The map tells us it’s a 15 minute walk from the train station to our Airbnb room. We could take a tram, but that’s more money, and time, working out how to buy a ticket, and where to get the tram. And it’s only a 15 minute walk right?! I have 20Kilos on my back and another 10 on my front, so we are taking it slow. We know 15 minutes won’t be 15 minutes. But we like a challenge, and we’ve no deadline, so can take all the time we need. About half way there, we’re chatting, moving slowly forward, and satisfied we are walking in the right direction, and then…. my shoe breaks! Not just any shoe, but my beloved flip flops, purchased in Australia; designed in such a way, they’ve been almost all my feet have worn the last 6 months, no matter what my activity. Other than my walking boots, 6 months is a new record for a pair of my shoes on this trip!
I’m fairly calm. There are worse situations to be in when breaking a shoe. Whilst having 20 kilos on my back is slightly annoying timing, fortunately the 20 kilos does include, another pair of sandals. So I do a quick change and find a bin for my Aussie thongs.
Getting a pair of shoes fixed in India, back in July 2016….
At the rate I go through shoes, I do not feel comfortable being down to one pair of sandals, so it’s fairly high on my agenda to buy a new pair. Having only done 2 weeks of paid work in the past year, and not having any plans to do more any time soon: buying a pair of shoes is not as simple, as it may have been once in my life. I am comforted by a recent piece of knowledge: Primark has arrived in Germany. I can buy a pair of flip flops without it costing more than it would in the UK. I can rest easy!
But then I remember…… I don’t want to be shopping in places like Primark any more…..
Don’t worry this is not intended as a lecture, for why you should stop buying cheap crap, if anything I’m promoting freedom of choice here…..
Many things have led to this ideal for me. I remember being amazed the first time I set foot in Primark in Luton, all those 12 years ago. And just like everyone else I spent more in Primark than I would have in any other shop, because everything felt like such good value. It took me a few years for the penny to drop as to how their clothes were so cheap. Since that time, I have flirted with the idea of giving up Primark (not that they are the only shop that employs cheap labour, but perhaps a symbol of this for me), but have always ended up concluding, if everyone else gets to benefit from cheap stuff why shouldn’t I?
My travels have cemented for me, that I do want to take action that supports greater equality throughout the world. I see myself as a global citizen, far more than I ever did before; having now seen some of economic injustices around the world.
Whilst in India, I made the decision to commit 10% of my salary to organisations working to reduce global inequality. I knew I had to write it down and commit there and then. I knew once I got home, my desire to do so would reduce, and I would forget the importance. However, since that time, a lot has changed about what we are going back to: I’m not necessarily going to have the salary that I did. So if I never have a salary again, will I never give my 10%? For now, I want to be able to keep travelling: which means I’m prioritising my money for this goal. How do I prioritise between my want to travel and my want for the world to have greater equality? I know which goal is easier to achieve! I have now decided it will be 10% of my income, however that income comes in, however small… But then when is it going to start from, when does this new way of life begin? If we want something we have to be disciplined with ourselves. I chose that my ‘travelling stopped’ and my new way of doing life began on the 1st of June.
If anyone has any suggestions of organisations working towards this aim, please comment below! For more on can we end poverty- check out this cool video
So what does this mean for Primark: I get to spend more money travelling if I buy cheap shoes from Primark, but am I letting another priority of mine slip……?
On the 1st of June, I walked into Primark in Cologne. It’s the first time I’ve been in such a big, discounted clothes shop in over 13 months. I’d made a deal with myself; I was only buying shoes. It was a Thursday, but the three floors of the shop were all packed. It took me a good 10 minutes just to find where the shoes were. My backpack is already heavy, so even though I was drawn to the pretty dresses, I was able to resist. It was slightly harder to avoid temptation walking past the bras, as the one I bought in Australia is losing shape fast, but I managed. After searching through the 10 aisles of colourful cheap shoes, I select a pair for €3 and make my way to the tills. As I queue, I enter into a new battle with myself; not to buy the android charging wire, even though it is so cheap, pink, and mine only sometimes works..!
All of this reminds me of the other reasons, I don’t like shopping in Primark. I find the demand on my senses to spend money, I haven’t decided to spend, stressful. I find the bright, colourful, endless things to buy, stressful.
I’ve always found it stressful; but when living in the UK and wanting to quickly buy something in my lunch break, without having the time to weigh up a more costly purchase, convenience always won out over the stress. Now I don’t have to live my life like that.
Our Guiding Compass point #BeKind, started off as ‘do no harm’, taken from Buddhist philosophy, which I’ve engaged with a bit, along our travels. ‘Do no harm’ has become increasingly important to me. A helpful way to think about each action I do and its effect on others and the earth we live on. However, when writing our Guiding Compass, we wanted them all to read in the positive (Do’s not Don’ts), so this became #BeKind.
Coming out of Primark that day, I thought about #BeKind, and how my actions that day had fitted in with this. We need to #BeKind to ourselves, at the same time as being kind to others and the universe. On some days it is kindest to myself not to shop in a shop like Primark. On other days I have more resilience against the attack on my senses and the kindest thing to do, is let myself have some cheap convenience. Okay, so my ideal is to shop-second hand as much as possible. I see this as being as kind to the universe as I can be. But I’m also OK with the grey, and that I don’t have to make one decision for the rest of my life. I can #BeKind in whatever way feels appropriate at that time.
Which is where #Walkthetightrope comes into play. I want to be a positive contribution to society, and I am responsible for being kind to myself. I want to be myself and a part of wider society. To do all of this we have to make some compromises, sometimes. And that’s OK. #Walkthetightrope is all about tuning in, to how these compromises affect us, and listening to the choices that allow us to #BeKind to ourselves and others. We won’t get it right all the time, balance takes practice, dedication and the guts to know, you will fall off sometimes, but you can pick yourself up and keep journeying forward.