Last week, I had the honor and privilege to have Paul Salopek and Saudi Special Forces General Mohammad Banouneh in my home. For those who don't know, Mr. Salopek is a journalist/adventurer who is taking a seven-year journey on foot (called the Out of Eden Walk) across the entire world, from Ethiopia to Chile. This journey traces the path of human travel itself, from man's origin in Africa onward. They were both kind enough to allow me to interview them for this blog; next month's entry will be focused on General Banouneh, however I'm going to start with Mr. Salopek.
I tried to make my questions cover all aspects of Mr. Salopek's journey. "I wanted to leave the book behind, and walk out the door," was how he described his inspiration for this monumental trip. Mr. Salopek wanted to become more independent and think outside of the box to relay his thoughts in a more active and original way beyond books, which led to this idea: in the age of quick information broadcasted on the Internet, Mr. Salopek wanted to find a new way of telling stories.
He continued about how he wanted people to learn through his journey how connected all people are, even though we don't seem to be. He wants to learn and reveal "cool stuff and strange little stories no one has ever heard of." An interesting example would be "dagoo dagoo." From kilometers away, Ethiopian nomads see each other as specks in the distance across the desert, but still walk to each other because there's so few of them. They begin an elaborate greeting known as dagoo, where they converse until the key word 'menshaba' is said that ends the discussion and sends the conversation straight to the important news. Mr. Salopek made a fascinating analogy, calling it "the Internet of the desert." When asked for specific advice for my generation of children, he replied with a straight no. He elaborated that he doesn't divide humanity that way, considering kids as equals and that we all have as much to teach him as he has to teach us.
On the topic of the journey itself, Mr. Salopek gave several locations he's most excited to visit. Specifically in Saudi Arabia, he looks forward to seeing the Nabatean ruins and tombs, the King Abdullah Economic City ("taking a landscape and turning it into a habitable, high-tech location) and contrasting it with the small fishing towns along the coast. Internationally, there will be the hills of coastal Anatolia (Eastern Turkey), the Caspian Sea at Iran (if he can get a visa, otherwise he'll have to take the long trek around), the Pamire Mountains in Tajekistan, the crime capital of the world near Burma, the Silk Road, and the Arctic landscapes. Finally, in the last stretch of his journey in Central/South America, he hopes to see the last speaker of the language Yagan... if she's still alive in seven years.
Mr. Salopek considers not only his physical obstacles challenges, but plenty of mental ones as well. His main physical challenges include heat, lack of water, and of course the strain of walking all the time. What he considers his even tougher challenges are the mental ones: he wants to maintain fresh storytelling and consistently improve his work across seven years. Another obstacle is of course his wife's opinion. He responded to this matter saying this is "not unprecedented." His wife is used to him by now, she knew she was marrying a traveling writer. This journey is more extreme than usual, but they've made sure too see each other enough throughout the walk. His wife is already very independent as a creative artist, so they are used to being apart then brought back together.
Mr. Salopek's past reports included controversial topics like Middle Eastern wars, oil production, and overfishing. When asked about this, Mr. Salopek responded that they interest him. His editors always let him do that -- he wasn't forced to write on subjects he wasn't interested in. Wars interested him; since he was a child, he wondered why people resort to violence. The topic of overfishing appealed to him specifically, since he worked as a fisher before and felt like he was involved in the problem somehow.
He seemed to have a knack for words. Whether he was talking about the stories he wrote in the past, the ones he was writing now, or the ones he hoped to write, he left an impression on me. Paul Salopek is one of those people who draws other people in, and as I think over again of everything he said, I am left with an echo in my head of what I felt was most important... He thinks I -- and anyone of any age -- have as much to teach him as he has to teach me. In saying so, he made me his equal in every way, giving me a part in his story, which I guess is the greatest honor anyone can give another person. This seems to be the overall point of Mr. Salopek's walk, that we have been, and are all, a part of each other's stories.