You know that feeling when you go to a concert and you feel the bass, this strong physical sensation of sound running through your body? It comes in waves, hits you hard, your heart jumps with the rhythm and you feel the vibrations running through your body, pounding with the loud beats of the music. And then it makes you excited, maybe a little bit confused, but it feels so good. And all you want is to jump and dance and then jump even harder. And you suddenly find yourself spinning around, feeling almost alone, although you are surrounded with so many people. You feel lost in the moment and you let your body move freely, your thoughts float away, and you feel like the world is yours and you just keep on spinning…
Well, this is not how I initially felt when I came here. I was excited of course, but for me, it was “just another trip”, one of the many I´ve done in the last few years. Even though I was aware that I am moving to a new place and that I will actually stay and live there, it did not feel any different than a one-week trip. Being alone, in a totally new country was not new to me – I’ve already faced the same when I moved abroad to the USA, back in 2016, and then one more time in 2017. This being said, my journey started as a very ordinary one, but let me reassure you, it did not stay such for long.
I arrived in Lisbon late in the night on the 3th of July and for the first time, I entered my new home. An old typical building, that is famously known as Casa Anjos among the volunteers, with green azulejos (ceramic tiles) on the outside and a big white heavy front door. The first thing you see when you open the door is a dark hallway with a beautiful high ceiling and a wooden rotating staircase. It takes exactly 40 stairs to climb to get to the 2nd floor, where my apartment is located. Inside, there is a long labyrinth-like corridor with an old smelly carpet, doors covered with paint that is peeling off and walls with posters, stickers and pictures that serve as a reminder that many other young people lived there before me. This flat felt strange at first, but it will later become a place where beautiful moments will happen – shared dinners, long balcony talks, late night gatherings. A place where music will play for hours, where lots of wine bottles will be emptied and where friendships will be born. At that moment, this place was just “my new apartment”, but very soon it became the place that now I call my home.
And there, for the first time, I met my future flatmates, a group of young people coming from different countries – France, Italy, Poland, Croatia, Hungary and Spain (later we got newcomers from Belgium and Armenia as well). We are nine altogether, and if you think nine people living together is a lot, you are right! Regardless of this fact, miraculously we get along really well. Although it sometimes gets crowded (for example, when there are more than four people cooking dinner at the same time the kitchen becomes a battlefield), being constantly surrounded with people is rewarding – you always have someone to talk to, make plans with, go out, grab a coffee together, cook dinner, ask for help, or advice, or simply have a nice company. And if nine is not enough, there are two more apartments with more volunteers and ex-volunteers, one next door and the other one downstairs – or in other words, you can never get bored if you live in Casa Anjos. Because of all this, I have to say, not the building itself, but the people who live there with me are the ones that make living in Casa Anjos a big part of my EVS journey and make our old building bright and full of spirit.
Day two, and I am set to start my volunteering job at Spin. It happened that I arrived in the middle of the first “Live it Lisbon” project (there was a second one later in August) and if you are curious, when you mention Live it Lisbon to Spin’s volunteers, they associate it with two things – exhaustion and fun. Now, you probably want to know what we do during this project that makes us feel so exhausted, and the answer is – everything. During 10 days we spend all of our time with the participants – we organize workshops for them, we do community work together, we take them to cultural trips around Lisbon, we cook and clean with them, we take care of the hostel and on top of that we have to do our regular office work (in my case, I work in the European Programs and Mobility Department).
And despite all of this, despite working overtime and working hard, an unusual phenomenon happens – we never leave the office after our shift finishes. Instead, we make the choice of staying longer and we spend our free time with the participants. Sometimes, this goes to that extent, that we even sleep at the office. Usually, it goes like this – let’s say we have a second shift from 3pm until 10pm, then, we decide to stay and hang out with the group – we listen music, play games, share beer or go out in downtown together. Than we check the time and it is already 4am in the morning. We have 4 hours left until our next shift, which starts at 8. We decide that it is better to stay and sleep in the hostel (or in the office) instead of waking up at 6.30am in order to get on time to work (to get from Casa Anjos to Spin it takes around 45 minutes, sometimes even more). Sleep deprived, we continue working the next day, we drink lots of coffee and we manage to make it through the day. Then, our shift finishes, and one more time we face a difficult choice. Torn between having a decent sleep at home or doing the same thing over again, we choose, one more time, to stay.
But working at Spin is not only Live it Lisbon. When we don’t host a project and when we don’t have a hostel full of participants, things are taking a completely different turn. During our “normal office days” as we call them, we like to do our job in an easy-going manner. The first thing we do in the morning is, of course, coffee. This is a ritual that has to be strictly respected – otherwise, there is a huge risk that we are not going to be focused enough to do our jobs properly. As soon as we have our daily caffeine fix, we are ready to start. We all have our own areas of work and different tasks are assigned to us, so work is mostly individual. Sometimes, we team up and do things together. However, what connects us all are two things – the office space and the lunch breaks.
Spin has the best office ever – this is because it is a huge place and it gives us enough personal space, but on the other hand, since we are all in the same room, we are communicating all the time, we joke around, help each other, we listen to music together and the list goes on and on. Another cool thing about Spin’s working space is that we have our hostel right next doors and this means we have a huge kitchen where we can prepare our lunches, of course, if we are not too lazy to do it. Every now and then, you can see us turning into master chefs showing off our cooking skills, which comes as a very handy skill during international Thursdays – a long-lasting tradition in Spin where one volunteer prepares a traditional lunch from their own country for everyone at work.
Another thing about Spin’s lunch breaks is that they have a special place in every volunteer’s heart. This is because, during this hour, we get to spend time together, we talk about everyone and everything, we challenge each other with annoying mind games and we discuss serious topics such as zodiac signs and numerology. We usually take our puffs and align them in the front yard and then we eat, talk and chill, while catching some sunshine at the same time. Other times, we take out a table and some chairs, and we have a more properly looking lunch. When it is cold, we eat inside. Lunch break is also the time for free styling. For example, once, the fact that we have showers in the hostel inspired me to use my lunch breaks for exercising – stretching, short sprints, push-ups, crunches, squats, etc. The enthusiasm lasted for about a week, but I am mentioning it because it helps me give you a picture of all the things one can possibly do at Spin.
Now, I think I will cut short my story and write the last paragraph of this testimony. I already wrote too much, and believe me, I can write a whole book about my EVS and everything that I experienced in the last four months. I would write more about what living in Lisbon means, about the spirit of this city, the culture, all the good places you can visit, all the things you can do, all the events, exhibitions, concerts you can go to. I would write about Portugal, about the amazing places I’ve visited and the adventures I had, the people I’ve met and shared beautiful moments with. I would write about the small villages of Alentejo, the beautiful beaches of Algarve, the volcanic lagoons of the Azores, the mountains and the forests of Geres, the palaces of Sintra, the streets of Cascais. I would write about the ocean, and the waves, about surfing, about the sun. I would write about how much I love the Portuguese language and I would even try to write all this in Portuguese instead of English. I would write about how this EVS gave me the chance to find more about myself and taught me how to take it easy and enjoy the moment. I would write about trying new things, taking risks, making choices. I would write about the moments that made me feel like jumping and spinning around, that made me feel truly happy.
Maybe in my next testimony, I will write it all.
Until next time,