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A Different Agenda

A Different Agenda Posted on December 6, 201113 Comments

This evening I had the great pleasure of dining with Moin Khan, who’s now in the home stretch of his epic motorcycle journey from San Francisco to his home in Lahore. Moin and I also crossed paths in Munich back in September, but I didn’t find out he was in town until he’d already left, and since he covers the same distance in an hour that I cover in a day, it seemed pretty unlikely that we’d run into each other further down the road, as sometimes happens with fellow cycle tourists.

But yesterday, to my surprise, I found out that Moin had just arrived in Ankara, somehow now a day behind me. He’d been delayed for over a month in Romania, hospitalized after a crash that fractured two ribs and his right thumb, and caused hundreds of dollars’ worth of damage to his bike. Fortunately, his guardian angels were just as reliable as mine have been so far, and he was looked after by locals, while members of a biker forum back in California clubbed together to ship him out all the parts he needed to get his bike back on the road. A few days ago he crossed into Turkey, and now all that stands between him and his hometown is an expired Iranian visa and whatever obstacles Eastern Turkey and Balochistan choose to throw in his path.

I was intrigued to talk to Moin about his adventure because, unlike most people I know who set out on a journey like this, his aim is not to raise thousands of pounds for charity (like Brake The Cycle and The Cycle Diaries), or mere personal indulgence (like, erm, me), but rather to change the perception of his home country – Pakistan – in the eyes of the world. In 2005, Moin went to study in San Francisco, and was quickly dismayed by the entirely negative portrayal of Pakistan in the foreign press. As he told me, over our cheap köfte and pilav, when he was growing up in Lahore he never encountered any violence, never saw people walking the street with bombs strapped to them, never witnessed the gun battles that were a fact of life in downtown San Francisco. Yet, if the international media is to be believed, his entire country is nothing but a seething mass of terrorism, fundamentalism, corruption and abject poverty. Moin found himself wishing that, just for once, some good news would come out of Pakistan. And after a couple of years, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

His project – titled A Different Agenda – has been an extraordinary success, his Facebook page now has fans all over the world, including a primary school teacher in Canada, who spends ten minutes at the beginning of every day updating her class on his progress, and he’s been interviewed by the BBC, featured on the front cover of Romania’s top sports publication, and won enough fame and regard in his home country to ensure him a hero’s welcome when he arrives home, hopefully by the end of this year.

Another reason I was delighted to meet Moin is that I’ve become slightly weary, and slightly suspicious, of the all-too-predictable pedigree of most ’round-the-world’ adventurers. Almost all the famous long-distance cyclists I can think of, for example, are educated middle-class white guys (which is not to say that I don’t consider many of them my friends, and several of them my heroes), and on the couple of occasions when I visited the Royal Geographical Society last year, I couldn’t help but notice the preponderance of double-barrelled names on the nametags, and the distinct lack of anyone obviously from a working class or non-white background. There weren’t even all that many women.

I began to worry that the inclination, ability and opportunity to go on an expedition like this have more to do with money, privilege and class than simply an enquiring mind and an adventurous spirit. After all, it’s not that people from other social and ethnic groups don’t travel. But they’re much less likely to travel just for the pure enjoyment of it, and more likely to be forced by circumstance, be it to earn more money, to escape persecution, or to give their family a better life. A friend of mine, for all of the above reasons, travelled as a stowaway in a lorry from Iran to the UK a few years ago. I suspect that lying curled up in a sealed box for ten days, not knowing what he’d encounter at the end of his journey, or even where that might be, must have been far more physically and psychologically difficult than riding to Iran on a bicycle (which I hope I’ll have done by next month), but I don’t see anyone wreathing him in laurels, or booking him for after-dinner speeches. And even for people who migrate in more conventional ways, and start from scratch in a brand new country, often with no possibility of return, I feel life must be far more challenging than it is for me, with my comfortable life-savings, international support network and ability to book myself onto a flight and just go home if things don’t turn out how I’d hoped.

Is this just unproductive white guilt? Maybe. I think it might also be a reaction to being constantly told that my own project is ‘amazing’, when really all I do most days is ride my bike, eat and sleep. I don’t have a coherent mission or vision, or even a fundraising goal. My trip is, at best, a voyage of personal discovery; at worst a selfish indulgence. I might momentarily entertain or inspire a few people who stumble across this blog, but I certainly won’t push any boundaries, break any stereotypes, or change the world – unlike Moin Khan. And unlike the two gentlemen who cycled from Cape Town to Mecca last year for their Hajj pilgrimage. And…

…are there any others I should know about?

Edit: Elvis Munis. What a hero.

13 comments

  1. “educated middle-class white guys”

    Yes, this is true. But let’s be honest – both Moin and you score three out of those four. In fact he probably scores 3.5 (because Pakistani is a fairly white sort of un-white). Does this have to be a problem? As you head out of Europe, you’ll probably meet more un-educated, un-middle class, un-white, er, guys on bikes. And people of all sexes and sorts off bikes. At least if you steer away from the travellers and mix with the locals, which you seem to have been pretty good at doing in Turkey, if your blog is any guide.

  2. I’ve heard about Moin’s journey when he crashed. Tried to put him in contact with people I left behind in my home country Romania, pass on “tips and tricks” etc.

    And during this time I was thinking, I am a white Christian female (not that I call myself of any religion). I ride motorcycles, have been on some long trips but I limit myself to the “civilized world” – so I’d not be able to do what Moin does now. Because I do not want to be a target for those who think my place is hidden home/cooking/making babies/obeying my master. Not stereotyping any nation but the density of such people varies with certain predictability.

    So I am VERY curious as to how your journey will unfold from now on, I’m living vicariously through people like you – who have taken risks I do not. You are at the edge of the “civilized world”, stereotypes and all. I would be extremely happy if you make it without any trouble, or at least not human-caused. That would give me a glimmer of hope for humanity…

    So yeah, may you and Moin have a safe trip and then PLEASE blog about “parathas “, what are they exactly and how many can one eat in a sitting? 🙂

    1. You know its ironic that one the oldest and finest cultures of the world,Persian cultures,and also us in Pakistan,are now viewed as dangerous,extremist illetrate etc etc.Well i for one see things as thet are,the above is true to some extent,due overpopulation,corruption and non development of the country and its peoples in the case of Pakistan specially.The other significant reason being the meddling by our friends the good old US of A in the region,fermenmting hatred for all westerners unfortunately…..
      Having stated the above i for one would like to welcome all tourists and travellers(unless you are CIA or Blackwater )!! and wish each and everyone of you a safe return to your respective countries…..

    2. Parathas are a type of bread made with flour,differing with “roti” only in that parathas are made with a bit of “ghee”(grease).Really delicious with tea and fried eggs or omelette in the morning,specially in chilly weather!

  3. “I certainly won’t push any boundaries, break any stereotypes, or change the world”

    Its all a matter of degree is it not? You’ ve already done more than most people ever would by running your ‘thatmessengerchick’ blog for so long. You even nearly won a blogging award! I learnt a lot from that blog and still enjoy dipping into it occasionally.

    As for this new journey of yours, I would probably never have heard of Moin Khan if you hadn’t written about him. This is more than just momentary entertainment, at least for me.

    And are you quite sure you aren’t breaking any stereotypes Emily?? I think you are, maybe you just don’t realise it yet.

    As for whether your trip turns out to be a voyage of personal discovery, or a selfish indulgence, I guess only you will be able to decide once you reach the end (return to the start?!). However, if this entry is anything to go by, I think the former is far more likely. Its only natural that we doubt ourselves occasionally.

    I hope you don’t mind a complete stranger writing this, but I felt compelled to comment. I feel in some small way that I am travelling with you, and I would want to say the same if we really were on the road together.

    Bon Voyage!

  4. OMG I found you guys so freaking unbelievable! Do you seriously think we carry bombs and stuff. I quite sincerely haven’t HEARD a gunshot, not even in distant all my life. Its peaceful life. Its sad how we people are portrayed internationally.

    1. Just to reassure you Bilal, I’ve never been under the impression that Lahore is full of terrorists. I spent a very happy holiday there a few years ago, and am very much looking forward to coming back next March! I agree that it’s sad how Pakistan is portrayed in the media, and I’m hoping that my blog will be able to change a few people’s minds as I ride into the country.

  5. “One should not say things which he/she have not witnessed by himself/herself ” Nonetheless now a days it has been opposite and people views and thoughts are hijacked by the so-called free media and few of the agencies around.

    I admire the view of both the adventurers above and hope that they reach there destinations safe and sound and we should respects one self opinions. Where as the view point that other countries see Pakistan as a terrorist state; i have to say that we are very loving and caring people and our hospitality is famous around the world also.

    Dana you would be surprised to see how many foreigner visit Northern part of Pakistan from April onwards till August and on Motorbikes/ bicycles and they enjoy the beautiful and exciting views which mother nature has to offers them here which are hard to see in other countries. And Dana “parathas” are made of flour and for its preparation specific type of oil is used which is 100% made out of cows milk.

    Process is Milk to skimmed milk, from extracted cream to yogurt then blending process to get butter then this butter is heated so that the water and other impurities are burned up the left over is Pure Desi Ghee.. 🙂 . hope Dana you get the point. i must correct Tahir here its not “grease”.

    For all the readers i would like to share that please change your perception regarding Pakistan and if you would like you could visit Pakistan and see it for ur-self…i am 110% sure your perception would change.

    Best Regards,

    Nauman

  6. Em, I’ve been thinking along similar lines and after spending time with the kids on the estate in Wigan who’d never even been to Manchester or Blackpool I’ve figured I want to start a charity to get sponsorship for British kids from socially deprived schools to go on school trips. Let us talk more about such matters…one day.
    Great post, as usual.

  7. Hi Dana, nice to know about yr thoughts…and its natural.. when we have so much negativity about someone we naturally build negative attitude to that particular one….yes its true many tourist visit Pakistan..northern areas and there areas are the heavon on earth.. and many known highest mountain peaks are in Pakistan… and u must know the Bike Ridrs… Robb and Defenie from Holand .. thye come to Pakistan after every 3 -4 years gap and we accompany them towards northern areas and hilly mountains…..now iin 2012 they have plans to visit the KK road….we have pakistan biker group, Masood Biker group and Pakwheels.com…who travel all over… and now this young Chap Moin Khan made this mile stone…from USA to Pakistan on bike……Good and bad people are all over the world……….that was the Mission of Moin khan that We the Muslims are the real loving People …with best wishes for All…….

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