Tag Archives: People

Maria, the rescuer

I never take hitchikers,” – she said – “never in my life.

I just squeezed into a half-loaded small blue car, hurrying, before the street-light change.

But today my neigbour saved me,” – she added – “when my car didn’t want to start. So I wanted also to help someone. At last, I am a Buddhist.”

She picked me up in the middle of Oldenburg, at the street lights leading to the highway ramp. Just after 8 pm, a very sympathetic German driver, speaking only veeery local German, dropped me at a spot where nobody would stop, shouted “gruss Gott” and disappeared.

No German town is a good place if you have a big chance to sleep on outdoor. And the ramp I was at was totally unfriendly. The only chance was the nearest crossroad, where designated lane led to the ramp. And – after 15 minutes of despair – a compact blond girl in a a compact car came to rescue me from a tight spot.

My name is Maria” – she told me later – “I spent four years in the US” – she said when I mentioned that her English is absolutely not German.

We were driving just a few kilometres down the road – to get me out of the town and to drop me at the parking place by the highway. Staying on the highway is a matter of life or death for a hitch-hiker in Germany. “What is your occupation?” – I asked her. “I work in the maritime search and rescue organization.” – she answered.

Soon we stopped at the parking place. Before leaving, she gave me a bottle of water, a 5-euro note and warm good-bye. And she left me also with something much more essential.

Now, hear me loud and clear: search and rescue service is probably the most noble role humans can perform. Rescuers voluntarily risk their lives in the face of danger just to let other people survive and return home  safely. As I was born and raised at the seaside (but only because of that), among all rescuers I especially respect and admire those of the sea. Listening to a young woman, telling me how they work, without getting a single Euro from the state (“because we do not want the government to tell us what and how to do“) I felt a surge of hope. As long as young, educated, efficient people keep joining the rescue service, it is not that bad with the humanity.

Perhaps we shall never see each other again, but I will always remember Maria, a sea rescuer.

The beautiful evening sun was shining and I still had like an hour or more to try my luck. I stood at the parking place, with my sign saying “Hamburg”, but my mind was wandering somewhere, where people help each other, even risking their lives.

Remember December of fifty-nine
The howling wind and driving rain
Remember the gallant men who drowned
On the lifeboat, Mona was her name

The wind did blow and the sea rose up
Beat the land with mighty waves
At Saint Andrew’s Bay, the light ship fought
The sea until her moorings gave

The captain signaled to the shore
“We must have help or we’ll go down”
From Broughty Ferry at 2 A.M.
They sent the lifeboat Mona out

Eight men formed that gallant crew
They set their boat against the main
The wind’s so hard and the sea’s so rough
We’ll never see land or home again

Three hours went by and the Mona called
The wind blows hard and the sea runs high
In the morning on Carnusty Beach
The Mona and her crew did lie

Five lay drowned in the Chalon there
Two were washed up on the shore
Eight men died when the boat capsized
And the eighth is lost forever more

Remember December of fifty-nine
The howling wind and the driving rain
The men who leave the land behind
And the men who never see land again.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RNLB_Mona_%28ON_775%29

A good man from Kurdistan

I am Muhammad and I want to be good to all people” he said, while driving me from Nijmegen to Wageningen.

Not more than 20 minutes earlier Jaan left me at the streetlights in Nijmegen, direction Ede. I only started feeilng at home there, when slightly battered ford Mondeo stopped by, driven by a wiry young man in a baseball cap, work trousers and a  t-shirt. He wasn’t going quite my way, but after a quick check up with his navigation, he picked me anyway.

I am Muhammad, a Kurd” he introduced himself. So next couple minutes we were talking about Peshmerga, PKK and their struggles to contain the Caliphate. “Soon I am going to Kurdistan” — he said — “If we don’t fight them there, they will come here and we will have to fight anyway. So I will go soon.

There was not much time to talk more, and his English wasn’t very advanced, but he said something really important. “Life is a mirror” – he said – “or like a ball. Whatever you drop, bounces back. We have never met before and we will not meet again. But it is good to be good for other people.

It was one of these tiny moments, when I really feel that big words like solidarity and good will have their meaning. And that is why I wanted you to know about Muhammad, a good man. May his God keeps him in good health until he sees his first grandchild. And three days longer. :-)

People you meet in Norway, being a hitch-hiker.

Quite often people ask me a candid question: “Why won’t you take a train/bus/plane to get to your destination? Or arrange a trip somehow beforehand?”

Usually the 100% true answer is that I do not have money for the ticket, plus I really hate the humiliating security practices introduced in the civil aviation. But even if it’s not the case, there is one fundamental reason.

Hitch-hiking is about people and their stories, not kilometres.

Continue reading People you meet in Norway, being a hitch-hiker.

The Red Earth Tribe

From the green forest of Meltemi to the postapocalyptic landscape among hills above Marathon – quite a change in couple hours. This is where a small neo-tribe is building a future – or at least one version of it.

Spithari was among the first communities which answered my early emails. Since then I stayed in online contact with Kostas, who gave me a lot of help: pointed contacts, translated a summary into Greek, referred me to the hackerspace in Athens and cheered me up, when my spirit got low. Thank you – I will remember your support forever.
Naturally, I planned to stay there (near Marathon, famous 42 km from Athens) even for couple days. I managed only to stay overnight, but that was a very good night.

Left Meltemi in the late morning and hitch hiked quite easily to Marathon, where I realised my prepaid mobile is empty – not really know why.
Fighting a bit with Wind Telecom, which keeps sending me long system-generated smses in Greek (and no way to change them to English), I finally managed to call up Spithari, and two fellows came in a beaten off-roader to pick me up.
It is not really far from Marathon, but it is high in the hills and the overall impression is really postapocalyptic. Pawel from 2208.pl would love it for sure. Spitharians live in a small set of stacked sea cargo containers, with the more luxurious add-on in the form of couple camping trailers. Around ten adults, one little girl, dogs and cats – the whole minature community. In the very beginning of their history.
They are living on someone else’s ground, in the semi arid country of red clay soil, hot in the day and damn cold in the night. Harsh conditions for everyone. And this is their second year here – respect, as we say in Poland. :)
The water is pumped from a deep, over 20m well. The electricity is provided by wind, stored in two larged batteries. Food is partly grown locally, partly bought in the town.

When I arrived, there was an aquaponics workshop in progress. A pond and two tanks were constructed. Pond for the small school of fish, one tank for growing a duck weed to feed them and another to grow lentils for people. All system sheltered in a half-finished Bucky dome (obviously building a geodesic dome is mandatory stage for all alternative communities. :-) )

The whole thing was finished quite late and I am really honored by the fact that all these tired people still wanted to spend couple hours, listening to the stories from the past. We even had quite energetic discussion after that, referring to tribal approach as a solution for todays lack of social alternatives (hence the title of this story). I will be happy to visit Spithari community next time, just to spend some time with them and to learn more about their own stories. And there is a good chance I will do that.

See you on the Red Earth.

 

Meltemi. The Jewel of the Commons

Just in a reach of city bus from Athens, there is a community, which may be a living treasure of the commoning in Greece. Led by a single remark in the Internet, some aerial pictures and my intuition, I went there and found a jewel, hidden for over half a century. I have just started learning their past and present, and it may be I will get involved in their future. So this is just a brief introduction to much bigger story.

Follow the white rabbit

In my early research for the Expedition, I browsed various databases, looking for alternative communities in Greece. One of entries was particularly interesting: in 1946, a group of employees of some oil company (mostly workers) started a summer camp in one of the areas of Attica, where forest was not quite eradicated (for firewood, mostly – and deforestation is still a major problem in Greece). Over next ten or so years, the summer camp evolved into permanent dwelling, being an example of primary commoning.
Now – the note said – they are registered ecovillage entity, officially taking care of this patch of Greece.

Hide and seek game.

You can find various things in the Net. Without the verification, I wouldn’t bet even the modest money of mine on the fact that such place (after 60 years! Ha!) can still – if ever – exist. So I went into the verification mode:
– sent email to the contact address provided in the database. After a week – sent another.
– check various search engines: google logged in / logged out; samuru, 1st page etc etc.
– ask everybody in Greece, online or offline, about the place.

NO RESULT. Apparently, nobody ever heard nor seen the place called Meltemi. And of course all search for “Meltemi” was bringing so many irrelevant hits, I could not get through.

Only one light appeared in the dark: viewing the satellite pictures of the area, I saw that part of it is distinct indeed. streets going natural way, visibly curved. Buildings sparse and smaller than in the neighborhood  No large parking places inside. Everything looked different there. So, maybe there is SOMETHING? Let’s go and see.

Magic worked again. I have left the bus in the wrong place, so I have to hitch hike. The gentleman who picked me up, not only made a research for me, asking around, but he also took me couple kilometers back, straight to the gate of Meltemi.
Private message for kyrios Kiriakos: I have probably left my wind-breaker in your car. If so, please accept it as a gift from a travelling story-teller. May it serves you well. :-)

Meet the Jewel

L. is a great host and companion. She is from the second generation of colonists. Businesslike looking lady (as much as you can look businesslike in a paradise – see pictures!), working in the IT industry, also serving the community as a member of the board. She invited me home, and introduced to her husband, P. – a man of numerous talent. Officially, he is a composer, but it is just a tip of iceberg, believe me. :-)

Over next couple days I was enjoying the place, meeting people and gradually falling in love. Not just because of great place: sea, forest, sun and wind. But mostly because of the care, love and community spirit visible everywhere. These people – now four generations living together mostly in the summer – managed to develop unique and long standing model of commoning community, preserving a patch of Greece from devastation, commercialization and selling to the global capital. And now, in rapidly changing circumstances, they have potential to become center and example to support similar initiatives all over the Greece – and beyond.

Commoning made simple

They did not own this place. They moved in and started taking care of it. They created a temporary autonomous zone, so to speak. ;-) And this zone evolved into one of most fascinating communities I ever heard of.
The community of Meltemi has written rules, dated back to mid-1950s, defining their internal relationships and land preservation routines. They built their huts there and started developing the eco-village decades before the term even emerged. Their goal is simple: to keep the place clean, natural, non-commercial and low profile. Most of huts are assigned to specific families. And they have right to use them – nothing more. No renting, not even letting it for free. No car traffic, except between the gate and your designated parking place. No trash on the ground – waste bins are almost on every corner. Fire prevention (forest fire is a disaster in Greece) at the professional level: all population above 16 years old is trained in firefighting and water outlets with hoses are installed everywhere. There is also watchtower with a water cannon, manned 24/7 in the summer season.

Significant number of houses is not permanently assigned. As the history of Meltemi is rooted in workers’ movement, these houses are available for members of workers’ unions for their holidays. This is one of important tributes Meltemi pays to it’s beginnings. Solidarity goes across the time.

There is a local library, cinema, kids’ playground and even a pack of community dogs (11 of them), walking freely, under protection of the community.

And the list goes on and on.

The peer pressure

As there is no central policing institution – the board is rather technical body, more serving than ruling the community – rules are enforced by the community itself. If you live in such environment, you better follow guidelines, or you loose reputation – and support – from your neighbours. And this is quite a lot in Meltemi, where social fabric is dense. For serious rule-breakers there are also more expressive sanctions, but I haven’t met anybody who wouldn’t understand a need for them.

Past, present and future

There is an ongoing project of writing a history of Meltemi. A lot of documentation, mostly old photographs, has been gathered and digitalised. Video interviews with First Colonists are also planned. There is a need for gathering the history together, as new generations follow, not really feeling that the paradise they live in was built with the hard work and great spirit of their parents and grand-parents. The history perspective is also needed for those, who are now starting similar communities (The Red Earth Tribe for exmple). They will be able to see, that it’s possible, under some circumstances, to start from very simple beginning and to build something, which lasts beyond a perspective of single person. And – with a bit of luck – it is in the reach of most of us.

The Meltemi community is dynamic. The generation change is occuring and now, in the “interesting times” Greece is going through, there are also external changes which may threaten the community and the land under its stewardship. So, there are talks and thoughts within the community about possible strategies, as nobody wants to see the paradise turned commercial entity, or sold to a global capitalist investor. But telling about that is beyond of my story-telling role, so let’s leave it for another time.

There is, however, possibly a story about future Meltemi, which occurs in my mind. The safe, stable place, well rooted in the history of workers’ self-governance, peer-to-peer movement and commoning. The place (and community) being a hub of similar activities in Greece and beyond. Providing, on the solidarity base, knowledge, support and inspiration for everyone, who wants to make another part of the planet better place to live. And this future is something would really dream to participate in.

And the story goes on…

I promise you, this is not the last story about Meltemi. As far as I can, I will follow the plot, letting you know what is going on. And perhaps I will be able to invite you there, if you would like to co-author the success story of the oldest commoning community in Greece.

On the road to Athens…

“You caught us, Greeks, not in our best shape in history”, Dimitris said.

We were crossing Epeiros on our way to Attica. After three hours of waiting, with a handwritten banner “Athina” in my hand, I was pretty sure I would not make it, when a tiny Peugeot stopped 50 metres beyond my point and returned on reverse. Dimitris, mysteriously looking in his dark glasses, invited me inside.
Over 400 km road was scenic. At the same time we were gradually, cautiously, exchanging stories – from two sides of a an Iron Curtain. And stories appeared to be so similar….

I know – give or take – my part of this dual history. But it will take much more time, meetings and stories heard, before I dare to say anything about the Greek part. For now, my feeling is, that we are similarly hurt, uprooted and left alone. No surprise that I feel like my heart is half Greek.

This part of the story must mature a bit. So, for now, let’s dance into Athens.

Charmingly chaotic city.

When I woke up in the middle of the city, it was charming. waves and waves of chaotic buildings, crusted someplace with ancient ruins, or still wild rocky hills. It seems like a rock hill country, where most of hills turned houses. I do not really feel the pressure of big city. It is more like one big pueblo – all marvelously decorated with the magic Greek sun and swept with sea wind.

Magic worked again, when I received sms with the address of my host and Dimitris said he would be going to the same district – so he finally brought me to the very doorstep.
Thanks, bro. May your networks always work just well enough to let you keep your job. ;-)

My hosts, G. & V. – girls with the names of US states – are a traveller’s dream. Strategic location, sensible hosts, comfort place – I will simply not disclose any more details, because my fellow wanderers would just queue on your door mat. ;-)

I have spent comfortable Sunday, adopting to hotter Attica weather, and on Monday I got to serious work. Read on…

Things you do on the road being ill.

Bronchitis is a pest. This is not a scientific statement. It is just my purely emotional conclusion. Once you catch it (or rather – it catches you) will stay with you for quite a long time. Keeping you weak, half-brained, coughing and sneezing at your fellow humans and in the peril of being detained because of attempted biological terrorism act.

If you are on the road – especially travelling the way I do – you just start eating out calcium, antiinflammatories and vitamins from your medkit, heading for the closest safe haven.
When you get to the place, where you can collapse for at least 3 full days, you stay there. And no partying! You just lay down (alone), pumping warm liquids in (ginger + lemon + honey + hot water or ginger + garlic + honey + hot milk) and sweating them immediately out. If you are strong enough and keep the drill, on the fourth day you will wake up weak like a kitty, foul-smelling, but sort of recovered. Then you stay indoor one more day! And finally, carefully, hit the road again. There is a good chance next time the microbe would jump on you, it will bounce back harmlessly. We, travelers, are a hard breed.
This is not the guaranteed method, of course. You may end up in the Babylon’s medicine claws, after all. Good for you if you do need to pay for it, at least. But remember, they will only stop the disease, leaving you even weaker and more vulnerable. Helping people is good, but who wants to loose a returning customer, anyway.

Normally, I do not consider myself a lucky man. Can’t even remember my last big lotto jackpot (couple incarnations ago, I would guess), no money found on the sidewalk (you should hear Krzysiek stories about his findings!). Even the greatest luck in my life – getting together with Natalia – appeared to be not a pure chance: she has just chosen me.
And that is why I am constantly amazed by the fact how many good AND unexpected things happen to me now. As if I finally got to the land of my dreams. The world of magical realism – urban stories of O’Henry, dark magic/cyberpunk RPGs and sometimes even eccentric steampunk novels.

You get the bronchitis in Berlin. Fine, it happens. You gather your wits and you try to arrange the least exhaustive way to get to Ulm, where BenJah will host you as long as needed .
Fine, there is a carpooling connection for just 30 euro. All you need is to pay your booking on paypal. Fcuk, you are 2 euro short. Noemi sent you money, not knowing that paypal will take it’s commision from the transfer. So, you are running around the big ‘Economics and the Commons’ Conference, asking people to take 5 euro in cash and paypal them to you. No way, Jose. People either have no paypal at all, or not a Euro account there, or they just don’t give a fuck. Among noble exceptions, Helene, which I always secretly adore, is trying to make a transfer couple times, but something is apparently not working.

And then again – out of a thin air, pops out a thin figure. A fellow natural philosopher, gentleman Irish mighty odd – says:
‘Where are you going?’ – ‘ Ulm’.
‘When?’ – ‘Tomorrow, around 10’.
‘Ok’

In fact, he expressed it in a much more eloquent way, but that’s the bottom line.
And guess what? Next day at 10:03 we met at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and at 10:16 we were (half of us wheezing, coughing, sneezing and dying of anoxia caused by sprinting along the platform) sitting in the train to Nuernberg/Ulm.

100_0062_800
Irish Philosopher at work.

I have never had better journey. My Irish Guardian Angel, completely oblivious to the perspective of being arrested by the local DHS forces (attempted act of biological terrorism, I remind you!), was hauling me from one local train to another, as we were frog-leapping south. Stuffing me with his weirdest ideas, asian food and vitamin juice – topped with a double hot Irish whisky in the (Irish, of course) pub in Nuernberg.
You better have a whole bunch of kids, Eimhin. Humanity needs people of your kind. And traveling storytellers need them badly. :-)

tHE gOOD aNARCHIST
tHE gOOD aNARCHIST

BenJah picked me up at the Ulm station, led me to his friend’s lancia, pulsing with bass strong enough for a heart massage, an drove me home. I was mostly on the autopilot then, not registering most of this part. The status you may know from being deep drunk and heading home with the perseverance and intelligence of a salmon going upstream. I only managed to get there, make the bed, mix a magic potion to be sipped over the night and crashed. Latter this night BenJah FBed “Discussion about Anarchopositivism with Petros” bud I do not accept any responsibilty for the content of said discussion. I just wasn’t there…

Next two days were sort of routine. Laying down, drinking mixtures, making some fuzzy plans about next steps, exchanging thoughts with my host, watching my body recovering slowly. Meanwhile, a meeting in Ulm hackerspace and in the e-cigaret shop brought me new contacts there. And finally, on the third day, I have risen from the dead and decided to go South again. Richtung Venice and the ferry to Greece…

Day 6 — Berlin

The sun is warm, but the wind is chilly. People around are coughing and sneezing, including your humble explorer. Viruses are having a good time.
The buzzword for today is CommonoPolis. A freestyle space for self-organized events. I volunteered to arrange it and took a good part for the Expedition stand. People are coming, asking questions. I even got couple Euro of support.
Yes, people are coming. Among them, many of those who I only knew over Internet. And guess what – they are all even nicer in reality. :-)
There are also some new acquaintances. A lady from Ikaria, a tiny island near the Greek/Turkish border, almost invited us to move there. Who knows…
One of major questions commoners here try to answer is how to make people at large to support and protect commons. At the same time, the most popular electronic products here are made by Apple. Hm…
I also happened to find something less funny. There is going to be a ‘side event’ about the ‘commons in the ex-soviet coutries” organized by some German journalist. What learned from him is that the western border of Soviet Union was the western border of DDR. I must admit, I felt really bad, seeing this example of imperial thinking. But this is what happens if you want to meet new people. ;-)
But the grim mood hes left me as soon as I met Kevin. Big American guy, a filmmaker, sent to me by my Greek friends who said I would be a good story :). Really jolly chap. He gave me a lot of advises about how to speak to camera. Thanks, Kevin!