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Yesterday, I made a new friend. There are those who quietly lead very inspiring lives. For anyone who, like me, needs a little dusting off this morning before going back into the fray, I share this.

My friend is Caucasian, originally from Zambia, Africa. Just celebrated his 50th birthday. He tells me that he’s now living in his back pack. His reasoning is that he gave up on the first world and decided to work in conflict zones, refugee camps and natural disaster areas as a field medic.

Last night, he was waiting out a twelve-hour layover at Pearson Airport, before boarding another flight for eleven hours. We decided to keep each other company. When I asked for details, he told me he came in from the Philippines (where he’d worked since the Typhoon Yolanda in November) and was now on his way to Uganda to work in a Sudanese refugee camp called Rhino camp.

Here is how he describes his past: “I was the epitome of the first world male. I had an amazing career, houses, cars, motorcycles, horses, boats and owed nothing; I had a turning event which really changed my life when I realized I was not happy.”

We talked for a couple of hours about whether we missed our stuff (neither of us does to any extent) and how the bohemian lifestyle in a developing nation suits us (sometimes, it can tear at you emotionally: he had to leave one camp because his main job was sewing up young rape victims. He couldn’t take twelve hours a day of that, where the locals saw it as a way of life) My life is one of simple inconvenience compared to this. Perspective is really valuable.

He told me he’d had everything, and given it all away. When I asked about the greater rewards, he sent me an image of a Ugandan newspaper clipping, entitled “Eight-year-old girl survives stray bullet”

And then, when I described the bike book project, he shared a bike story. *sigh* I love this part of being me.

“You should have met my friend Joris who was cycling around the world and was in Bangkok when the Typhoon hit, he loaded his bike on a plane and flew to Manila and cycled three hundred plus kilometers to Tacloban to help in the clean up. He just started digging bodies out of the rubble and placing them in body bags … he had just turned 23. I was wowed by this young man.”

Last week, I temporarily gave up on the human species: insecure, narrow-minded, self-centred people abound and sometimes they burn me out. Why my new friend and I met, I don’t know. I think the bike project interviews has attuned me to watch for opportunities at odd moments. Our three-hour conversation healed so much of the disappointment and frustration we were both feeling, and recharged us to be on our way again–me to my small mammal world of sustainable transportation advocacy (“look! bikes are very cool!”) and he to his order-of-magnitude-larger world of healing torn bodies.

Best of all things, Gary. Strong bike energy coming your way as you fly out.