Here we go with the second and last part of Matteo Tricarico‘s report of a month spent in Taiwan volunteering for “Harmony Home Association” helping children with HIV/AIDS. Matteo is now back in Nepal and is heading westwards, down to India first, and into Pakistan and central Asia proper on his long way back cycling to Europe… Monkeyrockworld likes to follow and share his adventures, please show support too!!
The first morning I woke up late and after a quick shower I descended to the ground floor to the loud sounds of children laughing, crying, shouting, playing and doing what youngster’s normally do. What a wonderful scene presented to my eyes! These little human beings were just adorable, busy with their vociferous activities; some of them stared at me with their narrow eyes, looking with a mix of curiosity and fear to see a new face, long in shape, with blondish hair and a big nose between two wide eyes. The Filipina, who took upon herself the task to look after me in almost the same way she would have done if I were another child, served me breakfast and introduced me to the rest of the staff: all Taiwanese women with the exception of a Burmese and an Indonesian girl. In fact, I was the only male resident in the building and, therefore, the children quickly, and naturally, identified me with the paternal figure, calling me “pa pa”! Being in my early 40s, unmarried and childless – at least none of my ex-girlfriends has informed me of fatherhood -, this situation was quite a shocking and a dramatic change to my life. I quickly fitted in the daily routine of the shelter. Initially, lacking any experience in the babies’ management business, my handling of the children was awkward and clumsy, but I guess, after a while, Mother Nature kicks in and one instinctively knows how to deal with young creatures. By the time I left Taiwan, I could properly hold, feed, diaper change and cradle a baby in my arms until he would stop crying. I even understood most of his immediate needs by the way he was crying for hunger or mourning for tiredness. Merry moments for the kids were the weekend days spent outdoor in amusement parks, fairs or at the night market. That required a good deal of logistic and extra people, mostly volunteers, to look after the children, who incidentally would run about trying different merry-go-rounds. The older ones, aged 10 or 12, were also keeping attentive eyes on the youngsters and behaved like older brothers would to younger sisters, showing the solidarity of a real large family. Normally, I was assigned to four children aged five and six, the easiest to control. I also had the only disabled one of the company, who could not walk, so I carried him on my shoulders. The more time I spent with the children, the more they got accustomed to my presence and they would come up to me for food or drink, to recover a toy taken away by another child. They would even exploit my soft heart to get things that the nannies would forbid them, like candies and chocolate kept on shelves safely out of their reach. As much as they got used to me, I got used to them, to their shouting and crying and, in time, I also managed to isolate myself from their presence around me to do my personal things, like to keep my correspondence and update my travel blog without being distracted by them.
The first week of my stay in Taipei, I spent most of my time with the kids and only left the shelter for short walks in the surrounding areas. However, my life suddenly changed with the return of Nicole from her trip to America. Nicole is the founder, cornerstone and soul of the association and I was honoured to have met such a positive, generous and inspiring person. I learned much from her on how love for people in need and personal determination can alleviate the suffering of so many young and old human beings. Like a Circus that would parade exotic animals to get spectators to the performance, she made the best use out of me by taking me with her to various schools, universities, an Army base and even to a female prison for an information campaign on HIV-AIDS. I had up to 30 minutes to present my sporty-humanitarian project, to show some of my videos, and to tell my travelling experiences. Nicole has a great sense of humour and she applied it while translating my speech from English to Chinese, by adding her own funny comments to my words with the result to make the audience burst in happy and loud laugh. I am also glad that she exploited my presence in Taiwan to generate media coverage for the association organising two events: a cycling tour of Daan park in Taipei with the children following me on their small bicycles and the cycling crossing of the island from the capital to south in Ping Tong, where the association manages another shelter for HIV-positive patients. Frankly, I was amazed by the media attention that these two events attracted, but, I guess, that an Italian cycling throughout Asia with a humanitarian purpose, doing volunteer work in Taiwan, it is not a piece of news that local media can report every day.
It is almost two weeks since I have returned to Kathmandu before continuing my journey to India and then westwards and I feel sad and miserable… I feel like I have been cast under a spell by the children of Harmony Home who, not only have settled themselves in my heart forever, but have also placed their smiling little faces in my subconscious, popping up in my unconscious dreaming. They are not leaving me alone even in my conscious daily thinking! I sincerely miss living with those disadvantaged young human creatures and the adults who look after them. The short time I lived with them in Taipei, they made me feel at home, active and, I also hope, useful.