The first two weeks actively resisting the status quo.
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This is the first time I flew out of the US on KLM. The Dutch are incredibly tall people and the design of their aircraft shows it! Super comfortable row all to myself so I had a decent night sleep and arrived fresh into Amsterdam. I met up with Nick Kraakman of Purple Pill. They’re doing amazing work and sharing it all openly to grow the VR community.
I missed my next meeting because I got lost navigating the cobblestone streets with my wheeled carry-on. I should have taken Rick Steve’s advice and stuck with a backpack. Sitting to catch my breath between meetings gave me time to reflect on the last time I was in Amsterdam: floating through the canals in a tiny boat in the middle of winter with a huge smile and an overstuffed carry-on backpack — oh right, this was when I switched to a rolling carry-on.
I briefly met with wanderlust poster child Mark van der Heijden and Valentin van Santvoort Founders of Wanderbrief. We’ve been chatting for months now, we finally met in person and I am excited to see how we might bring together the power of experiences to improve the world.
Then it was off to a friend’s house to crash for the night. But first, honey beer, burgers, and a great conversation about breaking free of the Silicon Valley bubble. Reflecting on what a privilege it is to choose a life and career anywhere in the world.
The day closed with a quick intro to Virtual Reality via Google Daydream.
The following morning, the airport security officer at Schiphol takes my 26L backpack in his hands and exasperatedly asks: “Miss, did you leave any electronics in here?” I reply, “It’s nothing but electronics in there.” He notices my San Francisco rainbow pin and sighs. He begins to unpack my bag although it now feels like a clown car packed with gadgets, we both giggle at the absurd size of the collection I am carrying. He’s excited to find the VR headsets (Samsung and Daydream) and we quickly chat about how cool VR is — another believer!
I’m free to go and I’m off to Greece.
Somewhere Over Europe
I sit next to a petite American Doctor who works in a Hospital NICU on the West Coast. She’s out of breath having just barely made the connecting flight. She’s hasn’t had time off in two years. She’s taking 3-weeks off; two to volunteer in Lesbos as a physician and to donate medical supplies. One week to travel Europe a bit. I can tell she feels guilty at squeezing in a pleasure trip after her volunteer work because she keeps repeating “Obviously, it’s not why I’m out here, but I’m excited to visit Europe again!” We arrive and stand together waiting in solidarity for our checked bags. It seems her bag of medical supplies was misplaced from the previous flight. I have to leave to meet my team, we hug, exchange info and wish each other luck.
Enjoy your time off Doc, you’ve earned it!
Landing in Thessaloniki means entering a whirlwind of jet lag, in person meetings with our in-country Fixer, with stakeholders of the refugee community, renting a car, finding the right housing location, discovering local foods, walking the city all day, talking to people. Walking the city at night, talking to night people (there’s two kinds of people…) We change housing locations as the team is about to expand.
Highlight of the week is checking out the local street art scene and exploring Valaoritou Street with its boutique café and bar community. If you come visit, check out Street Art Thessaloniki Tours.
More team members arrive into the country. Beautiful humans who flew in from all over the world to rally around community building, innovating humanitarian work, and challenging the status quo on how to do anything in life.
This week it was location scouting, meeting with locals, residents, visiting the amazing work happening at Elpida and chatting with the Thessaloniki Resilience team. If you want true inspiration, always look for the people running into the chaos. These teams are nurturing resiliency, but they are also examining what human potential can achieve in the right environment.
Talking to a Protection officer, we learn about the blessing and curse of having downtime and an initial feeling of stability. There is a mental health crisis growing, it now has power to spread and entangle the people who sit and wait for the phone to ring about possible relocation out of Greece. It also grips those who have nothing but time to reflect about the last few years of war and the journey to safety.
We find — and eat at — the Bit Bazaar. Amazing food but this is now night 4 of being out until 02:30ish. The jet lag was one challenge, my sensible American bedtime of 22:00 is about to get a reality check. The local schedule is a whole other shift that, for now, looks something like this:
· 09:00 — 10:00ish Acknowledge that day has arrived
· 12:00ish Meetings can begin
· 15:00–16:00ish Lunch
· 19:00ish Snack/Evening meetings
· 22:00ish Dinner
· 02:00ish Pay the dinner bill, free dessert, bedtime
“ish” is the big thing for me here; of course everyone is respectful of each other’s time, but only as traffic and previous meetings allow.
My first nightmare
The collective information of the last 7 days of stakeholder meetings and meeting people is processing and bubbling up in my subconscious. Mental and physical health of aid workers is often overlooked. Being a deep empath as I am is an additional occupational hazard now if I don’t keep these stories externalized. It’s time to get serious about self-care. I restarted my Sworkit App to get regular workouts going, and journaling on a schedule now.
An Art Exhibit
Solidarity Now exhibits the first unfiltered stories I hear and see about the emotional state of the people here.
We buzzed all over the City trying to outrun the Easter holiday that meant this country would slowly shut down starting around Wednesday 16:00.
After our last formal meeting and we walk back to the car. We see 14 adults, 2 babies, and 6 pieces of luggage. A family is on the move. Camp closures and multiple challenges mean they’ve chosen to sleep on the waterfront until a better solution can be arranged. I’m gutted. Nothing we can do now, but the independent community of small NGOs and volunteers rallies to get them shelter before night sets in. We really are all in this together now.
Several conversations this week about needs and strategy on the work to be done here in Greece with Mike Zuckerman, Culture Hacker, Fellow at the Institute for the Future, and Project Manager of Elpida (if you missed that in the caption up above). One comment strikes me above the rest:
“Everything is changing now, and the best thing we can do is learn to design and implement for impermanence.”
Impermanence is no small feat here. I catch a glimpse of the ancient Roman forum just to our side, and I wonder what impermanence looks like here.