Sienna Brown: What travel taught me

TRANSFORMATION

Fed up with my life's slow decline into relentless sameness, in 2014 I took three months off to travel to the Greek island of Symi. I arrived on a cold, wet winter's day and used a soggy, hand-drawn map to locate my friend's house, where I was delighted to find a library of books. That was handy, as within 48 hours, I came down with a wretched flu and there I stayed, in bed, for two weeks, the heater full blast, wind howling, shutters banging, reading and slurping down hot lemon and honey. In retrospect, I was opening space to acknowledge my creative yearnings. It was the beginning of transforming my life, which I'm enjoying still.

HARMONY

I grew up in Toronto and return frequently. It's one of the most multicultural, tolerant cities in the world. Home to a vibrant LGBTQ community, Canada also has one of the largest West Indian populations outside of the Caribbean and in the first week of August, Canadians celebrate Caribana. Started in 1967, it's become North America's largest cultural festival, a three-week fun-filled celebration culminating in an effervescent street parade. Every year Caribana attracts more than a million visitors, who, like me, revel in Canada's inclusiveness, honouring our differences, while celebrating our mutual humanness.

REVERENCE

I knew little about the island of Bali apart from having seen the classic movie, South Pacific, and reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Prey, Love. When I travelled there a few years ago, I quickly left the busyness of Kuta and took a hire car up into the green finery of Ubud. I had never experienced such reverence for beauty and not only all living things, but also the ancestral dead. This aligned with my approach to spirituality. Everything seemed designed to bow down in reverence before the divine that is nature.

AUTHENTICITY

I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and emigrated to Toronto when I was 12. I don't get a chance to head back there that often, but when I do, I'm struck by the warmth and playful humour of my fellow Jamaicans. What a proud nation, having survived the legacy of British colonial slavery. Although I call Australia home, like most migrants I have discovered the land one is born into will always resonate in one's heart. Wanting to reconnect with my heritage has been at the heart of writing my debut novel Master of My Fate and bringing me back to a more authentic self.

Sienna Brown was born in Jamaica and grew up in Canada. A professional dancer and documentary filmmaker, her move to Australia and work at Sydney's Living Museum led her to the story of Jamaican slaves sent to Australia as convicts. This inspired her first novel, Master of My Fate, (Vintage Australia, $32.99). See penguin.com.au

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