This is a screen shot of Elizabeth's fundraising page at the very beginning when she'd received her first seven donations and was still stunned (she never really got past that) at the support she received from a close friend of her mother's, her sister, a distant cousin she'd met only once, a woman who'd last seen her as an infant, the mother of a school friend, a contra dancer who misses her terribly, and another contra dancer who likes to remain anonymous but does a terrible job of it...
It is unfair to call B3 Voluntourism because you can't really get to that definition unless you compare what they're doing to the Peace Corp and that's not fair. However, the minute that boy cheerfully suggested (in the same sentence that he mentioned his mother packed his daily clothes in ziplock bags so he wouldn't have to dig around - operative phrases being 'mother packed' and wouldn't have to dig around') that everyone put drier sheets at the bottom of their luggage so everything would smell nice - it hit me like a ton of bricks. The following:
- They're going to a second world country, not third and they're being well cared for and yet the director speaks ever so apologetically to the students and parents, highlighting what is good and warning about what is possibly not so good. Not so good:
- Bucket showers - holy shit. they have showers.
- Cots in classrooms - holy shit. they're sleeping inside WITH FANS. rumor even of individual mosquito netting.
- Port-o-poties at the worksite - there are only two and they will only will be emptied once during the week. YOU HAVE TWO AND THEY'RE GOING TO BE SERVICED?!!!
- Mustn't put paper in the flush toilets (please, for the love of god, woman, can you do a better job explaining the why of this and the mechanics of HOW they should put their used paper in the bin? I've seen the results of untrained tourists and it ain't pretty) - THEY HAVE FLUSH TOILETS AT NIGHT AND AFTER WORK? NIFTY!!!!
- Every night they will eat the same thing cooked by someone in the village: rice, beans, and chicken: this is where I lost it. You will have meat every single night. Are you shitting me? And also there will be fresh fruit, eggs, and granola for breakfast every morning. I wonder what is served at the site for lunch. A woman stood up and suggested they bring a chocolate laxative because the food was going to back them up. Clearly she needed to eat more of the beans, less of the rice, more of the fruit... blah blah blah.
- There was the standard soothing of the parents about bug bites. In our town all bug bites (of any sort) are considered fatal. All ticks are bad ticks (I'm not saying there are good ticks, I'm just saying the dog ticks the size of quarters you pull off your pets ARE NOT DEER TICKS), and poison ivy is some sort of unknown lethal fungus. So the packing list requires a DEET, people, DEET, minimum 30%. Yeah, of course it does but we do not need 90%. I try to explain DEET to my daughter. Love, this is poison. You are introducing poison to your body and the environment and while there are times when there is a viable reason to do this, we do it consciously and with the lowest dose percentage. Therefore, 30, not 90. You aren't in malaria or zika land.
- I have this memory of her brother at fourteen running down the hill after a twenty-one day Outward Bound course in Maine during black fly season, his face, neck, and arms a mass of red, swollen bites because (of course) it was late June/July. I seem to remember something about not using deet (or using the bare minimum) specifically because of the environmental impact but I could be misremembering. Mike had severe reactions to any bug bite for about two years after the fact but the kid just didn't give a damn. He just wanted to go back.
- I have another memory of living in this swamp we now call conservation land and take great care to protect ourselves from the rampant mosquito population but thirty-two years ago I lived much deeper in this forest and when we sat out on our back deck, having run out of money for bug spray and surrendered to the cannibals there came a time when we stopped responding to the poison and if bitten there was no longer a reaction. It took years of being out of the woods before I showed any symptoms of a bite.
- They will be unplugged. There will be no cell phones or electronics of any sort although they can and should bring cameras. We have all been very aware of this since day one and have been reminded at each meeting for good reason because the room still audibly groans, both children and adults. Children groan because they'll be disengaged from the constant stream of snapchat documentation and parents because that umbilical cord will be cut. I am relieved. But wait! There will be updates. No! No, I want to yell. Don't do that! Let them go! Let them go when they get on the bus at 12:30 AM Friday night until 2:30 AM early the following Sunday morning when we collect them in whatever condition they return.
- There will be multiple excursions. Wait. Hold on. Back the truck up. This is where my brain stopped. We're sending them out to work, to build, to interact with the village. You're taking them to the beach, to dinner, to elsewhere. This is where I had to disengage my brain and just let it go. This is not what I envisioned but it isn't my journey, it wasn't my choice, it wasn't me raising money (OK, for a while on Facebook it was), and as Elizabeth stated through clenched teeth, 'MOTHER, I'm going to make a difference and I INTEND to make a difference. Please don't make light of that.'
My daughter was devastated by my reaction to some of this. In the end I had to buy a small box of lavender scented drier sheets so she'd feel better. So she'd fit in. We haven't used anything scented in this house in four years much less a drier sheet. I'm packing her clothing into gallon sized ziplock bags. She has a clean pair of smart wool socks for each day. I have tried to explain why this is not necessary but she's having none of it. She's got two bathing suits and a beach towel. She's got the sort of gear she'd need if she really was sleeping outside in a hammock or living in a tent. My guess is that headlight won't ever come out of her duffle but she's got it because it's on the list. She's got probiotics, she's got B-12, she does NOT have laxatives. Eat the damn beans and fruit, Elizabeth. Eat everything they give you, it's there for a reason. She's got the requisite powdered Pedialyte although I disagree about the need for sugar in the electrolyte mix. She's got enough hand sanitizer to bathe in and antibacterial body wipes. She does not need chlorine tabs because they're trucking in water. She has an insulated water bottle because apparently cold water is terribly necessary (no. it's not). She has a sleep sack. I said I'd make one. It's really just a glorified sleeping bag liner but she doesn't want me to sew two sheets together no matter how neatly I'd do it. She does NOT want to stand out.
Here's the kicker. This is what threw me over the edge. Of all the things that might have thrown me over the edge it was the travel pillow that threw me over the edge. We were lectured by the returning students and the staff on the necessity of the travel pillow and how miserable they'd be without it (a sweatshirt, you use your sweatshirt, honey). I don't know why it was the travel pillow but that's what did it. She doesn't know this. I bought her the pillow. I am saturating her clothing with that unbelievably toxic shit that will keep bugs from chewing through to her lily white skin as instructed. If I were sending her to Paraguay to live in a small remote village for eight weeks I still wouldn't do it willingly except possibly for that zika business.
Very briefly, as it was dawning on me that I needed to back off the conversation before I did damage, I tried to introduce the concept of acclimating to the environment in an effort to understand and better communicate. It's too late. As attached as she is to making a difference, the sheer terror of not fitting in with a group this size is absolutely overwhelming. She doesn't want to have made a mistake, she doesn't want to get to the end of this and have had it been for nothing and the truth is that won't be the case.
All of this is my stuff. Of my three children only one came off that hill wanting more. I can't very well wave a magic wand over anyone's head and say, 'to the Peace Corps with you!' What I can do is remember she's been to camp three times without drier sheets, without ziplock bags, without more than 10% deet in the mix (and plenty of bugs), and regardless of my judgement (which has absolutely no place here)...
They're building a community center in a small village which wouldn't have one otherwise and really could use it. Of the twenty-three students, each will be assigned a much younger village student (I think eight or nine) and that's where the majority of the interaction will occur off the worksite and that's where I expect they'll leave their collective hearts behind.
Yeah, I can buy a travel pillow for that. And some deet, and a sleep sack, a mess of interesting disinfectants, a box of ziplock bags, DRIER SHEETS, probiotics, an insulated water bottle, more new socks than she's likely to come home with, and a shit load of Pedialyte. Not the chocolate laxatives though. I gotta pass on those.