A HOPEFUL WORLD ODYSSEY -
THE ADVENTURES OF A SCOOTER-RIDING OPTIMIST
An Interview With Thomas Martin Smith
By Editor Gary Sorkin
Thomas Martin Smith, a fellow member of the Boomers International Club did what few people can even imagine. Tom, a former law-clerk-turned-writer/photographer made a solo journey around the world on a motorscooter named Melawend (for his daughters, Melanie and Wendy). Tom had never ridden on a motorscooter or motorcycle before. Originally conceived as a one year journey by bicycle - it became a two year adventure that would make Indiana Jones cringe with jealousy. Thomas Martin Smith, an easy going, shy, boomer man from Victoria, BC, Canada - is one of a kind. His story can be seen in words and pictures by going to his website: http://www.islandnet.com/~oddyssey1
- The book of this amazing man's journey, IN THE LONG RUN - A Hopeful World Odyssey, and a 42-image slide show on diskette are available for all us mere mortals to read and see.
At the end of the journey, as the sun goes down, Tom is just a man.
I have a few questions for Mister Smith.
Editor: What was the first "spark of inspiration" that began this amazing odyssey? What made you say, "Okay, I'm going to do this"?
Tom: Good question, Gary. It takes the whole first chapter of the book to answer it. But if there was only one "spark", that fired my imagination, it came when I was at the Toronto studio of an internationally renowned photographer, the late Ivor Sharp, someone I'd had the good fortune to call a mentor. When I asked him how to grow as a photographer, he said quite nonchalantly in his soft British accent, "Go around the world." Yeah, right, I thought. But deep down, his words ignited my long-fueled fantasies, dreams and ambitions.
It did not seem like it at the time, but I was also lucky to be at a confusing crossroads in my life. I'd had a wife and family (two beautiful daughters), a decent job, a heritage home… then I found myself divorced, lonely, unemployed, broke, with no home of my own and without true direction for my life. A career change was needed. I needed to find new perspectives on life and love. I had said "Ifida'….and - Maybe someday…" too often. And like so many people, I had those altruistic desires for the world: world peace; restoration of the environment; an end to racism, poverty, ignorance and disease - all of that - things I had wanted to do something about. But I was also a remote control junkie. (On the upside, we Boomers set the scene for today's net surfing by having developed channel surfing.) It was too easy to shut the real world out.
So I had been silently screaming for change, inward and outward - until I finally gave myself permission, "Go for it!" It's just that the method I chose would make me ask myself repeatedly, "Am I crazy?"
Still, I knew that at the end of the road, there would be a good book in all of this. The journey took two years, but the writing of the book would take another 12 years. Finally, it is done! And readers are saying good things about it! More important, some have said they are finding useful things in the story that are useful in their own lives, including better ways of looking at themselves and the world. So it is only now, Gary, that I can truly validate my initial decision to go for it.
Editor: Besides, "Am I crazy?" what were your first thoughts as you started up your scooter for that first mile?
Tom: Paranoia! I had only recently got a motorcycle driver's license and I had never ridden Melawend, the motorscooter, under load. She wobbled madly. I got tense. I thought, what the hell's going on? How am I going to get around the world like this? What to do? For the first time, the reality of it began to scare the hell out of me. But eventually I got a grip on myself and throttled up. Melawend stabilized and we shot smoothly eastward, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, scooting onward into a perfect sunrise.
Editor: You went searching for hope and compassion and friendship throughout the world - did you find it?
Tom: Absolutely! First of all, I had to break the chains of my own limitations, shyness being one of them. And without financial sponsorship behind me, I knew I would have to get out of myself and reach out to others. The examples of compassion and friendship that I experienced over the next two years were so numerous and so overwhelming that that's partly why the book is so long! (approximately 460,000 words) I guess because I was traveling in such a vulnerable way, people seized the opportunity to take me in and share their friendship and the desire to be helpful. So many of them, from diverse walks of life, opened up to me about their deepest hopes and desires and feelings about their world and the greater world - almost all of them positive and genuinely benevolent, from their personal home on up to the global home we all share. One of the most common expressions of hopes and needs people shared was for peace - within themselves and within the world.
But I also saw old hatreds and prejudices, as in the Middle East when I was confronted as a sounding board by an angry man in Khartoum. There was violence, mockery and fear in the terrorist bombings in Paris. In Cairo, I met a man who, as a young boy, had had part of a leg blown off by one of those leftovers of war, a landmine. I was saddened by the plight of political and environmental refugees in the Sudan - yet a couple of them, so devastated by war, now helped by others, reached out to help me, palm down. Some problems seemed so huge as to make one feel so small and powerless to help. But so many "small" things I experienced personally - random acts of kindness, including the gift by an American in Washington, DC, who unknowingly saved the odyssey in its final days - left me with regained confidence that hope, friendship and compassion exists in abundance throughout the world.
Virtually everywhere - only slightly modified by culture, politics, religion and personal circumstance - I saw the beautiful commonality of love and unity between couples and families and outreaching individuals. I came away feeling that they were the far greater and more powerful silent majority of the world. And in them, I felt, the hope for the future was still very much alive.
|| Editor: As a fellow member of Boomers International, we both have the world at our fingertips. What are your feelings about how "small" the world seems on a computer?
Tom: It's awesome! Just look at how we can now reach out and "touch" others instantly, all over the world. We can simply let ourselves flow from our hearts and minds down through our fingertips to our keyboards and out into the world. Amazing! That's also how I discovered Boomer's International! It really is "the next best thing to being there." This massive, pervasive and immediate interconnectivity of minds and hearts is one thing the world really needs. We need to communicate - to share, to be heard, to get and give feedback - to grow! Now virtually anyone can do it! I feel like we are the pioneers, not of a brave new world, but a saved old one that is new to this huge capability of talking with one another across any distance or border, literal or implied. We are still grappling with things including content, design, ethics and technologies - and the abuses thereof - but I find it to be one of the most hopeful things developed in the world since I completed the journey.
In my own case, I've had e-mails and live chats going with people around the world who have, in one way or another, heard about my journey. And many have bought my book this way (I am the publisher and sole distributor of the book. Marketing and sales are done online.) I'm amazed! I'm communicating with so many fantastic people I would otherwise not have met, including a ten-year old Jewish boy in Washington, DC; an airline pilot in Pakistan; a truck driver in Ireland, a med student in Cairo… so many. And via the Internet, I've even been reunited with some wonderful people I met during the odyssey - including Marianne, my lovely friend and host in Brussels; and Laxman, the odyssey hero in Kathmandu.
There aren't enough words to express the joys, and concerns, of such massive global communication. So the best thing I can suggest is just to get communicating! Don't you just love it?
Editor: Are there more similarities or differences in people throughout the world?
Tom: On the surface, that seems like an easy question. But again, Gary, that question requires a very long answer - the odyssey book. I was so lucky to discover firsthand what many people are discovering today, so increasingly through the Internet - that there are indeed far more similarities than differences. They include family, the range of human emotions, strengths, weaknesses, desires and ambitions, that ability to have and express faith (no matter how)… and that universal need for peace and security within us and around us.
What I had the chance to experience ....firsthand, and now to share it in the book, was the meeting of people on their own ground. I discovered that they were so eager to find and share common things - those desires for friendship and for sharing themselves. It was so often like being with anyone that you felt comfortable with just by being with them - talking, laughing, and sharing. I came away feeling that by developing and sharing our similarities, we might better tolerate and even nurture and celebrate our differences more. To me, our "differences" emerged more as useful new perspectives to be shared and as tools for understanding. I began to see the world as a spectacular tapestry that I increasingly wanted to wrap myself in and explore all its myriad designs and textures. True, it was a bit frayed, but still it was far better than if it had been cut from the same cloth. Wouldn't that be boring? And so limited in its potential? We also need those similarities and those differences not only to achieve world peace, but to face emerging crises that are indeed global, such as AIDS, overpopulation and environmental degradation.
Editor: What frightened you the most?
Tom: On a personal level, being broke most of the time I was never sure how Melawend and I would leave a country once we got there, if overseas transport was necessary. That was sometimes scary. Yet being afraid of things was actually good because it kindled your creativity, made you discover and tap your inner strengths and reach out to others. It made you take action. A specific instance of fright was being very ill and alone in a strange land as when I looked ghastly gray and lean from dysentery in Nepal (having lost 24 pounds in 16 days) all the while going to meetings to try to win onward passage. I was scared that I might not get home again, never see loved ones again. I came to grips with myself and that was initially frightening. But dealing with it assertively worked!
There were also things beyond one's control that were truly frightening including, "the September bombings" in Paris, most recently by the terrorist bomb that went off in a store just two blocks from where I was staying, killing five and injuring sixty. Hate, with all its causes and expressions, was the most frightening aspect of all.
Editor: What thrilled you the most?
Tom: I've always considered myself an ordinary guy, not an "adventurer." However, it so often seemed that adventure found me. I just had to let myself be open to it. So I'd have to modify that question by asking myself: Is it possible to be almost constantly thrilled?
When I could set aside present concerns, I'd often experience a sudden realization of time and place, so that I would say to myself, "Hey, I'm shaking hands with Pope John Paul!… "I'm waking up on the summit of Mt. Sinai!"… "Far out! I'm on the road to Kathmandu!"… "I'm standing naked on a beach in Hawaii! (I hope nobody's looking!)… "I've got my hand in the mouth of a hyena!"… "You're…Peter Strauss!" "Just like Napoleon, I'm alone in the King's Chamber inside the Pyramid of Cheops!"
Have we got room here for more many more, Gary?
Editor: Just hearing these adventures is thrilling me. I'll press on. What surprised you the most?
Tom: It's so cliché to say that "people are the same wherever you go" that you become skeptical, especially after what you see and hear constantly in the news that appears contrary. What surprised me the most is that the cliché is not only true and very much alive, but that it was abundantly so, even in some of the most remote places I visited.
Editor: Do you think that God played a role in your odyssey? If so, how?
Tom: Definitely! That first day out in England, Melawend and I were knocked off the road by motorist. The passenger in the car said to me, "Someone is with you." With all the calamities, trials and triumphs that came after that - even to the day of returning home penniless and finding the six dollars I had heretofore forgotten that I hidden in my wallet on that flight to England two years earlier (so that I now had at least a little money to treat my daughters in our reunion) - I always felt that "Someone" - God - was with me. I felt a real presence on the summit of Mt. Sinai. When I was most alone or when things were going great, or when I simply wanted someone to talk to when no one was around, I would turn to Him.
Editor: Your adventures are too numerous to recount here - - romance, terror, discovering treasures, crashes and illnesses, shaking hands with Pope Paul - are but a few. I would certainly recommend that our readers go to your site and buy your book, BUT, being kissed by a lion - want to explain that one?
Tom: Ah, Sheru! I'll never forget him - he helped deepen my love of wildlife. I met him at a fence and later right inside his compound at the orphanage at Nairobi National Park. I'll never forget what it was like to have a lion come up to you, press his cool nose against yours, breath heavily, look deeply, curiously and unwavering at you with his big chestnut-colored eyes, and feel his whiskers and the coarse upturned white hair of his chin, and feel the thick pads of his paw when he raised it up to touch your hand… and suddenly see his mouth open and his tongue come out and lick your face!
Sheru had been raised at the home of by Dr. Ian Chawdhry, director of the orphanage, and his family since Sheru was a cub and was almost killed by his own mother. She was lying contently, "tits up", beside a big male lion in a neighboring compound. Sheru just wanted to play with someone and he expressed his gratitude at having my company.
Editor: Leave us with a cliffhanger Indiana, ooops, I mean Tom. Take us to the edge and leave us there - hanging by our fingertips.
Tom: As well as his hair-raising encounters, Indy had adventures with romance. So did I, because part of me was looking for Her, my soulmate. So here we are, in Paris… (the telling of which is abridged from the book):
The City of Lights was under siege by terrorists. So I was searched before I was permitted to enter the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) for my meeting with a city official. But I was welcomed as a friend by an impeccably-groomed man who was most complimentary of my odyssey.
"Paris needs something like this now," he said.
He even made an appointment for me with a most pleasant, almost child-sounding woman who was the manager of parks and historical sites for Paris. I walked back to our embassy to tell Denise, the rather snooty girl I had been working through, how the meeting at City Hall went. She took one look at me - the blue jeans faded badly by the ride, the somewhat gaudy "Odyssey Jacket" festooned with country emblems, and my hair in need of trimming.
"Eeeuuuw!" she said. "You went there looking like that?"
Traveling the way that I was, I did not think people would expect me to arrive in a three-piece suit, not even for such meetings. And I had never sensed the slightest ridicule of my appearance. But this was lost on her and henceforth she did her best to ignore me. My confidence was shattered and I trudged way, up the Champs Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe. I was about to cross the heavily trafficked circle around the Arc to get to it when a girl shouted at me.
I had stepped into the road and a girl pointed to a truck that was coming at me. The driver honked his horn. The girl was beautiful!
"Thanks," I said.
Her name was Tammy. She was an executive-dressed American and she looked like the singer Marie Osmond. She looked and smelled so exquisite that even Denise would have envied her (or at least should have). She had to catch a bus to get to an important meeting so I walked with her to a nearby bus stop. Tammy did not seem to take any notice of my appearance. She smiled at me, often, and she would keep direct eye contact with me when she talked. We stood in the shade of golden trees and talked like old friends, oblivious to the hustle and bustle around us. Her bus came and went, but she laughed it off.
"I'm so sorry, Tammy," I said. "I made you miss your bus."
"That's okay. Another will be along soon."
I was happy - but I felt weak. Denise's comments and actions had drained my self-confidence. I wanted to see Tammy again, often, but I thought, why would this beautiful, cosmopolitan girl want anything to do with me? Still, Tammy seemed so at ease with me. She was just getting interested in a tale about my journey. I was almost ready to ask for her phone number, when another bus came. Suddenly I was conscious of the Parisian rush around us. People scurried onto the bus and she was taken away in the flow…
And one more, Gary. What did I discover about Thomas Wolfe's conclusion that "you can't go home again"? You'll have to read the book to find out.
Editor: Thank you, Tom. When Tom and I began this interview I had no idea what to expect. He, and his wonderful odyssey has left me with the feeling that there is goodness in this world. If you don't believe me - start at the top, and read it again. I got that from Thomas Martin Smith - just an (extra)-ordinary guy. A thank you is not nearly enough.
An Editor's Note: Tom, don't leave us hanging. What happened to Tammy?
Tom & Melawend in Hawaii
after almost two years on the road
I recommend that everyone buys Thomas Martin Smith's IN THE LONG RUN - A Hopeful World Odyssey - and takes the trip of a lifetime.
Tom's New Site
See Write up about Arnold Schwartzenegger and "the scooter-riding optimist" comes from a title suggested for an interview published on the BOOMERS INTERNATIONAL Web site: & Boomers International Interview