When my life partner Basir suffered a severe paragliding accident earlier this year in Austria just a week after we had reunited in Europe, we simultaneously also found ourselves homeless. We both had uprooted any permanent home bases and had been living a “nomad” lifestyle on the road 365 days out of the year. Our nomad lifestyle was mostly dictated by Basir’s paragliding work which provided most of our housing. For the past 4 years we had ping ponged between Europe and South America roughly every 6 months. During the “European” season we would hold a temporary home base near the main paragliding school in Germany, Papillon Paragliding and would be there roughly 2 weeks out of the month at best with the rest of the time out on work assignments or competitions mostly in Italy and Austria. When in South America, at least for the past 2 years, we had the temporary home base of our camper truck. Given our “on the Road” lifestyle, having a permanent home base was just not practical and would only get in the way of the freedom we enjoyed without attachment to any one particular location. And besides if we did decide to have a permanent base where would that be?
I was first confronted with this reality after Basir was helicoptered to Klagenfurt Trauma Hospital, where he was ultimately hospitalized for 5 weeks. While the hours went by through the night as I sat in the waiting room waiting for his emergency operation to end, the nurse asked me if I had somewhere to stay. I didn't have any time to think about that at all, I had simply rushed to the hospital and in that moment it was the least of my concerns. We had an airbnb we had booked for the days of the competition more than an hour away which we never even had the opportunity to check into, so, no, not really. The nurses colluded and thoughtfully prepared me a bed in Basir’s Hospital room, unknown to me then, I would proceed to spend the night in 20+ different places moving around more than 50+ times after that.
When Basir’s dad and his partner Anke arrived the next day, they had booked a booking.com where we could all stay together. Unfortunately, they arrived late and neglecting to notify the owner in advance, we found ourselves in the middle of the night without the keys to the apartment. After numerous attempts to reach the landlord on the phone and an even more futile attempt to reach booking.com, we had no choice but to book another hotel. But when we searched online to our dismay everything was booked. Apparently we later found out there was a Volkswagen event in Klagenfurt with visitors from all over Europe who had booked up every available room. None of us saw this coming. They had just arrived from driving all day from Germany and I had been in the hospital since the accident. We were all hungry and equally dog-tired.
With the time approaching to midnight we decided to drive around and personally visit the hotels for availability in hopes of scoring a room. Our efforts came up empty handed and we had already resigned to the idea of sleeping in the car on that cold Austrian evening when we drove by this very lively Irish pub, “The Claddagh.” We hoped they were still serving food and at the very least it looked like a place we could stay warm for a few hours. We were greeted by a friendly Irishman, Matthew, to whom we told our unfortunate story and pleaded for a menu but the kitchen was already closed. The walls were lined with Irish quotes and this one could not have been more relevant “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” by Oliver Goldsmith. We were crying and laughing with Matthew who had taken to us and our most unusual of circumstances. Like a true Irishman as he turned off the lights to the pub, he offered us his bedroom in a shared flat resorting himself to the sofa. So thanks to the kindness of Matthew, night number two was spent on his futon.
The next morning we managed to get the keys to the apartment which would be my home for the next two weeks (place no. 3), sharing the place first one week with Basir’s dad and partner and later one week with his mother. Meanwhile, there was no clarity about how long Basir would stay in Klagenfurt’s Trauma Hospital and whether he would be transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Austria and/or in the Netherlands. And as such no clarity as to how long I would need accommodation in Klagenfurt and no clarity as to where I would need accommodation next. This left me no option but to stay in a nearby hotel where I could adjust the length of my stay on short notice. I stayed in Lemon7 Hotel for three weeks extending my stay three times. This was the 4th place. I spent hours working from the café downstairs and the family of the family run boutique hotel looked after me by occasionally inviting me to join their family meals. I still don't know how I survived three weeks without access to a kitchen. Somehow I managed and it was the inspiration for the start of a new Blog series called "What Does a Health Coach Eat ..... in Klagenfurt."
After Basir’s family left, I was alone in Klagenfurt to fend for myself and the hotel owner’s inclusion and simply asking me how I was doing lit up my days. When Basir had finally been given a transfer date to be repatriated back to the Netherlands for further treatment, he was transported in an ambulance with two designated drivers which made the trip just over 15 hours with a few short stops. Meanwhile, I was left to make the journey alone transferring our car and belongings. It took me three exhausting days. Stopping to drop off gear on Basir’s behalf at Skywalk headquarters, sleeping in the car ( 5th place) and eventually sleeping in Basir’s dad’s place in Germany (6th place) on the way to the Netherlands. What a sad journey it was. It just confronted me further how much I missed Basir and the unfairness of this tragedy. Under normal circumstances we would be travelling together. By now, the pilot who had flewn into Basir during the competition had messaged me with the bill of his damaged paragliding wing. I was just stupefied. I could not believe it, the guy who caused the accident was just concerned with the material damage to his paragliding wing?!?! Completely oblivious to the damage on so many levels he had caused not only Basir but indirectly to me.
En-route to the Netherlands, I received a message from Basir’s mother “You can stay with me for two weeks and then we’ll see.” Huh? “…and then we’ll see”?!! Her words like a massive bucket of cold water over my head. Was this the same person that just one year prior had insisted I stay longer with her during a visit through the Netherlands? Whom back then ad nasseum repeated over and over again “You can stay with me for as long as you want anytime you want” “really, we are family.” Yet now when it really mattered, when I needed it the most, when her son was in the hospital from a severe accident the offer was no longer on the table?!? Words can’t even begin to describe the anger, frustration and loneliness I was feeling. I stayed with her for the first 3 nights (7th place) because I really had not seen that coming and had nowhere else to go. And after spending three weeks in a hotel, I could not afford to continue to do this. Despite the rude welcome, I would go on to say at her place for 1 to 2 days at a time three more times after that.
What made the situation even trickier in committing to something long-term was that we had no idea for how long Basir would be hospitalised and with Basir’s rehabilitation facility in Wijk Aan Zee by the sea (where he would end up staying over 4 months) and the summer in full bloom availability for affordable accommodation nearby was virtually non existing. What saved me was TrustedHousesitters and the amazing support received from the strangers within this community and a few angels whom I met along the way, compassion way beyond anything I could have ever expected.
As a pet lover I had been a member of TrustedHousesitters for years upon the recommendation of a friend thinking it could be a fun idea during gaps in our travel but our travel dates rarely synchronised so we had not really used it. During those first days in Basir’s mom’s place I applied for every pet-siting opportunity available in Amsterdam and its surrounding cities. My first gig was Dory (the 8th place). I remember meeting her owner Maria (I thought this is a positive omen) at their De Pijp, Amsterdam apartment to pick up the keys and get an overview of Dory’s routine. Tears falling down my face as I unloaded mixed emotions to her question as to why I was in the Netherlands. Maria invited me for tea and consoled me. Dory was a little shy at first but she slept by my side every night. Her company was indispensable to my sanity. While I stayed at Dory’s in De Pijp, I commuted for two hours door to door each way everyday to visit Basir in the rehabilitation facility. One Tram, One Ferry, 2 KM walk and a 30-minute car ride. After a week with Dory, I scored a few days in an Airbnb in Wijk aan Zee (the 9Th place) a 2 min drive to the rehabilitation centre. Home to a lovely Dutch family, who would go on to offer me their place for a total of 4 different stays.
My next TrustedHousesitters was looking after the pets of an American couple living in Haarlem, Tim and Caitlin (the 10th place). I immediately fell in love with their dog MAX and eventually with their fluffy white cat, Cat and their two adorable bunnies Darcy and Betty. They welcomed me into their home like part of the family and offered me their guest room for the days when I needed a place to stay in-between petsits. Something about the American cultural familiarity and camaraderie made sharing dinner with them and sitting around the living room watching Netflix feel the closest thing to home. I would go on to petsit the gang on five different occasions taking MAX everywhere with me, literally. From dinner dates to hairdresser appointments he never left my side.
At the first opportunity, I spent the night in a hospital bed wheeled next to Basir’s (the 11th place). Despite the numerous interruptions during the night by the nurses coming and going, the awful gap between the two beds, the dismal environment of a hospital facility and the lack of privacy, I loved spending this intimate time with Basir. We had gone from spending our days and nights together to a polar extreme that was so unbearable, that anything was better than being apart, even sleeping in a hospital. Thank goodness for my Twilight Truedark Glasses which I notoriously wore whenever I spent the night at the hospital.
Next TrustedHousesitter assignment was looking after an Australian family’s Pippa (12th place), a little temperamental dog, who was undergoing Cesar Milan training. I was given strict instructions by the owner and taught the infamous “shhhhhh” command notorious of Cesar Milan.
Then I would go on to meet the lovely American Elizabeth from TrustedHousesiters. In another life we would be besties. She was a former New Yorker, fun, articulate and mega stylish. Elizabeth and her family would take me in to look after their Vizsla puppy, Righteous and their Cat Archimedes, offering me their guest bedroom to bridge the days in-between pet sits (13th place). She generously listened and consoled me on numerous occasions as if we had known each other for years. For the first time, I felt like I had someone on the ground on my side. The dose of an American family and girly time was just what I needed.
Next, I would meet British Katherine from TrustedHousesitters who had moved to Amsterdam from Dubai and mom to cats Ziggy Stardust and Mav (14th place). The familiarity of the UK and Dubai (I lived over 4 years in each country) was very comforting and Katherine would also invite me to stay with her beyond the days of the actual petsit to help me bridge the gap in days. We went on to have many lovely conversations on her cosy sofa over cups of tea. Ziggy Stardust I might add left an imprint like no other! To date he has been the most peculiar yet lovingly friendly cat I have ever met! I would go one to pet sit Ziggy Stardust and Mav three times.
At last, a dear friend came to visit me and together we would stay in Hello I’m Local (15th place) a chic & cozy boutique hotel/hostel in Haarlem, Humaniversity (16th place) where we de-stressed at the Body & Soul Festival and TrustedHousesitter pet sitting Gluino and Nacho (17Th place) two very independent cats owned by another very lovely couple who welcomed us both like family.
Around this time, I was introduced to a friend of a friend, Aranka mother to Princess Lupa Lopez (18th place). I immediately clicked with Aranka and not only would she go on to become my first friend in Amsterdam and a coaching client but I would also pet sit her princess on four different occasions. Princess Lupa Lopez and I would spend a lot of time together biohacking with my Truedark TrueLight.
By now Basir had exited Heliomare Rehabilitation as an outpatient and the community of TrustedHousesitters turned friends welcomed us both into their homes. The next pet sit was looking after Stevie, Tammy, Soesje, a neighbourhood stray and the neighbour’s cat who liked to make the occasional visit (19th place). But it was Stevie who would go on to melt my heart!!! Nearing 20 years of age and two daily insulin shots did not stop him from rocking our hearts and the neighbourhood!
With the end of summer, the once highly sought after holiday bungalows were a dime a dozen and as such the “tiny”house became the 20th place followed by Paul’s place (no. 21), a recently widowed family friend who welcomed us into his home with open arms twice and where we spent and celebrated Thanksgiving.
The holidays was spent with Nietzsche (22nd place), a French speaking Beagle who lights up every time he hears “manger” "to eat." In his home located in the lively neighbourhood of the De Pijp in Amsterdam we rung in the New Year bringing us full circle to that first TrustedHousesitter gig in De Pijp with Dory.
Immense gratitude to all the individuals from TrustedHousesitters and beyond who invited Basir and I into their homes during this very challenging time. Especially to all the pets who provided comfort, companionship and endless cuddles. The therapeutic and health benefits of pets are REAL and have been integral to our healing process.
TRUSTEDHOUSESITTERS is service exchange between Pet Owners and Pet Lovers.
TOP 3 HEALTH BENEFITS OF PETS
1. Boost Heart Health. Not only do pets melt your heart with their adorable faces and tender gestures but studies have found that owning a pet correlates with decreased Heart Disease Risk.
2. Increase Happiness. Studies have found that owning a pet lowers depression and feelings of loneliness. Interacting with pets boosts Serotonin and Dopamine, feel good hormones.
3. Stay Present. Pets are a constant reminder to live in the present moment because its the only way they know how to live. So the next time you are on a walk with your dog or sitting on sofa with your cat, stop and take in the beauty of the moment.