Stupid, crazy or brave? What homelessness taught me

This week’s guest feature is written by Peter Kočiš, who I met during an Erasmus+ project back in October 2019. The project was on the topic of homelessness and Peter openly shared his story of becoming homeless once after he got fired from a job in the Canary Islands.

What he told the group has stuck with me ever since, and so I’m super thankful that he’s agreed to talk about it again, this time on the Free to Spiel platform! Here’s Peter’s story, during which he tells us how the experience has positively impacted his life to this day:

From working in paradise to becoming homeless

After finishing my job as an animator here in Slovakia, I went to La Palma in the Canary Islands. I was lucky at first, as my job interview was easy – I had sent them a video of my dance skills and they had accepted for me to come over. This made me so happy; the hotel was big, my room was amazing and I spent the first week providing dance performances and creating programmes for our clients.

An amazing sunset at the start of my new job in La Palma!

It seemed as if everything was going smoothly: endless sunny days, tasty food and a great job.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stay that way for long and everything ended so quickly. After just one week at my new job in La Palma, my manager came to me and said they needed a better dancer, giving me a few days to find a ticket back to Slovakia. However, I didn’t have enough money to fly back and so started searching for another job nearby – with no success.

My manager fired me soon after and so I had to leave the hotel. As I wanted to save the €5 I had left on me, I hitchhiked to another part of the island. I visited many hotels and restaurants, but nobody gave me a chance; although two owners were kind enough to invite me for pizza and dinner once.

With no hope of finding a job, I was left sleeping on beaches and the stairs of buildings, eating bananas from the nearby plantation. One day when I was sleeping on the beach, I was woken up by a man kicking me and saying: “Buenos días, señor, this is not place for the homeless so get out!“. So I did – I took a shower on the beach and left.

My sleeping bag.

After several days, I came up with a crazy and quite dangerous plan. I hid my bags in some bushes and went into a hotel, pretending that I was one of their guests. I got away with it, as I’d worked as a waitor in Cyprus once and so knew that hotel staff often just ask for your room number. I suddenly went from sleeping on the streets, to eating luxury food and sleeping near the pool or inside the hotel’s meeting room at night.

Eating breakfast next to rich people, when I didn’t have any money.

Time to sleep.

During the days, I’d use the hotel’s public computer for internet, to find possible ways of getting back to Slovakia or find some work here in La Palma, which was difficult as I didn’t speak any Spanish or much English at the time. Thankfully, after 3 days in the hotel one of my friends back in Slovakia sent me money so that I could finally go home.

My friend, who gave me money so I could return back home!

Staying positive, no matter the circumstances

During this time, I felt so strong – I’m a former football player and come from a poor family, so already knew that life isn’t easy; I took the experience as if it was a try out.

I was also curious to discover what my limits were in a tough sitation. What will I eat? Where will I go? What will I do? Many times I looked to the sky and asked God: “Is that all? Give me more pain, this is nothing for me!

A photo I took whilst travelling around the island without any money or help!

My experience taught me that if you have your mindset on the right track and are skillful, then you can beat all evil and darkness and escape negative situations. It showed me that the sky was the limit, and that everything is possible – if you have a brave heart, then you can overcome anything. It also taught me how important it is to keep in touch with your friends and help them, because someone someday may be able to help you in return.

After returning to Slovakia, I shared this story with others. Some people said that I was stupid, some said that I was crazy and others said that I was brave and strong. My father is very sensitive and he cried many times when I told him what had happened, but I don‘t regret it – I know that I‘m stronger now than before because of living through this experience: the school of life.

Here’s a video that Peter created with some of the other participants involved in the Erasmus+ project, of his experience of homelessness:

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