Tribute to a friend
On April 14th 2021, we lost our friend Aleks. She was cycling with a friend and her little Jack Russell Terrier, Frida, in her basket and was hit by a car.
I wanted to write this post to pay a small tribute to her life and memory.
I met Aleks in May 2012 - I had just moved to Amsterdam and was living in a building called de Eenhoorn (the Unicorn, in English). The floor I lived on and the floor above me mainly housed AIESEC trainees -- young professionals from all over the world who were coming to Amsterdam for a year to work in their chosen field. Aleks was not a trainee, but in true Aleks fashion, managed to figure out a way onto our floor to rent an apartment at a discounted rate.
The first night I met her, we were gathered in one of our studio apartments for a pre-drink before heading off to a bar in Leidseplein (Paradiso) as the girl whose room I was taking over was moving back to the UK and this was her goodbye party. Right away, I noticed she had a fire-cracker personality and in many ways we were opposite -- she was from Warsaw, used to being very direct, also an only child and a Leo (not to use a zodiac sign stereotype, but it's valid). I, on the other hand, from Canada, was more of a 'beat around the bush' communicator (though that's changed substantially in my years here), middle child and a Scorpio (usually taking awhile to warm up to people).
And, right away, she teased me about something. I can't remember what exactly, but I remember being pissed off and deciding that we weren't going to be friends. Within hours, she had me by the hand, pushing our way through the crowd to convince strangers to buy us drinks. Okay, I suppose she won me over.
But that was the thing about Aleks -- she lived in the moment and she was free. She didn't care what anyone else thought of her, and I know many people say this, but I truly believe she played by her own rules. The more I got to know her, the more I appreciated this quality and, if I can be honest, I was also jealous of her ability to let go.
After the first year here, many of my best Amsterdam friends moved away, and I started to become close with her and 5 other girls from de Eenhoorn. We branded ourselves Ladies of the East, as all but one of us were ethnically Eastern European and we all actually lived in Amsterdam East. Every two weeks, we would meet up for dinner and drinks, and over these nights, I got to know Aleks on a deeper level and started to learn more about her passions, motivations and dreams. After a year or so, it started to become clear that Amsterdam was no longer the place for her but she was also tied to various commitments here -- a job, a boyfriend, etc. However, she had a penchant for just making things happen, and before we knew it, she announced that she was relocating to Barcelona.
Expat life can be transient - the people you are friends with today, you may not talk to in a year from now when they move away. This was certainly the case for many people I've encountered over the years, but surprisingly, Aleks and I stayed in touch while she lived in Spain. I would travel to Barcelona a handful of times a year for work, and often times stayed with her at her apartment and sizzled with her on the beach with a mojito in hand. I remember on a particularly overcast day in November, burning my backside so badly and her nursing me back to health with copious drinks, aloe vera and ice so we would be ready to go out again in the evening. There was never an hour in her day wasted.
Looking back on old photos, I feel so lucky to have travelled the world together and to have had so many shared experiences.
The last holiday I took pre-COVID was in Feb 2020: I was in between jobs and decided to go to Singapore and Bali. Within hours of touching down, guess who slid into my DMs? Aleks was also on the island and we ended up spending a few days together between Ubud and Canggu. Let me tell you -- this girl was something else. When we met up for dinner on the first night, she was updating me on the last few months. At that time, we had been following her adventures through her photos, but we hadn't had a chance to get the update on her life and how she was able to travel so frequently. It turns out, she had been recently laid off, and in that moment, decided to turn lemons into lemonade and become a certified yoga teacher, something she always wanted to do. She was traveling the world with Frida and freelancing here and there, but truthfully, living her best life. She seemed incredibly happy and content with what many people would've deemed a worst case scenario.
We were heading down to Canggu the next day and she decided to tag along -- except she wasn't going to share our hired driver with us. Over those few weeks on the island, she taught herself how to drive a motorcycle and would drive herself down to the other end of the island. In monsoon season. Oh, and by the way, she didn't have a license. But when I say nothing phased her, I really mean nothing. She made every situation an adventure, a learning experience and always pushed herself out of her comfort zone.
One night in Canggu, we hit up some of the beach bars and after days of the rain holding off, a storm was brewing. We had maybe 15 minutes to make it home before we would be faced with a torrential downpour. While my friend Steph and I started to pack it in, Aleks was determined to stay out all night and dance in the rain at the clubs. I was reading a horror novel at the time, and was curled up in bed during this storm, and I remember the absolute terror of Aleks emerging from the wall of rain, banging on the windows, completely drenched with a huge smile on her face. She woke up two hours later to do yoga on the beach at sunrise.
These are the last photos I took of her a little over a year ago. She spent the last few months of her life living in Morocco, riding horses on the beach and practising yoga.
Rest in paradise, Aleks. May your spirit live on in all of us and in Frida.