h, the soothing power of routine. When you're in a strange place, any bit of repetition becomes a point of familiar reference to cling to. It starts with where you sleep, and until you go out a few times, you cower in your room, watching Roger Moore drive a submarine in his tuxedo, and speak in awfully dubbed Spanish. "Me llamo Bond, James Bond." As familiarity grows, the need for Roger disappears - we can entertain ourselves with the foreign locale, and every trip to the cafeteria doesn't feel like discovering the New World.
We've been here three days, and we're starting to get our feet under us. Sunday our host took us on a walking tour of the beach and various local points of interest. It was chilly and overcast, so it wasn't quite the scene of beach idyll you might be thinking of, but there were still thousands of people walking along the beach or hanging out in the parks. We were warned of pickpockets and groping, but apparently we didn't present a juicy enough target. Next time I'll wear tighter pantalones.
Really getting to know a place takes years, so we can barely remember all the incredible buildings or people because there's another one 20 feet down the sidewalk. The trick is to stop trying to drink from the fire-hose of novelty and to focus on the little tidbits that trigger something; today an old man got on the bus with a loaf of bread that was possibly longer than he was tall. Maybe not - but it was a comedically long loaf of french bread being carried around by a short older guy. I saw it, and one of the Amys (Ami?) saw it, and I think a few others. It was mentioned a few times over the rest of the day. That moment will stick (and naturally I missed the photo).
ProTip: clicking on any photo will take you to many more photos in the same set. Some folks didn't know it, but if you did, you're wily in the ways of the internets. You get a sticker. Also, all the recent photo sets are down the right column of the home page. The More You Know.
Monday brought our first day of real work. After realizing that an alarm set for 7:30 is more effective when you choose "AM," we were on like Donkey Kong. We started with an early continental breakfast in the ground floor cafeteria of the dorm/hotel thing we're staying in; after that we had a bit of a devotional and talk with our host about cultural idioms we came across. For example, there's a bit of a disconnect on the concept of modest dress. The beach is topless, and the younger (under 30?) women often dress in tight, revealing outfits (I'm told by others - husbands are unaware of women other than their wife after marriage). But the girls on the trip have to wear sweats or pants instead of gym shorts on the way to & from the school or any of our clinics. Once we arrive, their shorts are fine, but during travel, gym shorts on girls are unseemly. Yesterday was ridiculously hot, so the change to "pants required" status was doubly frustrating for the ladies of the group. Myself, I wear lots of curve-hugging fluorescent lycra, which is sort of an internationally recognized "man of means" type of fabric.
We took a bus to the end of the line, and had to walk the rest of the way to the school - it was a hike; A long, uphill hike. I must point out that we were hiking around almost the entire day between events, and every time we arrived, I was complaining about my feet and looking for a place to sit but everyone else was magically, suddenly Ready To GO. The morning clinic was held at an cavernous school gym and the students we taught were fairly young, perhaps around 7th grade. The P.E. teacher was there and observed closely to see what methods our volleyball girls would use to teach specific skills. Bump, Set, Spike.
Tabitha and Haley have been doing volleyball for "a lot of years" according to them, and though I would normally insert a comment about being an old man and how "a lot of years" is not what they think it is, I can't. They looked like they were born doing Bump, Set, Spike. They were natural teachers, and the students had a fair command of English, so some communication was backed up with practice, and lessons were learned.
Holy cow, this thing might work.
We ran drills, and I ran around with a camera, trying to capture the action. The kids were enthusiastic learners, even though they didn't have much volleyball experience. Everything culminated in a few matches with our folks and the kids mixed together on teams. Spiking a volleyball in the face of a 7th grader is not as satisfying as you might expect (or so I'm told - not that it happened yesterday).
The kids were really enthusiastic after we got moving, and overall, it didn't matter how little skill they had - we were impacting them a bit and getting to connect with people who we knew little about and who knew little about us. Maybe they'll get to come to the States some day, or maybe they'll just have a slightly altered perspective from what the stereotypes about Americans or Christians are. Apparently we're good at volleyball, and like to creep around with a camera taking your picture. =)
After the school we had to walk to the next clinic, which was apparently somewhere in Southern Italy; my feet are certain the Rubicon was crossed. During the walk we followed the crescent-shaped beach, which is really the crown jewel of this city. It was a sunny day, and the people were out in what seemed like large quantities. Perhaps those are normal crowds here
, but that sort of public showing is pretty rare in my little neck of the woods. I'd say it's on par with the foot traffic you seen Chicago - but not as many people wearing black, and parking is cheaper. Plus no Wrigleyville (that's for my Wife).
The second clinic was with a volleyball club, which is the local equivalent to a girls sports team. The schools don't have teams the way they do in the States, so it falls to these clubs for kids to join if they want to play on a team and learn a sport. The first group of girls, about 12 years old, were better than the school kids earlier in the day, and had clearly practiced.
We took them through similar drills and got to assess their skills a bit. After that we played them a game and mixed together as before. The manager of the gym seemed to take a shine to us, as he brought out nice Adidas jerseys of the quality worn by the club players and gave them to our girls. It was a really nice gesture, and indicative of the generousness we've been shown a number of times since arriving.
After the first group, a number of older girls showed up, who looked Serious. One of them was actually the coach of the younger girls we had just met with. A few of our guys and gals mixed it up with these new girls, and it was pretty fierce competition. Real spikes, and real rejections at the net. I hid back by the bleachers for that exchange.
After that we had a long walk back to our host's apartment where he, his wife and daughter live, and have let us prepare a meal each night since arrival. Three of the girls with us go shopping for groceries and prepare lunch and dinner. After being on their feet all day playing volleyball and walking 4-EVER, (oh, did I mention the marathon-like walking distance? Are you sure? It was a long way - I need to communicate that) these girls were immediately getting to work on dinner. I was stunned when I realized that - I could barely think of anything but sitting and moaning. My stomach beat out my feet, however, and I managed to make it to an awesome meal. I ate egg salad, which is pretty much manna on a spatula. It's salad, so it must be healthy, right?
That took us into Tuesday, which is today. I haven't processed today's photos, or thought over the day too much, though I did manage to put down the camera and participate a little bit. Other than the grinding noise my joints make and the difficulty of spiking while holding onto my walker, I did all right.