Taminka – Semester Exchange to Malmo University , Sweden
Semester 2, 2016
Travelling involves a lot of waiting and sitting. At train stations, airports, cafes, in lines, parks, galleries, the list goes on. All this waiting can get frustrating, or appear to render your time futile. The thing is, it’s a privilege.
When you wait whilst travelling it’s because you’re going to do something, go somewhere, get something. It might be free wifi, toilets, a place to stay, a look at something famous, a plane, bus or train but this waiting and sitting has a purpose. And you had the money and opportunity to put yourself in a position of having to wait, even if it’s for the perpetually delayed plane.
With all this time I got to thinking about the homeless and refugees in our societies who don’t have a choice about their sitting and waiting. If I found the two hours sitting at the station exasperating and I knew it was to get me home to a safe and comfortable bed, I can’t begin to empathise with those for whom the uncertainty is perpetual.
It was interesting to see the many different expressions of homelessness across different cities and countries. In some places the issue is barely visible, in others rightfully confronting, loud and in your face. For example, in Prague I just felt absolutely devastated by the solemnity and desperation of those lined along the opulent bridges and castle-walls, lying prostrate with hands cupped in front of them and faces turned downward.
Exposure to homelessness shouldn’t be avoided, it is a reality and outworking of our societies and cities and even of my ability to travel that others cannot. I found it important to ask how I was going to respond to this situation; would I give to people begging, is it better to donate to a local charity? Should I buy the equivalent of the Big Issue if it’s in a language I can’t read? And even though I’m comparably richer I’m still on a student budget.
And that’s the thing, it’s easy to cry woe is me. To explain away why I can’t do anything or am not responsible, but deep within me I never believed that. I have no solution to offer you, but I think it’s important to ask the questions; to sit in the uncomfortable uncertainty of the shared existence of beautiful and wonderful things alongside the pain and suffering of the world. Where you cannot take a photo of magnificent architecture without also capturing the poverty of those begging in its shadows.
Perhaps what we can do is to change perspectives. My travel was a part of a compulsory exchange and Australia is a country where a lot of youth travel and many go to Europe. Dangerously, it can be stereotyped as normal or even a right of passage, but it’s not. It’s a chance afforded to few, and not within the realm of possibility for most. It’s expensive, plane emissions are bad for the environment, and sometimes it just felt indulgent and selfish. Yet as one friend told me: you’re having the trip of a lifetime aren’t you? This startled me. Waiting in yet another queue didn’t seem like the time of my life, but perhaps the point lies in the wording of that phrase. This probably should be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I stopped comparing to what I would do ‘next time I was in Europe’ and just appreciated the fact I was there now. Travelling on a student budget and #studentlyf can be tough but it also needs to be put into perspective.
Waiting at 4.30am in 0 degrees for our train to Venice.