Article by João Pedro Fernandes
By pure chance, I met a fellow motorcyclist and wonderful man when I was in Bishkek. Allen is an American but lives in Kyrgyzstan. Eight years ago he took over an orphanage in Kyrgyzstan. How many of us even consider doing that, let alone see it through? Ask the average man or woman if they want to take over an orphanage and totally devote their life to it, and chances are they will come up with all sort of excuses why they can’t. Not Allen and his wife Cheryl though. They want to help others, saw an opportunity and decided to accept the challenge. Hats off to them. Of course they are nice people; they’d have to be to devote their life to kids in need. So, I wanted to visit the orphanage and see firsthand the good work being done.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, to be honest. After all, how many of us have been in an orphanage? I hadn’t! The only orphanage I had seen, ever, was on TV—one of those dramatized Hollyweird horror shows. Luckily it wasn’t like that in Kyrgyzstan. As you can imagine, kids who arrive in an orphanage have a lot of emotional baggage. They have lost their parents for whatever reason, or have been abandoned by them. Just try to imagine what that alone will do to the minds of those kids. And as if that’s not enough, for some it’s unfortunately even worse, with abusive backgrounds for instance.
To complicate matters even further, there are language barriers and religious barriers to overcome. With the above in mind it would not have surprised me if I had found kids that were hard to handle—impossible to handle even. What I found was the total opposite. It was one big family, where everyone was seen as a brother or sister and Allen and Cheryl as mum and dad. It was clear to me, right from the beginning; these kids had truly found a happy home.
Of course, being such a big family means things have to be done in an organised manner. As any parent will know, kids can be a handful. Try to imagine having 22, of all ages, and yet it all worked amazingly well. Not a cross word was said. Kids being kids meant they are inquisitive and keen to learn. No wonder they had a tonne of questions about my trip and the bike. I showed them photos and videos via the laptop, not to impress them but to give an impression of what I found around the world. The questions they asked showed me they were quite knowledgeable about the world around them. And in case you were wondering: they speak perfect English too as they are brought up bilingual! Some of them were in college while others keen to learn a trade. They built all the buildings that make up the orphanage, and while I was there they were building a new big cellar for food storage. Not only was I impressed by their practical knowledge but even more so by the pride they showed in their work, even at such a young age.
I left with a very good feeling. An orphanage is not a place where kids would turn up with a good background. They have had to deal with some serious problems before arriving there in the first place. Having said that, they couldn’t have found a better place than this! And the same can be said for my bike, which is resting here as well for now, until I go back.
This trip is about that full life: about fun, practical jokes, growing a beard, traveling, camping, riding motorcycles, girls, swimming, making stuff, getting lost and finding new ways. It’s about quality, the pursuit of happiness and screwing up. The journeys, getting lost again, making four left turns, breaking down, getting screwed and getting stoked. The destinations and realizing that all they are are stops on that journey and that getting to them is the awesome part. It’s about being a multi-dimensional human and not living a mono-focused life that leaves you bored and crippled far too early. It’s about spontaneity, saying yes, making it work and changing your plan. It’s about leaving all you’ve worked for behind because you figured out that you want something different and need to go figure out what that different is. It’s about living many different lives in your lifetime. It’s about a belief that it will always work out. It’s popping wheelies and getting rad, breaking that back tire loose and jumping off cliffs. It’s about working your ass off for something, or to do something right. Family, where ever you find it. Overcoming fears and discovering new ones. It’s about being nice, stoking out other people, and high fives. It’s about letting yourself constantly evolve because you know that you’d have to be an asshole not to. It’s about being crazy, and having that full-chested feeling of a swollen heart, every day.
Pedro lives in Xi’an where he works as an English teacher (surprise!). He never set out with a particularly goal in mind, only to live creatively and push the scope of his experience through adventure and through passion.