The world is filled with countries and cultures. Each shares it’s own traditions, beliefs, and lifestyle. Ever since my 5th birthday, I have wanted to explore. To see the world and the vibrant kaleidoscope of people in it. It’s not that Swedish culture is boring, but I crave adventure like my father. My childhood was filled with stories of faraway lands, oceans filled with amazing creatures, and the little blue sailing ship “Maria.” That 14 meter vessel circumnavigated the globe at the hands of the great Captain Anderson, my father. Over the years I learned that krakens aren’t real and that the “Maria” never came across any pirates, but the legacy of his extraordinary trip stayed. I dream of living his life and seeing the world, but my biggest limiting factor is myself. When I listened to those stories as a boy the awe and wonder of travel filled me, but so did the danger and fear. My father had his fair share of close calls and massive storms. By the time I was 10 I noticed an acute fear deep within me of the sheer differentness of the rest of the world. On the news I saw stories of terrorists, hate and war as well as the millions of people these disasters affected. Sweden is like a bubble in some ways, keeping its residents safe from the world outside. When opportunity came to go amazing places and do amazing things, I found myself saying no. Each time a chance appeared the adventure and the fear within me fought. The fear seemed to always prevail.
“Vilmar dear, the bulle are burning.”
My mother’s soft voice wafted to me, breaking the trance of deep thought. Sure enough, delicate tendrils of smoke pierced the oven’s cracks. I gingerly extracted the blackened treats feeling a bit embarrassed. Gratitude filled me though as I realised that my mother had a second batch ready. The blue tray was lighter as soon as I returned to the sitting room thanks to the old captain.
“It looks as if you hadn’t eaten in weeks,” my mother laughed as he crammed two in his bearded mouth.
Life on my parents houseboat has always been a joy. Even though I recently bought an apartment in Stockholm, my weekend visits are always a highlight. The same old boat I grew up on is still docked at Södermalm. It is a small 600 sq. foot model that my family takes immense pride in. We had to sell the “Maria” to pay for it though much to the dismay of my father. It had two bedrooms, a sitting room, a bathroom, and a small galley kitchen. The little brown boat is home to me and I was glad to be there today.
I began to set up the Hnefatafl board with hopes of playing my mother. The harrowing game of “Viking Chess” has been in her Icelandic family for generations. We cherish the aspen board as our greatest family heirloom. She agreed to play, but on one condition.
“I won’t be going easy on you though,” my mother warned.
I laughed at this. She never goes easy. In fact, she seems to have some connection with the game. Sure enough, she won easily but my heart wasn’t in the game.
“What’s wrong Vilmar.”
My mom senses my lack of focus like a dog smells fear.
“I just don’t want to go back to work tomorrow.”
My job as an investor for Nordea Banking is not particularly exciting. Each morning I wake up, get ready, and take the Tunnelbana to Sergels Torg. From there I walk a few blocks north to my office, stopping at a coffee shop along the way. I work until exactly 20:00, when I head home. I eat dinner, sleep, and report to Nordea again by 8:00 the next morning. The cycle repeats Monday through Friday. I begin to feel like a robot sometimes, just doing the same routine over and over.
“I want to take a break and do something interesting for once, but i’m just some timid Swede with no idea how the world works.”
My mother knew just what to say as usual.
“Ah, Vilmar, you’ll have your shot at travel.”
“I know I will mom but when that opportunity comes I don’t know if i’ll have the courage to go. After all, i’ve gone 25 years without so much as leaving the country.”
My father found the chance to use his favorite line.
“Fear makes us human human son, but overcoming it makes us gods.”
His words stayed with me as the little taxi boat “Gugnar” took me home. Later that night as I dropped onto my bed, I wondered how long it would be until I saw the world. That night I dreamt of sailing ships.
The next morning I plod off to work. Eric is at the office when I arrive. He has a warm cup of coffee ready for me. He has been my best friend since we met in 6th grade. We happened to follow the same career path and by some miracle, ended up in the same office.
“Good morning Vilmar,” he cheerily states.
“How are your wonderful parents?”
“Why, thank you Eric, they’re well.”
He seemed even more upbeat than usual today. I soon found out why.
“Vilmar you won’t believe this. Our boss is sending me to Tokyo to invest in a new tech startup. He is letting me bring along any coworker I want. This is going to be our biggest job yet!”
This took me by complete surprise. We are almost never sent on business trips, let alone all the way to Japan.
“I don’t know about this, Eric. Do you really want me to come along?”
“Vilmar of course I want you. Who else would I take? We’ll get to spend a week in one of the world’s coolest cities with all expenses paid for by the company! Why are you even hesitating to say yes to this offer.”
I wasn’t sure how to explain that I was afraid.
“The plane leaves at 14:45 tomorrow so please decide soon,” Eric pleaded.
This would be a first for me. An opportunity had appeared just as my mother had predicted. The door was open and the trip was paid. All I had to do was say yes.
“Eric, I might regret this later, but I know it’s the right choice.”
I paused for a moment considering.
“Yes Vilmar! You won’t regret it. Pack tonight, and I’ll meet you at Arlanda at 13:00 tomorrow.”
Later that night, I called my parents. My mother cried with joy and my father sounded proud.
“Your chance has finally come son,” the captain bellowed.
I spent two hours packing that night and finally fell asleep at 23:00. The next morning I ate a piece of knäckebröd and took a taxi to T Centralen. From there I boarded the sleek, silver Arlanda Express, and set off. It is capable of traveling more than 300 kph and reaches Arlanda in 20 minutes. I had never been to Arlanda before and I was taken aback as the silver bullet entered the station. Millions of square feet of glass, runway, and steel made up the sprawling complex. Hundreds of planes and helicopters filled the skies and ground like mosquitos. I met Eric at the departure lounge right on time and he was waiting.
“Well hello mister world traveler,” he laughed.
We were seated with a beautiful view of the Boeing 787 that would take us around the world. Less than an hour later we had the opposite view. I stared out the plane window at the lounge and felt an odd mix of pride and fear. A knot tightened in my chest as the jets roared to life. I watched as the only place I had ever called home faded away into the clouds.