Paul Salopek is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who crossed his first border at the age of six, from the United States to Mexico, where he grew up. From 2013 to 2020, Mr. Salopek is recreating man's migration across the world on foot, embarking on a journey called the Out of Eden Walk that will become part of history. Starting in Ethiopia, which he's already crossed, he will end after seven years at the tip of South America (where he plans to have a party with every guide he has worked with :D).
Along the way, Mr. Salopek is planning to listen to the stories of the people who don't make the headlines, who are ordinary just like you and me. Every day he will learn something new about world culture, temperature, technological innovation, and much more. The quiet, hidden stories are the ones Mr. Salopek wants to hear, and he will seek them at the slow beat of his footsteps and heart.
I had the amazing opportunity to speak to Mr. Salopek while he was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is where I live.
Have you ever had a dream of flying away, or just escaping to the world beyond? That's how Mr. Salopek's expedition began. Sitting down two years ago, cramming his head and squeezing his brain, Mr. Salopek was trying to write a book. For all authors, there comes a point in time where you encounter a brain fart. This is when you have to cram your head and squeeze your brain. I always get distracted and begin to daydream, which is just what Mr. Salopek did. He started to have fantasies of walking away. "Where would I go?" he asked himself. "Why?" That was the seed that would soon grow into the Out of Eden Walk.
Entertainment is way superior in nomadic Ethiopian clans than in modern cities and suburbs. Stories are told through song around the campfire, as Mr. Salopek recalled. Love songs are very popular in Ethiopia, especially ones sung to your camel. There are also stories about conflict, for two tribes, the Afar and the Isa, have been in constant war against each other, fighting for things like resources.
Another Ethiopian tribe has a way different sense of entertainment, relying on amusement. Humor is important in life, and this particular tribe is one to recognize that. They laugh at pain and are pretty skilled at diffusing tension through mirth. Not to mention that they crack jokes on each other -- and Mr. Salopek!
Developing stories is what Mr. Salopek is working on along the way. Hearing the way these tribes interact is a big help. He is experimenting on not telling stories quickly and very often. Everyone is used to this constant flow of information from the news, the Internet, and daily conversation. As a journalist, Mr. Salopek usually writes at least one story a day! He thinks that walking will change the pace. Like the beating of your heart, walking is a a two beat rhythm. He's hoping that going at this slow pace will affect his sentences.
"I'm trying to make a sieve, so I can drain out all the ores and keep the nuggets (good stuff)."
"Fast things have a role. I'm not saying fast is bad, but we've gotten into a rut where we equate quality with speed. I think the best things in life are slow."
Mr. Salopek has been through wars, and in very nomadic countries like Afghanistan. It makes him sad to see what has happened to the nomads there, specifically because of all these peaceful nomads who have guided him through Ethiopia. Most of the nomads in Afghanistan have been driven out or have given up their way of life. He is very empathetic towards the Afghans, and says that it leaves a deep impression in your heart. Hopefully this emotion will help him in his mission to improve story telling as well.
This shows what really matters to Mr. Salopek. He has interviewed so many important people, and now is meeting some of the most simple people in the world, who are thought of as insignificant.
"I don't get much out of interviewing presidents because once they're president they have their guard up. Ordinary people are not guarded -- what they say is profound."
It's also who you are writing for. Mr. Salopek's audience is anyone who desires to read him.
Mr. Salopek believes that if people don't do just drive by journalism where all they crave is information, if people don't only react to crises, then maybe there would be less crises to report on. I fully support his statement. That is a very important lesson because it teaches you to observe your surroundings and understand things deeply.
In conclusion, Mr. Salopek is an adventurous man who is more than meets the eye. It was an honor interviewing him and a lot will come out of the Out of Eden Walk than just a story.
"It's not the sunsets I think I'll remember from this journey, or the amazing views. It's the people I'll remember."
-- Paul Salopek