A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over, because the film of memory continues running on inside of us long after we have come to a physical standstill. Indeed, there exists something like a contagion of travel, and the disease is essentially incurable. Ryszard Kapuściński
It’s been eight months back in the motherland but the film of memory continues to run and run. There’s a lot of material in the archives. Sitting on a Dublin bus at 7am, looking out on drab streets and the drizzle, day after day after day, thoughts from previous encounters and situations appear from nowhere. If there’s a sure-fire way to remind yourself why you travelled in the first place, it’s returning to the daily grind of wage-labour in an alienating Western European capital. I left three years ago and am now in a similar situation, on the cusp of some vague adventure. At the heart of this yearning to explore is the personal stagnation of life lived on these Isles. More can happen in a week of travel than in 6 months at ‘home’. Of course, not everyone feels this. Perhaps I’m just lacking a purpose and that’s magnified by familiar surroundings but there’s no doubt there is something profoundly sick about Western societies; a collective amnesia, pseudo-reality and moral/spiritual bankruptcy permeates from the top down and infects the whole culture in general.
No Escape from Depraved Politics
As humanistic philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm once said, the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane. A good example of this insanity is the media kerfuffle over the tragic drowning of three year old Syrian Kurdish refugee Aylan Kurdi and the Middle East refugee crisis in general. European countries can partake in sanctions killing 500,000 children, wage war on and destroy Iraq while contributing to the destruction of Syria and whole societies, causing 100,000s more children to have their lives violently cut short and displacing millions more, yet its ‘mainstream’ media still shed crocodile tears for one sole victim, all the while completely ignoring its culpability and the real reasons behind the unfolding catastrophe. As one blogger recently wrote, each dead child [as a result of Western crimes over the past couple of decades in the Middle East] could be on the front page of every newspaper for the next 2191 years. The Kurdish people are currently resisting a genocidal campaign waged by Western ally-funded Daesh (ISIS), yet their main fighting force, the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) are listed as a terrorist organisation in Europe. Now, suddenly caring over the fate of a single Kurdish refugee, the liberal media are calling for more Western bombs to ostensibly target Daesh, a veil to cover their murderous hypocrisy and imperial intentions in the region. While hitching in South Kurdistan (North Iraq) in 2012, we passed a Yazidi village in the distance. The driver pointed it out and told us they were ‘Devil Worshippers’, a reference to their worship of the fallen angel Malek Taus (the Peacock Angel). I hadn’t heard of them before but he said they had suffered greatly from attacks by Sunni militant groups. A couple of years later many of their communities along with some Kurdish areas were overrun by Daesh causing thousands to be killed and 200,000 displaced. Daesh wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Western intervention in the region. This is a common thread running through the histories of Asia, from Turkey to Japan; Western imperialism has had devastating impacts on countries the length of the continent and it continues to this day. Economic terrorism also continues to impact whole populations. The sanctions on Iran have left many of its young yearning to leave the country. While in Tehran, I found myself sitting in on a German class and afterwards chatted with the well-educated students who all told me they dream of going to Europe for a better life. It’s a sad state of affairs when most of the world’s educated population long to leave their native lands to join the minority living in the privileged West. Few question why this is so or offer meaningful responses. Ad infinitum, the skewed logic of market fundamentalism dominates discourses the world over. As Pankaj Mishra points out, this is especially dangerous in the world’s most populous states;
The hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth – that billions of consumers in India & China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans – is as absurd & dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by Al-Qaeda. It condemns the global environment to early destruction & looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage & disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots – the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western Modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly Pyrrhic. Pankaj Mishra, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt against the West and the Remaking of Asia
Witnessing environmental destruction was also a constant on the journey. There are few places left where humans have retained the knowledge of how to live in balance with their environment. Even these places are under threat from climate change. All this becomes more prevalent as the coming storm gathers momentum. The inverted totalitarianism of corporate dominated Europe in mid-2015 feels like what I imagine Germany in the 1930s felt like; the overwhelming sense of public denial and refusal to face the truth and what amounts to holocaust and barbarism.
Eurasian Communism, Regrowth and Hope for the Future
We are animals, born from the land with the other species. Since we’ve been living in cities, we’ve become more and more stupid, not smarter. What made us survive all these hundreds of thousands of years is our spirituality; the link to our land. Sebastiao Salgado
As much as I enjoy giving out, there are many things to be positive about in this life and when looking back on this blog I’m reminded how inherently good people are. We are all essentially communists. When I say ‘communist’ I don’t mean the degraded use of the word to describe totalitarian regimes like the USSR. I’m talking about the way humans have lived for millennia, enabling us to thrive and live in balance with our environment and others. Mutual cooperation and helping each other without any expectation of being given anything in return is how most of us still live our lives with regard to others, mainly with family and friends but also with strangers. It’s only through a concerted effort of propaganda that we’re led to believe otherwise. A ‘sensible’ person would have advised against travelling to Iran overland from Paris but such a person wouldn’t have accounted for the many acts of kindness that were met along the way. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need is something we all act out in our everyday lives more than we assume but it’s even more common in communities that are more closely connected to the land, away from commercial atomised urban centres. The main hindrances faced along the way were from states, otherwise I would’ve travelled overland all the way to Japan as was originally intended but all the twists and turns brought new places and unexpected situations. It was one learning curve after another and I’m still catching up with what was learned. The illusions that separate us (Europe from Asia, the local and the global, humanity and nature, everything from everything) are thin. They start to disappear when you’re willing to let them go. Things that die in one place offer regrowth in another and opportunities arise when you’re open to them. I don’t know where I’m going next or when I’ll return home again but like everyone else I’ll keep driftin’.
From wonder into wonder existence opens. Lao Tzu
Into the Himalayas. From Kashmir to adjacent Ladakh; an ancient culture and close relative of Tibet. To Nepal and another Buddhist culture in Langtang near another border with Tibet and back to the Hindu lowlands and the UNESCO site of Bakhtapur. A flight to Kuala Lumpur and the start of an extended stay in South-East Asia and a year of living in Vietnam. From Vietnam through Cambodia and a flight from Bangkok to Japan. Two weeks exploration of South Honshu and from Osaka to Hong Kong. Overland through South China to Laos and back to Thailand before the flight home from Bangkok.
I know you’re tired but come, this is the way. Mawlana (Rumi)
Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami once said that people aren’t able to look at something in front of them unless its in a frame. I’ve hardly picked up my camera since I arrived back in Ireland. Familiar surroundings, the return to the daily grind and the dead weight of history have left me uninspired. Looking back on the archive of photos from the trip with nostalgia, I’m reminded of the intensity of experiences and the diversity of peoples and landscapes that carried me across the Eurasian continent. Here are some photos that never previously made it into the blog; I hope they help summarise the journey and collectively capture some of the essence of adventure I’ve recently been longing for again.
From the French capital to the oak forests of Ardeche, through Italy to Ancona and on a ferry to Northern Greece and onto Istanbul. From the Black Sea through Anatolia to Kurdistan, the parts divided between Turkish and Iraqi states. Back north to a wintry Turkey and into the micro-climate of Georgia and onto another ancient Christian country, Armenia and its enclave taken from Azerbaijan. Onto the other Azerbaijan and Iran, from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf. A flight from Shiraz to Colombo via Abu Dabai. Another flight to India’s southern tip. Then the length of India, slowly moving northwards along its East to the occupied land of Kashmir.
_ Tabriz, Azerbaijan Provence, Iran. Dec ’12 Tehran, Iran. December ’12
Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin (There’s no hearth like your own hearth) Old Irish Proverb
Despite not having lived here for over four years, I still consider my parents house and place I grew up in as home; a safe, comfortable, reliable haven that I find difficult to imagine never returning to. In the Ring of Gullion, just north of the border in South Armagh, rural Ireland is almost at its most idyllic, even during these times of commuting and careless bungalow building. The clear skies are a nice welcome back as I recover from my jet-lag and lap up the [what seem to me as] luxuries of Christmas with my family. There are many changes, not least of all within myself, but things have essentially stayed the same. There’s nothing like being on the move for a long time to gain a fresh appreciation of things you’ve previously taken for granted.
Before flying to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, I stay a couple of nights in a hut, just outside the village of Pai. It’s a final opportunity to enjoy the fine weather before returning to a European winter.
On winter solstice, my last day in Asia, I stay in a quiet hostel in Bangkok. As I head out for the day to do some exploring I meet the only other guest I’ve seen the hostel. David is a meditation teacher from France who’s spent the last few years in different temples in Asia and we end up hanging out for most of the day. He talks at length about Buddhism and meditation and I enjoy listening and being reminded about the importance of a clear perspective. He’s also at the end of his trip and is flying the next day. He tells me that for him the feeling before leaving a place you’ve been for a long time is a bit like what he imagines the feeling is before you die and are reborn into another life. You have to leave it all behind…to go to another place where you don’t know what is going to unfold. What he says resonates as it has been over two years since I was made this trip and the time has come to begin another life.
The 12 hour Norweigan Airways flight from Bangkok to Copenhagen isn’t as bad as I was fearing. I watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: Days of Future Past to pass the time and add to the surreality of time traveling across the continents. Running out of further film options, I still can’t bring myself to watch Edge of Tomorrow as Tom Cruise is in it but then I learn that he’s repeatedly killed in it over and over again so I sit back and enjoy it too. After 9 hours I begin to struggle though. Not having slept the night before and not being able to sleep on the plane, ensures I’m a bit of mess when I arrive in Copenhagen in the late afternoon. After grabbing something to eat I go straight to sleep in the hostel.
The next day, it’s dark and overcast as I walk the streets of central Copenhagen and take it all in. I’ve never been to Denmark before and it reminds me of home at wintertime. The darkness is something I know I’ll have to get used to again but Copenhagen is a nice, friendly, quiet city and a good place to ease myself back (just familiar enough, yet foreign) before arriving in Ireland in the evening.