Global Education Conference Transcript with Paul and Liz
Here is a link to the Keynote from the Global Education Conference's YouTube Page. Please see the transcript below of Paul's portion of the keynote. The sound quality was not great because he joined us via satellite phone so we transribed the conversation between Paul and Liz. We have also attached the transcription as a document. Enjoy!
Liz: I’m going to start by asking you where you’re at now and how the journey is going, if you could fill in some context for us.
Paul: Absolutely Liz, thank you, and I hope everyone can hear me clearly enough. I am calling from a farmhouse in chilly northeastern Turkey, very close to the Georgian border. It’s where I’ve been walking lately- moving north through Anatolia, which is the eastern landmass, peninsula, the Asian peninsula of Turkey - towards the Caucuses, for the last several months. I have been walking through Turkey for the last four months, starting in the Mediterranean from a port called Erzin. And coming from those balmy climates now we’ve moved into very very cold, high altitude, snow-covered mountains, occasional storms, this is wolf country, basically small patches where people work herding cattle (4:11)
Liz: … could you just say a little bit about what’s motivating you to take this epic walk around the world and what you’re hoping to achieve?
Paul: Oh absolutely, Liz, I think in my career, my lifelong career was as a storyteller, as a mainstream journalist, a newspaper man, and I felt that after fifteen years of covering stories in bits and pieces and very quickly taking airplanes and cars and helicopters and taxis, you know speed is essential these days, I decided that we were losing some audience and not only that we were losing some meaning from the information that we all chew up everyday. I don’t think there’s a shortage of information in today’s age I think, this is the information age, there’s a tidal wave of information out there. None of us can keep up with it, not even those of us who generate it. What we’re missing, what we’re lacking is meaning. And so I came up with this idea to slow down, to do what I call slow journalism, and, and get out of all those mechanical conveniences, and then retrace the pathways of the human species out of Africa, from our birthplace in the Rift Valley of East Africa to what scientists tell us is the last horizon that our ancestors arrived at 7000 years ago when they ran out of continents to, to roam about it in—and that is the very tippity tip of South America—Tierra del Fuego in Chile. So I will be going out of Africa through the Levant- through the Middle East- into Central Asia, in through China, across a chunk of Siberia. Then I’ll be obliged to take a ship because there’s no longer a land ridge to the Americas as there was about 14,000 years ago, and walk down the western seaboard of the American continent. This is a seven-year journey on foot. It is a storytelling project. It’s not an athletic feat. It’s not an endurance test. It’s not about setting any records. It’s about extending people’s attention spans- and that’s with adults and younger learners. It’s about getting people to read seriously, it’s about getting people to engage with the world that we live in through thoughtful storytelling at the ground level among the ordinary people who inhabit today’s headlines. It’s also about using deep history as a mirror and a sounding board for current events. The topics range from environmental stories to culture, from politics to economics, from war to technology, basically everything in the human experience is game because this here’s the journey that made us who we are today. So, an ambitious project but one that has an increasingly important educational mission. And I can give an example very quickly about sort of what I’m reporting on right now and that is walking through the largest forced migration in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. And in leaving Israel and taking a ship to Cyprus and then another ship to Turkey, I have been bumping into refugees from the country of Syria continuously and when you add the refugees displaced by the conflict in Iraq, you have more than 5 million people floating around this part of the world. And it is like no other story, one of the most important stories of our day, one that will be having repercussions for our grandchildren. This is what what the walk does. It engages with the major stories of our time at foot-level, seeing eye to eye, literally, with the people that are making these issues.
Liz: Maybe you could say a little bit about how you’re documenting the walk in that way?
Paul: Yeah, Liz, apart from the, from the weekly storytelling, the weekly dispatches I’m filing from the trail, I’m also reporting the world as I see it in a very systematic way, which is a very cool way to document the world that we live in, one that I think resonates with learners as well. Every 100 miles which is of course 160 kilometers, I try to stop and very precisely using a GPS device that geo-locates my position continuously, stop and take a series of recordings of that specific point of the trail, that specific point on the face of the earth. And these recordings include a panoramic photo, a picture of the sky, a picture of the ground, video, audio, it’s basically a sensory snapshot of what life looks like at that point of the world. And it could be slums, it could be busy city streets, it could be empty deserts and at the end of the walk it will be all 300 of these that will be strung together like it will be this little narrative piece based across the face of the earth, and it will be like a cross-section if you will, of what pictures of the earth look like along the pathways of our ancestors at the turn of the millennium. 10:52
Liz: … I’d like to move to some questions that young people who are participating in Out of Eden Learn have got for you …I’m going to start with a question that’s come from a participating class that comes from Erbil in Iraq and they ask:
What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far and what do you want the world to learn?
Paul: Wow that’s a big question. Um, I would say off the top of my head [connection breaks up] … Ok I was just basically saying that I guess the biggest lesson is just how normal and natural it feels to be moving across the earth at the pace of a walk. I felt the task steeped me into a part of our humanity that we’ve largely forgotten as we grow in our society. And also the awakening of the senses, I think it’s just been a great way to absorb information and to look at the world.
Liz: This is one from AlexV who is one of Scott Tuffiash’s students, who I believe are watching now which is cool: You’ve visited many small villages throughout the world. Which village was the most welcoming and which village was the least welcoming? Did you know why you were welcome or not?
Yeah, you know, that’s another hard one to answer because there have been so many examples of villages that have been welcoming and far less examples that have been less so. Let’s just make it easy- I would say that, you know villages in Ethiopia where people have almost nothing they have a gourd filled with water, they might have an animal skin, they might have a handful of food, they will share that with you, they’ll share half of nothing with you. So those villages were astounding with their hospitality. You know and also, on the other flipside of the coin, I’ve been walking through major conflict zones both in the Middle East and in Palestinian territories, and also here in Eastern Turkey and I think some people just have in fact turned me away - me and my walking partners - because of the conflict. You know conflict traumatizes people, it demolishes trust, it makes people suspicious and with good reason so I don’t hold it against them but we have been turned away from places through the legacy of war.
Liz: Here’s a question from Rob Martin’s 6th graders from the American International School of Chennai in India: How many people walk with you and what is their role, for example translating?
Paul: Yeah, that’s a good question and I don’t want to give the illusion that this is a solo walk- it’s not- in fact, it’s the opposite. The whole idea is to walk with people from the societies and cultures that I’m visiting, that I’m walking through, because they’ve become not just my guides and directors, they’ve become the windows into the local cultures that I’m trying to learn about. And they in fact become my teachers. They allow me to try to share their legends with school children around the world, so it’s very important for me to walk with people. And so, my walk has been mostly accompanied by one or two or maximum, three people, mostly men at this point, a few women. And there is only one stretch where I’ve walked alone and that was through Cyprus. I’m looking forward to continuing this strand of getting to know local people and letting them teach me about the place they call home.
Liz: Okay, I’m going to give you one serious question and one light-hearted question and then I’m going to let you go. A serious question from Tabbatha O’Donnell’s students in Florida: What would you do if you saw a homeless child on your walk?
Paul: Well I have. In fact, I’ve seen many, many thousands of them. Actually when I come to think of it, I’ve probably seen tens of thousands of them.
That’s if you count refugees who have been displaced from their homes from violence. I do the thing that I hope I do well which is I tell, I try to tell their stories- that’s I think the only way that I can contribute to the issue of suffering. You can give people money, you can help with aid distribution if folks will have you, that’s all good and fine, and on occasion I’ve done that as well, I think the place where I can try to contribute the most is by sharing the story of their lives with other people, including children around the world.
Liz: And now we’ll have a more lighthearted one. A student from the same class asks: If I had to walk that far I would start singing songs. Do you sing while you’re walking?
Paul: Uh very badly, I do, and that’s the beauty of being outdoors it’s that you know if your singing voice is not that great, your walking partners including your mule or your camel can distant themselves from you, they can lag behind or charge ahead. Yeah there’s a lot of singing that happens all the way from Ethiopia actually, and in many languages.
Liz: … Are there any parting words you’d like to say before I segue into chatting with one of our teachers about what we’re doing in Out of Eden Learn
Paul: I think just in conclusion Liz, I’d like to emphasize one of the great joys of working with Out of Eden Learn and it’s not just because learners are following the walk and reading the stories or watching the videos of my walk. They’re actually taking this idea and making it their own no matter where they live, whether it’s in India, whether it’s in North America, whether it’s in Europe. They are taking their own walks and they’re using sort of the principles of walking and learning and applying it to their own lives. And that gives me a huge amount of energy, it gives me a great honor, and a great morale boost to see young learners out walking in their neighborhoods and talking to people in a thoughtful way. And it’s great fun to review their work as well
So I guess we’ll leave it at that on this chilly night in the Caucasus Mountains.
Thank you, Liz, and thank you to all of the teachers who are listening in, Hopefully we can continue this journey together.
Thank you all. We’ll be talking.
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