Every year we organise a Christmas activity in order to share the spirit of this festivity with our volunteers who are far away from home.
This time we visited Candelaria Nursery Home, located in a small country town near the high mountains that divide the high lands from the low lands in Cochabamba.
As usual our hosts welcomed us with open arms to share a breakfast feast with the products that were delivered to them as part of gift packages put together by our institution.
It was such a nice time that we are already looking forward to visiting them again next year!
¡Feliz Navidad!, Glædelig jul!, Joyeux Noël!, God jul!, Wesołych Świąt!, Buon Natale!, Vrolijk Kerstfeest!, Fröhliche Weihnachten!, Christmas omedetou, Merry Christmas!, Zalige Kertfeest!
Following our day at hour of grace orphanage the day before we took a taxi to Akwadum Christian Village orphange. The children at this orphanage are well looked after and clean. The voluneers had organised presents for the children which they absolutely loved. :) We had so much fun, distributing pencil sets, writing books, and games, face paint, puzzles and balls to share. the kids loved the face paint of course.
When we got back from Akwadum we went home and got ready for the Projects Abroad Christmas Party at the office in Koforidua. The coordinators and the volunteers had a good night drinking and eating the food the coordinators had prepared. Jollof rice - my new favourite food - yum. The neighbours at the office have a goat (which is pregnant with twins) and I was asked inside their compound to see what I thought was going to be a pet or something but they were actually preparing a local bush meat (crasscutter) which is a delicacy apparently. Photos to come on facebook soon.
On Friday (23/12/11) at about 9:30am we left for Hour of Grace Orphanage (huhunya). We planned to do medical outreach and serve a special lunch to the children. As soon as we got off the tro tro (minivan) we were greeted by smiling climbing children. The children had made some decorations which we put up and we had brought with us a couple of books and a puzzle to share with them. I had also brought along some pink and white zinc which the children absolutely loved. They all wanted their face decorated. when the coordinators arrived we treated the childrens wounds. The children and their clothes are always dirty and they have one face washer and towel between approximately 40 kids. We (the volunteers) see alot of donations of goods but we dont see it often make it to the children............. I'll let you fill in the blanks.
The two Danish volunteers had organised team games to play with the children. This was alot of fun for all those involved and to watch. (see pictures on facebook). After games we served the children lunch, which the Projects Abroad staff had organised and cooked and a treat of soft drink for each child.
I (and the others) was so exhausted from picking up children all day and playing. We caught a tro tro back to Koforidua.
Christmas is coming up, and who needs presents when you've got family right? Everyone apparently, but luckily my family are back in Australia, so I don't have to shell out for the shitty gifts that I would no doubt be buying at 8pm tonight as shops closed and people fought people to get their hands on the last tickle-me-whatever in Toys-R-Us. I'm really not sure how I feel about Christmas... it's got the tackiness and capitalist sheen of Valentines day but the beautiful family-togetherness sentiment of a season one Simpsons episode. So much to love, but oh so much delicious potential for loathing as well.
Today I will meet my lovely French girlfriend, whose interests aside from being lovely and French include having short hair, liking chocolate and spelling her name with an accent, just after lunch and run some errands. It will not be an exceptionally memorable day, first we will go to the airline office to change my flights from January to February, then we will go to the markets and buy Christmas presents for our respective host families in anticipation of tomorrow's festivities. (over here presents and shit are on the 24th) We will walk past other latecomers doing just the same in the markets, in the streets, we will ride with them in the busses, and wait behind them in inevitably long lines at every store. Store owners will take our money.
Tomorrow my time will be split between my host family and my girlfriend's, both of whom have invited us to their respective family get-togethers on Christmas eve and everyone at each house will roll eyes behind amused smiles as children tear at eachother's eye sockets to open their presents first. Decorations will be mangled and plastic will crunch underfoot. The cake will have fruit in it and, as always, will be too fucking dry to eat alone, Christmas encourages liquid consumption. At around 1pm I plan to unfasten my belt and tie it around my head, ninja style, down a bottle of wine and make for the clubs – partying is my Christmas present and everyone will know that the children are asleep, having burned more calories that day than your mother in law could in a week of gym visits.
The next day will be hot and lazy and the day after that will be equally so as the year that was 2011 winds down and idly shuffles into the past. The rest of this year will be predictable as hell.
I guess that's the main thing that should be looked forward to at Christmas time; it is a time to relax and get fat on predictability with no surprises, no sharp, jolting shocks and no rude awakenings. Christmas is not a time to try something new, and Christmas is sure as sugar not the time to try and do anything important. We have all done this before and we will do it again every year from now until we are dead, whether you are happy, sad, annoyed, bemused, fed up or disinterested with Christmas time probably doesn't have anything to do with Christmas itself but more with how you are feeling about life in general right now.
I'm pretty happy with this Christmas. Right now I'm sitting outside in my favourite spot, writing on my laptop and listening to Nancy Sinatra's woeful laments about her baby having shot her down. Tranquillity and peace. The only thing that I can't handle today is that this god damned Christmas lark has gotten so far into my skull that I am really finding it impossible to write about anything else. These meandering few paragraphs are not intended to be anything special, nor are they written to send word to back home about how I'm doing, where I'm going, or what is happening over in Bolivia. The only reason I am writing about fucking Christmas at all is so that, hopefully, once I let all the grotty sentimentality ooze out of me like pus from the festive sore that has infected my brain, I won't feel the need to write about Christmas any more.
I didn't want to write this, but a fat man in a red suit is holding me at gunpoint and he won't let me go until the page smells of holiday cheer. Here you go you jolly, bearded bastard. Take my morning, take my soul and take my Sunday sleep-in... now stay the fuck away.
Coming soon... an interesting post.
December 23, 2011
I have been here for a few days now. I have been constantly trying to remind myself that it is not only Christmas time, but it is the month of December as well. It is very easy to get lost in the idea that it is July in the United States and not African summer time.
When I first got off the plane, it was very hot, probably the hottest that it has been so far. I was nervous that the driver would be creepy, but he was fine. His name is Denver, (like in Colorado as he said) and he has never left South Africa in his life of about 40 years or so, at least that was the age I got when I looked at him. He brought me not to the host family that I was said to go to on the website, but to a random family called the Nelson's that I know nothing about. That was a little nerve racking. I still couldn't get out of my head that Projects Abroad was an internet scam.
The family is very nice and friendly from the members that I have met so far. The woman who owns the house I'm staying in, Pam, is a young grandmother of 5 grandkids. She has darker skin than me and short, straight black hair. The house was a bit weird to get used to at first because Pam sleeps in a room that has 2 bed and I have to walk through her room in the morning to use the "volunteer bathroom" when there is a perfectly good bathroom next to the kitchen. Not sure why she set it up that way, but whatever, I don't want to ask questions to offend anyone.
I have a room mate, Jeske, who turned 26 today actually. She is Dutch, so that is a bit friendly since I have had a Dutch room mate before! She is very nice and has been helping me feel safe on the train and in the neighborhood. Today, the 2 of us are planning on going to the beach after we get out of work at 1pm, for her birthday.
Work has been kind of challenging so far. I was given 3 files yesterday on my first day and I have to work with real clients who are dealing with serious legal issues when I have never had any legal experience or any kind of legal classes in college or anywhere. I am basically clueless when most other volunteers in the office have or are studying law. It is a little intimidating. Everyone is very helpful though. It is a bit scary that I am not just working on a school project, I am actually working on someone's file that is a real person and needs my help. It's insane to put that kind of importance on someone who knows next to nothing about law. I hope I don't seriously let anyone down.
Many of the clients are refugees and people who cannot afford a lawyer, so they look to us volunteers for advice on what to do. Since we have access to the internet and many people here have studied a bit of law, they can give our best advice. I feel under-qualified, but everyone keeps assuring me that it will get easier.
The train was a bit scary at first because almost everyone had warned me to be careful on the train and not to ride alone or ride after 6pm, bla bla bla. The only contradiction to that though, is that my room mate has been riding on the train by herself for most of the time that she has been here. I do not feel comfortable yet in riding by myself, but hopefully soon I will because I have hardly seen any of Cape Town.
The weather has been phenomenal. It has probably been in the 70s most days with a breeze. Perfect. Not too hot, not too cold. Yesterday morning it poured until the early afternoon. It made everything outside a bit cooler and it was almost sweatshirt weather, but I toughed it out in a Tshirt.
It is going to be weird being in a house for Christmas with a family I just met. I bought them a present, but on the card I wrote it to the family that I was originally assigned to, I'm sure that won't matter, but I will have to explain and that could get a little odd.
I really like the view of Table Mountain. It is so pretty to look at every morning. I'm sure the locals don't look at it and appreciate it, I know I wouldn't if I saw it every day. I can't wait to climb it. There is a free hike in a couple weeks that I can go with other volunteers. No one I know, but it will still be fun.
The money conversion was in my favor, thank goodness. I was scared it was going to be like the Euro and I was going to get ripped off and feel poor the entire time I was here and limit what I could do. It is just under $8 per 1 Rand. Which is awesome. Things that would be $5 or more dollars in the US are like $1 here.
Alright, I'm going to get back to doing some research at work. I will try to keep this updated, but I am not very good at updating blogs. Love and miss my friends and family <3
'Happy Birthday!', Ana says on the phone, and this is the little snowball that soon turns into an avalanche. My dear friend Ana, former highschool colleague and the director of The Village/Satul magazine (the Projects Abroad journalism placement in Romania), goes on to say that as a present she has arranged a public exhibition of some of my photos from India, Nepal, Ghana, Jamaica and Thailand. Further more, she says, it will be a charitable event, as we will sell the photos and donate the proceeds to some needy institution. Do I know of one, she asks? I ask around: orphanages will get a lot of attention for Christmas, lots of interest and donations. We need somewhere more obscure, more overlooked. My mom has the solution: the 'Mina 1 Mai' Hospital for Patients with Chronic Mental Illnesses.
The little snowball soon gathers momentum: my sister sends a press release to the media, two tv stations interview me, I send emails to friends. Stefi, another highschool colleague, joins in: he is part of the Association of Christian Students in Brasov, so he will bring a group of carolers. Another friend, Damien, from White Mountain Property, phones to tell me he wants to donate 334 EUR as well. Plus a Christmas tree and trims. We raise 300 RON at the opening of the exhibit. My mom still has 300 RON from a former Projects Abroad volunteer, Dagmar, and another Projects Abroad volunteer, Paul, has just sent 100 GBP for the hospital. It takes a whole afternoon to buy oranges, bananas, cheese, chicken legs, hats, socks, chocolates and waffles for all 145 patients of the hospital; it takes four more hours to make the individual packages for 68 women and 77 men. And then the whole thing happens on Saturday, the 18th of December.
How we fit a Christmas tree, all of the presents and 20 people with two guitars in five cars eludes me. But we do and we’re off; the only one who knows what to expect is my mom, who’s done this before many times. As soon as we arrive, my mom gets swamped with patients, all trying to talk to her at the same time, some kissing her, some trying to kiss her hands. We’re the only donors they’ve seen for a long time and probably the only ones they’ll see this Christmas. After all, the hospitals for mentally ill patients, especially irrecuperable, get only the dregs of the funds from Healthcare, and the public thinks they’re one anyway, so why care. These people are not even wanted by their families anymore. One woman has 7 children, but none has ever visited her since she arrived at the hospital. She is part of a huge majority. The lucky ones get to go home for a weekend sometimes. Regardless, almost the only thing ALL of them talk about the whole time is their families: their children, their parents, their brothers or sisters. Insanity – it becomes instantly obvious – doesn’t replace memory or the need to love and be loved. The system doesn’t help either: these people receive indemnizations from the state for their illness, but the money doesn’t go to them or the hospital that looks after them; it goes to their next of kin.
As carols ring out from the hall where we set up the tree, I look around and I see happy faces among the patients (attached to clumsily dancing bodies) and teary eyes among our group. And I remember what my mom told me on the way: ’We have to be strong in there, and laugh and be happy. This is what these people need. They have enough tears and misery themselves’. Extremely hard to do when we realize how fortunate we are, and how dismissive of our good fortune. Even harder when we realize how little people need in order to feel a drop of happiness and how inured and ungrateful we’ve become to simple things.
I want to thank everybody who got involved in this spontaneous project: Ana and her husband Adi, Stefi and his carolers, Damien and his future wife Andra, Dagmar and Paul, everybody who donated at the opening of the photo exhibition and not east, my mom, who is and always will be a model of selflessness. But most of all, thank you to the patients of the Mina 1 Mai hospital, who have given us much more than we could ever have given them.
Director Projects Abroad Brasov
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