershner, one of the most bold, brilliant and admirable persons on the planet. I’m forever in awe of him. My life is richer for knowing him. Here’s my reflection on how he has touched me life.

3 Women 3 Journeys

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man [woman] is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” – Jack London

IMG_0876I recently headed to the USA and came across this quote during my travels. I embraced it as a kind of guiding wisdom for two reasons. Firstly, I was stepping outside my comfort zone and entering the world of electric motorcycles in the hope of building a series of youtube clips about an incredible friend, Terry Hershner. Our journeys would involve dashing all over California on his motorcycle for a…

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Thoughts on Nomadic Friendship III

My thoughts on the idea of ‘nomadic friendship’ and how friendship can supersede romantic love.

3 Women 3 Journeys

I’m drinking a glass of wine. I’m in bed. I’m in Santa Cruz, California and I’m alone. I’m here for two months working on a film project. After this, it’s off to Spain for a wedding and then Bangkok to see friends. And after that? Not a clue. This really is, as Michaelle says, a nomadic existence and while the idea of living without a permanent address is not for everyone – my mother is a prime example – the experience of living a modern day nomadic lifestyle can also be extremely rewarding.

I’m the least perfect human on the planet and I certainly have my hang ups. But being a nomad has helped me let go of expectations I placed on myself long ago around how my life should be lived. It’s helped me to avoid strong attachment to physical things (everyteliki-tohahing I own fits in one suitcase), develop a…

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I know I am intelligent because I know that I know nothing. – Socrates

I’ve heard Socrates described as a fairly unattractive fellow who had little time for personal hygiene. I imagine he was so fully engrossed in understanding others and the world around him that his physical self was of little relevance. Despite the big belly, white beard and the well of wisdom he possessed, I imagine him with an deep childlike fascination for the world; he knew there was always more to be explored, to see, to learn. There was always a deeper level. In fact it seems as though the older and wiser Socrates became, the more his characteristic curiosity grew. How did he cultivate this habit so well into old age? Imagine if we all maintained a similar childlike fascination for the world, and in particular, an ability to interact with others indiscriminately and without preconceived ideas. Imagine if we were all equally disinterested in ourselves and perpetually drawn to understand the lives of those around us. socrates-1-sized

Thoughts on Nomadic Friendship

My dear friend Michaelle on the idea of nomadic friendship and the day we discovered each other in Charleston, South Carolina.

3 Women 3 Journeys

One of the most frustrating things in the world about your best friends living in 4 corners of the universe is that you never have any idea when you will see them again. With me in Bangkok working on my PhD research, Rachel in San Francisco working on a film, and Jennie in Africa working for a development organization, jet setting around the globe for a coffee and/or a glass of wine just seems a bit unrealistic. For this reason, most of our in-person interactions are not planned, but totally and completely random.

When I moved from Nepal to the UK in September 2012, I stopped by Bangkok on my way out and on my last day, I had a final coffee with Rachel. After coffee, both still hung over from my going away party the night before, Rachel and I walked towards the train platform to say our final…

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Ride the Future

RTFT Team Photo“ Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”- Mark Twain

This was the guiding wisdom I ‘packed’ with me as I set off on my scooter as part of the Ride the Future Tour. And what I was about to do did indeed involve ‘sailing away’ from my own safe harbour. After hearing about the opportunity (through a chance encounter at a cafe in Bangkok) and after some contemplation, I resigned from my UN job in Thailand and booked a one-way flight to America. Professionally, it was a questionable decision. But I knew instinctively that this was a journey I needed to take.

So on the 4th July 2013, there I was in Charleston, South Carolina, about to embark on a 7000km road trip. But this journey was a little different than most road trips across America; we had a team of nine as well as a documentary film crew. We powered our vehicles with lithium-ion batteries. No gas. And we were also aiming for four Guinness World Records for the longest distance ever travelled by electric car, electric motorbike, electric scooter and electric bicycle.

My vehicle of choice was the electric scooter, which at full throttle could reach about 50km/hour and yes, we were heading for the great big interstates of America. I’d never ridden a scooter before, at least not until my parking lot test run the night before departing. I also knew very little about electric vehicles. I didn’t know how were they charged, where we’d find spare batteries and what would happen if we ran out of power on a dark, lonely road…

And it wasn’t until the eve of our big journey that I even met those I was about to spend an intensive 44 days with all the way to California — one Brit, five Americans, all recruits to the cause and all from very different backgrounds. Who were these people? Would we get along? I had no idea what lay ahead and in all truth, no idea whether this journey was even possible.

But underlying our Guinness World Record attempt there was a much greater purpose; the Ride the Future Tour involved stopping in 44 cities along the way to really soak in the vast American country, to learn about life in America from locals at planned town events, to take on something completely new as part of a team and to share in celebrating the advent of a new and much more sustainable means of transportation.

The film, “Kick Gas”, documents our journey through the 44 cities with a focus on the incredible diversity of the American landscape, from underground caves in McMinnville, Tennessee, to the cascading hills around Santa Fe, New Mexico. We took Route 66 all the way from Oklahoma, rode past the big oil rigs of Texas and explored the overwhelmingly beautiful Grand Canyon. We paraded our vehicles along the dazzling Las Vegas strip and we watched the sunset along the great Californian coast of Big Sur. All the while, we moved forward on our electric vehicles, edging closer to our finish line.

While the vehicles fascinated those we met (and we’ve answered hundreds of questions about charging, electric vehicle infrastructure, cost and efficiency), what was most encouraging for me was the reaction to the challenging journey itself. We felt like celebrities in small towns like Oden (with a population of 232). We gained riders as we went and at one point, we received a police escort into McMinnville, Tennessee, by Mayor Jimmy Daley. We made prime time news in Nashville which led to a long train of toots and cheers as we pulled out of the city the next morning. And we were welcomed with champagne and much celebration at our final destination, Google Headquarters, Mountain View, California. There were likely many who saw us passing and were left scratching their heads at the sight of our string of electric vehicles. But as strange as we appeared, all those we met were nothing but encouraging of our journey.

As people, we do well at supporting others willing to push the bounds of perceived limitations, especially in the face of challenges. We are, ultimately, creatures with the innate will to survive and to thrive and hence so awed and so inspired by the audacious human spirit. By pushing ourselves physically to achieve what no other had before (even if we were ill-equipped, ill-prepared and unsure of our ability to make the full distance..), we’ve helped to educate in a fun and powerful way about a transition that needs to happen in the face of enormous challenges to our natural environment. I hope the journey also encourages others to push the bounds of their ‘limitations’ and in the eloquent words of Mark Twain, sail away from the safe harbour.

I’m sure the experience of this journey will inform decisions I choose to take in my own life. I know for certain the people I’ve met along the way have already enriched it.

44 Days on a Scooter: What I Learnt About Happiness

In 2013, I travelled the length of the United States, from Charleston, South Carolina right through to San Francisco, California. Our journey has been made into a film, Kick Gas. Our ambition was to set four Guinness World Records for the longest distance ever travelled by four different types of electric vehicle (car, scooter, motorbike, bicycle). I’ve written about the journey here.

Six months later, I’m better able to reflect on what stepping outside our comfort zones can teach us. Here’s three lessons this journey has taught me about happiness.

  1. Happiness is being present in the moment. We might think we know this, but we don’t usually live this way. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of my time obsessing over becoming something better. It was always about earning more, getting thinner, looking better or jumping the professional ladder, all of which I thought would make me happier. But I was constantly anxious because this drew my attention away from the moment. When you are alone on a scooter for hours on end, you have a lot of time to be in ‘the moment’ — something we don’t usually allow ourselves to do. It was during these times that I felt most calm. I saw that the life within me was quiet and still and I felt completely fulfilled.
  2. Happiness is in living for others. I believe people are innately good and want to do good. Doing going, however, depends on how well we understand the needs of others so that we can meet those needs. But when do we ever sit down with another person, particularly somebody we don’t know well, just to listen? I think often about all the very different people I met along this journey and how different they were from each other. They each have a unique story worth sharing. For most people in this world, their stories go largely untold. I realised through this journey that I’d been rushing to make something of myself and tell a good story. But there were beautiful, enriching stories all around me. I just needed to stop and listen.
  3. Happiness is in living our individual truths. Before this journey, I had what on paper might appear like a fairly successful life. But I wasn’t happy. Success isn’t some easily determinable thing — it is and it should be different for everyone. I realised that in all I had achieved, I had been aspiring toward somebody else’s definition of success. It was easier to hide behind this, however, than brave a big scary world on my own. Heading off on the electric scooter represented what I felt I wasn’t actually brave enough to do in ‘real life’. But by standing up to this challenge, I gained the courage to start following my own individual truth.

There were lots of bumps and grazes as a result of this journey, but I’ve gained immensely in what I’ve learnt from this experience. My life is richer for the calm I feel and for the diversity of characters I now consider friends. And building meaningful connection with others is my truth.