This was a temporary blog, specifically for the walk across Turkey. Visit Matt's permanent website, www.mattkrause.com.
[EDIT: I wrote this before things got hairy in Syria and I decided to avoid walking through it, instead just continuing east all the way across Turkey. The reasons I write about below still hold, the route has just been adjusted.]
2011 has been a year of big change for me. I left my job as a supply chain manager for a kitchenware import company. I like that kind of work, getting stuff made in China, but it’s not for me anymore. In another big change, my wife and I split up. We were together for 8 years, five of them married. I like being married, but things just didn’t work out between us.
So I’m at a bit of a crossroads in life. I could turn this crossroads into a stereotypical midlife crisis. I could go out and buy a red Porsche. I could get hairplugs. I could start chasing after college coeds. But a couple years down the road, none of that would make me proud of myself. I would not be able to point to any of those activities and say, “That was a good use of my time here on this earth.”
So what I decided to do instead is take a walk. Not just any walk, a really long walk. A walk across Turkey, then turning south and crossing Syria into Jordan, and then heading west towards Jerusalem. It’s about 1500 miles. It’s going to take about a year. And I’m going to write about it. I figure, if you’re going to do something that big, you better share it with people. Actually, sharing it with people is a big part of why I’m doing it.
You see, I look around at my friends and family. I see them raising children, and building careers, and paying down their mortgages. They are doing the kind of steady, predictable work that builds a steady, predictable society. That’s a good thing, we need that.
But because they are busy doing those things, they don’t have time to address another kind of need I also hear them expressing. That is the need to connect with other people, specifically to connect with other people on the other side of the planet, not as the cartoonish caricatures they see in the newspapers, but as normal people, people like them, people who just want to raise good kids and make the world a better place.
My friends and family open the newspaper, or they turn on the TV, and the only Middle Easterners they see are the ones who make up less than 1% of the population, but get all the press because they run around shooting guns and blowing things up and chanting “Death to America” and generally just making a lot of noise.
My friends and family know in their hearts that 99% of the population “over there” is not like that, but they don’t have time to think about it much, because they are busy taking their kids to soccer practice, paying their bills, and putting food on the table. To address those more immediate needs, they have to ignore the need that says, “Know your fellow man.”
I, however, for better or worse, am in a position to address that need now, not just for myself, but more importantly, for the people around me. I can go off and spend an entire year, or two, or maybe even more, getting to know that land “over there,” and sharing it with people here.
I am certainly not the first person to do this. People have been doing it for thousands of years. Some recent examples: in the early 2000s there was a Scottish Member of Parliament named Rory Stewart who walked across Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nepal. In 2010 an Australian named Mark Kalch walked across Iran. For the past 10 years a team out of Harvard University has been heading up the development of a trail that follows the footsteps of Abraham from southeast Turkey through Syria and Jordan and then into Jerusalem and Hebron.
I am not a religious person. I am not an academic person either. None of the writing and speaking that emerge from this project will be particularly scholarly, or learned, or profound. I do not have any illusions that I am going to solve any of the world’s problems. All I want to do is do something my friends can’t, and then bring it back and share it with them.
I don’t want to take on a big, multi-year project like this and waste it by cranking out a couple half-assed books and giving some half-assed speeches. So I’m not planning on leaving Seattle on October 31 and starting to walk across Turkey the very next day.
In fact, I don’t plan to start walking across Turkey for another year. Over the next year I will be practicing my writing and speaking skills. I finished my first book a couple months ago, and I’ve started writing books #2 and #3. I will also start writing a weekly newspaper column for a national newspaper. I am practicing my interviewing and speaking skills by speaking about the project to Toastmasters clubs and church groups, and interviewing with reporters and bloggers.
By the time I start the walk, I will have written 3 books and over 50 newspaper articles, and I will have spent a year practicing speaking about that part of the world.
This is what I’ve chosen to do with my midlife crisis. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out over the next couple years, but my gut tells me this will be a more constructive use of my time on this earth than buying a red Porsche, getting hairplugs, and chasing after college coeds.