Ever since I recovered from Covid I’ve been overcome with an insatiable lust for exercising my freedom through international travel. The rebound that followed the end of my longterm relationship with China is only adding fuel to the wanderlust. Even though I carefully tried to think my way through my emotions around the big move I didn’t see this one coming – a fun if somewhat hectic phase of peripatetic promiscuity. For now, I’m wholeheartedly giving in to the urge to travel.
I’m taking buses and trains around the Balkans. It’s fun to meet people on the trains. One conductor says I have a ‘romantic office’ when I tell her I enjoy working on the train. Another railroad worker in a bright orange uniform blows me a toothless kiss. I’m working on my laptop while making my way through snowy mountain canyons or wide open rolling fields.
I’ve already visited Thessaloniki in Greece, I spent a few days in Sofia to make new (tea) friends and I’m now on my way to Romania and Serbia. More travel to the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands is planned for later this year. Being a European citizen in Europe is an enormous privilege
Today I am in the quietly crumbling Bulgarian border town of Ruse (Pусe), about to cross into Romania to meet a friend in Bucharest. This morning I went for a run along the Danube River. In 2016 I followed this river for a few hundred kilometers by bicycle, on my way from Amsterdam to Tokyo. It felt like seeing an old friend again – this slowly flowing gentle giant, glistening in the bright winter sun.
250km from where I am right now a war is happening. I wanted to get my impotent rage at Putin’s callous violence towards Ukraine out of my system by running. I’m glad I finally closed my Facebook account because I can only imagine what my news feed would look like today, and thinking how utterly useless this mass expression of emotion into the online void is. It is ordinary people who will suffer from this war, and it is a small group of heartless cynical *ssholes who will benefit – and they couldn’t care less about moral outrage in mainstream media and on social media. It is the media platforms who will benefit too actually – the pandemic is fizzling out and now there is a brand new war to generate clicks. Can you tell that my short run was not enough to quell my cynism and anger?
So, many mixed feelings. Happy for myself to feel so free and safe in Europe. Sad for Russian friends who are having to come to terms with the fact that their leader got them into a war. Extremely sad for the people in Ukraine. More refugees – more travellers who would rather not have crossed the border of their country, who would much rather have stayed at home.
In Thessaloniki I came across the Paper Monument for the Paperless art project from Amsterdam. It literally gives a face to refugees – initially for the undocumented refugees of Wij Zijn Hier (We Are Here). More cynical thoughts: I think the refugees of Ukraine – who happen to look a lot like us – will be more welcome than a lot of these mostly male African refugees.
Want to help? Donate to Doctors Without Borders. Not just for Ukraine, but for humanitarian crises around the world. And vote in every election, for a humane government for all.