By Rachel Aldrich
Patrick Henry College
Brooks displaying the flag of Tunisia.
It was during a long, lonely night in the Tunisian desert that Michael Brooks met the two incredulous shepherds. He had spent the day biking down long, barren stretches of empty road, broken only occasionally by a military checkpoint or a passing car, to visit a site in the southern desert where he’d heard a scene from Star Wars had been filmed. It was getting dark, so he hiked up into the hills away from the road to spend the night.
After pulling out his sleeping bag, the two Tunisian shepherds strolled by.
“They were as equally confused to see me as I was to see them,” he said.
One of the shepherds spoke a little French, as did Brooks, and told Brooks that it was dangerous for him to sleep there. He insisted that Brooks come with them, and then left him with the second shepherd, who only spoke Arabic. So Brooks spent the evening with the shepherd, sharing a meal and breaking the Ramadan fast over some fresh sheep milk near the shepherds’ concrete shack.
The Alps provided their own challenges.
Such were some of the exotic scenes and delights of Michael Brooks’ recent 3,501-mile bike trek across Europe and eastern Africa. Brooks (International Politics and Policy, ’13), chose to bike Europe, he said, “because there was no whaling ship to hop on... Given there were no whaling ships, I had to make my own adventure.”
Shortly after the 2013 PHC commencement, Brooks and an old friend, who was an experienced biker, set off from home on their “dream trek,” and ultimately traversed Netherland, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain, England, Scotland, and Tunisia. They camped in tents and under tarps, and only stayed in hostels when a shower became a minor necessity.
While in Europe, Brooks and his friend saw many famous sites and enjoyed strange adventures, which included hitting 47.5 mph down the backside of the Alps. “That was fun, if a little terrifying,” he recalled.
Urban camping in London was less fun. They slept where they could, from an abandoned castle in Luxembourg to within 200 yards of the Eiffel Tower, where a street gang happened to be meeting. They also saw historical landmarks from WWII and visited the parish of John Cotton, minister and theologian of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They visited famous buildings and inspiring landscapes, including Hadrian’s Wall and the highlands in Scotland, Jane Austen’s House, and Sterling Castle.
Along the way, Brooks found himself in an intense conversation with a young Muslim in Belgium while trying to get internet at McDonalds, trying to explain complex Christian doctrine in French. “The nicest people” he met were in Scotland, where an elderly gentleman invited them in for tea on a rainy day after they got a flat tire.
Yet for all the sights visited in Europe, Brooks said the most educational time for him was when he parted ways with his friend for four weeks and ventured into Tunisia, in northern Africa, alone. He stayed in Tunis, the capitol, for much of his time in the country, and was there during the Morsi demonstrations shortly after the leader was ousted. He got to talk to people about Tunisian involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood and other issues he was interested in. He visited a mosque while he was there, and discussed fasting with some new Tunisian friends.
“People are the same wherever you go, but cultures and environmental factors will highlight different parts of the same person,” he said. “For me, it was like a big exploration on human nature.”
As an IPP major, the trip was especially interesting, he said, because it provided the chance to step outside his comfort zone to see how human nature manifests in different cultures. Based on his experience, he advised those who want to travel after graduation to be decisive. He and his friend had discussed kayaking the Amazon or biking Africa, before settling on Europe. But once they decided, they bought their tickets and went.
“You just have to know what you want to do,” Brooks said. “Most people just have a romantic idea in their mind, and there’s nothing romantic about traveling Europe on a low budget.”
Brooks is currently writing about politics and policy for OODA Group LLC, as well as editing and maintaining their morning news aggregation. He hopes to be involved in foreign policy making for Europe and North Africa.”