July 20 2010

We pretty much knew things were going to be a bit special here after the first evening in Bari.

Unfortunately, many of these little incidents and side notes that created such a special place are far too inappropriate and damaging to certain individuals that I can’t really write about them here…maybe in 10 years time I’ll write a book called ‘no knickers in a cathedral’ and reveal all. Until then I shall tell the rather less interesting, though still fairly bizarre, tale of my time in Bari…sans all the damaging, lurid details…


So essentially we had 200 kids (yes) gathered in an abandoned stadium (mmm) at a sports camp with a little bit of English thrown in for good measure (read as not good measure for the kids…perhaps torture).

The first Monday was probably one of the most challenging days of my life. Twenty-five 7 year olds who boo English, run for the gate repeatedly, stare you down, stab each other with the handily placed metal poles kicking around and who try to rip up/destroy/kill/hide anything of any significance whatsoever. To help me in my plight I had Nicolo, my Italian coach, who would routinely scream at the kids, scare them shitless and then leave to smoke away his anger…which would make them behave for approximately 5 mins and him appear to resent me deeply for the next 5 hours. I must admit, I felt totally out of my depth. I cried out of sheer frustration for the stupidity of the situation…how can you have an English immersion camp with a bunch of Italians everywhere?! However, after a few well-directed chats and a good moan I soon found my groove with the kids. By Wednesday I had established a powerful symbiosis of a kick-ass sticker system, a much-used naughty chair, and a technique I call ‘chase, throw over the shoulder and carry back to camp’. At first I’m pretty sure my 20 boys hated me and my 5 girls thought I was the coolest girl they had ever met, but by the end of the week the boys were loving the tough love approach and unfortunately found out I could kick a ball, wrestle them and beat them at basketball…so finally…using every inch of my energy and all the patience I could muster, I made it through the two weeks.


I came to realise during these two weeks that you really can do anything if you have good people around, especially if they force you to take an amusing view on all the chaos that surrounds you. Usually I don’t need this, or look for it, but I am so grateful for people looking after me for these two weeks! I was reunited with some of my good friends from orientation and we were put with a truly stella group…a group that really came into its own after what I would call, and I think I speak for us all, one of the most bizzare weekends of my life. This is where you should insert most of your horrific, lurid and ridiculous imaginings, as this was the defining 48 hours of the whole two weeks.

I shall tell the rest now.

So it began, in Italy as it always does, half an hour later than it was intended- usually due coffee and insane traffic- this time however, I will just say that the outfits witnessed that fine morning resulted in a good 30 minute hysteria, during which it seemed impossible to contemplate moving at all, so I can’t really blame the Italians- well, I can. Eventually all 30 odd of us, English and Italian, loaded on to the bus to set off on our all-expenses-paid weekend of sightseeing, beach and vino. As soon as the bus set off the party began: we sang every Bari/Puglia chant known to man, a fair few random Italian songs and the odd British anthem, we danced in the isles, we squished into chairs every which way, we waved at fellow motorists…it was pretty much like been 15 on a school trip again…I even sat at the back! The day was pretty much normal then (from what I can actually tell you), we saw a Cathedral, went to the beach, took a ton of photographs in front of a million different ‘best views ever’.

Then came the night!

We got put up in a well swanky 4 star hotel with an infinity pool on the roof and lifts and couches and mirrors and art on the walls and all that jazz! We had a slap up dinner, three courses, all you can drink wine of any colour- and then we got dumped in the centre of Lecce at 11pm, no directions home and with nobody who knows the city at all. It was rather hilerious…once we had figured out what we all wanted to do, split into smaller groups and had a couple of drinks to ease the shock of course. I often find that these kind of situations spark creativity and what occurred that night goes to show just how much fun you can have on next to no money and next to no navigational skills. My friend came up with the genius idea of doing everything that starts with the letter C. We had already had a few coronas so we were well on our way…next step crepes, cigarettes (sorry Mum), cubba chubbs lollies, we performed a concert to baffled Italians, we got photos with randon cars, children, coconuts, we went in a casino and had a lovely chat with the bouncer…and we somehow managed to meander our way home…where the C action didn’t end…we tried to brake into the conference centre and the swimming pool (if we got wet, we would be cold), we ran from the lurking receptionist to take photos on the couch and finally ended the night cuddled up watching a dubbed (in German?!?!) Jackie Chan movie.

Needless to say we all felt a little worse for wear the next day…not that that stopped another bus party to our next destination. The morning was spent in some funky little towns with more amazing views and sickeningly good smells and people and leather sandals…and then we drove out of the town to a random venue where we had lunch…at a wedding reception. (yup) Did anyone know these people? Nope. Did we know we were booked into a wedding reception? Nope. But there we were. So we pretty much spent the next 4 hours dancing and singing and eating with the wedding party. A total crash. Now my life’s dream is complete I really don’t know what to do with myself. I kept having those moments, mid YMCA, where I would just stop and freeze the situation, hover above myself and look down thinking, ‘what the hell is going on: I’m in Italy with a bunch of random people that I love a little too much given I’ve only know them a week, singing the YMCA at some knocked up Italian Ladies wedding, in shorts and a tank top, sweating all over the joint and absolutely loving every second of it’. I think I can die happy now. After we left the party, drunk as anything, full as is possible, dangling wine bottles taken from the tables like drunks…we went to some caves. Now I don’t know if you have ever seen 30 drunks in a cave, but it’s a pretty special sight! How we made it back alive is anyones guess, what with more bus dancing and a journey to the centre of the Earth- but we did, and it payed us back for our tough first week, and sailed us through our next.

If these two weeks taught me anything, it’s that free stuff, friends and ‘what the F’ moments really can make anything bearable. That and a kick ass host family that feed you well, do all your laundry and have Matisse on the walls!



Nutella Off!

June 17 2010

So I’m living on a farm up in the mountains with a cool hippie family who have a tendency to walk in on me when I’m changing.

They have three cats, who incidentally like to sleep in/on my bed, one dog that is pretty docile so that’s ok, three sons 7-21, a shower that is too small to stand up in, a shed full of hay, a tractor and a stella view. It all sounds pretty fantastic huh? Well it is, but I tell you when you are knelt in the shower, one hand on the unlocked door that people like to parade through, the dribbling showerhead strategically held under your chin and a you’re using your free hand to shave your legs in breakneck speed, you do start to wonder if it really is! I sound angry. I’m not. It is just hands down, the oddest experience ever. Sharing someone’s home, having them feed you and do your laundry is weird. Especially when you don’t know them and they can barely speak a word of English.

It’s going ok though…I mean it’s bound to be a little strange at first.

One of the kids in the house is also in my class at camp, Nicolo. Sweetest little thing ever. He is seven and as soon as I entered the house he had me holding all his cats, watching his Italian version of the Simpsons and likes to wake me up by coming silently into my room and watching me sleep. On my first full day with them he took me walking up the river and as he skipped through the slippery rocks and gushing water with ease, he drilled, falling, not so elegant me on my Italian numbers. He would not stop until I could repeat them with great speed and perfection and he makes me perform it to everyone we meet and pats me on the back when I get it all right…bless him!

My class is full of the most beautiful little things. I have 11 6-8 year olds who can barely say their names and good God I am in love with every one of them! They are full of energy and require a shed load of patience and constant praise and stickers, but they are sooo freekin cute. I wanna steal them all and pretend they’re mine! They get all sleepy in the afternoon and just hang on your arm and look up at you and….ooo I’m broody! But camp is so much fun! I thought it was going to be too intense with just two of us but it turns out we get on really well and are working great together. So far we have kept all the kids alive and they seem to be enjoying it. We barely stop though as we can’t really take a break given there’s only two of us, but we’re kind of just getting used to it and running on excessive amounts of cake and pizza.

Ima be fat!

Today we had to decide on a plot for the final show that we perform for the whole town on Friday. This in itself is a difficult task given my kids can just about pronounce their names…but after a little translation we arrived at this: One half want to be pirates, one half want to be mummies, one kid wants to be Frodo, another Jack The Ripper and another a snail and they’d all like nutella to be involved.  So ingeniously Matt and I have engineered a beautifully diverse plot in which some pirates rescue Jack the Ripper’s Best Friend Frodo who is drowning with a big rubber ring, he tells them he is looking for a real ring, they think it’s treasure and go to find it, get lost and end up in Egypt, where there is a storm and they all die except the Captain who goes on searching, waking up all the mummies who take him to the pharaoh who challenges him to a fight, which turns out to be a nutella spread off.

I am wasted here…give me a stage!


ACLE training

June 15 2010

I am currently sat in a cubicle on a train, somewhere in between Geneva and Milan, eating left-over pizza from last night, planning an epic journey home and trying to get to know my new partner in crime as we head towards our first camp.

This week of orientation has been one of the most insane, knackering and fun-filled weeks of my life. I guess I had gotten to the point where I was pretty convinced that eventually one of these little adventures was not going to work out right, I was going to have a bad time and not really meet that many great people. Through some flawed logic I had anticipated that my experiences would have a peak and either decline with age and responsibility, or plato out with familiarity and ease. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t super excited about this whole Italy thing that I thought it would be the one to start me on the slippery slope. How wrong can I get?! Minus the lack of sleep, free time and big beds, I can honestly say this is probably the best start to an adventure I have had yet.

Basically there was a 120 18-28 year old English speakers spread over three hotels in San Remo. All food and accommodation provided, we trained from 8.30 until 6, had an hour to shower, then met again for dinner and wine in some restaurant we had booked out, followed by a party in bar opened especially for us, home by 2, late night heart to hearts and spooning, bed at 3.30 and up at 7 to do it all over again. In the days we sang at least one song an hour, made up skits, did drama training, learnt grammar, invented chants, made costumes and spent two mornings teaching real life Italian kids in the beating sun. Not kidding, it was hot! Sometimes we’d be outside all day with no shade and we’d be singing and jumping all over the place and even for me, that requires a lot of energy!

As ever though, it’s the people who make the place and here was no exception. There was everyone from Australians to Canadians, to Scotts and Irish and South Africans and obviously Brits and Americans. There were teachers, artists, writers, travellers and a bunch of actors and singers…some nights after dinner things did go a bit Glee as we’d walk down covered alleyways breaking out stella drunken performances. Granted, given the collection of big personalities, there were a fair few pretentious pratts who asked the dumbest questions known to man, but we won’t get into that! After having made a conscious decision to try and make friends with people who lived relatively close to me at home, I have found myself amongst the Irish and Scots, who despite their making me excessively guilty about being English, are a lovely bunch of nutters who I have taken great pleasure in getting to know. We’ve had the greatest adventures…we got lost down some scary backstreet maze at night and ran together from savage dogs and old ladies, we led the karaoke for a whole night with some classic eighties tunage, we went swimming at night in our underwear on a private beach, we got chatted up by some guys from god knows where and well we were a constant walking joke…Englishman, Irishman and a Scotsman…haha!

But now, we have parted as people are scattered about Italy in random groups with people they may or may not know. Camps are usually only one week long though, so perhaps in our next rotation we may be near each other, or even together…either way, I’m pretty sure I now have some people a little closer home to visit! My first camp seems a little intense if I’m honest, but I think it’s going to be great. Me and this Canadian guy, Matt are heading out to Bolognia to run a camp of 20 kids in a small village. Neither of us has done it before. Neither of us really quite know what’s going on. This next week could get pretty interesting, but if I am to judge it by the first, it’s probably going to be pretty bloody amazing too!


To Italy…Maybe…France, Jess, France!

June 6 2010

I am sat in a street café in Nice down some random little cobbled street lined with artists and authentic Gussi bag vendors, totally lost and, given my relatively short journey, inexplicably knackered.

I am quite surprised I made it here at all in fact! My mind hasn’t exactly been on the job the last 6 weeks, despite been at home and having all the ease and comfort I could desire. See, unlike a normal human being, I didn’t stop to reflect on the impact of Japan, nor muse on reconnecting with old friends in America, but instead decided to hit the ground running. Within three days I had secured my next teaching job in Italy. Within a week I had been to speak to the armed forces. Within two weeks I had applied to two unis, written to a lawyer for advice on moving to Canada and applied for three jobs in America. By my final week at home I had revised recent history and popped for an interview in Cornwall and the day before I left I got offered a place to do International Journalism. That afternoon I decided I should maybe pack and think about Italy. Now, 12 hours later, here I am.

I was briefly impressed by my blasé attitude towards a summer abroad, finally ridding myself of the shackles of a Father who prepares for every eventuality (I’m sure I took a snorkeling mask skiing once- just in case!), and as I hopped on board my 8 am train there was a whiff of pretentious arrogance in my step… until I realized I had forgotten to get Euros, and pack my hairbrush, and my camcorder, and all the documents for my job. Not so cool then JD? Nah. Mini panic over I considered my total lack of thought once again and reassured myself that if I could handle Japan, I could certainly handle this…it can never get that hard to communicate again can it?! I have developed a certain fearless refrain that runs through my head every time I jump on a bus that I’m not entirely sure is the right one, or I go off wondering in a city I don’t know at 10pm, or I have no directions to my hostel, just a vague memory of once looking at it on Google maps, all of which I did tonight and all of which I survived thanks to this ‘well it’s not Japan, so it can’t be that hard’ refrain tattooed on my brain. I know it is rather reckless perhaps and I’m pretty sure it will wear off soon, but for now I think I’ll make use of it and maybe hope that it is true what they say-

that Italy has shops too.

But what a journey! Getting off the train I was feeling a little stupid for allowing myself to think, at least several times, ‘ooo I’ll be in Italy tonight’

– no you wont you moron, Nice is France!

I felt a little reassured of my mind though as at the entrance to the airport a young sales girl all suited and booted came up to me to try and sell me a bag of makeup. When I replied that I had in fact spent a week of my life, that unfortunately I will never get back, working for her company, so didn’t want to buy anything, she looked at me and mirrored the pity in my eyes. She clearly thinking ‘poor girl, she gave into the lies and didn’t stick it out to get her BMW and 3figure salary like I will’. Me thinking, ‘poor girl, thinks she’s gunna get a BMW…I bet all she gets is a lousy Big Mac ‘I will seduce you into my pyramid scheme’ lunch like I did. It didn’t get better as I entered Manchester Airport; simultaneously home to the ugliest people on planet earth and designed the most inept apes known to man.  This is not a winning combination. The lack of chairs means the blobby delights of the North lay strewn about the walkways, the five restaurants sell out of all the decent ubiquitous airport food and the toilet queues…don’t even ask! It brings back to me an age old question that I have often pondered whilst in British airports-

Where are all the pretty people?

Really, you never see them at airports. I am fast coming to the conclusion that there is an elite, beauty-streaming check-in desk hidden away somewhere. Some magical place where there are chairs and cafes that don’t just sell bacon butties and grey tea. Either that, or it is true what they say, that northerners are just mingers.

This airport brings back countless childhood memories of dragging Mum around the duty free and making her spray every perfume on a wafty stick and sniffing with such enthusiasm I got light headed and hyper, or going into the gadget shop with Dad and Alex and us trying to convince Dad that we really needed an underwater jet propeller or a giant computer with windows 97! It was a Saturday today so I saw loads of families, parents gallantly struggling along with pushchairs and nappy bags. I can’t wait to have kids and take them on adventures. I look at myself now, and how stressful it can be just to get me someplace, and I can’t believe how my parents managed to deal with two less than shy children without strangling us. However, unlike my graceful parents, I will allow my kids to parade up and down the aisle of the airplane, playing with stranger’s shoes and flicking people’s heads. I will teach all five of them to scream and yelp in unison and me and my significant other can simply lay back and watch proudly the sweet sweet revenge we have created. I adore kids, but for the love of God, there is a time and a place for ADHD and it ain’t on the airplane. I should have stayed in that pyramid selling scheme con job… I’d have a BM by now and be getting a first class ‘I’m hot and wealthy, so screw you’ flight with no queues.

But nevertheless, I arrived, a lot happier than this ramble seems to make out. I spoke Japanese to few people- which may have offended the man who happened to be Chinese, ordered this beer I’m drinking in Spanish and forgot I was in France as I laughed at a man’s bright yellow shorts. I have a train to catch tomorrow, I don’t know how or from where, or at what time. I have no idea where I will be staying in San Remo.

I don’t know what kind of camp I will be working at and for how long I will stay….but meh, whatever, I’ll get by, can’t be as hard as Japan right?!