The day I met Mr. Happiness

I arrived in Oslo at 7am after a 1300km bike journey through the Norwegian fjords and a sleepless night on a very crowded bus from Stavanger. My accommodation plans didn’t work out and I found my self standing in front of the train station hungry, tired and with nowhere to go. I needed a plan of action: a warm cup of tea and a free WiFi connection.

On Pulpit Rock

On Pulpit Rock with my bike

Once online I quickly realised all the hostels where fully booked and the hotels were well out of my financial stretch. When I reached for help online, a friend suggested I would use Couchsurfing for the first time.
At 7am, in a coffee shop of Oslo train station, a bike loaded with bags, sleepless and exhausted, I wrote my life’s story on Couchsurfing and pressed “Send”.
By that point it was 9am, the sun was finally out (it had rained almost incessantly for 10 days) and the Operahuset looked like it was floating on a blue canvas.
With nothing else to do I left my bags in the station lockers, took my bike and went on exploring Oslo.

Cycling on the Oslo Operahuset

Oslo Operahuset – Norway

While sitting in Vigeland park and after receiving a number of very kind refusals, salvation came in the shape of a university student from Pakistan.
His name was Mr. Happiness.
If I try to overlap the following three demographics: number of Urdu speakers that live in Oslo, number or people on Couchsurfing and number of Couchsurfers that actually check their messages on a daily basis, the statistic probability of that encounter are close to irrelevant.

“Everyone’s got a mortgage to pay.
99% of everything done in the world, good or bad, is done to pay a mortgage. Perhaps the world would be a better place if everyone rented.”

Thank you for smoking (2005)

But Chance does not care about demographics and I was lucky enough to experience first hand the notorious Muslim hospitality.
I spent three very enjoyable days at Mr. Happiness’ place. We had long chats about society, politics, religion and we discovered a very close affinity of ideals. One afternoon, while chatting over my journeys, he showed me images of Pakistan, which is a county of staggering beauty.
I was hooked.
What he said after, without either of us knowing it, was about to change my life.
He said “I am organising a little trip to Pakistan towards the end of the year with some European friends. You should definitely come with us. You only need to pay for your flight. Once you are there, you are my guest and you don’t need to worry about anything”.
I have to admit, after seeing those images of Pakistan, I would have jumped on the first flight.

What is more human and inspiring than someone opening the doors to his or her own home to a perfect stranger? How could I ignore the opportunity to discover a wonderful country guided by the knowledge and the passion of someone local?

Me standing on Kjerag

Feeling nothing is impossible with a 1000m drop under my feet
Kjerag – Norway

How could I have possibly said no?
The answer is fairly simple and it is probably the same answer most people would have given to themselves.
I needed to go back to London and my job because I had bills to pay. Everyone has a mortgage to pay after all. “The Yuppie Nuremberg defence” cit.
A few hours later, on a plane to London, reality hit me.
What was I doing with my life?
Going to work to pay rent so that I could go back to work. Was that what I wanted?
Was that what I used to dream about when I was a child?

All of a sudden, the choice was very simple. I could either stay in a job I didn’t love, pay for ever increasing bills, chasing a definition of success that did not belong to me or wander about the world and rediscover that sense of wonder that is at the heart of human nature.

There and then I decided my life needed to change. Never again I would hide behind puerile excuses. I would put my self in a position where, whenever another Mr. Happiness would open his doors for me, I would be able to say “yes”. And if I had to say “no”, I would need a bloody good excuse!

Seven months later I started the process of selling everything I owned. I mounted on my trusty 22 years old steel bike and cycled into the unknown. Well… sort of unknown.

The journey had begun.

The journey begins

The journey begins

“And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?”

Charles Bukowski

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