By Caroline Painter
As I write this, I think it is important for you to understand where I am. As I place each stroke of pen ink onto the surface of the page I’m sitting on white rocks that were hand stacked to form a wall to support a mountain path. I’m on the edge looking out toward snow topped mountains. I’m surrounded by green trees and yellow mustard flowers. There is a breeze coming through the valley. I am watching a bird with a 9 foot wingspan effortlessly glide in the thermals, its shadow crossing my page and onto the ground. Looking out at the mountain landscape I feel breathless.
This place makes me feel so small and powerful. Looking up from my journal, it feels like the towering mountains are about to hug me. I don’t feel suffocated, I feel embraced and set free.
I have always wanted to understand community. Leadership, support, and acceptance have played a powerful role in every society I have come across. The same values are everywhere in Agora. The world is full of differences but we humans rely on these key strengths.
As I was hiking, I knew where I was but had to keep looking down to check foot placement on the small path. The details of the rocks slowly brought me back home. I had to look up to remind myself of my location on this earth. The details of place, the small connections, bind all people.
As I approached the village, I arrived at a gate almost out of the blue. I immediately felt like I had been picked up and dropped off in some movie set. I repeated to myself ‘wow, you are not in Virginia any more.’ I was hesitant to walk through the arch like gate because it felt so different. I worked up the courage and slowly placed each foot in front of the other and walked through. I could have never imagined the place I entered – paths extending high up the steep mountain, homes built to accommodate cows in the front yard, traditional colors.
As leader of the day, I focused on how leadership could be implemented in a community like this. I asked the group to help me understand whether people were more self sufficient or whether they worked together. The community here is strong. They are close to one another and they are physically strong individuals.
I had the chance to go to Suman’s new house located on a high part of the mountain that overlooks most of the village. He explained that over half of the village had helped build his house – hundreds of helping hands at a time. There is a strong, righteous, powerful form of community here. It’s based on family, culture, and religion. There is true appreciation for what they have. There is a work ethic underlying everything.
I am grateful for the experience of witnessing and participating in a community outside of my own. Without this trip, I don’t know if I would have the same understanding of how much is provided without visible effort in my own community. When you are in a place where things take obvious effort and not all comforts are available, you begin to see the importance of connections we often overlook. You learn to see what comes easy in your life. As Mr. Cola said ‘it sometimes come so easy that we can’t appreciate it.’
Be aware of yourself, your place and others. There is so much to appreciate in this world. I encourage us all to acknowledge the easy things – safety, heat, roads, a smile. Appreciate the opportunities to connect with people, no matter how different they seem.
For me, it took an experience like this. I will be forever grateful. I leave you with the feeling that I got from my view before. I feel whole looking out from my rock pile. The birds soaring below me warp my perspective. Women walk below them washing clothes by hand. Village children laugh in the distance around a game – happiness, contentment, appreciation.