By Avery Shivers
They smiled cheerfully. I asked them about their school. One child explained that his family lives in Calcutta (Kolkata) but he stays and studies on Havelock Island. He was about five feet tall and six years old. I thought of the misery of 6 year-old Avery being thousands of miles from his parents. At that age I could not deal with a sleep over 20 minutes from home. This child gladly interacted with strangers and was just as curious about us as we were about him. Luckily, before meeting the kid I explored the village he calls home.
In just fifteen minutes of free time I explored a considerable amount of the community. I walked down a busy path, passing makeshift home that, in American terms, a represented poverty. I thought about how comfort is not a necessity. The people of Kalapathar village don’t search for big houses or fancy cars. They rely on community and enjoy a simple way of living together. Few materials.
I strutted into a backyard. I was hesitant at first because I was walking into a stranger’s backyard. Turning a small corner, I saw a family huddled in their living room. When they first saw tall, lanky, blonde stranger approaching their house, I expected them to shut the doors and close the blinds. Instead, the father quickly ran to a stack of chairs in the corner of the small room. He quickly placed the chairs around the room and welcomed us into the house.
We could not speak to each other because of the language barrier, but food was offered and a board game was spread out on the floor. Ellie and I enjoyed playing. Hospitality became an obvious factor of this beautiful community.
When we first arrived in the village we stopped at the local store for some chai and attempted a conversation with some locals. Though I was the leader of the day, I felt terrible. I decided to push through and attempted a few outgoing conversations. Before I knew it, we were all invited to a nearby tree. In the thin branches of the tree were green spheres of goodness.
The villagers had brought us to the mango tree. I felt immediately happy and healthy. Just from one conversation – a few minutes of friendliness – our stomachs were full of the sweet goo found within the green mango pod. I understood graciousness and was exposed to generosity in a way that was new to me.
I think back now to that boy. I think that maybe he doesn’t feel a need to sulk about being far from his family because the community he lives in provides the feel of his family. It must be this because even I felt the presence and comfort of family on the isolated hillside on Havelock Island. This community is a prime example of what Christchurch aims to accomplish – hospitality, respect, open-mindedness, and communication.
I fear American communities can never accomplish the feeling that this village offers. What we have and what we do in America creates and sustains our selfish individualistic views. This village has created a contrasting sense of intense community.
Change cannot be accomplished unless the whole system shifts as a whole. Individuals can attempt to create national change, but that cannot happen without a systematic change. That requires communities that keep a boy happy who is thousands of miles away from his “home.”