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Elephants and ice-cream

I’ve noticed that the meaner the world gets, the nicer I want to be. The crazier world politics becomes, the more simplicity I crave. And as we teeter on the brink of insanity, I’m spending more and more time trying not to lose sight of what really matters.

Ever wonder where your money goes when you donate to a charity, or sponsor someone to run a 10k, or buy a raffle ticket? All too often we never see the effect. We have vague notions, perhaps, of the difference our help may have made. Then again, perhaps we don’t care. Perhaps the giving is something we do automatically without wondering what next. Perhaps in our own little universe it’s not about ego or power or public recognition. Perhaps we don’t care about the applause or the back slaps or the congratulatory adulation. Perhaps we simply give to share and share to give.

Yet there’s a whole debate to be had about where to give, to whom to give, and why to give. I know I’ve had more than few conversations about it. I have an innate distrust of big charities and the money they spend on plush headquarters and fancy cars for their CEOs – but as was pointed out to me recently, if they want to attract big money, they need to have a big presence. On an intellectual level, I can see the validity of this. On an emotional level, I still have problems.

I prefer to support people I know involved in projects that are making a difference. Okay, so maybe these projects won’t bring about world peace, or make any sort of difference on a grand scale, but what they have in common is that they make a difference to someone.

My friend Zsuzsa B has adopted the village of Zabar in Eastern Hungary. At Christmas, I had a blast shopping for a 5-year-old girl, making her wish list a reality. Others did likewise and the kids in the village experienced the magic of discovering that wishes can come true. But it didn’t stop there.

These kids had never been to the theatre or to the zoo or eaten in a restaurant. Until recently, their universe was limited to their village and nearby towns. The capital, Budapest, the seat of their parliament, the home of their government, was some place they’d heard about but never seen. For them to have some hope of a better tomorrow, they need to see what’s out there, to broaden their horizons. And for this to happen, they need help.

A bus was hired. Arrangements were made. And 45 children from this remote part of the country embarked on a trip of a lifetime that included pantomime, elephants, and ice-cream. What an eye-opener it was for them. For those who helped make it happen, little else is needed by way of validation that to see the smiles on their faces. This video captures it all.

It is small initiatives like this one that make such a huge difference in the lives of these kids. And in these troubled times, we need to remind ourselves of what’s important and not lose sight of the necessity of doing our bit to make our world a better place.

The visit (5)

Dad came to collect him and democracy was restored. I went from a co-starring spot to a supporting role in double-jig time. Once the UN building had been built, all focus was on what time Dad’s plane was landing. He even started packing although they wouldn’t fly for two more days. We have that in common. I like to start packing to come home days ahead of time yet I don’t pack to leave until the last minute. Wonder what the shrinks would say about that?

Tuesday was shaping up to be a groundhog day. He wanted to take Dad to the Goatherder to have some lemonade, and then to the zoo to check up on the seals. But it was raining and not a zoo day. I’d suggested the Planetárium but it didn’t fly. And had I been on my own, I’d have caved and gone back to the zoo – again. But Dad was there. And democracy, as I said, had been restored. He was outvoted, 2:1 and we headed to Népliget to see the stars. I felt a strange sense of guilt mixed with satisfaction – for once I’d gotten my way and as my negotiating skills are severly lacking, this was a first all week. Indeed, who is the bigger child.
planet[They’ve a wonderful TWAN photo exhibition that’s really worth checking out – and English-language 3D shows scheduled twice a week. And it’s cheaper to bring a child than to go as an adult – can’t quite work that one out – but hey – it was worth the money, regardless.]

They left yesterday. The place is very quiet without the echoing calls of ‘May-ree?’ My hearing is slowly being declassified from RED ALERT to NORMAL. I don’t have to listen out for him any more, or think about eating, or wonder what to do today. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t glad to have my flat back to myself  – I like my space – I like my silence. But there’s a hole there. And it’s an odd sort of hole. One that will take a little thinking on.

This was my first adult experience of responsibility, of dependency, of unconditional affection and all the things that are mixed up in adult/child relationships. I liked the constant stream of consciousness, even if jumping from Irish beef export sales to our Taoiseach Enda Kenny being a muppet to the origins of coffee did take some getting used to. I liked the unfettered displays of emotion – the sulks, the smiles, the rants, the bellylaughs – all spontaneous and pure without thought or agenda. I liked the future talk – what I want to do, what I want to be, where I want to go – as yet devoid of cynicism and not limited by conscious expecations. I liked the fact that everything was possible; if it could be imagined, then it could happen.

Most of all though, I liked the fact that I’m an aunt, not a parent. My responsibility ends here. This time. And yes, he can come again. Next time, I might have a better idea of what I’m doing. I might even be a little more relaxed about it all.

The Visit (2)

We’re still talking. But I’m knackered. His mother told me that he was too like me for comfort and now I’m finally getting a glimpse of what she means.

What would you like for dinner? Doesn’t bother me.
What do you want to do today? I don’t mind.
You hungry? Not really.

I hadn’t realised how challenging it is to have live with someone who is so non-committal but am now realising why I’m living on my own. Man, it’s an effort. And I keep forgetting he’s there. I walk off the tram and have to check to make sure that he’s behind me. I cross the road and double check, too. I leave the supermarket and again, I’m checking bags and boy. Hats off to ye mums and particluarly to ye working mums  and mums of more than one… I don’t know how ye do it.

zoo2Yesterday, we went to the zoo. I’d never been before. It was quite the experience. We went to see the koalas but they were hiding. We saw lumps of fur in a tree and the rest was left to our imagination. We had a minor hiccup and we were all but drafting a letter to whomever is in charge of animals worldwide to tell them how the seals in Budapest Zoo were being abused, living as they do in some shallow inches of water. But after the third check-up when the pool was being refilled, we realised that it had only been drained so that the seals could get their annual check-up. Whew.

Nothing in my lifetime’s education so far has prepared me to combat the earnest intensity of a naive mind.  What comeback is there ‘I’m so sad that the animals are caged up, that the seals have to live in such conditions, that the hippos’ water is so dirty.’ Is it okay for me to be sad, too, or should I be distributing pearls of wisdom and gems of insight? Never was I so happy to see a gopher – to relish the simplicity of a menace whose life’s amibition is to screw up a lawn. Simple stuff. They were happy. Uncomplicatedly happy.

We’ve been rating Budapest’s finest bars and cafés on the quality of their hazi limonadé (house lemonade) and five litres in, The Goat Herder café is still on top. I keep forgetting that kids have to eat and eat properly, a sad reflection on my own ‘eat when I’m hungry’ habit. We’ve decided to conquer the world, one cuisine at a time, and last night ate at a fab Vietnamese restaurant on the No. 5 bus route over in Buda. He had squid (and yes, I heard my mother’s voice echo in my head as I mentally thought – ‘Tis far from squid you were reared’). But hey – it’s a different generation.

Today, we went to see the moving statue, a phenomenon I’ve shown to many an adult visitor who were as awed as I was. Him? No. ‘Ah, yes. It moves. But that’s because it’s cut into the stone.’ Ye gods – do kids today know everything?

Mini2Mini3Later we went to Miniversum– a fabulously creative, interactive mini-universe. You push variously coloured buttons to activate lights and motion and then get to spot said same lights and motion. It could be the lights of a cop car flashing on and off or an medic giving CPR or an old lady beating her carpet. All in miniature. Amazing stuff. It was hard to know who was the bigger child – me or him. We spent more than an hour touring the miniature towns in Hungary, Austria, and Germany, trying to outdo each other in unravelling the clues. Well worth ever forint. A must see for anyone who hasn’t yet been. And we’re already planning to go back – again.

Then we went to watch a fencing class. I have a feeling it’s going to be the next ‘thing to do’ and mom and dad, it’ll be expensive – I’m sorry. But not really. I think I’m going to take it up myself in September. I had a few lessons years and years and years ago, long before the gear came with electric extensions and the lights lit up – but I’m seriously considering reconnecting.

Then it was dinner with some younger men – his own age – homemade pasta with a secret family recipe (conquering the world, one cuisine at a time) and home to marinade the cajun chicken he’s cooking for dinner tomorrow night. Those are the perks. Did I say I was knackered?

Mini1