Kim neung con bo sep.
That's a Laotian phrase I encountered recently, which was translated for me as:
When you eat alone, it's not delicious.
For the past five months I've been working alone. I've had zero face-to-face contact with my collaborators on The Human, Earth Project, nor with those who have been following my adventures from around the world.
While I've taken advantage of modern technologies that have allowed me to create a global network of collaborators and supporters, I've also encountered a key disadvantage of this type of structure: I've been geographically disconnected, and it's simply not delicious.
Last week I came down from my mountain home in northern Vietnam to Luang Prabang, Laos, and have begun meeting those who have supported the Project from afar.
I've been staying in the home of Sho and Antoine - a Vietnamese Hmong woman and her French husband. Sho and Antoine are old friends of M and P who have been following my attempts to find the two trafficked girls and bring them home.
They're a wonderful couple and would have remained strangers to me had it not been for The Human, Earth Project.
On my first night in town, I headed out to enjoy a few of the things I've been missing out on over the past 15 months: foozball, beach volleyball, and bowling. In a shared taxi sometime after midnight, a stranger with an Asian face and an Australian accent told me she knew me.
'How do you know me?' I asked dubiously, certain that we'd never met.
'From your tattoo,' she said, pointing at the line of text running along my forearm. I was puzzled.
'It's on your website,' she explained, and proceeded to tell me all about myself, M, P, and The Human, Earth Project. She also told me of her life as a Hmong refugee following the CIA's "secret war" in Laos, and her abduction for marriage at the age of only thirteen - on Australian soil.
(I heard a similar story recently from a Hmong woman who had been abducted for marriage at the age of 16 in California.)
This stranger who was strangely not-quite-a-stranger told me how much she respected my work, encouraged my efforts to bring M home, and bashfully asked for a photo together so that she could show her sister, who would otherwise never believe we'd met.
In the 21 months since The Human, Earth Project began, countless people from across the globe have written to say they've been inspired by my work. This was the first time a stranger had looked me in the eyes and said it.
It was a beautiful moment - for both of us. It felt wonderful to realise that my work had truly impacted, even to a small degree, innumerable lives around the world.
The connections I've forged via The Human, Earth Project - with people like yourself - have also inspired me to dedicate more of my life, beyond the end of the Project, to enacting positive change in the world. It's something I've given a lot of thought over the past months, and my ideas are now beginning to crystallise.
What exactly do I have in mind?
I hope you'll join me on my journey and find out - that way, it'll be more delicious for all of us.