What a Week

I would be lying if I said I was sad that this week is coming to an end. The past 7 days have been dramatic to say the least. This week has been filled with a trip to the ER, heartbreak, and tragedy. There have been many smiles in the past week but there have also been lots of tears.

My heart is broken for Morgan and her family. She had to leave in the middle of the night to get home for a family emergency. I don’t know how a family can recover after such a tragedy but I pray that they will heal and that they feel the love of their community.

My immune system decided to have a meltdown last week in a response to 52 mosquito bites and different pollens in this environment. After 4 hours in the ER I returned to concerned assistants and core members. I was exhausted but to see such care and concern in people after only being here is absolutely incredible.

A few days later I had a conversation with the volunteer coordinator (and translator) about how I was doing. They were concerned about my health and I told them that this sort of thing is pretty normal for me, that my body rebels sometimes. I explained that I was still fatigued but happy to be here and continuing on with the tasks I have been assigned. I explained that I was embarrassed about having to be driven to the hospital and to make people go out of their way to make sure I was alright.

They explained to me that to share our deepest insecurities and troubles with another is to enter into a sort of intimacy with them. They explained to me that L’Arche is about sharing in each other’s weaknesses. It’s about getting rid of the shame that is associated with imperfections. They welcomed me because of my crazy body and told me that I don’t have to smile and pretend everything is okay if it isn’t, that I won’t be inconveniencing anybody if I ask for help. It doesn’t matter that sometimes I feel like I’m living in the body of an 80 year old, what matters is that I bring those experiences to the table and share them with this community I am now a part of.

When Morgan left I was sad for her. I was sad that she did not get to continue this journey in the L’Arche community just when we got everything figured out. I am heartbroken today in hearing the news of the death of her niece. I was not myself today and the core members could tell. A few of them asked if I was sad and I told them yes and I have received countless hugs and smiles. And in the past few days, the number of times they have asked about Morgan and her family is truly heartwarming. This is a community that has welcomed us, embraced us, and is loving us. We remember Morgan and her family each morning and night in prayer and I ask all of you reading this to please do the same.

So yes, I am happy that this week has come to an end, even though I am one week closer to leaving a place that I can call home. One core member was leaving today for vacation and she won’t be back until after I leave. We gave each other at least 15 hugs and if this is how it feels to say goodbye to someone I’ve only known for 2 weeks, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when I leave in less than a month. I have never experienced more love through tears and smiles than I have in the past 7 days and I am filled with joy amidst the sadness.

Early departure

Due to a family emergency I left much earlier than expected. Although my time was short I learned so much about people. Their love for others was inspiring.

Please keep my family in your thoughts and prayers as we are experiencing a tragic event that is very difficult for all of us. I am thankful that I was able to make it home so quickly and that everything worked out well in order to get me home.

My thoughts for the week

From one core member, I’ve been given many pinches on my hands, arms and legs that hurt pretty bad, my hair pulled, my arm grabbed, a slap on my face, giggles, hand holding, forms of a hug, a few kisses, and many smiles. I have learned that he is a very loving person when he wants to be. He likes to so his own thing most of the time, but sometimes he just wants affection from people. This has showed me to give patience to everybody. No matter what they have done to you. It will prove to be worth the end result.

What I absolutely love is dancing/hug with one of the core members here. He comes up to me and gives me a hug, and then does a small dance. Every time I see him it lights up my day a little bit. It makes me feel like he trusts me, and that is his way of showing that. It makes me feel good about the work I am doing even though I’m very far away from my actual home, I don’t feel like I am. I feel loved and cared for, not to mention very well fed. I have only been here in this community for about a week and I feel as if I am loved and accepted, and that I have been here much longer.

During theater group I was supposed to be a statue and the group was supposed to be observing me like I was in a museum. That resulted in touching of my face and right towards the end an attempt at a kiss on my lips. But I broke character and moved out if the way. I didn’t think that would be appropriate to allow to happen but all of the supervisors of the group didn’t say anything or tell her that was inappropriate so maybe it was.

This week some of us went to the park in the morning. We got to the park and we were having a good time. I noticed two girls who were in their 20′s starring at some the core members, I was off with another core member walking around. It wasn’t just a stare if awe. It was a stare like we didn’t belong there. We had a good time regardless of their prejudices.

At lunch I was helping serve. One of the core members asked me to cut her pasta. She doesn’t really need it done but she appreciates it when I do it for her. As I was leaning over cutting it for her she kissed my hand and said “Grazie,” she asked me to sit next to her but because my normal place is to help another core member with his food, so I couldn’t

It is so nice to have people here so welcoming. It’s only the first week here and I’ve been given more love from these people who almost exactly one week ago were strangers to me.

L’amore è amore

I think I just had the greatest day of my entire life.

Let me start by saying the transition here has been rough. There is a lot of wondering about where I’m supposed to be and at what time. Until today, we have not been given our complete assignments. We knew we were supposed to clean in the morning but the afternoon schedule was still unclear.

This morning, like every morning, we cleaned for three and a half hours. It’s a pretty daunting task, all the sweeping, mopping, disinfecting, ironing, etc., but it is an integral part of community life. I can show that I care about the well being of the core members and assistants by putting an effort into the cleanliness of our environment. So each morning I listen to my country music and I clean.

After lunch has been the tricky part. It usually includes some more cleaning, snack and dinner preparation, then dinner and the dishes afterwards, all the while wondering if I’m doing things correctly or if I’m in the correct place.

Today we finally met with our volunteer coordinator and got our actual assignments and they include more time with the core members.

At lunch today we had a conversation about love. There was talk about the difference between family love, platonic love (which got changed into atomic love–which can definitely be a thing) and being IN love. There was all this chatter about the differences and I was asked if I have ever been in love (in which I proceeded to turn bright red apparently) but then a core member shushed everyone and said, “L’amore è amore” “Love is love.”

It is really true though and love should be the basis for all that we do. We as humans may have a million differences but setting all those differences aside and saying “I can love you because you have inherent dignity.”

In the four days that I have been here I have seen love in many different ways: the holding of hands, the praying together, singing together, in dance parties, in being together in silence, and especially in eating together. The main idea though, just being together, being with another even when I can’t communicate. It’s as simple as taking the hand of someone and you see the appreciation when they look back at you and give you a huge smile.

Tonight I ate dinner in a different house than I have for all of my time here. I was welcomed with a candle that signifies that the light of Christ and how they hope that light will enter into my heart so that I can give that light to the community. We ate dinner and I  just tried to listen, to absorb as much of the conversation as I could. I know most of the core members from different activities but was introduced multiple times just so it would stick.

We cleaned up after dinner and then sat around the living room watching the World Cup news. A core member came back from the restroom and requested that I specifically paint her nails. Needless to say I was pretty freaking excited. We moved to the table and she picked a color and I painted her nails. I asked her in completely broken Italian if she likes polka dots and I knew I wasn’t being clear by any means but she nodded so I put little polka dots on 4 nails and a heart on one nail of each hand. Now normally I’m not very good at this girly stuff but it was exactly what this core member needed. We did her hair and then she helped me paint my nails.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we were sitting doing our evening prayer and an assistant asked a core member if he remembered who I was. The core member responded, “Kelly.” The regazza whose nails I had just painted responded, “Famiglia.” I have been brought into this L’Arche family and after only 4 days I know that I can forever call this a home.

In this community it is not about good days and bad days. It’s a collection of moments. The moments that put a huge smile on my face, that fill my heart with joy. It’s about holding on to those moments, cherishing them and letting them overcome your whole self.

Love is love and that is all you need.image

First week jitters/thoughts

Please excuse my typing errors. I am typing on an iPad and they’re not known for their spelling/grammar corrections (meaning they change words they don’t need to).

After two weeks of traveling across Europe after a study abroad program in Spain, it’s nice to be able to sit still for awhile. I finally was able to unpack my things again and settle into my new life here in Bologna. Well… for 6 weeks at least.

I have been given this amazing opportunity to come here and spend time. I have been slowly introduced to the people here. It seems like it’s a lot to take in, the language is similar to Spanish so it’s easier to understand, emphasis on easiER, but still having quite a bit of trouble. Replying is where I have more trouble.

I was given the rundown on what I will be doing during a normal week. I have been given the “tricks of the trade,” from the amazing ladies who spent their last six weeks here. It was great to get their insight and ask them questions, especially since they didn’t get that luxury.

Officially I am now in day two. I feel like I’ve been here longer, but not in a bad way. I feel as if I’m apart of the community and it’s only been two days. I feel accepted in ways I never thought I would be. I haven gotten many hugs and I get greetings every morning.

I wonder if this type of community can be translated to different types of populations. Such as victims of abuse, child, domestic, Etc. Or maybe there are already communities that encompass this. This is really a community, I feel like this community has welcomed me with open arms, ever with my language barrier.

Sono Piena!

I AM FULL!

Plot twist, I’m not cut out to eat in this country. Food here is art….eating three courses and then still having room for dessert and espresso is an art form. Let’s just say I have not mastered it…YET.

This is my first blog post so let me introduce myself to those of you who don’t know me: I am a Nursing major with a Social Justice minor. Two years ago I studied abroad in Florence and Rome and absolutely fell in love with Italy so when the Moreau Center put a program together that combines service AND Italy, I was totally hooked. I speak almost zero Italian, but I can basically understand what is said to me, I just can’t respond (you know, minor details). I love polka dots, baby animals & baby humans, everything related to soccer and football, and terrible jokes with an emphasis on puns.

I have been in Italy for 2 weeks now though tonight is my first night here at L’Arche in Bologna. I have been to Rome, Assisi, Siena, Venice, Ravenna, and now I am happy to call Bologna home.

I am beyond excited, though admittedly nervous, about beginning my journey with L’Arche. I feel welcomed already and have made friends with a few of the regazzi-the core members.

For the past few days we have spent time with the two girls who have spent the past six weeks here in a formation/retreat reflecting on what the definition of friendship is and learning how they have developed this definition throughout their time at L’Arca. The connections they have made, the lives they have touched is evident by the smiles they receive EVERY time they walk into a room.

We have been blessed by Sara and Lizz as they have given us advice and perspective from their own time here and given us a resource when we feel entirely overwhelmed. I know I can’t fully appreciate it yet but I feel we will be indebted to them for their kindness.

I have had time to reflect on my travels and I’m just starting to learn all the lessons that this country has to teach me. I am not used to being surrounded by such beauty. This country and its people are filling me with a sense of profound joy that I have yet to truly experience.

So now I am ready to do and I am ready to learn. I am letting go of all of my nervousness, all of my inhibitions that take me away from being truly present. My philosophy for the next six weeks: TO LET BE. I am not going to worry about all that is happening or try to overthink, as I often do, but to just fully embrace all of it and let it change me. There is a plan for all of this and I know now that I have about zero control over any of it and I think I’m okay with that.

I welcome any and all prayers as I embark on an adventure to learn how to love and to be loved, about the L’Arca community, and about life itself.

Here we go…Andiamo Tutti!

I hate this part right here.

Remember that one time…

  • I was blessed to be 1 of the 2 first students from the University of Portland to be a part of L’Arche Bologna—thanks to the Moreau Center.
  • I panicked over not knowing Italian.
  • L’Arca core members and volunteers picked me up from the airport, and we quickly began something beautiful.
  • I was constantly in the wrong place the first week.
  • I met a Jesus look-a-like and he happened to be from Argentina.
  • I learned authentic Italian cooking and baking!
  • I was a giraffe in a parade and some local kid threw a bag of crisps (chips) at me in celebration.
  • I jogged along with my butterfly companion for a ¼ of a mile.
  • I was on the winning basketball team with the other volunteers and core members from L’Arche Bologna vs….some other very nice group of people.
  • I went to an Italian Yoga class but the instructor spoke English…which only meant that he could encourage me harder.
  • I trained 5 Special Olympians for their event at the Special Olympics. I’ve never been a more proud assistant coach.
  • I met Jess and Scott atop of one of the Towers of Bologna. They were two New Yorkers on their honeymoon.
  • I ate my weight in gelato.
  • I ate my weight in pasta and panne (bread). Grazie Maragoni!
  • I watched the World Cup with Italians, Germans, Americans, Belgiums, and a Portugese. Talk about diverse.
  • I ATE MY WEIGHT AND LIZZ’S IN CRESCENTINE!
  • Lizz took a 30 second time out.
  • I shared the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and my Mexican heritage.
  • Lizz and I nearly wee’d ourselves one evening when a frog jumped in front of us!
  • Three of us sat in a ball pit and watched an Italian film.
  • I had a “Discoteca” party with the ragazzi!
  • I had one of the most unforgettable summers with the most amazing people.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the Kardashians, I hope you have at least been keeping up with me! Above, I have provided you with “Remember that one time” events from the past 6 weeks in Italy. These events are only some of the highlights. There are also those that are so incredibly special and forever embedded into my mind that Michelangelo himself could not recreate the moment with his paintbrush.

I hope you have enjoyed the small glimpses into my experience here at L’Arche Bologna. Being one of the first students from UP here has been an incredible honor. We broke ground on something beautiful. I am excited for more students to experience a L’Arche community if they have not already. What is great about this program is the convenience of a L’Arche community back home in the US as well. For Lizz and I, this is our first time volunteering with L’Arche, but since being in L’Arca, we have been researching their various locations to continue Jean Vanier’s vision of praising one another’s humanity. There is a L’Arche community in Portland! Unfortunately, I no longer live in Portland because I am a recent UP alumna, but this experience has caused me to further address one of UP’s mission pillars of faith and service. As I continue to grow in my social work experiences as well as my personal, I am figuring out what sort of populations I could see myself working with in the future. Before this experience, I had little familiarity with folks living with disabilities, but I have since gone completely out of my comfort zone and surpassed these barriers. It has also caused me to want to go home, learn Italian, gain some money, and return in the next few years!

The ragazzi here are wonderful human beings. Each one of them has a beautiful story to tell and it makes them unique. After only 6 weeks they found a place in my heart and in my prayers. These are the memories I can try to explain to you, but I don’t know if you will fully understand. Michelangelo can paint his own personal image of God, but we cannot truly 100% fathom what God looks like. This. This is how I feel about my ragazzi experiences. To get to know a 25 year-young woman whose speech is limited, but the two of you very clearly have inside jokes nobody else understands. To get to know a 26 year-young man who cannot verbally express his needs and wants, but remembers the clapping game you play with him that makes him smile every time.

I like to live by the this quote a wise man once told me, “We are one beggar asking another if they want a loaf of bread”. This quote has become more of a way of living for me. Christ broke bread with the outcasts. He didn’t feel bad for them and send them a delivery. He sat with them and He washed their feet. For those of you who know me fairly well, you would know I cannot stand handling people’s feet. These past 6 weeks I have put my aversions aside. I went outside of my comfort zone. I massaged the feet of the ragrazzi. I helped some achieve great success (they were proud of themselves) in the bathroom. THESE. THESE. MOMENTS. Michelangelo couldn’t paint them, Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t act them out, Sally Jesse Raphael couldn’t interview me for further information. Basically, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles couldn’t offer me their best New York style pizza (not just because I have Italian instead). These are the moments I will cherish forever. Grazie ragrazzi. Tutti!

Don’t get me started on the volunteer friendships. They already know how I feel. Here is some love. Take the love and keep it forever.

What’s next on the horizon for this Phoenician? She has come to the point in her life where she will rise again and star anew. It is time to slow down and decompress these past weeks, and look forward to what is yet to come. To all those at home, know (as always) it can be a struggle to reenter into life back at home. Bare with me because it isn’t going to be an easy transition. Also on this note, I’m looking for a job that involves social-worky things! I have also learned I’m quite good at cleaning and working with others! Haha please message me for any availabilities.

Well, the time has come. This has been great. This will be one of my final blog entries. I may upload some videos and such later on, but this is the one with the carne. The meat. The good stuff. We have a few days of Formation with the new ragazza from UP and then….the undeniable.This has been such a great experience and I have loved every millisecond and every kilo of pasta of it! Know that you are forever a part of my life, and I am forever a part of yours (whether you like it or not hahaha)! This is arrivederci! Ciao tutti! Until next time!

Grazie mille!

Xx

Sara

My last week…

I wanted to start off by thanking everyone who has read this blog and helped make this journey possible and so enjoyable. This is probably my last blog post since we leave in a week and will be leaving L’Arche on Thursday for a few days of Formation. This experience has been beyond anything I could have imagined. This trip was so short and I am sad that it is coming to an end. I am hoping that I will be able to return and stay for a longer period of time either next summer of after graduation. I also hope that by then I will also be able to speak Italian.

For this last blog post I wanted to share some of the things that I have learned along the way.

  1. In order to fully experience life in a L’Arche community it is necessary to be able to speak the language. Sara and I were able to get by not speaking very much Italian with the help of some of the assistants and other volunteers who spoke English but is was harder to connect with the core members and other assistants who do not speak English.
  2. There are still ways to connect and build relationships with people when you speak different languages. It is significantly harder but still possible to build relationships with people through actions. So much of our connections were built by contributing to the community and being present and vulnerable and aware of their vulnerabilities.
    1. Sara and I spent every morning 6 days a week cleaning. At first I did not enjoy it and wondered how we were supposed to be connecting with the members of the community when we spent the mornings alone in the house cleaning. After the first week I realized the importance of cleaning the house (especially bathrooms) every day. I realized how important it was to all members of the community and how much everyone appreciated it. Luca explained that while there are still some people that come in about once a month and are paid to clean the houses, they are not as appreciated by the community because they are only here because they are paid to. However the volunteers that come in and help with whatever needs to be done are appreciated. The members of the community realize that all the volunteers are here during their free time because they want to be here, be a part of the community, and help the community. Cleaning the house is one of the most important and most appreciated jobs in the community.
    2. The best way to be vulnerable around people is to eat with them. Around the table you have to constantly ask for things to be passed especially when there are usually 8-12 people at a meal. One person takes the plates and serves food to everyone at the table and the dinner is served in courses. This usually means that dinner and lunch last at least an hour to an hour and a half. Around the table things get spilled, some core members need help cutting their food and eating, other people have dietary restrictions, and there is always the possibility of accidently taking someone else’s napkin and or cutlery. This is where the vulnerability comes in around the table and also what helps to make the community feel like one giant family.
    3. There is always a reason to celebrate! And what better way to celebrate than food!  We must have had at least one party a week. We celebrated the quarter moon, birthdays, national holidays… you name it chances are we celebrated it. Individual birthdays are a big deal! Whenever there was a birthday in one of the houses they would be celebrated at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and usually there was a party for everyone during the day. This insured that everyone in the community got to celebrate the special day. With the number of people living and working in the community it felt like it was someone’s birthday every week. On top of that at the end of the month there is a giant party for everyone who had a birthday during the month and everyone in the greater community (friends and family) are invited. We celebrated new volunteers, and volunteers and assistants moving on to other jobs. This was a nice way to show that it is important to always slow down, come together, and celebrate the little and not so little things. Food is also a great way to do this! I have never seen so much delicious food! Cakes, ice cream, pasta, pizza, and crescentina! (Crescentina is the most delicious fried dough which you can eat plain, with meat, and or cheese! It is absolutely amazing and way better than any pasta or pizza)
    4. Ball pits are an amazing place to watch movies once you finally pick a movie. After weeks of wanting to play in the ball pit in one of the laboratories we finally did it. This ball pit is large enough to fit three adults comfortably but that is about it. It is incredibly comfortable and a very nice place to relax.
    5. Finally of all the places and countries I have been to, there are so many more that I have never seen, and others that I have never even heard of. Meeting people who come here because they want to visit this L’Arche, have friends who they are visiting here, or even just need a place to sleep tonight has made me so excited to travel more and see as much of the world as I can.

I am sad that I will be leaving here in a few days but I have learned so much and made some great friends. I hope that someday soon I will be able to return to L’Arche Bologna and stay for a longer period. Until then…

Arrivederci

~Lizz

My Day in a Nutshell

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzBmQMyYDBk

xx

Sara

P.S. I’ll explain later, but I am tired.

We didn’t get lost!

Today was a great day. Sara and I decided to go into downtown Bologna and just get lost. Not literally lost… but we just wanted to get out and explore without a real plan in mind.  This was only the second time we had ever been into downtown Bologna and this was the first time that we were alone. When we went two weeks ago on our day off, one of our German friends, who is also a volunteer here came with us.  I am happy to say that during this day we did not get lost! Even though we walked around some new areas, we were able to get back to the community without calling anyone for help! We were very proud of our selves and kept giving each other high fives throughout the day with all that we accomplished! We had a great time! The first stop we made once we got off the bus was at this gelateria that we had seen the first time we walked around and had heard a rumor that this place might have Harry Potter themed gelato… so of course we had to stop. Sadly, this was not the gelateria that had Harry Potter gelato, however, it had the BEST gelato I have ever had! I am not sure what the first flavor was but the second flavor was blueberry they were amazing!! I wish I had a picture to show you, but I ate it before I had the chance.  The gelato place is located next to the Two Towers of Bologna which are a set of medieval towers, one of which is slanted and the other one you can climb. So, having nothing else to do we decided to climb it. At the time we did not know how tall it was of how many stairs there were. (For the record it is 498 stairs. And we climbed it to the top and back.)

So we started climbing. It was an old wooden stair case that was very narrow. About every 6 flight of stairs there was a little landing that you could stop and take a breather at, which was very necessary. It was hot and humid in the tower. By the time we got to the top we were sweaty and gross, and so was everyone else who was at the top. It was beautiful though. The tower is one of the tallest buildings around so you have a beautiful view over the city. I think my favorite part about the climb though was that most of the people at the top spoke English. It was so nice to be surrounded by people and actually be able to understand everything they were saying. (There were some people speaking Italian and some Portuguese (we think) but most of it was English.) We made friends with a couple when Sara offered to take their picture. Jess and Scott are from Queens and are on their honeymoon. Jess had study abroad in Bologna for a year and never got a chance to climb the tower because it is apparently bad luck to climb it before you graduate…. Oops! Any way while we were introducing ourselves another couple walked by and casually introduced themselves in a joking manner and said that they were from London. We had a lot of fun talking to Jess and Scott and Jess told us that the Piazza is a great place to listen to concerts although they can be very … “unusual” music choices (Jess’s words).

This week has been challenging for me with the Italian language so it was really nice to be in a place where I could understand most of the conversations around me. I don’t know what happened this week but I struggled a lot more this week to understand Italian than I had the previous week. I think part of it is that the people are starting to speak to me faster and with more complex words than they had been because I was understanding more (or maybe they think I should be understanding more by now). I also think this week I have been pretty tired and my brain has struggled with translating. It is difficult when all of a sudden you are in a place without the ability to speak the language. Simple things like asking someone to pass the water or “condiments” (oil and vinegar) at the table are now much more difficult because you don’t know how and everyone is talking, so it is hard to find a pause in the conversation so you can ask. (For the record I do now know how but in the beginning it was very difficult) It also doesn’t help that I spend most of my free time and while I am cleaning trying to learn Italian through websites and courses. I learned this week that sometimes when you are really struggling with something, it is best to take a break. On this tower surrounded by conversations I could understand with people I didn’t know (aka someone other than Sara) looking over a beautiful city was the best break I could have asked for. While there are a few other people here that speak English (really only 4 that speak well enough for a conversation and 2 of them are out of town this week), they are not fluent so you still have to talk slower than normal and stop to explain some words.  I also realized though, that I could understand some of the Italian conversations around me. I understood fully when I lady asked if I knew who the sunglasses that were left on a bench belonged to, and when the lady at the gelato placed spoke to me in Italian, and when the fruit vendor that we bought avocado and a mango from spoke to us. I was really proud of this. When we got back I also understood all of what Monica (one of the assistants) said to us when she say we bought avocado. (She was telling us how she loves avocado and how she normally has it in a salad or with fish.) However there were still some moments where I had no idea what someone was saying (like the man who asked us a question on the bus). But I was still proud of all I was able to understand.

Today was a great day. And that avocado I mentioned earlier was a wonderful addition to our dinner. Sara and I had been talking about how we really missed avocado and almond butter from the start of this trip so to finally have some avocado was amazing.

Lizz

 

Only about 1/3 of the stairs.

Only about 1/3 of the stairs.

Looking through a little hole in the wall on the way up the stairs.

Looking through a little hole in the wall on the way up the stairs.

Bologna!

Bologna!

Sara, Jess, and Scott

Sara, Jess, and Scott

Bologna!

Bologna!