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. 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 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


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.