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Rice paddy terraces

Bringing back community

Today, Noélly and Zoe, amongst other kitchen heroes, fed us a divine and hearty meal of bruschetta, mushroom risotto and spaguetti. While I could write love songs about the food (yes, it was that good) what was even better was the general cooking and consuming atmosphere. We had a popping Moana soundtrack tuned on, Izzy was busting some moves, Jack was scrubbing dishes, Greg, Tio, Julia and I were attacking the sourdough, Zoe was boiling the pasta. Throughout this process, bowls of risotto were making the rounds and side conversations were taking place: in short, the room was filled with satisfied smiles and happy bellies.

Food has this beautiful ability to bring people together. It is the cornerstone of so many communities, and this could not be more true than for our time in Nanyao, the village. Even though it’s been almost 3 weeks since our departure, I often reminisce about the sense of community I felt there, if only for a short time. One of my favorite aspects of my stay was when my homestay family and their friends got together for dinner (a common occurrence). Imagine a small open room. In the middle is a table where a single stove lies, with a large cooking pot resting on top. Now fill the room with multiple laughing women, a 2 year old creating ruckus, running with a toy chainsaw between their legs. Add a flurry of action, the oil popping in tiny bubbles, the constant rhythm of potatoes and bok choy being sliced by an expert hand. It is like there was a palpable warmth in the air, fueled by years of neighborly love and a certain, unique lightheartedness. It was an incredible privilege to be able to participate in that, because, while I cannot speak for everyone where I come from, I think we lost much of that sense of community.

It was not only present in the communal cooking, but also the nightly bonfires. There is this certain feeling that is so specific to summer camp for me: when there’s a chilly wind outside, and everyone is huddled around the campfire. You feel a little drunk on life, with that hazy orange glow around you, that sense that even your worst enemy could be your friend on a night like this. That was Nanyao almost every night. Whether with just my family, or with six others, chatting around the bonfire, eating so many peanuts we could probably rupture Jack’s digestive system, it was all such an experience. But what was more enlightening was that this is their daily life. When I think of the word “rural”, what immediately comes to mind is lack of exposure. We say that money is not synonymous with happiness, but secretly we think, without an abundance of money, how can you lead a good life? But if my family had had a heater, where would the bonfire be?

I think that in this “urban” world, we are slowly losing the vital contrasts life offers us. My homestay great-grandma and I spent a long time everyday sitting in the courtyard in the middle of our house, soaking in the sun, looking at the mountains, reading a book. However, next thing you know, she would be at the central convenience store, playing a rowdy game of Mahjohng, while the neighborhood kids vagabonded through the streets, yelling and throwing firecrackers. With our busy lives, we forget to take the quiet time to appreciate our environment, but we also forget to show some love to the people nearby, to create a liveliness in our physical surroundings. That is not to say the urban world should be castigated, but rather, it demonstrates that we need to find a balance between both of these widely different realities.

In our program house, as soon as you enter, there is a quote by Dr. Bob Moorehead, labeled ‘The Paradox of Our Age’. One of the lines reads “ We have travelled to the moon and back. But we have trouble crossing the road to meet our neighbors.”. There’s no clear-cut solution towards integrating this sense of community in our lives, but perhaps this is a good place to start.