Friday, 2 March 2012

The Never Ending Search for Home

With the ever increasing globalisation occurring in the world today, we are fast becoming a population of foreigners. The reasons for people migrating vary dramatically; economic reasons, adventure, love, or even forced migration are all reasons for packing up and leaving  the familiar.
However recently, a new type of migration has been revealed and termed 'existential migration'. Studies into this subject (Madison 2006) reveal that many people choose to migrate voluntarily in order to become a foreigner, often to find themselves and find where they belong.
In my teenage years, I never thought of moving abroad. I enjoyed holidays but the actual idea of making it more permanent never entered my head. As the years went by, I finished college, then university and found my self in a long term relationship and with a mortgage.
I found myself becoming increasingly unhappy. As my life passed by I often wondered what more there was to life. Is this really it? You spend most of your childhood wanting to be an adult and no sooner do you get there do you become bitterly disappointed.
I wanted more, but what more is there? Slowly but surely my friends were settling down, getting married, having children and being really happy about the fact. I loved my boyfriend but we had a turbulent relationship and I became increasingly aware of the fact I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life with him.
One day, It all came to a head. The conversation I had been dreading arrived, he wanted to get engaged. There and then I decided this was the end. I took a leap of faith. I ended the relationship, got a new job and moved to Ireland.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, I later moved back but found myself more down than ever. I felt like a foreigner in my own country. I struggled to make new friends that I had something in common with and drifted away from old friends who were by now, leading completely different lives to that of mine. I hated my job, and I hated my life. I longed for excitement.
In September 2010 I moved to Prague. Determined to make a new life for myself I found a new job, new flat, and new friends. I loved it all and life again became exciting. Only now, nearly 2 years down the line, the initial excitement is waning. I feel no sense of belonging, and no sense of where is home. Visits back to England are awkward and ungratifying. I love my family, but that's the only love or attachment I feel. I'm officially lost and increasingly suspicious I will never find 'home'. I don't know where to go from here. I have become an existential migrator.
The study into this form of migration revealed that, like myself, these people no longer feel at home anywhere, in a word, homeless. Forever chasing that excitement, and feeling of self discovery. As our lives become more mobile, this my signal the start of a growing problem as more and more people no longer feel that sense of belonging.
I may sound all doom and gloom, but as I look back and think of what might have been, had I not took that leap of faith, I know I made the right decision. Expanding my horizons has been the best thing that has ever happened to me and I wouldn't change it for the world. Do I really need a home? Can home be determined by a geographical location? In this process not only have I discovered more about myself, but I feel alive, a reason for my existence. Surely that's not a bad thing?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Auschwitz I & Auschwitz II Birkenau

"The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again" 
George Santayana

In a little town called Oświęcim (Auschwitz is the German pronunciation of this town), not far from Kraków and Katowice in Poland, lies two of the Nazi concentration camps where collectively more than 1.3 million people were murdered. Surely the worst atrocities seen in modern times were committed here between the years of 1941 to 1945, and contrary to what a lot of people think, they weren't all Jewish.

It's interesting to note at this point, that on my way there, I commented that it was a shame it hadn't snowed. Given the many images that circle my head of the Holocaust, much of the footage was in the harsh winter months when victims were made to stand outside all day with no shoes, or even naked, with freezing water poured over them as punishment. Many froze to death. Had it of snowed, I thought it would have added to the eerie and bleak atmosphere Auschwitz creates. No sooner had I said this the sky turned a dark grey and snow began to descend.

I've thought long and hard about how to approach this article. I have read alot of what occurred in this very place and yet no article in my opinion has done it justice, I say this because, in my opinion words cannot convey the tragedies that occurred here. I don't even think I could possibly do it justice either. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw that day, and so after careful consideration I knew exactly what to do. I would let the photographs I took that day tell the story.

Arguably the most infamous sign in Auschwitz is the sign above the main entrance gate to Auschwitz I that reads 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (work sets you free). Several ironic slogan signs were dotted around the camp at the time.

The entrance to Auschwitz II Birkenau including the train lines where many of the prisoners arrived. Once the train had come to a stop, hundreds of prisoners appeared from the carriages and stepped onto the ramp. Women and children were separated from the men and there and then it was decided who was fit for work (this amounted to around 25%). The rest were led straight to the gas chambers.

Suitcases were immediately confiscated and mostly sent to Germany to be recycled and sold.

Prisoners being sent to the gas chambers were told that they were going to take a shower to avoid panic. Once inside the changing area, they were told to strip naked and led to the chamber. The doors were locked and cyklon B gas pellets were dropped in through a hole in the roof. After 20 to 40 minutes, the corpses were retrieved and stripped of jewellery and even gold teeth. This was then melted down and sold. Even hair was removed to make fabric.

Corpses were placed on the metal runners and incinerated.

The bunker turned gas chamber.
 In the background you can see the chimney in which the smoke from the incinerators came from. The smell filled the air with a foul stench. This remained undetected due to the fact the surrounding villages had their occupants removed by the Nazis.

Scratches on the inside wall of the gas chamber

The execution wall. Many prisoners were made to strip naked then were escorted to the wall where they were shot in the back of the head. In the building to the right of the wall many atrocities happened. Prisoners were locked in cells and left after being sentenced to death by starvation. Others were made to stand in tiny cells until they died of exhaustion. The basement of the building also housed the room where the first experimental mass murder was committed using cyclon B gas. This was mostly trial and error until the correct formula and time was calculated. In the building to the left of the execution wall, several hundred women prisoners were used as guinea pigs mostly by Gynaecologist Prof Dr. Clauberg for sterilisation experiments. Some died from the treatment administered to them, others were murdered so autopsies could be carried out on them. Those who survived were left with horrific permanent injuries. Experiments by other SS officers were also carried out here.

An example of a carriage used to transport prisoners to the camp in Auschwitz Birkanau

Electric fencing surrounds the entire perimeters of the two camps to keep prisoners from escaping. The families of those who succeeded, were captured and paraded around the camp with signs above them saying why they had been brought to the camp to warn other prisoners what would happen. They were imprisoned until the escapees were recaptured.

One of many warning signs dotted around the camp.

A memorial to all the victims of Auschwitz Birkinau
 I hope that by writing this, as difficult as it was, people will understand that whilst most travelling gives us happy memories, others do not. For me this was educational, and a wake up call to why, as human beings we should live in harmony with other races and religions, stand up, and make sure something like this is not allowed to happen ever again.
Thank you for taking your time to read this article.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

10 things you can do on a plane (or a train, or a coach!)

We've all been there, long journeys, extreme boredom, sardines in a tin. Never a problem for those of us who can afford first or business class but unfortunately I am not one of them.

Over the past year and a half of living in Prague, I have spent a fair chunk of my time travelling. Last year I had the luxury of a Eurolines business class coach to and from Croatia (which was a bonus because I'd only paid for economy!). I also flew business class on a business trip to England which was great (lounge, tons of food, fast pass through security, everything!). If I could afford it I would always travel this way, however, I cant.

I used to love flying, but these days it really stresses me out, I just cant relax. I have some confounding issues regarding crowded places that have developed over the past 2 or so years. 200 + people all trying to cram into a little metal tube does nothing for my anxiety. I end up landing a nervous wreck and invariably doing something stupid (such as causing a bomb scare by leaving my baggage in Manchester airport last Christmas Eve - true story). So, to try and attempt to preserve whats left of my mental health I thought I'd come up with some ideas to alleviate the stress whilst travelling.

  • Ipod / Iphone / Ipad- I never go on a trip without my Iphone. Make sure batteries are fully charged and loaded with your favourite tunes then plug your earphones in and you're away. If you're lucky enough to have a coach with wifi, you can use the Internet too whilst you're outside your home country to avoid those dreaded roaming charges (however please be aware that on these wifi enabled coaches the signal is invariably crap).
  • Take your laptop and have some films ready. This passes alot of time and you can concentrate on the film (rather than the fact you're in a small space crammed with people). If your mode of transport has plug sockets, great! If it doesn't, take a spare battery.
  • If you're travelling with your partner, participate in the mile high club?! Whilst this well known phrase is usually reserved for planes, there is no reason why it cant be extended to trains. I advise you not to try try it on a coach, I've seen bigger shoe boxes than coach toilets, not my idea of fun. If you're contortionists you may still consider it. My friend told me he recently had some solo me time in the toilet of a train, if you're on your own, I guess this is also an option! I will pass on that one though.
  • Play Alive! You've read the book or seen the film right?! Well, have a look around the cabin.... You're travelling in adverse weather conditions. Suddenly, the plane begins to shake, and before you know it you've crash landed in the middle of nowhere (or broken down). But, your alive (hooray!). Now all you need to decide is, if you aren't rescued in the next few days, who looks the tastiest? Don't choose the biggest person, they're likely to have all kind of nasty toxins in their bodies, think along the lines of someone not skinny, but who works out a bit, think lean! Ok, this is just a bit of fun, don't take it too seriously! If you're scared of flying this is probably not the best of games to play. Being ex cabin crew myself, I'm most definitely not scared of flying so this game is fun for me! 
  • Pretend you have just got married (this only works if you're travelling with someone!). Sweet talk the cabin crew into giving you an upgrade (If you don't ask you don't get!). This may be your best and only chance of ever flying business or first class, grab it!
  • Stretch your legs. Sitting down in the same position slows your blood flow and can stagnate, which can lead to DVT. Simply walking to the toilet, stretching your legs on the way is sufficient. On a coach, there is usually 10 or 20 minute breaks. Use this time to get off the coach, have a stretch and a walk around. You will feel much better. Drink lots of water too.
  • Read a book, or even the air plane magazine. I always read these and usually take them with me, most are free to take. They are full of great articles and often some great tips on things to do at your destination.
  • Sleep. This is a good time to catch up on it if the journey is particularly long. The other week I had a nap in the carriage of a train from Krakow to Wroclaw. You wake up more refreshed, alert and ready for the day ahead. It can be hard to sleep whilst moving but its worth it if you can.
  • Bring some travel guides of your destination. Depending on how long you are going for you could plan your itinerary whilst on the plane! If you're feeling adventurous, learn some basic phrases of your destination country. I can guarantee you if you learn a few things the locals will be much more appreciative of you.
  • If all else fails play whack a mole! Its simple. All you need to do is kick the seats in front of you. When their heads pop up to find out what the commotion is, WHACK EM! Ok, this is a joke, but if you're really bored....

Blue Monday (The rantings of a travelling Manc!!!)

Firstly, I think I need to apologise for not writing anything on here for a while. Why? Well, a combination of things really... Christmas, busyness and that unfortunate thing most of us have to do... work! I'd like to say I write full time but I'm not so lucky! I have to go out, get stressed, bring the pennies in and pay bills like most of us mere mortals.

Also, it's difficult time of year. It's cold, miserable and grey. Last year it snowed in November and didn't let up till March. Not the case this year, just pure grimness :( Looking out the window doesn't inspire me to leave my warm comfy flat, and so I haven't had anything remotely interesting to write about. Inspiration is at an all time low and procrastination at an all time high!

Which leads me nicely onto why I'm writing this article. Apparently, some nerdy scientist 'calculated' (I use these terms loosely) that the Monday just gone, i.e, 23rd January is officially the most depressing day of this year. Personally, I think this so called 'calculation' is a load of rubbish (I sincerely hope he wasn't paid for this research!) but I do believe this January, at least for me, has been depressing beyond belief, and the worst thing is, I can't quite pin point exactly why I am feeling like this.

Having said that, January is a depressing time for many. Grey skies, rain, and a serious deficiency in sunlight is enough to affect anyone's mood. Post Christmas blues add to this. Mostly, were skint, and opening presents on a Christmas morning is but a distant memory (more so for me as I live in a different country than my family) and finally our bodies being shocked from all the calorific rubbish we gorged on only to be swapped for lettuce, lettuce and more lettuce (I feel sorry for poor rabbits).

Are you all depressed by this article yet???!!! Read on, it gets better!

Well here's the good news... the end of January is upon us (YAY!) and soon the temperatures will rise, pasty skin will be no more and we'll all be running round in minimal clothing! I, for one, cannot wait.

So now Blue Monday has officially passed, we can cheer the **** up and look forward to sunnier climes, hooray! 

This gets me onto thinking of holidays. Where should I go this year? Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a hardcore Croatia fan. I've visited so many times I couldn't mentally begin to count. Words cannot express how beautiful and amazing the country is. If you haven't been then book a flight ASAP, you will not regret it. Given half the chance, I  wouldn't leave it.

Aside from my lovely Hrvatski, there are other places I intend on going to this year. I am on the verge of booking a flight to Porto, to go and visit my lovely friend who I miss dearly. I haven't been to Portugal before so it would be a new experience for me (plus a cheap holiday, bonus!).

I also have my eye on Malta. I have been before and it is also extremely beautiful, I would definitely like to see more of it. Unfortunately when I did go last, it was marred by bad memories as I was in a particularly bad situation (one word.... ex. Eugh, says it all doesn't it?). I hope that by going again my memories will be more positive ones that I think of in the future, and not the negative ones I currently think of.

I have also been invited to Dubai for a holiday, but I am bound by the restraints of money (boo!) which is a big shame as I would love to go...maybe at the latter end of the year I may be able to if I can keep my prying eyes away from those clothes shops windows (who am I trying to kid?!).

But of course plenty of weekend jaunts await me! Living in a landlocked country has its benefits after all in that there are plenty of countries surrounding me and are relatively inexpensive to visit by train or coach. I'm a regular to Berlin and have just returned from Krakow (amazing btw!). Also there is much to see in the Czech Republic still so I guess all this will keep me busy for the next 12 months!

Finally if any of you have any suggestions or live somewhere beautiful then please do share. I love listening about other peoples adventures!

So please, don't be like me and be sad this January, the worst is over and the best is yet to come. Happy 2012 and I hope it's a great one for everybody!