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From Iowa to India, a 'Walk in Our Shoes'

By John D. Sutter, CNN
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A walk in our shoes
  • CNN iReport asks users to film one-minute walks on March 20
  • About 450 people from six continents respond to the 'Walk in Our Shoes' assigment
  • The project is part of iReport's Weekend Assignment series
  • iReport is a section of where users submit their own news

Editor's Note: The author of this story helped organize the 'Walk in Our Shoes' project.

(CNN) -- To step into Deki Dorji's dainty black slippers is to realize how unexpectedly peaceful life can be, even when you're pacing in circles.

On a recent Saturday, when asked readers to film one-minute video clips of their favorite places to walk, Dorji took a video camera to a majestic white temple in the jagged peaks of the Himalayas.

She captured a scene that is tranquil and repetitive: Robe-clad residents of Thimphu, Bhutan, circle the Buddhist temple in a clockwise direction -- a ritual she refers to as "circumambulation."

Chimes clang. The wind sweeps by. Clusters of black birds swoop past Dorji's camera lens as she strolls down a stone path.

One of the most striking things about the temple, Dorji said, is that people from all walks of life -- older people, school kids, business types, people who are so poor that Dorji brings them juice and spare change -- take part in the routine, making at least three loops around the great white tower before they go.

Weekend Assignments
This story is part of the iReport Weekend Assignment project, in which the CNN iReport community takes on a special skills challenge once a week.

On March 20, we challenged people around the world to share a one-minute walk. Last weekend, we asked for pay-phone photo essays. Head to CNN iReport to join the fun and learn a little something while you're at it.

"It's a great place to think and to be grateful for all the fortunate things that you have," the 24-year-old said by phone, "and also to help people."

On March 20, Dorji was one of more than 450 people who filmed one-minute walks as part of CNN iReport's project, "A Walk in Our Shoes."

The submissions came from every continent but Antarctica, and people were asked to shoot their videos on March 20, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

No one clip tells the world's story, of course. Even in aggregate, they don't represent everyone on the planet. But taken together, they offer a thoughtful glimpse into the incredible diversity and the unexpected oneness of human life on Earth -- on a single day of seasonal transition.

How you can help:
Create your own walk around the world at CNN iReport.

If nothing else, something about the act of exploring one's community seems to link people from all corners of the globe.

The project falls in the tradition of other online collaborative art projects, which have been gaining steam as the Internet and mobile Web increase their reach worldwide.

CNN asked participants to film their walks in locations that are personally important. Some people, such as Dorji, shot video near picturesque landmarks.

iReport: Create your own walk around the world

Others embraced the somewhat banal beauty of the place they call home.

Wearing jeans and gray sneakers, 18-year-old Grant Mead ventured onto the sidewalks of Burlington, Iowa, in the United States. His one-minute walk ends with the view of a suspension bridge, so big that it dominates the horizon.

"And there we have the Burlington Great River Bridge," he says, standing in front of a parking lot where trees are surrounded by concrete.

"Famous," he says, "in southeast Iowa."

Some of the one-minute walks represent much larger journeys. Guita Youssefian, a 50-year-old university lecturer, for instance, was on vacation when she filmed a bustling boardwalk in Montevideo, Uruguay, a location that's some 11,000 miles and a hemisphere away from her home in Japan.

Angie Sprague in Atlanta, Georgia, chose to highlight the walk she takes most often in her home life: her trek to a Dumpster.

By the numbers
474 walks

51 countries

6 continents

"It's quite pathetic, but it's true," she says, trash bag in hand and bright red shoes on her feet, as she strolls through a condominium complex.

On her way to the trash bin, Sprague, a 39-year-old teacher, hits a fork in the sidewalk and makes a reference to the poem "The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost, in which the poet ponders a similar moment of choice in the more serene setting of a forest.

"Uh-oh. What would Frost do?" she says in a singsong voice, looking at the split in the concrete path.

"Booyah! This way," she says, turning to the right.

Some of iReport's wandering videographers chose to highlight locations hit with political strife. One paced through a protest conducted by the right-wing Tea Party movement in the United States. Another waded upstream, like a salmon, through a sea of 10,000 red-wearing anti-government demonstrators in Bangkok, Thailand.

Those protestors, who generally support a prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup, carried flags and wore bandanas around their necks in the video shot by Holger Bauer, a 57-year-old automation engineer.

Most of the protestors sat on motorcycles with serious looks on their faces, sunglasses covering their eyes. One man stood out amongst the bunch: He rode a bright pink scooter.

We're all walking around in our own way, and that somehow connects us.
--Trevor Dougherty, Swaziland

Others walkers were more subtle in their advocacy, but used their strolls to highlight a cause nonetheless. For some, that purpose was as simple as debunking stereotypes about local geography.

Juan Perea y Monsuwé, a 37-year-old from the Netherlands, picked a mountain for his walk seemingly in hopes that he would convince the world that his European country is not just a flat place full of meadows and windmills.

He flashes a mobile-phone map in front of the camera lens, as if to make sure people will actually believe the impossible: That the Netherlands, a low-lying, coastal country, has a set of mountains to call its own.

"I'm taking you alongside this gorgeous, mountainous creek in the Dutch Mountains," he says, punching those two words as if they were heresy.

"Ha! Hah! I said Dutch Mountains."

Some iReporters interpreted walking a little more liberally, sending in videos where they used bikes and even skis to make their journeys a bit smoother. Kate Bendick's camera tracked behind a pet hamster as it wheeled a neon-green ball down the side of a paved street in a zig-zagging fashion.

Dogs were frequent companions on the walks, as 36 people sent in videos shot with a canine friend. Only slightly more videos -- 40 -- were shot with another human.

Several of the videos came from locations of global import: The Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower and Times Square.

But some of the most eye-catching walks came from far-flung and less recognized places: Khartoum, Sudan; Antananarivo, Madagascar; Irkutsk, Siberia; and Lhasa, Tibet. Some videographers from these places said they wanted to show the world a walk they might not otherwise experience.

That was the case with Trevor Dougherty, a 17-year-old American student who filed a video from a buzzing bus station in Mbabane, Swaziland, where he now lives.

At first, navigating the tangle of bus rules in Swaziland seemed difficult or even impossible, Dougherty said. He didn't speak the language. Nothing was ever on time. There wasn't even a schedule because drivers waited for their buses to fill up before leaving on one-way trips throughout the tiny country.

But over time, he came to like the system.

"I think there's a certain mood in this part of the world, in southern Africa, that is informal, that is friendly, that is welcoming," he said by phone.

He wanted to show that different spirit in his video.

"I filmed it because I thought it would be something that stuck out, but as we piece this all together I'm sure we're all coming to the conclusion that we're all walking around and seeing the beautiful aspects of nature and crowds. ... We're all walking around in our own way, and that somehow connects us," he said.

"In this project, we can see more of what we share than what is different."

To his point, at least a dozen of the videos -- from the streets of South Korea to the suburbs of South Africa -- are shot by people wearing exactly the same brand of shoe.