Traveling can go way beyond beachlife, adventures and a routine break. It can turn a whole new page in your book of life. It can redefine the meaning of your life. It can change everything.
I started the journey of my life for about 8 years ago. And I’m still on the same path.
I was in my room writing one mid-winter night in 2009. I was 18, still living with my folks in a small city called Raisio in Finland. I shared the room with my younger sister.
It was dark, my sister was sleeping and I was busy planning my new life under a small light. Last couple of years had been extremely hard with growth challenges and life lessons. I had final exams ahead. And I had to figure out what to do after high school.
"I was drawing a mindmap for my dreams and goals. All of a sudden a strange yet exciting idea
flashed into my mind.
I want to volunteer in Africa!"
I was so thrilled to start packing and when hugging my mom at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in August 2009. ”I’m leaving now!” It was breathtaking to finally start realizing my unknown dreams. For the first time, I was traveling by myself, on my own.
The BIG DAYS count
27 years of life behind and I have experienced four life-changing days; 3 of them during my travels. You know those days you realize that this is the reason you live, this is what you should be doing, and this is what makes life so beautiful. Those days and moments you’ll never forget. They make your heart beat faster, they give you goosebumps and make you feel surreal. You might not see it immediately but those days change us, and our lives - for good. So now, the first one of my BIG DAYS was my very first day in Ghana:
”I arrived to Accra with a few other volunteers
late last night. We took a minibus early in the morning and started heading towards a small village
in order to attend a training camp
before starting the actual volunteering programs.
The sparkling feeling I had when looking out through the bus window was something I had never felt before. I felt happy, confused and thrilled.
I felt somehow complete.”
I actually loved most of my days in Ghana. I faced my inexperience and imbalance. I learned to be alone, different and unselfish. I felt more fear, boldness and curiosity than ever before. My black-and-white world became colorful. The problems of my past life got replaced by more important things. I lived my life to the fullest! And fell in love too…
My Finnish-Ghanaian son David was born a year and a half later (my second BIG DAY).
When Dave was two and a half years old I took him for his first long stay to his second motherland. That was my time to learn parenting from a whole new perspective, not that I always wanted or liked it but because of the circumstances I had to adapt to. Later on I’ve got to realize how amazing results all the confusion created between me and my son. It’s good to get a bit lost during the journey..
Goodbye, comfort zone
Comfort zone? I wasn’t there for sure when I set up a business to provide solutions for Ghana’s sanitation challenges. Entrepreneurship itself is wild. But what about entrepreneurship abroad; in a developing country? Yep, that’s what me and my team ended up doing and you can just imagine how colorful and crazy three years we’ve been through. Fighting and dreaming, obstacles and wonders. Patience! Patience with funding, permissions, agreements, customers, partners, sub-contractors... everything! We’ve built toilets in remote villages and huge slums. We’ve seen poverty, corruption and I-don’t-careism. We’ve met ambassadors, chiefs, ministers, ”untouchables”, bastards, liars and angels on earth. And we’ve learnt. And changed. A lot.
These years of working abroad have also brought the third and the fourth BIG DAYS into my life. I traveled to India with my colleague to attend a sanitation workshop and identify some local partners. We spent the last two days in Mumbai and visited the worlds second largest slum, Dharavi. It touched me deeply with it’s heavy controversies. I admired the well organized community life, cooperation, solidarity and peace among all the different ethnic, religious and cultural groups inhabiting the slum. I met beautiful, bold people with loads of faith, strength and creativity. I was so moved during and after that day. It made me realize that we all have a mission in our lives that must be fulfilled no matter who you are or where you come from. If those small, poor kids from Dharavi succeed to find a meaning for their lives, and are able to even make it happen, anyone should be able to do the same. Me too. I became much more passionate about my life.
The fourth BIG DAY happened in Ghana again. After many months of hard work we finally delivered tens of dry toilets into one rural village around the capital city of Ghana, Accra. It might sound a bit weird, but it was such an incredible feeling to do so much good for people in need. We created something from scratch with a lot of effort and it finally paid off. I remember how I sat under a huge tree, watching my crew working with the community members, tears of joy in my eyes and I called mom:
”My dream is coming true right now!”.
These scenes are just bits of all the greatness I’ve learnt and come across along my travels. If I had never left for my very first journey, my life would be something completely different today.
What about you? Have you been traveling? Has it changed you? Any BIG DAYS? Have you found Your journey of life?