The Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Be sweet, and do awesome stuff all the time

Schmemocracy II: I laughed, I cried, I partied May 25, 2011

Up here in the Great White North this past month we were treated to the ultimate wacky reality-television special: the 2011 Canadian Federal Election! I’m going to try my best to not turn this into a political opinion rant, mostly because I feel like there’s been enough of that in my face over the past couple of months and it’s a body of work that doesn’t need my contribution. I will however say that if our electoral system reflected the way Canadians actually voted we would have ended up with a very different looking parliament than the one we’re stuck with.

For those of you who are not familiar with Canadian politics, it’s really a shame because you are missing out on some choice entertainment. The cast of characters is vibrant, filled with classic heroes and villains, and epic struggles between good and evil. This election was a prime example: on the hero side was Jack Layton, the mustachioed “working man”, champion of the unions, friend of social programs nation-wide, constant under-dog and also-ran, leader of Canada’s “third party”. There was also our gal Elizabeth May, the buck-toothed old-school environmentalist/lone female leader, fighting doggedly to have her Greens recognized as a legitimate party.  On the other hand we had Michael Ignatieff (or “Iggy” as he is affectionately known by the haters), leader of one of Canada’s oldest and most successful parties, former Harvard professor (accused of not being “Canadian” enough to run the country), smug deadpan opposition leader who never seemed to actually oppose anything the party in power did.  Steven Harper, Conservative Prime Minister and resident megalomaniac, is about as close to a dictator as Canadians will allow him to be, and has cold blue eyes that convey the message “I eat kittens”. And how could we forget Monsieur Gilles Duceppe, leader of the only federal party that exists exclusively in a single province, whose sole purpose is to advocate for the separation of said province from the rest of Canada. Wait a minute….what?

The list goes on. Watching the election results come in on the CBC has always been for me what the Superbowl or Stanley Cup is for most of the non-nerd population. Me and my poli-geek friends gather around the TV, drinks in hand and Party Mix close by, cheering and jeering as the polls close across Canada’s 6 time zones, staying up until the wee hours to see the final results in real time. This year, we celebrated Lay-Ton’s long-awaited rise to Leader of the Official Oppostion and Liz May’s hard-earned spot as a Member of Parliament, gawked at the historic defeat of Iggy’s Liberals and his subsequent resignation as party leader, found the humour in the blatant defeat of Duceppe’s Bloc Quebecois (and his instant straight-up resignation), and felt The Fear over the implications of a definitive Conservative majority: the only Prime Minister whose government has ever been held in contempt of parliament became even more powerful as a result of this forced election. America, we have learned nothing from your mistakes.

But I digress. Having held my breath through much of the Haitian presidential election just a few months prior, I wasn’t looking forward to sitting through another schmemocratic mess. Obviously the problems Canadians face when voting are very different to those faced by Haitian voters, and I can’t even begin to compare the experiences of these two groups. I recognize how lucky we are to have the system we do in Canada, and have it work as well as it does. One of the reasons I’m able to find the entertainment value in Canadian politics is that the outcome of our elections never really seem to have that big of an impact on the way the country is run and the way the majority of us Canadians live our daily lives. That may be a very narrow and selfish view, but I recognize how extremely lucky we are to be able to have that sense of security in our country’s political situation. It’s a rare thing in the better part of this beautiful but messed-up world, and something none of us should take for granted no matter how “bad” things seem.

But just because things are pretty good here doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be working to make them better. A friend of mine recently passed this video along to me, highlighting one of the ways people worked for change before and during the recent revolution in Egypt. It’s interesting and inspiring (my favourite video combination!) and I feel like there are principles in it that can be applied to any situation, particularly if you’re looking to influence political change. I think it’s impossible to live amongst society and remain apolitical, no matter how apathetic you might claim to be, and no matter how much you hate the idea of it you may someday need to fight for your cause. So this one’s dedicated to the haters…check it out below:

 

The Three-Month Rule April 24, 2011

Filed under: Ottawa — themadmadmadmadworld @ 3:44 pm
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My first overseas adventure was a week or 2 after my 13th birthday, when I went to France for a three-month student exchange. Looking back, the experience was a very positive one: I learned a lot about myself, was exposed to a life that was different from my own, and (almost) became able to communicate in a language I knew next to nothing of before I left. At the time, however, I was an angsty young adolescent who was her own worst enemy in a strange land. The first month and a half I spent in France I was completely miserable: I barely spoke to anyone other than the other 2 Canadian exchange students at my school, and I spent most of my time locked in my room writing letters to my BFF’s back home, who were so lucky to have been able to go to the mall and have sleepovers with each other all the time while I was stuck in this weird, smelly, mall-less hellhole for another hundred years (or so it seemed at the time).

As time went on, I eventually got my act together and started allowing myself to enjoy the experience. About half way through my time in France, I realized that I could actually speak and understand French at an acceptable level. This opened to door to independence, pain au chocolat whenever I wanted it, and new friendships with people who were as foreign to me as I was to them. I started to participate more in activities with my host family, no longer relying on their English-speaking daughter to be my sole companion and guide, and became a part of a new family. By the time my 3 months were up, I didn’t want to leave. Forget the mall, le printemps dans la France m’attendait!

There’s this idea of a parabola of culture shock: after the peak of the initial honeymoon period is over, you start to resent the differences between this culture and your own, and you sink to an emotional low point. After a time (the length of which is different for everybody), you reconcile yourself with these differences however you see fit, you get happy and comfortable again and you settle in for the long haul. (Or, you don’t reconcile, and you leave if you can.) Once you return home, a similar parabola of reverse culture shock usually follows.

Ever since my formative experience of spending three months in France, I have found myself relating to this culture shock parabola for not just travel, but for any big life changes. It’s different for everyone, but it seems that for me three months is the amount of time it takes to run the gamut, establish a level of comfort with a situation, place, person, idea, etc. and have a clear opinion of whether or not it’s for me. Over the years I’ve had relationships, jobs, and living situations that have reached the three-month point and been abandoned, just because by then I knew it wouldn’t work. I have often caught myself living my life in three-month chucks of time. Last year was a prime example: 3 months in Mexico, 3 months in Haiti, 3 months in Canada,  another 3 months in Haiti.

Now it’s been just over three months that I’ve been back from Haiti. I haven’t been blogging during that time, mostly because I felt like I didn’t have much of interest to say. I’m pretty sure that exposes me for the crap blogger that I am, so let’s pretend that it was because I’ve been riding out my three-month adjustment period. How have I reconciled myself with the difference between my new-old life, my old-old life, and my most recent travel experiences? It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes I still can’t believe that last year really happened, or that it was actually me who lived the experiences I did. (Re-reading my own blog now I think, “Really? There’s no way it was me who wrote something with a title as pretentious as ‘Political Cacophony’. Please.”) It was hard to come back to things like fashion, consumerism, and the way people go on about things like how unfair the electoral system is in Canada (compared to how they roll in certain other places I’ve been). It freaked me out to think of how I maybe used to think before, and how I might return to thinking that way, being back in this world. It’s hard realizing that the more you learn, the less you know, and trying to find a way to work that realization into your daily life.

At first when I came back there were some aspects of my new life that I tried to force, to prove to myself that what I’d learned was tangible and real. That ended up making me pretty unhappy. So I did the mature thing and gave my whole experience the middle finger, declared it just a bunch of stuff that happened, and wallowed in some serious regression for a while. That also didn’t really do it for me, so I decided to just stop worrying about it and just let myself live. Much to my surprise, the laissez-faire attitude has been working out pretty well so far. Maybe the things that I’ve learned aren’t tangible, and the changes that came didn’t come because I decided they would. These lessons and changes are manifesting themselves in surprising ways now that I’m allowing them to just be. Some of it is what I’d hoped for, some of it maybe isn’t. For example, I’m no longer obsessively following the situation in Haiti as I was trying to do when I first got home, although I do stay in touch with my friends and dream about being back there at least once a week. I’m prioritizing taking care of myself and focusing on doing what I’m doing here and now as well as I can, instead of relentlessly planning my next adventure like I usually do. I’m not frantically working my butt off to be able to make everything happen as quickly as possible, and it’s insane how much free time I’ve discovered as a result.

My life right now isn’t as exciting and interesting as it maybe was this time last year, but I feel happy and healthy and sane, so I really have no cause for complaint. Adventure comes in many forms, and right now the one I’m on is a bit more slow-paced than I’m used to. This likely means less blogging, but it’s good to not share everything with everyone all the time. (Especially when it makes for an uninteresting read.) Maybe I’ll write again in another three months, by which time I might be on a whole other level I’d never imagined before. Or I might still be here in Ottawa, doing the same stuff and feeling the same way, which would be great as well. You’ll know I’ve reached a point where it’s time to stage an adventure intervention when this turns into a cooking blog…but considering the state of my perpetually dirty kitchen, I don’t think there are any worries for the time being.

 

Living A Double Life February 3, 2011

Filed under: Ottawa — themadmadmadmadworld @ 11:23 am
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At our volunteer base in Haiti, there was a group of us who would semi-regularly go up onto the roof in the evening to practice yoga under the stars. It was there that I was introduced to Bikram, a modern yoga style in which you do everything twice. The first time you do a posture it can be difficult to coerce your body into such an awkward and unnatural position, extending it outside its normal comfort zone. In your second set of the same posture, the improvement is noticeable – your muscles have warmed up to the idea of stretching or contorting in this way and are much happier to be doing so.

Now that I’m back in Ottawa, I’ve been thinking about Bikram a lot. (Not just because it’s -20°C out on a regular basis and Bikram is done in a hot room at around +40°C.) I’ve moved back into my old apartment with most of the same roommates, I’ve unpacked all my old clothes that my sisters had been wearing all last year, I’ve reactivated my old cell phone, and starting on Monday I’ll be back at my old job at the YMCA. I have the same boyfriend, same friends, almost the exact same neighbours…did 2010 even happen, or was I just on a quick vacation from my adult life?

Clearly it happened, and I definitely learned from everything I did over the past year. So I guess 2011 is just my ‘second set’. I was quite happy with the way my life in Ottawa was when I left it in December 2009. Obviously it wasn’t exactly what I needed at the time, seeing as I was more than happy to peace out like I did and stay away for so long. But after a year of running around, never having four walls to call my own, and watching my bank balance steadily decrease to nothing and beyond, I think I’m ready to give the whole adulthood thing another try.

Not that I intend to sell out to the man entirely (retirement savings? home/boat ownership? Please!), but I do think it’ll be good for me to spend some time just in one place. This time around I’ve had a year to get used to the idea that I will likely live to see my 25th birthday (which, may I remind you, is only 10 shopping days away) and beyond, so I am allowed to get a bit comfortable and let everything I’ve done in the past marinate for a while. I’m excited about the things that come along with having a proper home, like a mailing address and a fridge, and also about doing stuff that can be hard to do while on the road, like taking classes in awesome stuff, owning ice skates, and maintaining long-term relationships.

I’m happy to have this sort of cosmic do-over presented to me, and I’m excited to make my new old life as awesome as possible. Come visit me anytime…I now have a couch you can crash on, a neighbourhood I can show you around, and a toilet you can actually flush. Life is good!

 

P.S. – At the request of some of my friends and family, I’ve decided to continue writing regularly even though I’m no longer in Haiti. For those of you who read for the Haitian content, I recommend Se La Vi Ayiti or On the Goat Path. For those of you who read for the Madison content, I’ll never understand you, but I will do my best to keep you entertained!

 

 

 

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? January 22, 2011

Filed under: Haiti,Opinions — themadmadmadmadworld @ 11:56 am
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Despite Haiti’s best efforts to keep me there, including the suprise arrival of former dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier, I arrived back home Wednesday night. This morning Louis and I are driving back to Ottawa with a bunch of my stuff, to start the slow process of “settling in” to my new old life.

Every time I come home from an adventure, people ask “How was it?” Depedning on who’s asking and how much they actually care about my experience, I’ll usually have a few stock answers ready and a maybe a couple of entertaining anecdotes (of varying degrees of PG-ratings) to give an idea of what I got up to while I was away. But with Haiti it’s a different kind of answer. How was it? Well…

Spending time volunteering in Haiti didn’t exactly lend itself to the tidy adventure stories or cute cultural mixups that everyone likes hearing about from other people’s travels. When people ask me how Haiti was, I feel like there are several scenarios that play out:

1. “It was crazy, I really enjoyed my time there, I met some amazing people and got to see and do some interesting things.” Done in under 30 seconds. Not exactly representative of how it really was, but perfect for casual acquaintances or people just asking to be polite.

2. We talk at length about what I did, who I met, and how I felt about things. This is usually reserved for people who know me well and are genuinely interested in my experience. The downside to this conversation is that it can take up to 3 days and often ends in Creole hip-hop on YouTube and tears.

3. We have the “Solution For Haiti” converstaion. I completely understand why people want to talk about this, and it’s probably the conversation I would want to have if it hadn’t been me that had gone there. This usually happens with people who are somewhat knowledgeable about development issues and the situation in Haiti, or who are just genuinely interested in learning more. It’s also the conversation I most dread having. I feel like since I spent half a year in the thick of the “development issues” facing Haiti, I should be in the know and have well-formed opinions about how things are going and how we can help things go better. The truth is, I feel like I know much less now than I did before I went. I could tell you lots about Leogane, my friends there, some of the ways that “The Issues” affect their daily lives, and some of the ways that various actors are trying to “fix” these things. I could tell you a bit about NGO stuff, but mostly just what was going on around me. I could tell you a bit about the local government situation, but again, only what directly affected what we were doing in Leogane. As far as the grand scheme of things, you probably know just as much as I do. We got a lot of our Haiti information from international news sources like the BBC just like everyone back at home. And as far as “The Solution For Haiti”, your guess is as good as mine. I figure if there was A Solution and I knew what it was, I’d be down there implementing it. Wouldn’t I?

I always feel like a jerk having these talks, but I figure the more time I have to process my experience the better I’ll get at it. I don’t want to make people feel like they shouldn’t ask me about Haiti, because I do want to talk about it and I do want to answer everyone’s questions if I can. I’m glad that people are interested in what’s going on in Haiti and want to know what can be done to improve things. I apologize in advance if you’re not happy with how I respond, but give me time and hopefully I’ll come up with something that will satisfy both of us and make me feel like I’m doing justice to an experience that I really can’t describe. In the meantime, I’m going to get reacquainted with my friends, family, my matress and my old friend cheddar cheese.

 

A Year We Can Never Forget January 17, 2011

Filed under: Haiti — themadmadmadmadworld @ 2:29 pm
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Today is my second to last day in Haiti. The sun is shining, the motos are honking, and from the perspective of this shady hammock it’s hard to believe that in just over 48 hours I’ll be dealing with snowbanks, black ice and fozen nose hairs all over again.

That’s right, I’m leaving Leogane. All Hands temporarily shut down operations this week to allow the staff and volunteers to take a much needed break before ramping up operations for 2011 starting on January 24th. It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with everyone working like crazy to get everything in order before the break. There are only about 12 of us on base right now, with a laundry list of optional chores to take care of but no real obligations. It’s a weird way to wrap up 3 months of serious communal living and extreme hard work.

My last week of work was intense, for lack of a better word. Last Wednesday was January 12th, which marked the one-year anniversary of the reason why I’m here in the first place. The City of Leogane decided that they needed to do something to commemorate the occasion, but didn’t have the means to make it happen on their own. One of the biggest issues that they had was the mass grave site, just outside the cemetery. There were over a thousand people buried there after the earthquake, with nothing to mark their place but a simple iron cross and a sign explaining that the site would be renovated in the near future. The bus station is across the street, and it wasn’t rare to see vendors setting up shop next to the cross or moto taxis cutting through the grave site. The Director General of the City, with whom I worked closely during my time on the Mayor’s Office project, approached All Hands and asked if there was anything we could do. All it took was 3 architects, 40 local and international volunteers, 2 weeks of hard labour, and 1 whole year gone by since the disaster, and now Leogane has a dignified place to remember those they lost to the 2010 earthquake. One of our volunteers who worked on the grave site writes for AOL Travel, and her story and photos are worth checking out here.

Because of my familiarity with the mayor’s office operations and staff, our project director asked me to help out with the planning and preparation for the events of the day itself. (For my involvement I made my hometown paper again, if you’d like to read the story here.) All Hands offered to provide logistical and financial support for whatever Leogane wanted to do to commemorate the anniversary. I’ll spare the City my rant about their usual lack of organization, planning, proactivity and vision…let’s just say it was an uphill battle to have everything in order by January 12th. What matters is the end result, and it all came across quite nicely. There was a mass early in the day at the Catholic church, which had been destroyed by the earthquake and rebuilt by the Canadian Army last January. In the afternoon, a funeral procession started at the mayor’s office, wound its way through town collecting supporters along the way, and made its way to the mass grave site. A brass band (called a “fanfa”) played Haitian funeral songs, and there was some singing and chanting by the vodouisants. Mirlande Manigat, the supposed front runner in the  ongoing extreme confusion of the presidential elections, made a surprise appearance to pay her respects at the mass grave. The Sri Lankan army, who make up the security portion of the UN mission in Leogane, joined the community in their march, trading their assault rifles for bouquets of white flowers.

The march ended at a soundstage set up on the main road, with music and speeches from local officials. Chris, one of our project coordinators, and I were unexpectedly called to the stage to sit with the city officials to thank us for our help in preparing for the day. When I was done panickedly composing a speech in Creole in my head in case I was called on the speak (I wasn’t, thank God), I surveyed the crowd in front of me.  I was surprised to see that our volunteers made up the majority of the international participants. There were rumours of security concerns leading up to the 12th, with some NGO’s worried that there would be protests about how little had been accomplished over the past year. It seems that those concerns kept most of the international actors in Leogane from attending the day’s ceremonies. I felt like it was one more nail in the coffin of NGO relationships with this community; proof that they habitually keep the people they’re helping at arm’s length. It was nice to see our international staff and volunteers standing side by side with the people directly affected by the earthquake, and to know that they were glad we were there.

At the end of the day, all of our volunteers came back to our base to commemorate the anniversary privately. Thomas, one of our local volunteers, put together an emotionally charged slideshow of photos of the past year. Many of the local volunteers stood up and shared their stories of where they were on January 12th 2010, and how the disaster affected them. We heard about people’s friends, relatives, lovers, and colleagues crushed under concrete. They told us about nights spent huddled in cow fields, living like animals, feeling like this had to be the end of the world. We heard about the rumours, about not knowing who was dead or alive for weeks and months, of hearing screaming and crying that seemed like it would never end. Most of them spoke about it almost subjectively, as though it were something that had happened to someone else. It’s crazy to think that every pile of rubble in this city has a family attached to it, and that each member of that family has a story similar to what our friends shared with us. We’ve all known someone who has suffered through the tragedy of losing a loved one or losing their home, and can all empathize with that individual or family’s pain. But I can’t even begin to fathom that  pain on the massive scale of these millions of people who experienced those life-altering losses all at the same time. It was hard to hear, but we all knew how important it was that we at least get an idea of what the Haitian people experienced this time last year.

At the end of the day I was exhausted. I went up to the roof to look at the stars and digest everything I’d seen, heard, and experienced. I called my sister Mallory back home in Canada, because I felt like I couldn’t end the day without telling my family how grateful I am that we are all still alive, and to know that we are safe, and how lucky we are to have never had to experience the kind of loss that was all around me on that day. It was a hard day, it’s been a hard year, but at the end of it all life has to go on. The next day we were back at work building schools and clearing rubble. Lavi pa fini.

 

Life, Love, and the Pursuit of the Haitian Dream January 9, 2011

Filed under: Awesome!,Haiti — themadmadmadmadworld @ 4:45 pm
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I’ve gone longer than usual without posting of late, and not for lack of interesting things to write about. The past 2 weeks have been among the busiest, and best, that I’ve had in all of my time in Haiti. Welcome back to The Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Let me tell you about life, love, and the pursuit of the Haitian dream.

Life – Public transportation in Haiti comes in the form of colourfully painted trucks called “tap-taps” (because you tap the ceiling twice when you need to get off…clever, right?), most of which have slogans painted on them that are reminders of how to best carry on, loving God and country. Today as my child-bearing hips were locked in a vice-grip between the other human sardines on the way home from church, I looked up and saw my favourite piece of tap-tap wisdom painted above me: “Lavi pa fasil.” Life is not easy.  Very true, for some more so than others. Seeing this on the back of a dilapidated truck crammed with people, as I whip past roadside shacks filled with those left homeless or worse by natural and human disasters, makes me think twice about ever using those words again back home. Heavy thinking for a Sunday morning hangover…

Love – On a much more upbeat note, I love my family! The now-world-famous Watsons of Phelpston made a brief but memorable appearance on a rubble site near me last week, and man was it fun. (To see the front-page article in our hometown newspaper click here!) It was amazing to have all 7 members of my immediate family sledgehammering in sync to smash up the better part of a collapsed roof in just one day. Our team leader called us “the Von Trapp’s of rubble” (stay tuned for an awkward family photo or 2…). Considering that everyone in my family falls more on the “nerd” side of the high-school yearbook spectrum (no matter how hard I try to argue my rightful “jock” status), I was pretty impressed with how naturally they all took to rubbling. Junior, one of our strongest and longest-serving local volunteers, took my 17-year old sister Mallory under his wing and within the hour they were an unstoppable team. By the end of their visit I didn’t see much of Mallory, as she seemed to be always covered in a pile of adoring Haitian children who wanted her to stay and play with them forever. It seems that whatever it is that I have that makes me do what I do is genetic, and I don’t think Haiti’s seen the last of the Watson sisters. Having my family come volunteer with me was a really special experience, and it meant a lot to me that they would put themselves so far out of their element to come and see firsthand what the work I’m doing is all about.

The Pursuit of the Haitian Dream – Although it’s hard to define what “The Dream” is for any country (except for Canada, where it is clearly finding attractive winter footwear), last night I felt like we were as close as we’ve ever been to seeing it for Haiti. After coming back from my break(down) in November, I switched from working with the mayor’s office project to assisting the coordinator of our local volunteer program (see my November 27th post for more on that). Since last April, All Hands has welcomed young men and women from Leogane and the surrounding area who want to volunteer to help their community in whatever way they can (see November 18th’s “Interview with the Volunteer” for more on the program). I was involved in the initial restructuring of the local volunteer program that happened back in June, when we created a mentoring program to make sure that our volunteers got the best possible learning experience out of their time at All Hands. The program has grown and developed since then, thanks to the volunteers themselves and the amazing project coordination of my friend Jess. Our original group of volunteers, which has grown to about 30 over 9 months, celebrated their “graduation” from the local volunteer program last night. The ceremony was great, with valedictory speeches and a slide-show put together by Emmanuel, an incredible 17-year old kid who has gone from a shy rubbler to head of our Bobcat operator program, over the course of the past 9 months. Everyone looked extra “fresh” (the adjective of choice for a well-dressed Haitian), and it was a beautiful way to celebrate an inspiring group of people. I’m proud to be a part of something that connects people with a genuine desire to help with the means and materials to do so. Every day I’m amazed by the energy and passion of our local volunteers, and the more I’ve gotten to know about them as individuals and about their circumstances, the more I’m blown away by everything they do. Lavi pa fasil, but my friends here in Haiti are proving that no matter who you are, there’s always something you can do to better it.

 

Christmas in red, green, gray and brown December 27, 2010

Filed under: Awesome!,Haiti — themadmadmadmadworld @ 10:59 pm
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Merry Christmas everyone!

 

It was definitely a holiday I will never forget. As I’ve said before, Haiti is pretty much the opposite of Canada in every way, so it was quite the location for my first ever Christmas away from home. It was a wonderful weekend, full of food, dancing, hilarious presents, and the strange comfort and feeling of “family” that comes in the form of a group of random people all in a similar situation, making the most of things. I celebrated with my Haitian family on the 24th, my international volunteer family on the 25th, and tomorrow afternoon marks the first of three days of celebration with my biological family, when the entire Watson clan lands in Port-au-Prince!

I’m definitely someone who loves her traditional family Christmas. I’ve done pretty much the exact same thing every holiday season for the past 20-odd years and enjoyed it fully every time. Every December 25th I get a wake-up call in the form of a whack on the head with a pillow from one of my 4 siblings. We jump out of bed like little kids to go open our stockings with Mom and Dad. This year I woke up to the sound of English Christmas carols on a nearby radio, sharing a single mattress with my friend Rose Daphney in a tent in her back courtyard (her 3-room house has about 8 other people living in it), feeling a bit shaky from the rum and kompa street dancing that we’d taken part in the night before. I sauntered my way over to the coffee lady to have a chat and exchange holiday greetings with my neighbours before they headed off to work for the day.

Although it didn’t look much like home, spending the day with the international volunteers had the same sort of warm, happy feeling that goes along with a traditional family Christmas. Being away from home for the holidays isn’t something I’ve ever aspired to do, but I’m glad that I did it here, with these amazing people.

 

 

I hope everyone had a happy and memorable holiday as well. Much love and hugs to those of you who I usually spend this time of year with…although it was a great experience, I think saving me a place at the table for next year is probably a safe bet!

xoxo Madison

 

 
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