This opportunity to travel through the Middle East and experience things most people would only dream about isn't something I take for granted. I am truly humbled that people have been supportive and are enjoying and embracing this experience just as much as I have through Spice Journey.
However, I've copped a few comments lately where people are criticising me for having the life. I'm not going to get on my high horse and defend myself, but let me just say when some were at uni getting pissed on the weekends, going on holidays, having the weekends off and racking up a HECS debt, I was slaving like a dog cooking from dusk to dawn for less than minimum wage. So I apologise if some of the fruits of my hard work are starting to blossom.
There were so many things that happened that you didn’t see on the show. Like the drive from Yazd to the Caspian Sea. A 16-hour drive through the winding roads off Iran. It wasn't by any means in a S-class Mercedes. We were crammed into a van with all the gear, surviving off dodgy potato chips and junk food that we picked up from roadside servos. When we finally got to our destination, we collapsed. Below average hotel rooms with mould growing on the roof and no hot water. Don't even get me started about the public toilet facilities in Iran...fancy a hole in the ground, anyone? For a bloke who just underwent knee surgery, taking a squat to do a Number Two isn't easy!
But enough of the rant.
What I really learnt from this journey is something that I already knew but had forgotten: We live in the best country in the world. We may not have the depth of history, the entrenched culture and dedications to centuries-old traditions or a national cuisine. But what we do have is freedom, an unquestionably high standard of living, security and a society that is welcoming and tolerant of new ideas and people. Of course, there are always a few numbskull minorities that are fighting against the system and who set out to damage the balance that so many people have given to this amazing country we live in. But that’s just part of democracy. Everyone with a voice gets to have a say; it’s up to you whether you listen or not.
Being an Australian enables you to hope and dream for anything. The possibilities are endless. I truly believe that if you don't achieve what you set out to, then you only have yourself to blame. There is everything in this country to enable you to achieve your goals. Life is always going to be hard, but, if you just ask, there is always someone there to help you. That’s Australian.
I am just a regular guy of immigrant parents from Melbourne’s West. I never dreamed of being able to achieve what I have, nor have I ever truly appreciated the magnitude of possibilities until I had the chance to travel and see the limited opportunities people have in other countries. In Lebanon, you can work all day and night, all week, all year, and still be a prisoner in a refugee camp. You have no rights, a terrible standard of living and no real country to call your own.
In Iran, you can study and dream of eventually being able to travel the world and live freely, but are never really given a chance to express yourself as an individual. You are always judged by the outside world and live in fear of attacks from those who have a corrupt agenda with the country you live in.
Tomorrow isn't promised to anyone, not even here in the Lucky Country. But living in these volatile environments where tomorrow could be war, invasion or death, the pressure of uncertainty is enough to bring you down. How do you plan for tomorrow? How do you build hope? Somehow, these people keep smiling and pushing through the adversity. They brush off all that holds them back and dream of a brighter tomorrow. I envy their tenacity, perseverance and their will to succeed and live life to its fullest.
As much as I loved travelling and learning from all the people I met, I learned to appreciate all the experiences – good and bad. I cherish the personal growth I've obtained as a father, chef and human being. I feel more complete, stronger and more whole in life. Most of all, I love getting back on that flight that says, "Destination: Melbourne". Back to my home. Back to the best country on earth where anything is possible.
Love, passion, family, dedication. That’s all you need. The rest is here for you, you just need to go and get it!