Portrait of a pilgrimage


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Many people I met were curious where I, on foot and by myself, was heading and why. For someone to walk from Istanbul to Konya is surprising and admiring. I tell them about my pilgrimage to Rumi’s tomb and as the conversation developed I reached out to them a handful of cards with quotes by Rumi – in both English and Turkish – and asked them to choose one. They were allowed to keep the chosen quote. Afterwards, I took a portrait photo with their card. With this photo I described the how and what of our encounter. I published it on Instagram. It allowed the portrayed people to see themselves, as well as each other.

Sufitrail and Rumi
The Sufitrail is an 800-kilometer pilgrimage route in Turkey. The route was developped by Sedat Çakir and Iris Bezuijen. The route starts in in Istanbul and follows ancient pilgrim routes to Mecca and Jerusalem, and also touches the Silk Road. Along the way, pilgrims pass many tombs of Sufi saints. The route ends in Konya at the tomb of Rumi.

Rumi is a mystic and poet from the 13th century. In his time, he was the leader of the Sufi movement in Konya and founded the order of dancing dervishes. His poetry contains many philosophical texts and is widely quoted. All the Turks I meet do know him and call him: Mevlana “our master.”

How a walk can connect people
I was looking for a way to document this walk and at the same time for a way to share my walk with the people along the route. A pilgrimage often appears to be about the spiritual path of the pilgrim and less about the encounter with the other or the land walked. That is what it was all about for me. The quotes I bring build a bridge between me and the people I meet. The quotes are carefully selected by me and by sharing them I take people along in the pilgrimage. Rumi is also familiar to many; often a beloved wise master. With our shared interest in Rumi, we already have something in common right away, which leads to conversation and connection. The texts bring a depth to the meeting.

Many want to give me something along the way, a glas of tea in the tea house, a few apples, sometimes I don’t have to pay in the store, or I am offered a meal. Or a bottle of soda is handed to me from the tractor or over a hedge. It was nice to be able to give something also: so, in my case, the texts of Rumi, which were usually also received in gratitude. The encounter thus became mutual

Spiritual experience
Sufism is a movement with room for many kinds of believers. At the start of my journey, I was neither a Sufi nor looking for a spiritual guidance. But being on the road with the texts of Rumi brought me closer to his thought. His texts also brought me closer to the people I encountered along the way. Thus, Rumi here became a connecting force that enriched the encounter and left a positive feeling.

Giving and meeting
It is not about me or my walk, my achievement, but it is all about the encounter, the interest in each other and what we as people can share with each other even across cultural differences. It is about the Turks, who like to receive you as a guest and make you feel welcome. Who experience hospitality as enrichment, and an opportunity to meet another. An opportunity to show hospitallity Giving, because giving is beautiful.

The quotes immediately take the meeting to another level. Because the recipient chooses their card – this card seems to be predestined for them. Rumi’s texts help with that; they are thoughtful and have universal value. Most recipients store kun card thoughtfully, to preserve it. Also, the quote often seems to fit well with the person’s story or what happened in the encounter.

Sharing on instagram also allowed the people I portrayed to look back. Or conversely experience my continued journey and also meet other people virtually. Thus a string of experiences emerged. I posted the messages with some delay and, as a result, people sometimes sat impatiently waiting to see when their portrait would appear, already reading the other stories. Engagement grew unplanned as a result.

Because I approach people with an open mind and with modesty, while meeting and sharing quotes, an actual contact is created. Although brief, it is not volatile. Both parties are interested in each other’s path. That human warmth is captured in the photographs and texts, showing the goodness of humanity. And is confirmed that life can also be beautiful, when people speak or act from their hearts; a hopeful project.

Roelant Meijer

Roelant Meijer

Marŝarto23 shortlisted

Roelant Meijer (Walking artist / graphic designer) makes special publications of walks nearby and far away. The photographs, texts and design bring stories to life with an inspiring eye for details. This all evokes a deeper experience of the walks that con...

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