This is a piece of autobiographical fiction. Space and time have been rearranged to suit the convenience of the book, and with the exception of public figures, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. The opinions expressed are those of the characters and should not be confused with the author’s.
This story is written as an example to anyone who wants to believe that we are more than the patriarchy deems us to be, more than our limitations, and more than our fears.
25th August, 2020 – Berat, Albania
I’m sitting with four of the other volunteers in the hostel. There are 11 of us in this hostel, all of us volunteering. Because there are so many of us, we take shifts.
The first shift is from 8am to 2pm, the second is from 2pm to 8pm and the last shift is the bar shift from 6pm to 12am.
The hostel is the oldest one in Berat. The owner Miro had bought it from the previous owner who opened it a decade ago. Miro grew up in Berat, went to England to work for a few years, earned a sum of money and came back to Albania to start his business.
All the volunteers work 4 days a week and then get 3 days off. As a former workaway volunteer himself, Miro enjoys getting to know us – It helps him to relive days when he was carefree and traveling around Europe without any obligations. Now, he has 2 hostels and 1 bar. He can’t afford to be as carefree anymore.
When we’re not working, we take the opportunity to do our own things. Today, a group of us are preparing for a birthday celebration.
Out of the 11 of us, 2 are Chilean, 1 Singaporean, 1 Australian, 1 American, and the rest of us are Argentinian. We are preparing a dish called Milanesa – it’s a breaded chicken cutlet. To pair with the Milanesa, we are also preparing a salad made out of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, oregano and cheese. Albania has very good produce, being so close to the Mediterranean.
As we prepare the food, we start talking about how covid has impacted all of us, how it has impacted our home countries.
“It’s really bad in Chile, everyone is rioting against the government. People are losing jobs, last week a pregnant girl lost her baby because the police mistook her as being part of the riots.” Lucas says to us.
“Yeah, my mother is really depending on me for money. So I gave her half of my savings even though I had saved it to go to university. I’m waiting for my working visa to go to Denmark so that I can work there and earn some money to send back home.” F says.
“Basically, our leaders have decided to guard for themselves first. There was a journalist who reported that the leaders are keeping masks and medication for them and their families first – not even the frontline workers are getting enough help. Two days later, the journalist was shot dead by the military infront of her daughter’s school.”
I sat there, feeling completely shitty about myself.
Just days ago, I was talking to my mum. She was still angry with Gideon.
” He said that he would take care of you for life, but now he has abandoned you. He said that he will support the house financially so that you can go and find your passion in life. Now, how are you going to support yourself financially? You have no more money. How are you going to travel more? “
” He hasn’t completely abandoned me mum. He let me keep the rental income remember? He let me keep the money because he knows that I might need it. He’s also trying to take care of me in that way. “
She wouldn’t hear any of it. My parents were furious at him.
I downloaded her worries and I started panicking about my future. I started worrying if I would be able to find a job, if I were able to financially support myself.
Yet now, standing with my friends….I’m dumbfounded. How could I have been so silly to think that my problems were big compared to theirs?
Of course, it’s always a relative thing. We only know how great our suffering truly is when we compare it to someone else’s. But where’s the logic in that? Why do we so quickly look at what we don’t have instead of what we have?
I made a mental note that day, to always look at what I can be grateful for, instead of what I don’t have. As long as I’m Singaporean, I consider myself to be privileged. As long as I’m a citizen of the world, coming from Singapore MEANS coming from a privileged point of view.
I’m not considered poor in Singapore, so how can I consider myself poor as a human of the world?
When we constantly look at the injustices done to us, life can feel very helpless and very unjustified. Where is the justice for everyone else suffering more than us? Who can ever take care of them?
As I stood there letting all of these thoughts flow through my mind, the government sent me a message telling me that I’ve received $500 as part of the covid-relief scheme.
I walk away with my head hanging in shame.
I’m privileged. I’m alive. I want to be of worth in this life.