At school I once studied the Simon Armitage poem ‘It ain’t what you do, it’s what it does to you’. The lines have always stuck in my mind. A few months ago I was re-reading the poem and started to reflect on my most precious memories from each country I have visited and how they affected me. As I embark on my next adventure to the Congo, I wanted to note down a few of my favourite things (in no particular order).
In Monaco, I was a baby and do not remember a thing. But I remember going on my first ever holiday with my mum to Rhodes in Greece and standing at the point where two seas meet.
I cycled past Notre Dame de Paris in the rain after a night out drinking with friends when I lived in France. When in the Netherlands, I strolled along the canals in Maastricht with my sister and fell asleep by the water in the sun. I walked through the pitch black streets of Kosovo at night and was startled by the sound of gun fire in the distance. And I wandered the empty streets aimlessly in eastern Paraguay for a few hours and saw a dead dog.
I went whale spotting off the coast of Spain‘s Canary Islands every summer as a kid. I once went skinny dipping in a secluded cove in Portugal near Europe’s western most point.
When in Belgium, I spent New Year’s Eve partying with my nearest and dearest on the edge of the canal. I had flaming absinth shots with my mother and sister in the Czech Republic. I partied until sunrise in the moat of a 14th century castle at Exit Festival in Serbia. As a bright-eyed and wandering eighteen year old, I drank cocktails with new friends at a rooftop bar overlooking Pudong in China. I turned 30 in Israel with some of my closest friends and family. And I once drank gin and tonics on the balcony of the Ambassador’s residence in Kuwait.
I attended a conference on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen at the Palais des Nations in Switzerland and drank beer on Lake Geneva. In Italy, I raced through the streets of Rome in a police escorted motorcade and got car sick. In the United States, I walked through the streets of New York after one of their worst snow storms in years and saw a woman skiing on Broadway.
In Montenegro, I went white water rafting through Europe’s deepest canyon. When in North Macedonia, I swam in the chilled, ancient waters of Lake Ohrid. I spent the summer days lounging at the Turkish baths in Hungary. When in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I watched divers jump 70 feet from the Mostar bridge into the river. I raced up the Pyramid of Tirana with some local kids and sipped cocktails in the communist era rotating restaurant whilst in Albania.
I saw the galaxy for the first time on a visit to Croatia as we drove across Hvar island in the darkness of night. I walked the Inca trail in Peru and cried at the beauty of Macchu Picchu from the top of Wayna Picchu. I trekked for hours in Indonesia to watch sunrise over Kawah Ijen and Mount Bromo. And in Germany, I ran the Berlin marathon in three hours and thirty-seven minutes.
On arrival in Senegal, I took a wooden boat across the channel to reach N’Gor island with only the moonlight showing the way. When leaving The Gambia, the engine exploded as my plane was taking off and we were stranded in a beach hotel for two days.
I crossed the Bosphorus on a ferry at first light and watching the minarets appear from behind the mist in Turkey. I went tubing down the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng in Laos. I took a local fisherman’s boat around an island in Thailand at sundown and watched lightning storms flash on the horizon.
When in Lebanon, I explored Beit ed-Dine in the Chouf mountains during the peaceful winter months and stood in Bacchus Temple listening to someone sing opera. I spent the night under an open roof at the James Turrell house in Japan and watched the light display at sunrise. And I watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia and then explored the beautiful temple complex (and got chased by bees).
I spent many rainy afternoons relaxing in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, and trekked through the world’s oldest rainforest. I washed elephants at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka and climbed Adam’s Peak for sunrise. And in Tunisia, I rode a camel in the Sahara desert with my mum and sister.
We crossed the border from Brazil to spend the evening in Argentina; drinking red wine and eating the best steak of my life. When in Brazil, I joined day and night street parties with friends in São Paulo and Salvador. I drank Singapore Slings and spent the night in a penthouse suite at Raffles Hotel. I crossed paths with a wonderful acquaintance in Tanzania and spend many evenings drinking cocktails on the roofs of Stone Town.
I took the 40 hour train journey between Mumbai and Kolkata in India, and walked barefoot through the Taj Mahal. I spent the night in Wadi Rum with friends in Jordan and rode a camel across the desert. I trekked through the mountainous terrain of Wadi Shab in Oman and jumped off waterfalls into the cave pools.
I attended mass with Pope John Paul II when visiting the Vatican City. I visited the Royal Palace of Saudi Arabia and used the golden toilets. In Azerbaijan, I marvelled in the majesty and audacity of the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre. I pretended to be France in a model European Union competition when in Ireland.
I walked around the eerie abandoned towns and apartments of the Chernobyl exclusion zone in northern Ukraine holding my boyfriend’s hand. I drank whisky in Iraq with old Peshmerga generals up in the Zagros mountains on the border with Iran. When in South Korea, I peered through binoculars into North Korea from the De-Militarised Zone. I took my mother to Bethlehem and Hebron through the checkpoints to feel the ancient history and current challenges facing Palestine. And I wandered the streets of Qatar at night and looked up at the glowing skyscrapers during a long layover back to Iraq.
When in Egypt, I sailed across the Nile in Aswan whilst the sun was setting and starred at the tombs of the nobles on the desert horizon. I found paradise on earth at Tayrona in Colombia and met some beautiful people along the way. I sailed around the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador and climbed to the highest point I have ever reached on earth (4,800m). I sat on a rooftop in Marrakesh and looked over the snow capped Atlas mountains of Morocco. And finally, I flew into the Sahara in Algeria to see the ancient and unique cultures of the M’Zab valley.