“After going through bankruptcy, I felt it was time to take a distance, to oversee my development and to understand more of the world. I left for South-America and traveled there for six months, realizing that we live together on a planet, that sharing is a beautiful experience, and that I don’t live to work.”
Naan Eldering is a Dutch storyteller who uses different outlets to reach his audience. He designs, writes and photographs what he observes, in an attempt to help people perceive in a more detailed way, to be more amazed. It wasn’t hard to imagine Eldering walking around the forest as a kid chasing gnomes. It is this amazement we have when we are children, when we venture out into the world that Naan still seems to posses. He shares this amazement on his website called ‘Kijkman’ (Dutch for watchman) where he shares his adventures, writes critical pieces and reflects upon society. His fascination with the human perception and representation of the world seeps through on every page. We spoke to Naan about writing, perceiving in a time where we are drowned in a flood of imagery and his adventures as a travel guide.
Hello Naan, how are you doing?
I’m good, thank you. It’s pretty amazing we can have this conversation, considering you are on an Island!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is the ‘Kijkman’? What’s your mission? Your favourite childhood memory?
Ha, well, I’m 29 and forgot my favourite color, but it might be the blue-ish color you only find in fireworks. As a kid I mostly remember a Pirate-birthday party, where we had to look for a chest, hidden in the soil of the woods. I also have strong memories of a book on my parents’ bookshelves that fascinated me and sparked my imagination as that blue-ish firework does.
My mission is to focus on the good and to communicate better. To understand and represent the things I perceive. I realize more and more that it will always be an attempt, but let me be as good as possible.
Misunderstanding is a big cause of trouble. We need shared knowledge, a shared experience to create a deeper understanding and a better connection. Making people wonder is a good way to make them aware.
Can you tell us about your six month trip through South America? What triggered this? Have you always had itchy feet?
My feet started itching back in 2010. I was working 80 hours a week for an online start-up supermarket. I didn’t recognize the sensation until a read back the journals I kept. The first time I scribbled down the word Brazil was 2010. I never felt like going abroad before. I was too busy making a career, which was a journey by itself. My life was exciting enough just here. I think my ex-girlfriend planted a seed. She went to India for a volunteer-job when we we’re in a relationship back in the days. I didn’t get it at all. Why would you go away? Why would you leave me here? What’s wrong with the Netherlands? But things started to itch eventually. My skin didn’t fit anymore. Things broke down. I wanted to take myself out of my context and experience how I would behave out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t looking for myself, I knew where I was. I was just not satisfied with how I stacked the blocks. It was time to throw myself apart and rebuild a new mindset. But then again, this might be an analogy I came up with along the way.
“I think it’s important to feel lonely sometimes. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by others.”
The heaviest part of traveling is saying goodbye to the many amazing people you meet. But it’s worth it because you met them in the first place. Learn to live with this dependency on others, and the urge to be independent. Learn to give. Learn to lose. Learn to see the most important things in life. But most of all, learn to understand the non-dualistic quality of life. Everything is gradual. A bit more independent, a bit less lonely, a bit more selfish and a bit more selfless. You can be all at the same time.
Where does your wanderlust come from?
The urge to be out of context. To be flabbergasted. To experience the new. To feel alien. Not to consume, but to be part of something different. While in a hostel, often you end up drinking with a group of fellow backpackers that become philosophical; “Most people don’t travel, they are on holidays” is something I heard and said more than once. But when does going abroad become traveling? When does it change from consuming to creating? Traveling has become a commodity. Traveling is not going away as far or as long as possible. Most of us with some time and money to spend can make a jump to Thailand, or Cuba, or China. We might go abroad, because it’s good for our CV, for the whitest beaches, because we want to see real lions in real life. An indian girl I met on the airport warned me: “Check your intentions before you go. If your intentions are right, your trip will be good.”
Do you have any tips on travelling on a budget?
Do it. There is always a budget and it’s good to have one. Nobody has unlimited resources. It’s never enough. Make it work. Decide what you really need and adapt your plans. I once made a bike trip from Cheb (CZ) to Budapest (HU) with only a friend and a tent and it was amazing, although it was only two weeks and costed close to nothing. Travelling is definitely not in your budget, it’s in your mindset.
There is, of course, a bare minimum of money to your plan. But If you really want it, you grab your backpack and start walking.
Where are you planning on going to next?
India, as a tour leader this time. I went there in February this year and now I return, showing around a group of fellow travellers. We start off in Mumbai and meander through Rajasthan, see the Taj, touch the Holy Ganga and end on the streets of Delhi. I’m looking forward, and it’s also going to be tough. The impressions can be overwhelming.
Tell us a little bit about being a tour leader, how did you end up in this job role, what kind of training would you need to become a guide? What do you like about this job?
The best part about being a tour leader is being able to travel and getting paid for it. And you have a goal. I like having a goal, otherwise I get lost in thought.
I see what I do as ‘guided travel’. It’s traveling for beginners. It’s learning how to travel.
When you keep doing what you want, you bump in an opportunity at some point. Friends knew I was looking for a job and talked about it. A few days back in The Netherlands I got a call “would you like to work as a tour leader?”. I never thought about it, but decided to take the jump and try. I got trained by the company I work for, in workshops and on location. Most important is your own travel experience. Basic knowledge of culture and language and to which amount nothing goes according to plan. It helps if you know how to lead a group. You need some advanced people skills to keep everyone happy together. You need to be a bit of a wacko. People will take you serious more often.
What fascinates you about the human perception of the world around them?
Let me recall a quote I used a few weeks ago while teaching a group of design students: “The man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato, is an idiot”. It was the french surrealist theorist André Breton who said this. I assume everyone who’s ever seen a tomato and a horse can visualise this unworldly situation lively. The more you see, the more you can imagine and try to understand. I learned that we all see the world differently and all of world’s beauty and trouble is embedded is this simple thing. We load and define our values differently. And how we imagine (image) and represent (present) these things, is important influence.
You state that the core values in your life are sustainability, creativity, simplicity and personal development. How do you apply these values to your work? Why are these values important to you?
That’s a difficult question because I’m trying to answer this every day. I do good. I pray to capitalism as less as possible. I teach people. Every day I put my values in as many chores as possible.
Let me be honest. I don’t like most of the world I live in. In creativity find solutions to change this for the better. Life should be simple, we should learn and grow and use this to make life enjoyable for everyone.
Photographs and words by Naan Eldering
Interview by Rebecca Rijsdijk