13 mar. 2011

Europe. Part I

(perdonen a los que no leen en Inglés... lo escribí para un web-site en inglés... quizas algún día lo traduzco... jejeje)

When I first started this trip, and even before that, I was really scared. I had a lot of fear. I saw a great dark cloud of massive experiences that I knew I was going to live but that didn't have shape yet. I couldn't even imagine what was going to happen and I didn't wanted to imagine anyway because I didn't want to have expectations.

The first days where all about getting into the idea that I was very far away from home, in Frankfurt, Germany. My idea was to start hitchhiking right on that moment but I was too afraid to do it (I never did it before), so I ended up taking a train to Koln (Cologne). Over there I was impressed by the Cathedral, which is VERY BEAUTIFUL by the way. I thought of the energy used to build that and that all that effort was “to please god”, and I thought that it would have been great if that energy was used to build useful things for the mankind.

In Koln I stayed in a squatted area where some people just parked their caravans for some years already. It was the first time I went to a place like this (later on I learned that there are lots of places like that in Europe). Over there I met people living in community. They built a bathroom, a central “bar” with a living room and a TV, and a community kitchen. All made with recycled materials (things that they found in the streets and thought would be useful for something at “home”). The did “dumsterdiving” that is to go to the supermarkets at night time and check the containers where they put the food that is “out of date”. They told me that it was easy to live like that in Europe, that you don't need to pay for food and you can hitchhike to move around.

After that I started my first hitchhiking experience, which went really well, and also felt really weird.

I arrived to Nimegen, The Netherlands, without knowing where to go. I had made contact with a Brazilian girl by www.couchsurfing.org (a website where you can find couches and beds for a few nights) but she didn't know exactly when I was arriving and I didn't have her phone number. I decided to sit in one of the principal streets of the city and eat a sandwich that I had prepared before for the journey. In that moment an Italian guy offers me a cake and we exchange emails quickly because he had to go to work.

After maybe one hour and a half or two, two girls that I had noticed before in a bar passed and stopped when the saw me. They asked if I was OK and if I needed something so I told them that I was fine and that I was searching for a place to sleep that night. After thinking for a while one of the girls told me that I could stay at her flat that was nearby. I thought of it and the fact that just before I met them I thought that I would accept any invitation to stay at someones flat (if it seemed all right); in addition to the fact that my attention cached those girls before, made me decide to accept the invitation, despite the scars in their arms and their smell of alcohol. And that is how I put myself into one of the craziest situations of my life.

I went to the flat. One of the girls went to visit her brother who had autism so I stayed with Julia (invented the names because I don't want to reveal their identities). She told me that both of them had borderline disorder, explained it was the reason why they had scars in their arms, and we had a great conversation about psychology, psychiatry, and the struggles of living with borderline disorder (all this happened with some drinks passing by).

After maybe two hours the other girl, Jennifer, came and she started drinking as well. They continued to tell me about their lives and their suffering, and I was really interested (I study psychology). By the time I noticed that they had a strange behavior, but it didn't seemed too crazy for me. Another girl joined us later -also borderline- and something like a party started.

Julia had a computer so I just got into it and started chatting with people from Paraguay, noticing that the voices were getting louder and louder, and that Julia was getting more aggressive every passing moment. She always sat next to me for a while to tell me that I shouldn't worry, that they were crazy but they were not going to hurt me.

To resume the experience that took all night and felt really long: They got really crazy. Julia had something like a “panic attack” remembering how her dad and his friends raped her several times. Then Jennifer also had something like a “hysterical attack”. They started playing with knives, Jennifer tried to cut herself and finally they left.

I know, it may not sound that incredible, but for me it was. Not only because of what they did but because of my reaction to that. I was completely self-controlled, I didn't feel any fear, and I acted very carefully with what I felt like a perfect awareness. I felt as if I was blocking all emotions and staying impermeable to all the panic and despair that these girls showed.

Later in the trip I read Castaneda's book “The Power of Silence”, and I realized that maybe I got to somewhere like the “place where there is not compassion” (translating from the Spanish term). Maybe it wasn't the exact thing, but somewhere near... I was impressed by my own reaction and I learned a lot about myself in that experience.

After the girls left I started crying and I felt that I wanted to be at home. It was like unblocking all those feelings that were blocked and releasing them now that I could.

The next day I moved to the couchsurfing place and after that to the flat of the Italian guy that I met in the street and stayed there for a week. Nimegen was the first place that I got attached to. I felt really good in that flat.

After that week I hitchhiked to Amsterdam. It took me three days to get there because I met a boy who invited me to go to his town, Deventer. But that's another story.

When I arrived to Amsterdam I was stunned by the amount of people there. During the first hours it was nice, new, funny... All the sex shops, the hookers and the Coffee Shops where amazing for me. But after a while I started feeling that something wasn't right about all that. I felt so bad watching all that people consuming in that way, and I thought of the people that said to me that I HAD TO GO to Amsterdam, that it is so much fun! I thought about them and I realized that for them it is so fun because they would feel free in that city only because things like sex and drugs are socially accepted. But I thought that it isn't necessary to go to Amsterdam to do all that. It just depends on how your mind feels about those activities and if you don't have personal repressions about them. I felt like I was in that “city of fun” in Pinocchio's story, where they take the kids to “have fun” and they turn into donkeys. In Spanish that has a special meaning that I don't know if it has in English, because in Spanish the word for donkey (Burro) also mean stupid or numb. So the kids turned into dumbs. For me all that was entertainment for the fools and with the objective to create more fools... It was sad... I thought of a song that says: They'll try to push drugs and keep us all dumb down and hope that we will never see the truth around... I realized that they were using things that were really attractive to the people as mediums to get away of the burden of life and loose yourself in pleasure and FUN (SEX AND DRUGS).

I stayed in a very nice couchsurfing place in Amsterdam with a very nice man. After all the city is nice... but watching the capitalism spreading as a pest turning everything that shines with grace into mud and darkness; destroying everything, was really sad.

After three days in Amsterdam I continued hitchhiking up to Groningen, heading back to Germany in order to go to Denmark. Then I met Angie, one of greatest persons I met in my life, so far. I was about to pass to Germany, got dropped off at a petrol station, and Angie and Cody were there waiting for a lift. They traveled in a very different way than me, with no money or couch surfing. They busked to get some money to eat and keep on moving. They slept in parks, benches, train stations and places in the outsides of cities.

Angie also wanted to go to Denmark and to Norway so we decided to go together after 5 hours of no lifts. We finally got to Bremen where I had a couch surfing place to stay. In Bremen I started busking with Angie and her Banjo. Cody went to another place of the world so Angie and I started traveling together at that point.

Angie had no fear, she was strong and self-dependent. She could do almost everything, she was free. I traveled with her for 2 weeks and in those weeks I learned so many things. This girl plays the banjo, the violin, the harmonica, sings really beautifully, is sensible to the world issues ( but she doesn't care a lot about them). She could manage herself in almost every situation, with no fear. She was traveling around the world for 4 years already. In addition, she was 21 years old, only one year older than me.

Hanging out with such a woman made me feel tiny (like -shit- actually and I'm sorry for the vocabulary). I felt that I wasted so much time in silly things, time that I could have used to learn things. During those weeks I looked a lot into my own fears and all the things I don't do because of it. I recognized my ego defending itself and I realized how important it is to recognize it and stop it from influencing your thoughts, feelings and actions. I actually felt that my ego didn't let me breath properly, it didn't let me be, always trying to be something, and always expecting something. I felt how it was making me feel stressed all the time, and I realized how I would feel relief if I didn't had it like that anymore. I wanted to get rid of it, or at least control it.

Angie motivated me to learn more and face my own fear (maybe without even noticing). She also taught me how a great person like her can be humble. She wasn't a person that believed to be better than everybody else, as happens with other “travelers” that I met.

As if all this isn't already great, with Angie I learned how to manage myself when traveling. We busked, we searched for food in garbages, and we lived also from people's kindness when they were stunned for what we did (specially the part of searching for food in a garbage can).

I took this as a kind of anthropology study in a participative way. I wanted to experience her way of living in order to learn. Actually, I didn't think a lot, I just felt like doing it.

This way of living made me think a lot about the concept of stigma and the “human dignity”. For Angie, searching for food in garbage cans was normal, she didn't feel less by doing it, she didn't feel ashamed or like loosing her dignity because she was doing it. She wasn't persecuted by the STIGMA of HAVING TO DO that because she didn't have money. It was her choice to do it and she was happy with it.

She told me once how some people asked her if she was happy living like that, if it wasn't miserable. And she always said that she loved living as she lives, she feels free and she does not need anything else.

All this made me think about choices and how you can feel happy if you choose what to do. I also thought about how people don't feel happy because they are just constantly forced to go with the flow and do what they are supposed to do. So they try to hide unhappiness by feeling good about what they HAVE and the comfort they achieved through the “struggle” of life. It's like “finding peace withing the emptiness” (as a TOOL song says).

At one point we ended up in Christiania Freetown. Maybe you've heard of that place, maybe you didn't. It is a place that has been squatted in 1971 and at the moment is like a city inside another city. With at least 850 people living there, they have a central area which is full of shops an cafes; and the old buildings that where squatted. And they also have another area that is more “residential” with houses in the middle of the woods, kindergartens, benches, etc. There are people that have been born there, people that grew up there and are having their children there already. It is a very interesting place to visit (For more information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freetown_Christiania or http://www.christiania.org/)

It was great staying in that place. We had all sorts of conversations with the people there, including conversations about fluorides in the water and if all this “organic/BIO” food industry isn't just another big lie to distract people from the core problems. When we left the place after 3 days, I felt like if I had been in another world and I was going back to the “normal/sick” world again. This “other” world was full of understanding, and people that tried to solve their problems in community instead of running away from them.

Something that I liked a lot about Christiania was that you could find a lot of different people there. Not just a bunch of hippies or just punks or just “spiritual” people, but different people, with a lot of different world views, from different places of the world (even from Paraguay), and all living together.

To be continued...