Humans of Davos — Episode 1
This is the first episode of the Humans of Davos diary. Check out https://medium.com/humans-of-davos for more.
The day started a lot earlier than it should have. After four short hours of sleep, my alarm blasted last night’s backstreet boys song into my left ear. “Shower,” my instinct told me.
Coming back to Otto’s apartment yesterday after midnight, I realised I hadn’t brought anything to thank him for hosting me. My mum always told me to thank my hosts, so I had to figure something out. Luckily, my phone assured me there was a little store that opened today at 7am — early enough for me to come back, write a thank you note, and jump on a train to meet the rest of the group at the central station. What I hadn’t anticipated is that the straight line Google showed me was in fact an erratic vertical climb up a frozen ice cube. I fell three time, barely awake. Halfway to the top I reached Zollikon, a cute village overlooking the Zürichsee. It was still dark outside, and the flicker of the lights on the distant shore mixed with the stars waving on the lake.
A few hundred stairs later, almost at the top of the hill, the streets became so narrow that I could peek inside the houses that started waking up. An old man opened the shutters of his bedroom on the ground floor and said something I didn’t understand. “Guten Morgen,” I replied without any reaction from him.
My spine shivered when I noticed the dead cat below his window. Curled up, with a peaceful smile, as if it had peacefully died in its sleep. “Do cats smile?” I wondered, trying to get closer to make sure my mind wasn’t playing a trick on me.
The cat was actually fake — just a plastic cat. I looked back up at my old neighbour behind the window. “Ha! Works every time.” His smile seemed to say.
At the end of twenty long minutes I finally reached the top of the hill, the end of the line, the perfect superposition of my phone’s blue dot and red pin. But there was nothing there. Where I imagined a warm and welcoming Coop with treasures from the far east for my accommodating host stood a grey concrete block with closed iron curtains. I checked my phone again in disbelief. Surely, there was a misunderstanding.
It said “Closed Now. Open MON 07:00”. It was Sunday.
I contemplated the extent of my failure, both to myself and to my mum, and sat on a bench to regroup. I was emotionally drained — and the day had barely started.
The train ride to Davos took about two hours, and the scenery outside was so breathtaking I couldn’t surrender to sleep. The Shapers in my compartment were glued to the windows, taking pictures and videos of the imposing mountains around us. The attempt to capture the dominance of the landscape seemed futile, but what else could we do?
“I wonder how people memorized their impressions of these sceneries before we could take pictures.” Zhang asked aloud. “We should get back to that,” I replied, “take pencils, paper, and draw the mountain, write a story about it.” It reminded me of this document Viebke found in an archive, where Balmat described the view he had at the end of the first expedition to ever reach the top of the Mont Blanc. Ironically, the only proof we had that he did climb that mountain was that he described it — and brought a piece of rock from the top, labeled “The top of Mont Blanc”.
Fedir in front of me was the only one who seemed to know which planet we were on. He was Ukrainian, and knew a thing or two about snow, winter, ice and mountain villages. To him, the third world war was inevitable — and I wasn’t looking forward to that. “Being popular on social media is like winning at Monopoly.” He laughed looking at his Instagram feed. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by this, but it made me laugh. He had this rare quality of speaking without social filter and his kindness overflowed at each of his jokes. He was in the business of saving lives — literally — by selling companies first aid kits and survival trainings.
By the time we arrived in Davos, the Davos 49 had a 50th member: Sticky the selfie stick. Used and abused for group pictures, Natalie predicted it would become the signature of the cohort. She was from Hong Kong and seemed to know everything about the historical developments of the tool, tracing it back to before it was a thing. The joke about Asian selfie sticks was too obvious, but I did it anyway… “Oh I own that stereotype!” she joked, “I am a trendsetter.”
Her clothes were everything but hongkongese. They reminded me of Africa, with colorful geometric shapes sewed on a patterned fabric. “It’s a Kurta,” she corrected me, “a traditional Pakistani Muslim dress. I travelled to Pakistan for a friend’s wedding two years ago and it changed my perspective on many things. Since then, I only wear Kurtas, to take a multicultural stand and fight stereotypes. Because Islam is so misunderstood…”
Davos first looked like a Swiss mountainous version of Las Vegas to me — with large flashy corporate signs on buildings that were too modern to be authentic, and hardly any locals. I looked at the badge I was just handed by a staff member, standing at a high table with Fedir and Natalie. It was finally sinking in. We were attendees to this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos.
Around us, everyone seemed to have a place and a story to tell. We had been warned that impostor syndrome was a thing, and I was just about to get a crash course.