What did it all mean, Eithne?
I wrote last week that reaching the summit of Mount Kosi wasn’t the big climax I might have expected. In fact the hike (or pilgrimage, for that is what it was) was lacking in big, dramatic, revelatory moments. The road to Tharwa did not turn out to be my road to Damascus. But looking back, I have realised that the small, quiet moments were just as important.
Take one girl and drop her in the countryside. Take away books, music, television, radio, work, shops, cafés. Take away some physical comforts like plumbed toilets, mattresses. Take away her regular intake of caffeine. That’s a lot of stimulation taken away. Result? Rather than having the deep thoughts and the important conclusions, I found my brain going still. It was quiet in there. Sure, there was some thinking. I thought about my feet – until I decided it was better not to. I thought about food and water. I thought about sleep. I talked to the other hikers. I looked and I listened. But if I had to point to a ‘big’ moment on the hike it would be the night we spent at Gungarlin River. Dinner at four, bed at seven. Asleep by a quarter past. Listening to the wind and rain that night and getting up at dawn to see wild brumbies. Not thinking about things, just being there.
One day, the day I walked 40km and things started to hurt, yes – that day I thought about some things. That day I did think about women walking to collect water, at least as far as I was walking, if not further. There was no great revelation, but perhaps for the first time in my life I understood a little of what that might feel like. Not wanting to walk, but walking anyway.
On the last day, on my way back down the mountain, a few thoughts ‘about’ the experience started to creep in. The phrase that kept repeating in my head as I sat in the chairlift was ‘the kindness of strangers’. I’ve thought about this a lot in the last three weeks (my brain isn’t particularly quiet now that I’m back to the caffeine and the work and the music) and this is what I’ve come up with: the bigger pilgrimage I’m on, of travelling the world and opening up my life, has made me appreciate the kindness of strangers as never before. Friends of friends who welcomed me everywhere from Harare to Tokyo; passers-by who pointed me in the right direction; new workmates who showed the new girl (with the funny accent) the ropes; fellow hikers who shared their blister plasters and their life stories.
The kindness I have experienced has given me new resolve to be the kind stranger. I will give you directions; I will give you a bed for the night; I will show you the best place to have coffee, a drink, buy a souvenir. I will offer you friendship, whether you’re in town for a night or a year. I will walk 240km and ask my friends and family to sponsor me. The money will contribute to the building of food banks in Malawi so people can better save and share their harvests with others.
So that’s three things:
1. Taking myself away from it all (really and truly away from it all) was refreshing.
2. 240km is a long way to walk.
3. The kindness of strangers is what keeps the world turning.
Thanks to everyone who has supported hike4hunger and me. It means a great deal.
If there's anyone out there who has thought of sponsoring me but not got round to it yet, you can still sponsor me at www.everydayhero.com.au/eithne