Monday, January 11, 2010

As if I'm Not Random Enough Already...



I was tagged by Mary, over at the eye-candelicious blog Vintage Home & Garden. (The name pretty much says it all, doesn't it?)

I have to confess, I don't always follow through with these...blame it on flash-backs of chain letters from days gone by, but the truth is, I always, always love reading random things about people, so it's time, once again, for me to put up or shut up.

1. When I was 11 years old, I boarded a plane, along with one adult and 3 other random 11 year olds, and flew to Belgium. For a month.

It was through an organization called CISV (Childrens International Summer Villages.) The road leading up to being selected for the trip seems a bit...intense...in hindsight. I first attended an overnight "camp", where I knew NO ONE. We all wore numbers around our necks and played games and interacted with the others while a handful of adults sat on the sidelines with clipboards, taking notes.

After being chosen as a semi-finalist, I had to put on a dress (not something I enjoyed doing at that age) and go in for an interview before a panel of 4 adults who were all strangers to me. I think my mom sat in for part of that, as well. They asked all sorts of questions and when I was done, my mama took me through the Taco Bell drive-thru - a big stinking deal back then. A week or so later, on a Sunday, there was a knock at the door and two of the judges were there with a red carnation tied in a patriotic ribbon, bearing the news that I was chosen for the Belgium delegation. It was such a big deal that we made a long-distance phone call to my Dad, who was on a temporary job in the Virgin Islands.

The next months were spent getting to know the rest of my gang and preparing for the trip. We even got to do several newspaper interviews -- fun stuff for a 5th grader!

The month I spent in Belgium is a time that is somewhat difficult to explain, since I mostly remember it in smells and tastes and feelings in my heart and in the pit of my stomach. My room mates were 2 girls, one from Israel (I gave her my New Testament Bible before we left...I had NO idea!) and the other from India. I grew extremely close to a girl named Katie from England, and to Jason, one of the USA boys. Maybe we had a little crush on one another? I don't know. I think he was my first male best friend.

The other delegations included Czechoslovakia, Finland, Holland, Feroe Islands, Senegal, Spain, and Belgium. Teen-aged counselors represented Norway, New Zealand, Belgium, Costa Rica and Sweden.

We couldn't understand why the Czech kids never, ever smiled. We were somehow privy to the information that the Finnish leader had, at some point, been topless around the kids in her delegation. Naturally, we were scandalized by the story - even more so by the fact that the kids seemed unfazed.

The leader from India floated around the camp in her jewel-toned sari with her bindi and an air of superiority, snapping up any odd trinket her heart desired. I walked away believing that people in India were all rich.

Our days were filled doing the things that 11 year-olds like to do. We did crafts, we played games, we avoided showering, we sang songs, we learned to do our own laundry, we hoped for mail from home. Sometimes we got homesick and cried. We ate bread with chocolate spread every single day, for breakfast and for dinner. We lived for lunch, where we always scraped our plates clean. Each day, at snack time, we had a packaged Belgian waffle and a bottle of Coke. To this day, the taste of bottled coke takes me back. On our last night, all 40 of us kids had a slumber party where we listened to the song "Carrie" by Europe and cried our eyes out over what the next day would bring. It was heart-wrenching.

I look back on that time and it makes my head spin a bit to think that I actually did that, but it makes it spin even more that my parents were brave enough to let me. I am so thankful that they were. They somehow understood that it was not an opportunity to pass up. Although the trip itself was paid for by the organization, they sacrificed in ways I cannot imagine so that I could have all of the odds and ends that added up along the way. They trusted that I could do it. They stayed involved and got to know the rest of my team and when the day came, they released me into trusted hands and they let me go.

That experience, regardless of my age, was instrumental. I learned so much about the world around me that I would not have otherwise known. I remember two years later, on my first day of 7th grade, my history teacher made us play a game where he passed out 100 National Geographic-esque photos from other countries. We had to guess which continent each photo represented. I got so many right that it annoyed him to the point that he excluded me from playing. It didn't bother me...it probably sort of made me grin inside. I knew very clearly, in that moment, that I was lucky to have met all of those crazy kids and intriguing teenagers and eccentric adults.

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Hi. My name is Shannan and I have a problem with brevity. I clearly don't know what the word even means. I'll leave well enough alone for tonight and dole out numbers 2-7 on another day. Over and out.