Wednesday, February 27, 2013

5 months down, less time to go...WHAT?!?!?!

How did this even happen?  How is it possible that I have officially reached the point where the time spent here is now more than the time I have left? <Insert Panic Mode>.  I feel like there is still so much to do, see and experience and the old adage of so much to do, so little time keeps playing in my head on repeat, annoyingly enough.  Only thing left to do is make sure I get to see and do all I want and I am definitely getting there.

I've made sure to make a list of all of the things that remain for me to see and do like:
-visiting the beaches
-going on a wine tour (hey this is actually a must because the wine here is really good and tours average only about 15€)
-Blue Grotto Boat Ride
-Sail to Comino island
-Gozo staycation

These are just to name a few.  The unfortunate thing is that I have to wait until the weather gets a bit warmer to do most of these things so until then, I decided to do the next best thing to occupy some down time....volunteer.  I realized I wanted to be able to find something else to be involved with and when I first arrived here I found a pamphlet on the North Malta Girl Guides.  Since I took my time settling in and traveling a bit, I waited until January to start working with them.  They are part of the same organization as Girl/Boy Scouts.  I volunteer at the Sliema chapter, which is the largest on the island and affiliated with the church school they work from.  That school is like night and day from the state school where I work.  I call it my secret garden because it truly is such a beautiful school and although it is a church school vs. a state school and in a better neighborhood, it doesn't mean they are not faced with the same struggles with students although you would never know given how well the girls speak English.

My Secret Garden (the buildings to the right and left are classrooms and halls, all outdoor halls, no interiors)
I work with the Brownie group, ages 7-10 years old and they are adorable.  It is a 2 hour commitment that I truly enjoy because I have gotten to know yet a whole other community of people here that are really great.  The head of the troop, Carmen, is wonderful, so good at her job, so nurturing, a true mother and guider.  What I enjoy most volunteering with them is that there is always a message and lesson to be learned through their activities.  They remind me how important it is to reflect and to be open to the positive things that take place because it is so easy to miss them when there are moments of too much negativity and sadness.  The organization has what they call Thinking Day, in honor of the birthdays of the husband and wife that began the guiding organization and it was held last Friday.  It was really beautiful and inspiring to see them speak of issues that other countries are faced with and the struggles they endure everyday and how important it is to say a prayer and to keep those less fortunate in our minds and in our hearts.  Just a truly beautiful moment that I felt honored to be part of.   I have been with them for over a month and I know they will be a group of women and students that I truly will miss.

Thinking Day Ceremony
I also began another volunteer opportunity that Fulbrighter's were contacted about to apply.  I volunteer with an organization that is based out of NYC that works with NYC schools and have branched out to Minnesota and North Carolina.  They basically run a geography program because they realized how unaware kids are of the world they live in.  I officially became a Travel Correspondent with them in the middle of February and it looks like it will be a really cool adventure.  I have been paired up with not only a NYC after school program but one that is in my hometown of the Bronx.  I will be corresponding with a 3rd grade class through blogging, video blogging and video conferencing.  We have weekly assignments on various topics from food, traditions, nature/environment, etc. that I will share with this class.  I am so excited about this for the simple fact that so many Americans know so little about Malta.  This class will be experts once the semester is done!  My first field assignment was food so I made the Maltese dish Timpana.  It is a take on baked ziti but better because the pasta mixture is baked in pastry dough.  I also made the meat sauce from scratch and have to say it really was a really it was, I gave some to a teacher I work with and got the compliment of my life from her mom who said I am learning to cook like the locals, which is apparently a lot coming from her, it really was so DELICIOUS!!!  That made my day!!! Completing this assignment got me excited for the others to come.  It helps me focus more on what is around me and what I am doing here which is pretty sweet; the bonus is that I have an entire class I get to share it with!

A collage of my Timpana masterpiece:-)

So as you can see I have decided to take a bit of a different approach for this 5 month recap.  I chose to focus on the things I am doing here and how they are helping me appreciate my time, whatever time I have left on this island, because it is flying by and before I know it , it will be time to head home to the states.  You have to be in the moment to make sure you have truly appreciated it and that's exactly what I am doing.

Until next time...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sisters Reunited

After 5 long months, my sister FINALLY came to visit!  The timing before she arrived was so bizarre because it never felt real and as much as I thought I was good and just plain old excited for her to visit, the minute I saw the board at the airport show that her plane landed, the butterflies began to flutter in my stomach and the moment the doors opened and she was physically standing in front of me, we both took a step back for a split second because we both were taken aback by the fact that we were really standing in front of each other and by how much we really missed each other.  I face time with my sister regularly but boy did her visit prove just how not enough Face Time or Skype is.  Believe me when I say I am extremely grateful for such programs and modern technology, without them I would not have been able to survive here but the simple reality is that I missed my sister.

The many sites on the beautiful island of Gozo, Malta's sister island

I allowed myself to get so caught up in preparing for her visit that it just never fully sank in and as time does so flew by when she was here that it almost seems like a blur or even as if she never really was here.  Don't worry I have pictures to prove that she was:-).

Marsaxlokk village, Char Lapsi village, the Blue Grotto, and the Tarxien Temples

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am extremely close to both of my sisters as they are my best friends so you can imagine how excited I was to finally have Sam here.  I wish both could have come but the reality is that I live 5700 miles away from home so not exactly the most convenient place to visit.  Sam was here for a week and I made sure it would be a week she would always remember, and I believe I achieved that.  Together we traveled this island top to bottom seeing ancient temples like the Tarxien Temples and the Hypogeum which is the only underground temple in the world and they are all over 5,000 years old; experiencing the Arriva bus system, seeing fortified cities, Carnival, again experiencing the Arriva bus system and drivers, seeing famous movie and t.v. sites, the sister island of Gozo, did I mention the Arriva bus system and we also got up close and personal with some really beautiful animals.  Like the adorable sea lion, Dana, who fell asleep on Sam's lap and the adorable dolphins Sam got to do tricks with all because I pushed her forward as a volunteer (mind you there were only 5 of us at the site but still, I know I'm a pretty good host, anyone else would've jumped at the chance to play with dolphins-hahaha).  We also met a beautiful horse that peaked it's head out of the stable window.  It wasn't the best week weather wise, but the weather held up when it needed to and many great memories were made.

Famous film and T.V. sites in Malta and Gozo

As the older sister yet the middle sister of 3, Sam is the nurturer, the one always making sure you are ok and looking out for you...yeah you can say she is pretty awesome and actually funny as all heck.  I could tell in conversations with her while here that she may have had some concerns about my being so far away from home but after we arrived back at the apartment and she got to experience the neighborhood for herself,  I think she was able to relax a bit, so much so that I think she left Malta with a genuine appreciation for the island and some real insight as she got to meet and be shown around by locals, eat Maltese food, see sites tourists would never see and also see that I make a really good host;-).  She also got to bond with my roomie Melissa and realized for herself why I consider her family.  

Us reflecting at Dingli Cliffs
 There were many sites I had not visited yet before she arrived so we even got to explore this island together which made the trip all the more fun.  I think my biggest concern of it all was how we would be with each other.  I know I have changed in the 5 months of being here, just more aware I guess you could say and although that seems like a short time, with the distance, it has a way of seeming longer.  So I did wonder if things would be “different"...yeah that was certainly a far-fetched and ridiculous idea...we picked up right where we left off as if I'd never been away...joking, laughing, enjoying each others company traveling around and watching t.v. together.  It was GREAT!

All in all, I miss my sisters, it is very hard being so far away from them but life is good here and I know that and am truly grateful for this experience and even more grateful to have such an opportunity that allowed me to share something special with one of the most important people in my life.!

Just a quote I found that I feel really speaks to the relationship I have with my sisters and thought I should share.

Sisters don't need words.  They have perfected a language of snarls and smiles and frowns and winks - expressions of shocked surprise and incredulity and disbelief.  Sniffs and snorts and gasps and sighs - that can undermine any tale you're telling.  ~Pam Brown