28 September 2011

One does what one can

It was a cold, cloudy day as the knight saw the little sparrow, lying on its back in the middle of the path. Remaining in the saddle, he looked at the fragile creature and asked: "What are you doing, lying there on your back?"
"I heard that today the sky is going to fall."
The knight laughed: "And your twig-thin legs are going to hold it up?"
"One does what one can," answered the little sparrow.

One of the current European BVSers shares this story on various occasions...

Last week was rough.
Some of the volunteers here are leaving earlier than planned. Although I'm the volunteer's advocate, I felt like I'm on a tightrope sometimes between BVSer and project.
I'll be interviewing 5-6 new people in the just-started orientation seminar in the USA and am getting geared up for that.
One big congregation in the USA requested CoB program staff to explain what we're doing about differing opinions on human sexuality, the peace position, and women's leadership, before they decide on continuing donations to the denomination's ministries.
The UK Borders Agency suddenly and yet again shifted website information and links and all of that UK visa stuff.
And our BVS director's mother died.

One does what one can.

Each 5 weeks at Quaker Cottage one of my responsibilities is cooking lunch for the families for a full week. So, I had my first cooking week the week after last. I had to prepare enough food for 10 adults and about 8-9 children. I also chose 2 menus for the week, with a slight variation for the children. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I served hamburgers, soup, and coleslaw, which was very easy to prepare. I slapped patties on the George Forman grill, heated up soup on the stove, and had help making the coleslaw. Thursday and Friday I chose to serve champ (which is similar to mashed potatoes with green onions), beans, and sausages. Thursday morning, I was getting help from 2 of my coworkers, and I felt like I heard hundreds of suggestions and advice. I was asked to serve something simple on Friday so that I could work with the children and be in the kitchen as little as possible, so I decided I would just double my recipe and save enough for Friday's families. I thought things were going well with the champ. The mothers even came in and helped mash the potatoes up, making a hell of a stir about it too! However, once the families left for the day, my boss Grant had to tell me that the champ wasn't good and that the mothers wouldn't eat it. He explained that the champ was too lumpy, and I couldn't serve it to the mothers for Friday. As mentioned above, I thought the meal was going well, so I was taken by surprise with the bad news. I realized the champ had lumps, but I personally don't mind lumpy mashed potatoes because it reminds me of homemade-with-love potatoes vs. perfectly smooth instant mashed potatoes from a box. So I sulked lamenting my failed meal. Friday Grant took charge of remaking champ and sausages, and I prepared the children's lunch and snack that day.

Trying to shake off my culinary flops and insecurity in the kitchen, I arranged to go to the Giant's Causeway with a few friends. The Giant's Causeway is up on the north coast, and it's 40,000 hexagonal flat step-like stones miraculously arranged on the coast. These stones have a wonderful legend of two rival giants. The protagonist in the legend is the Irish giant, Finn McCool, and he was shouting and fighting with the Scottish giant, Fingal who was across the Irish Sea. Finn picked up clumps of the earth and threw them across the sea, which formed stepping stones to Scotland. By the time Finn had finished, though, he was exhausted and too tired to go to Fingal. Fearing Fingal would cross the sea to confront the Irish giant, Finn's wife dressed Finn up like a baby to fool Fingal. The hoax worked! Fingal took one look at the “giant baby,” and thought if the child was that large, how much larger would the father be? In a fright, the Scottish giant bounced quickly back to Scotland tearing it up as he went, and creating the step-like stones that we have today. The Causeway was beautiful, and we hiked a bit to see “the organ,” which were the famous stones in the shape of a pipe organ. The sun even appeared for about 20 minutes on our hike, creating even more beautiful photo ops.

Last week Quakers had its September residential at Corrymeela peace retreat center in Ballycastle. Residential is another term for holiday or vacation time that is a special part of the Quaker Cottage program. The staff and 9 families go to a retreat center for 4 days. The idea is to give the families a break from their lives in Belfast, and also provide a fun family holiday. Quakers has a good relationship with Corrymeela retreat center, which is an amazing peacebuilding organization that specializes not only in hosting peace retreats, but other great programs that work for peace and reconciliation. Our residentail at Corrymeela was from Tuesday to Friday.

After arrival and lunch on Tuesday, I was with the afterschool group ages 5-12 and we had a treasure hunt on the beach! I was excited to play pirate and see the children light up when they discovered new clues. There is just nothing like enthusiasm you experience from children! After our treasure hunt, we went to Dunluce Castle about 30 minutes away. Dunluce Castle has an interesting story. One week there was a festival with lots of food being prepared. One night, the kitchen suddenly crumbled into the sea, taking several kitchen staff with it! Today the castle is in ruins, even without a roof. I enjoyed going and imagining what the place looked like in its prime. The children also enjoyed the castle. Wednesday, and Thursday I was with the babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, and we went to a farm, went on walks, played on the playground and baby room, had snacks, and the like. The days at residential were long; we were responsible for the children from 9am-5pm while the mothers were on their own adult outings. We also helped put the babies to bed and then supervised the afterschoolers at night. So our work shifts were around 8am-11pm each day. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end, and I definitely took last weekend to recharge my batteries!

On Sunday, I went to my first Quaker meeting. As many of you may know Quakers worship in silence, and if the spirit so moves, someone shares words of wisdom, or scripture, or a poem with the group. In most UK Quaker meetings, there is no sermon, no singing, and no liturgy. While I found sitting in silence to be a bit challenging, I truly appreciated the time to simply think and reflect about all that I've been experiencing. I prayed. I meditated. I thought about things I hadn't given myself enough time to think about. The silent worship was good for my soul, and I even got to chat with some of the congregation after worship, which was icing on the cake.

And now I look forward to getting back on schedule after residential. In a week or two we will get 8-9 new families, all with their own joys and concerns, struggles, fears, and dreams. I pray that they feel compelled to commit to Quakers, and allow the relationship to grow.

12 September 2011

Celebrating Rainbows

I have been here in N. Ireland for nearly a full month. The work at Quaker Cottage has changed from the summer program to the school-year program. A large difference between the two programs is the lack of outings with exchange for community time at our mountain site. So, instead of taking the children out and about to visit parks, museums, heritage sites, etc., we have stayed at our cottage work building trying to get the children on a routine.

In the mornings I work with the 0-4 year olds. We try to take the 3 and 4 year olds to a separate room where we can work on “preschool” activities, like cutting, pasting, painting, reading/writing, alphabet, etc. The idea is to work on their motor skills, build their attention spans, help them read and write, listen to stories, have artistic expression, and other great skills that will help them along when they start preschool or “nursery.” Meanwhile, the 0-2 year olds are downstairs in the baby room playing away. The two groups come together again for lunch, and then we try to get the children outside for a walk or play on the playground. The mums finish their group counseling and come outside to meet us, and the families hop on the buses to go home.

About an hour of our afternoons are spent cleaning the cottage after the 0-4 year olds have been there. Then we staff members have a late lunch together and plan for our afterschool groups, which come Tuesday-Thursday. I am still learning the afterschool program schedule; there are group games, crafts, “free play,” and snacks. The afterschool program gives children a chance to get away from home for a few hours, interact with their peers, build relationships, learn new skills, self-development, and have fun! Quakers gives the children a chance to be who they want to be, and shed unhealthy personas that they may have developed at home or at school. The program is really great.

The Quaker Cottage “ethos” and values that drive our work with the children are truth and integrity, equality, nonviolence, and simplicity. I like to sum-up the ethos as “love and patience.” :) And how I have been tested to keep the ethos in my heart while working with these challenging children! My latest preschool hour was on Friday, when I had three 3-4 year olds by myself. We started with coloring, to work on their “writing” motor development, then we moved to painting. After one particularly difficult child stuck a paintbrush down the sink, I told them paint-time was over. I quickly tried to help them wash their hands and move on to story time, but by that time the children had lost it! They were running around the room, jumping on the couches, ripping decorations off the walls, pulling games off the shelves, crawling into our game and book storage nook, and more! Within a matter of minutes I had lost complete control of the situation, and even calling for backup didn't help! We had to drag the unruly children downstairs early to join the rest of the group, 0-2 year olds along with the other staff. What an hour! So yes, “love and patience!”

As far as my time after work, we had a quick goodbye celebration for our volunteer roommate Alex. We had a great dinner with her and then went to the John Hewitt for a pint. Last Monday I auditioned to join a community choir. I was gladly welcomed into the group, but I quickly discovered that the ensemble is more advanced than I am. Now I am caught with indecision of staying in the vocal ensemble, knowing I'll need to work hard to “catch up,” or try to find a less intense extracurricular activity. I am planning to go to the next few rehearsals before I make a decision.

Last weekend I had the exciting opportunity to go to an Eagles tribute band concert at the Empire, which is a bar that was formerly a church. The venue is beautiful, yet hip at the same time. The band was really good, and they played all of the Eagles hits, some Fleetwood Mac tunes, and even one of my favorite Neil Young songs, After the Gold Rush. Needless to say, I had a good night.

I just finished up another weekend, and I must admit I was blown away. My friend Becca invited Courtney and I to Portstewart to meet a few of her friends and enjoy the northern coast. I was captivated by the coastal town Portstewart. Portstewart had stunning landscapes, and a cute village that included shops, restaurants, churches, and a former castle that was remade into a school. It was beautiful. We stopped at Morelli's restaurant, and I had some of the best chips of my life! I ordered the garlic chips, and I was served a large bowl of chips that were swimming in garlic butter; I was in heaven!

After my artery-aching meal, we drove just a few miles down the road to Portrush. We parked at the beach and walked down to the sand to find a double rainbow! Flabbergasted cannot fully describe my feelings. Once we calmed down a bit from the beauty around us, Becca and I skipped to the tide and waded in the cold sea. It was a beautiful day.

This evening I went to the Crown Liquor Saloon with friends. The Crown Liquor Saloon is one of Belfast's oldest pubs and is even part of the National Trust! Established in 1826 The Crown Bar is unique for the look and feel of a cathedral. The pub has “vaults,” small conversation rooms with doors and all, which resemble confessionals. The bar is alter-like, and there are even stained glass windows! The architecture is uniquely Victorian, amazing wood carvings, brilliant mirrors, mosaic floor tiles, and gorgeous brown, red, and gold color scheme. The Guiness couldn't have tasted better than sitting in a historic, classy, and quite unique pub.

Again, I am pleased to report another great span of time in N. Ireland. I have faced both concerning challenges, and worthwhile delights. I need to remind myself that the frequent rain and challenges are all for a reason, and I can't experience rainbows and joy without the rain and struggle. I am excited to greet the challenges to try to understand the world just a little bit better than before, all the while celebrating rainbows.

Thanks for reading!

Peace and Grace,
Samantha Carwile