The Olympics Begin

Trip Start Sep 08, 2009
Trip End Jun 07, 2010

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Where I stayed
Commercial Drive

Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Sunday, February 14, 2010

We left a cold Montreal behind on Tuesday morning- and arrived to a balmy evening of 10 degrees in Vancouver. I felt like we'd landed in Greece- we were walking around without jackets, gloves or anything. Randy came and picked us up from the airport, and took us back to our apartments... and our BEDS! I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a mattress so much. 

The next morning a group of us decided to go downtown to see how this Olympic malarky had affected our city. As the Skytrain zoomed us to the city in 10 minutes, we caught our first glimpse of the harbour with the prettiest skyscrapers I know providing the backdrop. We breathed a collective sigh of contentment. We were home.

Downtown was abuzz with excitement. Tourists were milling about with their red Canada mittens while locals desperately tried to get on with their day-to-day life. The Vancouver art gallery has been transformed with a huge floral mural covering the facade. A bobsleigh sits teasingly right outside, tempting passerbys to jump in and pose (to which we willingly complied). We walked around for a couple of hours, just enjoying being back in the city, and stopped for an authentic falafel wrap. Before too long, though, we had to return for our many, many meetings.

The difference between Montreal and Vancouver, outreach-wise, is that here someone else has built us a schedule. Good that I don't have to do it, and we're busy, Bad that there's a lot of explanation needed before we can start and there's not much flexibility to do what you want. But still it's exciting- the next two weeks we're going to be doing a variety of things from giving out hot chocolate and coffee outside Skytrain stations to helping out in a series of free concerts, to working in a shelter, to working with the Buying Sex is not a Sport campaign, that fights against the huge influx of human trafficking that always occurs around an Olympic Games. 

There are no less than 180 YWAMers from all over the world that have come to volunteer, many of whom we met before at the GO Conference in October. So the first YWAM briefing on Wednesday night was a great chance to reconnect, meet new people, and all come together for some worship and a great message. Thursday was a similar setup- but with all the More Than Gold volunteers. More Than Gold is a partnership of all the churches in the local area that work together to impact the city during the Olympics. In fact there's already one set up for London, if you're thinking that far ahead. 

That was a long meeting. 1pm to 8pm, largely introducing everyone to Vancouver. Yes, Commercial Drive is a good place to go for coffee. We've been living there for 3 months... we know! They did a great job- and it would have been invaluable advice if we had just arrived in the city like most of the volunteers- but the first 3 1/2 hours felt a little redundant to me. 

Friday brought not only the Opening Ceremony but also our first day of work!  We had an interesting afternoon doing Prayer Stations- standing on a street corner offering people prayer. The only problem was that we didn't have any signs, so for the first half hour I think people just thought we were waiting for someone outside the station. Still, Taylor and I constructed a makeshift sign or two from scraps of paper and flanked Rachel who was wearing the beautiful red vest. Oh that reminds me, let me tell you about Rachel. We have a new team member! She's been on the Saskatoon DTS, but is joining us for the next 2 weeks (at least) of our outreach instead of going to Pakistan with them. She arrived on Thur night, so has definitely been thrown in the deep end but seems to be coping well enough! 

Anyway the miniature signs got us a bit of attention but mainly just smirks and jokey comments. After a couple of hours wandering around and doing a bit more prayer, we decided to take Rachel down East Hastings, to experience what the BBC is now calling 'The drug den of North America'. Not sure I'd go quite that far, but it still shocks me a little to see such huge crowds of homeless, destitute and addicted children of God living on the streets.

However, in the evening we joined with the masses in The Celebration!! We went to watch the Opening Ceremony on a giant screen in Stuart's church- caught the first hour and a half so we were all able to cheer for our countries along with everyone else there. Then we got suited and booted- with ghostbuster-style hot chocolate and coffee backpacks, to give out for free in the streets until midnight. The atmosphere was electric- downtown was basically one giant street party. Anytime anyone walked past with a Canada flag or shouted 'Go Canada!' huge cheers erupted and resounded around the block. Unfortunately we couldn't see any of the big screens erected downtown, but we caught some of the action mid-evening...

We were just standing handing out our free drinks when suddenly thousands of people start running towards the street we're on. Completely oblivious to the evening's events, we just stand dumbfounded as first a ton of police and security drive by, then Wayne Gretski (Only The Greatest Hockey Player of All Time, Canada's National Hero *as the official title goes*) runs past with the Olympic flame, on his way down to light the cauldron and officially announce the Games open. Behind him ran probably about 1000 people, chasing the flame, cheering and rallying the crowds in excitement. 

The rest of the night was great- despite the rain, the streets were packed and everyone wanted to stop, chat, very grateful for free hot chocolate- and I met people from Saudi Arabia, Mexico... the list goes on. Let the games begin!

The weekend has been much more frustrating. Most of the things we have been doing have already got enough volunteers and/or have no-one directing volunteers in how they can help. So as a result... on Saturday we went downtown, sat somewhere waiting for direction for an hour, found we weren't needed, returned to Commercial Drive, suited up with hot chocolate- but had 12 volunteers for a job that required 6. So I feel like I did nothing all day. Went to a free yoga class at night... that was about it.

Today I packed in as much as I could around our schedule- went to church this morn, which was so good to go back to after 7 weeks away- I love it there. Then went to Chinatown to try and catch the end of the New Year's parade, but unfortunately just missed it. There was a memorial march taking place for the 70 or so women who have gone missing and/or have been found murdered from the Downtown Eastside (East Hastings) area over the last few years. These women are generally unloved, uncared for, and unnoticed when they disappear. We had a good couple of hours waiting around for proceedings to kick off, but eventually joined with about 2,500 other peaceful protesters to march around the streets honouring the women. I realised it's the first march I've been on- quite an experience

 Once that was over we had a couple of hours free so I walked through downtown and couldn't believe how busy it was. We're talking Oxford Street, week before Christmas, on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Except on about 6 different streets. In effect, the population of the city has been doubled this weekend (from 2 million to 4 million) with all the visitors. I eventually managed to battle my way through the crowds. 

Our evening activity was helping out at a free Christian music concert- which was great. Except they really didn't need more than 2 or 3 helpers, as far as I could see. So we waited for an hour for direction, then Rebekka and I spent an hour with the very important job of manning a deserted corridor to check no-one snuck past, then we went outside to hand out leaflets for half an hour. We caught the last 30 mins of the concert though and it was really good, I would have been happy just sitting in the back listening to the whole thing (which I think some of the rest of our team did!) We then had an hour of sitting around, occasionally hoovering and trying to find something else to do before eventually getting home. 

If that all sounds negative, I don't intend it to be. I'm enjoying being here, but I'm just the kind of person that wants to be busy all the time, have a visible impact and hates inefficiency. So I'm treating this fortnight as an opportunity to practice my patience! 
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