It’s been a while ago already, but it’s been a week not to forget: the city trip to Lisbon (and surroundings) with my good friend (and she has definitely become a good travel buddy as well!).
Lisbon isn’t a city like Paris or Rome. By saying that I mean that it doesn’t have a lot of buildings or places that jump out and that you have to visit. Lisbon is a very charming city, with a lot of small streets and stairs through which you can stroll all day long. Of course there are enough things to go see, though, like Castelo de S. Jorge; Santa-Justa elevator; Mosteiro dos Jerónimos; and Torre de Belém. Lisbon doesn’t have the fast pace and busy feeling that cities like Paris and Rome have, as well. Lisbon is the city of the seven hills. The city of fado music, old trams and the Tagus river. The main neighborhoods are Baixa, Bairro Alto & Chiado, Alfama, and Belém, that is a half-an-hour trainride away. I’ve enjoyed Alfama the most – it has the most atmosphere. Belém can be perfectly combined with an afternoon spend on the beach.
Don’t limit yourself to the city itself when in Lisbon, but definitely explore the surroundings as well. Sintra is one of the highlights. This romantical village high up in the hills of national park Sintra-Cascais belongs to the world heritage list of UNESCO. In and around Sintra a lot of palaces and castles are located. We have been to Palacio da Pena, which I personally found the most beautiful palace I’ve ever seen; Castelo dos Mouros, which consits of a wall with breathtaking views of the whole area, and ocean; and Quinta da Regaleira – a cute, little palace with a fairylike garden that holds a Lord-of-the-Ringslike tower. Further, go to Caiscais for beaches (but go early and preferably not during the weekend, ’cause they are small).
We stayed in the Lost Inn Lisbon Hostel, which I strongly recommend. Best hostel! White interior with purple and green touches and the typical Portuguese tiles everywhere, wooden floors, relaxing common room(s). Perfect location. We got welcomed by the most friendly people, they make sangria every night (or sometimes soup) and learn you how to do it, and they organize free walking tours. Beco dos Apóstolos, 6 (Cais do Sodré). www.lostinnlisbon.com
Lastly, I have some good Lisbon spots for you to check out when you’re there:
- Cafe Pois: good food (especially the cakes and pies, and the homemade lemonades), friendly people, relaxing little terrace on a lovely street, and inside it’s like a very cozy, snuggly living room. rua são joão da praça, 93-95 (Alfama)
- Le Petit Café: charming, authentic restaurant with a lovely terrace on a street where the old, yellow trams pass by every now and then. When we sat there on Thursday a man was playing guitar, when we came back on Friday there wasn’t any music, but it was just as nice. largo de são martinho, 6 (Alfama)
- Miradouro de Santa Luzia: the most charming of the many view points that Lisbon is rich. Almost opposite Le Petit Café, just walk a little more uphill.
- Las Ficheras: trendy Mexican restaurant with the most delicious food. Good vibes, over there! rua dos remolares, 34 (Cais do Sodré)
- Praça do Comércio: it’s impossible to miss this square when your in Lisbon. Sit down at the stairs on the Tagus. Especially in the weekend whole Lisbon, as well as tourists, comes here to enjoy the sun and the evening
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” ~ Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier
I’ve always found myself being very aware of the inequality and unfairness in our world. Together with my endless interest in other cultures and my longing to travel this is what made me decide to volunteer in Kenya last February and March. I’ve been thinking for a long time, both before and after my trip, whether volunteering is a good thing or not, and I still haven’t figured it out. It is a very complex topic. A while ago I wrote down some thoughts about it all:
“I say it is hypocrite to ‘just’ travel through countries in, let’s say, Africa. To go on vacation while there are people living in the most poor circumstances, who might not even have something to eat or a roof over their heads. But the thing is, I now see: what have I to do with it? Yes, I am rich compared to the majority of the Africans, very rich. But there are also rich people in Africa, as well as a middle class. And there are poor in the West, too. In the Western world I am not rich. And in none of these cases it’s my fault. In none of these cases I have to do something with it. I was born in the Netherlands and that is great luck, and a total coincidence.
We have to improve the living conditions for a lot of people in this world, and there has to come equality, but that aim doesn’t have to come along with a feeling of guilt. For some people it probably should, but for most of us not. We should help our fellow humans as much as we can, but it is by no means our duty to make our life goal out of that. We’re simply living our lives. Just like people in Africa also simply live their lives. And I have strong belief that they’ll be fine. They’ll get there. Developing work should focus on something completely different, namely on the opposite site: it should prevent that the West holds back developing countries developing.
The collective feeling of guilt towards the poor, ‘third world’ countries that exists in the West is also called the White Savior Complex or Messiah Complex. It basically means that we’re all left with a post-colonial feeling of guilt towards people in developing countries.
Yet I also have a different theory: it’s not about feeling guilty, but about a boost of our ego and most of all about retaining our powerful position. We claim the opposite, but with all that we do we only confirm it – it is an apparent contradiction, a paradox. With volunteering and developing work we claim that we want to help and make a difference, but in fact we’re retaining our strong position through it: the rich, the white man, the leader, the one that matters opposite the poor, the black man, the follower, the inferior. I wonder if volunteers would be happy if there was eventually done so much volunteering work that it wouldn’t be necessary anymore and we would have reached a point of wellfare all over the world. For we would have lost our autocrat position then.
I feel sick when I think of this.”
It’s easy to lose yourself – in your own world, in the hectic world around you, in the past, in thoughts. “Remember to write,” I told in a note to myself a few days ago, “Write, draw, paint.” “Listen to music,” I would like to add now, and “hear the silence”, as well. I always have short periods of creativeness followed by a sort of nothingness, but now I’m succeeding in this pretty well and to my delight for a few days already. As a result thoughts, ideas and creativeness start flowing. I know I lose myself when I don’t do these things.
So this is what my days are looking like in pictures:
I painted the bird a few days ago, after one I saw in Kenya. The cosmic painting is a fast one from last night: “Still believe in magic? Yes, I do. Of course, I do.” (Coldplay) The photo on the left reminds me of that magic. Enoch and Joseph are the wonderful boys on the picture on the right.
Four days ago I started reading “Eat, pray, love” by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I feel like I’m in Italy since. Together with the beautiful sunny and warm weather it makes that I feel passionate again, not in the last place about searching for new recipes and making delicious, healthy summer food.
Try to inspire yourselves!
In my first week in Kenya I’ve spent a day with the Maasai. It has been the most special day in my life, by far. My roommate and I met up with 3 other volunteers at the mall, from where maasai Peter took us by bus to Ngong, and then by piki piki (motorbike) to his village. Imagine grazing on a motorbike through the breathtakingly beautiful Ngong Hills – so fucking amazing! If it was up to me we could have driven on for hours. Once we arrived we had a look in the relatively big hut where the chief and his first wife live. After that we got the typical Kenyan chai tea and chapati (a sort of pancakes) in the bigger and more modern living room next to the hut. After the wife of the chief, Grace, traditionally painted our faces we walked to a stunning view of the Great Rift Valley with a couple of men, through the bush and the heat and with pans, knives and cutting boards in our hands – goat, vegetables and other supplies on a piki piki ahead. After we first just enjoyed the wonderful place it was time for goat slaughtering… They said it would go fast – well, no. I can still hear the screaming of the poor little goat, the knife sticking into his throat, blood floating. And oh, the guys loved doing it. Then we could drink the blood. Only one of us was so brave to do that. The sweet dogs who walked with us had a blood licking party after.
The Maasai we were with are pretty modern regarding clothing and intercourse, but they do still have their traditions and rituals. The Maasai we passed on our way to the village were certainly not that modern. We stopped to wait for the others who got behind, saw two giraffes – two tiny brown dots in the distance – and I grabbed my camera to zoom in on the animals and to make some pictures of the beautiful surroundings as well. Not of the people, because I knew very well that you shouldn’t just make pictures of people in general, but traditional people especially. Very traditional Maasai believe that you take ones spirit away when you make a photograph of someone. After a while, when I already stopped taking pictures, a young woman came towards us and tried to take my camera. Then a small group came as well, with a very angry man screaming at Peter. Peter was like, get on the motorbike fastly and let’s go! Pretty scary. But a very interesting experience as well!
(Me after my first burn. It doesn’t look like it, but YES it hurt. We’ve been asked not to place pictures of the burning itself on the Internet)
In the burning sun and with an amazing view and good company we cut vegetables, sitting on a maasai blanket. I felt like that was for dinner instead of lunch – everything was so intense. We sat down, talked and had so much fun. The food was delicious. After lunch they would give us maasai burns! At that point I was still doubting very much, not because of the pain, but because of the fact that this happening is sacred for the Maasai and for me it’s not. I was one day with the Maasai and however it’s all very fascinating and intriguing to me, what meaning could I grant to the burns? But when the moment was there the men were pushing me so much that I thought ‘fuck it, I’ll just do it! And after all it seems it’s not that sacred for them.’ Three of us did it and we felt quite proud after. ‘Maasai warrior princesses!’ Amanda said. The burns have something to do with coming of age, so it was actually quite relevant for me. I am 18, this was my first longer trip, far far away from home and my parents. Now I’m very glad I decided to have the burns! After the burning we danced, wrapped in maasai blankets. We had the guys jump in a line at the same time, to see who could jump the hightest. Ahh we’ve had so much fun! These people are amazing. Peter imitated Batman from the rock on the edge of the rift and, why not, after that also from the tree hanging over the abyss, with a blowing maasai blanket on his back. Kenyans can be crazy, haha. So much laughter today! A girl who had already volunteered at the night school in the village for 5 weeks, walked with us this day. During that time she became very close with all of the guys and especially Peter. I think because she was with us the vibe was even more easy-going, that was really nice. And she brought her ukulele which made it all even more relaxt!
When we got back from the bush we bought some of the jewelry they sell and then we went to have a look at the (night) school, where volunteers teach as well. We had an interesting conversation with one of the teachers, James. The most important of it, I think, is what he said about ‘buying’ a wife. He said buying a wife is not about possession, but about appreciation. That’s absolutely not how we look at it in the Western world. He laughed when we asked him why only men can have more wives, but a wife can’t have more husbands. That’s just how it is, he said. Also, we said we are allowed to marry only one person, it’s illegal to marry more than one man or woman. As we were saying it, we suddenly all realized how strange that actually is. Do we think there is freedom in the Western world? What if one loves more people? And everyone involved is okay with it? Ridiculous.
Kenya, oh Kenya. Where should I begin? What should I tell you? There is so much. From spending time with the beautiful children at my orphanage, to kissing giraffes. From spending a day with the Maasai and getting maasai burns, to crossing a broad river leading to a big, wild waterfall. From having a tiny little sick girl curled against my chest, to snorkeling in the Indian Ocean. From seeing people live in the most inhumane circumstances, to having 4 amazing days of safari. From seeing a lot of pain in the eyes of some, to seeing so much joy in the eyes of others. I have met so many amazing people, seen so much beautiful as well as touching and eye-opening things, and had so many wonderful experiences. I’ve been living in the slumlike suburb of Githurai, about 45 minutes from Nairobi, in the apartment of my very sweet ‘mama’ Amina, en her 4 years old son. From the very first moment I stepped inside I’ve felt at home. I’ve shared my room for almost the whole period with a nice girl from Canada – other volunteers have come and gone. The orphanage I’ve been working at is the home to 85 children in total. The smallest children are attending the kindergarten in the orphanage – in the afternoon, when the children who are going to primary school and some to high school, have come back there are about 56 children. The others are in boarding school. Three girls of 17 finished high school this year and received their results in the beginning of March. They are now at the orphanage the whole time till the new school year starts. One of them is going to study laws at university, the other two weren’t sure yet. It is beautiful to see that also orphans can get a good future and can make their dreams come true. I doubted the auntie a bit, but all in all I can say House of Mercy is a loving environment. The directress has the best intentions. Contradictions are huge. How can the world be so unfair? How is it possible that some people live a life that is so normal to them but is actually very luxurous, while others barely have a house en food to eat. I’m not only speaking about the western world in contradiction to Africa, but also about the unbelieveble differences in Kenya itself. As a volunteer you experience that at its best. In the morning you are walking through Kibera, or through Githurai, and then, in the afternoon, you are enjoying some good food in a luxurous mall. Kenya is one of the most developed and rich countries in Africa, but only for some. I’m more than ever aware of the priviliged position I’m in, and I’m very, very thankful. We only have one life and these are the things we will look back at later in our lives and which we will regret in the end if we didn’t do them. It’s been my first trip going so far and on my own, and it’s unbelieveble how much self-confidence it gave me. The power I can see in myself now! As well as the resilience of people. I’ve become a warmer person. I’ve learned to give love to people, and to allow people to give love to me, without thinking of myself. I’ve learned to open myself up to people, without being selfish. My belly still feels full and tingling from all the warmth and love. A fuse that is lightened in Kenya is still glowing inside me. And I am very, very thankful. Two fishermen took me and my friend on their boat at Diani Beach. “There are three things we can learn from”, one of them said. “Family, friends, and traveling. If you can afford it, you should definitely travel.” I can imagine how much they would want to leave and sail far beyond Africa with their little, wooden boat. Please, people: if you can, go travel! More stories to come!