Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Merry Christmas!!

Celebrating holidays in a foreign country is always special.  For example, Thanksgiving is always in adventure in finding the right food and sharing this American holiday with locals.  Christmas is a wonderful holiday to celebrate abroad because each country has it's own special traditions, but the center of the holiday remains the same.  Here in Congo, I had a wonderful experience for my first Christmas.  

First, of course, is the weather.  Even though I spent last Christmas in Guam basking in the 80 degrees heat and humidity, I still am not used to the idea of Christmas being so WARM.  Everything feels different, even the traditional music sounds different (maybe because they sing in Lingala here...).  Another major difference here is the lack of twinkly Christmas lights.  Or any lights at all.  On "store" at the market had some tinsel and a small Christmas tree and the nuns went all out at the convent with Christmas decorations, but other than that, there is very little in the Christmas decoration vein.  But still it is Christmas, and a beautiful one at that.  

Sr. Angela (the VOICA director) and Diggy (a VOICA volunteer at the office in Rome) came to visit us to see how the Congo volunteer site is set up and their visit just happened to coincide with Christmas.  It was actually very nice to have these visitors because it added to the holiday air...and they came laden with gifts from Rome (including nutella!!).  

Christmas Eve started bright and early with me mixing up a tasty batch of Brownies to bring to the sisters for Christmas day.  I had to bake them bright and early so they could be put in the oven at 7:30 am.  Why the early baking hour, you ask?  Well, we don't actually have an oven, so we rely on the kindness of the bakery for our baked goods.  And the best time to bake in an over that is busy with bread all day is before it's busy with bread all day.  And that is at 7:30.  I dropped off the brownies with the baker to be magically baked and went on my merry way.  Everyone went about their business with a jolly air saying "bon fete" left and right.  Everything closed early too so we had the afternoon to cook and prepare for our Christmas Eve feast.  We all (and by we all, I mean practically all of Aru) attended "midnight" mass at 7 pm.  It went on for about 2 hours and included copious singing and dancing.  The altar servers did a jaunty little jig during the gloria and kept of the dancing for most of the service.  At the end of mass, the entire church erupted into a joyful dance hall with people dancing in the aisles.  We danced our way out the doors and over to the convent where there was even more joyful dancing and singing.  Eventually we made our way back to the volunteer house where Lydia, Tomas, Diggy, and Sr. Angela enjoyed our feast (including my family specialty of Grandma noodlies, brought all the way from Denver).  We really went crazy for the feast and made some instant chocolate pudding adorned with the edges of brownies I couldn't get out of the pan in one piece (apparently making brownies in industrial bread ovens requires some finesse).  Since it was a holiday, we also sampled some of the local beer.  As for how the beer tastes, think keystone light, but not as good.  The water, I mean beer, was made up for by the rest of the feast, especially our brownie-pudding, and the good company with which it was enjoyed.  After our feast we followed a more European tradition and opened presents beneath our tiny Christmas tree.  By the time we were finished it was nigh on midnight, by far the latest I have ever stayed up in Congo!!  So we went to bed, but of course we were not expecting Santa to come because we don't have a chimney or cookies (although we did have some floppy carrots for the reindeer).  

Christmas morning dawned bright and early and thoroughly enjoyed sleeping in past 8 (o, goodness, what's wrong with me, I can't believe I'm excited to sleep in past 8!  8!  I used to cry when I had to be up by 8 and now I WISH I could sleep so late every day!!)  Well, anyway, I slept past 8 and then we had a community breakfast of pancakes.  Although, as it turns out, leavening IS an important ingredient for pancakes, so we had crepes.  Which were quite tasty if not quite so fluffy and not quite so good at absorbing our precious Aunt Jemima syrup.

Lydia and I brought a local girl with hydrocephalus to mass at 10 so she could participate in the Christmas festivities.  And as a side note, it is not unusual at all to attend mass twice on Christmas.  In fact, most people who went on Christmas eve went to the 7 am mass as well.  In typical African fashion, we were about 20 minutes to late, but no worries, we didn't even miss the opening prayer.  After mass we headed over to a big party with both the communities of sisters.  The feast included rabbit, fish, potatoes, legitimate American catcup, a number of other vegetables, cake, and of course, some tasty brownies.  After dinner Sr. Annemarie started the stereo up for some dancing.  And when Sr. Annemarie starts the dancing, you better gear up to be there for awhile because she can dance all day and all night long.  After our dancing it was time for Christmas nap.  Then back to the sisters for more eating, more cake, and a little more dancing.  After a strenuous day of sleeping, eating, dancing, sleeping, eating, and dancing I was ready for bed.  

Sharing this Christmas with my new community, both VOICA and the sisters, was really wonderful.  Everyone was filled with joy and celebration- I didn't even attend 7 am mass where I told the dancing was even more exuberant than at the vigil.   It was a day to really enjoy both the communities I feel so blessed to be a part of.  It was difficult to be so far away from home and I missed all the my Christmas traditions with my family, but I also discovered the joy of participating in the traditions of others.  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!! 

Thursday, December 24, 2009

You Will Go to the Source of the Nile and You Will Eat Goat

Sunday we were invited to join the secondary girls’ school end-of-year outing to Uganda. It all came about on Saturday morning when we were told that we could go on the trip to the source of the Nile in nearby Uganda and that we would have goat for lunch. Surely, that was all the information I needed! Which is good because that is literally all the information we were given.

The bus was to leave at 6:15 am, African Standard Time. And so, right on time at 8 am, we were off with 40 school girls to explore the Nile. We made it to the entrance of the national park in just about 4 hours. We were all excited by the sight of monkeys in the tree at the entrance, it seemed a sure sign that there would be more animals to follow inside the park. Lions, hippos, elephants and more!! Oh the excitement was ripe. Then we turned around and left the park. It turns out there is a complicated set of rules that one must follow if one is going to be allowed into this particular national park in Uganda. And we had not properly followed one or more of these stringent regulations. Rumors flew left and right speculating the exact reason behind this trip’s quick demise, but since most were flying around in French, I can’t really say what the reason might have been.

The day was not, however, a total disappointment. The bus took us back to the nearby town where we had a lovely picnic of goat and potatoes overlooking the Nile river. Actually, the goat was quite tasty. It may have even been delicous had there not been several goats bleating for thier lost breathern 10 yards away. But no matter, because there is simply no more pleasant way to spend a Sunday than feasting on goat and potatoes on the edge of one of the grandest rivers in the world.

Teaching Woes

People assume because I am able to speak English I am a qualified English teacher. The truth is far from this. In fact, I have no idea how to teach English. I know this is true because I have now been an English teacher for one week. I have been assigned to teach 5 classes at 3 different levels at 2 schools here in Aru. I teach the first class (which I believe to be somewhere around 6th grade) at the Cannossian run girls’ school, and the 4th (maybe 10th grade) and 6th (12th grade, I think) at the other local school.

My first lesson was with the 1st class on Monday. It should have been easy since this is the first year they have taken English and their level is very basic. And since I am taking over in the middle of the term, the former English teacher even shared his curriculum plan with me. I was supposed to teach the girls how to use this, that, these, and those. So the first thing I did was get out a book for teaching English, incidentally it is for Italian students, so much of the explanation is in Italian, and taught myself how to use this, that, these, and those. Unfortunately, I did not entirely grasp the concept of these tricky words until half way through my first class. First note to self for teaching English: make sure I understand the English grammar myself before trying to teach it!!

On Tuesday I was to begin at the other high school with a 2 hour lesson in the 6th class followed immediately by a 1 hour lesson in the 4th class. I had briefly met the former English teacher of these classes, but I did not have anything so handy as a curriculum, a book, an idea of what level the students are at, what they are supposed to be learning, or where, exactly, the classrooms are. And so I was filled with dread. I learned that it is actually possibly to make yourself sick with fear. Indeed, sick enough for several people to ask me if I might have malaria. Although, sadly, not so sick as to have to stay in bed and miss class. Sr. Daniela took me to the school where I met the teacher again and he gave me a book (a miracle!) and I was even shown where the classroom is. My students were very polite and kindly showed me in their notebooks what they were learning. Then they were very patient as I flipped through my newly acquired book in confusion desperately thinking about what I should do next. Truly, I’m not exactly sure how the next 2 hours were filled with English, but eventually it was time to leave and meet my next class. They too were quite polite and patient with my utter confusion and lack of anything to teach, other than jabbering on in English about anything. With a mere 20 minutes left and me really out of things to do with these attentive students, a torrential rain storm came in saved me. For, I learned, it is impossible to teach when it rains. Because it is dark when there is no sun, so no one can see, and it is loud on the corrugated metal roof with no ceiling to insulate the noise so no one can hear. As soon as it stopped raining enough, I fled the classroom in jubilee. And that was my second day of teaching.

Luckily, the situation improved throughout the week as I was able to look through my precious book for teaching English and come up with some kind of lesson plan. I also learned that the students here are really very good and quite different then in America. They are all quiet as I stand for 20 minutes with my back to them writing text on the board and diligently copy everything down. They politely stand up when called upon and do their best to speak English. They run and fetch me chalk from the office when I break all my pieces in the first10 minutes and erase the board for me so I have enough room to write their homework on it. In fact, they don’t even laugh at me when I trip over the holes in the floor. Now it is Christmas break so I have 2 weeks off to regroup. I hope I am able to gain some understanding of the system and curriculum so that I can actually be of some use to the students and really improve their (and my own) knowledge of English.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Les Yeux!!

This week at lunch we were served locusts. Sr. Angela, an Italian nun who has been here for over 40 years, forced me to eat one. Literally she picked one up and told me to “Put it in your mouth.” Since I was unable to voice my objections to locusts in French, I had to obey. It turns out that locusts are not so bad after all. Really it was just like a potato chip. With eyes. And not the kind of eyes you find on potatoes. Real eyes. Looking at me. So I ate my one locust and continues on with lunch. Then, Sr. Angela, who had a BIG pile of locusts on her plate (She thinks they are “tres bon”) picked one up, stared it straight in the eyes and said “Les yeux” (meaning “the eyes” in French) and popped into her mouth. Now I honestly admire Sr. Angela’s ability to stare down the thing she is eating. Me, I prefer my food to be sans yeux. It makes it much easier to ignore the fact that it was ever a living, breathing, hopping thing. But this city girl mentality is quickly changing here. In fact, if we ever want to cook meat for ourselves at our house, rather than mooching off of the sister’s meat, someone is going to have to take a living, breathing, clucking chicken or living, breathing, bleating goat and kill it. But that time is not yet nigh, and indeed, I hope it never will be.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Sunday Bike Ride

Lydia and I went for a bike ride around town on Sunday. She thought it would be a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. So we went into our storeroom and brought out the bikes. Our community has 2 bikes. One full bike, ¾ of one bike, and ¼ of another bike. One bike is great, it has all it’s parts and works very well, although the bell is broken so that’s disappointing. The second bike doesn’t have any breaks and it’s bell is also broken, which is more of a problem then with the first bike because it’s nice to alert people that you are coming when you don’t have breaks. It’s name is Top Gun. The third bike has one wheel, so really it’s not a bicycle, but a unicycle. But it’s supposed to be a bicycle so really it’s just wasted storage space. I didn't check, but I would be willing to bet that it's bell is broken too.  After about an hour of fixing up our bikes, which including removing brake pads, pumping wheels, and lowering seats (all made more complicated by the curious assortment of tools) we were on our way down the main drag of Aru. We have city bikes, but the terrain is more of what you would find on a mountain bike track, but no worries, our little bikes (or bike and ¾ as it were) did just find. We rode for a bit, but realized quickly that we had not brought water and so were ill equipped for more than a quick outing because apparently the sun is intense at 2 degrees north of the equator.

It was really great to see more of the town. Aru seems very small, but it actually goes on for quite a ways in many directions.  It is also surrounded by beautiful countryside.   Everything is green expect the red dirt so it's a little like Christmas all the time, except there aren't any reindeer.  We hope to be able to bike around some more and really explore our surroundings.  I anticipate many pleasant Sunday rides about the town.  

Since our first bike ride went so well, our next project is to get all 3 of us on a bike. Many of the locals are able to load their whole families on their bikes, kind of like a Conoglese mini van, so we are hoping to do the same with our community. Top Gun has a rat trap to sit on in back and a bar in front of the seat, so we think it’s possible. Although 3 people and no breaks might not work out so well. But we will try anyway!  

Monday, December 7, 2009

Travels to Aru

December 1, 2009
12:05 am: I am departing for the first leg of my journey to Congo. Oh wait, I’m actually not because the Ethopian Airlines airplane that is supposed to be flying me to Africa has not arrived yet. So I’m just sitting in the Rome airport in the middle of the night. 

Eventually the plane came and Lydia and I were on our way to Africa. After a brief layover in Adis Ababba we flew onto Entebbe, Uganda. Once there, I figured that there is really no better introduction to a county then a visit to the airport’s lost luggage office so it worked out quite well when 1 of our 4 suticases never magically appeared on the conveyor belt in Uganda. Truthfully, I felt a mix of relief that is wasn’t mine and sympathy for Lydia, who, of course, lost the bag with all her clothes and not the one full of books in French. However, since Lydia and I checked in together, all the luggage was put under my name so I still got to experience the joy of filling out paperwork for an airline. When we finally emerged from the baggage claim, Sr. Imelda, one of the Canossians from Kampala whisked us a way and plopped us at a local hotel. Then she left. Then she came back and gave us a little money. Then she left. And we were on our own in Uganda until 5 am the next morning when someone would pick us up to take us to the bus. So we ate and slept and walked around the market and felt white and then ate and slept and then it was 5 am and time to go catch our 7 am bus to Arua. We climbed aboard our super-nice-first-class bus and settled in for the next 8 hours. By super-nice-first-class bus I mean that it had wheels, and seats, and only made scary noises every once in awhile. But really it was awesome. My favorite part of the bus ride was the speed bump section when there were speed bumps every 20 yard for about 5 miles. But really it was awesome. At 3 pm, sweaty, dusty, and tired we arrived in Arua to be greeted by two Canossian sisters, Sr. Annemarie and Sr. Carmela who whisked us to Aru. As we were driving along I realized that in Uganda they drive on the left side of the road (being formally British and all), but in Congo they drive on the right. I figured it might be tricky to make that transition and remember to change sides of the road at the boarder. But it turns out in Congo they actually drive on whatever side of the street is most passable. Actually, street is a bit of a strong word, more like road. Or better yet, giant pothole. So after a bumpy 1 hour long ride and over 36 hours after we left Rome we finally arrived in Aru to be enthusiastically greeted by the Sisters, the girls who live at the Canossian boarding school, and Thomas the VOICA volunteer from Czech who has been here by himself since September. Later, when we were settling into our house, our neighbor girls came over and drummed and sang us a welcome song. After all the travel I was tired, but seeing the enthusiasim and joy with which everyone greeted us made me feel so welcome that all my tiredness was replaced with excitement to be in this new place with these new people.  I will try to write again soon about my first few days here!! 

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ciao, Roma

This is my last day in Rome. Tonight at midnight Lydia and I will leave Rome heading towards Aru via Addis Ababa, Kampala, and Arua. We will arrive sometime in the next few days, although it is still undecided if we will be taking the bus across Uganda or the significantly shorter plane ride. Although the estimated time of arrival is unknown, I am excited to start the journey and I will be happy to get there whenever I get there and begin settling into my drastically new and different life.

The last week has been a wonderful ending to Rome. Almost every night of the last week was some kind of feast. On Sunday my parents returned from their travels around central Italy and we feasted American style at the Hard Rock Cafe. I truly enjoyed my delicious American hamburger with onion rings and will miss that food. On Tuesday we held a fiesta with all the fixings kindly donated by some friends who work for the American Embassy to the Vatican. Our fiesta involved lots of quesadillas made with yellow cheese (a rare treat indeed), tacos with American lean beef (most of the cows here are rather on the fatty side), and corn chips and salsa. I am happy to report that the fiestas will continue in Congo with the seasoning packets I just received from the U.S. On Wednesday we were officially sent off with a beautiful mass. Mass was, of course, followed by an Italian pizza feast. On Thursday we celebrated a fantastic Thanksgiving (Part II) and introduced Matteo to the glory of family gluttony. All the traditional foods were presents, although chicken had to step in for difficult to find turkey. We also had to experiment with the green bean casserole since cream of mushroom soup is MIA in Italy. Overall, it was a memorable and lovely Thanksgiving. I am always excited to export Thanksgiving because I think it is such a wonderful holiday- family and food, who could ask for more? On Friday we feasted again on pizza. On Saturday I never wanted to eat again, but still managed to down a tasty panini for lunch and a plate of ravioli for dinner. Although all of our feasting included massive amounts of food, truly it was centered around being with each other. The community here was only improved with my parents being here to share the last week with us. I am so grateful for Sr. Angela, Diggy, Lydia, Trisha, Matteo, my parents, and all the sisters who created an atmosphere of joy and love. Because of these people I leave for Congo full of peace and ready to serve.

The last 2 1/2 months is Rome have been a helpful transition for me. Rome gave me time to reflect and look into myself as I prepare for this service experience. It also allowed me to learn to live in community and in a different culture while still enjoying many of the luxuries of modern life. Rome has been a wonderful formation experience, but I am fully ready to go to Congo and excited that the time is finally at hand. Whenever I leave a place I have been living for a few months I like to reflect on some of the things that I will and will not miss. So first, the things about Rome I will miss:
1. The wonderful community here with Diggy, Matteo, Trish, Sr. Angela, and whatever volunteers and visitors are coming or going
2. Gelato, cannoli, tartufo (chocolate ice cream wrapped in chocolate), and all manner of tasty Italian desserts
3. Italian cooking lessons with the convent cook, Rosa
4. A view of St. Peter's whenever I step outside
5. Stumbling upon ancient ruins on a daily basis

And the things I will not miss:
1. Trash. Rome is the dirtiest city I have lived in
2. Being cold all the time. This house doubles as a meat locker
3. The 982 bus. It's the only one that goes to our street and it's late when you are in a hurry and early when you are late
4. Soaking the floor whenever I shower in the curtain less shower
5. Being confused at the grocery store. This will probably not improve in Congo. Or maybe it will because there aren't any grocery stores at which to get confused.

I don't know when my next post will be, since I d0n't know when I am arriving in Congo. There is a Cyber Cafe in Aru run by VOICA volunteers so I will have access to Internet and will keep you all posted on life in Aru!

I wish you all a belated Happy Thanksgiving!!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hello, Good-bye

I will begin with a math problem:

On Thursday there were 5 volunteers and 2 visitors. On Friday 1 volunteer and 2 visitors left and 1 arrived. On Saturday 2 more volunteers arrived. On Sunday 1 left. On Tuesday 1 arrived. On Wednesday 1 arrived. On Thursday 3 left. How many volunteers are there now?

Sometimes I feel like I live at Grand Central Station. Here's why: volunteers and visitors are constantly coming and going from this house. In the past week so many people have come and gone that I honestly can't keep it straight. Our community fluctuated wildly every day with new people coming, going, and staying. Although this means a lot of work because we have to make and remake beds and clean rooms constantly, not to mention the mental strain of keeping who is coming when and from where strait, it is also fun because it means that I am constantly meeting new people from all different places and hearing about their varied experiences. The past week's transients have included a volunteers returning from West Timor and Congo (from U.S./Malaysia and Hong Kong), visitors from Louisiana (one via Hong Kong), 3 Italians, and a fellow American.

I could go on for some time about all that has transpired since the VOICA house has become a bed and breakfast, but I'll just share a bit. First, Lydia and I got to meet 2 more of our future community members! Clara and Stefano came to visit us from Northern Italy. They will join us in February with Matteo for one year of service. They both work so they were only able to stay for a week, but it was great to meet the people I will be living with for a year. My knowledge of the Italian language also increased as Clara and Stefano's English is a bit shaky and they tend to speak in Italian to each other. This means I've been hearing a lot of Italian and sometimes even understand what is being said (sometimes being maybe for like 5 minutes in the past week). But I have a feeling living with 3 Italians for a year will improve my skills. I have also learned that I talk fast and use a lot of slang. As is turns out, Matteo (whose English is quite good) can understand about 10% of what I say and the others less. So I am now trying to make a concerted effort to speak slowly and with words that are actually in the dictionary. It's hard. We also welcomed Celia back from a month of service in Congo. It was great to see her pictures and hear about her experiences. Meeting the future community and hearing about Celia's service has made me more excited to get to Congo, which is good because I'm leaving in 2 1/2 weeks!!

I will end by giving the answer: 5 (until tomorrow when my parents arrive, then there will be 7, but 4 will leave Sunday, then 2 arrive get the picture)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween: Convent Style and Other News

We all know Halloween as that fanciful holiday at the end of October where little children and often times adults dress up and merrily go about their neighborhoods picking up tasty treats. However, in Italy, Halloween was just another Saturday. We spent the day cleaning the house and doing this and that. I attempted to see the church that contains the body of St. Catherine of Sienna (just her body because her head is in Sienna) although it was closed for unknown reasons. So basically just the same old same old. We were just about to settle in for a Saturday evening movie when Sr. Angela bounced into the room brimming with excitement "You must dress up!! It's Halloween! That's what you do in America (and Canada). Dress up and come up to the convent for treats!!"

Well, okay. We all like treats, so let's go. But what shall we be? Hmmmm. We are in Rome, maybe we should do as the Romans do...we'll just put on a couple of togas and be good to go. So that's what Lydia and I did. We got a couple of sheets out and pulled up some leaves from the garden. She was Nero and I was Julius Cesar. Diggy put a little more effort into making her costume scary with make-up and all and ended up being some kind of psychotic killer person.

After we put on our awesome and carefully thought-out costumes we went up the the convent to trick-or-treat. The sisters kindly invited us in, complemented our costumes (they said we really looked like Roman senators) and fed us oven roasted chestnuts. We also got a little key chain for a treat. It was fun to be able to share our North American holiday with the sisters and enjoy their company as well as some tasty chestnuts.

And now for the news. My ticket for the Congo has been booked! Lydia and I are leaving at midnight on December 1 for Kampala. Once in Kampala we will take a bus up north to Arua where the sisters will meet us and take us across the border to Aru! It's very exciting to have the tickets booked. The time in Rome has gone incredibly fast. I felt like I had so much time at the beginning, and now I only have a few more weeks before I'll be settling into Africa and there is still so much to see and do here.

In other news, we have a new friend here at the VOICA house. Matteo, an Italian who will be volunteering with us in the Congo for one year starting is February, is here for a month of formation. He spent 1 month in Aru this summer with one of VOICA's short term projects, so he didn't have to do the whole 2 month training. He has been able to share some of his experience in Congo, which is helpful as we prepare ourselves for a major lifestyle change. He also cooks!

That's all for now, but the next few weeks will be very busy with seeing the rest of Rome, making preparations for Congo, and enjoying my parents visit!

Friday, October 23, 2009

We Go to See-See Assisi

My time in Rome has been very different than my previous European experiences. When I studied in London, I traveled nearly every weekend to another country or at least to another place in England; I was constantly on the move and seeing as much as I could. In Bosnia as well I travelled often and split my time between Vares and Sarajevo. Since I've been in Rome (except for the quick weekend trip to Florence at the very beginning) I have been in Rome. I haven't been gallivanting about the country as I had become used to doing in the past. On the contrary, I've spent my weekends cleaning the house and wondering around Rome. There is nothing bad about this, as there is certainly plenty to see in Rome. Already I have my Sunday plans set for the next 4 weeks. But it is different to be in a foreign place and to just stay there.

That said, this past Tuesday our group went on a pilgrimage to Assisi, that lovely hill town in Umbria home to such famous saints as Francis and Clare. Sr. Sandra, the Superior of the community that VOICA resides in, brought out the old van and drove Sr. Angela, Diggy, Lydia, and me up to Assisi. The picture is Lydia, Sr. Angela, and me in Assisi.

Our first stop was Santa Maria Degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels, or Santa Maria de los Angeles- do you see a connection with a certain large city on the West cost?). This gigantic Basilica is home to the tiny Porziuncola where the first followers of St. Francis gathered. It is also home to a rose garden that has miraculously grown roses without thorns since the day Francis plunged himself into the roses to avoid temptation. It is also the site of his death. After this we made our way into Assisi proper and wandered about. In the summer, the town in packed with tourists, but now in late October it was quite pleasant, although still busy. We visited Francis's original house, now a church; the Basilica of San Francesco, which includes his tomb; and the Basilica of St. Clare, which is home to her tomb, a number of relics from both saints, as well as the crucifix from which Jesus spoke to Francis and inspired his mission. We then stopped for pizza at Francis's favorite pizza joint in the center of town. Let me just say this, I like Italian pizza. Next, we made our way to just outside town to visited San Damiano where the crucifix spoke to Francis, where Clare and her sisters lived, and where Clare died. Finally, we visited the hermitage, up above Assisi on a neighboring hill. This was where Francis and his brothers would retreat for prayer. There was a lovely path through the woods that led to a number of caves where the Franciscans would retreat to pray in solitude and in nature.

This trip to Assisi was a great way to once more experience the history with which every corner of Italy is seeped in. So many famous people, from Emperors to Saints, have been a part of Italian history. It seems that almost every small, unassuming town in home to this or that saint. Indeed, Assisi is a small unassuming town and is home to TWO great saints.

It was also nice to leave Rome for a bit, although this trip reminded me that there is so much of Italy that I want to see, but I do not have the time to right now. It simply means that I will have to return to Italy at some point and be a proper tourist!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thanksgiving: Part I

Monday we celebrated Thanksgiving.

Now I can imagine what you are thinking: "Gee, I've always felt like the holidays were getting earlier and earlier every year, but Thanksgiving before Halloween is a little extreme!"

Have no fear, Thanksgiving is still safely situated at the end of November where it belongs. However, our friendly neighbors to the north believe in an earlier version of Thanksgiving and so celebrate on the day that we traditionally call "Columbus day." Since Lydia, my fellow going-to-the-Congo mate, is one of those friendly neighbors to the north, she cooked up a fabulous Thanksgiving feast for us all. Which is just fine by me because it means that I get to celebrate Thanksgiving twice this year. That's twice the food, twice the gluttony, and twice the deliciousness (although none of the football).

Having Thanksgiving in a foreign country is hard. First, there are no cranberries, sweet potatoes, or even turkey to be found round about here, so we had to make some adjustment. Lydia made a tasty chicken roast, mashed potatoes, a fabulous chestnut and apple stuffing made with chestnuts gathered from the Italian hills, and steamed vegetables. For dessert she made a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin. Here in Italy, pumpkin pie doesn't come in cans. You actually have to get a pumpkin, cook it, mash it, and make a pie yourself.

All in all it was a fantastic feast and made me look forward even more to Thanksgiving: Part II.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Il Santo Padre entra"

Il Santo Padre!! Il Santo Pardre!! Si, si!!

I will begin my saying that my Italian is really improving. I figured out, all by myself, that "il Santo Padre entra" means that the Pope is entering. Pretty good, eh?

This weekend was the height of excitement when it comes to living in Rome. I saw il Sant Padre, not once, but twice, as well as celebrated mass with il Santo Padre in St. Peter's Basilica and said the rosary with, guess Santo Padre. He was also about 5 feet away from me at one point. In fact, he was close enough that I could have, had I really long arms, reached out and touched him.

So why was I stalking the Pope all weekend, you ask? Well, besides being what one does on the weekend in Rome (really, can you think of a better diversion then following a holy man around?), this weekend Rome was also celebrating the synod of African bishops as well as the canonization of 5 new saints. We were blessed enough to score tickets to 2 awesome events with the Pope!

On Saturday evening the Pope prayed the rosary for Africa and with Africa. It started with songs from a variety of African nations then a parade of African flags. Several nations offered prayers and young people gave testimonies (although I'm a little unsure of the details since only Kenya and South Africa spoke English). Then "il Santo Padre entra." We prayed the rosary live with maybe 5 African nations. The Pope began with the Our Father, then the African congregations led the Hail Mary's in their own language (English, French, and Arabic, with a bit of Latin thrown in here and there) followed by a prayer by the bishop. It was an awesome event to be praying a truly worldwide rosary.

On Sunday morning the Pope celebrated mass for the canonization of the 5 newest saints: Damien of Molokai, Jeanne Jugan, Zygmunt Felinski, Francisco Guitart, and Rafael Baron. Lydia and I got there pretty early- about 7:30, but there were already hundreds of people surrounding St. Peter's square. Eventually we were let in and we actually made it into the St. Peter's Basilica. We were at the very back in the front row of the standing section. Now, remember, St. Peter's is the largest place of worship in the world, so when I say we were at the back I mean we were REALLY far from the front. But we were inside. The upside of being at the back is that is where the procession to the front begins. Meaning "il Sant Padre entra" directly in front of us. For about 30 seconds the Pope was VERY close. Then he started the long procession to the front of the altar and became a tiny gold speck about 1 mile away. About 2 hours later he came back, right by us once more, so overall it was a pretty good spot. The mass itself was really amazing. The pope canonized the new saints (although I'm not entirely sure what happened since it was in Latin), and then celebrated mass.

What struck me most about this weekend was the worldwide nature of the Catholic Church. On both Saturday and Sunday I heard many different languages and saw people from every corner of the earth, from Hawai'i to France and from South Africa to the Philippines. It was a very special experience to take part in these events and celebrate in such a worldly manner.

I don't know what Roman adventures this next weekend will hold, but surely it will be something fun!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Day in the Life of Formation

I've been in Italy for a few weeks now and am happy to be settling into a routine.

It goes something like this:

7am: We go to mass (luckily it's close so I can stumble out of bed at 6:45)

7:25-8:30: Breakfast (cornflakes and tea, maybe toast if I'm feeling gourmet)

8:30-9:30- Household chores (food shopping, tidying the house, gardening, sweeping the cockroach carcasses (Okay the last one is not really true...cockroaches are swept before breakfast))

9:30 to 11ish- Morning session with Sister Angela, the director of VOICA and Diggy who volunteers at the office here and has been to Papua New Guinea and Togo. So far we've been talking about the Canossian sisters, St. Magdalene and her charism, methods of prayer, and the Bible. Other topics will include the four pillars of the program (spirituality, formation, service and community), mission life, and stuff like that.

11ish-3- Lunch and siesta!! We (there are 3 of us, me and Lydia going to Congo with me and Diggy) take turns cooking lunch and dinner everyday. After lunch together we are free to ramble about the gardens, mosey across the street to the gigantic park, or sit on the roof and take in some sunshine and the view of St. Peter's (the third option has so far been my overwhelming favorite).

3-5: French lesson-one hour with Diggy and one by ourselves. Our French lessons also include attending mass at San Louis (a French speaking parish) in Rome once a week. Plus we try to speak in French from lunchtime until 5 o'clock, more or less (usually less, but hopefully more as time goes on)

And then we are done for the day. Someone makes dinner and we hang out until bedtime.

On Saturday morning we clean the house from top to bottom and then have lunch with the sisters at the convent (my favorite meal of the week, they have an AMAZING cook up there!).

After that we are free until Monday morning to explore Rome, ramble about the gardens, mosey to the park, sit on the roof, etc.

I have much more to tell about my adventures in Rome so far and will write again soon. I am hoping to have a lot of late night free time as I attempt to follow the Rockies through the postseason :)


Friday, September 25, 2009

To Rome (sort of)!!

My route to Rome went something like this: Denver to Dublin to Rome to Florence to Cinque Terre to Rome. Why the round about route you ask? Because of my fans, of course! I had friends in Dublin and Florence to see, and not so much to do in Rome for the first week or so.

It all started when I found a cheap fair through Dublin to Rome, "Why, I have a friend in Dublin! I should stop there on my way to Rome and see her. That will be fun," I said to myself. Okay, book the ticket. After leaving Denver on Monday the 14th, I get into Dublin Tuesday morning and leave Wednesday afternoon, plenty of time to enjoy an entire country and see Catherine. So this is what I did. After arriving early, we drove off into the Irish countryside to an 6th century monastery called Glendalough. It was a beautiful way to see a bit of Ireland and enjoy some Irish history. After nap time, we went into Dublin for a few pints in Temple Bar. Then it was time to go to Italia where I was greeted by Sr. Pat, the outgoing VOICA director, and Diggy the volunteer who helps at the house.

On Thursday I saw Rome. Diggy took me down to St. Peter's square, a twenty minute walk from the VOICA house, gave me the bus number to get back and you go. She left me in the Eternal City to fend for myself and find my way back home. So I gathered my wits about me and traipsed off into the city to take in such sites as the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps. After my enjoyable ramble about the city, I found the bus and made my way back to home!

Now one might think exploring Rome for a day is far to short, it wasn't built in a day, so how could I possible leave after a day? But I'd had about enough of this Roman thing. So on Friday morning I went to Florence to see my friend Brandi who is studying abroad there this quarter.

We had a lovely visit of Florence on Saturday seeing a gorgeous and wonderfully peaceful monastery on the outskirts of town, as well as a little old statue by the name of David. Actually, I was totally impressed by David, I was not expecting it to be as amazing in person as it is in pictures, but it turns out David in the flesh (or, rather, stone) is WAY better.

By evening I'd had enough of Florence as well, so on Sunday we went to Cinque Terre. We hiked along 4 of the 5 towns and fawned over the amazing views and unbelievably cute towns clinging precariously to cliffs. We also enjoyed some amazing pesto at its birthplace.

Monday morning I said good-bye to Brandi and headed back to Rome, feeling that maybe I had short changed the city and should give it some more time.

So here I am in Rome getting settled. Formation stars soon, although an exact day and time has proven difficult to extract. Mostly I've been puttering about the extensive gardens, thinking about studying French, and venturing out into Rome every now and then. But really, why should I go out into the city when I need only step out onto the terrace to see the Dome of St. Peter's? I am looking forward to a less hectic schedule in which I actually stay in one place for more than a day and get down to the business that I came to Rome for, so hopefully we shall begin soon!


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What am I doing?

Welcome to my blog where I will be updating my adventures volunteering with VOICA over the next 2 years. VOICA is a volunteer program for lay people run by the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Rome. They have many sites throughout the world where volunteers and sisters work to improve education and health care.

The volunteer experience begins with a formation session at the VOICA house in Rome. I will be in Rome until early December learning all manner of things about the sisters, volunteering, living in community, and of course, brushing up on my French (which needs a lot of brushing up, if I do say so myself). In December, I will move onto my site in Aru, Democratic Rebupblic of the Congo where I will be for 2 full years. Look for me back in Denver in December 2011!