Missing the silence and the fresh water of home

EVERYTHING LOVELY: Nadia takes in the Louvain-la-Neuve lake.
EVERYTHING LOVELY: Nadia takes in the Louvain-la-Neuve lake.

I waved goodbye to my family at Christchurch Airport, early in the morning of August 23.

Too excited to cry and be sad, I opted for the sort of hysterical laughter one gets when facing the unknown. I had good reason to laugh as well, waving goodbye again and again as I zig-zagged my way up to security.

At Auckland Airport I met all the other New Zealand AFS-ers, four of whom would travel to Brussels, the capital of Belgium, with me.

As far as the travelling went, 37 hours of airports and airplanes is enough to do anyone's head in. I arrived in Brussels on Friday feeling quite a lot like a deflated tyre. Sheer exhaustion is also an adequate term.

I was greeted at baggage claim by a group of young AFS volunteers, who helped me with my luggage which, fortunately for me, did arrive.

My first observation was that AFS Belgium is very different to AFS New Zealand. In Belgium there are only young volunteers who make AFS happen. In New Zealand there are more "mature" volunteers with a lot of experience, and a few younger ones. In Belgium everyone speaks English, which was fantastic as because of jetlag I couldn't string together a sentence in English, let alone French.

The accommodation for the arrival camp was interesting, to say the least - no hot showers, ceilings that dripped mould, and meals that consisted of unidentifiable meat. It was not the dream start to my AFS experience. However. you make do. It is what you make of it. All the people were lovely, I made friends with people from Canada to Ecuador to Russia. The volunteers were great, they made it so fun for us, and they apologised profusely for the lousy accommodation. I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the chips that quite literally dripped grease.

On Sunday evening I met my host family for the first time. They instantly made me feel welcome and they were impressed by my very poor French. At this stage I was so tired I'd practically forgotten how to say "hello my name is Nadia". The first meal was lovely, in fact everything was lovely. The house, the weather, the town, the people, the food and then later on my bed.

Today is the second day that I've been in Louvain-la-Neuve. I had my first tour today. It is just larger than Timaru but with a very good university, so it is student and party central.

Louvain-la-Neuve or L-L-N for short, is a "new development town" that sprang up around the Ottignies. It has been very well planned - no cars are allowed in the town square, and all entertainment venues, restaurants and shopping are very close together. It's a far cry from anything we have in New Zealand.

So far there are only two things "Kiwi" I miss; silence, and water neither sparkling nor heavily chlorinated.

The Timaru Herald