Sunday, 11 July 2010

Moving on...

Hello again!

Well, I have certainly had a lot to blog about these past few months. Unfortunately I have had neither the time nor the Internet access to convey these things to you. I could have written them down using a pen and paper, I suppose, but where would be the fun in that?

Now, however, I find myself in yet another foreign country (told you I had a lot to blog about), unemployed and without knowing the local language. While this may not be conducive to a happy time, it should certainly allow me some free time to write about it.

But I shall try to start from the beginning. I forget where I left off. Did I tell you that I handed in my notice for my job, and was preparing to move to Taizé, in France, for several months? I think that I did. I don’t think that I told you about my boyfriend, though. I don’t think that I shall tell you much about him, as it may come back to bite me. Suffice to say, this guy is wonderful. Let’s call him Henry. I applied for a job in the company where Henry works, and was told that I would get an answer in July or August, and that the job itself, where I to get it, would start in September or October. This gave me the safety net I needed to take the plunge and leave the country.

I left England on 1st May, if I remember rightly. I flew to Geneva, and spent the night with a school friend and her particularly cute children. The youngest, aged 18 months, appeared to be lacking a concept of gravity, which made supervising him quite fraught at times, but we all survived. I was supposed to arrive in Taizé on 2nd May, but it turns out that Geneva is not an SNCF (the French rail network) station, and so has no SNCF machines. This makes retrieving a ticket from an SNCF machine particularly challenging. I was not up to this challenge, and I missed the train while I tried to sort out the problem. Fortunately, help was at hand in the form of a friendly ticket seller who sold me some new tickets for some more money. These tickets enabled me to arrive at Mâcon only 20 minutes after the last bus of the day to Taizé had left. I stayed overnight in a hotel near the station, and arrived at Taizé at about 9am the next day, having had an excellent night’s sleep.

I expected that I would feel some sense of triumph or achievement when I arrived, but I didn’t. Taizé looked familiar, but I didn’t feel any particular sense of rightness as a result of being there. Still, it was better than being at work!

I really don’t like writing this so long after it happened – I don’t feel that I can remember accurately what actually happened. I hope that what I am saying is truthful. I see that what I am saying, however, is not even remotely humorous. Unless, of course, you find the idea of staying in a monastic community funny, in which case these next few entries should make you laugh rather a lot. Perhaps the funny will come back again in a bit. (I am, of course, taking some of my earlier writing to be funny. I may be wrong about that. If you don’t find my earlier entries amusing, you are unlikely to find subsequent ones to be any better.)

But I digress. Upon my arrival I was given breakfast (for me, a stick of chocolate and some hot chocolate), and then welcomed. I was given a dormitory which I shared with two Swedish girls, one French girl, one Polish girl and one Dutch girlquite diverse, especially as the first week in May was Netherlands week, and it seemed as though three people out of every four were from there. As I was 28 years old, I was put into the 25-35-year-old group, which was fortunate enough not to be allocated any work for the week. I figured that this would be the last time I would have off for a long time (I was correct, of course), and so vowed to make the most of it.

My discussion group was mostly Dutch, of course. They were all lovely people (from what I could tell, at least; certainly, none of them seemed to be concealing weapons about their person. Although it wouldn’t be very good concealment if I could see the weapons, I suppose), who had lots of interesting ideas which I attempted to take on board. I think that I failed miserably, alas, but I enjoyed trying. In my free time, I started to learn the alto recorder. There are tents for socialising around the back of Oyak (the place where one goes to socialise; hence the tents for this purpose), and I spent many pleasant hours sitting in the sun, trying to learn new notes. Well, about three hours, anyway; there wasn’t all that much sun around that week. In fact, it was a particularly cold and wet week, and I only had one pair of trousers up to the task of keeping me warm. They did not smell good by the end of the week. I also spent time catching up on sleep. By the end of the week, I was the most rested I had been for a very long time.

During that week, I had to discuss staying longer in Taizé with one of the sisters. I said that I wanted to practise loving people in a practical way, and that Taizé seemed to be a good place in which to do that.

I suppose that I should clarify a little bit here. God says that the most important thing is to love. I do not believe that he means us simply to think that other people are wonderful (i.e. to uselove” in the sense of an abstract noun); I believe that he wants us to useloveas a verb, and to carry out acts of love for people. These are not necessarily big things. In fact, the little things are often the hardest, especially when one is trying to do little things whenever there is an opportunity to do so. It takes a lot of training (or, perhaps, a very godly nature) to be able to do that.

Anyway, the work at Taizé is not really allocated on the basis of whether or not the individual would like to do the workit’s more to do with what needs to be done. The work changes on a weekly basis, in general, although there are some jobs which last for longer. I figured that being obliged to do whatever work was allocated to me would be very good for me, although I hoped that I wouldn’t be allocated any toilets to clean.

But I digress. I was allowed to stay on and, as far as I am aware, my plan to leave in September or October (confirming this in July or August) was approved, presumably provisional upon my not doing anything stupid.

That Sunday, I moved into N’Toumi, the place in which girls who stay in Taizé for between (I think) six weeks and six months live. I was in room C, and I shared it with three other girls. Three doors down was the common room; very large and spacious, and friendly-looking. It came with what was basically an unlimited supply of food, which did not bode well for the weight I was proposing to lose there. Still, it meant I didn’t need to go hungry at all; chocolate and cheese on demand (oohnow I’m starting to get hungry), plus yoghurt, hot chocolate, tea and coffee (and bread and cookies for those who could eat such things). Oh yes, and various types of fruit. There were, I think, 23 girls there that week. It was great! Everyone had come for a reason other than that they simply had too much time on their hands. Of course, it took me a while to learn everyone’s name, but I think that I had managed by the end of the week.

My first jobs were El Abiodh kitchen in the morning (preparing the easy bits of lunches, such as salad and counting cheese), silence keeping in church during the midday service, and Cadole in the afternoon. Cadole is the place in Taizé in which they fix things, and one can end up doing pretty much anything other than food preparation there. I started by fixing benches, which was enjoyable albeit a lot harder than it looked, and finished by cleaning drains which was not enjoyable, albeit a lot harder than it looked. It was a suitably gentle introduction to Taizé life. It wasn’t exactly gentle, but at least it left me under no illusions about how hard I would be working. Generally, there are about four hours of work in each day except for Sunday, in which there are often more; Sunday is the day on which people arrive at, and depart from, Taizé.

The weeks continued along a similar vein. The jobs I did were: driver for Cadole (same as Cadole but with the occasional bit of driving thrown in); cleaning houses (mostly outside Taizé – I got to drive and to explore new houses. Perfect!); adult animation (making sure the adults (those aged 30 and over) look after themselves and tidy up after themselves); El Abiodh house (cleaning rooms. I am pretty amazing at cleaning sinks, especially limescale-encrusted taps); Point 5 (cleaning toilets, mostly. Not a problem at all with a good teamit is over very quickly and the work isn’t particularly nasty at its worst, in general. Plus, you get used to it); rubbish collection (queen of the dustbins, driving around in the rubbish van. It’s not called the rubbish van for nothing, although don’t tell it I said that); washing-up responsible (convincing teenagers that it is a good idea to wash, dry and put away dishes, mostly. Sometimes they are excellent...); black boxes responsible (emptying insulated boxes containing food into the bin or into storage for the next meal, so that every meal is used twice and only twice); and a quick stint cleaning the massive pans in one of the kitchens. Plus some driving. I have gained some useful experience. Should I decide that my next job will be cleaning hotels, I should be well-qualified.

While I was working in adult animation, I was offered the chance to stay in Münster (in Germany) rent-free and learn German. I decided to go there from July, after Henry had been to visit me, and stay until the end of October at the latest, returning sooner if I got the job for which I was waiting. Alas, Henry came to the conclusion that I am not the girl for him, and so I have withdrawn my application for that job. I am now thinking of staying in Münster until the end of the year at the earliest, unless I am offered a suitable job in England before then.

So, I now have several tasks:

  1. To learn German
  2. To get myself a job
  3. To tend to the vegetables that I am growing as part of looking after this flat
  4. To make some new friends
  5. To avoid falling in love with a German; it is a bit of a cliché in my family to marry somebody from Germany
  6. To visit friends who live nearby
  7. To have friends to stay
  8. To lose some weight
  9. To learn how to play the recorder properly
  10. To find out where the things I need are located (the fact that you are reading this indicates that I do, at least, have Internet access)
  11. To buy some foodit’s oats, rice cakes, cheese, coconut macaroons, milk and coffee at the moment
  12. To clean the flatstart as I mean to go on...
  13. To make the bedhave washed my bedding (by hand, alas) already

The tasks are pretty much in inverse order of magnitude, although the four at the bottom are obviously the most pressing at the moment. I feel that the vegetables must have attention soon, also – I shall see them tomorrow. Right now, I want to go to sleep! I have to wait for one person to visit me (“in the evening”), then I’m free to sleep. Tomorrow, the exploration starts. I shall endeavour to write about what happens here; if nothing else, it will be interesting for me to read it back in years to come.

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