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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Walking with Buddhists, Hitchhiking for Peace, Lessons from a Monk, On the Farm

Walking with Thomas, Andrew, and Phap Khi

It is the second day of our walk from Istanbul. The four of us walk silently in single file. Andrew, an Englishman now living in Switzerland, is in the lead. He comes to a curve in the road, and points to a path through the wood that leads up and over a hill. We all pause, then nod affirmatively, though I am thinking that the path may not be a good idea. We make our way up the path, then take a break in the woods. We don't speak much during the break. After a few minutes we continue down the other side of the path, through the woods, and straight into a high fence. We then wind our way back, sliding down a steep embankment to get back to the road, nearly to the point where we'd started on the path.
In my unenlightened mind I am a bit exasperated. Our detour has cost us three kilometers and wasted energy. I am impatient to make some progress, not only to get closer to my ultimate destination, but also to leave behind the pain of separation from my friend. But for the other three, what the detour has 'cost' us is not an issue. We are simply where we are.

By the end of the second day we are in a tourist area, in a village called Polonez. Thomas has presented a leaflet he's had printed to the manager of a nice restaurant. The leaflet explains that we are walking for peace, and that any help the reader can offer, such as food and lodging, would be appreciated. The manager converses with his peers in Turkish. There is some laughter among them, some shoulder shrugging, some arguing. Then we are invited to have dinner in the restaurant.
Afterwards we are told to see the mayor of the village to find lodging, but when we get to his office, it is closed. It is now dusk, and we go into the teahouse and have tea. We sit silently waiting for someone to offer us a place to sleep. I explain to my friends that on my walk, having failed to find a room to sleep in, I would have already gotten through the village and found a place to camp. Instead, on this walk, we sit and sip tea, waiting.
Then a young man approaches our table and says hello in English. Phap Khi asks, "Can you help us?"
The young man just happens to manage a tourist lodge and restaurant, and we are soon in luxury rooms complete with jacuzzi. But first we are shuttled to the resaurant where we have another huge meal and lots of good conversation with our host.As we sleep in our luxurious rooms that night , it rains.
On my walk, I would have been in my tent, in the rain, eating cold bread and cheese.

Hitchhiking for Peace?

I left my Buddhist friends yesterday, and officially ended, or suspended my walk. I walked from Portugal to the village of Karakiraz, some 30 kilometers NE of Istanbul. It took me 15 months. Yesterday I hitchhiked and took a bus to  Kandira, where I am volunteering to work on a farm for a week or so. My plans are to continue hitchhiking to Izmit, then Ankara, then to the south coast of Turkey to catch the ferry to Haifa. In Israel I hope to resume my walk. But for now, my walk is suspended.

Lessons from Phap Khi

I had spoken to Phap Khi, the Plum Village monk, about leaving the group, about giving up my walk (though not the journey), and about a dream I'd had the week before my walk began.
Regarding the first point, Phap Khi didn't think I should leave them, and that running away would never bring me to myself.
"Okay, but I have to get down the road anyway. Istanbul has been a black hole, and I have to keep moving to keep from being sucked back into it."
By this time, Phap Khi knew what I meant; he'd heard me break down when we all shared our thoughts after meditation. He knew I had been gripped by indecision in Istanbul; that I had wanted to keep moving but couldn't bring myself to leave.
Phap Khi accepted this.
I also told Phap Khi that giving up my walk by hitchhiking through the rest of Turkey was a big disappointment. Insisting on walking every kilometer was a source of pride for me. But Phap Khi pointed out that I would free myself from this pride by suspending my walk for a while. A Quaker friend in Ohio had also suggested that my insistence on walking every kilometer may simply  be stubborness on my part. My excuse for hitchhiking now? That my visa expires in some 30 days, and that I cannot walk the 1000 kilometers to Iskenderun in 30 days. But I could have left Istanbul sooner. The fact is that I am tired of walking. I need a break from walking. I will walk from Haifa to Cairo. But I am tired of walking now. So there goes my pride and stubborness.
Finally, I told Phap Khi about a disturbing dream I'd had a week or so before I began this walk, back in October of 2011.
In the dream I was entering a house I'd lived in when growing up. I was entering the house with Linda, my wife, and with Olivia, my daughter. In the dream Olivia was only 5 or 6 years old. I had a bad feeling entering the house.
Inside, written on the wall, was the message, "No future." The message sent me into a panic, but Linda and Olivia thought nothing of it. They went out back to go for a swim in the swimming pool. I tried to warn them that something terrible was about to happen, but they disregarded my own fear and jumped into the pool, splashing and laughing.. In the meantime I went to the front window, watching for the terrible something that was coming. I watched the driveway with dread. A car pulled up, I was terrified, and then I awoke from the dream.
At the time I believed this dream was a bad omen and that I shouldn't make the walk. Making the walk would destroy everything we had together. But I soon came to my senses, believing the dream simply to be a manifestation of the anxiety I felt at that time.
Now as I explained the dream to Phap Khi, I also explained to him that Linda had moved on to a better life in Ireland, running a bed and breakfast. Such a life had always been a dream of Linda's, but she hadn't realized that dream while we had lived together. I  explained that Olivia was now in university in the US, and that time and distance had seemed to weaken our relationship. I  told him that Olivia seems to be happy with her new life.
"So I've lost everything I had," I said angrily. " I am really homeless now; literally everything I own I carry on my back. Once I reach Cairo, I don't know where to go. The dream was a warning, and there really is no future."
"But I think you have misinterpreted the dream," he said calmly. "First of all, Linda and Olivia were happy swimming in the pool. This is the happiness they have now, not because they are free of you, but because they are living their dreams. And the message, 'No future', was not a warning, but simply a fact. There is no future. There is only the present moment. Do not dwell on the past or what you think will be the future. Stay in the present moment. Come back to yourself."

Down on the Farm

Today at the farm where I'll be volunteering for a week or so, I am trying to enjoy the present moment. Sofia is here, and several other young travellers. The atmosphere is good; I've heard no complaints from anyone. Some representatives arrived from a group called, 'Only Peace', and we had a meeting in the sunshine with Turkish coffee. Vedat, the founder of the group, said that peacebuilders tend to find one another the way birds going the same way flock together. I agreed, and told him the story of how Inge and I had found Thomas, the founder of steppps.net, by what seemed to be a random meeting in a village near Istanbul. We'd met again in Istanbul, walked for peace there, then I'd joined his walk with Andrew and Phap Khi. I told Vedat that Thomas and his group may be at this farm in a few more days.

Peacebuilders find one another.
Live in the present moment.
Having faith in the first statement and living the second may be all that is necessary to move forward.
I may be hitchhiking now but I'm still taking steps for peace.
Let's all take our steps for peace!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Walking Again

On the hectic main shopping thoroughfare of Taksim, in the center of Istanbul yesterday, five people walked slowly and quietly, practicing mindfulness.
Thomas, who is on a peace pilgrimage to Southeast Asia, led the way. Andrew, an Englishman living in Switzerland, and Phap Khi, a French Buddhist monk, have recently joined Thomas on his pilgrimage, and they followed him along with Inge and myself. The five of us snaked our way through the hasty throngs of people; past buskers, hawkers and protesters.
We finished our peace walk near Blue Mosque, and returned to the flat where Thomas has been hosted by two joyful Turkish brothers. There we enjoyed an enormous meal with the brothers and their friends.
It was there that I finally made the decision to join the peace pilgrimage with Thomas, Andrew and Phap Khi.
We'll be on our way in about an hour from  now.
Goodbye Istanbul!
Inge, see you down the road!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cabin Fever, or, Waiting for Godot?

Three days ago...

I am walking from Etiler, the neighborhood where I've been living, to Beşiktaş, down by the Bosporus. The backpack is once again in its proper place, my staff is in my right hand, and I am moving along the busy road at a good pace in spite of having to weave and dodge around other people and cars parked on the sidewalk.
The weather is good, and I have yet another host waiting for me just 6 kilometers from where I've started, then another the next day on the Asian side of Istanbul, and more in Izmit, a few more day's walking eastward.

I have a new destination and a new plan; I will march to Iskenderun, very close to the Syrian border, where a new ferry line has begun from Turkey to Haifa. The new ferry was created for lorries to bypass war-torn Syria on their way to Jordan, and I will only have to pay 100 euros to catch it. This is far better than my previous options had been; either to walk through Syria or take a ferry to Cyprus and a flight to Israel. The first option was costly, a bureaucratic nightmare and possibly a bit tricky what with the shooting; the second option was simply costly.

So now I am rested after weeks of sedentary living and eating well (thanks to my host, Bigem ), and I have a plan after weeks of inertia and indecision. But I will have to hurry if I am to get to Iskenderun before my visa expires. I have over 1000 kilometers to cover in about seven weeks, and I will have to get through mountainous central Turkey. It has been spring-like here in Istanbul, but I am faced with winter again as I climb in elevation. But I can do it.

After walking the 6 k to Beşiktaş, I find I am too early to meet my host, having overestimated the distance and underestimated my walking speed. I sit in a square by the Bosporus to kill time, watching skateboarders perform their art. Then I start thinking.

Cabin Fever

I have been doing far too much thinking lately as a result of cabin fever.

From Wikipedia:
Cabin fever is a term for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do for an extended period. Cabin fever describes the extreme irritability and restlessness a person may feel in these situations.

Meanwhile, all the thinking I have been doing has made me stir crazy.

From the McGraw-Hill Dictionary:
Stir crazy   to be upset and nervous because you have been in one place for too long.

So now that I have taken action and cured my cabin fever and stir craziness, I am thinking by the Bosporus, and I am thinking I would like to go back to the apartment where Inge, Sofia and I have been suffering from cabin fever together. By seven o'clock that evening I have apologised to my host and walked back to the apartment. I have more thinking to do, more fever to sweat out.

Just What Have I Been doing These Past Three weeks?

I have not been completely idle these past few weeks.

-I have been resting and eating, which I feel I should do after 15 months on the road. Lying around and reading are far more economical than running around Istanbul like a tourist, so I feel this creative idleness is justified to an extent.
And I have been eating regularly. I started the walk weighing in at about 180 lbs. When I arrived here I was at  150 lbs., which is what I weighed when I was something like 15 or 16 years old. In the time I've been here I've regained about 4 or 5 lbs, and I have also done this economically. Having a kitchen to cook in is cheaper than eating on the road. The apartment with a kitchen and much of the food, I must add, has been a gift from our host, Bigem.
 Thanks again, Bigem.

-I've also been looking for work. I must confess I haven't been trying very hard. So far, neither an English language school, handing out leaflets, or labor have worked out.

-I have been 'waiting' for money.
This may sound rather weak, well , it is weak, but money through donations can get me a residence visa and transportation to Israel, and solidify my plans before I go charging down the road again. And the waiting may be necessary to continue with my work.
I applied for a 'scholarship' and delegation in Palestine with Christain Peacemaker Teams while I was in Edirne, and I got both, but the 'scholarship' means I pay 725 dollars to work with CPT  rather than 1450 dollars, and it does not include transportation to Israel. Instead, I hope to pay them a short visit.
I am grateful to them for their confidence in me.
And I am, of course, grateful to those who believe in what I am doing and are providing my daily living expenses, and have been doing so for over a year.

-I have been establishing contacts in Israel. As I hope to be there for three months, not idling at all but working for peace, these contacts are important to establish now.

-I have been looking for a farm to volunteer on, through Help Exchange, but I have not found one that needs my help.

-I have been visiting people, and introducing my petitions, though not with the same vigor as prevıously on this walk.

-I have been devising alternative plans, and weighing the merits of both solicited and unsolicited opinions.
I have been advised:

  • to slow down; I will never find peace if I continue to march...

...and in slowing down, to accept whatever penalty I receive for overstaying my visa with equanimity

  • to hurry up because I cannot overstay my visa
  • to take care of my family before trying to save the world, and to be a better father to my daughter
  • to make more friends to help me along the way
  • to find a job
  • to maintain the integrity of my walk by continuing the walk...

...This last piece of advice coming when I mentioned that one of the options I have considered is to get to Iskenderun before my visa expires by hitchhiking or cycling with a cheap or donated bicycle. Aren't Israel/Palestine and Egypt the real goals of this journey? Isn't insistence on walking just vanity? Most of the time, no one knows whether I am walking or not; what difference does it make?
Of course, I have always said I would walk until I was physically unable to continue, so this last piece of advice is sound, even if it does mean overstaying my visa and taking my lumps for it.
Yet, maybe I am being hard headed about this. I've also been advised not to take too much stock in the opinions of others. Hitchiking will save me the trouble of an extension on my visa, or the trouble from the authorities when I've overstayed my visa. Furthermore, if I hitchhike from Istanbul to Iskenderun,  I should be able to get to Iskenderun with the money I've got now, and possibly even have money remaining for the ferry to Israel.

What I Am Going to Do Now

All of the above, and more, I hope.
For example I may busk. I can play two or three tunes on my harmonica and sing a bit; ten minutes worth of entertainment. The entertainment may be of the sort that makes people laugh. Any coins tossed to me may be from pity.

And today I am going to visit Thomas, the peace pilgrim I wrote about recently.
Thomas is one of those who have advised that I slow down, and I am hoping he can advise me in other ways. As I've said before, he seems to radiate peace. I just seem to annoy my flatmates.

Anyway, I have now made the decision that I will not march to Iskenderun to beat the visa date.
I will either walk slowly and somehow get an extension on my visa, or I will walk slowly and deal with the authorities when the time comes.
Or I may hitchhike, or cycle to Iskenderun, then continue walking through Israel, Palestine and Egypt, where I will have lots of time to do so.

Meanwhile, I wait a bit more;  for conviction, for epiphany, for renewed zeal; maybe to put on another pound or two.

I won't waste time waiting for Godot, however.