Now this is truly a modern day nomad. Introducing Vulcanus Africanus

Once upon a time, not even 48 hours having returned from a trip state side then getting on a plane again, after wandering around in the sweltering summer heat at the Acropolis, fighting fatigue, I was waiting with a bunch of others attending a Kokkalis Foundation summer school at Athens airport for a bus to take us to Olympia, ancient birth place of the Olympics.

The usual meet and greets were happening when behind me I hear this happy, excited, curious voice say ‘I’m from Turkey.’ Inquisitive Esra pries. We turn out to be living in the same city, attending the same university, our departments next door to one another. Introducing Volkan, aka Volky.

Volky doesn’t look like your Turkish stereotype. He’s tall, auburn hair, fair skin, freckles, speaks English, French, Russian, with enough Arabic to get by. Volky, like us has the urge to move. He just returned from 6.5 months in Morocco, where he was to conduct original research for his Phd, on a topic never covered in Turkey. So Volky, in some ways is a pioneer. He’s a diplomat in some ways too. He’s well informed, well traveled and represents Turkey – its history, culture, political knowledge as well as many foreign service folks I know. We met recently to exchange stories from the past half year. Volky speaks of different worlds. When we get together and compare notes,  all we can do is shake our heads at how easy life is compared to some of our travels, and how simple life is, but most of us, or most of those around us make it unnecessarily complicated, painful even. We are both students of International Relations/Political Science, and despite being good students, good practitioners, all the international efforts, investments and so on, there are large corners of the world untouched. They are far from treaties, far from conventions, projects and indeed progress. Has the world forgotten about them? Do they want the world to stay away? Should they stay the way they are? Here are few glances into that world.

  • On a side trip to Senegal and Gambia through Mauritania, there is a water crossing. One disembarks and crosses a wooden bridge to shore. The bridge is always slippery. Beneath the bridge, crocodiles. Now, one isn’t attacked immediately. Crocodiles close in in about 5 minutes. In that time, crocodile trainers from the other side get into the water to calm the crocodiles down, giving the hapless victim enough time to swim to safety, upon which $100 is paid for the duty. The bridge is purposely kept wet. The trainers thus have an income.
  • In Mauritania Volky decides to wander around town while waiting to pick up his visa to enter Senegal/Gambia. He enters a mosque to find 30-4o Al Qaeda people (yes, seriously) asleep, clutching weapons, holding hand grenades. Volky’s thinking  – ‘you, you guys, you’re the ones we read about right, you guys are the ones behind 9/11 right?’ Then, Murphy’s Law, one wakes up, wakes up all the others. Take a deep breath? Run? Beg? Volky shows his passport, bearing the Crescent Moon, a symbol not just of the Turkish Republic, but Islam also and somehow leaves without interrogation, then runs…

    Understand, then judge if you must

  • There are driving curfews in Mauritania between 6pm-8am because of bandits on the roads. Travelers pull over and tents are set up where they spend the night. With a man he’s befriended, they’re in a tent, with tens of others, eating before sleeping. In Mauritania, you scoop food with your hand, toss it lightly into the air 3 times then lift to drop into your mouth. While chatting, Volky spots a tarantula the size of his hand, right behind his buddy. His buddy has a weak heart and Volky fears, if he should tell him, his buddy wont be able to handle it. Finally, as the spider moves towards his friends head, Volky tells him. His friend turns around, turns pale, swallows hard, nervously, ‘we…we’re used to this.’ Volky is thinking, ‘I have to sleep in this tent tonight and where there’s one, there’s more.’
  • Volky has a scar on his scalp. He tried to take photos in Mauritania and had rocks thrown at him. Taking pictures is banned.
  • He heads to a butcher to buy meat and the meat shown hanging to him is black. Volky argues that the meat must be pink. The vendor counters that the meat Volky wants is the meat he’s being shown. This goes back and forth a few rounds. Finally the butcher approaches the meat and starts swatting around with his hands. The meat is covered with flies and is indeed pink underneath. Volky decides not to have meat that evening.

    We all want the same things in life, really

The next trip for him is South Africa, where he’ll be working in the VIP office for the World Cup. Volky is one of those rare travelers who doesn’t wander to take pictures of every landmark or bright light, to buy the cheap souvenir, to brag or to see how many miles he can clock up. He goes to learn, to accumulate knowledge then to contribute to something better. All he needs is a pat on the back. His intent is honourable. How lamentable it is then, to hear of all the hundreds, maybe thousands of people in his life, a handful appreciate the same values.

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dream

If there is one thing every kid in the world has in common, that thing would be dreaming. But not only at night, when lights go off and eyes give way to a world of unconscious images. Children go beyond that: they are the ultimate experts on day dreaming; and dreaming BIG!

The best thing about being a child is that one’s dreams are respected. If a child tells you that he/she wants to be a president of  Mars when becoming a grown up, nobody would think that the little person has gone mental. Now try to do that after your 30’s. Not the same compassionate and loving look from your peers, I presume.

The irony in the whole dreaming business is that, apparently, we are only allowed to dream big when we are little. Imagination leaves us in a silent way as we grow up, and one day we wake up and forget that, once upon a time, the sofa was a pirate ship, the dog really understood your plans to take over the world, and you were about to become the coolest astronaut/basketball player ever.

Then, as adults, we are only allowed to “dream” according to benchmarks given by society, or advertising campaigns by default. We are so busy trying to achieve what is relevant to our environment that we forget about what we truly want. We don’t remember how to dream, how to create a life that belongs to us,  ignoring that child within.  I guess we are too busy for that…

Dream Big

The thing with dreams is that they are faithful to you. Even if you have ignored them for decades they’ll be there, awaiting for a chance to become true. They’ll knock while you sleep, when you see other people achieving incredible things, when you look at yourself with that rare “I can do” attitude… They are there, lethargic but alive, still believing in you more than you believed in them.

The secret resides on remembering how to dream big. Not easy in the beginning, but everyone should give it a try. Simply stop calling ideas “silly”, “impossible”, “crazy”, “unreasonable” or/and “risky” and start listening to those longed buried hopes. There is the possibility that those dreams are not stupid, or unattainable; maybe they just needed an opportunity to be modified to fit the grown ups world. That’s all.

To end, can’t forget that the greatest things of  this “real” world are actually made by those who follow their dreams. Don’t believe it? “I want to fly like a bird” “I want India to be independent” “I want women to have the right to vote” “I want to make buildings that look like nature”. Every song, car design, road…was born in a person’s imagination, so avoid underestimating its power.

Now it is the time to decide if we have what it takes to take that journey back, rescue our dreams, and put them to work… our future might not be in our past, but is the present decision that counts. Don’t waste it!

My Nomad is Calling Again…

We often forget that humanity had to be nomad for a very long period before arriving to the present times; we often forget because it’s hard to imagine leaving everything behind again, and again, and yet once more. But deep inside we unconsciously drive for that extra mile, we always want things to be a bit better, to move forward as much as we can…I guess we humans have never stopped being nomads; at least mentally.

But what about those literally modern nomads? Those who seek new sensations, new landscapes, new ways to experience life? Is there space for people like this in a western civilization that continually tells us how to love the things we have? A civilization with so many rooted milestones (studies, job, house, marriage, children… a cute little dog), that as soon as someone decides to leave that path people ask “why?”

Many people have asked me that question: what is it that makes you go? To be honest with you: I have no answer. There is no rational explanation; but I can describe the feeling. A sudden inner pressure that once there keeps growing, and growing, until one day nothing else matters than the next adventure, and you find yourself looking for jobs “anywhere in the world” as long as they are not “here.” Then, without further explanation, one might trade a very well paid job, a wonderful spouse and a brand new TV set for a filthy back pack and a map. Routine becomes a deep grave, and I bet you can find many nomads under medication because they think something is wrong with them.

But I must say that the above is the superficial level. Deep down every erratic being knows what the final motivation of an endless path is: continuous discovery. But the nomad road is not about discovering other places; it’s about discovering your limits. To push you full speed towards your fears; face your true strength and your humanity every single day of your trip. When one feels totally exposed to a world where nobody knows you and is able to survive, It’s hard to feel more alive than that. The downside is that once you try that kind of life there is no turning back…

So here I am, a little person, hearing that inner nomad calling again. Preparing myself to be painfully uprooted once more from people I dearly love in order to continue my journey. Saying bye is never easy, – I’d even say it’s harder every time – although a true nomad knows that there are no goodbyes, in reality they are just shorter or longer “see you later”s. Next stop? Who knows; the call has not been answered yet.

I have no idea where I’ll end up, but of one thing I’m certain: I’m grateful every step of the way, because thanks to my nomad life I have found an amazing “alternative family” on the way that I love very much. That translates into a huge mortgage of gratitude to be paid daily. You see? At the end we are not that different you and me 😉

On Suburbia

Sitting here, in light of the recent events in Haiti, it occurs to me how rooted I am in my mediocrity. I belong to the generic population – thirty(ish), caucasian, north american, female, employed, married, one-and-a-half children, dog, mortgage, car payment, high debt load…..suburbia has caught up with me.

I couldn’t be nomadic if I tried – my genericism makes sure of that. Or could I? Let’s say disaster strikes. A tornado, perhaps. The forces of mother nature – cruel in her beatific terror. And all of this – my idyllic lifestyle, my superficial happiness – is swept up and away. Would my neighbours offer refuge? Or would they stare in horror, shield their children’s eyes from our immediate poverty, and close their doors, in the off chance that they, too, might catch the ‘fate’.

Here in the suburbs, we engage in carbon offsetting, donate to charities based on faith (oh, that faith! it runs rampant in the suburbs), buy a rubber bracelet to benefit those poor people in Darfur (we aren’t really sure where that is), or purchase our fair trade Starbucks coffee (we don’t really like the taste, but that money helps those poor farmers!). We make a difference here in the suburbs, we really do! But when push comes to shove, when it matters most, we are not interested in helping our neighbours.

The circumstances in which I remain in the suburbs are beyond my control at the moment. My daughter, who is learning-disabled, needs the stability. She doesn’t do change. I could uproot her, take her away to live in a smaller space, in the busy comfort of the city, where we would happily experience museums and art galleries, and parks, and culture, and diversity and………

…and so I live vicariously through my friends. My gaggle of nomads. I always ask for postcards, because the postcards, the writing, the art of travel correspondence, offers me a little piece of their experience. I am confident that, if tragedy struck us here in the suburbs, any one of my nomad pals would extend their hands, open their arms, insist on offering a place/a bed/a spot in their meager (by suburbia’s standards) dwellings. Because these people, these wanderers of the earth, are the ultimate humanists. They know that the basis of existing is to engage their fellow beings.

market

Keep a piece of carpet ready for me. One day, I’ll make it there.

Express Buddhism/Certain Facts of Life


Day 47 – Zazen

Originally uploaded by osbock

1. All life is suffering
2. ..but suffering is also optional
3. Suffering comes from attachment
4. …therefore don’t get attached

The above is my ultra-condensed take at Buddha’s ‘Four Noble Truths.’ I find it to be a pretty reasonable formula on certain aspects of life, especially when going through hardship/pain/suffering.  Here are the Four Noble Truths as applied to eating/food. As with learning languages, the fastest way you can do it is by associations with familiarity. Food is a pretty good association to understand these truths, so enjoy.  Scroll down to paragraph 5 to get straight to it.