Journalist Hasan Soylemez resigned from his job at a newspaper, gave all his money to children, cancelled his credit cards. On 11 July 2010 he hit the roads on his bicycle. He cycled 10 thousand 140 kilometers within a period of eight and a half months touring the Black Sea, East and Southeast Anatolia, the Mediterranean, Aegean and Trace. He visited 40 cities, hundreds of towns and villages but that was not enough; he decided to tour the world and realize his dreams as he hit the pedals.
Journalist and Documentary maker Hasan Soylemez who started out from Morocco on his bicycle in January2017 pedaled through 3 thousand kilometers in six months as he first crossed the world’s biggest and hottest desert the Sahara then continued on to Mauritania, Cape Verde Islands and Senegal to reach Gambia. He broadcasted the first episode of the 54 episode documentary he made: “Journey To Dreams’’ on YouTube when he was in Gambia. Soylemez made one of the world’s most dangerous and challenging journeys and informed that he planned to analyze what sort of dreams people have and create Africa’s “Dream Archive”.
You made a radical decision and decided to leave everything behind to hit the road. What triggered this action?
At some point we all say “I want to leave everything behind and just leave” from time to time. As a matter of fact the urge to leave all behind and take off is the sign that shows it’s time to change personally. It harbors certain optimism within. I too needed some type of change. I knew there were things that were so precious which could not be bought. I needed to free myself from the ‘assurance’ and ‘power’ provided by money. I could feel this. Everything I experienced and saw around was so superficial. I was unhappy I thought this journey would put an end to my unhappiness. The reason I traveled 10 thousand kilometers for over eight months in Turkey was because of the unhappiness I experienced before the journey.
What was the visionary contribution of setting out on the roads?
Traveling is a way of therapy. It heals one and teaches so much. You can find answers to your unanswered questions while on the road. And sometimes you just find the answer and the question follows up afterwards. If one means to make a journey to within oneself, then one needs to do a journey in real life. Do you know what the most difficult part is? Confronting yourself. This is inevitable once you are on a journey. Sometimes you hate yourself yet sometimes you are proud of yourself. You come to terms with your past, life and people. There is an amazing battle going on within. While you hit the most painful strikes you also heal your own bleeding wounds.
There must be so many people who wish to be in your shoes what do you suggest?
I like challenges, I’m a dreamer and pursue my dreams. There are three things one needs to pursue his dreams: the will, the belief and starting at once. Courage comes from believing. One with no belief at all will have no courage. Do not suffocate in details. You can never have enough, so make do with what you have and start at once. One who starts off with determination and faith will stop for no reason. The system binds you to where you are. Do not fear to step outside the circle. Once you step out to the unknown you can create your own revolution … Close your ears to the negative things people say. Because people think that others can’t do what they cannot. They would not take the first step. They fear of realizing their biggest dream because they think they can’t make it.
I HAVE BEEN CHILD TO FAMILIES I KNOW NOT
Surely your journey did not go all smooth. What did you go through?
The water I drank tasted different everywhere. The odds of meeting the same person a second time was close to none. I traveled towards the unknown, full of coincidences, free from expectations. While sometimes I could not find a bite to eat yet others I was at a feast. I hoed the land, washed the dishes. Sometimes I was the son of parents I knew not yet others I was booted off villages. I could not find a place to set tent so slept on the streets.
What was the most different story you encountered while touring Turkey?
I traveled to all cities in Turkey other than Giresun and Bayburt cycling or otherwise. I heard so many stories during my travels. The one which was the most emotional of all was the one I heard while making “News on the Road” for TRT1 when in Erzincan. I was traveling Anatolia on my bicycle for the show. The life story of Unal who lost his mother and sister to the 1992 Erzincan Earthquake was heartbreaking. His father had abandoned them long before. He was left all alone when his mother and sister died in the earthquake. He hears from his father a short while later only of his death though… He said that although he had abandoned them he was their father and he took his body to be buried in his hometown. Soon after he found out that his father had married once again and had two daughters from his second wife who abandoned them to live in Germany. Unal travels to Germany to find his father’s wife and two step-sisters. He finds them after much effort. Upon seeing that they are not doing so well decided to take care of them. He held legendary wedding ceremonies in Germany and Erzincan for his two step-sisters. He said that just when he thought he lost everything at the earthquake he had a brand new family. As I was listening to his story during the interview I could not help but cry and leave the room to sob-out.
You are touring Africa. What is the reaction you get?
I receive positive and nice messages regarding my journey to Africa. However I do also get some terrifying feedback claiming that I should not go there, that I would be killed by wild animals that would rip me apart. As Africa has always been considered the Black Continent and fractionalized. The way media mentioned Africa was subject to fractionalization. Therefore people who have never been to Africa think of it as a place of civil-war, epidemics, famine, wild life, stories woven in sorrow. When such people with prejudice towards Africa without having seen it talk about what’s on their mind these are horror stories of hearsay. For example when I say Africa some people think that the continent is just a single country. In fact there are 54 countries in Africa. So many people have never heard of the countries as they have never felt the need to find out what’s there. Prejudice always hides reality. This is why I do not take the reaction of prejudiced people seriously. I am filming a documentary about the dreams of the people I see on the street in Africa. This is what I want to know about Africa.
“I’M DELIVERING AFRICA THROUGH THE DREAMS OF AFRICANS’’
What do they tell you when you ask about their dreams?
I can say that I’m at the very beginning. There’s a long way ahead of me, I don’t know how long it will take. I’m still as enthusiastic as I was at the very beginning to hit the pedals and listen to dreams. I love Africa and I’m trying to tell Africa from the African point of view and dreams. When I ask Africans their biggest dream at first they are startled, as they have not heard this question before. When they answer at first it’s difficult for them but they get better as they continue to speak. “What’s your biggest dream?” is not the only question I ask them, I also ask “What do you do to achieve it?”, “Have you ever achieved any of your big dreams?”, “What is your dream about your country and Africa?” are some of the sub categories in my questions. The color of the dreams which I hear vary from region to region, country to country as a matter of fact it varies from village to village. The social, economical, political, cultural and educational status of the society they live have direct effect on the dreams they have. If you want to get to know a person or a country you need to ask about their dreams. As dreams will reflect the past and present of the society giving clues as to how the society will shape the future.
You are an active user of social media in your journeys. So how do you see the effect of social media regarding relationships today?
The effects of social media on relationships depend on how and why you use the platform. Yes, I mean “touching someone”. I’d rather have the people on the street however if they are active social media users I can also touch them. When I share what I have been through and my journeys on social media I can reach out to thousands of people, and if I can manage to get just one person inspired and get him out on the street, may be make him smile, I’m really happy. For example a reader who saw my book on social media and bought it sent me a message saying: “Thanks to you I have decided to visit my family with whom I had fallen apart for a very long time. I’m grateful to you for this.”.
WORLD’S CLEANEST MEANS OF TRANSPORT “BICYCLE”
Your journey has a bicycle aspect to it. I believe you need massive training to travel this way. What do you do about this?
In fact I never had a bicycle, had no idea about bicycles. I called the handlebar draglink, the saddle seat, I was utterly ignorant about bicycles. The last time I was on one was when I was a child riding my friend’s bicycle. However with the first bicycle I owned only six years ago, I toured Turkey alone, penniless in three weeks, I traveled 10 thousand kilometers penniless. I got to know the bicycle on the road just like myself. I can’t say that I trained for this. Think about it I will go to Africa on a bicycle but when you add the hours I’ve been preparing for this journey I haven’t been on a bicycle for more than 20 hours. All my journeys on the bicycle have been similar. I will be doing all the training on the road anyway. The bicycle is the world’s most innocent and clean means of transport. It is very cheap, healthy and environmentally friendly. There is not a single thing about it that is harmful to the environment or man however if we begin to count the benefits than you can understand why it is such an important vehicle for man. Bicycle is a means of communication. It gives you the chance to meet others and your inner self while on the road. You slow time when you cycle the distant you are from speed the more you feel you are alive. Bicycle is your closest friend. Sometimes it is back to your childhood sometimes maturity, but mainly it is towards within. Bicycle is for one, as you hit the pedal it is for masses. It is a rebellion, freedom, peace, happiness. Just like the pain of love, there is the pain of butt.
Do you have a plan for from today on?
I’m an impenitent dreamer. I dream a lot and do all I can to pursue these dreams. I do have dreams for after my travel to Africa but first I need to pursue this dream. We need to start changing the world by changing ourselves. We are our only magical wand. One of the frequently asked questions is, “How do you trust people?” The actual question we need to ask should be, “How can people trust me?” If we answer this question correctly and act accordingly, getting people to trust us, than we will have triggered the goodness in others.
Hasan Soylemez who started out from Morocco in January 2017 on his bicycle first crossed the biggest and hottest desert in the world The Sahara Desert in six months pedaling three thousand two hundred kilometers then reached Mauritania, Cape Verde Islands and Senegal finally reached Gambia. His 54 episode documentary “Journey To Dreams’’ was first broadcasted on YouTube when in Gambia.
The heroes of this world are children!
What is as pure, natural and innocent as children in the world? If we look at them and smile, it is because we see the very much missed naturalness, pureness in their eyes in this superficial world today. The dreams of children are much bigger and cleaner than the dreams of adults. Because there is no evil in them. If we want to live in a beautiful world, we need to shape the world according to children’s dreams.
By: Dilara Gülşah Azaplar / Photo: Hasan Söylemez
*This article was published in the September – October issue of Marmara Life.