Week 44 - Dubai with Turkish Airlines
For the past 2 years I have selflessly helped others. Doing whatever I could to ensure that I was doing my tiny bit to make this world a happier and nicer place to live in.
But there comes a time, especially after 2 years that one just needs to re-fuel. Re-energise your soul so you can keep on giving.
I read a great quote once;
"To give wholly to others - you have to first give wholly to yourself" - Unknown.
So after spending 43 weeks on the road, helping countless charities across the country, I took some well-deserved time for me; to rest, relax and refuel my soul.
One of the Nicest Job in Britain sponsors, alongside UA, is Turkish Airlines. They were incredibly generous to donate two return tickets for me and a guest to travel to anywhere in the world. So when I did finally decide to have some time off, I could do that in whatever country I wished. I have to admit I have travelled a fair bit, but there are so many countries I have wanted to visit, one of those being Dubai in the UAE. Wanting to escape the looming winter air for some sun, Dubai was the perfect choice to jet away for a short vacation.
I chose to take my best friend with me, Neile, who over the past year has had a pretty tough time. His dad is incredibly unwell and wanting to surprise him I offered my spare ticket to him; paying for his hotel for the week too. (See, I can't stop doing good deeds, even if I wanted too!)
Arriving at the airport Friday morning, all fresh faced and slightly over-packed we found the Turkish Airlines check-in desk. Then, to our delight, they had upgraded both of our flights to business class. A little nod to all the work that's been done on the Nicest Job this year and a thank you from the sponsor. I've never flown business before so knowing I would have a fully flat bed and some pretty awesome food really set me in the holiday spirit!
After having spent time in the airport lounge - where everything is free; we had priority boarding on the flight. With a short walk down the galley and turning left at the doors my dream moment came true. I've heard stories about the only way to live life is by turning left on a plane; something that I had long dreamed off as I turned right into economy, only wondering what it's like to sit in one of those big comfy chairs. But thanks to Turkish Airlines, my dream became a reality.
I have to say it was everything and more. Getting little 'mocktails' after you sit down, a little piece of hand wrapped Turkish delight before take off and "would you like another pillow sir" to make me extra comfy.
From service, entertainment and food served on trays with silverware - the flight was flawless. Never have I had a flight go so quickly!
We arrived pretty early in Dubai - 4am in fact and headed straight to bed.
On the Saturday we went to Wild Wadi - Dubai's biggest waterpark. From cashless and keyless entry wristbands to one of the scariest floor dropping water slides I have ever seen! Neile and I spent the day tanning, swimming and relaxing on the lazy river, in between eating lots of pizza!
Over the course of the week we did everything Dubai had to offer. Swim on our rooftop pool over looking the city. Walking aimlessly around the biggest mall in the world - Dubai Mall. Gazing in astonishment at the Burj Kalifa and marvelling at the spectacular display of the Dubai Fountains.
Everything you could ever want is in Dubai. A ski centre with real penguins, an ice rink, a full size theme park in the mall, food as cheap as chips and beaches so clean you could lay on the sand without a towel.
But overall I had a huge sense of achievement and humility. Whilst relaxing at the roof pool one evening, over-looking the city I got a little teary. I thought to everything that I had done over the past 2 years and how many wonderful people I had met; but more importantly how they had changed my life.
Wind back 5 years and I would have been hammering to spend as much money as I could on designer brands and gadgets. But this time, wandering round one of the most extravagant and wealthy cities in the world, I just wanted to experience life. Be grateful to see and experience other cultures - soak in the beauty of the world.
It was then that I was offered to meet with a lady called Maria Conceicao. She wanted to meet with me to discuss her charity and get some advice about her new UK charity status.
I believe Maria was the reason I was sent to Dubai.
Wandering into the hotel she looked pretty normal - your average lady with sandals and bag. Eleven years ago she worked for Emirates Airline as an air hostess. But one seemingly usual trip to Bangladesh would change her life forever.
Whilst there, she got to see first hand the young people living on the streets - as young as your children tucked up at home. She felt so moved by this she did everything she could on that short stop over to help them. Giving food, money and clothes. Playing on her mind, she went back every month to help those very children. But she knew deep down to make a real lasting change that ultimately they needed a fishing rod, an education.
So she started a charity. Raising money to take these young kids off the streets and give them a second chance at life. Raising money is tough. So to help fund their education she started doing challenges. Marathons. Climbs. Swims. Triathlons. Whatever she could to raise money.
Eleven years on and almost six Guinness World Records later, she has not only raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for the Maria Cristina Foundation but provided an education for almost 1,000 children who were living in the slums and on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
So that normal woman who just walked into my hotel to have a chat with me is by far the most incredible and inspirational person I have ever met. Looking in her eyes and seeing them tear up while she told me about the young people she took off the streets and gave a second chance to, filled me with so much love, compassion, hope and humility that I cried with her too.
I have vowed to work with her and help her over in the UK to continue the incredible work that she has done - so that it can continue for many years more.
Flying back to the UK was hard. I was leaving the sunshine of course, but an incredible break and amazing utopia. I spent most of my time looking out the window at the beautiful sky, admiring its beauty so high up. But I was also thankful - thankful for Turkish Airlines' good deed to me. Sometimes it's hard to accept strangers' kindness, but we should. Feeling good about yourself is one of the healthiest things you can do. So I sat in my big comfy business class chair and enjoyed every single moment; not once feeling guilty. Because once in a while it's good to be selfish. Because the most important person to look after in the world is yourself; once you do that, you can look after many others just the same.