“Wow, you must really love cycling!”
Most people assume, upon hearing of my journey, that I am an avid cyclist. Far from it. In fact, I’d say the least important element of my trip is the cycling. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the physical aspects, the challenge of riding uphill for hours on end, the satisfaction of knowing that I have made my way from X to Y purely by leg power (and Snickers) and the thrill of zooming down a rare perfectly smooth road. I do. But this journey is about more than that.
Since finishing high school I’ve spent a lot of my time overseas. At 18 I flew to Ghana, backpacked around West and East Africa before finding myself in Burundi just as the capital was put under a curfew. I’ve studied politics at a French university and Arabic in Jerusalem, taught English to Masaai in Tanzania, been welcomed into homes in the largest urban slum in Africa, eaten tajine in Morocco and amok in Cambodia. In all of these places and others, despite all the differences of language, culture and religion, I’ve experienced hospitality, generosity and kindness.
A couple of years ago I found myself in New Delhi and somewhat fell into an internship with a human rights organisation. Within a week I knew I was in the right place. Human rights combined all my passions: people, politics, health, research, languages, international affairs. Within a few months there I applied and was accepted for a masters of international law at the University of Edinburgh, knowing that I needed a more solid background if I was to properly understand the field. Being particularly passionate about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers as well as the rights of women, I chose to write my dissertation on sexual violence in refugee camps. Last July, I moved back to New Zealand to do an internship with Amnesty International. In my spare time I volunteered for an organisation that helps refugees settle into life in New Zealand. I was paired with an Iraqi family who are without a doubt, despite all that they’ve been through, the warmest people I’ve met.
When I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition late last year, I spent a few months lying on the couch. Couch time makes for great thinking time. I thought about all the horrible things that I’d read about during my studies, the campaigns that I’d worked on during my time at Amnesty International, the unspeakable things I’d heard from refugees who had fled to a safe but difficult life in New Zealand. All things inflicted by other people.
I thought of how most negative things come from lack of understanding, a fear of the unknown, a fear of the ‘other’. And I thought that maybe, if people know a little more about each other, then perhaps the world would be a more tolerant place.
So I decided to cycle across the world, to see things for myself of course, but also to show things to others. I want to share with you the warmth that I feel when someone laughs with me at my pitiful attempts at Mandarin when I stop at a roadside peach stall or grins and gives me the thumbs up as I inch uphill over potholes. I want to show you that the woman I meet while sheltering out of thunderstorm wants the best for her children, just like the mothers I know. I want to share with you what it feels like when the owner of a roadside foodstand pushes my hand away as I try pay for my $1 meal. I want to show you that it’s not ‘brave’ of me to travel alone because people, on the whole, are good.
So, that’s why I’m here, with calloused hands and horrendous tan lines, cycling from Hong Kong to Scotland.