Saturday, 24 April 2010

peeing for africa



Hi, it's been a while. I've been busy!
A surprise visit, American honeymooners, our dear friends' daughter and her new husband were caught by the volcanic cloud. It was a pleasure to have them and, of course, we got taking about South Africa.

Looking around me now, I see the town is getting ready to celebrate Queens Day, or Koninginnedag, Holland's biggest party, Amsterdam in particular. Every year on the 30th of April the place goes mad.
People dress up, silly hats and make-up, weird outfits or nothing much at all, but the predominant colour is orange. The Dutch national colour in honour of the 'Oranjes', the royal familie.
Podiums are being erected, there will be bands playing, music blasting day and night; people living near often go to sleep elsewhere.
It is a silly and happy party.

One of the best things is the free market. Everyone can sell whatever they like, junk, home-made food, you name it, or make money more creatively, let people throw eggs at you, strip, cash in on kisses, take people's picture. Children sing or play the violin, badly but cutely. There are all kind of games and tricks.
Some make a tidy profit but it is mostly about fun. Good humour, it is amazing, each and every year how happy people are - smiles, singing, laughing, dancing - of course the drink and drugs add to the sense of  daftness and freedom. Anything goes.
Good time for me to get a whole new wardrobe for next to nothing, taste new foods and find little treasures, join in the fun just let yourself be jostled around for the city is packed. People from all over the world, never mind Holland, are drifting in now.

So yes, it is my favourite day of the year. Usually it's Mieke and me, on the go, non-stop, you need some stamina. No trading for me, I'll be spending.
Last year I decided to forgo this pleasure - I was going to make money to take with me to South Africa. Volunteers are requested to try and raise funds before they arrive but the idea of asking my family and friends did not appeal to me. I was touched by the ones who generously handed over some cash without being prompted, and here's a nice opportunity to thank you all again. It came to good use, believe me.

Anyway, since we have the studio at street level, any given day  people are pleading to use our toilet and even offer to pay. If it's a real emergency, pregnant women, little kids etc. we'll make an exception, but in the past we've had the nicest people cleaning their syringes, hiding from the police or even checking the place out for valuables, on the pretext of using our w.c., so, no offence but sorry, no go.

Last Koninginnedag it seemed the perfect opportunity to raise funds for my project.
Peeing for Africa. Also to kindle some awareness. I had a table outside, covered with an exotic cloth, piles of information on the shelter, posters, an African bowl for donations, a little stuffed giraffe and hippopotamus and we made a big sign of a toilet bowl, the seat the map of Africa, inviting the party goers to use our loo for a small contribution.

What can I tell you?
It was an overwhelming experience, not in the least because I spent a large part of the day with my head down the toilet pot.
It was madness, too many people to handle, standing in line, drunk, rowdy, pushing and shoving. Safe to say more than a few didn't pay. And the hippo along with a handful of euros did not survive the day.

I learned a lot though. My American visitors made me laugh by calling the lavatory 'the rest room' but actually that was very appropriate then, I mean folks were stuck in there for ages, what on earth were they doing?
Well, we cottoned on. The girls were doing their make-up and hair. Passing lipsticks back and forth, trying on clothes they just bought. Right, we removed the mirror and would only let one at a time go in. That's because we found two girls sitting fully dressed, high heeled, opposite each other in our bathtub, giggling and smoking.
That was not on.
The guys, we realised, meant business, they were not here to pee, they could do that in the park across the street like everybody else. My little park smells like a urinal for days after the event.
They took their time, used up rolls of toilet paper, pee-ed all over the toilets seat - some even threw up. Yuck!
The sign outside was changed to: Women and children only.
I was accused of discrimination.
Mieke and I took turns standing at the door, trying to control the impatient lot, some quite desperate, complaining. But we had a laugh, interesting talks, met all kinds of strange and funny people. Some genuinely interested, giving more than necessary, encouraging, and those who couldn't care less, one even wanting her money back!
One of my 'guests' was a South African woman, I was dying to hear what she thought of it all, the situation at home, how we were trying to lend a hand. She was ungracious, telling me: try living there for a while first and see if you're still this keen to help. Huh?

It was a crazy experience, if nothing else.
I wont be doing it again this year though. No fear. I am going to enjoy myself, I've still got time to think of ways to get some money for the next project in September.
Cl├ędat first, then the Hadrian's wall walk.
That is going to be wonderful - not easy,  mind you.

Anybody fancy sponsoring me? :)



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