I lived in Europe on a little more then a dollar a day. The following is an except from one of my chapters in my book Where the Wind Blows. After you read it, you might have an idea of how I managed to live so cheap in Europe.
…A week later stood on French soil looking down at the piece of paper with scribbles on it. It was my handwriting, but I could hardly read it. The numbers matched those on the narrow green gate. At least it looked like they did. This was his squat? I always thought a squat wouldn’t be a nice place, I always thought a squat would look rundown, abandoned. This place looked like a miniature mansion. Huge yellow stone formed the four story giant, dark arcing windows reflected the calm street outside, as curious pigeons rested on the dark slate roof.
Ten minutes of knocking didn’t bring anyone out. Luckily the gate wasn’t a difficult to break in. That made sense. I slid my notebook though a crack between the gate and a post and popped the lock up. The gate creaked open.
Breaking in, or at least peacefully breaking in is the central trait of squatting. Gail had explained this to me back in Cambodia. “It does not matter how we get in, as long as it is peaceful, we cannot cut any locks, we cannot break any windows, but sometimes doors and windows are left unlocked and if they are, then we can go in. Once we are in, we order a pizza and keep the receipt and enjoy our meal and then we wait a day or two and then call the police and invite them over and let them check the place to make sure nothing has been damaged and then they will contact the owner and tell them their abandoned home is being squatted.”
Squatting, moving into empty and abandoned homes is legal. A few of my couch surfers squatted, none of them squatted as much as Gail. Gail and the friends have squatted for years, staying in various buildings around France but mostly in Renee.
Inside, brown, red and yellow leaves clung to vines that stuck to the wall. I knocked on the door, the sound echoed inside. A head with a jet black Moses beard, popped out an upstairs window. “Wi?” Gail said.
“It’s me, Eric.”
He hung there, drinking in my appearance. When he had last seen me in Cambodia I was working in a medical NGO where one of my main responsibilities was to convince donors to donate more and corrupt government officials to corrupt less. My hair had been short, my face clean shaven, and my clothes formal. Now I stood below him, my hair shoulder length, my beard thick and frizzy. He might have thought a Viking had come to his door if it hadn’t been that I was wearing my neon orange Indian shirt.
“Eric? Yes, Eric, so great to see you!” He shouted then thumped down the stairs.
Gail bent down as he walked out the door. He pitched me a wide smile, his arcing red lips volcanoes rising through the thick black beard. He threw his arms around me. We hugged.
“This is Eric,” He said as he introduced me to some of the squatters that lived with him. “This is the crazy man who hosted me for a month in Cambodia. His house was very fun, always full of travelers.”