LOOKING BACK: MY LIFE AS A LONE JOURNALIST, ADVENTURER AND HUMANITARIAN
A former mini-documentary subject of mine turned friend reminded me that we trekked through Panama’s lush rainforests nearly a decade ago, today. Another, that I wore a -45 °C worthy parka during my daily quest for images along the frozen and treeless landscape of the Arctic region at this time last year. And another wrote from a Montreal newsroom that I used to work in back in the summer of 2002, to touch base and say that he gives me “kudos for chasing my dream” while “admiring my journeys with a smudge of envy”…
I love being reminded of all those wonderful moments I, and we, experienced in the past…I am and will forever be grateful! But, it is also during moments like these, that I am reminded that time does in fact fly (at an incredibly rapid pace at times), which is also quite possibly the reason why I sometimes feel a smudge of sadness - especially, when I hear of regret…
So this little blurb, my dear friends, I devote you…
Life, as we all know, is what we make it. There’s the good and the bad, those blissful moments and the painful ones. There's adventure, calmness, enlightenment and absolute chaos. Some of it we control, yet a lot of it - we cannot. I love life, for all those reasons…all of them, somehow woven into one.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had that nomadic blood running through my veins. I crave the feeling of getting lost, of meeting new people, of learning new things and placing my bare feet on unfamiliar soil where I discover, savour, breathe and experience something foreign and unique every single day, while knowing that each moment presents a new chapter in my life…
Life is indeed an adventure, and it’s ultimately the package that we chose that define our unique paths, trajectories and experiences in life.
Even during my most vulnerable moments, I never feared the journey nor hesitated to embark on a new one, but I’ve been told by some of you, that you do. “I wish I could explore the world more” a friend wrote to me from her cubicle, “but I don’t know how…it makes me nervous.”
MY BIG LEAP
When I launched my solo project (One Year One World) back in 2009, I had very little in terms of financial security (something I still don’t have much of in fact), but it was a profound sense of urgency, passion, and commitment as a journalist, and concerned humanitarian, that thrust me out into the world. Few thought this mission (to travel alone, with my most basic gear, to document the stories of un/underreported communities around the world) was do-able, but all of that was muted by the fact that something in my soul told me that I could, and should!
I cared more about the people I sought to reach than the opinions of those who were hesitant to venture out onto unfamiliar territory. As one of my first TV bosses, the late Max Keeping who always jokingly complained that my last name was much too long for his on-camera intros to my local news stories, once told me “I don’t know what platform you’ll have, but get out there, explore and share what you learn from this world.”
Truth is, that’s precisely the direction in which heading and had already committed to. What I didn’t know, however, was how far I’d manage to get, how much I’d be able to achieve, or whether or not I’d succeed. But none of that mattered - my goal, was to try…as best as I could, with the little I had.
But as convinced and determined as I was to contribute something, even if a little, to this storytelling world of ours, I carried (and often hid) a lot of stress during the early stages of my nomadic life to document and share the stories of communities and people who lacked the resources to be heard globally. While my friends were purchasing new homes, I was penniless and struggling to get by. They bought diapers, I bought tapes.
Yet somehow, my stars managed to align…
I received support when I expected it the least; from random donations, accommodations, gear upgrades and healthcare, to media coverage and academic recognitions. That support, combined with the warmth and the often tear-jerking embraces that I received from the isolated communities I travelled to meet with, convinced me that I was indeed on the right path. Whether I was to succeed or not, in terms of the work that I was desperately producing to get the word out, I knew I had to keep going…
It’s been nearly a decade now, since I embarked on my very first journey as a one-woman-band video journalist trekking into the jungle with the first generation of portable prosumer cameras. Did I achieve what I set out to do? Well that depends on the day, and which part of my brain I ask…
I sometimes look back at what I’ve done and feel as though I’ve succeeded somewhat. Whether the messages of the often neglected and threatened communities that I reached were heard by thousands of people, or just one, I sought comfort in the fact that the communities’ voices were out there during the early days of this now popular platform for independent broadcast - namely, the internet.
My goal was to amplify the voices and messages of communities that didn’t have access to the global dialogue that was now thriving online.
But ask the other side of my brain, and I struggle with a profound sense of failure.
“Did I do enough?” I often ask myself as I review some of the pieces I produced in the past. I self-criticize my work, my edits, my voice overs (oh God, how I hate my voice overs!)…that list goes on, and on. I chastise myself for not reaching each and every single community that I established contact and relationships with over the three years of preparation that led up to the start of my journey.
Then, unsurprisingly perhaps, a little over two years ago - I crashed…hard, overwhelmed with profound guilt and pain for not yet achieving everything I set out to do…more specifically; to reach, document, and share the stories of 52 communities around the world.
Yes friends, here it is: I cried - a lot, with my back and arms hopelessly stretched out on the floor on most nights. I’ve failed the people and communities I was determined to reach…not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t have the means.
Not long after that, perhaps as a subconscious mechanism for self-preservation, my mind shut itself off. I no longer felt that burning passion, compassion and urgency that once thrust me forward with unstoppable force…my energy was shot, and my mind went blank.
I carried that debilitating guilt and frustration for a long time…but then, I woke up - again, somehow.
There’s a saying somewhere that one can shed the weight of the past simply by choosing not to carry it forward. Every day is a new one. Whether we chose to carry the thoughts, pain, fears and pressures that weigh us down and impede our progress - is completely up to us…
Sitting here, in Cambodia now - on my thick wooden deck overlooking a Buddhist pagoda, I realize that no matter how hard we try, and how time-sensitive our goals can be at times, we must embrace and roll with this wonderful thing called life. Life, and the world around us, flows majestically in mysterious and unpredictable ways…we have a choice to either leap into it - embracing the unknown, or to sit back and bask in the safety of our comfort zones. Both are good options, and it’s up to each and every one of us to chose our unique trajectories and paths in life…
So, after this longwinded purge of mine (apologies), my dear friends, I would simply like to say this;
Although I’m sure we’ve all heard this by now, THE MOST IMPORTANT lesson that I’ve learned thus far, is that the best life is lived through passion. If you have a dream, chase it! If you want to explore unfamiliar territory and/or your so-called crazy ideas, do it! If you want to do a back flip, naked (without hurting yourself of course), why not? Go for it!! If you want to see the world, get out there and see it!!!
I do not have the words to describe the degree to which my travels as an independent video journalist and advocate for the respect, preservation and protection of human cultures have contributed to my existence in this life…it has infused my soul with so much inspiration and awe, which is something that I owe deeply to each and every single person I’ve met along my personal journey thus far. I now look at this world of ours through a lens that has been forged by the stories, ideas, visions, experiences, realities, struggles, hopes and dreams of those I would not have met had I not leapt forward while challenging the odds stalked against me.
I’ve also realized and learned that one needs to face the fact that there is much evil in this world that be cannot overcome alone…but what I do know, is that we must certainly try.
For those of you contemplating the notion of a more remote and off-the-beaten-path form of travel, get out there - the world is not as scary as you’ve probably been made to think.
As for my established and emerging journo colleagues, the world needs you to step out of your norm. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO VENTURE OUT INTO THE WORLD…I promise you, it will change you, for the better - in ways you have probably yet to imagine...
To Everyone who has supported me and my "crazy" ideas over the years,
I cannot thank you enough, and am eternally grateful!!!