Thursday, December 31, 2009

During the week before Christmas I have been painting the ceiling and walls of the girls who live beside us. I have also started visiting a girl named Mado (Madeleine) who has hydrocephalus. She has the sweetest smile and was overjoyed when Karen and I visited her. My first meeting I massaged her one hand which is really stiff. This really helped because after she was able to open her hand perfectly. Mado is one of 12 kids and is a very intelligent girl. Her Mom was very welcoming and when I first came over she brought out her photo album of her husband’s funeral. He was in charge of the whole territory of Aru and was a great political figure. I didn’t fully understand how he died with my limited French but I got the gist that it was something to do with the war. The Leader of the Congo Army was present at the funeral and there was a huge procession through the streets. All of the children are all in school, 5 of which are all studying in university in Kinshasa the capital. This is quite something here because most kids don’t go to university. 

A few things I have discovered here in Aru: the beer here is awful, when you want to buy a chicken there is no way to buy it dead, when you give a kid a tennis ball he will ask for candy and stalk your house making creepy Gollum voices until you have to give in and the average number of kids in a family is 8. The amount of children here is overwhelming. I especially notice them at Sunday mass when they wander in throughout the mass, oh yes and get in trouble by the Church Sergeant! They wear a boy scout kind of neck tie and patrol during mass to make sure people are behaving. For example it is not uncommon to see The Sergeant with his oval shaped withered head and drooping frown grab a child by his arm and make him stand up or even worse force the innocent child to be removed from his band of rambunctious comrades and stand next to the Sergeant with eyes constantly forward at the alter. Poor children! I would be petrified of this guy if I was them. 

I was also able to help with the malnourished children on the morning of Christmas Eve where I counted pills and gave out bonbons and biscuits. It was quite a sight seeing all the tiny little babies being weighed and measured. They were so cute! The mothers here are all so young and radiant with their babies, coming in with them nestled against their backs with their colourful skirts (they are called panyes here). Unfortunately there is not always joy in their situation especially when it is difficult to get enough food for their families which is reflected in their tiny helpless babies with their skinny legs and bloated stomachs. It was saddening for me. Their mouths just devoured the bonbons they were given as if this little bit of sugar is what will keep them going. 
After seeing this suffering in the mothers faces I experienced complete joy when I went to the Vigil Mass. It was if there were no troubles, no pain, no suffering, no hardships at all but the joy of Christ living in each person there. It was truly inspiring and made my heart rejoice in thanksgiving to our great God who never disappoints.
In regards to the Mass it was something very unique. I don’t think I have ever seen Altar Servers dance around the altar ever in my life and not only dance but dance with rhythm and style and majesty. It was something else! I also have never heard so much screaming, singing, whistling, clapping, dancing, or high pitch shrill noises in a Church in my life. I am pretty sure I was smiling the entire time. Wow! Africans really know how to show their joy for God. They truly put their whole selves into the Liturgy. I think for the taking the collection at mass it takes about 15 minutes because practically every person stands up and processes to the money boxes. It is pretty amazing how giving these people are when they have so little. The mass lasted only 2 and a half hours, I really thought it was going to be 3. Then once the priest left the Church turned into a disco hall; everyone was dancing, singing, playing drums. It was a lot of fun! After mass we went to the Sister’s place where they gave each of us a panye with St. Bakhita on it. St. Bakhita was from Sudan and was a Canossian Sister. She has a really interesting story and I recommend reading about her life if you have a chance. She was taken as a slave when she was a young girl and then finally was freed and of course much more. Of course more dancing was involved in the giving of our gifts which is always fun. Then our volunteer community had a wonderful Christmas dinner together which consisted of: noodles, fried plantane (a type of banana), eggs and potatoes I think. It was all really delicious and for desert chocolate pudding and fruit salad. Oh and I cannot forget to mention our amazing African beer from Uganda! It is probably the worst beer I have ever tasted and it was a sacrifice to try and drink it all. After our delicious meal we had shared our gifts. We decided we would have a “free gift giving” Christmas where you could give a gift if your heart desired it. It was a very simple Christmas but I feel like I received more than I ever have. I would like to describe one of my gifts I received from Tomas the other volunteer in our community here. It was a Skippy peanut butter jar filled with water, banana peels and old tea bags and then inside was plastic bag. The smell was absolutely awful and so I had to open it up outside. Tomas told me that I needed to open up the bag and so I proceeded in opening up the plastic bag to find toilet paper wrapped with layers and layers of Scotch tape only to find 2 more bags and more scotch tape, until finally in the last bag did I discover a little carved turtle. It was the most creative gift and it reminded me of something my Dad would give me. Tomas has his own unique sense of humour and his way of giving is not the common superficial way of doing things. Karen also got a carved turtle which was wrapped in the skin of an avocado so now all 3 of us have our own turtles to form a “community.”
I will continue later…I wish everyone a very blessed Christmas season and of course many wishes for the New Year! 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

As things are beginning to feel more comfortable and less challenging I am realizing that where I am right now in my life is exactly where I want to be. I can see that I am meant to be here. The opportunities to serve the people here are exactly in the areas that I am gifted in. It gives me goose bumps to think that I came here with no expectations and when I arrived here I was presented with so many blessings. Patience really does pay off!
We had two visitors from Rome, Sr. Angela who is in charge of VOICA and Diggy who helps train the volunteers in Rome. And sure of enough they came bearing many gifts, most importantly my back pack with all my clothes as well as a parcel from my family that arrived in Rome the day after I left for Congo. Interestingly enough I realized that when I had “more” things I became more self-absorbed and returned to my old self where I would spend so much time thinking about my appearance. Before when all I had were a few things I was more free of these tendencies and one could say that I was even slightly more joyful. This was a really good lesson for me to learn: that having more does not mean you will be more happy. Living uncomfortably teaches you to be thankful for the little things in life that I have taken for granted, and this does not just mean clothing. I am thankful for my toilet at home that flushes with the push of a handle, a shower that can give me hot water, electricity that is always available as well as internet. But this does not mean I was not thankful for the things that I received. I was especially thankful for a pair of Chaco waterproof sandals since wearing Birkenstocks in the rainy season here is not very enjoyable. I was also thankful to be reunited with my glow in the dark Frisbee which I am excited to put to use here since it gets dark every evening here, as well as 2 volleyballs my mom sent. The volleyballs have been greatly appreciated by the kids here since they have no volleyball. My classes have been successful thus far since the girls are very keen to learn this new sport. I have managed to explain the rules decently in my French and once you explain things then you just need to get them to practice which isn’t so bad, well maybe I am exaggerating; it is difficult to practice volleyball skills with 2 balls and 16 girls, no net and no court just the red African dirt, oh and not to mention when some of the girls show up wearing skirts. The other difficulties teaching young girls in a foreign language is that you are prone to be made fun of. One class of girls kept repeating “comme ca” over and over again until I had to throw a few punches (not literally, don’t worry). 
During the mornings for the past week I have been helping with the handing out of mosquito nets to every family in the town here. This was a good opportunity for me to really see the people of Aru. There was a constant flow of people coming to get their precious nets. This is a really great thing for the people here since Malaria is one of the most common diseases here. These nets were so precious that it caused the apparently friendly natured people here to break out in violence, cheating techniques, lying and bribery. I enjoyed my work here where I was able to practice my French, and especially my counting skills in French.
An exciting adventure that I would love to share with you all is my bus ride to Uganda to the National Wildlife Park with 50 girls from the boarding school here. We were told that the bus would leave at 6:30am and that we should be ready at 6:15am. So of course us obedient (and na├»ve) people were promptly ready at the appropriate time. At 10:15am the bus arrived! When I refer to “African time” it really is above and beyond anything I have experienced. Apparently the bus got held up at the frontier crossing entering Congo. All the kids were just hanging around like this was no a big deal at all, like a natural everyday occurrence. I played a game of basketball with some of the girls while we waited and took some fun photos as well. The girls adore taking pictures of themselves and posing like they’re models, it was really cute. After about 4 hours on the bus listening to 4 Christian African music videos from the 60s on repeat on a fuzzy t.v. screen I was overjoyed when we arrived! The only problem was that we weren’t allowed into the National Park for some reason that my limited French was not able to understand. I think it had something to do with having proper documents and money or something, haha. So….instead we took a “promenade” (what they call a simple walk here), over the Nile River. I was quite disappointed we couldn’t go into the Park because it is one of the best in Uganda where you can see lions, zebras, elephants and giraffes and all the cool animals that you always expect to see in Africa. Us volunteers will go back again I am sure of so it’s not so bad. On our promenade we did see a hippopotamus poke its big nose out of the water a few times. All I managed to see where his nostrils followed by a loud snorting noise. We also saw some huge monkeys climbing in the trees. They were so majestic and moved along the tiny branches so smoothly it was almost like a dance. After our promenade we had a big picnic lunch of goat meat, potatoes, egg and bread. The girls here can eat soooo much! I was amazed! Teenage girls at home are all so conscious about their body image that they are too shy to eat a lot in front of people. I had a lot of fun with the girls just hanging out eating goat meat, sipping some Fanta and having some really deep conversations in French (I wish). Some of the girls finally built up enough courage to touch my hair. Once they touched it they really couldn’t let go and I enjoyed having my hair played with put into some fun hair does. The day was a great experience. The greatest part though was the bus ride home where for the last hour of the bus ride the girls sang their teenage hearts out and shook their musical shakers (not sure the name for them) until my head was throbbing. Despite my massive headache I was amazed by the amount of joy a simple bus ride and walk along the Nile River was for them. They don’t have many opportunities for outings and when they do have an opportunity they take so much joy in it and treasure every moment. I was thinking that if this was a field trip with some Canadian school girls there were have been endless complaining about not being able to see the animals, the length of the journey, the bumpy road (I forgot to mention the roads in Congo which do not deserve to be called roads and have the same motion as clothes going through the washing machine. My head smashed into the window various times), the annoying repetitive music and much more I am sure. What I learnt from this trip is that with little one can be happy and that joy is found when it is shared with others. Relationships are really the most important thing. 
Continuation to come…

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Slowly slowly life here is beginning to take shape, and when I say slowly slowly I really mean it. It took from Monday until Friday to open the door of my potential clinic. Sister Claire lost the key to this room but found it 5 days later. Sister Daniella, who studied logistics in University in Italy, told me that when time is being wasted, she tells herself not to refer it as “a waste of time,” but of “love and patience.” So everytime I feel that the way things are done here is a poor use of time I just tell myself, no it is love and patience.Things are very different here in Africa. Sister Claire would not do too well in North America as a Nurse. Some days she doesn’t even show up, and the other Sisters have no idea where she is. She runs to the beat of her own drum. During this week when the “key” was trying to be found, I put myself to use in the health centre by dropping bon bons disguised with Vitamins and minerals inside, into little babies mouths. Sister Claire then followed by putting drops of Vitamin E and A into their mouths. She also was in charge of forcing screaming babies mouths open and shoving the medicine down their throats, literally. It was quite a sight. Drool, kicking legs, screams, frothing medicine and one big giant hand of Sister Claire grasped around their jaw bones. Another day I helped sort medicines, and even got to burn expired medications. This was quite an experience. Since there is no such thing as recyling here everything is burned, including medicines. I went with one of the Sisters and she dumped all the packages into a pit then light some grass on fire and threw it in. This was followed by spurratic explosions of the medications so great that they were blowing chunks of dirt up and even catching the nearby grass on fire. I proceeded to point this out to Sister Salome and all she did was laugh. She didn’t think it was dangerous at all, but I think she slowly started to realize that the fire could potentially spread. WOW! I couldn’t get over it. She slowly called over a worker and got him to put it out while she continued to laugh and laugh. Yes, things are different here in Africa. Another morning while waiting for my door to open, Sister Claire asked if I had a camera because she needed photos taken of the creation of a well. So I took my camera with Sister Claire and we spent all morning photographing the construction workers making a well. It was very interesting. Some men just stand around and laugh and makes jokes with each other. There is music coming from a radio close by and the hot hot sun beats upon us all morning and the work of these strong and lean men continues with much teamwork. Women come down to the river source and carry huge gallons of water on their heads and walk over rough earth and uphill which amazes me. They see me in awe and laugh with their beautiful smiles. Slowly slowly the well begins to look more like a well. Another morning while waiting for the “key”, Sister Pascaline took Karen and I on a tour of the farm land and all the property of the Canossian Sisters. The cows here are the saddest and skinniest beasts I have seen. You can see the Uganda border from the property which is pretty cool and in the distance are some rolling hills. On our tour we also passed by the school for the Deaf and Mute of the Township of Aru. This school was a saddening site. All the kids looked so miserable. Many were just staring blankly, others playing with garbage, and not one had a smile on their face. I can understand why because when I entered the school I found that not only do they learn in this classroom but they also sleep there also. There were about 10 cots in the back of the classroom all tightly squeezed together and right next to them were the school desks. These children seemed so segregated from the rest of the town but to the people here they see this school as good. I do see it as good for these children to be educated, but also it seems inhumane to keep them penned up in this boarding school far away from the rest of the town. I asked Sr. Daniella if I could help there in some way, but she said that it is difficult sometimes to offer your help because once you enter a place they want you to give money and support and the Canossian Sisters are already supporting so many different projects. We will see, maybe in the future I can go and visit the kids there and learn some basic sign language.
Most of this week actually hasn’t been so much fun.We are having 2 visitors coming to stay in the VOICA volunteer house which means that two rooms and the whole house needs to be cleaned. Before Karen and I arrived, Tomas our other community member was here by himself, and lets put it nicely, when a single guy is alone in a house he isn’t going to care to make it “tidy.” I have learnt lots in regards to cleaning. I have learnt that you can’t let the insects get the best of you. You need to be stronger than them and you also need to be okay with living with them. I also have learnt that I can only make the house less dirty, not necessarily “clean.” The red dirt is constantly getting into every room and bugs find their way no matter how much you try to get them out of prevent them from getting in. In regards to insects I would like to share with you all my wonderful encounters this week. I am sure you will be thinking, how could Lydia survive this because she is the one is always asking someone to come and get any kind of bug out of her room, isn’t that right Dad?
So here it goes: I found a gecko above my bed, a spider in my shirt while eating lunch, a GIANT scarab beetle in my closet, a jumping insect in my shower, a preying mantis the size of my hand infront of my door, little bugs in my oatmeal, and just the other day I saw a large bird eating the biggests frog I have ever seen in my garden...this was really disgusting. And of course there are spiders which I am slowly beginning to accept and maybe, just maybe will I begin to love them, hahah. 
The food here is good, but it’s nothing special. The vegetables we eat here consist of: eggplants, carrots, tomatoes, beans, cabbage, spinach and just the other day we discovered avocado. The fruits here are amazing: mangoes, papayas, passionfruit, bananas. The main meal consists of either rice, potatoes, pasta or egg. And for all of those who have lived with me it will be to great relief for you all to know that I eat peanut butter on my bread every morning here with bananas. And it is super tasty peanut butter which makes me happy every morning. I have also eaten locusts which was pretty cool. They weren’t too bad at all...it’s all mental. But when Sister Angela began to hold the little locust in her hand and say “les yeux, les yeux” and wiggle the head with the wee little black eyes I decided against going for more. Sister Angela is quite a character. She has the most weathered skin I have ever seen. She is from Italy and is probably in her 70’s. She has Scoliosis and when she found out I was a “Physiotherapist”which I denied many times, she didn’t seem to care and proceeded to tell me all about her pain and her shoulders etc. She is hilarious. If I am walking anywhere in her vicinity she will wave and call me over and ask me what other exercises she can do. I can never escape her, haha, but she is super great!
Since my bag still hasn’t arrived yet I have been borrowing clothes from people here. It’s amazing how when you come with nothing you receive so much and especially here where people really don’t have much. I received a skirt from a young girl around 18 years old named Helene. She used to live in Uganda so her English is very good. My wardrobe is quite an assortment of brightly coloured clothes that are mostly too small or too big for me. The one pair of pants that I wore on the plane are called my skirt-pants because they are like pants but they are ballooning and sort of like a skirt. They are hard to explain, but anyways I wear them a lot because they keep the bugs out and they are breezy. Well my friend Helene tells me that when the people here saw me wearing these skirt-pants they were all laughing at me. Well thanks people of Aru. I thought they were laughing at my accent or the fact that I just was out of place, but no all along they were simply laughing at my skirt-pants. The good thing is that my skirt-pants are scaring away the local boys here. Karen has already been asked my many men to marry her where as me on the other hand have received no such offers. Praise the Lord for my skirt-pants and my height.
On Saturdays Tomas, Karen and I help at the boulangerie, or bakery, in the afternoons. This bakery was started by a past volunteer from Italy who was a baker named Lucca and they call the bread pain de Lucca. It is very tasty and we get it for free every morning for breakfast. It’s quite difficult to calculate prices in Ugandan shillings or Congolese Francs in French and count and multiply in French but I am getting a hang of it slowly. Saturday evening was my first power outage. At the beginning of December the rainy season usually ends but the rain is still sticking around. It rained so hard and the lightning here is the brightest I have ever seen. I feel as though if I looked at it directly it would blind me. So Tomas, Karen and I spent our Saturday night telling stories in the dark. This Sunday I attended my first “fete” for 3 new lay Canossians who are starting their mission with the Canossians. There was lots of good food and CAKE. I haven’t had a sweet desert since Rome so this was nice. The cake was carried in a procession of dancing towards the guest which was pretty cool. Then after eating music of course! It was a lot of fun, although the dance we did was kind of boring. Everyone just kind swung their arms and swayed to the music while going around in a circle for like 10 minutes or more. But when there’s music it seems to get everyone here excited. After my first fete I played basketball with Sister Marie Jean and some of the boarding school girls and Tomas and Karen as well. The basketball court here has been ruined by the rain so it is difficult to dribble the ball. “Carrying,” “traveling,” are not really rules here along with other things which I found interesting in the way they play. It was a lot of fun. We are going to play every Sunday afternoon. 

Annyways, that is all for now! I am at peace here. The Sisters here are really great and our community of volunteers are awesome. I will update my next one soon and hopefully one or two photos. I would also love to hear from you all if you have a chance; it is always great to hear from people

A tout a l'heure

Lydia

Monday, December 7, 2009

Well here I am in the village of Aru and am truly happy. I am surrounded by colour, people full of life and beautiful scenary. The people here are full of joy. When I arrived I was embraced by a herd of boarding school girls who gave me 3 kisses on the cheek and began to laugh at me because of how tall I was. They were practically at my chest which added to more laughter. Then when I arrived at the volunteer house 4 girls who live in a hostel right behind the house greeted us in song and dance and drums of course. The word Karibu means welcome in Lingala and was the only word I heard all day from everyone I met. I felt very much a part of a great community. The children greet me with handshakes and say bonjour with the sweetest little voices. The young girls seem to giggle a lot whenever I try to speak French with them, maybe they are laughing at my accent. The common greeting here is to say either bonjour or bonsoir followed by comment ca va. It is easy to feel welcomed here with these people. The Sisters here are very hospitable and I feel as though I have 10 mothers here. I am told that if I dont eat, Africa will eat you, that I need to make sure I have my hat on wherever I go, and of course that I need to get good sleep. Sister Daniela is in charge of the volunteers and is the youngest Sister here with a lot of energy, enthusiasm and youthful spirit. She has so many projects and goals for the community and she actually starts them and sets goals which is really inspiring. As for me in light of these projects Sister Daniela has in mind, I have been appointed to work as an official Physiotherapist. No matter how many times I tell Sister that I am not an official Physiotherapist, it doesnt really matter here because I am already qualified for African standards. So, I am going to be having my own clinic! I cant believe this! I was hoping I would be able to use my skills and knowledge here, but not to this extent. Sister Claire, who is the head Nurse, told me that I will have lots of opportunities to work with paralyzed children, doing massage and of course many people who have difficulties walking. I am so excited about this. Sister Claire even wrote out a list of all the supplies that I would need for my clinic and will get them all for me. I am still a little bit in awe of this. And this is not all, I am also going to be able to teach sports to the kids in the afternoons and set up a volleyball court. Also, Sister Daniela has in mind to create a mini Olympics where all the classes and schools will compete together and form teams and she wants me to organize it. This also makes me very excited for my adventure here in Aru. I couldnt have asked for any other better projects than these which are my 2 passions. Oh, and also there is a youth centre and library that can be painted creatively which Sister Daniela also asked me to help with. I am excited to see these projects unfold and the beauty that will come forth from them. 
There truly is much beauty here in Aru. The Eucyliptus trees blowing in the wind, the smell of Gloria flowers, the sound of crickets and fluttering butterflies, and the distant rhythm of the drum. I wake up to the sound of the beating drum and either fall asleep to the sound of crickets or rain bouncing off the tin roof. Lightning flashes brighly across the night sky frequently here and it reminds me that I truly am in the Congo, which has the most lighting storms in the world. The stars here glitter so brightly that they almost look unreal. The constellations jump out and stun you as you crank your neck all the way back to absorb their entirity. I truly am in a different world here. For one, I have seen more insects in 1 day than I have in my entire life. To wear a watch here is not considered a good thing. What I considered to be corn rows, or African style braiding is far beyond this. Hair can be braided in the most elaborate patterns I have ever seen. The Congolese traditional hair style for women looks like antennas sticking off their heads. I am astounded by the way women can carry kilos and kilos of wood, coal, fruits, vegetables and much more on their heads. I am surprised to see more cars here than I thought I would. Also the roads here in Congo are non-existent. When leaving the roads of Uganda all of a sudden they completely disappear into a washboard road of red earth. Karen and I took our first bike ride today after much effort. We found one bike that was functional, and then found another one which needed alot of work. We took off one brake pad since it was actually keeping the tire from spinning. Then after this we had to pump both tires and the find an appropriate wrench to change the height of the seat. Finally we managed to venture out on our first bike ride with one squeky bike and the other without any brakes at all. It was a lot of fun! First I almost got hit by a car because my feet werent fast enough the stop my bike. Second, my front tire slipped on a garbage bag on the dirt road and I fell of my bike. And third, we managed to take the wrong dirt road and then encountered some little boys whose only English words consisted of I will kill you. It was a really great way to see other parts of Aru and pass by different huts, and shops and see different landscapes. I am excited to be able to bike around and get places.  
My first Sunday mass here in Aru was very different. The mass lasted almost 2 hours and was so full of people that there were people outside with chairs. The music during the mass is so joyful and everyone sings along and claps and sways. I wish I could speak Lingala though so I could sing a long. I wore my first African skirt to mass which kept coming loose during the mass which made me feel even more out of place. At the end of the mass, the chief head of police for all of DRC spoke to the congregation saying how he is proud to be Catholic and that if he could be anywhere to share this, it would be Aru.
I have made friends so far with one of the girls at the hostel who studies under the light of the volunteer house. I shared a Haribo candy and gave her a skirt which she really really appreciated. I also made friends with 3 mothers who saw me painting. We got talking of course and they wanted to know how I got my curly hair the way it is. I told them it is natural but that I put a little hair gel in. Then they immediately wanted this hair gel so we walked together to my house and I gave them my bottle. Their hair though was the traditional Congolese hair style that looks like antennas and I was in awe of it as well. One of the girls is 24 and has 2 little babies, which were cuddled against her back the way the do here. 
So far everything is very enjoyable here, except for the fact that I have seen more insects here than in my entire life. I am not much of an insect lover so it has been a little challenging. I hope to keep you all updated as much as I can. I will upload a few photos soon. 
Greetings to you all!!!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Aru

I am finally here in Aru, Democratic Republic of Congo and am blown away by the beauty of the place. I will sum up Aru in one word, colour. The green of the trees and palm branches and bushes is a green I have never seen before which stunned me as I stood in awe. The flowers here are also the brightest flowers I have ever seen and the sky the biggest and bluest I have ever seen. The people also are the friendliest and most joyful people I have ever met.

My travels to arrive here have been very exciting and eye opening. I flew my Rome to Addis Abbaba and then to Kampala. In Kampala I discovered that my backpack was lost, and of course it has all my clothes, hahaha, just awesome. One of the Canossian Sisters from Kampala picked up Karen and I and then dropped us off at a hotel for the night. We ate a wonderful Ugandan meal with delicious roasted chicken and chapatti bread, similar to crepes but thicker, and some tasty beans and spicy vegetables. We then explored our first African market and I bought my first African skirt, since I dont know when my clothes will arrive. I felt like a glow stick walking through the market since Karen and I were the only white people. It was a little awkward. The next morning at 5am we departed to the bus station to go to Arua. On the way to the bus station we drove through the slums of Kampala which was my first experience seeing real poverty. To see poverty for yourself is much different than seeing it in films or in photographs or even someone telling their experience. Seeing children sleeping on dirt floor with 6 other people in a tiny shack really causes one to say to oneself that this should not happen. A child should not have to endure that. I also saw a young man flat on his back on the sidewalk and a couple was standing over him. I have no idea if he was alive or not. This caused my heart to stop. I just pray that he was not dead. 

The bus ride was a very interesting experience. For 8 hours I bumped along on a bus, stopping at small villages along the way where at every stop children, women and young men would swarm to the windows selling meat on a stick, bananas, peanuts, fish, rice cakes, mangoes, passion fruit and water. Since I was by the window they would see that I was white, or mzungo, and all stare at me and beg me to buy from them. I felt bad for them, since all day they just wait for busses to come and stop in their village so they can sell the fruit of their labour. The scenary was amazing and so varied as we travelled all day long. The trees changed in some areas to tall green ones, and then when we went through the West Nile region the trees were closer together and then savanna, and then hills, and then savanna with rocky outcrops. We crossed the Nile River which was heart stopping, seeing the white rapids and the lucious green vegetation surrounding it as well as one man pushing his boat down the river. And then we saw 2 baboons and a tiny little white monkey which could fit in my hands. Throughout the journey there were the straw huts scattered all over, and the people in these villages seem to not do much but simply sit under the shade of trees and eat fruits. In some areas you could see the people carrying heavy bushels of leaves on their heads to build their huts and walking long distances. The people here amaze my by how tough they are to work under the hot sun, walking up hills and carrying heavy buckets on their heads. I am very glad I took the bus and could see different villages and scenary.

I will continue on to Aru shortly

Friday, November 27, 2009





Dear Friends and Family,
I am about to depart on monday and many things are going through my head rightn ow. I am realizing that my mission to Africa is ACTUALLY happening and that my childhood dream of going to Africa is coming true. Instantly a smile comes on my face and I feel so happy that I am able to make this a reality, well that God has allowed this to happen for me. I feel very at peace right now and I am itching to get on the plane. I hopefully will be able to update you all when I arrive safely and give a synopsis of what it really is like there. I know for one thing that it is going to be nice and hot there when I arrive. The community there is waiting anxiously for us to arrive and I can't wait to meet them all. My community here in Rome will be missed and of course all of you at home in Canada.
I also wanted to add a photo from my trip to Pompeii last weekend which was really amazing. If any of you get the chance to go to Pompeii I really advise you to GO. It exceeded my expectations by far by how big and well preserved it was.

It is time for change and adventure. For me everything is an adventure and I want this experience to be one that challenges me to go outside of myself to see how far I can stretch myself. I do not want to be mediocre and be satisfied with staying at the same level when I know that there is more in me to give.
Thank you all for encouraging me to take up this challenge and just go for it! Thanks also for your prayers, they mean a lot to me. I hope to update you all as regularly as I can.
Lots of Love

Lydia

Friday, November 20, 2009


There are now only 10 days left until I leave for the Congo and I am beginning to get more and more excited. My time here in Rome has been filled with many great experiences. I have learnt a lot here such as cooking skills, how to play guitar, French lessons and some Italian as well.
I feel very blessed to be here in Rome. The 5 of us, excluding Tomas, went to St. Paul's outside the walls Basilica which was another amazing church. The whole day the 5 of us spent time getting to know each other since the 3 Italians will be leaving in February to join Karen, Tomas and myself. I feel that our group is very diverse and each of us brings different personalities, experiences and talents to the group. I know that all of us have been brought to this mission for a reason, and I am excited for all of us to build community in Africa. The Italians shared with us about their summer experience in the Congo (all of them spent 1 month there volunteering). Here are a few things they shared with us:
- Matteo would not wish the bus ride from Kampala to Arua to his worst enemy (it is that bad...I think it's just really uncomfortable)
- the animals there consist of goats, chickens, cows, monkeys, and fun insects such as termites, spiders, moths, beetles (I will not see elephants or giraffes walking around)
- the cows and goats do not give milk
- the vegetables there are mostly tomatoes, egg plant, potatoes, and squash
- we have to kill our animals to get meat (chickens and goats)...wow! this is going to be an adventure!
- the people also speak Lingala as well as French
- The stars there are beyond words!
- the washing machine there doesn't work
- Africa will change your life!!!!


As much as some of the above scare me a little bit (particularily the insects), I feel that the good will outweigh the negatives immensely and that it all comes down to the people. I want to be like St. Peter and step out of my boat or my security and go wherever the Lord calls me. I am excited to see if all of these things the Italians have been telling me are true...hahah, you never know about those Italians.
I hope to communicate through this blog during my year and I hope that I will be able to offer some insight into my world and share with all of you. Thank you thus far for following my blog and I hope that all of you have a really great year full of many adventures. Keep me in your prayers especially as my departure grows nearer and that my journey is a safe one.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tivoli Gardens


Tivoli Gardens
Originally uploaded by Lydia Shives

Tivoli


P1020535
Originally uploaded by Lydia Shives

Tivoli Gardens


Tivoli Gardens
Originally uploaded by Lydia Shives

Getting to the roots of Rome

Dear friends and family,
I have really been enjoying exploring Rome with all its secrets and treasures. Just this week I was able to go to the Scavi (excavations) of the Necropolis (where the dead were buried) unnderneath St. Peter's Basilica. This has been a high light of my time here in Rome, and I recommend everyone who visits Rome to book a tour of the Scavi! Underneath the present St. Peter's Basilica is the Basilica of Constantine and underneath this is the Necropolis and then underneath the Necropolis is where the tomb of St. Peter is. Constantine wanted to build his basilica over the tomb of St. Peter so during his time he covered the entire Necropolis with soil and built on top of it. In the 1940's the discovery of the Necropolis and the excavations took place where the bones of St. Peter were found. There is much scientific evidence that the bones were St. Peter's because of where they were found, that they were of a man of 60 years of age and of robust built and had stains of the colour purple which meant they had been wrapped in purple cloth after the body had decomposed which was a sign of great reverence. The tour was amazing because the guide was a PhD student studying classical Latin and Greek and could read all the inscriptions in Latin which made the experience more real for me. The Necropolis is like a whole village underneath St. Peter's where each house was where urns were placed and sarcophagus's of deceased relatives. The structures and bricks date back to around 100 AD or earlier and the time of Constantine. Just knowing this makes your jaw drop. I felt like I had been transported into a different world. Seeing the bones of St. Peter was so amazing!
Every day here in Rome I begin to enjoy myself even more. I took a trip to Tivoli which is outside of Rome where there were some magnificent gardens which date back to the time of Hadrian.
A few cultural things I have encountered:
- going to the doctor to get my shots was quite an experience. The doctor came in with his shirt unbuttoned with his chest hair sticking out and a big gold crucifix. He didn't even clean my arm with alcohol before he put the needle in. He just casually went over to me, stabbed me with the needle and walked away. No swab, no cleaning, no words, nothing. And before he gave me the injection he took out his stethoscope to check my heart where he literally placed it on my chest and back for no longer than 1 second and then put his hand on my stomach for 1 second as well. Hahaha, honestly, it was quite a joke. Now I have experienced the medical system here in Italy.
- Men here really do say "Ciao Bella" ALOT!!!
- The Italians actually send their reject wine to North America. An Italian wine maker admitted it to me.
- Italians aren't very prompt or time conscious. Stores close at random times during the day and even if they say the hours they are open this doesn't mean much.
- Gelato is eaten anytime of the day here
- the buses here are all Mercedes
- Men here are romantic and are gentlemen (ie they will ALWAYS hold the door for you, let you take a seat if you are standing) I like this :)
- A sign of a true Italian is when you drink your wine with water because that is the way the Roman soldiers used to do. They said that to kill the germs in the water you need to add wine to cleanse it.
- "Piano Piano" (slolwy slowly) is a common theme here in Italy

I am so happy to be here right now in Rome preparing to go and serve in Africa. Some important messages that have stuck with me during our formation have been that we should not go thinking that we will come and change the people there by the things we DO. We should go there with the mind frame that we need to be witnesses and that the people there just want to see that you love them and listen to them. It is also important that we enter their culture by observing and listening first and then by talking followed by reflection. I am getting really excited to enter their culture and to learn much from the people there. I'm not if I mentioned in my blog yet but this coming summer they are going to be making a beach volleyball court which is going to be great! We have our tickets bought for Africa leaving Dec. 1 from Rome to Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia and then to Kampala, Uganda followed by a 7 hour bus ride to the border of Uganda with Congo. One of the volunteers who was there this past summer told us that he would not wish this bus ride to his worst enemy! hahaha, because it smells and is really cramped. Wow, that makes me feel really excited for the journey! Also, a few things that past volunteers have told me is that we will have to kill chickens for meat, that the vegetables there consist of potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and some other greeny vegetable. They also eat termites there, haha. It is going to be quite a "neat" experience. I am also not sure how it is going to be to live with 3 Italians (1 girl and 2 guys...1 of which doesn't like soccer or Nutella - can you believe it!), 1 guy from Czech Republic (not to mention he only eats meat and potatoes) and 1 American girl. I am just meeting the 3 Italians now and I think we are all going to form a great group. I am glad though that I have Karen here from Denver, Colorado because we have things in common that we can share together (and of course we can speak English together). My French is coming along quite well. I feel really pathetic when people assume I can speak fluent French because I am from Canada. Yes, it is true, Western Canadians do not speak French! I am thankful though for my 10 years of French education in school...finally I can put it to use, although the problem is to remember it all.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Well time is flying here in Rome and I have experienced many amazing things. I am happy to say that my cooking has improved due to the helpful instruction of Rosa, our beautiful Italian cook who has been teaching us once a week. So far I have learnt how to make rissotto (we made it with fresh pumpkin which was really tasty), pasta frolla (a cake with layers of apple and marmalade...soooo good, I just hope I can repeat this again), a meat roll with vegetables inside, and basic pasta recipes.
I am also learning to play guitar from Sr. Sandra every friday which is really great because having a teacher keeps you focused and makes you want to learn more. I am slowly learning the chords and trying to strum and sing at the same time, hahaha, this is pretty hilarious because I don't have the greatest rhythm. My French is coming along as well, I feel more confident speaking which is great. I also have discovered that next to the French church near Piazza Navona there is a French library where you can go and study, listen to French tapes and read. They also have a French cinema which I hope to go to before I leave.
I am starting to feel comfortable here in Rome and my Italian is getting a little better. I don't think I have mentioned about our monday night service at Caritas International yet. Well...it is quite an experience! Caritas serves meals to the homeless people of Rome every night right next to the main train station in a hall. They serve 500 people every night so it is a really busy place. When we go there on mondays we usually sign people's names in or hand them their trays and of course try to greet them and talk a bit. My vocabulary is limited to: buona serra, buon appetito, ciao, grazie, come es ti (not sure how to spell). The other day I actually was able to say: Ho voglio imparare Italiano (I want to learn Italian...I think the spelling is off too). I would like to paint a picture of the type of people we encounter here:
First there are the people who just want to talk to someone and babble away in Italian to me, and I just stand and smile and that's it. It's pretty funny because sometimes they will talk to me for a full minute without realizing that I have no clue what they just told me. I don't think they even care really if I understand them, they just want to talk to anyone who is willing to lsiten. Then there are the bubbly men who want to know where you're from and try to practice their English with you. Of course they start off with "Ciao Bella!" This is a very frequent phrase here in Italy. There are many Africans that come every night and their eyes are always staring at you, it makes me feel really uncomfortable and awkward. It's as though they've never seen someone with blonde hair or something. I guess I had better get used to this. Then you get the 70 year old Italian men who are gruff, rude and don't say thank you to you at all. You can see on their worn faces that they have lived a rough life. Then there are a few of my favourite characters here at Caritas: the old man who comes wearing pjamas, a cigarette behind his ear and babbles to himself constantly; the comedian with wiry greyish hair who every time gives you his ticket and then jokingly grabs it back and laughs every time...apparently this doesn't grow old...he has this twinkle in his eye that you tell he is thinking of some funny joke or antic in his mind, he makes me laugh; the old man who EVERY TIME gives his ticket and then continues to grab someones tray and cheat the line followed by roars of anger; my favourite is this lady from Ukraine named Lydia. We speak in broken Italian together and smile and ask how each of us are. She is so beautiful and sweet. I wish I could speak more Italian so I could connect with her more; and lastly an interesting character is this red haired young guy from Romania who comes in every time fiddling with a plastercine figurine of the devil. One night he came up to me when he was leaving and gave me a figurine of a Spartan as a gift for me, hahah. We then spoke French together and when he found out that I come only on mondays, he proceeded to say that he looks forward to every monday...hahaha, yep, there definitely are some interesting people here. It's a great experience to see what the other side of Rome is: the poor, the rejected, the lonely, the homeless who live in this beautiful city and struggle every day to just live and survive.
I have also gotten to know the community of people who go to the International Youth Centre which was started by Pope John Paul II. The chapel next to the Centre has the World Youth Day Cross which was really cool to see. There are young people from all over the world and they gather after mass where people are speaking in at least 3 different languages. I hope to get to know the community of young people here more as I still have 4 more weeks here in Rome.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

















I forgot to mention that last weekend I was able to get a ticket to the canonization (where the Catholic Church officially acknowledges someone as a "Saint"; there has to be a certain amount of miracles performed by the person and some other details as well). Anyways, I was able to witness 5 people become Saints including Father Damien from Molokai...now St. Damien. This was special for me because I had always admired St. Damiens courage to travel from Belgium all the way to Hawaii to serve the poor. He then volunteered to serve the leper community on the island of Molokai all by himself where he later ended up dying of leprosy. He not only helped them in their pain of their disease but helped educate them, started up community events such as music lessons other things. His misisonary heart has really inspired me. So as this photo shows I was able to get pretty close at the canonization mass in St. Peters and when you're close to any children you can guarantee that the Pope will stop so sure enough he did and got a great shot.
Also last weekend I was able to attend a prayer service for Africa. We all gathered together and prayed the rosary united as a people of God and in certain African countries represented. So for one decade of the rosary the t.v. screen would show Kenyans praying the same rosary together with us in a church with their Bishop and in their language; then for the next decade it would show the people in Democratic Republic of Congo, then South Africa, then Egypt, and Malawi all of which was "live." It was really powerful and moving. I felt united with these people through our prayers and singing together and it stirred more joy and excitement to be with these people on my mission in the Congo.
We had one Sister come and talk to us about her experience in Africa, in particular the town of Aru. She has spent 38 years as a misisonary in Africa and the way she spoke and told her stories you could tell nothing seemed to stir or upset her. She told us a story of how one mother cursed this pregnant woman and said that her preganancy was going to be torturous and that her child would be disabled, and sure enough it was! Her child had a terribly large head and the mother suffered greatly. My face was saddened and upset when I heard this story, but Sister Severina just spoke it as it was without any sign of pain. I think after you spent 38 years amongst people who suffer greatly every day, you begin to accept and take it in stride. Well, I am sure I won't be like her after one year but I do hope that I will be able to handle the suffering that I will encounter there. For one thing, cursing someone can actually kill a person and words spoken with negative energy and evil are extremely powerful in the hands of the Devil.
She of course shared wonderful stories. She summed up the Congolese people as Passionate, Joyful, Creative, and Fighters (in that they never give up on things). She said the people there are all youthful and young and full of energy; they love to dance, to talk and share their life stories, sing and play. I think I will really enjoy my experience.

Friday, October 16, 2009


The community here is great. Right now it is myself, and one other volunteer named Karen from Denver Colorado. She will be going with me to the DRC but is staying for 2 years. At the end of October and into November there will be more volunteers coming, mostly Italians. Then there is Diggy from the Phillipines who trains the volunteers and lives here permanently. Then there is Sister Angela who is the director of VOICA. Sister Angela spent 35 years working with the aboriginals of Australia and has many interesting stories. She has a digiridoo which I tried to learn but gave up after a few tries; I really just sounded like a dying elephant although I felt that my lips were stronger from practicing on it, hahah, not like that's really important but ya it's true. We had an American couple return from their 1 year mission in East Timor and we had the chance to listen to their stories and their experience. They were such a beautiful couple and told us that the most important thing while you're on mission is to PRAY, and that community is very important. Both of them were such great witnesses to living out their faith and giving of themselves as true servants. They are both 23 and so young and full of love...they really left an impresison on me.
I have explored a bit of Rome and I am very impressed by the city. It has so much history and beauty. So far I have explored the ancient Foro Romano, Palantine Hill where the Emperors used to live, the Colosseum, a few art galleries and famous Roman gardens. It was difficult for me to imagine what it would really be like back then and how the city of Rome looked back then. It was cool to see the house where Caesar Augustus lived and to walk where he walked. The whole place gave me the chills just thinking about all the people who have walked where I was walking.
I have also visited many beautiful churches such as St. Peters, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Maggiore and many more. When I went to the basilica of St. Cecilia just as I arrived a bride was entering the church and the "here comes the bride" song came on with beautiful organs. Wow! It was really beautiful, and her dress was probably made by some famous Italian designer because I have never seen its equal. I also visited the church called the Holy Cross in Jerusalem which has fragments of the real cross of Jesus, a thorn from the crown of Jesus, the thumb of the Apostle Thomas who doubted Jesus' Resurrection. St. Helena, the mother of St. Augustine, brought back the fragments of the cross to Rome. The Holy Shroud was also there where you could see the face and the body of Christ left by the stains of his blood. I then visited the Scala Santa which are the steps that Jesus walked up to go before Pontius Pilate. You go up these stairs on your knees, which is very painful but it allows you to enter the Passion of Christ. Rome really allows you to come closer to the life of Christ and his apostles as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Destination Roma!!

So I have been in Rome for 3 weeks now. I can't believe that I am in Rome, it's almost like a dream right now. The volunteer house I am staying in is on the property of the Canossian Daughters of Charity and is a 15 minute walk to St. Peter's Basilica and a 5 minute bus ride. I can see St. Peter's from the roof top patio; me and St. Peter are pretty good buddies these days. I am very much inspired sitting on the roof and looking out at the city of Rome and thinking about all the history that has happened here. It is also really powerful to be here where the roots of the Church started and where so many holy people have walked, as well as many tyrrants. Behind the house there is a farm with sheep and horses so when I look towards St. Peter's I feel as though I am in a different era. The property here used to be owned by a Countess and the volunteer house actually used to be the stable, hahah, it's a pretty nice stable. There are a few problems with the house though: #1 people back then in Italy were very short; every doorway I have to duck under, and I have definitely smashed my head a few times early in the morning; #2 the oven needs to be lit by putting a match underneath the tray on the bottom while we hold down the gas lever, the stove needs to be lit with a lighter, and to keep the oven door closed we have wire wrapped around it that is then tied to the leg of a table beside the oven which is used to tighten it. It just adds to the whole cooking experience and gives us practice for Africa...actually that is a lie, in the Congo we are going to be using a wood burning stove so it's going to be even more interesting!! In regards to cooking, I am slowly learning. Here are a few things I HAVE succeeded in making: fresh pesto (we crushed the pine nuts from our trees, peeled them, used our fresh basil and crushed this all together with olive oil and salt and ta da! pesto), apple chestnut stuffing, roasted chicken, and pumpkin pie from a pumpkin in our garden. I have burnt many things, made many mistakes but the people I live with are very patient. Starting next week Rossa, the Italian cook at the convent is going to teach us how to cook. I am really looking forward to learning from a true Italian!
So...maybe I will give you a little picture of how my days work here at VOICA (Voluntariato Internazionale Canossiano):
7:00am mass (optional)
8:30-9:30am chores (could be anything, but lately has been involving sweeping the numerous pine needles that accumulate in the entrance way)
9:30-11am: session (so far we have learnt about the history of VOICA and the Canossians- started by St. Magdalene of Canossa, different forms of prayer, personality and character development, church documents, looking through the 4 pillars of VOICA which are: spirituality, community, formation, and service)
lunch and then time for ourselves
3-5pm: nous apprenons le francais parce que dans le Democratic Republic de Congo ils parlent le francais. Le langue c'est tres important!
dinner and then time for ourselves and then we always pray together in the evening as a community. A few fun things we've done so far: play frisbee in the dark (my frisbee I brought from home lights up!), play ping pong, watch some funny movies, eat gelato in St. Peter's Square, have picnics in the park. Oh yes, the park across from where we live is the biggest in Rome and has huge umbrella pine trees and a lake with fish...I go running there often and I simply love it, so much so that I have started to paint it! Bellisima! It looks better in person though, my painting isn't very good. I have a lot of practice to do.

So our saturday mornings are for cleaning the entire house. This is a change for me who cleans my house about once a month hahah. I am learning how to actually clean which actually is more difficult than one would think. After we clean we are always invited to the convent for lunch prepared by Rossa the lovely cook. The sisters here are so sweet and each of them has their own special personality. Sister Katherina is from the DRC and looks about 25 years old with the most beautiful eyes and smile. We practice speaking French together...I love her French it is so beautiful. She wants me to teach her Canadian history in exchange for drum lessons.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

travels thus far: stop # 3 Cinque Terre in Liguria

My last stop before arriving in Rome was Cinque Terre in the province of Liguria. I stayed in a hostel in Bressia which as a 15 minutes bus ride from the first village of the Cinque Terre National Park. I started early in morning from the first village called Riomaggiore and finished in Monterosso the fifth village. Riomaggiore was very beautiful because all the houses just crept right to the sea and the steep cliffs just shot upward covered with green olive trees and vineyards. I was amazed at how the people here are able to work so high up and at such steep angles. The first beautiful path that lay before me from Riomaggiore to the second village of Manarola was called "Ville dell'Amore" or walk of love. The path curves around the cliffs with nothing but the sea below you and the vienyards and olive trees above you. There was a beautiful sea breeze in the morning and only a few other hikers on the path which made it even more spectacular. I love looking out to the sea and not being able to see what is beyond. It stirs my passion for adventure and my desire to sail away into the unknown and explore some far off land. I tried to write some poetry in this beautiful place but I'm not so good at rhyming and it never sounds as good as it did in my head. From Manarola I hiked to Corniglia which had a long flight of stairs which was a killer since it was beginning to get really hot outside, I would say about 29 degrees. Then from Corniglia I hiked to Vernazza. This area of the trail was through the trees and I even came across an Italian farmer with sticks on his back passing by. Some areas of the forest were burnt from fires and the smell was of the trees and the smell of burnt wood. When I arrived in Vernazza it was around 1pm and the heat of the day was definitely draining me especially with the lack of shade. I had the best foccacia bread I have ever tasted along with prosciutto ham which is everywhere in Italy. It was a pity I forgot my bathing suit because it would have been so refreshing to take a dip in the blue Ligurian Sea. I then continued on towards my goal which was to reach Monterosso. The hikes really aren't very difficult except for a few uphill parts here and there. By the time I reached Monterosso the sun was getting even hotter and I decided I was going to swim despite the lack of a proper bathing suit. So, I found a nice rocky beach away from the crowded sandy beach and jumped in with my sport bra and underwear! It was well worth it after sweating all day in the hot sun! I think this was a highlight of the trip. The following day I took one of the trains back to Monterosso with my swim suit and had a proper swim at the sandy beach which boasted in its magnificent views of the cliffs and Mediterranean cliffs. I appreciated every part of this day in the Sea because I knew I wouldn't be swimming in the Sea or lying on the beach for a year. It was magnificent! If you ever have the chance to go to Cinque Terre I recommend it; it really is beautiful and the hikes are very relaxing, breathtaking and inspiring. Although, Lake O'Hara is still number one for breathtaking places I have been to.
I then travelled back to Silvano's place in Florence where I spent my last night before heading to Rome. Silvano's mom prayed a beautiful Italian blessing over me and wrote down the scripture verses she prayed for me (Psalm 65/66, and Philippians 4:4-7, "Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again:Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anytihng, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.") This passage in particular helped me on my way to Rome because I was slightly anxious about what would be before me as I reached my destination and met the people whom I would be spending a lot of time with. Thank you to Julianna for sharing this with me.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gozo


Gozo
Originally uploaded by Lydia Shives
Loving the rain on this Mediterranean island

Ramla beach, Gozo


Ramla beach, Gozo
Originally uploaded by Lydia Shives
Where Anya and I camped

Casa Sesta


Casa Sesta
Originally uploaded by Lydia Shives

taking the juice from the grapes to make wine


Casa Sesta


Casa Sesta
Originally uploaded by Lydia Shives

travels thus far: stop #2 Florence, Tuscany

So my friend Silvano offered me to stay at his family's house in Florence in the area called Compiobbi. It was a beautiful house up in the hills right across from an abandoned villa. This villa even had a 12 foot carving of a man in a cyprus tree out front. I spent a few rainy days in Florence which wasn't all that bad because I went to the amazing museums. The art here in Florence is inspiring. The sculpture of David really caught me off guard because I didn't really expect much from it. But when you see it in reality it honestly makes your jaw drop; the proportions, the details of the figure such as the veins, the muscles, and the sheer size are a masterpiece! Another masterpiece of Florence for me was the frescoes of Massacio. I don't know how someone is able to capture so much expression in painting. Florence really was a beautiful city and gelato is everywhere which gives me another reason to love this city. I honestly think I had gelato everyday.
Tuscany, the region that Florence is situated in, is full of cypress trees, rolling hills, olive trees and vineyards. I had the opportunity to drive through the Tuscany hills from Compiobbi to a monastery called Camaldoli with Silvano's Father. This was such a treat because Silvo's Father is a walking history book and told me every battle that happened on every hill we passed (I am NOT exaggerating). It was a little overwhelming by the time we reached the monastery (4 hours later). The monastery is situated amongst beautiful green trees and a river and it reminded me a lot of home. But instead of seeing bears in the woods, we saw boars instead. On the way back we stopped at the town of Poppi where Dante found inspiration for his writings and visited a historical castle; this area is called Casentino.
Another Tuscany adventure I was able to experience was going to the Chianti area of Tuscany where the world famous wines comes from. The cousins of one of Silvano's friends has an agrotourism place in the hills of Chianti and they needed some help one Saturday so, Silvano, his girlfriend Cecilia any myself offered to come for the day. This place is absolutely perfect. Even the swimming pool is situated exactly where the sun rises and sets. From the farm you can see all of Florence. We tasted fresh strawberries (fragola) and another kind of strawberry. So the way the farm works is that people come to stay at this farm in beautiful little cottages and they can pick their own food from the gardens and prepare it for themselves and taste the wines and just relax. It's a very interesting idea for a holiday! So, from around 10am till around 2pm we worked in the winery where the big tanks are kept. I didn't understand much that was going on since I don't know any Italian so I just helped when I could. We took all the juice from the grapes and transferred it into another tank and then strained the skin out and then pressed more juice from it again. We then tasted the juice and had a few wine tastings. Ah, it was delicious. It is really great how the whole family works together and are so united. Then the best part comes when we got to eat a true Italian dinner. The first course was just your basic pasta with tomato sauce, except the sauce had some olive oil with it which was made from the tree outside the window and was AMAZING! Of course there were the wines that are made at Casa Sesta served which again are amazing. Then the next serving was a green salad and meat with potatoes again with beautiful tasting oils with it. Tuscany bread is also present which is quite hard and a tad bit bitter tasting but delicious. There was another plate of meat as well. Then for desert there was a desert wine, biscotti made with nuts from the tree outside the house. The biscotti was to die for!! I have to use this expression because it really was that good. There were some pastries too. Then after that an espresso shot was offered. Then after that some mint was offered. Then after that Grappa was offered, which is the hardest liquor I have ever tasted. It is famous in Italy and is was so strong for me that the moment it touched my lips it burned. I got used to it after the first taste though, haha. Then we went back to finish the work and then came back to the house where they offered their showers for us and then of course offered a cup of lemon tea which was sensational! Oh my, this day was definitely a highlight for me. Such a blessing to experience this. I was also very blessed to have stayed with Silvano's family. It was pretty funny conversing with his Mom though; I would come in the door and we would greet each other and then pause and not know what to say: either she speak broken english first or I try to say something in Italian. If nothing could make sense we would just laugh and smile at each other. She prayed a beautiful Italian blessing before I left and wrote down the scripture verse for me which was so beautiful. I will always remember their kindness and their Italian hospitality.

travels thus far: stop #1 Malta

Dear friends and family,
I am now going to be more diligent on updating my blog since I am now beginning to feel at home here in Rome.
Before I arrived in Rome I had the chance to travel to Malta and explore Tuscany and Cinque Terre in the province of Liguria. First off I travelled to Malta where I spent 10 amazing days with my sister Anya and her husband David. Malta is a very interesting place. It is truly Mediterranean: full of bright colours especially the buses and boats, the brown backs of fishermen, deep blue sea, rocky cliffs, sailboats set against the hot sun, and crazy drivers. The one thing I noticed was the Arabic feel Malta has. I made sure not to tell this to a Maltese because they do not like to be associated with Arabs. The whiteness and bleakness of the stone buildings with no green grass in sight made me feel like I was in Arabia.The culture here is very religious. Every bus has a religious image in it and people make sure to cross themselves when they enter a bus (I don't blame them with the way the bus drivers here drive!). I was able to take part in a "small" feast day celebration for St. Gregory the Great, which entailed a huge procession with a canopy, confetti, a band, and of course an enormous statue of St. Gregory throughout the streets. It was very impressive how many people filled the church and passionatly prayed and sang. The people of Malta matched what the gospel says about how they welcomed St. Paul who was shipwrecked here. The spirituality though may be more cultural than meaningful to the people now, but it is definitely present. I travelled to the island of Gozo (about 30 minutes at the most; reminded me of the ferry to Bowen Island). So when you think of Malta you automatically think of hot sun right? Well, so did I. But, maybe since I kept calling the Mediterranean Sea the 'Ocean' it cursed my Vancouver blood and sent rain to this desert Island! It was pretty hilarious watching people react to the rain. Nobody here really knew what to do. It was raining pretty hard and went on for at least 2 days (not constantly of course... that's reserved for Vancouver). Anya and I had to resort to buying an umbrella which was very hand in deed. So the two of ventured into the rain, not letting it dampen our spirits and took in the beauty of Gozo in the grey cloudy weather. It was still beautiful even though the earth stuck to our sandals and the wind almost stole our umbrellas. I forgot to mention that when we arrived on the evening ferry we went for dinner (which we didn't recieve until 11pm...really terrible service), and then Anya and I camped on the beach that night. It was wonderful! We had a really great sister to sister talk and woke up the the Mediterranean Sea lying before us, a beach comber scouring the sands, and some strange men who turned out to be garbage collectors not a gang of ruffians hunting goat or something like that. Some other adventures I did while I was here in Malta was going to Mdina, an ancient city up on a hill overlooking all of Malta. Anya and I took a train ride around the town passing by cactus plants, some catacombs (really cool, too bad I never got a chance to visit them), and some historical churches. Another very beautiful place I visited was the Blue Lagoon which is on the little island of Comino. The water was definitely blue as can be and my sensitive blue eyes just couldn't handle the beauty and the hot sun. It was a highlight of the trip for sure. I wanted to overcome my fear of scuba diving and was going to go but in the end I didn't have time to fit it in. Now that means I will have to go back to visit and make sure I go diving this time. I am very glad that I visited Malta and spent time with my sister; I don't think I could ever live there like she is...I need some green space or a hill or something like that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

our Mdina glass necklaces

Anya and I visted the Medieval town of Mdina where they conquered the Turks in 1546. We then bought some beautiful necklaces from Mdina Glass.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I also have a flickr account where I am going to post all my pictures. Go to flickr.com and then search Lydia Shives under people

My Journey

I have always been a wanderer, a dreamer, an adventurer and a passionate person. I don't want to just be a dreamer anymore but someone who acts upon the desires that are placed on my heart. I have a desire to serve, to travel, to experience a culture and a people so different than North America that I come away with a different perspective on life. I also want to give of myself to others, challenge myself and let my potential be stretched.
My potential will definitely be stretch as I embark on my mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo. I will be volunteering with the Canossian Missionaries for one year in the town of Aru. Aru, is in NE DRC, close to the Uganda border. This town is apparently a peaceful area, unlike the rest of the country. I have the opportunity to be serve the community here by working in health clinics, teaching, helping in an orphanage and other things. The main language in the DRC is French, so I will have another challenge to face (I don't really count my high school French as much help, although it's a start).
I am super excited for this opportunity and can't wait to get to Africa. First I need to prepare for the mission which will take place in Rome, where the organization's headquarters are. This preparation time is 2 months, which seems quite lengthly, but it is important in order for me to be well prepared so I can serve in the best way possible. The training starts September 24 and will go until the end of November which will then be time for me to embark to Africa!
You can check out the Canossian volunteer website at: http://www.voica.org/en/index.html
I have definitely felt everyone's prayers for my journey as I was not anxious, nervous or fearful as I left Vancouver. I really appreciate the prayers a lot and I will keep you updated and let you know how I am doing.
As of right now I am in Malta with my sister and her husband for a week or so, and then will head back to Italy.
Ciao!