Unless you change and become like children

by Lorenzo Piccoli


Those of you who know me are aware I am not religious (“Yes I am Hindu. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew“). To the surprise of many, though, I believe there is a lot to be learnt from religions in general. Today I wanted to share a text from the gospel. My mum sent it to me about a week ago. It is Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14, and it goes like this: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost”. I am sharing this because I spent a good part of the last twenty days working with a group of about thirty kids in a summer house on the oceanic coastline of Asturias.

It has been my now traditional summer volunteering abroad (see: 2013 and 2014) and my participation was made possible by Legambiente (thanks!).

These last few days I have thought hard about ways to capture my memory of this experience. In a book I am reading, Jorge Luis Borges writes: “Cuando se acerca el fin, ya no quedan imágenes del recuerdo; sólo quedan palabras”. I will appropriate this reflection for the sake of my post. In fact I would rather share some imagines of the kids and our activities, but I cannot: due to Spanish law, I am not allowed to take pictures of/with the kids. It is a shame, because they are so animated, funny, and cool. Just try to imagine a group of thirty people between 5 and 17 year old and they are all screaming, throwing a ball around, jumping in the ocean and asking me to keep them above the waves, riding down the river on a kayak, surfing – pretty well, too – and digging into a cave, climbing up on the trees like crazy goats, cooking pasta with a respectable degree of discipline, fighting over a glass of coke, asking a few questions in English, poking me in Spanish, cheering in Italian, pouring water all over the place, and much more. They are Edgar, Ainoa, Christie, Yaiza, Joni, Angela, Jose, Kevin, JoseLu, Aitor, Fabiany, Elena, Blanca, Dani, Christian, Christian, Angel, Carla, Alejandra, Monica, Sara, Keila, Israel, Adrian, Dioni, Tonio, Zaira, Liberated and they kept my spirit up this month.

To compensate for the lack of pictures with such a youthful group, I took a few photos with elderly people. I shot them in the different parts of Spain where I was before and after going to Asturias. The first pictures in this gallery were taken in San Sebastian/Donostia; the last in Oviedo, Puebla de Sanabria, Zamora, Madrid; and in between there might be a bit of Gijon and Ribadesella.

The problem with these pictures is that they are anonymous to me. When I look at them, I smile – especially those with the people eating, thinking, looking around – but I do not find trace of the little journey I lived through. Rather than looking at the photos, thus, this time I can better recall by reading my scattered notes on a notebook, or going through the random signs I left on the map, or even smelling the bracelets the kids made for me. I have some reminiscences by looking again at the books I was reading these days – Hemingway and Kerouac – and listening to the kind of songs I was listening to – Daft Punk, Bear’s Den, The Rural Alberta Advantage, The White Buffalo: a pretty scattered selection, eh? If I think about all these things now, I can safely conclude I have experienced occasional loneliness, sunny days, rainy days, intense sickness, optimism, tenderness, relaxation, idleness, adrenalin, satisfaction, hanger, and everything in between.

Traditional addendum: I am now off to Paris for two days. I am then flying to Montreal in a pretty hazardous journey that involves a stop-and-go through a couple of airports in New York. If everything goes well, I will be in Quebec until mid-September.

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