Thu November 21, 2013
Walking The World: 7 Years And Counting
CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
Now to East Africa, where one man is currently on a journey of discovery.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)
HEADLEE: What you're hearing right now are the footsteps, the actual footsteps, of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek. He's traveling by foot from East Africa, heading northeast through China and then going all the way down to the southernmost tip of South America. Hot on his trail, students who are following him in real time online. Paul Salopek is on the cover of this December's National Geographic, where he's also a fellow. And he joins me now during a break from his trek. Also joining me is Homa Tavangar. She's an education advisor for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and also author of the book "Growing Up Global." Homa is helping educators and students here connect with Paul's journey. Welcome to both of you.
HOMA TAVANGAR: Thanks for having us.
PAUL SALOPEK: It's great to be here.
HEADLEE: Paul, you are in Jordan, correct?
SALOPEK: That's right, Celeste.
HEADLEE: And on a very brief break from walking so you can get a little bit of writing done. What is it like - I mean, you've traveled now - you began in Ethiopia.
HEADLEE: And so how many miles - or kilometers I guess - have you traveled by foot?
SALOPEK: Somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600 miles.
HEADLEE: And people can actually follow you online, right? Where do they do that?
SALOPEK: They do it on a website that's called outofedenwalk.com or at the National Geographic site, which is outofedenwalk.nationalgeographic.com.
HEADLEE: So, Homa, you've reached out to educators and students around the country. This is a guy - granted a very illustrious journalist - who's walking across the world. How does this help educators teach their kids?
TAVANGAR: Well, I think, as the sound of his footsteps made clear, it sort of brings us into places we may not otherwise go. And the issues that Paul is facing day-to-day can be sort of faced in our local communities as well when students take walks and observe their own communities, when they calculate distances, when they come face-to-face with cultures they may never have met.
HEADLEE: You know, Paul, many of these areas are places you've visited before - reported on before. How does it make it a different story now as opposed to just going in and reporting in depth on a particular story?
SALOPEK: Well, I think even what we're talking about makes the difference, which is interacting with communities at the school level. Something that journalists don't often do, right. We fly in or drive to a story A or B, interview the adults, normally, unless the story's focused on children, and then leave. By walking through communities, I'm forced to slow down and meet the entire community. It's a mechanical process. It's a no-brainer. When you're moving at three miles an hour, people come up to you, they greet you. Children come up to me. And it's been wonderful. It's been great because I get to see this whole layer of human life, human activity that I often missed as I was speeding through on deadline. So it is different. It's enriching. And for me, I think it's making my work better. And it's hopefully fun for the kids because one of the things we're doing is hooking up school kids in schools in Ethiopia and Djibouti or Saudi Arabia with schools back in the states. And they get to talk to each other electronically.
HEADLEE: Give me an example, Homa, of, say, one lesson plan. Imagine that you're the teacher and you walk into your classroom and say, OK, let's check in on where Paul is today. What's the lesson plan that comes out of his trek?
TAVANGAR: One quick one can simply be elementary mapping and mathematical calculation. How many miles can Paul walk in a day? What kind of obstacles might he meet along the way as they're doing their mapping project? How long do they think it will take him to get from point A to point B? Some of them could even be carrying in each hand a gallon of water that weighs 9 pounds for a gallon and see how far they can go carrying - we have schools doing service learning with walks for water. You know, they can be doing all kinds of things to sort of put themselves in that position. So right there was a mapping and a math project.
But there's lots of writing and journaling and observation sort of projects as well that a teacher can say, let's get outside and take a walk. And let's observe what's out there. And maybe even send a tweet out to another school somewhere else. And that's another interesting thing, is that this is a very digital generation that we're talking about that are in the classrooms. And we're encouraging them to be producers of content, not just consumers, to produce quality, and maybe have a partner school somewhere on the other side of the world that they can use their social media for social good and connecting with those students.
HEADLEE: So, Paul, after you finish this - and granted I understand that we're years away from that - but can you imagine this changing your approach to journalism even when you're not walking? How will this change the way you report on stories in the future?
SALOPEK: Well, Celeste, if it doesn't, then I would be hugely disappointed. You know, I have several reasons for undertaking the walk. One is to share my reportage with students, among other broader audience. But the other is to try to become a better writer and to see how slowing down changes my writing style, changes the way I gather information. So I hope it changes. I hope it sharpens my observational skills. I hope it gives me a certain suppleness to move through different cultures easily - something I've developed since I was a child being raised in a different culture, but one that can always be honed.
HEADLEE: That is journalist Paul Salopek. He's on a seven-year walk from East Africa to South America. We caught up with him in Jordan. And also Homa Tavangar. She joined me from a studio in Philadelphia. Thanks to both of you. And Paul, good luck, stay safe.
SALOPEK: Appreciate it.
TAVANGAR: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.