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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Je suis arrivee!

Arrivee, yes, and now at a keyboard with all the right accents; but I can't figure out how to use them!

I arrived at the airport and was met by Anny, who works for British Airways there. She and I had never met personally; but had been corresponding over the last year. Her mother grew up in Czernowitz, and she contacted me after reading about some of my experiences at the cemetery there. How nice to be welcomed by someone. We spent a couple of hours talking and drinking coffee. Anny then offered to take my heavy suitcase home with her and bring it to me the next day. What a treat, especialy since when our group rendez-voud (franglish) later at a metro stop, we wound up walking qbout 45 minutes through the city to our humble abode. It wasn't clear just why we'd met there rather than at the stop a couple of blocks from our apt. But I wa the only one not moaning and groaning; since I had only my small overnight case. Our apt. is nice enough; only problem is, there are 27 of us, I believe, sharing it. (I've lost count.) It was meant to house one group of 12 plus our two group leaders; instead there are two groups. Everyone is very nice, and we seem to be sharing the space and getting along well together. But it is of course still week one; so tensions will likely set in later: We have 4 bedrooms plus a large living/dining room. And then two tiny little rooms which can only fit one. I snagged one of those. It is about 6 ft. square; I can just fit my air mattess and suitcase in. The only thing I can think is that they were meant to be bathrooms or toilet rooms. But there are two toilet rooms qnd a bathroom; plus a room with a sink. Only one shower, though. I was expecting that to be a big source of conflict; but it hasn,t yet seemed to be. Can you imagine one shower for over 2 dozen people:

There are four or five people in each of the bedrooms, four in the living room, and a couple in the small front hallway. At least I have a little privacy, a rare commodity in these projects; and don't have to pack up my suitcase and sleeping bag during the day.

Let me try to remember all the nationalities: There are 6 French; 4 Spaniards; 3 Armenians, 3 Koreans,2 Serbians; 1 Turkish, 1 Dutch, 1 Finnish, 1 Russian, and I seem to be missing about 5. I am the only American, and also the only native English speaker. Most everyone speaks some ENglish, which is the official group language; and most people speak some French. It's quite a babble, which is always pretty neat as long as people don't wind up speaking their own languages too much and excluding people. There are only a few males, two of the Spanish guys; one of the Koreans, and two of the French group leaders. This time I am not only the oldest; but the oldest by far. One person is in her early 30s, one in his late 20's. There may be a couple more around that age. Most are in their early 20s, and at least three or four qre under 20.

The first couple of days we mostly toured the areas where we will be working, our mosaic wall and the other group's garden project. The garden is in a low income housing development, and ours is in another one. The garden project was begun last summer. They did a lovely job; with individual plots for people or families to use, and pebble pathways. This year they are expanding it. I found Celia, the young Finnish woman, in a corner of the garden, with tears running down her face, and asked her if she was ok. On a small wooden plank volunteers from last year had signed their names. Celia had been in last year's group and had returned to participate again. I think just seeing the work and especially the names from lqst year had moved her to tears.

Our group did one "action" on Monday. The plan was to approach residents in the street within the housing development where our mosiac will be, and ask them what they would ideally like to see in their community, which is the largest housing development in Paris. It was built around 1970, from what I understand to replace shantytowns in which thousands of poor residents were living. I suppose they were a great improvement over people's previous living situations, and they are nowhere as big or dreary as many housing projects in New York, for example. But they aren't very appealing, either. And they were apparently built very quickly and shoddily:

None of the volunteers felt terribly comfortable approaching residents, of course, so we were all paired with the French staff, which worked reasonably well. Some people declined to talk to us, but many more than I expected did stop. Most of the answers had to do with more grass and plants, better relations between generations, and places for children. The group of 4 teenagers who reluctantly talked to us eventually said they wanted a place where they could hang out in the winter, maybe with video games, so they didn't have to hang out in the hallways where people would get mad at them.

Next time I will try and come up to date on the progress ofthe mosaic project and also relate our Bastille Eve and Day adventures:


Unknown said...

Welcome, bienvenue, welcome....

Joanna said...

Freinde, etranger, stranger...