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B.

B. is a friend of mine from Palestine. I met her one Sunday, June 7th in Hebron during my secong visit to that city. It also means that our friendship is exactly 89 days and two hours long. Two hours of face-to-face-in-reality meeting, because that’s how long we were given since we both saw the sparks in each other eyes and exchanged the very first smiles.

Although B. is much younger than me we have a lot in common. She has the same doubts about being (and acting like) a strong woman and feeling ashamed of having a lot of fears at the same time. None of us wants to be put into the box of „yeah, obviously, she had only claimed to be strong, but she has eventually not managed”. As a result – we both act like fearless or at least we try to act so. Is it a mistake?

Both me and B. love freedom and consider the bicycle to be the essence of it. This is also an essential difference between the two of us: in my case the only thing that could stop me from riding a bike is myself. B. in a contrary to me – as a muslim girl in Hebon is not allowed to ride a bike. As simple as that.

I started to wonder what we can do about it. I started to google the topic and found this article and this. But it still didn’t solve the problem. So eventually I decided to try to bring B. to Poland and to ride a bicycle with her in here. And maybe also make several other projects together.

Becasue B. is really a person to be met:

  • she wrote a book (which I’m currently translating into Polish) – as a result of her humanities studies at the university in Bangladesh;
  • after she had finished her studies, she decided to come back to Hebron – the most conservative city in Palestine – becasue – as she rhetorically asked me – „who can change the situation here if we all leave?”. This is what made her decide to come back after years of living „an international life”. She chose life controlled by family, friends, governments, religion – simply – the environment she is currently surrounded by;
  • she belives in women and that only women can change the world. That’s why she got involved in work for the women rights and women empowerment organization. But becasue the project she was involved in is now over, she stays mostly at home, defending herself from „we have to discuss your marriage”. B. doesn’t want to get married. At least not yet. She is 23 years old and she wants to live her life;
  • she has one of the most beautiful (and loud) laughs in the world, which makes laugh everyone around. She has beautiful long dark hair, always covered by a scarf, which makes her feel safe and comfrotable. And belonging;
  • she usually runs instead of walking. Not to waste time;
  • she has thousands of ideas in one second and she claims to believe that there are no borders around her to stop her and no matter what, she will make things she wants happen. If not this way, then in any other way. Becasue she is one of the most determined people I’ve ever met;
  • eventually she is the one I wanted to share with everyone, becasue keeping her for myself only would be too selfish. She is to be shared – with her spirit, enthusiasm, laugh, smile, sparks in her eyes (not to forget).

But I failed. We both did. I tried to bring her to Poland and to organise the money for her flights from different institutions. I organized the space for her to stay and the spot for her speech during the Congress of Women. I wanted her to share her experiences with Polish women and girls and I wanted her to talk about how most of the Palestinian women live (she doesn’t live like most of them).

After the instutions failed („sorry, but we are not able to cover the flight tickets”), I figured out that I have 1100 friends on Facebook, so if every person pays 1 PLN we will have enough money to pay the tickets for her. I created the event using all my skills to make people feel that they want to have a chance to get to know her (as much as I would love to meet her if I was not given that chance in the past already). I started sending the invitations but Facebook forced me to stop after having 500 sent – I didn’t know about this limit-per-capita. So I thought: „Ok, 500 people means 2 PLN per person – it’s still not bad, we can make it”.

We did not.

3 people „liked” the event, 8 joined, no-one payed a single one PLN. At that moment I eventually felt that I lost this battle. We lost this battle, I texted B. She did not answer yet.

So I try to focus on the good outcomes – there is still this beautiful friendship between the two of us and we still have each other and it’s not the end of the world yet (although emotionally for me it was one for a while).

Luckily I still have this book B. wrote. And I’m going to translate it into Polish – if I cannot share her personally with the people in here, I will share the story she wrote at least. I’m not going to leave it this way. Not yet at least.

See you soon on skype, B.!

Ps. Writing this story costed me 6 PLN – the cost of the cheepest coffee I found in a cafe in Warsaw. 6 PLN makes over 8% of one flight ticket for B. If less than 200 people decided to resign from the cheapest coffee, we’d have B. in here. But unfortunately I didn’t meet those 200 people willing to resign yet.

Ps 2. (edit): B. called me on Monday morning and told me: “We still have time. I’m conacting now all possible organizations in here to try to get the tickets financed for myself. I’ll give up only when the event will be over”. So there is still hope – they say “hope dies last”. And our friendship is 92 days long now.

Appendix: I’m a member of the Facebook group called “Nomads”, connecting travellers around the world. One day, some time ago, there was a post published, which just came back to my memory right now:

“Hi guys,
This is why I think everyday to leave this group and to unlike all the traveling pages and burn all my traveling books.
While looking at my news feed everyday and reading great and inspirational stories about nomads and travelers, and reading about how to travel the world with no money and how traveling inspired this and that, and reading posts of travelers looking for new places to go and new experiences to have and I’m just sitting on my chair staring at a screen feeling how exciting this is and how awesome traveling is. I feel the blood rushing in my veins and I just want to stand up, pack my bag and leave.
BUT I can’t because I live in Palestine, and my passport is the top on the list of the most powerful passports of the world but only when you read the list upside down. Yes guys I can travel almost to no other country in the world without applying for a visa 2 months before and pay hundreds of dollars and submit tens of papers that I don’t usually have. They ask for bank statements and require you to have thousands of dollars in your bank account and to book a hotel ..etc basically there’s just few options in the visa application on why you are traveling and obviously backpacking, hitchhiking and just roaming the new lands aren’t on the list. I once managed to travel around Europe and while meeting new people and travelers and telling them why this is cannot be my life style because of my passport, their usual response is laughing and apologies afterwards explaining that the idea sounds unreal and rather a joke.
Therefore, it seems that traveling isn’t for the oppressed people of the world, it’s rather just for the privileged ones. And every time I look at my news feed I feel hurt, I feel pain in my chest and sadness because I’m imprisoned in my room for no reason. But echoing in my mind, the call of the road.”

Warsaw, 4 September 2015 (edit: 7 September 2015)

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Natalia

15-wagons long train stopped on a train station in Malbork, scrubbing around. I was waiting there impatiently with Peggy, mum, dad and sister, with all my stuff packed in four bike bags and one handlebar bag. Each of us was keeping something in hand, ready to run, to pack everything quickly into the train to avoid the situation of the train leaving without me, a bag, the other bag, or – in the worst case – without a bicycle!

Karolina and me at the train station in Malbork
Karolina and me at the train station in Malbork

Whew! The-wagon-number-thirteen-adapted-for-transport-of-bicycles stopped just in front of the bench, where we’ve been waiting for the last 15 minutes. I opened the door and – what did I see? I saw seven bicycles installed on the space of two square meteres; not to forget to mention three hooks on the wall. Hmm, now I got to know what exactly they meant by “limited space for bicycle transportation” in the on-line reservation. Well, what can I do? Let’s push it! And so we started with eighth bike installation.

Suddenly from inside the wagon came out a longhaired blonde and asked:

– How can I help you? – So I started explaining that the ticket and no space and the bike bags and actually I’m quite despaired and I don’t know what’s gonna happen now and what to do. – No worries – she said – I’m in exactly the same situation. Let’s lift the bike up here, bike bags over there and it will be ok. Oh, how beautiful your bike bags are! – she shouted with quite an admiration. Well, that’s actually true! My bike bags from Crosso are beautiful, especially becasue they are so colorful – green and yellow! And I still look at them with some tenderness in my eyes. – Ok, it’s gonna be alright – I thought and we started lifting Peggy up there, over her bike, which meant just under the train’s ceiling, on the peak of the bike-mountain with 5-bikes-base and 3-bikes-peak. Done! Good job! Such a relief!

Bike mountain in the train from Malbrok to Warsaw
Bike mountain in the train from Malbork to Warsaw

I got to know her name – Natalia about almost three hours later, when we were already almost reaching Warsaw and she was typing her name and surname on my smartphone to send herself a facebook friend request from my facebook account. In the meantime I was looking from time to time at her short, a bit dirty nails – the effect of two months strawberry and cauliflower picking in Norway while she was narrating the stories about how beautiful Norway was and especially the place where she was located – 10-minutes bike ride from the fjords and 20-minutes bike ride from the mountains. Well, that explained why she was having the bike with her, obviously.

Nat is a sailor, loosing every year battle against the sea call in the first days of the sailing season. All those lost battles made her state really proudly that she has just finished the first full year of physiotherapy studies, after four other (uncompleted) studies she had started in the previous years, but finished on the sea instead of in the examination clasrooms.

Every new story of her fired the memory sparkles in her eyes and each of my stories made her eyes wider and wider open.

– You know what? I’d love to go back to writing – she said after she had told me the story of her hand written travel diary, made of several notebooks glued together full of photos, drawings, maps and other memory artefacts. – Would you imagine it was my Polish language home work?

– How come? – I asked. And she told me about one month during her high school time, which she had spent in the School Under Sail.

– You know, we’ve been learning navigation according to the position of the stars on the geography class, on biology we had to catch an octopus and then while cutting it we’ve been learning about its internal organs, and we’ve learnt chemistry during the bread baking. – Aha – I commented in my head while bringing back the memories of my geography class with the sadly hanging toughly wiped map of the world, biology with the Parmecium profile as every year topic and the chemistry with a professor who was lecturing more to the blackboard than to the students.

– And then I decided to rewrite it all to the blog and actually to start the blog writing, becasue at one point I realized what will happen if I lose this diary, if someone will steal my bag and all my memories within! But when I rewrote everything and had it all published, I got frightened that now also the other people can read it. Which made me actually stopped writing at all. But I would really like to start writing again, a paper, hand written diary, I guess. Do you get it?

Nat (photo from her FB profile)
Nat (photo from her FB profile)

Yes, I do. Because I have the same problem that writing in the virtual space is something much different than writing for myself only. But I believe that stories are to be told. And it looks like my bike travel has already started although rather on railways than on the bike wheels. Well, the bikes were just one and half meter away from us. Thank you, Natalia, for being my first character! ❤ Good luck with writing, I will keep my fingers crossed for you!

Warsaw, 2 September 2015

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