ETHIOPIA – Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Paul Salopek doesn’t believe humans were meant to sit still. In fact, he’s going to spend the next seven years of his life tracing, on foot, the path our ancestors took as they left east Africa and explored the globe.
The journey begins in Ethiopia and will end at the tip of South America. For Salopek, the expedition is the ultimate example of “slow journalism”, and every 100km or so, he will stop and write about his experiences.
Salopek believes our ancestors began this same journey some 60,000 years ago and the story of our species, our very humanity, was developed bit by bit along the way.
As Salopek said, he hopes people will follow him and “by recording an Out of Eden Milestone — photographs of the earth and sky, ambient sounds of his current location, and a brief but compelling interview with the nearest human being on the topic of identity,” we will learn of our collective connectedness.
The journey began in late January and MySecretMaine will follow along. Each month of the walk, we’ll post a story and picture about his current location.
The journey has been in the planning stages for some time and Salopek is sponsored by The National Geographic Society, The Knight Foundation, The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education, The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, Zeega, and Knight Science Journalism at MIT. In very palpable way, he will not be alone.
Here’s just a sample of the what he’s seen so far – Near Dubti, Ethiopia Salopek and his guide left the desert and came face to face with the modern industrial agricultural machine. The two men and their camels walked to the very edge of a 120,000 acre sugar-cane farm. As Salopek said, we saw ” a sea (no, a wall) of sugar cane. Miles of industrial irrigation. Canals. Diversion dams. Bulldozed fields. Ahmed Alema Hassan, my infallible guide, becomes lost. As we search for a way through the cane, night envelops us, and we end up pulling the weary camels in a gigantic circle.”
According to Salopek, this farm and others like it, could make Ethiopia the sixth largest sugar producer in the world. The world apparently does need a lot of sweeteners for its coffee and tea.
Editor’s note – Salopek’s connection to Maine: Every year Colby College Colby’s honors a member of the newspaper profession who continues Elijah Parish Lovejoy’s heritage of fearlessness and freedom. The recipient of the Lovejoy Award may be an editor, reporter, or publisher who has contributed to the nation’s journalistic achievement. Just this past year, the award was given to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.
In 2009, Paul Salopek won the Lovejoy Award, and so even for a moment in time, he too was a Mainer.