Yesterday, one of my new Greek friends, Areti, took me to a tattoo shop in Athens, where one of her friends works as a tattoo artist. It’s in one of the world’s oldest neighbourhoods – nestled in a network of ancient alleys – and practically in the shadow of the Acropolis, which stands on its rocky throne only a few hundred meters away. I was looking forward to having a chat with a fellow artist working in the industry, and to having a look at what shops look like in this part of the world. What I walked away with, however, was way more than I’d expected…
Today, I’m sitting on a stool in that same shop, working as a guest artist on my second tattoo project in Athens. In front of me, hunched over with back exposed, is Mira, a German exchange student who saw one of my messages on couchsurfing.org a few days ago and soon after entrusted me with the task of giving her her first tattoo. The decision to contact me to have this piece done may have been spontaneous; but the same can’t be said about the design she chose. She’s been thinking about this for a while, and she knew exactly what she wanted.
Mira is the third born of four children. Like her parents, she and her three brothers enjoy travelling and do so as often as they can. Only 23 years old, Mira has already seen quite a bit of the world. In 2009, she moved to Tanzania for a year to do some volunteer work. Now she’s living in Athens for a year as a part of an exchange program, taking courses on energy and environmental system technology. She’s got the travel bug, and there’s no telling where it’ll take her.
The tattoo she chose to get reflects her feelings towards these two things that matter so much to her: Her family, and world travel. On the right side of her back, about the size of a dinner plate, she got a baobab tree, which is a beautiful tree that is commonly found in Tanzania and other African countries. These trees are huge, and they squat relatively close to the earth, considering the girth of their trunks. In her design, she chose to have five major roots coming down from the trunk, each one representing a member of her family, and the support, strength and energy they provide her in good times and bad.
Instead of leaves at the tips of the branches, Mira wanted to have a world map make up the foliage. On one of the roots, she wrote a Swahili phrase, ninaipenda dunia, which translates into “I love the world.” She chose this phrase and imagery to illustrate how much her experiences and the people she meets while on her travels are a part of her. The most important thing she takes away from her travels is what she learns about herself, and about the world that surrounds her in general. How she grows among other people in her life, and seeing how she reacts to new situations as they arise… and she has an unquenchable thirst to learn ever more.
After five long hours in the chair, Mira’s baobab tree is finished. It’s an especially painful spot to get a tattoo, but she took it like a pro. One mustn’t be fooled; this soft-spoken, elegant and friendly young woman has an underlying strength that becomes increasingly apparent as you get to know her. It will undoubtedly carry her far in this life of adventure and discovery. I wish her all the best as she continues to explore new horizons!