Popeye and the Late Night Snacks
Laughter.Pure, innocent laughter.Gut spasms and sucking for air.Looking around and enjoying the fact that other people are thinking the same thing; that they are enjoying it as much as you. Feeling like we belonged there with them in that moment, we didn’t want it to end.We were tucked away from the world with them: outside a quiet village in Northern Thailand, far away from harm, predators, and those that didn’t want them. We were sitting on a grubby tile floor, munching on snacks, listening to the crickets outside the windows, and waiting to see something very exciting: the first official cartoon on the new TV set that the orphanage had just had donated. This was about to be a major life moment!Have you ever wrestled with how to re-create a moment for others to know your experience? You want to be able to re-live the moment over and over again, yet sometimes you struggle to recall what it was about that memory that made it so awesome. In the world in which we live and work in LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute), the moments of realization never seem to stop. You begin to live your life in light of what you now know: Watching a North American teenager laugh hysterically as they are being tickled and chased by a child in a village we are working in, the warmth of a hug around your knees as you are trying to explain to a group with you that the project they are working on is going to help a child like the exact one attached to your leg, the constant wrestle with attempting to communicate how insatiable poverty is and how heartless, cruel and relentless exploitation can be. These moments of laughter, shock, frustration and even intense hatred at evil can help to motivate us all to reach higher levels in what we are capable of doing. But these moments are fleeting, and I want to remember the rawness of emotion when my reality collides with theirs. I want to see the world through the eyes of others, and I want to be able to paint the picture for those who are yet to see.Working in a children’s home is hairy and chaotic at the best of times. Especially if you are a group of North Americans who are there to help for two weeks and don’t speak their language. But in that place at that time, underneath the buzz and hum of so many people living so simply together, there was also a steady rhythm of trust and hope. There was a feeling of belonging, of safety, of acceptance. And best of all, there was Popeye.Our Hero Holiday group had just helped finish some projects in their home and we helped to create an industrial strength TV stand that would be able to survive the many little hands that would be tempted to be all over it. We had searched all day desperately trying to find a copy of Kung Fu Panda for them to celebrate the new TV with. Kung Fu Panda was hip, it was funny, and it somehow seemed to be a little more their style. All day the rumours of Kung Fu Panda were floating around the home and the pressure was on. But all we could find was Popeye – in English. So that night, with sweaty palms, I stood up to explain to them we couldn’t find Kung Fu Panda, and we were going to have to settle for Popeye. I waited to see their disappointment…but it never came. Instead, they cheered and clapped when I said we were going to watch Popeye! Why? Because they didn’t honestly care! They were so excited to be with us and to see a real cartoon, they didn’t care about the fact that Popeye has been around for 90 years, and that he only mumbles in English. They only cared about the fact that we were sitting there on that floor, sharing snacks and holding hands in anticipation of how he was going to defeat the evil man and the white shark that were after him. They were caught up in the amazing feats and antics of Popeye as he downed the spinach and took on endless evil. They were watching a new hero emerge on that 48 inch TV screen in front of them and they were drinking in every moment.Sitting on that floor that night, squished in by 80 warm little bodies, I became a fan of Popeye, of snacks, and of life. What a gift. To be able to sit there and enjoy that moment, though the world was still going on around us, for that night, we were all sharing the same experience, the same warm memory, the same laughter. And like a thick blanket on an October evening, it surrounded you in its warmth. It was what we all needed more than anything else: to know that we belonged there.Next August, Hero Holiday will be returning to Thailand to work with this amazing children’s home. You can be a part of the experience! We will be finishing new projects to help this home as they continue to grow. There are currently over 80 kids being sheltered from their former nightmare of sexual exploitation and slavery, and together with them, we can create more space to save more lives and create a new future.