Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy


February 3, 2004 Traveler


A splendid truck resides in the parking lot of the Avenida, an old battered Land Rover covered with stickers and trinkets and equipment. A bicycle is strapped to one side, on the other a plank folds out to make a table. A carved wooden cowbell with the logo from the Swiss flag in faded paint hangs in front of the windshield. A faded Swiss flag hangs from an antenna. The spare tire is strapped to the hood and a tarp is tied over the roof. The stickers tell of its origin with the United Nations Development Program, from some project long ago completed, reviewed, and packed up in the archives. Since

then it has seen Israel, Egypt, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique. It has taken people scuba diving in Sharm El-Sheikh, Eilat, Zanzibar; the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Itís a wonderful worn friendly creature, to inspire dreams of unlimited travel, of coastal explorations, of camping wherever you find yourself, of cooking your meals on a portable stove, after catching them in the sea.

We all wondered who traveled in the truck. We had a likely suspect, a slightly grizzled man with dark hair down his back, who didnít seem to fit in an elegant hotel like the Avenida. The truck doesnít fit either, though, with the Mercedes and shiny Toyota Land Cruisers around it.

It turned out we were right. I met Omar over breakfast this morning. He spends his life traveling wherever he wants to go. He is, at present, a filmmaker and a dive instructor, but suggested that he had had any number of other careers and changed every few years. Heís at the Avenida making a film about the hotel, for the hotel. He said it was tiresome, uninteresting, but itís work. Before this, he made a film about Mozambique, which the Avenida manager saw and brought him here. He and Rachael, one of my colleagues, have become friends, and heís planning to go to Brazil to visit her Ė maybe that will be his next stop once heís finished the dreary film. Over scrambled eggs and coffee he talked about his way of life as a higher, better way to live than the people around him. Most people, he says, are driven by fear and the desire for power, and they are trapped in lives that are inferior. He could do anything he likes, he told us, and he chooses to live this way, without fixed home or job. He has learned to be free of the constraints that bind other people. By taking control of his life in this way, he is living as a god, he said, rather than being defined by society, religion, money, or other peopleís expectations. He quoted Jung on symbols, mentioned the last time he was interviewed on American TV, and told me I should read his book to really understand his ideas.

The parallels to my plans are clear, yet the differences are striking. I had been watching him for days, actually Ė I always like men with long hair, and he seemed intriguing. I had wanted to know who he was. But I was disappointed when I found out. My choices in life Ė at least right now Ė are not so different from his. But I donít think my choices are higher or better than anyone elseís, I just think they are better for me right now. If Suzanne wants to have roots in her community in New Jersey, if Rachael is interested in traveling for a few years but then wants to settle down and have a family, who am I to say that they are not making as valid choices as I am? But Omar knows that everyone else is trapped and tied down, and he is better because he has moved to a higher, better plain. They are not making free choices, they are pushed into their lives by the pressures around them. It is not possible for people to make free choices unless they choose to reject convention and day to day commitment to people, jobs, homes, communities.

I am sorry to find him this way. Not that I have reason to have any views on who he is, thatís certainly not my concern. And if I did have expectations, they were not that I would like him, even though I was intrigued. Perhaps he is tired of explaining his life to challenging strangers. So he presents himself in this slightly confrontational way in response. Perhaps I also will tire of explaining my life, and Iíll have to be careful not to take the same off-putting stance to people I meet.

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