you are looking at the first letter from the Trustroots community to itself. I hope it finds you in good health during this time of plague and forced sedentariness.
This letter, and the ones that will hopefully follow every two or three months, is about stories. I want to tell you of some pretty incredible adventures that some of us in the family have gone through, and you know we’re an adventurous bunch. Hey, maybe your story needs to be told too. And it will if you allow it.
Today, you’ll read about how some of the most nomadic of us are dealing with the lockdown. I’ll tell you about Ibby, who became homeless (and penniless) in the coldest and most expensive country on Earth, about how Nick managed to salvage a Trustroot volunteer gathering, how Sara had to hide from angry mobs in India, how Tajana had to rush hitchhiking across two borders before finding sanctuary, and of Hillel’s daring escape from Paris.
I hope you enjoy reading about them and that it will inspire you in one way or another.
Neither allowed inside nor outside
Let me first introduce you to Ibby. Ibby was very until recently living in Halden, Norway, near the southern end of the Swedish border. He was staying in the spare room of a 70-year-old person, selling his self-published book in the street for sustenance. Suddenly a global pandemic strikes, and he found himself in a world where being in the street is tantamount to killing old folks. Luckily, the Norwegian government offers just the kind of assistance people in his situation need. Unfortunately, Ibby is a touch too nomadic to qualify. I’m sure you know the situation. You can try to get into the system all you want, but sometimes it’s simply not enough.
This is not a sad story though. It’s an uplifting one. Unable to stay in and not allowed to leave the country, Ibby decided to strike his own path and… Did you guess? I bet not… walk all the way to Cape North. On the 3rd of April, he left home with a backpack, a shopping basket full of his books, 15 € to his name, and not a single fuck given.
Norwegian spring is sometimes only just a less frigid winter. Following his nose and his map, Ibby walked North — sometimes in the snow, sometimes on pavement, sometimes on dirt roads. As must happen in such a hilly place, he ended up following a path all the way up to a mountain pass, when on his map it had looked perfectly flat. He found himself knee-deep in the snow at an abandoned ski station that would have been teeming with people any other year.
This, dear friend, is the appeal of times of turmoil. Nothing out of the ordinary happens in normal times. A safe and sheltered existence, to many of us, is the epitome of boredom. But just shake things up a little bit, and you get your own personal ghost ski-station.
Despite the strict lockdown, without even sticking a frozen thumb out, he got many ride offers from strangers. He turned them all down because you get into a zone of sorts when you’re walking. He didn’t mind socializing from a safe distance though. And that is how a bit of perspective came his way when he spent the easter weekend with a Syrian refugee and his Norwegian wife and kids. Next to someone who fled his country to save their life, being homeless in an expensive country feels like a walk in the park.
After 200 km and many nights in the tent, the temperatures are finally easing up. Ibby is taking a short break in Lillehammer but will resume his journey soon.
You might have heard that the makers of the Trustroots community met up for a week. It happened in mid-April, right at the peak of the corona-scare. It had been months of preparation, at a time the pandemic was nothing but background noise. Everyone was in the starting blocks when travel restrictions fell upon the borders of the world. The organizers themselves had to scramble to make sure they got locked down in the right country.
When the dust settled, the countdown to the first day of the Hack Week had almost elapsed. “I guess we’re doing it online” was the consensus. But, without the personal interactions, cooking and eating together, playing music together, and huddling around laptop screens in the dark to hack together, would anyone show up?
The anxiety dissipated after the first video call. 8 people had joined, many who didn’t know each other, and more joined as the first week.
Everything just quickly self-organized in good spirit and energy, and those who joined on a later day could have sworn that the event had been originally planned to be online.
From the morning call at 9:30 to the evening call at 18:30, people came in and out to join in talks about content translation, front-end framework, support channels, and mobile apps. Some new projects saw the light of day, such as this first community letter.
A foreigner’s disease
Sara was traveling in India when the country went into lockdown with very little warning. You would think that India is a pretty okay place to be trapped in. That is until you factor in misinformation and xenophobia — the virus was very much perceived as a “foreigner’s” disease. One of the most hospitable countries in the world quickly turned into a very hostile place for travelers. Hosting foreigners in your home could cause your neighbors to call the police on you. Sara’s hosts didn’t kick her out, but they kept her hidden. And when she, fortunately, found a flight home, she had to leave their home in the dead of the night to avoid being seen.
Doesn’t apply to hitchhikers
For Tatjana, hitchhiking was the only way to get to safety. She’d crossed the Bolivian border at the last minute before it closed. She still needed to reach Buenos Aires for sanctuary. More than 1000 km away. The regional borders were closing up around her and it felt like trying to escape a maze with the exits snapping shut. The first time she got controlled by the police, they forced her driver to quarantine in the nearest town, Salta, but let her keep hitchhiking. They had instructions about drivers, not hitchhikers… A friend of hers tried the same trip by bus. They were intercepted by cops who subjected every foreigner to a twelve-hour medical exam before forcing them into quarantine in the nearest town. Meanwhile, Tatjana was riding along with a talkative old guy from Tucumán who gave her his baseball cap to hide her face during the police control and managed to bullshit his way out of trouble with his countryside accent. The uniforms never even noticed her.
In the end, Tatjana couldn’t go all the way hitchhiking. But she managed to catch the last flight from Tucumán to Buenos Aires, twelve hours before the country went into full lockdown.
Hillel is a Canadian / French man who was living in a 9 square meter flat in Paris when France went into strict lockdown. With no end in sight, he thought he would go mad in there. He decided to hit the road and go to Sweden, where there is no lockdown. Of course, all the borders out of France were shut. But, in proper hitchhiking spirit, he went anyway.
Feeding believable lies to the cops who asked him what he was doing outside, he managed to escape the megapolis and soon found himself on a gas station heading east. Would anyone pick him up?
It turns out yes. Hitchhiking during a lockdown is not very different. People who stop for hitchhikers and the #stayhome militia seem to be two distinct groups.
But only Germans and residents are allowed to enter Germany. So he got off in Strasbourg to plan his next move. Plan A was to walk across the bridge to the border. The German Police just turned him away. It was late, so he went to sleep on a bench in a park. In the morning, it was time for plan B. Hillel got on a train to Kehl, the first town in Germany. The train crossed the border fine, but a full squadron of cops was waiting at the station. Unfazed, Hillel whipped out his 10-years-expired Canadian passport:
“I’m taking a flight home, from Frankfurt.”
“Show me your ticket,” she replies.
Hillel took his phone out and showed the plane ticket he had just counterfeited on his laptop.
“Welcome to Germany, sir.”
And the rest is history.
Now, dear friend, I hope these stories inspired you to go out there and experience the world, as soon as it is safe enough. I also hope that this present email is the first of many. I’m planning on writing to you about a different topic every time. And always get the best stories from the members of our family.
Next time, I want to write about the night. Do you have any great stories of experiences and adventures at night that you’ve encountered while traveling? An incredible place you spent the night in, a rush of adrenaline in the darkness… Let me know about them by y simply replying to this email.
Until then, I wish you the very best.