A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Petar of Asenovgrad, the End of the World, Freezing and No Kebab, and Saving the Dogs

The March to Asenovgrad

I met with Inge again after passing Pazardzhik. We decided to make the walk from near Plovdiv to Asenovgrad, where we had a host waiting for us who was willing to take us in (as well as our two dogs.) The walk was a hard 30 kilometers through sometimes heavy snowfall and wind along a busy highway; I'll never forget the sight of Inge pushing her bicycle through ice and snow with her puppy, Mienje, in her jacket, followed by the intrepid dog, Bo, often trottong on three legs, wet and dirty and spotted with frost and snow. By the time we got to Asenovgrad we were exhausted and cold, but our host, Petar, took us in, fed us, directed us to our hot showers and then to the wood stove.

Petar, Mienje's Rescue, and the End of the World

Petar hosted us for three nights, giving Inge time to solve the problem of rescuing Mienje from the hands of the Turkish authorities. Turkey, along with England, has the toughest laws regarding the entry of pets, and meeting all the regulations to get Mienje into Turkey was out of the question. Inge met with her father while in Asenovgrad (as he has been travelling by caravan to Greece) and the two of them worked out a way to save the puppy Inge had found by the side of the road in Serbia; she would go back to Sofia to get Mienje's paperwork in order, then take her to Germany. At the same time, Inge would have a chance to visit friends and family after hard months on the road.
Our last night in Asenovgrad, Petar had friends over, as it was the Mayan calendar end of the world. While I wouldn't have minded a few fireballs falling from the sky to warm things up a bit, no fireballs fell. We did, however, have a good time with Petar's friends, and I had a chance to play the harmonica and sing the End of theWorld Blues, accompanied by a blues guitarist who covered all my many mistakes.
The next morning, Inge and Mienje set off for Sofia with Inge's father, and I set off in the direction of Dimitrovgrad, where Petar had helped me find another host. I was all the more grateful as it meant spending Christmas under a roof and with a little companionship. Not that Bo wasn't a good companion, mind you.
Of course, Bo was still a dog to be rescued as I couldn't bring her into Turkey either. Inge and I both agreed that it would be better to leave her in a town before reaching Turkey than to have her captured and dispatched by Turkish paramilitary dogcatchers.

More Frozen Wilderness Camping; Yes is No and No is Yes, or, No Kebab for Me

I was back in the woods, camping in six inches of snow the night I left Asenovgrad. Oh well.
The next day was a bit stressful, walking down a narrow but busy road,dodging into snowbanks to avoid the big trucks. And that night Bo and I found an abandoned house in a snow covered field to camp in. Fortunately for me, these past two frozen nights were made tolerable because Inge loaned me her subzero sleeping bag, which kept me warm. My plus 5 degree bag just doesn't serve in this partof the world at wintertime.
Earlier in the day I thought I'd find a hot meal, as camping without Inge and her burner and cooking skills means cold food for me. I found a little cafe and restaurant with a menu that included kebabs. I pointed the kebab out on the menu on the wall. The guy asked, "kebab?" I nodded my head vigorously with a big smile on my face. I'd also asked for coffee, which I got, thinking maybe I'd have another after the kebab. I stepped outside for a while waiting for my kebab, and drank my coffee. I peered inside the window, but no kebab. Also, the guy didn't seem very busy; he was hanging around as if someone else were making my kebab.But there was no one else. I finished my coffee and he brought me the bill; about 40 euro cents. But where was my 1 euro kebab? I paid my bill and left as I had some distance to cover that day. I remembered (after all this time in Bulgaria) that a nod of the head is "Ne!" while a shaking of the head is "Da!" When he'd asked if I wanted a kebab, I had nodded, meaning, "Ne!" The big smile I had while saying no must have seemed strange.

Bo the Christmas Dog, Which Made Me a Sort of Santa Claus

Now on the way to Dimitrovgrad, I passed through a village and took a little break to eat bread with butter and mustard ( all I had left at that point, and no market in this village). A man noticed Bo sitting in the first sunshine this region had seen for weeks, and he asked me lots of questions, one of which, I believe, was whether Bo was my dog. I must have nodded my head, which means "Ne!", because he seemed all the more interested in Bo at that point. Wanting to get to Dimitrovgrad, however, and finding communication difficult, I continued on my way with Bo following and chasing the occasional car. The man drove ahead of us and parked by the side of the road to wait. When I reached him it became clear that he wanted Bo. He pointed down a driveway to the big doghouse Bo would have if I gave her to him. I had a look, gave the man Bo's dogfood, helped him get Bo arranged on her chain ( a long one) and went on my way (but not before the man offered me a ride to Dimitrovgrad, which I declined, and 20 Leva, which I accepted. )The man seemed very kind, and if I understood him correctly, Bo was a Christmas present for somebody. So Bo is no longer a homeless wanderer with an uncertain future. And though she is in a doghouse on a chain, the man who took her seemed instantly in love with her, and ready to make her comfortable and happy.
So here's to the man who saved Bo from the Turkish paramilitary dogcatchers, and from an uncertain stray dog future! And here's to Bo, the dog who walked some 650 kilometers from Bosnia through Serbia and most of Bulgaria!

To Dimitrovgrad

Still elated by Bo's rescue ( and by Mienje's), I entered Dimitrovgrad feeling pretty good. When I stopped for a 25 euro cent coffee at a coffee machine and a man with a beard gave me a candy bar, I was euphoric. Then I met Milen, my host, making the day an altogether good one. Milen gave up his room in a pension for me to sleep in while he stays at his parent's house, and Christmas Eve I was having a nice dinner with Milen and his brother. So enough of my whining these past few weeks, and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

In Pazardzhik

I'm in Pazardzhik with Bo (the dog who has tagged along since Bosnia.) The first night out of Sofia we had to camp in the woods and went through a minus 17 degree C night. I was for the first time in my life truly unsure as to surviving til morning. Inge phoned next day to know if we'd made it; she also went through the same ordeal some distance ahead of me. The next night I took a cheap hotel room in Ihtiman after bargaining for the room, breakfast, and the dog included in the room. We finally got down to a lower elevation where it is just freezing at night, which feels like Springtime. We camped the past two nights, last night in the rain and mud, and we'll be camping again tonight between Pazardzhik and Plovdiv.
It's dark and cold and I'm feeling pretty low, but I knew this time would come at some point. Meanwhile, we're still walking!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On the Crisis of Purpose

"Why are you doing this?" is the question always asked when people discover I am walking from Portugal to Egypt. I always have my response, which comes out of my mouth without my having to think about it. I am walking for peace. More specifically, I am walking for Inner Peace, I am walking for peace wherever I go, I am walking for peace in the Middle East. I am carrying two peace petitions with me to Palestine. I am walking for an organization called Masterpeace, which encourages peace initiatives from individuals.
I was happy to answer this question after many months of soul searching in the beginning of my walk. By the time I had reached the Alps, I felt true Inner Peace. In the North of Italy, during the long days of summer, I was encouraged and supported every day by enthusiasts of my peace walk. People joined my walk for an hour or a day or several days. I was almost a guest of honor at a camp devoted to peacemaking. Fellow Quakers in the south of France supported me and are still supporting me. People gave me gifts by the side of the road. I had a host almost every night, and I was often treated as a guest of honor among them as well. My Inner Peace and the success of my journey were surely in the bag. My Purpose was sound.

But the real answer to "Why are you doing this?" is because I had no choice but to start walking. However, I knew this would never be a satisfactory answer. I searched for Purpose that would satisfy those who asked me "Why?". I came up with peace as the general answer, then I came up with some good practical reasons which I have already spoken of. To answer the question, "Why?" with, "Because God wants me to" would land me in a nut house rather than in the house of an enthusiastic host. It wasn't that I was trying to deceive anyone by my high minded Purpose of Peace in the Middle East; I believe it is possible, though I will not be the one to bring it, clearly enough. But I wanted to have an answer people could grab on to; something more concrete than a vague though intense calling.

In Slovenia, in late summer, at the height of my Inner Peace, a woman joined my walk. Inge, from Belgium, was cycling to China. We had shared a host, and we had travelled a few days together when we decided to continue on to Zagreb, Sarajevo, even Istanbul before going our separate ways. Inge was impressed by my Inner Peace and my Purpose. She, on the other hand, had no purpose other than to travel, and she made no pretense at inner peace. I supposed I might be able to set an example for her, and to help her find a noble Purpose.

Three months later, we are in Sofia, after walking 1500 kilometers in three months together. After travelling through war-scarred Croatia and Bosnia, and having fewer and fewer internet arranged hosts,  and more wilderness camping in deteriorating weather conditions; in short, after La Dulce Vita of Northern Italy, and now the hard, frozen, dark Balkans, Inge is cycling on towards Istanbul. She is doing this in part because she knows I am not a man of peace. Not even remotely.

Back when we were in Bosnia we were interviewed several times by the side of the road. "Why are you doing this?" the journalist would ask, and I would give my response. But my response was more and more becoming a canned response. Nevertheless, the journalist was always impressed by it. When the question was posed to Inge, her response was always, "I haven't got a mission like Ken has, I'm just travelling." While the journalists were impressed by the magnitude of her journey, they were never very impressed with her lack of Purpose.

Just before leaving Serbia, a month or two later, we were interviewed by a TV crew by the side of the road. When I answered The Question, however, the journalist didn't seem as impressed as the others had been. I knew why; the response was artificial because I felt no peace at all. I was by now ashamed of the peace sign on my back, I was ashamed to ask people to sign my petitions, I was no longer walking for peace, I was just walking.
Inge's response to The Question was different this time, though. For the past months she had been helping every abandoned puppy or kitten she could find by the side of the road. She helped some, saved one, and was unable to help or save others. When she was trying to help these animals, she seemed to me to be full of Inner Peace, though it was not her intended Purpose. Her answer to The Question posed by the journalist in Serbia was, "One of the reasons I am making this trip is to help abandoned animals, and to make people aware of the cruelty and the extent of the practice of abandoning animals in this part of the world." I think she also answered that she was just travelling, without the noble Purpose I had, and she mentioned the good things about Serbia; about all the hospitality we encountered, but her Purpose, to help abandoned pets, though unintended,  was genuine, and she spoke of it with passion.

Inge has never mentioned Inner Peace, or any kind of peace, as the Purpose of her journey. I believe she left Antwerp for China for the same reason I left Portugal; because she had to to live her life authentically. But she simply left, while I created Purpose. While I still believe in Peace-- I absolutely believe peace is possible in this world-- and while I am as committed as ever to trying to deliver my petitions and walking on to Cairo for this great peacemaking organization called Masterpeace, I no longer have any illusions of being or even becoming a man of peace. I am an angry man with a dark mind far too often. But I am compelled to make this walk so I will put my head down once Inge has gone on and put one foot in front of the other until I am finished or until something physically stops me.  I am only a messenger, and not a good representative of the people called Quakers; I am not the good example George Fox would have me be. I am a mailman delivering a package to the Middle East without knowing its content. Yet I am somehow content with that.

Inge has not been my only teacher on how to find Purpose if one is compelled to make a potentially life changing journey. Others have also told me that the Purpose comes of itself, or that the journey is the Purpose. But I am not so sure that the Universe conspires to help us make our wishes come true if we want them badly enough, as Paolo Coelho believes. It may be that none of my wishes come true. But I plod onward. So, my advice on finding Purpose? Don't look for it. Just make the journey.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Into Bulgaria

After leaving Nis, we had another spontaneous host; a man named Ivan, a former motorcycle racer and Serbian champion found us a place to stay after treating us to a coffee and telling us he liked people who were as crazy as he was.
The following days were hard, as we were camping in the snow. Before reaching the city of Pirot we were interviewed by the side of the road by a Pirot television team which included a young, idealist journalist who thought stories like ours made a difference. He was interested in my peace walk, but equally interested in Inge's journey, which has become a journey to help abandoned animals by the side of the road and raise awareness about this kind of cruelty to animals.
From Pirot we crossed into Bulgaria, and the nights we spent berfore reaching Sofia we very hard, and we sought out shelter in abandoned houses. The last night we spent before reaching Sofia we spent in our tents in snow and weather well below freezing. The daytime high that day was minus 3 degrees Celsius.
On entering Sofia, as it got dark and the snow came down we were hosted by a friend of Milan's (from Nis), Peter, who gave us his apartment for the night. The following day we walked outside the city to a Couchsurfing host, Tanya, whose family has taken us in for the past two days.
Today Inge and I spent our last day together, as she has decided it is high time she actually cycled again. We took the metro back into Sofia to buy some things we needed; in her case new brakes for her bicycle, and in my case a new mat to put under my sleeping bag. We' ve had a good day, feeling both saddened and excited at the prospects of having our own, unique journeys to pursue once again.
Tomorrow night the high will be 10 degrees Farenheit, so we will both need the courage to continue through Bulgaria alone. When I have found shelter in an abandoned house with Bo, the dog I have inherited from Inge's animal rescue mission, I know I will be thinking of Inge in her abandoned house up ahead, with her puppy beside her.
For a more colorful account of these past two weeks, with photos, see Inge's blog at bikenomadism.wordpress.com