Animal Feed

Food for the Camino …

In 1998 my life was crushed in an instant as my partner died before my eyes under horrific circumstances. It took me more then a year, and three suicide attempts, to find a way, any way, out of it. I found the Camino de Santiago, very little known at that time. By then I had lost everything. I was homeless and penniless. Shortly before arriving at Saint Jean Pied de Port, hitchhiking, to start what would result in the one thing that truly turned my life around, I entered a French bakery and asked: I am hungry, can you give me some stale bread from yesterday for free? The answer was chilling me to the bone:

“No, we can’t do that, we sell yesterday’s bread as animal feed.” That moment I learned that for some people, those without money will always be less than animals.

I didn’t give up, I hitchhiked to Saint Jean Pied de Port, took a look at the Pyrenees and hitchhiked to Roncesvalles. The driver that had picked me up let me out a few hundred meters before the colegiata and I was worried. I knew that the albergue was a donativo, but I didn’t have a credencial and not a single penny in my pocket. Something caught my eye, before my feet lay a 50 pesetas coin, exactly the amount of money I needed to ‘buy’ a credencial and become a pilgrim. I filled out the paperwork and ascended the stairs to the albergue – Only pilgrims allowed, no tourists past this point. I didn’t feel I was either. I didn’t feel I fit anywhere anymore.

The hospitaler@s announced the program of the evening: Mass with pilgrims blessing followed by a pilgrim’s meal in the nearby restaurant. I went to mass, I needed all the blessings I could possibly get. I went back to the albergue, hungry. I wrote in my journal, another pilgrim shared the table with me, we smiled at each other, we both knew we were both outcasts – pilgrims that didn’t fit in.

The hospitaler@s passed by and looked at us and asked ‘Not at the Pilgrim’s Meal?’

‘No.’, we said quietly.

Shortly after they came back again and put a plate of tortilla before us.

‘Enjoy the meal, pilgrims.’, they said.

And suddenly we were human beings again.

Miraculously I made it to Santiago, and, over the next four years put my life back together and found a new reason to live, a new raison d’etre, I got my life back together but I vowed that nobody that would knock at my door would ever leave empty handed … As long as I have food in the house, I will share it gladly with whoever knocks at the door.

2 thoughts on “Animal Feed”

  1. Oh my goodness, can’t believe what I’ve just read. I knew none of this and I thank you for telling me (and others). My first thought on reading the first few words was, ‘Is this you, Sybille, or someone else’s story you are telling?’ I clicked the link and read on. I can’t believe you have been through so much suffering and come out the other end doing so much good. It is humbling, insightful and encouraging all at the same time. I will never feel the same about you again and I am proud to call you my friend, even if only on facebook, and hope one day to put my arms round you and give you the biggest hug you have ever had. Thankyou for a beautiful start to my day.

  2. Wow Sybille. That’s a hell of a story to put out, I think it’s incredibly brave of you, but perhaps even braver to come through and be the person you are today. You and I both know that the Camino provides, often in mysterious ways. God bless you mate 👍

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