Church halls pretty much anywhere in the western world all look remarkably similar. This one was just like the one in Yorkshire I went to in the 1960s as a Brownie, and the one in south London in the 1990s when I hosted fundraising jumble sales, and then in Somerset in the 2010s when I ran charity training courses. This one, though, was in a small Axarquía town in inland Málaga province.
Ranged along the standard-issue folding tables were heaps of naked and half-dressed Barbie dolls, piles of teeny dresses, hats and trousers, and bags of colour-separated miniature boots and shoes. And five magnificent women, Alison, Janet, Barbara, Mary and Trish. They work on this project throughout the year, knitting, sewing, crocheting, shampooing dolls’ hair, putting together matching outfits. Then each doll goes (temporarily, they assured me) into a plastic bag with four outfits and a little checklist. Finally, in December, they will be carefully placed into a pretty cloth bag and delivered to Los Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche ready for Kings’ Day on January 6th when the children get their presents.
Their other project for homeless people is the sponge bags, another of Janet’s brainwaves. We gave out 180 last year and they hope to match that this year. A sponge bag, each with a flannel, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and a bar of soap. Two years ago (or was it three now?) I distributed forty of them at the homelessness day centre and was desperately moved by the delighted gratitude shown by the attendees on receipt of something so simple that we all take for granted.
Back in the church hall Mary made tea and I sliced a cake I had brought as a very inadequate thank you to these stalwarts. I gave them the message of gratitude from the Chair of Los Ángeles Malagueños, and described for them how the Kings’ Day toy distribution happens, and how lots of children write their letters to the Kings in advance, and how we try to find toys that match their wish-lists. Many of dolls made here by this group get put in the bags for those children. (See Sunburnt Angels for the story).
I was useless. And they were all so skilled. An actual hairdresser was washing and combing the dolls’ hair! I was captivated by the bags of teeny tiny shoes that someone else had bought and donated. But it was a fiddly job, finding shoes to fit each doll! Why are these things not standardised? I managed to put a dress on one doll and then to find her a pair of shoes. The team explained about different brands of dolls, and the problems of the angle of the foot and its lack of flexibility. I decided that my minimal talents lie elsewhere, so I collected up the mugs and went off to be vaguely useful by washing up, now that the sink was no longer acting as a hairdressing salon. As I disappeared into the kitchen I heard a frustrated cry of “Has anyone got any knickers? This is a lovely dress but you can see straight through it!” Undeterred, the team rifled through the boxes of tiny accessories, and knickers were produced.
Especially at the moment, TV documentaries and so-called “reality” shows like to depict us as “expats” lounging around our swimming pools (in truth, few of us have them) or huddling together in our bowls clubs (I’ve never set foot in one). The actual reality might be too boring for them. The actual reality was there in that church hall that afternoon. Kind people, not seeking recognition, living in their new country, driving around collecting donations of toothpaste or dolls, crocheting and sewing through the winter, and spending a sociable but intensive afternoon once a month creating Christmas magic for children and families they will never know.
© Tamara Essex 2019 http://www.twocampos.com
DONATIONS GRATEFULLY RECEIVED!
We sometimes sell some donated items to raise money to buy small missing items for the doll project or the sponge bag project. In addition, the general needs of Los Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche are unending. Donations can be sent direct to them – here are the details for the account for Los Angeles de la Noche (this is their international IBAN number which receives donations in any currency!):
Unicaja: ES60 2103 3034 42 0030013426
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