Saturday, 25 August 2012

Day 26th – Monday 13th August – Last day

Like an inverse of yesterday, I went into work early today, just to get as much of my last day as possible.  It would have been very easy to get depressed with everything – sitting down on the Tube for the first time in weeks, no fans on the Tube, people back to their impersonal ways.  But then I met with some Venezuelan kids who I had spoken to on the Tube a few days ago, and who had taken photos of me.  The oldest was about 20 and the youngest was about 10.  I enjoyed listening about their trip, and was even happier when a Colombian man joined in the conversation.  It made me think about the legacy of the Games.  I’ll get back to that later on.

I met up with Christina in time for lunch, bumping into Carlos and Kathy on the way.  It was a really nice last meal in the Village, catching up, taking photos. 

There was a lot of taking things off the walls and saying goodbye to people as they left.  We were given more chocolate, and some flags. 

And then people started leaving.

First it was Christina, and then Mike.  It was terrible knowing that the team was splitting up for good.  We’ve been such a great team – we gelled well and we’ve always been there for each other. 

With nothing much more to do, apart from a couple of trips to the NOC desk to translate for Elida, I walked around the village one last time, taking photos.  But it wasn’t really the same.  Many of the countries had left, leaving a sort of ghost town.  There were people around, but it wasn’t buzzing as it was before.  I could walk the roads like those first days, not worrying about being bowled over by a bus or a golf cart.  Or a cyclist.  Or a jogger.  It was a deeply saddening moment.  It was like school after all the kids have gone home, but without the reassurance of everyone coming back the next day.  Oh, how I wish I’d signed up for the Paralympics.  That’s the main question here: “Are you doing the Paras?” or “Are you doing Soche/ Rio?”  I wish I could say yes to all three of these.  I’m not ready for it to be over.

Leaving was difficult.  Saying goodbye to Artemio, both Elidas, Yamelys, Maureen, Victor, Franklin was sad.  The pressure of the situation sometimes drove me insane, but they were always kind and fun to work with.  They introduced me to a culture that this country could learn something from - a culture so laid back.  So unbothered by deadlines.  Maybe it would drive this country insane.  I don’t know.  But they taught me that it was OK to be relaxed and mañana about everything.  That the world still turns if you take your time.

Leaving was difficult.  The normal (shortcut) exit was not accessible anymore, because they wanted to search our bags one last time.  Where it would usually take a few minutes, it took painfully longer to go from one end to the other.

The Games Makers on the bus to the station were as chatty as always.  I really appreciated my mind being taken off the fact that I was going home from the Olympics for the last time.

As I sat on the Tube, and collected my takeaway ‘comfort food’ before heading home, I thought about the Olympics legacy.  Not the ones David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Seb Coe talk about on the News, although those are important for the country.  I meant my own legacy.  What the Olympics has done for me.  I’ve been a part of a wonderful team of people – Christina, Carlos, Mike, Goli, as well as Kathy, Shernaz and Mitzi.  I’ve made wonderful friends.  I’ve been speaking Spanish every day.  Even if I have a wonderful Venezuelan accent now, and I say ‘chevere’ too much for a normal Spanish Spanish speaker, almost four weeks at the Olympics has been even better than four weeks at Uni.  I’m more comfortable with strangers, I’m more comfortable with London.  For the first time in a long time I’m proud of my country, and I know what we can achieve if we put our minds to it, and the pessimism behind us.  I’m genuinely so sad to be leaving, but I can’t wait to watch the Paralympics, and continue the party.  I hope my contribution made a little difference to the Olympics – that the Venezuelans can go back and tell their countrymen that we did a good job.  Because I really believe that we did.

Day 25 – Sunday 12th August – Closing Ceremony

Although I’m due to be working tomorrow, today was a very sad day, leading up to the end of the Olympics, and my unemployment.

I was on the morning shift, so made my way in nice and early.  However, I was held up by a guy at the newsagents where I buy breakfast, who started his conversation with ‘Mo did really well last night’ and ended with ‘I hate those damn immigrants coming in and stealing our jobs’.  With some random abuse about the French thrown in the middle.  I have no idea how that happened, and if I hadn’t been in my Games Maker uniform I probably would have said something more helpful/witty/intelligent than ‘but Mo’s an immigrant and he just won us two Gold Medals’.  However, that was all I could say, and chuckled when the (immigrant) shopkeeper made a comment about the fact that the man was reading too much of the Daily Mail.  I gave the shopkeeper an apologetic look and excused myself.  The man was making me late.  I can't believe there are still people who are still so prejudiced.

Before I had even arrived, I had phone calls to do with luggage instructions I had spent all day yesterday translating.  It was a busy day from the start.  But I was grateful for that.  I didn't want to have to dwell on the end.
In the end, we decided that we had given them the information, and they could use it as much as they wanted.  I think I noticed someone bringing in some scales a little later, so maybe I was successful.  I never found out.

As the morning became the afternoon, Christina and Mike arrived for their shift.  I suddenly became acutely aware that my penultimate shift was almost over.  Reluctant to leave, I stayed with Christina and Mike, helping out with interpreting.  As the day grew quieter, it was agreed that Christina would help with the Closing Ceremony.  We wandered down to the gift shop to look around, and then I left to go home.

Still clinging to the last threads of the Olympics, I changed my mind at the last minute and headed towards Victoria Park, where BT had huge screens showing the Closing Ceremony.  I wanted to be a part of it. 

I queued for the best part of an hour, with Mike and his girlfriend queuing just behind me.  The Venezuelans had given me a box of chocolates (the ones saying ‘Made in Socialism’ on the side), and LOCOG had given us all a relay baton as a keepsake, so I’d had to carry my book.  Handy for a long queue.  The kids in front of me played, and someone behind started playing crowd-volleyball with a beach ball, which was great fun. 

The Closing Ceremony was amazing and emotional to watch.  Everyone sat calmly and sedately until the Spice Girls, when everyone stood up until the end.  Seeing the torch go out, and Boris handing the Olympic Flag over to the Brazilians, brought a lump to my throat.  I wanted to run up there and ask for another go.  I wasn’t ready for it to end.  Being only a mile away from the Stadium, we got to watch the fireworks live rather than on TV.  They were amazing – much better than any display I’ve seen before.

The walk back to the station, and the trip, was long and slow.  Hungry, and sad, I sat on the sofa in front of the News when I reached home and munched on some Prawn Crackers from a Chinese we’d had a few days ago.  I can’t believe it’s over.  I know I’m going in tomorrow, but, really, it’s over.  I’m dreading saying goodbye tomorrow.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Day 24 – Saturday 11th August – An Evening in the Olympic Stadium

Today was the third and last of my days off at the Olympic Games.  But, unlike last time, it wasn’t totally Olympics-free, as we had, last year, won tickets in the original ballot to go to see the final session of the Athletics in the Olympic Stadium. 

I met with Mum, Dad and Alice in Westfield Shopping Centre, but we headed straight into the Olympic Park to see what was going on.  It was really nice to see it through fresh eyes.  It was so busy.  Many people stopped to look up at the BBC studio in the Park, where some of the commentary is broadcasted from.  At several point, various BBC presenters turned and waved at the crowd, much to everyone’s delight.  I love the BBC!

After a quick lunch of Cornish Pasties, we made our way to Park Live, where I had watched both Usain Bolt’s races.  We were deeper in the crowd this time, and after picking our way through to the only spot available in the entire area, we watch the end of the Mountain Biking and Ed McKeever’s Gold in the Kayaking.  Even though it was a replay, it was wonderful to hear the roar of the crowd around me as it if was the real thing at Eton Dorney.

After that we wandered around the Park for a couple of hours, taking in all the views.  I tried to point out the Venezuelans’ residence somewhere in the distance, aided by the giant ‘Time Brasil’ poster.  I made everyone do Usain Bolt’s classic pose, much to everyone else’s embarrassment.  I just had to do it!  There was a really lovely park area, with a pond and trees, which was a really tranquil contrast to the buzz and excitement of the rest of the Park.  We also met up with some family friends, Mike and Lynn, who had also been allocated tickets for the Athletics.  It was really lovely to see them and tell them about my adventures here.  Although a couple of people asked me for photos and things, once more it was really strange being in my ‘civvies’ and not in uniform, being asked questions and favours.

Although we were in the highest, furthest back seats of the stadium, it didn’t feel like it.  We had the Athletics Track in full view, with the Flame warming us directly in front, the score board opposite, and a full view of the Javelin in front us and the High Jump in the distance.  Even though, for many of the events, there were no British competitors, the crowd were very warm towards every single competitor, gasping if someone fell, cheering if someone achieved.  I think the athletes really appreciated that, and it made the atmosphere like nothing I’d seen before.

The two highlights of the evening were the Men’s 5000m and 100m Relay.  Mo Farah’s race in the former of these was so tense.  As with the Velodrome the other day, for the first 4000m the cheers occurred in waves, following Mo and the other athletes around the stadium.  As he pushed to the front, the cheers became louder, willing him to win Gold in front of our very eyes.  The final couple of laps were immense, with the crowd raising to its feet, cheering louder and louder as victory became more and more real.  The sound of the cheers as he reached the finishing line was so indescribably loud.  I’ve tried, it’s just like nothing I’ve ever encountered before.  It seems difficult to imagine, but it was so loud I couldn’t hear a thing.  It was deafening.  Something I’ll never forget.  I hope Mo never forgets it either, as it seemed to be carrying him over the finishing line.

The Men’s 100m Relay was also electric, as everyone wanted to see the rivalry between the USA and Jamaica.  It was also a hat trick for me, as I’d managed to see all three of Usain Bolt’s races live, plus all of his races in Beijing four years ago.  He’s so amazing on screen, and it was unbelievable being able to see a living legend sprint easily across the finishing line, as if everyone else should be able to do it at that pace.  He’s such a wonderful person, too – a superstar, but so nice about it.  Mo Farah too.  As if everyone with a talent should find it that easy.  I hope many people have learnt a lesson or two from both of them!

The Victory Ceremonies came one by one, leaving Mo Farah until the last.  The Russians won three golds, including one from the night before, so Mum and I managed to ‘la’ along to the final rendition of those, plus the French and USA anthems, much to the amusement of the guy next to us.  Hearing God Save the Queen sung by 80,000 people, though, was also something I would never forget.  It brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye to hear it.

I was so reluctant to leave the Stadium at the end, after watching an interview with Mo and Usain.  It was the final day – tomorrow it will be used for a completely different event.  That brought a tear to my eye too as I said goodbye to my parents and made my way towards the station in the direction of Turnpike Lane.  I can’t believe it finishes tomorrow.  I’m so glad I got to be a part if it this way as well before the end.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Day 22 – Thursday 9th August

This morning I headed down to Charing Cross to meet Mum and Alice – the first time I’ve seen them since moving to London in mid-July.  It was really nice to catch up on what they’ve been up to and to share my own stories.  It was the first time I’d really been anywhere in my ‘civvies’.  It was really strange not being stared at, or asked questions.  I love everyone’s questions and conversations.  I don’t want London to turn back into an impersonal city after this!

We made our way to Hyde Park to watch the long-distance swim in the Serpentine.  It was a free event, so there were a lot of people trying to take as much of a slice of the Olympic fever as was possible.  Many people were crowded by the water’s edge to watch the action, but there were as many sitting on the lawn, soaking up the warmth of the sun, watching the swimmers race to and fro.  It’s really great to see that the Olympics are this popular in the eye of the people outside the ‘bubble’ I’ve been spending my weeks in.

We watched from the water’s edge for a couple of laps before heading to the lawn to watch from there.  It was a really lovely morning, and great to see the Olympics from a spectator’s perspective.

As the swimmers were finishing we headed to Stratford for lunch.  After spotting a Spud-U-Like, we tried to sit down to eat.  Impossible.  There were so many people waiting for seats, many eating standing up.  Difficult with a jacket potato.  In the end we shared a table with some spectators, who left and were replaced by another Games Maker – one of the guys standing in the street directing spectators to the Olympic Park.  He was really enthusiastic about his job, which was really lovely to hear.  Mum also mentioned the positive comments there have  been about the Games Makers, which made me really happy about the time and effort we have all spent here.  I’m in such a bubble – I miss all of this!

I was in such a good mood when I came back – I’ve really enjoyed meeting up with friends and family before my shifts when I’ve had the opportunity, involving them in a part of my day.  As I was finding tea in the break room (“like a good English girl” say the Venezuelans.  They know me so well!), I managed to watch the end of Nicola Adams’s boxing match, winning the first Olympic Gold Medal awarded to a female boxer.  It has been mentioned many times over the last fortnight that this has been an iconic Olympics with regards to gender equality, with it also being the first time every country has sent a female athlete to compete.  There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m so glad that the Olympic spirit is helping countries to make those first baby steps.  I’m so proud of our world for moving forward at whatever pace and glad that it’s happening here in London.

Whilst I was in the break room we were given a huge box of Cadbury chocolate.  They must have forgotten the ‘free chocolate’ part of the job, because for the first week or two there was nothing, but now we’ve been having chocolate every day.  There’s also some sort of banana epidemic, as every dinner table has had a huge plastic box of bananas, and people have been handing bananas out at the dining room door.  The obvious answers are banana bread and smoothies.  I’d love a smoothie one day!

Anyway, I caught up with the golf cart giving athletes, officials and volunteers alike free chocolate as if they couldn’t get rid of it fast enough, and grabbed a huge handful for the Venezuelans.  The looks on their faces when I gave them the chocolate was a joy.  It was such a small thing, but this is the sort of moment I love my job for.  Be it chocolate or translation or just a small ‘hi’, I love making people happy.

It was a bittersweet day, as Fabiola the table tennis player/ flag-bearer, left today, and many more are leaving over the next couple of days.  It’s making me sad to see everyone leave.  How’s this gone so quickly?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Day 21 – Wednesday 8th August

Today was exciting as I was able to see my friend Amy, who’d come down from Cambridge to have a look around.  It felt so strange taking a different journey to the trip that I’ve been taking every day for two weeks, going to a new place in my uniform, feeling everyone’s eyes on me all the same.  We met at Tottenham Court Road for lunch at a burrito place I love called Chipotle.  It’s an American chain with only a few restaurants in London, and was one of my favourite places to go after many of my training sessions over the six or so months leading up to the Olympics.  After I had converted her to Chipotle (it didn’t take much convincing) we headed up to Stratford, making a bee-line for John Lewis’s to take a look at the famous view of the Olympic Park.  I’ve been working for the Olympics for almost 3 weeks now and I just cannot get bored of seeing the Stadium every day, standing tall like a giant white crown.  John Lewis’s also had many Lego structures, which always amaze me.  There was a Dalek, a C3PO and a giant Lego Olympic Stadium, with the stands full of lego characters such as Darth Vader and skeletons.  I always admire people who can do that.  We also popped into Hornby, where they were selling figurines of the different events and the Stadium.  The woman in there told us that it’s going to be strange going back to normal after the Olympics and Paralympics have finished.  I admit, I have to agree.  I don’t want to think about it right now.

All too soon I had to head to work.  I really wish we could bring guests into the Village, just so everyone can see it in all its glory with all the athletes roaming around.  I’ll have to wait for it to become a real neighbourhood to show people.  I can’t wait, but I can’t help but wonder how different the atmosphere will be.  Sometimes if I’m alone I try to imagine how it will be.  It’s difficult.  It might be hard to see.

Today was slow again at work.  On the other hand I love chatting to the Venezuelans, improving my Spanish, getting to know them more and more.  They’re such lovely, normal people.  At the end of the day I returned to John Lewis’s to buy some merchandise I hadn’t had time to queue for earlier.  Tomorrow I get to see Mum and Alice for the first time since I started working.  I can’t wait!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Day 20 – Tuesday 7th August

I really hope that the rest of my time here isn’t like the last couple of days.  I don’t like complaining, because I love being a part of this, but I love being helpful and busy. 

I came in this afternoon to everyone saying that it had been a quiet morning, and warning that it was more likely to be a similar situation for my shift. 

So, imagine my delight when one of the Venezuelans’ guests wanted to take the Tube to ExCel for the boxing, but confessed that she was scared to go on a foreign ‘Metro’ alone.  I totally sympathised with her.  I’ve travelled a lot myself, and even on a normal non-Olympics day, public transport is daunting and sometimes scary, and I’ve always been grateful for friends or at least some company.  So, happily I agreed to take her on the half-hour journey on the Docklands Light Railway. 

There are a couple of exits and entrances to the Olympic Village at various points around the periphery.  One of the most popular routes out leads straight to Stratford International and Westfield Shopping Centre, being the quickest and easiest by far.  Until now.  I don’t know when it started, but members of the public somehow got to know that this is the exit athletes use, and so exiting today involved being surrounded by fans and well-wishers, wanting to exchange pins or have athletes’ autographs and photos.  I’m in two minds about this – it’s cool that everyone’s showing so much support, but I’m also mindful that it’s not helpful for the athletes’ day, and unfair for the people they’re not cheering on.  Also, I might be a little bitter that no one cheered for me!

The journey down to Custom House for ExCel was very pleasant.  It was lovely talking to someone new, learning about where she comes from, and it was my pleasure to give her extra directions to Embankment so she could see Big Ben and the London Eye on a later date.

By the time I had gone down to Custom House and back, it was time for dinner.  The only thing left was to deal with the transport issues I had been warned about yesterday.

My trip ‘out’ today was only a small gesture, and the only thing any of us really did that day, but I was so happy to be able to do it, and she was so grateful.  Making people happy and comfortable makes me very happy, and that’s something I can bear in mind for the future.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Day 19 – Monday 6th August

When I arrived this morning I have the honour of meeting Julio César León – Venezuela’s first ever Olympic athlete, who fought in World War II and competed for the first time in London’s ‘Austerity Games’ in 1948, as well as in the World Championships in Paris later on, and is considered pretty much to be a national hero.  It was really wonderful meeting a part of Venezuela’s history, and he was such a lovely man (with a wonderful name!).  He was, obviously, very interested in watching  the cycling.  It was really clear that everyone in the room respected him, Games Makers, Athletes and Officials alike.

He sort of began a running trend for the day.  With nothing much to do – even the officials were on Facebook – Carlos and I asked Yamelys questions about Venezuela: about the Angel Falls (Salto Angel in Spanish), the Amazon and the Lago de Maracaibo, the massive bay to the north-west of the country.  It all looks so beautiful.  I know I really want to see it one day.

The most I had to do was sort out a similar transport issue to the other day.  Tomorrow I have to arrange the same thing, but for a large group of Venezuelans to leave a different times of the day, so I hope it’ll be more eventful.  I really wish there was more for me to do!

They let me leave early again.  I made my way out through Westfield, stopping in Next to buy Team GB scarves for when I watch the Athletics on Saturday.  As I was about the queue I heard a familiar-sounding voice cry “Sophie!!” and my head snapped round.  Elida, alongside most of the officials, had gone shopping too.  It was really uplifting and awesome to be recognised like that by them, and a happy end to a very slow day.

To learn more about Julio César, click here