Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Coming out of Winter

 I guess, for the first time in my life, I experienced a genuine hibernation during my first month in Wiki. That is not to say that I did not get involved with what was going on around me: I volunteered occasionally at the junior school and at the nursing home -occasionally being the operative word!!- and got involved with some prayer groups and with singing on Sundays -again, occasionally!-, but much of my life seemed to be focussed on indoor activities, like reading, praying, cooking, Websurfing, and watching movies.
 And yes, that' was to be expected. Everyone warned me about Wiki, how I needed to be prepared for long lulls in activities and lots of free time. I think, with the exception of the first week when felt genuinely bored -and was borderline depressive because of the boredom!- I've been managing pretty well with small projects for Doug and for myself, while still exposing myself as much as possible to native culture and spirituality.

 However, in the back of my head, even this mild effort that I was making to 'fit in' was bugging me. It wasn't enough. I knew there was stuff I could do at the nursing home and at the school, and that I could do this on a more regular basis. Volunteering in that sense is kinda like jogging for me. I never 'feel' like doing it, but once I'm out there, boy oh boy do I get a rush out of the experience. Of course, there are -and will be- challenges behind this. I can't just walk into the nursing home and expect there to be work for me to do (same thing with the school!). Or can I!?

 See, as much as I've matured in the way I integrate myself into new environments, there are still some residues of that old way of thinking : "I'm here to help the community with my wonderful skills and they should put me to work in order to benefit from my awesome presence". I don't like thinking that way, but it's part of my baggage. The proof? When I go into the nursing home, I look forward to get my hands dirty and help out with the heavy duty stuff that nobody else wants to do...but really, all they want from their volunteers are people who can walk around the halls, and visit with the residents. Part of me doesn't see much value in this task (maybe I'm not getting my hands dirty enough!!)  but this is such a powerful ministry. And in the end...maybe I'm the one that's being ministered to by the residents and the staff!

 So today, I guess I snapped out of what could be considered my hibernation. I went to run around with the kids at the Junior school ( there's actually no hesitation for me to volunteer there. The kids absolutely adore me and I them.Even if I struggle with remembering all their names, they run to me as if I were Santa Claus every time! I even had a whole mob of them trying to get back my glove that some kid had 'stolen' from me today. I feel very much loved in that environment!) and decided to head straight to the nursing home -right next door to the Junior School-  after that. It was a lovely experience. I met with Amanda who is the coordinator of activities at the residence, and she introduced me to every resident. Then she and I had a wonderful conversation about kids on the reserve. She was talking about how any student who graduates from the High School in Wiki is usualy able to get some kind of degree or certificate which will lead to a career...but it's getting past that hump that's a challenge for many of them who either lose interest in school or get pregnant (15 year old girls with babies are not that uncommon here). The most important thing she taught me was that listening was the key when dealing with the kids here. Many of them have very good teachers, but these teachers get easily angry at them, and this cuts them off from the kids. "Be patient with them, and continue to try listening to them".

What wonderful words of wisdom that are perhaps sometimes easy to forget!
The journey continues!

                                      Kids during a physical activity day! My BFFs Bernadette
                                        and Summer are in that group somewhere!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

"Sickness can not win"

I've decided to start blogging because, it's a good way to keep my updates a little more regular. I may chose to continue emailing for longer rants and reflections, and keep the blogs for the less elaborate stuff! For today, a reflection:
I have been in Wiki now for almost a month. There have been many wonderful and inspiring experiences here, but the most common one has been funerals. Funerals are frequent here -11 since I've been here. Another one today-. There are many reasons for that, but I think poor access to a proper medical attention seems to come back a lot . They often can't afford the treatment or are not treated soon enough, and die. Of course, living with the only priest on the Island who can celebrate funerals, means that I just end up seeing a lot more death than I normally would.
  However, rather than being a depressing experience, all this death has only showed me how much life there is in Faith. Even if many of the people who crowd the Churches for prayer services and Mass are not necessarily practicing church goers, they all understand that there's a spiritual aspect of this person's life that is being remembered. The death, then becomes a kind of celebration.To paraphrase not just Father Doug, but many of the people on the reserve, "we don't mourn the person whose life has been ended by cancer or whatever else, but we celebrate: We celebrate that Death has taken the pain of our beloved away. We celebrate that Sickness can never win in the end, that it may triumph over the body, but NEVER over the soul. And most importantly, we celebrate the life that the person had, and the gifts that she or he have offered to the community and will continue to offer even in death...maybe, especially in death.
  So the funerals end up being like a big party. Last week, a tepee was erected next to the Church, and for 3 days, there were always people coming in an out of it at all times. There is more laughter and companionship during these funerals than there is in everyday life here. I guess, in a very beautiful way, death brings them together, and strenghtens them with new life.