With more than 50 pairs of shoes, 10 years and 75,000 kilometres behind him, Jean Béliveau is on “the long driveway” home.
This is how the man who has walked from Montreal, around the world and back to British Columbia terms his remaining jaunt across Canada. He expects to arrive in Montreal in October.
Béliveau spent last Monday and Tuesday nights in Salmon Arm before heading for Sicamous, and points east in his walk for peace to benefit children. His 11-year journey is in support of the United Nations proclamation that declared 2001 to 2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World.
Béliveau left his home in Montreal, his wife Luce and two grown children on his 45th birthday, Aug. 18, 2000, after undergoing what he calls a bit of a midlife crisis.
Wishing to do something significant with his life, he became enchanted with the idea of walking around the world. Three weeks before he left he told his wife, who was at first alarmed. However, she soon supported him in his quest.
He began his journey with $4,000, which he said Luce has supplemented with $4,000 each year. Pushing a three-wheeled stroller containing a sleeping bag and tent, he has relied greatly on the kindness of strangers.
In Salmon Arm he was housed by Joanne Patrick and Garry Lomax one night and Carol and Rod Hostman the next. Both families emphasized how grateful they were for having spent time with such an interesting and unique man.
Understandably, Béliveau has many tales to tell.
He averages about 30 kilometres per day. He has crossed six deserts, climbed mountains, and stayed in schools, jails, fire stations, hospitals, churches, temples and many homes. In fact, he estimates he has stayed with 1,500 different families. What their homes look like doesn’t matter to him.
“What I see is the people, what’s inside. Sharing the love or spirituality.”
He has stayed in nine jails in countries including the United States, Brazil, Germany and South Africa – a couple of times slightly longer than expected.
He laughs about the time he was offered a bed in a jail cell overnight in South Africa, but the new shift of police officers wasn’t told about their new guest. He ended up talking through a small grid, trying to convince them he really was a Canadian walking around the world.
“Most of the time I didn’t know where I would sleep. Most of the time I didn’t care, I would follow my instinct,” he says.
The concept of being a pilgrim is well-known world-wide, Béliveau points out. He notes that in the Arab countries he visited, it is a citizen’s duty to care for a pilgrim. In the Sudan, his money was low and he had crossed the dessert for a long time, with people giving him dates and water on the way. He became very thin and was crying, wanting to be with his father who was in hospital at home. A man from the Sudan phone company came and helped him out of a tight situation, giving him free Internet as well as an envelope with $100 inside.
The best times were when he’d be received in a home after a long walk.
“I remember in Egypt, they say, ‘You bring us sun in the home.’ I say, ‘No, you bring sun in my heart.’”
When Béliveau left Quebec, he spoke only French. Now he speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and some Arabic. He also learned ‘Hello, how are you,’ in many languages. He notes how important it was to wave a hand along the way.
“Even though the road is public territory, this is their place.”
He speaks of people’s generosity. For instance, the glasses he wears were given to him in India, he had dentistry done in Australia, medical care in France, he had prostate surgery in Algiers and all his clothes have been donated along the way.
Béliveau said he knows he can’t change the world – only his “inside world.”
“I’m trying to develop my culture of peace. It’s a full-time job, it’s not easy. If that work inspires a moment in the heart of people, that’s enough. My walk talks for itself. It’s not my walk, it’s the walk of humanity.”