Blind, deaf and dumb. Leaving Lebanon.
Since October 10th 2013: 144 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Where there is a will there is a way
First things first: I’m doing well. This project is growing everyday. I have been stressed out lately but now it’s finally beginning to look brighter :)
Syria is still on my mind. What an extraordinary country which I was only fortunate to see a fraction of. I will certainly go back again some day. Lebanon is another beauty! I’ve spent more time in Lebanon than any other country during the Saga. A whopping three months in total. I met a blind and severely deaf man who got me out the door and by that I got to see much more of Lebanon, which is again yet another country I want to return to. So many countries on this round or flat planet of ours. Is there even a country I would never want to return to? I doubt it. With roughly 200 countries in the world (the Sagas count is 203) it would take four years to spend seven days in each. A month in each country would accumulate to sixteen years. The equator is about 40,000 km (24,855 mi. I have traveled that distance over land and sea nearly five times now. That feels like a lot but in perspective a taxi driver probably does that distance every year. Numbers, numbers, numbers. I was 34 when I left home and now I’m 39. I’ll probably be 41 when I return home. 144 countries behind us and 59 more to go. Will we make it? Try to stop me!! ;)
I feel tired and I’m hardly as motivated as I used to be. It’s becoming much more of a mental game for me. As you may well know I have not seen my precious pearl of a kingdom in the high north of Europe since 2013. Oh Denmark! You are always on my mind. I will kiss the ground when I someday return. Where is the grand accomplishment in all of this? We are at least 7,000,000,000 people on this planet so by probability I can’t be the only man on earth who’s capable of pulling this project off? However I sometimes think I am. Am I special? In Denmark it’s nearly forbidden to believe you’re special. We have this unofficial law called ‘jante law’ which keeps us in place. “Don’t believe that you are anything special”. That’s kind of the headline. With that attitude you remain humble but you’ll struggle to achieve anything extraordinary. So what should I think about everything I have accomplished? All the unfathomable challenges that were all cleared from the Saga's past? Was it me who delivered? Yes and no. I see myself as the ‘initiator’ and then thousand of people in this very long journey have been the solution. Large international organizations, shoeless strangers that became friends, family, my unbelievably amazing fiancée, my parents, my sibling, my old and new friends, the Red Cross of which I’m a goodwill ambassador, you and so many others! Together we have accomplished more than most will know or understand. We are a conglomerate of achievers because we stand together! Isn’t it just like that with everything in life?
Professor Hawking...a man who proved the world wrong :)
I don’t know much but I do know this: nobody reaches every country in the world on their own! Flying or no flying. Going home in between or staying in the world until it’s accomplished. One minute across the border or weeks, months, years...it takes cooperation and by that I mean you, I and everyone else is dependent on other people. Did I get this far? No...we did :)
I certainly thought this project would get easier over time! In some regards it has but as I keep building on top of the Saga it definitely hasn’t. It all started as an idea and developed into a country project. That changed quickly into a people project and that was a good thing. I might have been home now if the project had stayed a “country marathon”. Just running through countries and not caring about anything else than to reach the next one. I hardly remember my mindset as I left Denmark on October 10th 2013 and entered Germany. Never before have I ever been so far from home. I could have turned around and returned to Denmark but I promised myself and the world that I wouldn’t return until I had reached every single country in a single unbroken journey completely without flying. What the heck was I thinking?!?
My Lebanese / Danish creation: flatbread and leverpostej (pate).
I’m so happy that the Saga transformed into what it is today: promote each country as if it was the best in the world, meet strangers and turn them into friends, show the normality of life wherever it is found, demonstrate personal strength and never give up, promote all the unknown of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, discover food, discover music, discover the unknown to myself...isn’t this just a wonderful and unique project? :)
Personally I still adhere to do many of the things I said when I left home. I want to taste something new to my senses. I want to see a color in a sunset which I have never before visualized. I want to feel new things. I want to hear music and sounds unfamiliar to me. I want to surprise my sense of smell and I have. I have done it all and I want to do it again. However I also really want to go home. I want to get up in the morning and go to work. I want to look at the time and count the hours to when I can leave the workplace. I want to wake up next to my fiancée. I want to pick my clothes out of my closet. I want to pay the bills. I want to call a friend and meet later on the same day. I want to be there for my friends in person. I want to complain about the weather. I want to be you. I want to be me. I want, I want, I want ;)
Find Tony the Traveller here and buy all his e-books!! :)
Tony Giles is a remarkable man. He’s from the part of England which is near Wales. For the past 20 years of his 39 year old life, Tony has accomplished reaching 127 countries and territories. Not anyone can do that. I think most Danes have on average reached 15-20 countries and they hold one of the most open passports in the world. Here’s the twist: Tony is completely blind and severely deaf. What a champ! He’s also an accomplished author and holds a degree from the university. I told my fiancée about Tony and she replied: “there you go! That really proves that in life we choose to see restrictions or possibilities”. Smart woman I have to look forward to waking up next to for the rest of my life.
What do you know? Saida just happened to have a globe welcoming two world travelers! :)
There’s a program called JAWS which blind people can download and it will read everything out loud for them. That enables blind people to read and write. So Tony sent me an email and contacted me wanting to meet. He just so happened to be in Beirut and was checking out yet another country. We met up and had some tea and arghile (water pipe). That night we agreed to venture out the next day and explore Sidon (Saida) together which is a large Lebanese town south of Beirut. I have never before assisted a blind person as far as I remember? However Tony is pretty far from helpless. His hearing aid gives him his hearing to some degree and he has been blind since early childhood. As I mentioned earlier he is 39 years old so he is not new to it. I was the newbie. Then how about etiquette? Is Tony visually impaired or how do you go about that? I asked Tony and he bluntly replied: “I’m f@#king BLIND!” I guess that takes care of etiquette :) Tony has a great sense of humor and an endless stream of stories to tell.
I met him at his hostel at noon. He then gently grabbed my elbow and said: “I hope you don’t mind - it’s much faster like this”. He carries a cane and swipes it gently before him even as he follows my lead. The moment he touched my elbow he uttered: “Geez you’re tall! What are you? 190?” I’m actually 193 cm tall (six foot four) so well done! We made our way through the city and down to the coastal road. Really easy! As I said: Tony has been doing this for long and I’m the newbie. We found a bus and made our way to Saida. As Tony has already pointed out on Facebook, Beirut is a great and lively city but it’s not ideally walkable. It is the cars that rule Beirut and as a pedestrian you need to stay alert most places. To be fair there are actually a lot of sidewalks compared to other cities I have seen around the world. However in Beirut you’ll often find a lamppost blocking the sidewalk, a section which suddenly narrows in, cars parked on the sidewalk and a lot of other obstacles. Not ideal if you left home without vision.
Saida Sea castle.
I was hungry when we reached Saida so we went straight for food and afterwards we headed out to find the Sidon Sea Castle. The guy selling tickets looked bewildered at me and softly said “one?!?” raising his eyebrows. I looked at Tony, then the man and said: “I’m his guide”. We both got in for free :) It’s quite a remarkable castle and it’s location on the coastline is subliminal. The castle is far from intact however parts of it is. You can walk inside a section of the castle and up on top of other parts. So we did. Tony didn’t need my elbow when we were dealing with stairs but I did guide him a bit on the rooftop as I couldn’t have it on my conscience if he walked off the edge :) That wouldn’t happen. He’s very capable and the cane makes him sure of his step.
Tony making his way up the inside of a crusaders castle.
We walked into the old town of Saida and it is really something! I’m happy that Tony got me out the door because frankly I wouldn’t have bothered with the transport if I was in my own. I really feel like I have traveled enough and I don’t need an extra bus ride no matter how beautiful you say that waterfall is! I’ve seen water falling before! ;) The old town of Saida is however really something. I tried to describe various things we were passing while Tony would smell the wood, the mold, the moist stone walls, the spices, the fruit and vegetables, the meat etc. Once in a while I would direct Tony to a wall and tell him how wide and tall it was while he ran his fingers across the surface.
Tony mocking around :)
Tony wanted to see the large mosque and I couldn’t find it on google maps without WiFi. We passed a lot of mosques and a cynical thought entered my mind: would he know if I lead him into a random mosque and said it was the large mosque? Nah, I’m not like that and I see myself as fairly service minded. I find joy in delivering and it had to be possible to find the mosque. We sat down for arghile and tea at a local town square. We talked and I did a video of Tony which you can find here. When the shadows began to grow longer we began to make our way out of the old town and back to the coastline. It was a glorious sunset!! How do you even convey that to someone who can’t see it? In fact: how do you describe sight? I’ve been thinking about that and here’s my answer:
How would you descibe this on the phone? And how would you describe it to someone who has never seen before?
Imagine you have a hard surface. Next to it you have a soft surface. You also have a smooth surface and a rippled surface. You can feel this by the sense of touch. Now imagine you don’t need to touch it but you can get the same experience of how the surfaces differ from a distance. That’s how I would describe sight. Sight is a sense where you can get a notice of your surroundings without touching. In perspective like you can also observe differences in your environment by sound both far and near. However sight is a very rich sense and you will in seconds be able to sense a hundred thousand nuances without touching. In some regards like you can pick up many different sounds and volumes in a second by listening.
I’m happy to report that we found the mosque which was some 30 minutes walking from the old town. I generally command enough respect with my height and my beard. Most people move out of my way and I’m used to it. Interestingly it’s less so the case without the beard? In either case I feel confident walking and that confidence maybe also clears my path. Walking next to Tony was however like Moses parting the sea! People would jump out of our way and move things in our path. It was quite amusing to me :) Tony told me that he often flies in and out of countries. However he has crossed a lot of land borders as well. He told me that he once crossed a land border Western Africa without getting his entry stamp! They simply waved him past the border. That is hilarious!! :) We reached the Hariri Mosque (the large one) sometime after sunset. It’s a very beautiful mosque and Tony took a few pictures. The absurdity in watching a blind man take pictures made me smile each time :) Afterwards we managed to catch a minibus back to Beirut and Tony and I parted having had a good day. Guess where he is now? He’s in Oman already! His next new country. That man is moving a lot faster than me. The differences between traveling with the convenience of flight and without is like the sun and the moon. It simply cannot be compared.
Click on the picture to see the video.
The Saga is trying to get its first competition of the ground! Life Saver reached out to me and offered me their latest model of water purification bottles. Super cool! It has already arrived here in Beirut along with a lot of spare parts for the one I’ve been traveling with. In essence the used bottle will be as new with the spare parts and as it is, it still works perfectly. So the used and very well traveled purification bottle will be the prize the lucky winner gets to take home. Meanwhile I’ll continue traveling with the new model. Now here’s the big question? What should you do to win the bottle? I made a short video for you and I’m happy to hear from you so we can start the competition. I want it over with and done ASAP so I don’t need to carry the extra weight :)
Ah yes...so is this project getting easier or harder? Well my network is getting really impressive and that helps a lot. I checked my address book and for Lebanon alone I have 42 people stored: Contacts in Lebanon:
Ramez, Araz, John, Akram, Chadi, Cecile, Jermen, Hadi, Margaret, Samar, Ahmed, Georges, Yarob, Jad, Nabil, Joe, Angelica, George, Marc, Jihad, Charles, Diana, Eva, Georges, Chawke, Karina, Juliano, Nidal, Melvin, Gilbert, Ousama, Hervé, Nada, Ilaria, Raja, Shereen, Aram, Veerle, Zara, George, Daniel, Tina...I didn’t write the same people twice...just people with the same name :)
Saida old town.
The Saga has offered me the opportunity to travel onboard containerships twelve times already which is a lot more remarkable then most people realize. These ships rarely lower their gangway for passengers and it is an unspeakable privilege to be invited onboard. As I tell anyone who asks: it’s a question of incentive. There is basically no incentive for a working ship to bring a passenger onboard. Even if you wanted to pay them it would need to be an enormous amount to catch their eye. Maybe $10,000 dollars or more? I don’t know...but if a ship needs to pay $500,000 dollars to pass through the Suez Canal each time then your pocket change is not going to matter much. A passenger is basically nothing more than a risk for the ship. You could come onboard and get seasick, you could bring a disease onboard the ship, you could break something, you could fall overboard, you could be annoying, you could be demanding...all of that and more is avoided by not letting you come onboard. So try to give some incentive. What incentive? Yes, there really isn’t much to offer a large multinational company in terms of incentive. You would think that it would be easier for me to get onboard this far into the Saga and with my past experience of having been onboard twelve of this ships already. To my surprise it was anything but easy. I would have hoped that this blog was written in Jordan but I’m still here in Lebanon. The first two ships have already come and gone and I was not granted permission to board.
We were trying to work out what type of bird that is? Do you know?
Sometimes what you have, what you do and who you know just isn’t enough. I try to be honest, polite, service minded, helpful, efficient, open minded and to have integrity. I believe such trades have assisted me to forge great relationships with people all over the world. Maersk is the world's largest container shipping line and I’m proud to say it’s a Danish company. Second to Maersk you have MSC which was founded in Italy and now has its headquarters in Switzerland. I’m grateful to all the support I have received from both companies. Especially Maersk has been an integrated part of the Saga for years now. I boarded the first Maersk vessel back in early 2015 and I have been privileged to make presentations and motivational talks at Maersk offices in some 25 countries across three continents. In return I have made many good friends and received various help. My relationship to MSC is still rather new as I boarded their vessel for the first time in December last year. I’m happy to say that I also have some really good friends at MSC and I was privileged to make a Saga presentation at the MSC office in Limassol (Cyprus). As it turns out MSC has now offered me vessel opportunity on an upcoming departure from Lebanon to Egypt. That is AMAZING news as it was beginning to look a little bleak here!
In 2011 I was working in Bangladesh and made a short trip to Bhutan. A buddhist monk tied this string around my neck and told me that the knot was special and that it would be auspicious. I decided then and there that I would leave it on until it fell off by it self. I thought it would hold out for a few weeks. It broke last Saturday after seven years around my neck!
I suppose most of you see me as an optimistic and often smiling personality. And that would mostly be true, however a few days ago I lost my temper. There is so much going on behind the scenes on this project and if you only knew half of it you would be so tired that you could hardly stand. I have been working overtime since I got back from Syria and it has been stressful lately. It appears that the ferry that brought me to Lebanon only takes passengers in one direction unless you booked a return ticket from Turkey. It sounds strange but it looks like it’s true. I haven’t been able to reach the company and trust me...I have tried! Lebanon only borders Israel and Syria apart from the sea. Those are not countries I can travel through to leave Lebanon. So what was my option really? I desperately needed a cargo ship to get me out of here. I really believed that I would get onboard the first available ship but due to bureaucracy it became more and more unlikely over the days. I received a lot of help from friends at Maersk, from Cyprus Shipping Chamber (CSC) and from friends at BeFlexi. However will all our might we couldn’t fight the forces that went against us. Fortunately there was another opportunity which appeared really promising. So I still had a small chance for boarding the first vessel and a seemingly good chance for boarding the second. Why the urgency? I’ll get back to that in a second. Now what happened was that a lot of emails were sent, phones were called and meetings were held. And in a devastating way the news hit me last Monday that neither ships could carry me. It’s really implausible to have a chance on one ship. It’s highly implausible to have a chance in two ships! Can you imagine how I felt when they were both removed and no longer within my reach? How could you possibly imagine that...
Here’s the kicker: as you already know, I really want to go home and the only way I see is through the remaining 59 countries. Any delay within this project is a delay to go back home. In other words I’m not keen on any delays anywhere. However the weight within this specific case comes from the length of my beard. I last saw my fiancée around New Year and I miss her. We were planing to meet up in Jordan next week when she has her Easter holiday. However now that the timeline has been pushed it complicates everything. Thankfully my friends at MSC came through with a ship and (knock on wood) I will soon be on my way. And since I have the best fiancée in the world she has been able to reschedule meetings, cancel seminars and who knows what...so I will still see her in Jordan :)
I want to end this blog like this: my father wrote a poem for me the night I was born. It was framed the next day and I have it memorized. There is much wisdom within the poem but I’ll only tell you how it ends. The final ten words: “...men uanset dit resultat, så husk en tak til alle”. That translates more or less to the following: “...no matter what happens to you, remember to say thank you”.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - hopeful.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga