Let me first state, finding a good partner is probably the most difficult of all issues as regards to a “successful” Expedition. It doesn´t matter if the person you plan your journey together with is the best of friends before leaving, there´s a big chance this will change once you have set off. Expedition life is just very demanding in every way. One is continuously tired, under lots of different types of stress, it is a life where you change environments all the time, meet new people or find yourself in an atmosphere where the true you come out. So finding a partner is not easy.
After almost 30 years of doing Expeditions, the last half always together with somebody, I have realized a few truths which I´d like to share which might be of help. One important such reality is that what look likes on the paper to be the best, most likely isn´t. It is all in the passion and interest this person shows. Not what the person have done before. His or her CV is quite irrelevant as long as the person is ready to work hard and learn. And the passion is the most important, this other person having the light in his or her eyes, saying:
“I want to do this more than anything. And I am ready to make the sacrifices needed!”
Right now I am in the middle of a very, very important Expedition for me. The most important one I have ever done. And I need the best of partners, somebody at least 50% as good as Tanya Holm, from Yemen fame. She is the perfect example of the passion I talked about. She had done some outdoor, some photography, on paper not perfect at all, but turns out a good explorer and camerawoman at the end. And the greatest of partners and a best friend for life. Because of her passion and drive. And love of life. And I have spent my last 6 months looking for a good partner for the new Expedition. Which for me is my job. I am doing documentaries first of all. This time I also had one in mind as quick as I started. A Yemen hand, she is English-Sudanese, a great human and traveller, but I am not the only one understanding this, so she decided to stay with her development job. In Yemen.
So, what I did, I advertised on an outdoor site called Explorers Connect, since most of my friends here in the UK told me, that is the way they do it. So this I did, asking for a female who could handle a camera and had an immigrant background and saying it would be a plus not being white. I had twelve replies. 50% of them demanded to know what kind of money they could earn. One asked for 6 000 pounds a month and wanted to know how many hours per day she had to work. On paper she had most of what I asked for. But the attitude, it would have been a disaster. I´d like to point out here that I thought about her as a possibility for some time and I am sure her attitude is due to living in the most highly overrated city in the world, London, where people see themselves as ten times better than what reality is. I don´t think I ever have come across as many overrated professionals, both as doc makers and explorers, as in London. Maybe it is the public school syndrome where they teach how to become the best, believe you are the best, even if you don´t tell the truth. Having said that 2 of the applicants where very promising. One was travelling and very warm and intelligent, but at that time I didn´t know when or were, so we left it at that. The other, the best one, was unfortunately American. They have such a different attitude. I love the I want to go for it-attitude. Not once did she bring up the money issue, even though I know she barely survives. I do understand the money issue though. Especially here in England where it is all over every walk on life. England is very commercial and money orientated. But, I just prefer the one who wants to join my Expedition to show passion first and once that is done, let us sort out the money problem or wait for my offer and we will take it from there.
This first round made me believe that the best would be to find somebody in Moss Side or Manchester, since I prefer northerners to Londoners any day. I did come across three extra ordinary ladies I wanted to ask if they would be interested. Not once did anyone of them bring up money. The two first were just too busy with life as such. And the third, as busy, after initially agreeing to do it together, I realized she had never done any camera work, not carried 15 kg:s in a rucksack, hadn´t spent much if any time in the great outdoors and these facts made me realize I would have to work myself to death to compensate, ending up with a terrible documentary because of too much work. And I would be too irritated if things didn´t go well. In one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, I had to tell her it wouldn´t work out. She is a very nice human being, very intelligent and opinionated, but there was too little time to prepare. Less than a month. And I knew she wouldn´t give up what she was doing to concentrate fully on training and learning how to film.
So, after consulting my co producers in Sweden and the UK, we realized we needed to find somebody who is English, is an outdoor person, has some camera skills, wants to learn and is eager to do the journey as a learning experience and who has realistic economical demands. Once again, I think the problem is that so many so called English explorers have heard this and that as regards to payment from National Geographic or Discovery Channel or have worked for the BBC or some commercial channel here in England who pays much for nothing. And they´re all based in London or close to. I don´t mind paying for people helping me out, on the contrary, but it should be realistic, I shouldn´t end up in debt and it shouldn´t be the main drive. So I talked again to the very helpful Belinda at Explorers Connect who once again helped me with an ad. A better, more realistic ad and I had one very good answer. I had four others where the wage demand was the most important. This applicant was a real pro in every way, but once again, it failed on the money issue. And to a certain degree on the fact that one of my partners was a toddler.
Now, I suddenly realized where I had got it wrong from the beginning. Bad ads I did didn´t help. But, all along I had pushed away what I have lived by all my life, my gut feeling. So, I took a long day out with my youngest and newest Expedition partner…yes, I will have to ladies joining me, one is still a toddler…..and we strolled a good part of Manchester South and I came up with a solution. It had to be somebody from the north, English, youngish, with outdoor background, traveller, but who really wanted to do it but being happy enough for a wage which would cover all her costs being away plus having everything paid on the journey in itself. Why young? Well, I have seen through the years, that age makes you have more demands, more opinions and less willpower to work hard and learn.
Suddenly I remembered a Facebook friend from the north of England, who had followed my search for a partner, who said he knew the perfect lady. I have a lot of respect for him, because he is a dad with young one´s (having a family makes you a better, less selfish person), an outdoor person and his views on life are very clear and strong with a positive touch. So, my gut feeling said, this is promising. So, I started to talk to this Bolton lady and I realized immediately, this just feels right in the gut! She came over one day last week, slightly shy, extremely well behaved and kind and very English and it felt very, very good! She is northerner, outdoorsy and eager to learn, wants to do the journey, have no need for personal attention and accepts my other team member very well. My gut feeling is, that this is as good as it gets. Another last minute choice. She is a gift from the Gods! (Thanks Karl!) She will introduce herself soon….
So my 3 important tips are:
1. Passion first! If the one you are talking to immediately either starts questioning you, is not a fan of your earlier work, mentions money early, needs personal attention, shows any inclination of…oh I am not ready to put in the hard work needed and help out…it is a very clear sign, this will not work!
2. Follow your gut feeling! If it doesn´t feel right, don´t do it.
3. Avoid people based in London!