Saturday, August 23, 2014

42

Today is my birthday. It's my forty-second. In Angola, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Djibouti, I would have been dead, statistically. But I live in Norway, and in the world of nerds, turning 42 is sort of an especially special occasion.
In Lesotho, pondering upon life.
Imagine drilling a hole in the ground, all the way down to the centre of the Earth. Then keep on drilling until you reach the surface on the other side. Empty all air from the hole and jump into it. I recommend bringing a tank of oxygen. Let gravity do its thing. It will take almost exactly 42 minutes from the moment you jump until you neatly pop out of the hole on the other side. But that is not why 42 is so special.

In Japan, 42 is anything but a lucky number. The two digits, 4 and 2, pronounced together, "shi-ni", means "To the death" in Japanese. And 42 shouldn't even be halfway to death. At least not for those of us who were born in the north of Europe. But that's not the thing about 42, either.

No, 42 is special because of its role in a book that is well-known by any nerd, and now also by many others. "The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy", by Douglas Adams. In it, we can read about a civilization similar to our own, where people spend a lot of their time trying to figure what is the answer to the question about Life, the Universe and Everything.

To figure it out, they build a giant computer that works on the problem for millions of years. Finally the day when the computation is done comes, to the great anxiety of all philosophers on that planet. "The answer is 42", the computer proudly declares. That is the answer to The great question.

It may be the right answer, but as long as we don't know what the question is, we're none the wiser.

I have squandered some of my years, or at least a few days worth of thought, on trying to understand why I am here, what the meaning of life may be. Now that I am 42, I might work harder on it, but I'm not sure I'll ever get any further to reaching a conclusion than I am now.

I think I am in this world to observe it, to try and make sense of it, and to help others in all kinds of ways while I'm doing this. But what the purpose of all you others may be, now that is a lot harder for me to get a grip on. Still, I am satisfied by this thought, and I live by it every day.

A birthday is just another day to me. So this day is just as good as any other for trying to decide on whether I have, so far, spent my life the way I should. I think so, although there are many things I haven't tried yet. And by that I don't mean eating fried pizza covered in chocolate or drunk driving, but more meaningful things.

Let's start by having a look at what I did in my younger years, summarized in imaginary newspaper headlines:
  • 1972: Boy born in home for the aged.
Mostly harmless
  • 1975: Bit dentist's finger, rewarded with small toy
  • 1979: Read One Thousand and One Nights, oblivious to the erotic bits
  • 1982: New transportation device for children; Ice floes
  • 1983: Got both a computer and a concussion the same week. Agony, as enjoying the first is prevented by the other.
  • 1985: Child worker: 13-year-old sold more than a hundred Commodore64 home computers 
  • 1986: Confirmee fashion of the year; white suit, pink shirt and grey leather tie.
Oh, the humanity!
  • 1992: Conscripted young men shoots down airplane on Crete with missile 
  • 1998: How to become an IT professional without writing a line of code
And then I started traveling.

I think it's safe to say that I have had other priorities in my adult life than most people choose. Still, I have recently become part of the crowd, sort of, by buying a house, a car and home appliances for the first time in my life, together with the woman I have shared many journeys and other nice memories with for the last five years or so.

I'm fairly happily doing this, but the more I get into the kind of activities that are socially expected of grown-ups, the happier I am that I didn't get started on this until now.
As you can see, I will not be living downtown from now on.
Suddenly life is full of stuff that I have never before devoted any thought to. Paper work, budgets, screwdrivers, painting of walls, curtains, petrol and corrosion. Oh, and not forgetting the most ludicrous of all activities people choose to do; gardening! This all occupies time that my gut feeling tells me would be much better spent in, for example, Turkmenistan or Surinam.

I'll obviously have to do something about this eventually. In the meantime I'll just try to go along with the kind of life that most people live, cheering myself up with the memories of all the things I have done and experienced in life so far.

Please believe me when I say that this isn't about bragging to you, but about comforting myself, summing up what I have done instead of the things I "should" have done. Not only do I understand that others choose to live differently from me, I'm actually very happy that they do.

Since I started traveling, I have:
  • Warily made my way across the slippery penguin shit beaches of Antarctica.
Self-reflection in Antarctica.
  • Visited all the seven continents before I turned 30.
  • Crossed Russia from east to west in a month, going by train and boat.  
  • Got to be alone with Tut Ankh Amon for a full 15 minutes.
I just call him Tut.
  • Patted a giraffe on its head and tickled a jaguar's paws. 
  • Climbed the Great Pyramid of Giza at least a little bit before they spotted me.
My camouflage was too warm and not sufficiently camouflage-y
  • Waited for more than two days for the bus in Banjul to fill up sufficiently with passengers.
  • Floated down the Amazonas river for five days and nights, 1,500 kilometers from Manaus to the Atlantic coast. 
Rainforest happiness.
  • Been riding on a horse through water filled with crocodiles/caymans. Well, jacarés, really.
  • Been arrested for espionage in Egypt as well as in Trans-Dniestr (the latter twice in one day).
  • Snorkeled, dived and swallowed huge amounts of sea water along four of the five largest coral reefs in the world. 
  • Gotten lost in fresh snow high up in the Himalayas.
  • Had my photos used in books and magazines in a number of languages, occupying almost one meter of bookshelf space in my library.
  • Represented all Christians in the world in a panel debate in far eastern Turkey, until someone discovered that I was just an atheist with a misleading middle name. I escaped.
  • Wandered day and night all alone through choice parts of the Sahara.
There's just something special about a really huge desert
  • Visited almost 13 chocolate factories.
  • Never been a patient at any hospital.
  • Traveled to the Moon and almost back home by plane, except I chose a different route that took me all over the world.
  • Hiked all of Northern Spain, starting in France, on the pilgrim's route of Camino de Santiago. 
Half-way there on an 800 kilometer walk. Considering turning around and go back.
  • Traveled on the roof of a bus through Nepal. 
  • Had to persuade a bus driver in Australia to let me get off his bus in the middle of the nowhere to go hiking.
  • Gone for a ride on an elephant, a camel, a donkey, a water buffalo, a cow and an ostrich. And on a few horses.
Bordering on animal abuse, but at least I have my pants on!
  • Ran faster than at least three robbers in Zimbabwe. 
  • Walked through half of Italy, from Milan to Rome. 
  • Found more than a thousand hidden treasures in forests, mountains, cities, jungles, deserts and an owl and a duck.
I risked my life to find this thing.  (I had to drive a rental car in Brazil.)
  • Briskly walked from one side of Monaco to the other.  
  • Snuck into The Gambia from Senegal by using a stamp I made with a potato. 
  • Celebrated the Mayan New Year in the temple city of Tikal. 
  • Been rolling on the floor laughing in North Korea, after being presented with their stuffed animals.
  • Seen bilbys, coatis, wombats, guanacos, rhinos, bears and Thai transvestites in the wild. 
  • Sat quietly in the jungle at night, listening to walking, hissing and grunting in the bush around me.
  • Swam to the airport on Fiji in flooding following a cyclone.
  • Donated more than a thousand photographies to Wikipedia.
Not for a moment have I been bored. Instead, I have always tried to be kind and considerate to others. Never have I had any reason or inclination not to.

That will have to be enough pep talk for now. Life can be wonderful wherever you spend your days. If it turns out that my next 42 years will to a large extent be filled with activities that I today consider mundane and trivial, I'm pretty sure that they will still bring plenty of excitement. Same same, only different.

A new report will follow in due time.

I do not wish for any particular attention on my birthday. Instead, you should enjoy some chocolate, making your day just as splendid as the one I have.

Found on a grave in Ireland. Wisdom.
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