I'm at the Olympics in Vancouver!
I am starting up my blog again, this time a little bit longer term.
I am very excited to say that my first few blogs will be as a volunteer for the Olympics. I applied approximately two years ago and went through two rounds of interviews and finally got a position. I am staying with a friend here in Vancouver and I had to find my own way out here, but so far it's been great. But I have been thinking a lot lately, both before I got here and until now about what my participation means.
It would be foolish to think that the Olympic games are the picture perfect package that many marketers, the IOC, VANOC, and anyone else involved with these Games would like it to be. There has been tremendous and detrimental impact on the environment (land and eco-systems) around the areas where the games will be taking place, huge impact on people living in poverty in regards to services, housing and even basic freedoms (such as free speech, freedom of association and mobility). Security is extremely tight. Any type of non-sponsor logo or label is required to be covered up and some businesses in the area are being negatively affected by the road closures and barricades being placed near their businesses that affect the traffic flow they are used to.
These things are not lost on me. I think the culmination of what I was feeling occurred yesterday. I took the bus through East Hastings on my way to pick up my volunteer uniform. I drove by so many of my own people and wondered if I was doing the right thing...
I chose to volunteer to be a part of something bigger than myself. This was my country's chance to host the World and I have grown up watching the Olympics on TV and wishing I could somehow be a part of the magic. Being a part of these Games was something that I could say "I was there" and I could feel good about knowing I made these Games a success.
Then I thought about doping athletes and cheating judges, about the countries that can't afford to train their athletes and so the countries that win are the ones that are able to finely tune anyone who shows any type of athletic talent (think of the case of China where children are even put into residential programs to develop gymnastic talent from really young ages). I feel defeated again, wondering if I was doing the right thing...
Last night I went to the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremonies and I felt something different. I saw the Four Host First Nations welcome the World to their territory. I watched more of my people come out onto the field to get their just recognition of the first peoples of this land and THEY welcomed the athletes. They called out the names of the countries one by one and I could imagine every single one of those athletes dedicating their entire lives to sport. Dedicating their time and energy for a chance to represent their families, communities, lands, people and make them proud - to train so hard for that one moment of triumph over every heartbreak they've had to get to that moment. They called out the Netherlands and I felt pride in my father's side of the family - the homeland I had never been to until last summer. I even brought my Dutch book to be able to try and speak with some of them.
When I got my uniform and I spoke with a few other people who came from all over the country and the world to give their time - like me - to the Games. We spent an afternoon together and I shared with them where I came from and who I am. These are people I will definitely see again and they are a part of my life's journey now. We had spent the afternoon together and didn't even learn each other's names until about the 5th hour we knew each other - but we had become friends.
I am also very fortunate to stand alongside my young First Nations brothers and sisters to participate in the Ontario First Nations presentation that will be taking place at the Aboriginal Pavilion. With input from my peers I wrote the script that will be presented and will be directing the group in a skit that frankly discusses a fuller history of the relations between Ontario First Nations people, amongst each other and the newcomers to Canada. Again, this is a chance to tell the world our history from our point of view.
I hope that my peers and colleagues that will be standing on the protest lines will understand that I have to see things from this side, but that I support their peaceful efforts to raise awareness and commend them for their bravery to stand against the system and say that not everyone agrees with what's going on. And I also know that I have a lot of support from friends and family to be here. I know that they are here with me experiencing every moment as I am experiencing it.
I haven't reached my final conclusion yet. I think I will have to wait until my time here is done and see things for myself.