Traveling the world by motorcycle to benefit othersJourney benefits African aid
Hope — "I've always traveled by motorcycle," said Eliza Massey. Massey, 56, has been selected by the UK-based Ted Simon Foundation as a Jupiter's Traveller — the international foundation will offer Massey support and mentoring while she travels the world by motorcycle documenting her journey through the lens of her camera.
"Individuals of good will moving among foreign cultures and making themselves vulnerable to the beliefs and customs of strangers, can have great importance in promoting world understanding," reads a portion of the Jupiter's Travellers mission statement. Massey said her philosophy about travel mirrors the organization's almost perfectly.
Massey said she applied to be a Jupiter's Traveller after learning about the program from a fellow motorcyclist. She learned she had been selected for the program while traveling in Laos early in 2012. Massey has spent two winters traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia on a small Honda motorcycle.
"For me, it's about promoting world understanding. I go in as a mother and a grandmother, and as an American," she explained. "They can see the love."
Massey recounted two weddings she attended after being spotted on the road, one in Vietnam and one in Cambodia. Road weary and dusty, Massey said she was welcomed and embraced within these most intimate ceremonies.
"I'm thinking 'they can't just drag me in!'" she said with a laugh.
She said she later learned she had been ushered in by the mother of the groom in Vietnam and the bride and groom themselves in Cambodia. She said they carried her equipment in for her and shared their food and libations.
"I was the most welcomed person everywhere," she explained. "The coolest thing is the people you meet."
Massey said the highlight of her travels is always the human interaction that takes place when she stops along the road for gasoline or water. She has always documented her experiences through photography, her work — often in black and white — portrays the tender intimacies of day-to-day life in many of the villages she visits. She said while she often cannot understand the language, she knows what people are saying. She said through approaching things with "a sense of humor and patience" she finds that communication — without language — is possible.
"[All cultures] are about celebrating births, marriages, and family festivals," Massey said. "I fall in love with these people, I'm right there with them. I want to share that we are all the same, we are all one."
An excerpt from Massey's own mission statement reveals her philosophy: "This will be a photo exploration as well as an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for African aid. Traveling alone by motorcycle in different countries and culture, has given me the opportunity to discover first hand that as many differences as we have , the important things in life we share. Its universal. We ultimately want the same thing for our families and communities...governments don't always get along, but people do."
Massey said Jupiter's Travellers will assist her in sharing her photographs when she returns. She said assistance could come in the form of publishing a book or exploring another avenue for sharing her documentation with as large an audience as possible.
Massey said she has made the decision to work to raise money for Women for Women, an organization devoted to providing assistance to women in war-torn countries including many in Africa. Some of the places Massey intends to visit are among the areas Women for Women benefits.
Massey will pay for her travel out of pocket, and continue to take pictures depicting the universal nature of humanity as part of her charge as a Jupiter's Traveller. As a personal aside she said she has set a $10,000 fundraising goal in the hope of giving back to Women for Women through her journey. She's presently working to raise money through a donation page she has set up on her personal blog.
"It's important to be green when traveling and to give back to the country," she said, adding since she was a girl she's wanted to have an orphanage in Africa. "I'm committed to this...I really want to go out and raise money for African aid."
Massey's route begins in Hope. She plans to take her BMW 650 GS motorcycle and depart her home on Hobbs Pond Oct. 11. Massey plans to travel for about 18 months — returning in June 2014. Her route takes her through every continent and across oceans. She said she knows the dangers of traveling through remote areas and unfamiliar countries. She has outlined a course but knows "things could change due to political or social unrest" that would prevent access to some regions.
"One thing about traveling is you cross that bridge when you come to it," she said.
She said she's not worried but acknowledged there are "so many things that could go wrong." She said she's committed to learning how to work on her own motorcycle, she'll pack a GPS, two cameras and an iPhone in addition to first aid and basic day-to-day supplies such as camping gear.
Massey said medical issues — such as infected bug bites and malaria — are also an obstacle that she must be aware of. Still, she said she does not let the "what-ifs" get in her way.
"It's not a stupid thing I'm doing, it's something I'm passionate about," she said.
Massey said she communicates daily via online forums with others who are traveling internationally. She said those forums help travelers share logistics issues and alert one another to potential obstacles such as rebel fighting.
"You can't expect your preconceived notions of how things are supposed to work," she explained. "Getting lost, breaking down, it's part of the adventure."
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.