Lisa Laskaridis started 2020 in a new role at the United Nations. She became Head of Communications for UN75 — celebrating the 75th anniversary of the global organization. The decade started at a time of great challenge (which now includes the worst global health crisis in its history). She’s working to bring the world closer together.
Fast forward a few months – and her UN office has moved from the prestigious HQ on the East River to a Hell’s Kitchen studio apartment on the Hudson. The previous decade saw Lisa “move from one continent to another, and traveled to all”. In this time of pause, her world has become a lot smaller.
Life bridges the globe and home in Hell’s Kitchen. We talked about the famous quotation “Think globally, act locally”. By coincidence, it was René Dubos who first advocated this way of thinking in 1972, at a United Nations conference in Stockholm (Lisa’s home town)!
At the UN, her work around the 75th Anniversary is focused on a crowdsourced solution. “We want the global public to have their say about our future. The primary way is a one minute survey that we have online in 53 languages. We’ve had to add some extra questions related to COVID-19.” Literally everyone can take part in the biggest ever global survey.
Early feedback is positive. Asked if they thought we would be better off, worse off, the same as you are today in 2045 – the majority said better off, and that sentiment was greater with younger participants. Overall 95% saw a need for countries to work together. Post-COVID this figure increased.
“How do we build back better? Not just now, but in the future.” Lisa sees today as an opportunity to change the world. “Disasters teach us that everything is connected. We are only as strong as our weakest health system. We cannot win unless food is everywhere. This is a time of global challenges that no community or country can manage alone. This is a real opportunity for recovery to a more sustainable and inclusive path.”
With such a global role, her Hell’s Kitchen block doesn’t restrict her. She lives on W52nd St between 11th and 12th Avenue. “You’ve got the whole world on one block. On one corner there is Trevor Noah, so there’s always the lines of people waiting to see the show. Not now of course” says Lisa. At the other end of the block is the Hustler Club where Banksy did his “Waiting in Vain” artwork. In between as she walks home if there are protesters on the street she’s unsure if they are for Prada’s US HQ “activists against fur” – or the Central Park horses at Clinton Stables.
Across the street is De Witt Clinton Park which is full of Hell’s Kitchen history. At the end of the block USNS Comfort was docked until just a week ago. Lisa loves being by the Hudson: “I love the river. I grew up in Stockholm surrounded by water. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces that water is of great significance and makes me calm. I can just cross the streets and have the park, the river and the sunsets. I can feel sane and happy away from the very hectic city.”
On her travels around the world she’s certainly had some experiences. “I was attacked by a moose, had a deadly spider in my sock and a rat in my toilet, got dengue from a mosquito and was kissed by a giraffe.”
The moose attack was in Grand Canyon: “It was the moment in my life that I was most scared and I’ve been traveling in conflict zones. Yes, I’ve been in a lot of crazy situations, but this was something else!”
The spider was in Australia: “I was moving apartments and I had stored clothes in a friend’s basement. The spider had obviously crawled in to sleep. I was unpacking my socks and all of a sudden this spider comes flying out and lands on my arm. It was a white tail. I flicked it off. It didn’t bite – but we then couldn’t find it. So we sprayed everywhere and left for three days!”
Kenya was the location for Dengue Fever – and the less threatening Giraffe kiss: “You’d think that giraffe tongues would be slimy, but it’s more like sandpaper. It’s dry. It’s really weird.”
So what about acting locally? Her solution is small acts: “Even though I work with this global initiative that’s hopefully bringing about change on the largest scale, I am also into acting locally and making a change in the society and the community where you are. Focusing on your local environment and knowing that your small acts will add up. I try to think of something every day to do that will have a positive impact.
“That could be just buying food for George who lives on the block. He’s homeless. I have a box of power bars and chocolates for the delivery guys who come here. I try to always buy food locally. I don’t use Seamless, instead I order directly from the restaurants. I’m also using the Venmo list that you guys at W42ST shared and have made some donations. Also, I am reaching out to neighbors. We have a few folks – not on this block but close by – that are older and don’t want to go to the supermarket. So just helping out, getting groceries or picking up their laundry.”
When we return to our previous life, Lisa has a pick of adventurous hobbies to get back to. She spent 53 hours underwater in the past decade, skydived seven times and has been taking lessons to fly a helicopter.
Any last tips for surviving in a studio apartment with such a heavy workload? “Music. Dancing. Sometimes there are so many thoughts and emotions and feelings. When I feel overwhelmed or just down or sad or whatever it can be, when I just want to lay on the floor and eat chocolate. I just force myself because I know it will make me happy and it instantly makes me feel better.
“I put on my headphones and I dance around like a maniac. I have a crazy dance mix, hits from when I was growing up to Queen to Bowie. It’s just tunes that make me want to move. There’s also something wonderful about dancing on your own. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a great dancer. You can just dance and no one cares. It’s impossible not to move.”
But what about the rat?
“The rat in the toilet was here in Hell’s Kitchen. You think it’s a myth. You hear people talk about it, but that doesn’t happen in real life. But yeah, It just came flying out of the toilet.” She recalls in horror. “I just heard this noise in the bathroom and thought ‘what is going on?’ and I just looked in and the rat was sitting on the side of the bathtub. He saw me. He probably got more scared than I was and he just jumped, flew back into the toilet and swam off.”
So do you keep the lid down now? “Yes. And I don’t read in the bathroom anymore!”
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