Saturday, 25 May 2013

off to La Casa Grande

Well, we're off to La Casa Grande children's home today, so we probably won't see you here on this blog for at least a week, maybe more. There's no internet there.

We'll talk later.

Rebecca, Zoe, Eden, Derek :)

Friday, 24 May 2013

Eden writes: Rome and Benin so far

We went to see so many places in Rome. We went to five churches in Rome. We also went to the Colosseum. The Colosseum is a place where a long, long time ago where people used to fight there instead of in movies. They fought bears and lions and tigers and hippos. We also went to St. Peter's church and saw some statues. We saw La Pieta in St. Peter's by Michelangelo. We also saw the Pantheon which is also a church. We went out for gelato and it was so yummy, especially on a hot day.

My dad told us that on the right side of the Trevi fountain there is a calm horse with someone holding him tight. And on the left side of the Trevi fountain there is an energetic horse. It represents the energetic waters and the calm waters. We went to a whole bunch of restaurants too. There was the Piazza Navona very close to our apartment. Italy is famous for gelato, pasta, pizza, pesto.

Zoe and I at the Trevi Fountain
We also saw the Roman baths. My dad told us which was the hot pool and which was the cold pool a long time ago. There were some really pretty mosaic stones and Mom and Dad both said that the Roman baths used to be all covered with mosaic stones.
mosaic tiles
The Sistine Chapel was made by Michelangelo. He was on a structure kind of thing to paint the ceiling. There was plaster and he had to paint before it dried and it was really hard for poor Michelangelo. We had little kind of phone things and we got to find things in the Vatican Museum and it told us about the artwork. There was an Egyptian part and there was a mummy from a long time ago. She was actually real. She looked REALLY old and some parts of her were broken because she was so old.

La Pieta. It was sad. 
The mummy. It was freaky.
There was a bidet in the bathroom in our apartment. What is a bidet? It's something where you wash your bum.

Now we're in Benin. We found a new friend named Dorea. She is 11 1/2 years old. We went to two schools. We also saw the library at Benin Bible Institute which has a lot of books. We're at BBI right now, not at La Casa Grande yet.

My favourite food here is the fish. My dad has his own bedroom, but me, Zoe and my mom sleep together in a different bedroom. We got bananas, mangoes, and even pineapples in BBI. It is so so so so hot. The power was out last evening, and from 5:00 this morning. We had just gone to bed when the power came back on. We were so excited so we started writing on the computer!

There are so many motorcycles. There even taxi motorcycles!
Taxi motorcycle drivers wear yellow shirts.
I take a bath in a garbage can that's filled up with water! I use a little orange kind of bowl to splash water on me. You dry your clothes on the roof sometimes.

This is the bathtub.
People called us "yo-vo" at the first school. Yovo means white person. There are a whole bunch of people with dark skin and not many at all with light skin. It's really different from Canada.

Bye! Love, Eden.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

a different sort of vacation

Well, here we are in Benin, West Africa. A very different place than Rome! We're here for 3 weeks, and then we make our way home.

I've been thinking today about acclimatization. Partly because of the heat/humidity here, and partly because I'm curious how long it takes to feel comfortable in a new place. Rome was easy and felt familiar, not just because it's a Western country, but because we had spent time in France and Italy 3 years ago, and it was fun to see a new part of the country and remember all of the things we loved about it (gelato, pasta, pesto, food in general, the kindness of Italians toward children, gelato, cobblestone streets, gelato). Eden also mentioned that in Rome there are many cute boys. :)

In our family, I am definitely the packer/planner/detail person on the getting ready end. But Derek is the master of figuring out a place when we get there. Maps, public transportation, grocery shopping - he thrives on figuring out all of these things. And I like someone to take me by the hand for a bit until I get my bearings. Which I still don't have, but I guess it's only been one day.

Benin is another world. I'm searching my past experiences: India, Indonesia, Morocco - but none of them are Benin. I'm pleasantly surprised by the traffic here - it's much more controlled than, say, India.

Today we went to visit 2 primary schools in villages near Cotonou, the main city in Benin where we're staying. At the first school, the children were outside for recess and our arrival caused quite a stir. White people are not often seen in these parts, and the children started chanting "yo-vo, yo-vo, yo-vo" which means "white person, white person, white person." Apparently it's not a negative term, just one that identifies us as "other." Just imagine hundreds of little children chanting this and surrounding you and poking you, and you'll know how Zoe and Eden felt. They said afterwards that they felt like movie stars.

our welcoming committee at recess time
We were then taken to each class in the school where the students stood up and introduced their class and responded to some standard greetings (hello, how are you) with responses as a group. The parts of the day I like most are engaging with people that we meet. I talked with the teachers at the first school about educational approaches and the differences between their school and schools in Canada.

It was a good, full morning. We spent the afternoon resting from the heat and from full minds - full of new sights, smells, sounds, friends. Here are some pictures from the day.

families on motorcycles
teachers at the primary school
students who are Zoe's age
students who are Eden's age
drinking coconut water on the way back

Monday, 20 May 2013

Zoe writes: the colossal colosseum

 Hi everyone! Just against my will, I got really bad Jetlag. I was sitting in a restaurant, and
every once in a while, my head flopped back, and I kind of dozed off. Then I popped back up and opened my eyes. That night, I fell asleep at 8:00pm, I was EXHAUSTED. The next day, I woke up at 11:00 am! I was still pretty tired and I didn't want to get out of bed, but I had to
stay awake because we were going to see the Colosseum!

I had gotten a mini Colosseum and was comparing it to the real one, it looked kind of similar. Did you know, it's an optical illusion that makes the Colosseum look circular. It is actually an
oval shape.

It's surprising that the Romans saw killing or attacking people as entertainment. I certainly wouldn't like that! We learned that this is what happened in the Colosseum long ago.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Zoe writes: we're off!

Rebecca's note: I am pleased to introduce a guest blogger who will be blogging alongside me over the next month - my daughter, Zoe. She wanted to try blogging as a way to document what she's experiencing on our month away. I'm sure she'd love to hear your feedback! :)

This is so exciting! We’ve been talking about this for months, and now it’s actually happening! I’m on my flight to Rome, Italy. We flew over the CN tower. It doesn’t look so tall from up here!

 I’m flying Alitalia and the movies on the screen are all in Italian, so I can’t understand anything!

I’m hoping I don’t get really bad Jetlag! When we arrive in Rome, I’ll feel like it’s 1:00 in the morning but it’ll actually be 7:00 am.

Now I’m off the plane and we’ve been at a café for about an hour since a man named Romano picked us up from the airport in this huge van-taxi. It could fit 8 passengers, not including him! We can’t check in to our apartment until 11:00, so we’re sitting at this café table with all our suitcases and lots of people are giving us weird looks. Our apartment is 10-15 minutes away from basically all the Roman sites. Today we visited the Piazza Navona and tomorrow a new day begins!

eating gelato in front of the Pantheon
sitting with the famous Italian liar

drinking from a water fountain
in the Piazza Navona, a one minute walk from our apartment

There are so many things to see and do, I can’t get my head around that we’re actually in Rome!


Friday, 17 May 2013

travel immunizations

We got a whole cocktail of immunizations in our arms for this trip: yellow fever, Hep A, typhoid, and meningitis. We'll take malaria pills starting on Wednesday. I don't love putting these things into my kids' bodies, but the possible alternative - to contract a preventable disease while we're away - leaves me feeling that this is a responsible thing to do as parents.

There are a few things that this raises in me.

1. We have money to do this. Many people can't afford these immunizations. They live with the risk every day, and this is part of life.

2. Life is risk. Someone told me that we should ask people to pray for our safety - both health-wise and safety from car accidents. There are risks in taking our children to Benin, Africa. But there are risks to just staying at home too. There are risks involved in driving down the 401 to the Toronto airport. So, this trip kind of scares me and mostly excites me.

3. This type of travel is a much-needed immunization for both me and my kids. It's an immunization against the dis-ease of North American entitlement. We see how many in our world live, and it changes us. Both Derek and I have traveled extensively, and we've been changed. And we will change again - I know this.

We're about to board our plane for Rome. We'd love your prayers for our safety, and for a perspective-altering experience.

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings

Sunday, 12 May 2013

traveling shoes

On Friday we're leaving for Benin, West Africa, a trip of a lifetime. We're excited, a little nervous, and packing. And what is on my mind most? Shoes. Embarrassing, but true.

I asked my facebook friends for advice on their favourite traveling shoes. Partly because I want to reduce the number of shoes I take, and if one amazing pair of shoes can serve me for all of my needs, that would be so great. Also because I secretly want to buy a new pair of shoes.

Here is the advice that I got: Keens. Birkenstocks. Tevas. Chacos. El Naturalista. Mephisto. Romika.

All great shoes. So I went into a local shoe store last week that had all of these brand name shoes. And I came out with: nothing.

Because here's the thing: in Benin, we'll be helping out at an orphanage for a couple of weeks, and we're collecting things that they've requested for the children there. So $100+ for a brand new pair of shoes could buy a lot of needed supplies for their home and school. I still have some Tevas that "work", although they're not my favourite shoes to wear. I haven't had a pair of Birkenstocks for 18 years, and here is why:

I have had 2 pair of Birkenstocks. One pair I wore until they needed to be thrown out. I LOVED them. So much. Then I bought another pair, just before a 7 month trip to India, Indonesia, and US/Canada. We were in India for 2.5 months, and we traveled a lot by train in the sleeper cars. We were told to sleep on anything that we didn't want stolen, including our shoes.

So I diligently slept with my Birks under my head every night. Safe and sound.

One day near the end of our time in India, our group was going for a hike near a river. There were lots of rocks to climb on, so I took off my shoes. It was a beautiful, secluded spot, and we went walked a little way away from the shoes, but came back after 5 minutes. I looked at the ground where my shoes once were, and guess what? No Birks. My heart sank. We hadn't seen a soul around that area, but I ran barefoot down the path, and spied 2 boys running down the other side of the river, my precious Birks in hand. "Stop!" I yelled. "I'll pay you for them!" I knew they would probably sell them at the market to make some money. But they didn't stop. They just kept on running.

We had a fair walk to go back into town, where we were staying. For half of the walk, I was barefoot. And it really made me think. About all of the Indian people that I saw every day without any shoes at all. And here I was, poor me, pining away for my $70 cushy shoes, when most would be happy with a pair of plastic flipflops.

The ground burned my feet so I had to keep moving, and stopped on any patch of grass I found. My soles were weak and uncalloused - not used to that kind of heat.

A little Indian woman saw me hopping along and offered me her flipflops. I said no, thank you, I'm fine, but she insisted. They were about 2 sizes too small, but she seemed happy to help me, so we walked the rest of the way to the town, side by side, her calloused feet on the gravel, my cushy feet in her shoes.

The next day I bought a new pair of shoes from the Bata store there. They were nothing like my Birks, but still fairly comfortable. They were a constant reminder of my wealth. Shoes are like that, you know.

So that's why in the last week I have walked out of the shoe store exactly 3 times with nothing in my hands. I know I am privileged in this world, and there are other ways that this is noticeable - not just in my shoes. In the next 5 days, I may yet bring myself to shell out some money for some shoes. I'll keep you posted.