With awkwardness for my lack of writing, I am posting the new diaries from Matteo Tricarico’s epic trip from Vietnam to Italy. This is the report of a month spent working as a volunteer for the “Harmony Home Association” in Taiwan with HIV/AIDS children. As usual, Matteo’s insights are interesting and thoughtful, and hopefully will open some new contributions from yours truly Monkey, who has been quite busy lately and forgot to put pen to paper for your entertainment for a while… I’ll leave you with Matteo, so far.
Kathmandu, Nepal 15 Gennaio 2011
Everything begun here, in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu in mid-September 2010. I happen to be in this corner of the Himalayas as a stopover of a sporty-humanitarian journey, that is taking me riding solo on a bicycle from Vietnam to my motherland Italy, stopping on the way to visit centres for disabled people. A trip of about 30.000 kilometres in two years throughout South-east and Central Asia, Persia and Turkey up to the Mediterranean shores, following a flexible itinerary connecting dots made by the different institutions, hospitals, schools for disadvantaged young people. In Nepal I just concluded a month-long volunteer period, teaching English and computer in a rural school in Charikot, a town on the way to Mount Everest. On my return to Kathmandu, I became acquired with a Taiwanese woman, who was also spending a short volunteer period in a local primary school, and who spoke to me so extensively and with such a sincere patriotic love for her country, that I started to fancy the idea of taking a break from cycling and visiting the island. A few days after her departure from Nepal, I received an email from a friend of hers who invited me to Taiwan, introducing me, for the first time, ‘The Harmony Home Association Taiwan’. In these last two nomadic years of my existence, a commodity that I have a large supply of is time. Thus, my new Taiwanese friends did not need to twist my arm or to send me a second invitation to convince me to abandon my bicycle for a month and to fly to the Far-East.
Despite the fact that I have been dwelling and working in continental South-east Asia for the last seven years, therefore I am not new to Asian culture, I was very curious and much looking forward to visit the mysterious island of Taiwan, which is not exactly a place one would just pass through and it is not a land that makes much international newspaper headlines. I knew about the history of the country, its diplomatic difficulty with “big brother”, continental China and I also recalled in my memory that 20 years earlier, in 1991, while I was a young exchange student at the University of Leeds in England, I became good friends with a group of Taiwanese students, who were the first real Chinese people I had ever met in my life, and who introduced me to their land delicious cuisine. I remember that eating those dishes, prepared with the same ingredients of the Italian food, yet with such a different taste, I discovered that my motherland cuisine had a serious culinary opponent to be feared! Except these almost insignificant facts and due to my ignorance, I did not know what to expect in Taiwan and even less I knew that my month spent in this scarcely familiar island, would leave an unforgettable mark on me, and even change my vision of life…
I landed at Taipei International airport on November the 5th at 8:00 pm, after a two-day flight via Delhi and Bangkok, and I was picked up by the mini van of the Harmony Home Association, driven by a pretty Chinese young woman, who spoke almost no English, but who kept on smiling courteously during the hour-transfer to the association shelter. From these first moments in the island, I learnt two great truths: looking at the infrastructures, Taiwan is a fully industrialised and first world country and that, despite the language barrier, I would be able to communicate with the locals through hand signs and body language. This fact was confirmed by an article of UDN newspaper on November the 20th stating that: “Even if Matteo does not speak a single word of Chinese, his body language and his actions are the best way to promote and to show love and affection”. Once I reached the shelter, I was taken care of by the Filipina social worker, the only one fluent in English, who led me to the third floor of the building in a small room where there was a bunk bed and many wardrobes. She asked me if it was OK for me to sleep on the lower bed, I replied positively and I started to unpack my bag. Suddenly, four children entered the room, curious to see the newcomer, they asked me questions in Chinese, looked in my luggage and played with some clothing. The Filipina re-entered the room and sent the children out, apologizing for their intrusion. There, I realised that I was actually going to sleep in the same place with the 40 children guests of the shelter and that, although I had my bed in a room separated from the rest of the dwellers, I would have been in close contact with them. In my life, I have been sleeping in various strange and funny places, especially in this last year on the move. Some previous dwellings have comprised of: a cattle shed with cows and outdoor in the Indian countryside, where I had to fight with monkeys who tried to steal my water and cookie supply. However, I have never slumbered in an orphanage with kids as young as a few months old. That first night, I was in bed by 10 pm, and I did not lock the door of the room because I did not think it to be necessary, but also because there was no door handle! I soon learnt that some of the social workers employed at the shelter, kept their belongings in the wardrobes and that they would enter the room in the middle of the night to get what they needed. They would turn on the light and apologize for waking me up. After the first couple of nights, I got so perfectly used to this coming and going of people that I managed to keep sleep soundly like a baby. I must also add that after having spent last year cycling alone, to have so many people around, it made a pleasant difference and I highly enjoyed their presence. I felt like being part of a large family, where there is no place for personal space.
(TO BE CONTINUED)