This post is the final installment (although I will continue to write about this topic in many forms – your feedback is welcome in the survey at the bottom of this post!) in my diary posts on volunteering in a refugee camp in Northern France with the Roland Levinsky Memorial scholarship. You can read the first three posts here: 1, 2, 3.
I’m sitting in the backseat of a dirt-covered truck, pressed between my 6 foot tall boyfriend and a very large Slovenian man. In the front seat, our driver (another large Slovenian man) and the passenger (yet another large Slovenian man) indistinguishably yell to each other over the loud crunch of rocks beneath tires. I stare straight ahead. To my right, the cliff edge and a sheer fall down the mountains. To my left, sharp bend after sharp bend of mountain road, the not-knowing of whether another car will be hurtling toward us at each corner. Our driver bangs the dashboard of the dusty truck with his fist, and my attention is drawn through the window. Briefly, I see a small figure whip by, at least a hundred meters above us, on a thin wire. “That’ll be you” our driver yells, this time in English. I can feel my stomach clench. It’s early morning, and we are driving up a mountain in order to throw ourselves off it. We are heading to the largest zipline park in Europe to go ziplining with Aktivni Planet, and I’m questioning my sanity.
Why do we choose to travel the way we do? I think this is an important question because in an industry such as travel, our small decisions often have economic implications for communities around the globe. However, in the last few months since I began my “nomadic” lifestyle, I have experienced a huge diversity in travel experiences. The most acute example of this is perhaps comparing my time working in the refugee camps to the luxurious seaside English hotel I found myself in a week later. My lack of a consolidated “travel style” makes it difficult to answer my initial question: why do I travel the way I do?
It’s 2am. My eyes are open, adjusted to the grey light and the odd flash of headlights that whoosh by, reflected through the window onto the high vaulted ceiling. The room smells of Oil of Olay, my Mother’s beloved nightly moisturizer, mixed with the faint smell of plumbing to be expected of a centuries’ old Italian mansion. And there it is. My Dad’s snore. Again.
At the start of September, I had a slight shock to the system. I returned to the UK after a month galavanting through the European heatwave and, in my absence, Autumn had arrived. An even greater shock came when I boarded a train to France, where I worked in a refugee camp for most of the month. My summer of short shorts, beating sun and lazy hikes started to seem ridiculously luxurious as I spent each day covered in mud and rain, sleeping in a broken campervan with no hot water, helping homeless refugees in the forests of France. In all honesty, I’m still having a hard time reconciling that experience with my general daily life. Returning to the UK for my graduation and a family reunion, I felt overwhelmed by the superficiality, excess, and associated guilt of my blessed life…. this contrast is quite evident in my blog posts from this month, alternating throwback posts on my Eurotrip with in-the-moment diary posts of working in the refugee camp.
It didn’t take much for me to fall in love with Ljubljana, Slovenia: a hug of mountains circling the city, an expansive farmers market, the purest tap water, even vending machines lined with locally produced milk, yogurt, and juices. It would be hard not to feel your heart flutter as you take in the blue canal peppered with paddleboarders, the skyline of red roofs, and inhale the smell of clean, crisp air so unfamiliar in a European capitol.
In Ljubljana, we spent the night behind bars, locked into the cell of a political prisoner.
As the sun sank, there was no view of the night sky, but rather just the navy-painted ceiling and my imagination. In the darkness, I could hear the distant clangs of other barred doors locking. Hours later, through one small square window chiseled in a meter of stone, the sun rose.
This is the second installment in my short series about volunteering in a refugee camp in France. You can read my first post here.