Face to Face


I’ve been staring at blank paper since New Year.   I want to write something about my students.  Something about the love with which they’ve filled my heart.  Something about the deep admiration I feel – about how much I’ve learned from them – about how they’ve touched me to my soul.   But I can’t.  For as much as I’ve always prided myself on being a good writer, I just have no idea how to put this love to paper.   Sorry.

I spent the entirety of 2013 on the road.  I wore out 4 pairs of shoes over 200,000 miles.   Half a dozen freight trains, three buses, one big boat plus several smaller ones.  One bike, a lot of walking, and rides from more than 200 strangers speaking nearly as many languages.  I held 7 jobs, visited 21 countries, made it over 5 mountain ranges, and encountered a grand total of 3 unfriendly people (not counting the carnival).  Temperatures ranged from -20 to 120,  drenched in rain and stuck in a desert, I even got bit by a camel.

The other week I was asking my students to think of their happiest memory of 2013 – the highlight of the year.  But what do I say when they turn the question back around on me?    There’s been a lot:  The free, floating feeling of hot tears in my eyes soaring over mountain peaks into Bosnia, the awe-inspiring, unimaginably beautiful arctic boat ride approaching the Lofoten Islands after hitching 2,000 under the midnight sun…   Treasured moments which no one else could possibly understand:  laughing hysterically wıth an insane north-Florida crack-whore as an equal and true friend, bloody knuckled late nights building a junk bike trailer, and two magical, perfect days in a CSX switchyard in southern Appalachia.  Silly moments: digging in sand like dirt-cretins with my family in Barcelona, or passing out under a woman’s urinal (whatever that may be) after belligerent drunk trouble-making on the Spectres tour.   And dramatic moments, like night-after-night jaw-dropping mythology and jeweled wonder leaping into the heavens endlessly in every direction from the middle of the Atlantic, or the grandeur and excitement of hitching rides through some of the world’s most epic peaks with armed terrorist freedom-fighting militants who proudly call these hills home.  And then there were the simple moments – equally as profound – making stridali ravioli in an Italian farm kitchen, chatting with bright-eyed teens over sunset tea on a family porch in Kosovo, or all the time spent just sitting by myself watching trains.     But I think in all of this, throughout this pretty amazing year, one memory pokes out as something that will warm my heart forever:

“Pfffew!   Pffew!”     I had ten happy happy faces staring up at me imitating volcanos… and I had no idea what was going on.   “Pfffew!   Pffeeeew!”   I had just been thrown in front of my first class with no training or preperation in Erzurum, Turkey.  I was desperately trying to pretend that I was a real teacher and legitimate human being rather than a homeless degenerate, but I was being thoroughly de-railed by these smiley smiley faces and their damn volcano imitations.  What’s going on?!?   They were trying to tell me that my name means “volcano”.

Like any other happy memory, the beauty is all about context.  And it’s precisely this context which I have know idea how to explain.   So here my story stops.


2014 started with a curveball: learning that my dreamy job and life here in Erzurum has come to an unexpected and premature end.  There are tears, but for once in my life I feel there is great wisdom in my horiscope:

This year will be one for building, one for growing, one for moving upward, higher and higher, towards the heavens, towards the sun. It can be dizzying and it can be easy to get scared by how far your world is expanding, to get nervous by how close you are to your most perfect dreams, but the world’s going to be on your side this year, so try to let it carry you, try let its strange tides guide you. Go someplace you’ve never been before, go someplace that makes you feel small, go somewhere where the world starts to feel infinite.

And so I pack my bag for Kazakhstan.  But first, I have to go see some shepherds about a donkey…

4 thoughts on “Face to Face

  1. I am so sorry that you have to leave Erzurum. The students will miss you, I know. Kazakhstan is a long ways away, from looking at the map. What mode of transportation are you taking? Do you have a destination (city)? Is there anyone there you know? Wishing you safe travels and hope to hear a report soon. Love you.

  2. HI Walker! So you are not settling down with a nice Turkish person…. Are you still circumnavigating? I missed geography class…. Sending lovingkindness and hugs.

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