The hidden pitfalls of travelling

After several months of restlessness and brain numbing boredom, I am on the move again. Around January, the idea of coming to Greece as a volunteer started creeping up in my mind. I was sitting in my office carrying out futile tasks for seven hours a day and eventually the question dawned on me: “What am I doing here?”. I have a fundamental problem with feeling content, and actually, I believe we should regard this very feeling as deeply worrying. Being comfortable should be a red flag, a high pitch alarm for everybody.

I landed in Thessaloniki¬†last Wednesday morning and the buses were promptly on strike, leaving a handful of tourists stranded at the airport. I had planned to spend a night in the city and I couldn’t have been luckier with my choice. I stayed in a tiny hostel in the old city, overlooking Thessaloniki port, in a very picturesque neighborhood. The landscape in these parts is simply spectacular, as it always is where mountains and sea meet each other in the warm, enchanting, slow-paced South of Europe. A number of solo travellers was chilling in the garden of the hostel and very quickly we started exchanging stories, past and future paths, laughter and beers. I couldn’t have imagined a better welcome to Greece.

But things never work according to plan. Fate loves playing tricks, especially on obsessive compulsive planners like me, and so the following day I had a bad surprise. As I walked to the station to catch a bus to Katerini, the small town where I was meant to volunteer, I received an email saying in soft, vague tones that the project I was about to join was falling apart. In hindsight this is not at all exceptional, since the situation in Greece is incredibly “dynamic” and changes from day to day. The cooperation between locals and internationals hadn’t worked out as anticipated and after months of uncertainties, it had finally broken up. On the same day I joined. Caught on the spot, I had no better plan than still making my way to the town and stay with the other volunteers for a few days. Fun fact: the camp coordinator who picked me up, turned out to be an acquaintance from my time in Palestine and in spite of the overall situation, I decided to take this as a good omen. I spent several days in Katerini, helping out a little with camp distribution, laying on the beach and sorting out my next steps. We had a few nice evenings on the balcony, watching the sunset on Mount Olympus, eating Greek cheese and sipping wine while letting out all our worries. Alone because of these moments, I am happy I was there.

Over the weekend I decided to come back to Thessaloniki. Tomorrow I will start working at the Elpida factory with Together for Better Days. The organization was previously based on Lesvos, supporting the refugees at Moria. Since Moria became a de facto detention centre and the NGO lost their permission to enter it, they moved their operations in the North of Greece. Elpida (which means “hope” in Greek) is an old factory that has been transformed into a camp for vulnerable cases and currently hosts a couple of hundreds of refugees. I am renting a room in the house of some random Greek person, who speaks very little English but treats me like we have been buddies since ever. Right now I am sitting on the balcony, soaking in all that Mediterranean way of living that I missed so much. I must admit that I love this city already and despite everything, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

 

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