– So what do you think is the basic human freedom?
– Well, freedom of speech I guess…
– Ahh, you’ve been living in the developed world long enough to forget that the basic human right is the right to shelter, safety and food.
That was the start of a very interesting conversation at Google Summit a couple of weeks ago. I was the one suggesting the freedom of speech was the basic right. It took me up until Christmas to realize that there are indeed more basic rights than that.
For the start, you should know that I set off to go home on December 24. So after a one-hour Ryanair flight from Stockholm, I found myself in cold and rainy Warsaw. “It’s just three hours of waiting before my bus comes,” – I kept telling myself. A bit of patience, and I’ll be home in some eight hours.
An hour passed between utilizing my sandwich inventory and checking out friends’ pre-Christmas Facebook posts. Then, something came up that made me lose my appetite at once. An 18.30 bus to Ukraine was called off. Wait, which bus? I am taking the 18.30 bus Warsaw-Lviv! What do I do? The announcement was silent about that.
I spent another hour running back and forth between a ticket office and a coach station officer on duty. My internet-bought ticket seemed to be giving them giggles. “Sorry, we can’t give your money back”, was the ultimate answer. Nobody was talking about getting me home. My broken Polish and desperate tone could not prevent them from closing everything up at 17.00. It was Christmas Eve after all.
So I was left there by myself, with windy drizzle outside, and busses – all fully booked – leaving one by one. The possibility of spending Christmas Eve among the homeless at the coach station was becoming more and more real.
How does the story end?, – you might wonder at this point. Did I end up alone in Warsaw on Christmas Eve? In short, from some sixth-seventh attempt I managed to catch a bus with free seats available: I paid double and got my very own ticket for Christmas at home.
What about basic freedoms then? I have to admit, once home, warm and safe, I remembered the words from Dickens’ Christmas Carol about “having the lightest license of a child, and yet being man enough to know its value”. Dickens had a point there: it doesn’t take great fortune to feel the light-heartedness of a child at Christmas; it only takes some warmth and care, a pinch of love and sharing.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, my friends!