From an early age my Mum gave me a taste for adventure and exploration, of the world beyond my doorstep but also the world within – my own potential and my spirituality, to wonder, ignite curiosity, to question, to move from the heart. She gave me courage and taught me that grit goes hand in hand with grace, especially as a woman. Where grit means determination, fearlessness and courage and grace is beauty in action, being impeccable with your word, being kind to yourself and others.
We both share a love for the ocean. My Mum was a surfer when she was in her teens, at a time when surfing wasn’t trendy, cool or mainstream and she was one of very few women doing it in Ireland. A pioneer and rebel going against her parent’s wishes and using all her savings to buy her first surfboard, hiding her first surf injury under a hat for an entire summer because she didn’t want her parents to stop her doing what she loved. Luckily for me, I was actively encouraged to pursue my love for the sea and surf.
I travelled the world with her from an early age. Mum believes in the importance of marking rites of passage in life, the great turning points in our life, on the ‘hero’s journey’. Experiencing new places, people and cultures from such a young age had a huge impact on my life and my worldview. When I was 11, before I finished primary school and began secondary school I went on an adventure with my Mum to Nepal. I say adventure because a part from booking the return flights everything else was an unknown and we lived one day at a time, each day full of possibility, and the unexpected was always to be expected.
Above: Easkey and her mum's return journey to Nepal & Bhutan in 2012. Photos: Easkey Britton / NC Britton.
Nepal opened me to the light and dark of the world – a place where life and death co-existed and were celebrated – milk was used to cleanse the dead and blood was used to cleanse the living. I met lepers and a living goddess, monks and thieves, holy men and con artists, Tibetan refugees and Nepalese Royalty. It was something that both my parents never hide from me – the rawness of life in all its colour. The memories remain the most of vivid of any trip, still. I’ve always been a writer. I find it goes hand in hand with travel and I’ve kept a journal since I was a child. I dug out my journal that I kept when I was in Nepal that first time. Here is an excerpt from my 11 year old self that best captures the essence of that journey with Mum;
Pokhara, November 1997
In the boat on the lake as the sun rises over the Himalayas, burning away the cloud and illuminating the snowy peaks in a blaze of pink and gold. Mammy and I dash back across the lake, pulling hard on the owers, quickly find a taxi driver who is willing to take us up the nearby mountain, up the hair-pin bends. We stop when the road stops and begin our climb.
We climb through the mountain village to the top of the mountain where a mix of souls have gathered in the dawn light to stand in awe before the mighty Himalaya mountains. The pink and golden peak of Macchupichari rising the highest before us, the Annapurnas in the distance. It is a vision that is forever burned into my memory, a sight so beautiful and humbling it would move any being to tears.
Bodhunath, November 1997
Walking around Bodhnath stupa turning prayer wheels, Buddhist monks prostrating, young monks with arms around each other. Drink a lassi on the roof top in the morning mist. Visit a Tibetan tailor and buy little monks clothes for me. This is where they filmed Little Buddha. A poor Nepalese man sat with us on the whitewashed steps telling us his sad story of his dying sister and no medicine or money for doctors. I read in the guidebook to be wary of such scams. He could be lying or telling the truth, it didn’t matter. He was so desperate and we had more than him so Mum gave him the money she had. I don’t think it was enough to fix his problems. It’s like trying to stop a flood by building a dam of pebbles...but I think it is much worse to do nothing at all...
Clockwise from top: Tika Dalarmi at home in Nepal. Tika is recognised everywhere in the village and says her life has been transformed, thanks to Oxfam's Raising her Voice project and the extraordinary efforts of local women themselves. Raising Her Voice is a global project being implemented in 17 countries to try to overcome the widespread marginalisation of women. Oxfam works with partner organisations to promote the rights and ability of poor women to increase their influence and ensure their voices are heard so that those in power, from village leaders to politicians and law-makers, become more accountable to them. Over five years (2007-2012), more than a million women have seen life-changing benefits as a result of the project that changes attitudes towards women and the role they play.Tika holds photos of her husband, who is away working elsewhere in Nepal to earn money for the family during the lean season. Photos: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam.
These stories show the gifts Mum gave me then - the wonder and beauty of nature, to be in awe at a power greater than ourselves and the importance of gratitude and giving, how even a small act of kindness matters.
I promised I would return the gift by taking my Mum on an adventure when I was old enough to treat her. We left with this knowing deep down that we would return. In 2012, after 15 years of saving and submitting my PhD I took Mum back to Nepal and across the Himalayas into the Buddhist mountain kingdom of Bhutan, the land of Gross National Happiness. When we travel together and share experiences like that it doesn’t feel like we are mother and daughter, more like best friends – sharing and challenging the best in each other be it scaling mountains 10,000ft high to a ‘tiger’s nest’ or receiving blessings from reincarnated lamas, braving the local chilli dish or learning how to shoot arrows. We find where our strengths are and how we can support each other, for example, when Mum goes shopping I do the bargaining or when I want to get up close and personal to a wild rhino, Mum (tries) to hold me back.
On International Women’s Day I had the opportunity to collaborate with my Mum on a health and wellbeing course she is running with a local community group. It was such a special and powerful thing to share, to be in my Mum’s work space and to see her in her element. How she makes the space so welcoming and sacred, with such care and attention, the love and gratitude shared by the participants. I was there to share my story and to talk about ‘exploring our true potential,’ a path Mum and I have been on all our lives and will continue to travel on together.