When I was knee-high to a grasshopper on the west coast of Newfoundland, my parents gifted me a hard cover children's edition atlas. The colored pages illustrated mountainous terrains and deep valleys spanning the far ends of the earth. It was divided into sections by continent. Each section provided overviews of the different countries, cultures, and people. I hungrily flipped the pages, anxious to absorb all it could show me about this vast planet, instantly transporting me off my island home into the mystery of foreign lands. I folded my arms around the hard exterior of the book and, for one moment, held the world in my hands.
In 2007, I went off "the Rock" on my first solo overseas trip in search of adventure. I planned to stay in Australia for just four months and return to Newfoundland to resume my undergraduate studies and carry on with "norma" life as it were.
Through serendipitous circumstances, the planned four-month stint became the first step I took on the road less traveled. I ventured through terrain wrought with risk, mistakes, self-exploration and discovery, precipitated by cross-cultural experiences in countries throughout the world. Four months became two years. Two years became five. As I hopped from country to country â€" Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and more â€" I crafted a bridge to my destiny as an international development worker and humanitarian in Africa. I forged a path of discovery built on the interconnectedness and power of the Universe, bounded by the shared human conditions that transcend geographical borders and celebrate the glorious differences that exist between them.
I began my journey to expand my horizons. In search of my place in the world, I recorded my experiences in journals, often reflecting on the synergies that exist among countries, fascinated by the many connections each foreign desitnation held to my home. Years later, I re-read my entries, picked out my favorites, and sculpted them into a book of short stories.
Stories are a fundamental part of Newfoundland culture. My grandfather, a humble shop owner in St. Anthony, was the original, skilled teller of stories in my family. As youngsters, Nan would make my brother and me some toast and serve us cups of mostly milk and sugar tea. We'd sit in the TV room, straining our ears to hear what the adults were laughing at in the room adjacent. Pop was usually the culprit â€" a joke about the fellar from wherever, or the hilarious anecdote about losing his boat motor in the middle of the lake. His dry wit and impeccable timing put everyone in fits.
The stories in "Off 'the Rock: The Road Less Traveled" honor this Newfoundland tradition. Each of us, through our presence on this earth, have a story. Our story is our contribution to the world. And every story, no matter how short or straightforward, is of great importance. Every choice, every meeting, is significant, and leads us down our unique and beautiful road. No matter if you have ventured to the other side of the globe or if you have stayed within the perimeter of your own rural backyard. The tremendous value and contribution of our unique "self" is a given. It is evidenced by the all-important, unassailable fact. We. Are. Here.
My travels have taught me many lessons, the biggest being that it is a privilege to be a Newfoundlander and Labradorian. Though I first ventured off "the Rock" a decade ago, I remain inextricably bound to our tiny island and its unique and wonderful inhabitants. You can take the woman out of Newfoundland â€" you know the rest.
Jennifer Yolanda Elms
Corner Brook, Newfoundland
Jennifer is an international development worker who works in Uganda. Her book, "Off the Rock: The Road Less Traveled" outlines her travels while working and volunteering abroad, and is available for purchase at Amazon.com.