The last few months have quite literally flown by. I had intended on staying on top of writing and sharing my experiences with the Trophy Tour on this blog as frequently as possible but time really slipped away. I now find myself in Qatar, awake from jet lag and a mind full of anticipation for the next two months on the road and some much-needed time to catch up on the past few weeks of life.
It goes without saying that this job is intense and filled with a variety of emotions and feelings ranging from ecstatic to lonely to humbled and inspired. The last few legs of the tour were truly for me, a mixture of so many of those emotions and many more as well. My life, my inner voice and heart all changed during those few weeks and I’m so fortunate that I was able to see and feel all that I did.
Haiti, for me, was a life changer. I flew into Port Au Prince from Ottawa after getting some paperwork/visa stuff sorted and I was totally unprepared for the overwhelming emotion and energy that Haiti had. Right from the airport there was so much noise and so many people, grabbing at my clothes and trying to offer me things to buy. I was escorted to waiting car that didn’t look too official but I got in and we drove to the city. I didn’t expect to cry on that first day there but as we swerved through thousands of cars and around piles of rubble and crushed homes still present from the earthquake in 2010, it hit me. I remember the sun, starting to set had set an orange glow to the streets and in one moment that seemed to slow right down I saw a boy and a girl, about 5 years old sitting on top of a pile of garbage and I couldn’t hold it in. Crying because it was overwhelming, because there wasn’t much I could and because I felt totally uncomfortable knowing I have so much in my life while others have absolutely nothing.
The stay in Haiti was punctuated with moments of shared joy and moments of sadness. For every smile I saw and photographed there was a far away look in someone’s eyes, that told me that there was so much hurt still left. I focussed a lot of my attention on the kids that surrounded our event, trying to make them laugh and taking their photos. During one morning when we invited a few hundred orphans to see the FIFA World Cup trophy, I met a young boy that, to this day, still lingers in my mind. He followed me the whole morning, holding on to my elbow and asking me a lot of questions. I let him take photos of his friends with my camera and he laughed and smiled each time I took the camera back. Then, out of nowhere he asked me to kneel down so he could tell me something and in the clearest voice he said “I have no brothers, no sisters. I have no mother and no father. It’s sad, very sad.” I could see him looking to me to say something, to acknowledge this sadness and this hurt and all I could say was “it is sad, but I know that there is a lot of love for you in the world, people love you and I hope you know that”. For days, this conversation replayed in my mind and combined with so many other sights and sounds of our stay in Haiti, helped me to realize that I have a blessed life with a lot to be thankful for, and I also have the opportunity to give back and help much more than I do. I made a promise to myself, and in some ways, to this boy to give back as much as I can and to make the world a better place. I’ve been much more aware of being more appreciative and compassionate and positive and I’m hoping that I can keep trying to give back throughout this tour and beyond.
After Haiti we spent a few more weeks travelling through the Caribbean visiting places like Guyana, Grenada, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Curacao, Nicaragua and El Salvador. In each of the these places there were moments, times when I had the chance to meet someone and talk to them that I felt truly connected to the world. There are so many people who are so willing and open to share moments of their lives with me and I always find myself caught by surprise how much they will share when asked. This tour truly is a happiness sharing tour. There is nothing quite like seeing people of all ages, races, abilities, and economic backgrounds laughing and smiling and sharing the same experience. I constantly feel so lucky to be able to see so many smiles every day.
The next leg, and my last few stops before taking a break, were also huge moments in this tour and for me personally. The tour made history in November after visiting Israel and Palestine in the same day. We arrived in Israel and there was immediately an air of kindness and positivity in the airport. After giving a team of boys some key chains, their coach gave me what is one of my favourite keepsakes from the trip so far, a fair play card which is given to players who promote kindness, compassion and fair play during the game.
After a short half day stay in Tel Aviv, we continued on to Palestine and even though the air was full of nervousness and anxiety, the drive went well and we quickly made our way through the secured wall separating the two. It was a surreal and tense afternoon driving through the border, history making for Coca-Cola and certainly something that not many do in their lifetime. Our few days in Palestine were eye-opening, not quite as immediately overwhelming as Haiti but still in the sense that it was a totally different place in the world and it was fascinating to me to just look out the windows as we drove, trying to soak in as much as I could in the few hours we were there. There was no secret in the tension that exists in this part of the world, it was obvious to us and clear to us how much struggle there is, but still we were greeted with such excitement and passion and happiness.
We drove to Jordan and I really enjoyed our stay there as well, so many kind and happy people filled our stay there and some of the moments of that stop are among my favourites. Meeting kids in the street, playing football and having a crazy car dance party on the drive back to Amman.
Egypt had been a place I’d always wanted to visit but honestly never thought I’d actually visit it. When we were in the plane circling over Cairo and I had my first tiny glimpse of the pyramids, my heart jumped a bit and it hit me that we were actually there. I had no idea that we’d be spending the next 3 days within a stones throw of the Great Pyramids of Giza and that I’d be getting to see them from morning until night without any obstruction. Our stay in Egypt was easily one of my favourites, not only because of the view but because the energy during our entire stay was filled with happiness. It was so easy to take photos because there were so many truly happy people all around us. We were able to sneak off for a short tour around the pyramid, the sphinx and ride camels in the sand. It was one of those “is this really happening?” moments for sure.
Throughout the last few weeks, my heart has been filled with so much happiness and love for the people in the world and I know that, even though sometimes what we are seeing is difficult, that it’s teaching me a lot about myself and about how I want to change the world for the better. I went home for the first time in almost 3 months and spent some time reflecting on the trip so far and prepping myself for the next 40 countries and 6 months and all the memories and experiences that are awaiting me.
Here’s a short slideshow of some photos of the last few stops we’ve made.
Thank you so much for reading this and for supporting me in my photography and this new chapter in life, it really does mean so much to me. You can follow my trip either on twitter at @trophytour or on Instagram at @findjoel.