Diplomacy on wheels

Everything is possible... with a good imagination and the right attitude, you can climb mountains, you can change the views of people, and you can know how to dream,’ said Roei Sadan.

bikes 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
bikes 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
For four and a half years, an Israeli with a flaming red beard on a blue-and-white bicycle circled the globe – 66,000 km, 1,520 days, 42 countries – down the Americas, up Africa, across Europe to Asia, and across Australia. What started as a personal dream for 29-year-old Roei “Jinji” Sadan turned into a far-reaching one-man hasbara (public diplomacy) effort for Israel. Never before had Israeli hasbara reached village chiefs in central Africa or rural subsistence farmers in the jungles of Central America.
In many places, Sadan was the first Israeli many people had met. In rural Africa, he distributed small Israeli flags, which locals used to decorate their huts. In Madrid, he met with a group of virulently anti-Israel university students, many of whom he is still in touch with via e-mail and Facebook.
“I’m not here to change their view; I’m here to give another image, and then people will see for themselves,” said Sadan. “You have to give them another image, not only the image they see on CNN.”
On Sunday, Sadan received a plaque of appreciation from Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein at the World of Succot festival in Netanya.
“He was telling the world that [Israel] wasn’t a land of camels or wars but that it was a beautiful land with democratic and pluralistic values,” said Eran Sidas, the communications adviser to Edelstein.
It’s one of the first times a private citizen received an award for public diplomacy through travel, though Edelstein hopes to recognize more people in the future on similar journeys, said Sidas.
But the real challenge Sadan faces these days is staying in one place after four years of traveling. On September 16 he ended his journey at the Western Wall, with more than 50 relatives and friends who joined him for the last five kilometers of his ride.
Finishing the journey was more emotional than Sadan anticipated. “I have a good imagination, and I imagined this day hundreds of times in the last four and a half years.
This day was more than I expected,” he said. “To go inside Jaffa Gate to the Old City, while everyone is taking photos, and then touching the Western Wall – wow, that was the right place to finish this type of journey,” he said.
AFTER A month back in Israel, Sadan is learning to deal with leaving his Thorn touring bike Emunah (faith) at home while he embarks on the next stage of his life. He is preparing to write a book and dreaming of his next challenge, which he said will probably involve distance running.
“I miss the challenge; not just the physical, but the mental challenge. I like to push the limits of myself,” Sadan said recently from Tel Aviv. “It’s hard now, but it’s part of the deal. You need to know how to come back from this type of challenge.”
Looking back on his journey, he said he wouldn’t change a thing – even the mistakes he made in the beginning.
Sadan, who had never changed a flat tire before deciding to embark on his round-the-world trip, said he liked learning on the fly while cycling down the road. He called his journey “dream with open eyes” and presented the world with an endearing message: Follow your dreams, large and small.
“I learned that everything is possible. I that learned with a good imagination and the right attitude, you can climb mountains, you can change the views of people, and you can know how to dream,” said Sadan. “I know I can do whatever I want. I just need to really want it.”
Sadan added that by the end he was almost “spoiled” by his unshakable faith in the power of willpower. So much so that he couldn’t appreciate the challenges of the expansive deserts and the harsh mountains because he knew that he would get through them.
Sadan is one of many touring enthusiast cyclists who insist that the view from behind the handlebars is one of the most authentic ways to see the world. There are more than 350 books in print about bicycle journeys, and Crazy Guy on a Bike (http://www.crazyguyonabike.com), the Facebook for bike tourers, lists more than 6,500 active journals maintained by tourers around the world.
But Sadan, who was sponsored by mineral water company Mei Eden, has been particularly adept at interesting the media in the Israeli angle, giving hundreds of interviews to newspapers around the world through the course of his journey.
“I think that if someone is doing what I did and isn’t sharing it with the world, he’s selfish,” said Sadan. “I don’t want to be a superstar or a celebrity, but the achievement is something you can’t ignore,” he said, adding that he used the media as a tool to get his message out to as many people as possible.
He’ll continue to bring his message to the world through his future book and public speaking engagements.
Enthusiastically, he tossed out Mount Everest and the North and South Pole as future possibilities for journeys.
And then there are other ways that Sadan will continue to spread his message of encouraging people to follow their dreams.
“I just got an e-mail from someone in Kenya that I stayed with,” said Sadan. “He got a new bull and named it Jinji because he wants it to be strong like me.”