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En Belgique: On Holidays with L’Arche Trosly

Will Grassby, an assistant at Daybreak blogs about his experience volunteering in the L’Arche Trosly community in France. – August 11, 2011
Hello again, this time from Malmedy, Belgium where we are “en vacances” until August 26th. In reality we are staying outside the town, near the monastery of Wavreumont. It is very beautiful here, although as we were informed by a kindly passerby on a cloudy afternoon this is “la region de pluie.” It wasn’t half an hour later that it started to pour, but in reality; I’ve seen much more sun here than I did the first few weeks in France, so I’m not complaining. In fact, because of the fair warnings of the locals, anytime we spot the sun breaking through the clouds, we are quick to put on our shoes and get outside. In our first two weeks here we have had outings to the nearby villages of Stavelot, Spa, Francorchamps (home of a world-class formula one circuit), a beach at Bütgenbach and have enjoyed a barbeque as well as several meals outdoors. Not bad for “La region de pluie.” As they say in French, ‘Il faut en profiter!” (You have to take advantage of it!”)

The group I am with is kind of like the weather here because both assistants and core-members are coming and going throughout the month. I think everyone finds this a little hard because you just seem to get used to the group and then it changes.

The people staying the entire month are Christophe (who still only does anything when HE is good and ready), André (whom we call Doudoul, and who, despite his stand-offishness, has a heart of gold), Isabelle (who only smiles when she is up to no good and who, accordingly, always seems to be smiling), Pascal (who loves sports and is also a real Casanova…he’s promised to show me some of his dance-moves) and Francis (who is more independent and is staying with the monks up at the monastery…he has also taken the opportunity to practice his English with me, which I have to say is quite good!)

Also, Fanny is with us now but will be leaving with her parents on Saturday. (To best describe Fanny, I will say that, like Christophe, she knows exactly what she wants and usually succeeds in obtaining it…is it any wonder she and Christophe get along so well!)

Assistants-wise for the moment there is responsible Jessica (from Marseille), Almut (Germany), Frère Denis, Marie-Alix (Belgium) and myself. On Tuesday we said goodbye to Anna (Germany) who was with us for the first 10 days and on the weekend both Almut and Frère Denis will also be leaving. Despite all the changes, everyone has been very likeable and easy to work with.

For me, it has been an intense time full of fun-times and long-days. I have been very tired at times and have found it hard to meet all the demands that have been placed on me. I am developing a real appreciation and empathy for assistants that come from around the world and live all that is L’Arche in addition to doing it all in a foreign language. Some days my brain feels like the mouldy plums I put in the compost this morning. The only problem is I can’t trade my brain for a new one and I have to take care of it; something that includes taking time for myself when I need it. It’s not always easy to do this when you see everything that needs to get done around you and you are used to being able to get it done without any problem. I worry about what others will think of me when they are also working hard and I’m not pulling my weight. Yet this week the choice has often been between not pulling my wait or risking total exhaustion; “What to do?!”

It has certainly been yet another lesson in humility, of which there have been many on this journey. I think I like to think I am capable of anything and all of the sudden I am being faced with limitations that I don’t really want to accept. Is it possible that this is something that the core-members have to live every single day, when their limitations are often more immediately visible to those around them? Wow, that must be incredibly hard! If I am tired after just of few weeks of hovering around the edge of my limits, they must find it incredibly tiring and humiliating to constantly have to push their limits just to try and find a small corner for themselves in our society. Yet there is Isabelle at the dinner table finding ways to make people laugh and André singing “Merci! Merci!” Even Pascal, who just had to say goodbye to his best friend over the past year (Anna), and has so much trouble finding the words to express his anguish, gets up the next day and finds a way to get through the day even showing an occasional smile.

Despite the fatigue and missing everyone back in Canada, I am enjoying my time with everyone here. There is a great spirit in the group that has culminated in many moments of laughter and joy, one of which happened yesterday afternoon while sitting outside (as the sun had shown its face for a few minutes) when we had a small “aperitif” to welcome Marie-Alix who had just joined our group. Everyone was a little tired and still a little sad that Anna had left, but we really wanted to make Marie-Alix feel welcome. To try and set the mood, Jessica had bought a bottle of “near-champagne.” As she wrestled with the cork we were small-talking when “POP” Jessica managed to pry the cork loose and, to the great joy of everybody, sent a big bubbling spray across the table, just narrowly missing Frère Denis. Then, as we were all sharing a laugh, Frère Denis settled back into his chair, unaware that one of the legs had settled into a small hole in the ground. The next thing we heard was a loud yelp as we saw the chair go one way as he went the other. As Frère Denis gathered himself, he arose to cheers from everyone around the table and assured us he had not been into the champagne earlier. Isabelle was still laughing around the dinner table when we replayed the event later on. In reality, this was the perfect welcome for Marie-Alix and one that never could have been planned.

I am thinking of everyone back in Canada and send best wishes to all the assistants who are coming and going in the busy month of August! I hope to post again from Trosly around my birthday at the end of the month.