One Species.. One Planet
By Denea Buckingham
“Apart from borders, gender, colour, religion, race or other prejudices we have one truth in common…we are all humans. One species, one planet.” – Discover Humanity
I met Denea and Manos when they came to film some of the artists that I work with and I was immediately drawn to them. We have lots of people come to interview and film the artists, that’s not new, but there was something about their story, and their purpose that is just so engaging. Denea is an Aussie so the commonality was there, but her passion for Discover Humanity is what really makes her stand out.
We have kept in touch as she traveled Cambodia and beyond and I just knew that I had to get her onboard for an LLLT interview. So here’s Denea, in her own words, and all photographs are from Discover Humanity… give them a follow on socials for more info!
1. Can you tell us about Discover Humanity is and why you began this journey?
Discover Humanity is a huge dream – a world more connected as a human species, and more encouraging of diversity. We are creating a ‘global mosaic’ of films to offer a look at aspects of the life and culture in every country and most importantly, share messages from local people to the rest of the world.
The end goal is to create these films from every country (yes, all of them), release them free online for everyone, translated into as many languages as possible (eventually, every official language) in order to offer a snapshot of our world free to view for everyone in it.
My partner and co-director Manos Mitikas and I came up with the idea together. It made a huge impression on both of us how so often we have these misconceptions or prejudices about foreign places and cultures which may come from many sources – media that loves to show the negative stuff, something someone wrote online that has become a type of 21st century ‘wives tale’, hesitations of friends, family, you get the idea. How many times have you said, “I’m going to…” and been met with “Oh gosh, don’t use your phone in public, don’t this, don’t that, be careful, be careful.” But then you go, have an amazing time, meet incredible people and wonder where on earth did all of those negative preconceptions come from?
We want to challenge those pre-imagined stories almost all of us have for foreign cultures and people, by offering a look through an unbiased lens at the lives of others – others who, when it boils down to it, are really just like us except born in different circumstances – around the world.
As humans we all have differences, and we believe those things are what make us special, and should be grounds to connect with others but ultimately we all have so many similarities and commonalities that in this increasingly connected world it’s time to break the wheel of fear and prejudice about our fellow humans, period.
2. So where in this big, beautiful world have you traveled?
Well, I haven’t really been counting but I’d say I’m around 60-something countries by now. I’ve seen most continents except for Africa (well, below Egypt) and South America.
For Discover Humanity we began in Haiti, followed by the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo, Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and now Singapore. But with a goal of making a film about the culture and people of all 199 countries, we have quite a way to go yet!
3. Where would you say is your favourite place (if possible) and why?
So I love different places for different reasons. I love the people of Cuba, Guatemala and Cambodia – so welcoming, kind and genuinely friendly. And with such rich cultures.
I love the nature of Australia and Canada – so peaceful and majestic with fascinating animals and landscapes.
For food I absolutely adore Lebanon and also southeast Asia.
To feel like you’re inside a computer game I love cities like Tokyo or Hong Kong.
Greece is magnificent for its history – you can practically trip over archaeology on any old hike. Plus it has some of the most addictive seas in the world – super clear, amazing water and great exploration both underwater and on land.
For elegance I love the French culture, I feel like the Canadians are hilarious and the Aussies are always good for a laugh, China is sort of like tumbling through Alice’s looking glass, India makes you feel down a whole other rabbit hole altogether, and on and on.
I think right now one of my favourite places is the Sahara desert.
I went to the Sahara outside of Siwa Oasis in Egypt last year and I don’t know how to even describe the soul-filling majesty of being in the desert under the stars at night. I would really like to spend more time in the desert.
4. Your home is in a beautiful Greek Island, some would call it paradise, what made you decide to leave that and found Discover Humanity?
Yes, Greece is paradise, and in many ways it does feel like home. The language is beautiful and somehow I learned it very quickly. Greek kind of tastes good to speak, if that makes any sense.
That being said, I have always felt a deep and inescapable need to explore the world. I guess I have the road in my blood. I’ve been traveling, for different reasons, my whole life. When I was in my mid-teens I left home and have been moving about as life washed me to many places – I’ve lived in Sydney (which I feel is where I became who I am so I guess that’s ‘my home’), Melbourne, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boracay (Philippines), the Solomon Islands, New Delhi, the list goes on.
So I was never like Manos, who legitimately comes from a (albeit gorgeous) little rock in the Aegean where his family have been for generations and generations. I don’t have many roots holding me down like that.
But my life in his Greek island was indeed lovely, diving, freediving, spearfishing your own dinner, camping on the beach whenever you want, exploring, enjoying the singularly comfortable atmosphere of a small town. Then we came up with this project and it was only natural to pack everything up again (it’s pretty normal practice for me) and move back into my backpack.
In fact, I love living out of a backpack. I have basically everything I need. About 6 outfits (yes, even one dress!), 3 pairs of shoes, a TSA-approved plastic square that holds all the toiletries I need, and most importantly – filming gear, my computer and journals. I don’t miss any of my other stuff to be honest. It’s so nice to have a house that’s also a museum of your life, but I don’t feel the need to “live” there every day. I love being on the road, changing places, seeing new things, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, learning new languages, all of it. I guess I’m a nomad, vagabond, gypsy, whatever you want to call it, to my core.
The concept of Discover Humanity was very important to me and it’s for that reason that I committed completely to it and left, not just my life in Greece but also my previous work, etc, to do this full-time. I believe we are at a turning point in our civilization right now, and we must hope to forge a more-connected and compassionate future worldwide. So, if I, and this project can help to do that, then it was absolutely worth any difficulties or sacrifices of my previous life.
5. Since starting Discover Humanity, you’ve met a lot of people, with very different lives. What would you say has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned about your own life?
I think there are two – gratitude and humility. I have struggled with both at various times in my own life. I didn’t grow up with much but then as life gave me some wins I got very used to having luxuries and fancy things, and once we get used to something, it quickly becomes a given, and we stop feeling grateful for it.
Experiencing other people’s lives, more often with far fewer luxuries than our (my) own, you see the things they appreciate in both the small luxuries (like lollipops in an Akha village in northern Laos, or indoor plumbing in the same place..) but also the things they have that are lacking in many modern cultures – deep connections with family, time spent really connecting with friends, people, nature, etc. And taking things slower.
Seeing other lives makes me grateful for aspects of my own, but also reminds me to be grateful for some very core things that we tend to overlook in our fast, consumer, tech-obsessed world.
Second is humility. I had a lot of need for approval from others growing up, and I think that’s closely linked with ego. And ego has no place in experiencing other cultures, really it doesn’t. You have to quiet the wiring inside your head that has come from your own culture, and be able to go into the culture of another genuinely open and inquisitive, without judgement. Then, in a sort of poetic irony, the inclusion and openness of others to show you how they live, who they are and what makes their world go round has its own gentle humbling effect on you. It is a gift when people let us see into their lives, and I try not to take it for granted even for a moment.