By: JACK M.
Paul Salopek is a 53-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer and journalist. He has worked with such prestigious publications as the Chicago Tribune and National Geographic, and he has won not one, but two, Pulitzer Prizes – the first in 1998 for articles he wrote on the Human Genome Diversity Project, and the second in 2001 for work that he did on the political strife that was then, and still is, rampant on the African continent.
But it is for a project that he began in 2013 that he will certainly be best remembered. In January of that year, he set out from Ethiopia to embark on a seven-year, 21,000 mile trek around our planet, walking in the footsteps of our earliest ancestors who migrated from Africa some 60,000 years ago – a project he calls the “Out of Eden Walk.” As a starting point, Salopek chose Ethiopia because it is here that some of the oldest known human remains, Homo sapiens idaltu, have been discovered and it is from Ethiopia that our species is believed to have first left Africa all those millennia ago, to spread out into every corner of the world and give us the great diversity that we have today. From Ethiopia, the journey will have taken him to the Middle East, across Asia and down the entire west coast of the Americas to Chile’s Tierra del Fuego.
Financed and supported by National Geographic, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Knight Foundation, Salopek’s focus is to bring what he calls a “slow journalism” into the public debate. “Often the places that we fly over or drive through, they aren’t just untold stories, but they are also the connective tissue between the stories of the day,” Salopek told Associated Press, and these stories “take slowing down to explain.” “Slow journalism allows me to make hidden connections that you miss when you travel too fast.” His journey will take him across dozens of borders and checkpoints. He will mingle with scores of ethnicities speaking scores of languages, with a thousand stories to tell. And in our fast-paced world of information overload and our ever-unceasing demand for instant gratification, many of us have lost the ability – or even the interest – of connecting with real stories about real people. But Salopek hopes to change that, if even for a short while and for the small few who care to follow him.
With expected website updates every 100 miles or so, the “Out of Eden Walk” project will be a melange of human diversity, history, culture and conflict that have been 60,000 years in the making. Salopek will hang out with villagers and vagabonds, with farmers and fishers, with soldiers, traders and beggars, and he will chronicle the faces and places that most of us might otherwise have never known of, or even cared about. You can follow Paul Salopek and his adventure’s four remaining years here and here. And you can listen to an interview her gave to CBC Radio here.