Day 13: The E word.

Blerg. This is the only way to describe how I feel today. The defiance I felt yesterday has been removed by the steady progression of a runny nose, a sore throat, and itchy eyes. Things are not looking good. I just bought a whole packet of biscuits.

So far accommodation is the biggest worry. I have managed along pretty well by staying everywhere for free but it seems that my good luck might have come to an end. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours on a new site called Workaway / Volunteer Exchange where you can swap some basic skills like cooking, or gardening in exchange for room and board, but so far no successful responses (maybe it’s because it’s the weekend). I also looked at something that is called Protective Guardianship. It’s a set up where you get to stay in apartments that are going to be knocked down or renovated, to prevent people squatting in them. You pay very little rent, but alas they are mostly unfurnished and require a longer term commitment that I can give them. So no luck there.

Even my beloved Vlasta might have a couch-surfer in her room. Of course I could go back to my Aunt and Uncle’s but in a way that is cheating, so it might be time to bite the bullet and……pay.

I was always going to explore Airbnb at some point, I was just hoping it was going to be at the end of my journey, with money under my belt, go stay on a boat in the Thames, or a bell tower or something mad like that. But if nothing comes through by Wednesday it just might have to be that or a hostel.

And you know what staying in a hostel might not be such a bad thing, because in a way Backpackers have had their own sharing economy for years. At Ouishare in Paris I got up and told this story — I had just landed in Costa Rica and had booked a hostel that wasn’t really in the centre of San Jose but a little out in the suburbs. By the time I got in found my bed and had a shower it had got rather dark outside, and I needed to eat. I asked some fellow backpackers in the kitchen (who were from Melbourne of course) where to eat, and they waved me off and said don’t worry eat out food and handed me a bowl. I tried to offer them something in return, but they laughed and just said you will help someone else out.

And of course I did, many times. Because when you are backpacking you are all in the same boat. No one has very much so it’s easier to share. But why is it easier to share when you have little? But not when you have a lot? Why do poorer people give more to charity than richer people? The answer, I think is empathy.

When we have only a little we know how hard it is when you have to do without something basic — a pair of socks, a meal. But when we have all of those things easily accessible it’s harder to empathize. There is a great video going around the internet fromThe Global Poverty Project. It’s called If Syria were Surrey and it shows people reacting to schools being closed, shops being empty, streets being blocked. The video is not particularly well made but it is powerful because it forces you to have empathy.

And this is where the power of stories can come in. Stories give us a way to empathize with facts. They make us feel, and that changes how we see things. I always thought I wrote stories to entertain people, to make them forget about life for awhile, but maybe I write stories to change people — can a story change the world? I think that history would show us time and time again that the answer is indeed — yes.

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