September 18, 2014
It’s not every person who wakes up one day and says, “I think I’ll spend the next seven years walking!”
But not everyone has the guts and smarts of Paul Salopek.
Why is Paul taking such a long walk? He’s following the track of human migration. He started nearly two years ago in northern Ethiopia, from which our first human cousins began to wander between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago. He’s now walking through the Middle East and will continue into Asia, across into the Americas, to end his journey at the tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego.
His walk is not the same as the walk you might take after dinner. This is not a stroll through your friendly neighborhood. Not only is his walk much longer, it’s also much more dangerous. He’s walking through parts of the world where political tensions run high, and even had to alter his route to avoid particularly steamy hot spots, such as Syria and Iraq. He carries on, though.
His is not a political journey, though human history is shaped by politics. He describes conflict, but more often he describes people and their relationship to place. He talks about families sitting down to meals, he’s sure to mention the hospitality he encounters nearly everywhere, and he is charmed by the beauty he sees in the landscape, in faces, in food, in the layers of history and present. National Geographic, who is sponsoring Paul’s reporting, says on their website, “Moving at the slow beat of his footsteps, Paul is engaging with the major stories of our time—from climate change to technological innovation, from mass migration to cultural survival—by walking alongside the people who inhabit them every day.”
Another fascinating aspect of his journey is the ever-changing stream of people who choose to walk with him. Like Doctor Who, Paul is rarely without a companion. Yuval Ben-Ami, Bassam Almohor, Savvas Sakkadas, and hundreds of others have joined him on his hike, some of them as hired guides but many of them as curious locals who simply want to be a part of something larger than daily life.
Everyone in the world can be part of this something larger. Paul is keeping a journal of his travels online called Out of Eden. Not only can you read about his days as a nomad, you can also see pictures of the places and people he encounters. Also available is an interactive map of Paul’s progression.
He’s a terrific writer and his blog is perfect for middle school and high school classrooms. Ask your students to see the larger picture—Paul is doing a great job of painting it, right now.