After about a year of being back home in the UK, this photo is finally complete. It’s difficult to find a way to commemorate a trip that lasts for so long and covers so much ground, but this method works for me. For starters, trying to capture the essence of a country within a gift or object is nigh on impossible, secondly, carrying around 25 pieces of tourism makes no logistical sense with one backpack. Collecting currency may not be the most original of ideas, but there is something quite beautiful about seeing all the images together in one frame.
There is another, more sentimental reason why this picture means so much to me, and speaks as much about the people that I met as to my own journey around the world.
Knowing that my intention was to end up with a display like this, and taking into account that it would probably be the only physical evidence of the trip, I carefully selected the piece of currency that best represented its nation as I travelled each country. Cambodia’s had Angkor Wat, India’s Gandhi, Nepal’s Everest etc. I carried each note with me for the better part of sixteen months, kept safe at the bottom of my bag. Eventually, I arranged to meet up with my parents in Sri Lanka and planned to give them the currency to take home safely back to the UK.
Sixteen months I carried that currency with no problems. And then, an hour before I was due to see my parents, airport staff in Chennai went through my bag after check in, and stole the envelope containing the money. It had a value of nothing. Less than a fivers worth of unusable denominations from all around the world. Sixteen months. Gone.
To say I was devastated is an understatement. To say I was angry…I quite literally vowed bloody and horrific revenge on the person who had taken the envelope. Had they been there, standing in front of me, God only knows what I would have done. It was the futility of it. If I had had a couple of hundred dollars stashed at the bottom of my bag, I could have understood it. But as it was, the likelihood was, they probably snatched the envelope, rifled through it, took out the Indian 20 rupee note and then chucked the rest of it away. That simple act was nothing to them, everything to me.
It’s quite difficult to explain how much that currency meant to me. Things get distorted when you spend so much time on your own. I had this idea that, no matter how far in the future I was from the trip, no matter what dead end job I might end up in, I’d be able to look at the frame, and be reminded of one of the best times of my life. And that was all gone. One hour. All those hundreds of days, and one hour from the finish line, fate had decided to step in and mock me. It was almost as if, those memories had been chucked away. Exceptionally melodramatic in context, but raw in the moment. Though that is rather a habit of mine.
And yet, I have a fully assembled piece with 24 out of the 25 countries all present and correct. (Ecuador uses the U.S. Dollar as it’s currency) So how?
I got lucky.
Aside from the piece of currency from Australia, every other denomination pre-Sri Lanka comes from another traveller who heard my tale of woe. Sometimes it was sheer luck and they happened to have a spare piece from a country they’d been in the week before. Sometimes, a friend of a friend had been to one of the places I’d visited and they had managed to get hold of it. And then, sometimes people went above and beyond what they needed to do, sending it through in the post back to my home address in the UK as they themselves continued on their own trip. So, now, a year later, I have the full collection. I say it again. I got lucky.
And that I suppose, in some gloriously sentimental way is why this picture means so much to me hanging on my wall. It’s as much about the generosity of people that I met as it is about the memories. Despite the anger, despite the stress at losing that envelope in Chennai, I prefer it this way, because now, every time that I look at that frame, I don’t just think about the places that I visited, I’m reminded of just how incredible people can be. They took time out of their lives to make mine just that little bit better.
So this is a massive thanks to everyone who contributed or tried to help. I’ll still be remembering your generosity when I’m old and grey.
And besides. It looks bloody good on my wall.
Music of the Moment – Alt-J – Every Other Freckle