So, part two of my tale. Tuesday through Friday were our work days, with a bit of fun mixed on. We spent all day Tuesday at a ministry that serves the poor and homeless. On Tuesday nights, they set up under a bridge in downtown Nashville, serve a hot meal, have a worship service and then pass out groceries, toiletries and clothing. We spent the day in their warehouse sorting items to hand out that night, and then we were part of the army of volunteers that manages the service at night, then we sang as part of the service. The whole thing was a real eye-opener for me, and surely for these kids, who are pretty much growing up in a bubble. They live in a very affluent small suburban town, so they aren't likely to see much poverty. A lot of our kids were working with the children's church at the event, and they were awed by how happy these kids were with what little they had. My job was handing out the cutlery as the people went through the food line, so I had a little personal interaction with each of them, and that forced me to see them as individuals instead of as an amorphous mass of generic "homeless." I was singing with the youth choir as kind of a ringer so they'd have someone on the second soprano part, and I have to say that singing under a downtown overpass was one of my more interesting performing experiences. Although the service as a whole wasn't the sort I'd want to go to every week (I'm rather high church, and this was very Pentecostal), it was a very moving service. One of the coolest things was when they were singing old gospel songs and the lead singer gave the microphone to some of the attendees -- and then they turned out to be professional-quality singers. Or better than professional, since these days "professional" seems to mean good body, great hair, and then Autotune their voices to cover the fact that they can't carry a tune in a bucket. It was awesome to see the kind of people you might find shuffling along a downtown street singing with such soul and passion.
The rest of the week we rotated among three different job sites, with rest and/or fun in the afternoon. One day I went with the group that was tending to trees planted by an environmental group, which was nice because it was outdoors in a historic neighborhood with gorgeous old houses. I may have possibly gone into lecture mode to convince the girls I was working with that history was not boring, no matter how badly they teach it in school. Then we spent a morning at Soles 4 Souls, which distributes donated shoes. We sorted donations in their warehouse. They have a neat organization that gives the new and like-new shoes to people in need, especially after disasters, but then they have a microenterprise program where they give the shoes that need some repair to people in third-world countries so they can go into business for themselves repairing and then selling the shoes. Through that, they can earn enough money to support their families. We went away from that planning to hold a shoe drive at our church. It was kind of embarrassing realizing that the shoes I was wearing would have gone into the "recycle" pile, though that was actually a plan that I'll get to later. And then the other work site was at a food bank, where we sorted the food donated by grocery stores.
Wednesday night, the church where we were staying invited us to their potluck dinner, and we sang during the dinner. If you've never been to a potluck at a Southern church, you're missing out on some seriously good food. I think the last few events like that I've been to have been funeral meals, so it was nice to be at one for a happy occasion. Then we went to a park for some play time. That was another odd little eye opener for these kids, who didn't seem to have realized that they could have fun without a lot of expensive stuff, just maybe a Frisbee or a ball. One group was playing a game called Ninja, where they seemed to be moving into poses that would allow them to tag each other. I never quite figured out the rules, but I got some good photos because my name for the game was "Compromising Positions." Thursday night we went to a minor-league baseball game, where I was chastised by the mascot for checking e-mail on my phone. I'm not sure why I was singled out for the one time I looked at my phone when I was surrounded by texting teenagers, but it's hard to compose an e-mail to your agent when a person in a cat costume with a giant head is leaning over your shoulder.
Friday after we finished our work, we drove down to the Ocoee River, which is near Chattanooga. We stayed at the lodge for our whitewater rafting excursion, with two cabins of girls and one of boys. We were supposed to unload our stuff into the cabins and then get back on the bus and go to dinner. It turned out that all the adult women headed to the same cabin, with all of us trying to avoid the Crazies. The last adult then went over to the Crazies' cabin, but they rebelled. They decided they wanted me, so they picked up her stuff, carried it to the other cabin with many war whoops and while chanting my name, picked up my stuff and carried it back to their cabin. Except they got the wrong stuff, so back they went to get my stuff, still whooping and chanting. Unfortunately, I wasn't there to see this, but it must have been a sight with these whooping, chanting girls trooping back and forth with suitcases and sleeping bags. I was just informed later that I'd been kidnapped. After dinner when we were getting ready for bed, they discovered that the cabin was rather infested with spiderwebs, and then the screaming started. One of the girls was seriously arachnophobic and had a bit of a meltdown because there were live spiders in those webs. So I, as the resident adult, got to go around the room with a packet of wipes and clean up all the spiderwebs and kill the spiders. If I hadn't already been popular with them (for reasons I don't really understand), that seemed to make me the queen of the Crazies. Once I finally convinced all of them that it was okay to get in bed, there was some chattering for a while, and then I put in my earplugs and pulled my sleeping bag up over my head. They chattered and giggled for a while longer, and then I heard, "Shhh, Shanna's trying to sleep." And then a miracle occurred: they went totally silent for perhaps the first time in the entire trip.
The next day was rafting, and it was one of the most awesome things I've ever done. You're in groups of six with a guide on rubber rafts going down the rapids, and part of the river was the whitewater events venue for the Atlanta Olympics, so there are a lot of class 4 and class 5 rapids (here are some photos and technical descriptions). It was exhilarating and fun and maybe a bit scary. On the big rapids, I'd have about half a second of scream before it turned into a laugh of sheer glee. I don't like roller coasters or amusement parks, but this was a thrill. We did the upper part of the river, then stopped for a lunch that had been set up on the riverbank, then did the middle part of the river, which was a little less intense. The scenery was gorgeous, with tree-covered mountains to either side of the water, and in places, there was no sign of human civilization. Our guide had a sticker on his helmet that said "I hear banjo music, paddle faster!" I did get the cute guide, according to the Crazies. Every time one of their boats got near mine, they started shouting to me, chanting my name, trying to splash me with a paddle, etc. I would have felt very popular, except I knew they were mostly showing off so my guide would notice them. I ended up with an interesting sunburn from that day. I'd worn capri pants, so I didn't get burned on the tops of my thighs, and I had on a long-sleeved shirt, so my arms didn't burn, but the backs of my hands burned. I'd put on sunblock that was supposedly waterproof, but I guess it wasn't whitewater-proof, and all the pounding from the water washed it off. There wasn't really a chance to reapply while paddling down a river, and I didn't have a way to carry extra. The burn fits the way I was holding my paddle when we weren't actively rowing. On one hand, it's just the back of my hand, from knuckles to wristbone. On the other, where I was holding the t-bar at the end of the paddle, it's my thumb and that side of my hand. Because of the sharp cut-off where my shirt ended, it looks like I'm wearing red gloves.
After we got into dry clothes (and I threw away my ratty wet shoes -- see, it was a plan to wear shoes I could toss after rafting), we then drove to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where we spent the night on the floor in a church gym. We served as the choir for that church's service Sunday morning, and then we drove back home. Those two 8-hour driving days are probably why I still feel like I'm in a moving bus.
I must say that I absolutely loved the area around Chattanooga. I once did one of those Internet quizzes that was supposed to help you find the ideal place for you to live, based on the kind of house you want, what you like to do, what weather you like, etc., and my result was that my ideal place to live would be Chattanooga. I didn't get to see much of the city because the freeway doesn't tend to go through the nicer areas, but I did like the nearby terrain, and I could totally get into that whitewater stuff, plus my guide said there was good hiking. I'm not going to pull up my stakes and head there, but I may have to go back without the 35 teenagers. There's a science fiction convention held there, and maybe I can get onto programming next year and possibly convince some friends to come along and make it a road trip so I'll have someone to hike with.