An atheist, as I define it, is someone who truly believes in death. As in a properly final, terminal, The End kind of death. Happily, believing in death, as I do, means also believing in life. And I don’t mean half-believing in life, as a rehearsal for another stage of existence, as a precursor for another better or different type of living. I mean Life as in the one-off, short, precious time you get before Death.
Today marks one year since this journey began, so I am indulging in a little light reflection on why I’m doing it, what I hope to achieve and whether it’s worth it. It all comes down to mortality – more specifically, the difficulty I have in coming to terms with mine. I couldn’t bear to think that I was spending my life commuting between two buildings in built-up areas of the same city, while this vast, fascinating, unique world was going out there without me.
At the same time, this world is changing: we’re heating the planet with all kinds of different consequences. I wanted to see for myself how people are living now in the poor world (where most people live), and understand the social, environmental, economic and political impacts of climate change.
We set off this time last year, starting in Nepal and we made our way through South Asia, Southeast Asia and to Africa. We’re now in Uganda. It’s been and continues to be an amazing journey. I’m often asked what the highlight of the trip has been so far, and for me, it’s the people we’ve met. We’ve met the most incredible men, women and communities, including a king in Rajasthan, the president of Maldives and the president of Kiribati, the Nobel Prize-winning head of the IPCC, a man who makes artificial glaciers in the Himalayas, another man who has set up wireless networks across remote villages in Nepal, a man who has transformed his village using water harvesting and management, a community that live on a transient sandbar in the Ganges, the heroic priest who drove us through the deserts of the Rift Valley… There are so many more people and communities – these examples just tumbled from the top of my head.
During the past year, I have tried to bring some of the stories of these remarkable people to a wider audience. Even though the world is growing smaller, it is still big and fat enough that most of the people we meet do not have a voice in the busy consumer-oriented part that I come from. This website is not easy to navigate – I don’t know enough (anything) about web design to make it more user friendly – but the stories of the people and places we’ve visited are hidden somewhere within.
Nick’s beautiful pictures bring the whole journey to life in a much more immediate way than my long rambling posts, and they are all organised nicely so it’s easier to navigate through our trip that way. Unfortunately, the most recent images from the past couple of months aren’t yet uploaded because the internet connection in Africa is so poor and we’re rarely near an internet cafe long enough to upload. Apparently the best internet on the continent is in Sudan, although no one can tell me why, or even confirm this rumour…
There have been many challenges, from bedbugs and fleas, to the recession, editors that won’t pay me or who reject pieces that cast their advertisers in a bad light! And I am told frequently that readers, publishers, booksellers etc are not interested in anything to do with climate change or poor people in the developing world – what they want is ‘how to get out of the recession’ guides and celebrity biographies, which, I have to admit, is a little discouraging. And Nick and I both get incredibly exhausted from travelling constantly, long bus journeys and grotty hostel accommodation.
But, it’s amazing to be out here meeting remarkable people, hearing incredible stories, seeing wonderful sights. It’s the people we meet that drives me on, curiosity to find out what’s round the next corner, and knowledge of my own mortality…
The journey continues from Uganda down to the bottom of this continent, and then on to South America. We don’t know for how long – it depends on how many pennies we can continue to scrape together, and on our continued enthusiasm for adventure.
Over the past year, we’ve been spurred on by you, our readers. It’s fantastic knowing we have friends following our journey, suggesting projects and people for us to visit and pointing out my frequent spelling mistakes! So, thank you and come join us for Year 2!!