Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Summer That Never Was

As the sun sets on another day, I am reminded of the passage of time. Time is constant, but to our mind, an hour can be as long as a day or quick as a second. My time in Northern Ireland is dwindling, and I am continually aware of the fact. Since the start of our summer programme a couple of months ago, my concept of time has drastically changed. It still feels like May to me. Where has summer gone?! As a kid, I remember summer being far too short, or too fast, or however you want to quantify it. I wanted more summer play, more time to play outside with my neighbors. I didn't want to go back to school! As a college student, it was the opposite. I couldn't wait to get back to school. The summer seemed to drag on and on while I worked. I just wanted to see my college friends again. But now the summer has gone too fast again. I am more aware now of the truth behind the saying "Time flies when you're having fun" than I have ever been, and every part of me wants to slow things down.

BUT ALAS! I cannot, so here are a few experiences I'd like to share from the blur of playing in parks, at farms, on the beach, and in the playroom this summer.

1. I have fully acclimated to the Northern Irish climate. There was one week that was hot from the start. I arrived home after days at the park and beach feeling sticky, grimy, and stinky. The sad part? It was never warmer than 80°F (25°C) and nowhere near the humidity as at home. Thank goodness I'm not coming back home in the middle of summer, or I think I might have refused to go outside.

We had to constantly remind the children to drink the water we brought along. Unfortunately, one of the boys drank his water too quickly and was sick. We were on our way home from the park, and his face kept getting more and more pale. The worst part was that we had just arrived back at his when his body erupted. Luckily, we were prepared with towels and sick bags. And then we returned him to his mum! What a state to get your child back in.

2. I have the skills to break up a fight. Actually, I don't think I can call it a skill. It was more of an instinct reaction. As I was setting up the seats for lunch, two boys, who were having some issues with each other that day, suddenly bumped into each other. A slight bump. That's all it took, and they were at it. Fortunately, I was just a few feet away as it started, so when I looked up to see them start shoving, I jumped to action. I put myself between them while wrapping my arms around the one closest to me, and then I just pulled him away as another volunteer pulled the other one away. No one landed a punch (whew!), and they made up without being forced to later on.

There was no thinking involved, and I'm pretty proud of that. It's not as if it was a knife fight or something dangerous like that, but I'm still pleased that there was no doubt in my mind as to what I needed to do. 

So I learned that in all one of the fights I've been exposed to, my first reaction is to step in and break it up. That's a 100% success rate!

3. Children remember. They look when you aren't looking back. They listen (sometimes) when they don't seem to be. They take a single instance, a passing remark, a subtle wink, and make it a defining moment. Whatever you do will be ingrained in their memory. When I first arrived in Northern Ireland, there were two wee girls in our afterschool program who I met just twice before their time at Quakers was over. During one of those times, I sat next to them on the bus, and I told them that I was wearing a wig. They didn't believe me, so of course, I showed them by moving my scalp with my hand (you know the trick). Nearly a year later, these two girls were able to come back on a daytrip with us, and guess what they asked me. "Andrew. ANDREW!" "Yes! What? What?" "Are you wearing a wig?" Children remember. After all this time, that was their memory of me, and it will most likely continue to be because we spent a good 20 minutes discussing why I couldn't take my wig off.

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I spent the past week on a retreat with my fellow European BVSers in Germany. We stayed just outside of Berlin in a lovely retreat center called Haus Kreisau. The view of the lake was nice, but I wasn't such a big fan of the rooster crowing outside of my window each morning.

It was a spectacular week for us all to come together, share our experiences, and have a bit of craic. Although we had multiple workshop sessions each day and plenty of other things packed into our schedule, I still found myself staying up until 1:00am nearly every night. I think that I've discovered that the most fun and memorable times come when you are desperately trying not to go to bed.

One thing I learned from our sessions is that I am not a social activist. My life does not involve any form of activism such as changing political landscapes or protecting refugees from unjust regulations. (Some might argue that my work is activism, and I would agree. Yet, I feel my contribution is on a more personal level rather than national or even local level.) I've never been one to follow the news closely in order to be well-informed about the Isreali-Palestinian conflict or what is happening in Nigeria, Syria, Ukraine, and so on. I've always been one to think that there is little I can do for those people and places. In fact, I still do think that, but after listening to other BVSers talk about this subject during one of our sessions, I realized that I can at least be well-informed about the situations. I can at least be able to take part in some informed conversations, help others understand what is happening, and hope that they will do the same. I may not be a social activist per se, but I do have a social responsibility.

I think I wrote in another post awhile back that I didn't think that I was a world traveler. Whatever I said in that post may have been true then, but I'm not so sure any more. I think when you hit three major cities (Berlin-Dublin-Belfast) in three different countries (Germany-Ireland-Northern Ireland) in less than a day, you might be a world traveler. So far in my time abroad, I've visited five separate countries, and by the time I come home, that number will reach eight. That's pretty cool to me since a year ago I didn't even plan on leaving the U.S. for my project.

During the retreat, we had one free day to do whatever we wanted, and the majority of us chose to explore Berlin. I was happy to find out that another BVSer, Emma, had a similar exploration strategy. Instead of planning out our day, we just picked a starting location (the East Side Gallery section of the Berlin Wall) and started walking. Surprisingly, we ended up finding all of the best sites along the way plus some extras here and there. Check out some of the spots we found.

Rotes Rathaus (Town Hall) & TV Tower
St. Nicholas' Church - oldest church in Berlin
Berlin Cathedral
Memorial to War Victims and Tyranny
Soviet Army War Memorial

Brandenburg Gate (way back there)
Brandenburg Gate
Berlin Victory Column

We also stumbled across a creepy (what looked to be) abandoned circus with children running around all over. And I can't forget to mention the playground we played on. It had a trampoline! Berlin was pretty fun to explore.

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