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  • Sonja Lembke

Half-Time – Christmas and New Year

The last two months have held many new experiences, among them celebrating Christmas and New Year at Corbenic which was my first turn of the year away from home. Beside the homesickness thereafter, I faced some other challenges in January and now, it is already half-time of my voluntary year at Corbenic.


At the beginning of December, we found a solution to the challenging situation with our newly moved in resident. After having stayed in Mullach for one and a half months, she moved from our house to another in Corbenic. There she receives one-on-one care which has had a beneficial impact on her wellbeing. Working in Mullach, in turn, has become less stressful, so it is a win-win solution.


Although many activities have been suspended due to covid restrictions, the residents were still able to go to church occasionally back in December. One Sunday, I had the chance to accompany the group going to church. It was my first time in church in Scotland but despite it being an interesting experience, I prefer the lighthearted and accessible service at home. Travelling has been very limited too but apart from many days off or outings with the house spent in Dunkeld for a small walk and take-away hot chocolate, I also climbed Ben Vrackie (Pitlochry) with some co-workers in late December and went to Queen’s View (Loch Tummel, Pitlochry) for a house outing in January.


At the end of December, I was lucky enough to receive my first covid vaccination due to my position as a care worker in the UK. I didn’t have any side effects except for a pain in my arm which wore off after two days. However, I didn’t get the second dose yet because of the government regulation to give more people the first jab, allowing a delay of the second dose past the recommended dosing interval.


During the pre-Christmas season, we baked and decorated biscuits, attended an Advent café, and designed Christmas cards for the other houses with the residents. On one of our established movie nights, my fellow volunteers showed me “Love Actually”, which I believe is the best Christmas movie ever. The frequent snowfall completed the festive atmosphere (even though it meant that volunteers had to clear the snow before morning shift). The Christmas presents were taken care of by “Secret Santa”: everyone chose a person from the house to get a present for - more or less in secret. My co-workers and I went Christmas shopping in Dunkeld and Perth and it was great fun. We had two weeks of Christmas holidays without workshops. Instead, we went for walks and watched films, which was very relaxing both for the residents and us co-workers.


Christmas Eve was celebrated with a big supper in the house. In the evening, I had a video call with my parents and grandparents and later in the evening I went to a co-worker gathering which was very nice. On Christmas Day, we had an even bigger lunch consisting of potatoes, Brussel sprouts and turkey with gravy (or fried cheese for the vegetarians and something vegan for me). We opened Christmas crackers at the table which are typical for Christmas in the UK. They contain a paper crown, a joke and a small toy (a miniature bowling set in my case). After lunch we opened our Secret Santa presents, followed by eating Christmas pudding and cake. It was very pleasant and interesting getting to know all these different Christmas traditions and spending the holidays with the Community.


In late December, we got a new co-worker for Mullach, completing our team of volunteers. He arrived in a rush when it became known that the borders were about to be closed because of the virus. Sadly, he had to stay in quarantine over Christmas but on the 1st of January he could move into Mullach and join our team.


While I was very much enjoying Christmas without a hint of homesickness, I was rather gloomy around Hogmanay. Together with another co-worker I organised a dance in the hall for the residents and co-workers of the main house. In the evening, my co-workers from Mullach and I said cheers to the New Year. I had a video call with my parents on New Year’s Day and although it has been my plan to spend Christmas and the turn of the year with the Community in Scotland all along, I missed my parents a lot.


January brought a few challenges, on a personal as well as a professional level. I got frustrated again when trying to sing in the main hall. Following my mum’s advice, I found myself a new place where I can finally sing freely without an unwanted audience. Around Hogmanay, concerns about what I want to do after this year and in life in general kept my homesickness company. My roommate always knew how to calm me down and cheer me up in these situations.

Something that caused me stress at work was one resident increasingly getting upset and sad if we couldn’t go out, which has been the case very often lately because of the ongoing lockdown since the 26th of December. Then there has been a scabies infection in the main house for a few weeks. Luckily, our house wasn’t affected, nevertheless we had to do the treatment and wash laundry the amount of two months in a few days. In addition to that, a new cleaning policy came into place which unfortunately leaves us less time to spend with the residents. This all comes on top of the already long working hours. After the holidays, during which we benefitted from reduced working hours, I have been feeling stressed out again, consequently having less energy and attention to give to the residents than I would like.


Beside the traditions of Christmas and Hogmanay, I also witnessed one mainly Scottish tradition, which was the celebration of Burns Night on the 25th of January. Robert Burns was a famous Scottish poet living in the 18th century. We had a Burns Supper, consisting of haggis, neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes), while being dressed in kilts and highland dresses.


Now, half of my voluntary year at Corbenic is over. I have already made many new experiences, especially about working with disabled people. Although I haven’t been able to travel as much as I would have liked, at any rate I have become more independent as a person and more proficient in English. I am looking forward to the second half-year of volunteering as I hope that the development of covid will allow me to travel more and to experience the normal life at Corbenic.

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