The last time I mentioned Paul Salopek in a story was 2009. He’d been touted as a favorite for a Pulitzer Prize for his Tribune coverage of America’s war on terrorism in the Horn of Africa. And I noted, “A few weeks ago the Tribune dismantled its foreign service and Salopek left the paper.”
Salopek didn’t win that Pulitzer—which would have been his third—but earlier that year he’d received a Polk Award for the same work. That citation said: “In three reports from remote and lawless regions, he described the beleaguered efforts of the United States military to pre-empt an anticipated surge of radical Islamist activity. His accounts also depicted growing anti-American sentiment and accusations of secret rendition and prison programs in the region.”
This description makes Salopek sound like someone willing to take a risk or two to get the story. He was. In 2006, on leave from the Trib to do a story for National Geographic on the Sahel, he flew into Sudan’s Darfur province when it was on the brink of war and immediately was arrested. Among the other things Sudan charged him with was espionage. He was released more than a month later.
Two and a half years ago Salopek stretched his legs in Ethiopia and started walking. He walked to Saudi Arabia and to Jordan and across whatever frontiers and mountains presented themselves until he reached the Republic of Georgia. That’s where he is at the moment, but he intends to keep walking. His goal is Tierra del Fuego, and he expects his “Out of Eden Walk” to reach it by 2021. “Welcome to our digital campfire,” says the website:
“Although you’re joining it online, this discussion was actually kindled some 60,000 years ago, when our ancestors first wandered out of the prehistoric African Eden, and migrated across the Middle East and Asia, before crossing into North America and rambling to points south. From 2013 to 2020, writer Paul Salopek is recreating that epic journey on foot, starting at humankind’s birthplace in Ethiopia and ending at the southern tip of South America, where our forebears ran out of horizon.”
The National Geographic is posting Salopek’s dispatches in several languages, and the Knight Foundation houses the Out of Eden website. Despite these allies, and others, Salopek depends on contributions to keep him going, and he just reached out from the trail to shake the tree. He sent this:
I just checked the Web: The temperature today in Erbent, Turkmenistan, is 113 degrees Fahrenheit and climbing.
So while I’m paused in the Caucasus, waiting for the Karakum Desert to cool down before pressing on toward to China, I thought it would be a good time to launch the next “Out of Eden Walk” fundraising campaign on Kickstarter:
Last summer, I asked many of you to donate to this peculiar enterprise—a walk across four continents to document human life slowly, at boot-level, along the pathways of the first ancestors to migrate out of Africa. Your generosity has kept my storytelling trek inching ahead, first through the Middle East and then into Asia Minor. This time around, though, I am asking an even greater favor: Your continued support is profoundly welcomed, of course, but sharing the above fundraising link with all your friends and contacts is equally important. My one-and-a-half staff and I are trying to broaden our grassroots community. The health of our small organization—a federally registered 501(c)3 non-profit—depends on this.
With your support, we plan to launch major new outreach and education efforts during Phase II of the walk through Asia.
We are building a university workshop program for journalism students to teach the virtues of more meaningful “slow journalism”; sharing our hard-earned digital map-making skills in free seminars for students and the general public; and broadening our translations of the dispatches, which add up to 130,000+ words so far, in order to make the Walk’s storytelling truly global.
We have terrific partners in National Geographic, the Knight Foundation, Project Zero at Harvard, the Pulitzer Center, and others. But again: Only a robust and growing community of supporters will guarantee that the tiny non-profit at the core of this journey flourishes until I reach Tierra del Fuego in 2020. (Okay, more likely 2021.)
If you like the Walk, please share this Kickstarter link far and wide. For the Americans among our friends, all donations are tax-deductible:
Thank you all. Merci. Gracias. Teşekkür ederim. شكرا . תודה. 谢谢.
“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”—Barry Lopez.
The point I see Salopek making is that no matter where digital technology takes journalism, it’s still a line of work that needs to travel on its feet.