My name is Harnaik Mann. I am 33 years old, born in Birmingham, UK. I'm a tunnel engineer, herbal medicine maker, sound healer, yoga teacher, and amateur gymnast.
Well, at least I used to be.
In May 2017, I collapsed on a tunnel construction site in Canada. I was suprised to find out I had a cancerous kidney tumour, about the size of my fist.
After surgery was unsuccessful, I went home to the UK, and was told all other forms of treatment would not likely provide a cure. Instead of chasing destructive surgery to catch a few more drops of time, I decided to go onto end of life care.
I'm lucky enough to have lived in Bristol, London, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, and Edmonton (Canada).
It's hard to sum up my life and direction whilst I dance with cancer. If you care to read further, and I recommend you do, a snapshot of my spirit and poise can be found below. It will put the rest of my site into context.
It's my leaving email I sent to in February 2018 to my former engineering employer, Arup. It seems to have struck a chord with some people far deeper than I anticipated.
I’m down to my last grain of sand in the Arup hourglass, and will be leaving after 10 years with the company. This voyage has let me work with talented people, on incredible jobs, and live in five cities spread over three countries. Thanks for sharing it with me!
Some of you may know I’m leaving on medical grounds. I was diagnosed with a rare form of renal cancer in May 2017, when I was on a site placement in Canada. Two independent sources estimate the tumour being inside me for 8-10 years. I guess it deserves an Arup silver bar of its own for 10 years of service, but it looks like management didn’t get the memo ;)
Despite the obvious that comes to mind whilst being on end of life care, I still laugh and smile a lot each day – as I always did. The process has surprisingly been full of gifts.
Suffering is hard, but it can be our greatest teacher. Some nuggets I’ve picked up along the way;
- The condition has demonstrated that the world is a much kinder place than we might think, or than the media would portray. Exceptional care has been bestowed upon me at every stage of my journey;
- From the Contractor’s staff who carried out first aid, and stayed late into the night in hospital.
- From the medical staff in four hospitals over two countries who went the extra mile.
- From my family, friends, work colleagues, acquaintances, and people I barely know – or have never even met.
- The amount of time, effort, and goodwill invested in me is more than I feel I can ever pay back. The least I can do is try, or help others who don’t have that support.
- It’s taught me how valuable and precious life is. We waste a lot of time and energy getting angry or obsessed with things that really don’t matter.
- It’s shown me I have reserves of inner strength and courage I never knew I had. Each of you possess it too, whether you realise it yet or not.
- It’s been a time machine – teaching me the frailty that old age brings, and heartfelt compassion for the weak.
- It’s allowed to come to terms with my own mortality – to the point where I have a profound sense of peace. Whether I depart at 32 or 92.
- It’s given me time to spend sincere and authentic moments with my family and friends. This is especially important for me, after living away from home for three and a half years.
As for my story going forward, I’m marshalling my strength for a trip to Ecuador.
By that I mean doing almost three hours of qi gong, yoga, meditation, workouts and mantra chanting every day. I also have osteopath, acupuncture, reflexology, personal training and NLP sessions during my weekdays. The food I’m eating is well balanced, unprocessed and clean. My doctor and airlines have cleared me for travel.
I feel stronger and more alive than at any point since I was diagnosed. Despite what I wrote, my intention is to live, thrive, and prove the doctors wrong. No harm in trying :)
As for Ecuador, I have a cousin who owns his architectural firm in Quito, the capital city. His wife is the niece of a former president, and they and their extended family have promised to offer their full support for my journey.
His wife is also finishing up her PhD on indigenous peoples in the Amazon. As a result, two different tribes have kindly offered to take me in, to see if they can offer assistance. They are refusing money, and do not offer this type of help for outsiders. The communities actually had a vote on whether to accept me. They said yes
Their generosity is humbling, and I intend to reciprocate as best I can. If any of you have skills that may be of help, please get in touch.
Gaining help from Amazon tribes may seem a like a cavalier proposition. However note that over ¼ of our pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest plants.
In addition to this, a significant proportion of the indigenous peoples (at least in Ecuador) have staunchly been refusing to co-operate with pharmaceutical firms. This is due to the rampant bio piracy they have been subjected to. This involves sharing their medicines, having them patented without receiving any royalties in return, and then having outsiders plundering the plants. In fact, the only condition they have levied is that I don’t catalogue some of their plants that may not be known or understood by western science.
Should the above not work out as intended, I still get to tick off a few items from my bucket list.
I’ve never been to South America, the Amazon, or south of the Equator before. Some of you may know I spent 14 weekends in 2016 camping out in Californian deserts, forests and in the Sierra Nevada learning about medicinal herbs. When I moved out of my home in San Francisco, I literally counted over 100 different medicines I’d made. Just seeing and learning about the various rainforest plants will be mind blowing.
One of the tribes has a high spec eco lodge in the Yasuni National Park. Western tourists pay a lot of money to visit and see the wildlife. If the medicinal work doesn’t pan out, at least I have somewhere comfortable to do some wildlife watching, learn about plants and their tribal culture!
If that wasn’t enough, I have a documentary maker who is interested in filming my story. They’re flying from the USA to me in mid-March, to do some pre-filming. The intention is to follow me from the Andes to the Amazon. Regardless of what may come, I think it’s a great opportunity to have my story recorded, and allow people to draw from it what they will.
Let me know if you’d like to be part of the distribution list, by replying to my personal email.
Apart from the above, I seem to have a few pointers from fate nudging me towards this vibrant country I’ve never been to.
- I’ve been sponsoring a small girl’s healthcare and education for the past three years in Guayquil, the second city. If you feel like changing a child’s life, the Children International website is https://www.children.org
- I’ve also been donating regularly to the World Land Trust for the past 9 years, and they have several projects in Ecuador. Sir David Attenborough is a patron. They buy up land in the most threatened biodiverse hotspots in the world to prevent them from being razed to the ground. You can even choose what project your money goes to, and see how much land your donation is saving. If you want to join the cause, their website is http://www.worldlandtrust.org/projects/index
- I’ve supported a GoFundMe campaign to help a friend of a friend escape the crisis in Venezuela with his son to Ecuador.
- Two different therapists how have helped me along the way have either been born in Ecuador, or have spent significant time there – one very close to the aforementioned tribes.
- It’s also a small country to get around vs other South American countries, and there is a lower risk of biting insects and malaria.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an idiot. Undertaking a journey like this can be dangerous, and at times fills me with fear. However, being scared of doing something, on its own, isn’t a good enough reason not to do it.
“Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, and all the fears you have overcome. Remember you are still here and have breath in your lungs”
Don’t be a stranger…
Senior Tunnelling Engineer
*22/08/2018 Edit - I've made the hard decision that I won't be able to go to Ecuador for the foreseeable future. I've written up the reasons why not in a lot of detail in my "Astronomy & Ecuador Plans Blog Post"