Tuesday, October 16, 2012

World Vision, One Life Experience: Boots and Hearts Music Festival

On the Gringa Trail I can honestly say I have only volunteered once and it was just for a few hours picking up garbage on little Corn island in the Caribbean. It’s not that I shun volunteering, I know there are a lot of good organizations but there are a lot of bad organizations that rip you off and profit from their volunteers. I just don’t like to work for free and I most definitely will not pay to volunteer! That is just nonsense!

So you can imagine how enthused I was to volunteer my time during the Boots and Hearts music festival and for World Vision nonetheless  Those awful commercials during Christmas with that horrid John Lennon song showing images of malnourished African kids with bugs in their eyes came to my mind. Way to ruin my jolly Christmas spirit! The one time of year when people are merry and the jerks have to go and play that commercial and make me feel like an asshole.

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun…”

Yeah thanks World Vision I am really having fun now! By the way turkey and stuffing don’t mix too well with visions of Africans with puss coming out of their eyes and bugs living under their finger nails. Jerks!

It is easy to change the channel on the TV and ignore the fact that there are issues out there that are bigger than our problems in our daily lives. Most people do turn a blind eye and I was one who changed the channel in disgust when those commercials came on. However World vision has created a new approach to bringing awareness to the situations in Africa. I volunteered for The One Life Experience at the Boots and Hearts Music Festival. Essentially it is a 2000 square foot African village. The objective is to provide awareness on issues children face in various African countries and on the deadly HIV and AIDS pandemic and to inspire people to move beyond the statistics by hearing the voice of a child in the midst of this struggle.

There are four life stories you can experience Stephen, Beatrice, Olivia and Samuel. My job was to try and encourage people to go through the tour. I was labelled the town crier and I wore a colourful African shirt. Once I had them convinced to try it they met my friend and she gave them the low down on the tour. You become a child; you see and hear their life, you have an Ipod which begins with children playing, it then becomes very real.

I went through both Beatrice and Stephen. Stephen’s story is a hard one, the sights and sounds can be a bit graphic. He was a normal little seven year old boy but one night he was kidnaped and forced into a rebel army. He was made to kill, beat and perform very gruesome tasks. It is heart wrenching and was hard to continue through the sounds and sights. You are asked to pick up a gun, the gun that Stephen used, I could barely lift it. The good thing is there are positive outcomes with all the stories, so I wasn’t that traumatized.  Stephen in particular was found and placed into a World Vision rehabilitation centre that helps children rid themselves of the brainwashing of the rebel armies. I felt better and could hold back my tears when I realized Stephen was able to reunite with his family.

However the audio informed me there was a darker danger lingering still; I was told to go through the door into the medical clinic and wait for my results. A cold emotionless hand came out of a window and gave me a piece of paper with a red symbol on it, negative or positive. I was a seven year old boy who overcame the rebel army; would I overcome the threat of HIV?
Completely gut wrenching! I couldn't take this! To overcome the odds and now I might have AIDS! World Vision what are you doing to me! Thankfully Stephen did not contract AIDS and I did not completely break down but there are two stories in the One Life Experience that do.

The tour really did change my perspective on World Vision, that and talking to my friend’s mother who has volunteered for the organization for many years and has gone on trips to Africa with World Vision.  So apparently they aren't a bunch of uber-religious jerks out to ruin my Christmas. By the end of the festival I was an expert volunteer and I might even do it again next year!

The perks of enjoying the festival for free, free food and free camping weren't so bad either! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

She’s Gone Country: Boots and Hearts Music Festival, Ontario, Canada

I have traveled the world endlessly like a free spirit for years and even though I am in Canada right now I know I will be back on the road less traveled again, hopefully sooner rather than later. The life of a vagabond isn't for everyone and on the Gringa Trail you will meet skeptics all the time. The ones who are on vacation or just a gap year, a break before returning to the real world, the ones who cannot believe this is my real world and I am not running away from anything.

I tell myself this and I believe it. The truth is I may not be running away from anything but I am leaving something behind; a childhood, adolescence and the life I knew from my family and the society that I was brought up with. Many travelers will not want to return after realizing how different the world is and their perception of “the real world” quickly changes. Mine definitely did.

I have mentioned this before in past posting but I grew up in a medium sized city in the country. The number one radio station is Country 105. On country night at the bars beers are flowing and all you see is a sea of plaid and jean. With this type of culture also comes closed minds, little ambition, and in some cases racism. People have simple minds and live simple lives. I was completely happy leaving all that behind. I actually had to ambition returning and absolutely no ambition donning a plaid shirt, jeans and cowboy boots to attend a country music festival.

That was until I was asked to volunteer for World vision at the Boots and Hearts Music Festival in Bowmanville, Ontario. A new country music festival set to bring Nashville to Canada. The organizer of the festival was a guy I grew up with and his best friend also an alumni from my high school is none other than the husband of country singer Carrie Underwood. Although we still are not certain if it was her connections or the gleam from his perfect smile, insanely handsome good looks and down to earth charm that brought the amazing line up together, I am sticking with the latter.

Yes, even still I was reluctant to attend. Did I really want to go back to my roots from whence I left? Did I really want to be surrounded by drunks singing about their tractors? My friend who asked me to volunteer is also an anomaly in her down home country village. Growing up her hippy parents lived off the grid in a solar powered dome house that had no indoor plumbing while the rest of the community was drinking in the legion and driving their pickup trucks; so the good thing was I wasn’t going into this strange world alone.

In the end I agreed to go. Maybe it was the sparkle shining upon me from the organizers pearly whites or perhaps it was because I am used to being a tourist in other countries and figured I should try it out and be a tourist in my country and what do you do when you are in Rome?

Just as you do at Boots and Hearts, I bought a blue plaid shirt, jean shorts and wore my rubber boots. 

   She's gone country, look at them boots
She's gone country, back to her roots
She's gone country, a new kind of suit
                   She's gone country, here she comes (Alan Jackson)

To be continued…
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