Out of Eden Postponed

Paul Salopek must be the world’s most patient man.

I was practicing my daily self-torture by reviewing the numbers out of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. I realized that as of the time of this writing, there have been more than 1,900,000 reported deaths worldwide. That’s an horrific number, made even worse by the fact that it’s probably on the low side.

Suddenly I sat up straight in my chair, thinking, “My god. Where is Paul Salopek?”

I’ve blogged about Mr. Salopek a few times before. He’s the guy being sponsored by National Geographic to do the Out of Eden walk, and write dispatches along the way for our reading pleasure. His path follows the migratory route of humanity, and started in January, 2013.

He began his walk in Ethiopia, where humans first evolved. From there he went to Djibouti and crossed the Red Sea. That took 5 months. From there he spent 14 months walking through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel. It took him a further 20 months to make his way through Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. From there he crossed the Caspian Sea and traveled along the Silk Road, through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That took him 22 months. From Pakistan he went to India, and into Myanmar. That was a further 23 months, and then (insert sound of record scratch) he was stopped cold by the pandemic in March, 2020.

He’s been in Myanmar ever since. I was glad to see that he’s alive and well. At the time I wrote this, his latest dispatch was only a few days old. He’s passing the time by writing a book.

Salopek must be the world’s most patient man. Personally, as much as I adore travel, after about 12 days, I want to go home. For him, it’s been nearly 8 years, and he still has a long way to go. The entire journey was only supposed to have taken him 7 years.

His plan, from here, is to go up through Asia, across to Alaska, down the west coast of the United States, into Mexico and Central America, and then all along the West coast of South America, ending in Tierra del Fuego. But first he has to wait out this pandemic.

What must it be like, being away from loved ones that long, and only having the friends you meet along the road as you’re passing through? What must it be like to live with only what you can carry on your back? What happens to your concept of stability and permanence and home?

That, and his feet must be killing him.

Just as with the rest of us, I’m sure this pandemic took Salopek by surprise. But he seems to be coping with it. In the meantime, he has a lot of fascinating stories to share. I highly recommend that you check out the Out of Eden website and enjoy his journey vicariously just as I have done.

Enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


My Father Figure

On this, my 200th blog entry, which happens to fall on Father’s Day, I think it’s only appropriate that I write about someone whom I loved very, very much.

His name was Ram Verma, and he was the closest thing to a father figure I ever had. I met him when I worked at the health department here in Jacksonville, Florida. He was the physician in charge of the tuberculosis clinic. A more caring and compassionate man you will never meet. In fact, he came from Burma by way of India because he wanted his children to have the freedom to choose the paths their lives would take (a right that the people of Myanmar, formerly Burma, do not have to this day) but even so, he often shed tears for the TB patients he had to leave behind when he came to this country.

He was one of those people with such a deep sense of inner calm that you could feel your blood pressure lower just by being in his presence. I wanted to learn from him. He was a true guru. We would often eat together and I would listen closely to everything he had to say. One day I said to him that I didn’t know what to call him. Dr. Verma seemed too formal. Ram seemed too familiar. I was honored when he told me I could call him Bapu, “father” in Hindi. I had never had anyone to call father before. His love was unconditional and his support and acceptance of me was unfailing.

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to call him Bapu for very long. On my last visit to his home I was in a great deal of pain. I had strained my neck and couldn’t turn my head. I apologized but had to take my leave. He practically begged me to stay, but I just wanted to go home, take something for the pain, and try to sleep. Looking back, he knew. On some level he knew. That’s why he didn’t want me to leave. A week or so later he passed away. His wonderful, loving, generous heart, which he gave to the world without hesitation, had turned on him in the end.

Upon hearing the news I fell apart. I felt not only the loss of the man, but the loss of my future with him. Since every single moment with him was a gift, I was grateful for having known him, but utterly bereft because I could have learned from him for a lifetime. I wish I had pictures of him, but I see him in my heart and it makes me smile.

I went to his funeral, and when we got to the cemetery I didn’t realize we would be watching his body go into the crematory, typical Hindu that he was. I watched the smoke rise and become one with the air and I knew he was in a better place. We never spoke much about our spiritual beliefs, but if he believed in reincarnation I am sure he is an extremely enlightened being now. But drawing from my own tradition I comfort myself with the fact that I will see him again one day, and I will be forever grateful that for an all too brief period in my life, I finally knew what it was like to have a father.

Happy Father’s Day. Appreciate what you have. It’s precious.