There are some experiences that are so powerful that they make you fall to pieces, collapse, that force you to crumble down in order to get back up again… better. The one from almost a year ago was unfortunately tragic, but maybe necessary for me to realize how much I love life and how much I’m grateful to be still alive today.
Traveling is a form of therapy, in my opinion. We travel to discover new horizons, new lands, cultures and communities…but also to find ourselves. Traveling, means being offered the possibility to reinvent ourselves. To create an identity that mirrors our soul. By leaving behind all sorts of limits, getting rid of clichés and destructive day-to-day schemes that we tend to find comfort in….by surrendering our labels and our predefined roles, we allow ourselves to be who we want to be (or who we really are).
No matter who you might have been in the past, while traveling more than ever, what matters is who you are now. Experiences and relationships that belong to travel often times don’t give much importance to your past but rather what you do, with whom and where. It’s all about seizing the day – carpe diem and all that stuff.
Regarding myself, I’m currently incredibly lucky to live one of the most beautiful social experiences I’ve ever been given to live in 22 years. What I imagined to be a trip with multiple destinations, full of “physical” adventures and an bunch of varied landscapes, langages and countries…turned out to be a reality but under a completely different appearance !
I initially wanted to visit Spain, Portugal and my friends in the south of France before hitting the road again to go to Italy, Croatia and Greece. I could have done such a trip. However, my heart commanded something different. After a small week in Spain, where I quickly visited Madrid and then my dear friend Claudine in Valladolid, I took a night bus to Lisbon on the 25th of April and I’ve been living in that city since the day after that uncomfortable night on the bus.
Portugal was for me a true mystery, despite its belonging to the Iberian Peninsula and its cultural similarities with my own country. Soon after arrival, I realized that I knew almost nothing about this lovely neighbor of ours. The little info I had about this country mostly came from my friends Océane and Tatiana, due to both having Portuguese family members. Regarding traditional cuisine, I’ve had the opportunity, in the past, to try it twice during Christmas eve, when celebrating with Tatiana and her family while I was living alone in Nice. Due to that, arriving to Lisbon as a vegan hasn’t ever been a problem (in the way that I don’t feel like I’m ” missing out ” on local experiences)
But I’m not here to talk about food (for once). What I want to share with you today, is my experience of living in community for more than 2 months now. In just a few weeks, I found yet another family (I couldn’t count how many families I’ve been included to in my life !) This time around, the family is a huge unstable mix. It is both multicultural and multilingual. But above anything else… it is a completely mad one !
Since the 26 of April, I’ve been a volunteer for the hostels chain Destination Hostels, which counts 3 in the center of Lisbon and another one more down south near the beach of Arrifana. Which means that I’ve been living in an hostel ever since… in other words : bye bye intimacy and hello permanent sharing ! Besides the blurred lines between the living and the working space, which results in interesting situations, it also means that I’m constantly vulnerable… by this I mean : always introducing myself, explaining who I am, what’s my journey and what are my projects for the future….
Every day is full of surprises. Except for my work schedule which stays relatively the same week after week, each day is different. I don’t have a plan, nor a specific time to eat, no daily budget, nothing quite fixed. I can follow my heart and my desires, as well as those of others. This feeling of openness, of freedom, of welcoming the unknown is blissful. Even though I am someone who likes to have a routine, it’s true that most of the time, routine is dull. Here I am losing grip on the time ; I keep forgetting dates and what day it is. Time is playing with me, making me realize that we can’t catch it and that it’s simply sliding between our hands like the sand in an hourglass. New meetings add up, each day, each week. Some have a minor incidence, while others turned out to be new friendships, as well as intense exchanges.
First of all, of course, my fellow volunteers and coworkers. Even though we are at least 30, this joyful tribe truly looks like a family. You’ll find all kind of characters, from the most timid to the most exuberant. Mostly youngsters. From 18 to rarely over 35 years old. Most of them are here for a short period of time, and this is true for both volunteers and workers. Turn-over is important, but everyone enjoy their experience at the hostel. Some current workers were past volunteers. One of them even was a guest in the first place !
Through those 10 weeks, I have been able to create amazing relationships with some of my colleagues. Yet, most of the time, everything divide us : our age, our langage, our passions, projects or our outlook on life. Despite these differences, love, joy of sharing and fraternity rule over. Independently of our divergence, we are all part of the same tribe. At the center of our concerns is the guest’ satisfaction. It’s the core of our job, or rather jobs, since several jobs belong to an hostel. Receptionist, cook, cleaner, barmaid, manager, guide, marketing, public relations specialist… as well as the little volunteers… everyone aims to make guest’s experience the most enjoyable ever for travelers from all over the world. The work atmosphere is also one of our major preoccupation, therefore joyfulness is always present despite the fatigue linked to the intense work rhythm, long hours and constant come-and-go.
Fortunately, the life here is well worth supporting difficult work conditions. It’s so easy to fall in love with Lisbon. Indeed, it’s a city full of charms, visually attractive, with a successful mix of well kept vestiges and modernity ; between chill daytime life and hectic nightlife. It’s said that life here is cheap. We’re in the EU, so I have some hesitancy, but for sure it’s cheaper than many others European capitals. As a tourist, life here is amazing. The locals love Lisbon as well, of course, but their vision of the city is quite different because it also englobes a better understanding of political and societal issues.
Thanks to my exchanges however, I get to grasp better what living as a Portuguese means. As usual, life under the sun has a price. Regarding Portugal, I was really surprised to discover that it is in fact rather poor. For such a close neighbor, I didn’t think that work conditions, medium salary and social benefits would differ that much from France. Please excuse my ignorance…It’s really interesting to be able to discover it by myself, daily, while working and living with locals. What we tend to consider normal and established in France is often times far from what most workers here can claim.
These kind of realizations force you to reevaluate your life deeply, hence what I was talking about in the beginning… I realized that as French citizens, we’re used to be assisted, helped around all the time, and that we lost sense of what hard work is. This isn’t a blame though, just something I noticed. We also tend to complain all the time. And this is well known by foreigners. French tourists are not favorites…even though it generally means higher financial means (which is of course positive for the tourism and hospitality world), French travelers are usually dreadful and not much appreciated. They’re mostly being blamed for their lack of linguistic adaptation (which is not a cliché, which surprised me to be honest, I thought it was an old issue….but no). Despite all of this, Portuguese are always hospitable with French tourists and a lot of them (especially those around 50-70 years old) speak french fluently. Just goes to prove that they are really kind people.
I am incredibly grateful and genuinely happy to be living this adventure along with this weird-yet-amazing family. I’ve spent 10 mind-blowing weeks and I still have 9 to go. After that, I still have to figure out if I’ll come back in Lisbon to live there or not. Whatever choice I make, I’ll forever cherish those golden memories that pile up a little more each day !
[EDIT 21/08 : I’m only two weeks out from going back home, and in the end, I decided to stay in France despite all the other amazing experiences I’ve had. But I will be back ASAP to visit !]