About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reverb10, Day 22: No place like home

Prompt: Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year? 

The author of this prompt is Tara Hunt:
The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business

"Let not a man glory in that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind."
~ Baha'u'llah ~

 I have traveled across the maps of geography this last year. Across snow-covered mountains and prairies and the wide open vistas of desert and agricultural valleys. But I have already said enough about these journeys. I have also embarked on an internal journey of discovery.

My internal journey is very personal, but it extends out into the world around me in very real ways. In trying to figure out who I am, I am also trying to better understand what kind of environment I operate best in; what kind of community do I want to be a part of? How do I contribute to creating the kind of community atmosphere that I do deeply want to be a part of? Until six years ago, I did not think much about my role in creating the kind of community that I am excited to be a part of. I have lived in amazing communities my whole life. I grew up on the island of Cyprus surrounded by a community of people who I consider to be family. People who shaped my values and taught me to love deeply, to serve with everything I have in me, to develop an intimate and powerful relationship with the land and sea that surrounded me. Cyprus taught me loyalty and justice, and that there are very few things I would not do for a friend. It also taught me the importance of a community. Of roots. Of family. Of a strong story. A sense of belonging.

When I went off to Prescott College in Arizona, I was immersed in a community that was supportive, creative, innovative, open-minded, adventurous, inspired, inspiring, energetic...there was a sense that anything was possible in this community. I learned that the natural world was an integral part of my community. I made friends with powerful, strong, graceful women who danced and did yoga and meditated and prayed and sang...women who went hiking and camping with me; women who were fearless and open-hearted and full of laughter and fun and hope and dreams. I met faculty who were humble, and who I respected, and still respect deeply -- who were willing to walk by my side as we learned together instead of looking down on me from the tower of their PhDs. I learned to question, to believe in myself, to explore beyond my comfort zone. My community was dedicated to serving humanity. We wanted to work together. We traveled, we started NGOs to help better integrate the Mexican immigrant community with the mainly white, Caucasian community, we fought for justice and human rights. My friends and faculty became another extension of my family -- my network for experiencing the world; the strong foundation from which I could confidently explore the world.

When I moved to Prince Edward Island, I was integrated into a closely knit, supportive community. PEI has the highest level of volunteerism in all of Canada. Someone is sick, people organize a fundraiser to help pay medical bills; someone needs a new house, people turn up to help build it; when you need food, you can buy it from a farmer who lives relatively nearby. The network is tight, and it is strong. Sometimes stronger than residents would like, but it does have its advantages. For the first number of years that I lived on PEI, I enjoyed the strong sense of community without really thinking much about what it means to be a member of such a community. Once I graduated with my M.A., and started working with a local farmer, I started realizing how much personal energy, love, commitment, time, money, patience, determination, and and selfless service goes into maintaining the community life that I had come to value so much. It is not a culture built upon the freedom and independence of the individual. It is all about connection and mutual support, and therefore sometimes disagreements, struggle, reconciliation, and adaptation. Being a small place, there is very little luxury for not getting along with one's neighbour. Of course this means that people are sometimes pleasant on the surface in order to keep the peace, when underneath they are boiling with anger, but I found that just as often, the close-proximity means that people honestly do learn to work alongside each other even thought their ethics and ideals may differ tremendously.

In addition to my larger community on PEI, I had the community that I built through my Baha'i activities. The Baha'i community did have its struggles, like any community. Sometimes we had personal disagreements, which would boil over, but we would confront them, move through the pain and hurt feelings, and find resolution. There was a level of commitment and willingness...an unspoken acknowledgment that we were invested in wading through the quicksand to get to solid ground. Unity was our goal, and we did not let our personal hurt feelings stop us from always striving for it. Call it idealistic. Call it impossible. It was how we lived, and it created an environment that was loving, supportive, empowering, and inspiring. I could not wait to get to community events. I felt it was an honour to be elected to, and serve on our local administrative body. My community was, and has remained, despite the vast distance separating us now, my immediate family.

Living on PEI helped me to learn that being part of a community like I have just described is not easy. I was hurt many times, frustrated many times, angered many times. But I learned to stay put and grow through these times. When I was insulted; when my feelings were hurt; when I did something that hurt someone else's feelings or angered someone -- I did not walk out of the room and retreat into myself. I stayed right there, swallowed my pride and my hurt, and I grew through it with whoever I was having the interaction with. It was very hard, and sometimes we did not succeed in reconciling our differences on the first try, but we kept trying. I kept trying. I learned that I valued the unity of my community over needing to being right every time. I realized that a community is a reflection of the energy that each member puts into it. Things were not perfect, but I learned that if I remained open and willing to adjusting my perspective -- if I knew deep down that whoever I was experiencing difficulty with was someone who I loved and respected, and who loved and respected me -- that we would get through this and that our community would be stronger as a result. I learned all of this from experiencing it. It was a gift to be a member of a community like this, but it was also a responsibility.

Having moved to a new community, I am having to learn to negotiate new community dynamics. When I first arrived, and for many months after arriving, I simply did not engage with my community. I was critical of the dynamics at play, and did not want to engage with them. As a result, I have been living here for many months now, and I still do not feel that I am a part of a supportive, engaging community. I have been reflecting on this deeply lately. I realize that all communities are different. I am living in a much larger city, so relationships are going to be influenced by the cultural and geographic circumstances that we are living in. The weather here is much milder, so people do not have to band together to get through tough winters. People earn relatively good salaries, so they do not have to support each other as much to make sure that everyone has food on the table, or that medical bills get paid. But I still have neighbours. I still have a community whose energy is influenced by what its individual members are willing to put into it. I still have a role that I can choose to put all of my heart, or only part of my heart, into. If I want to live in a community that is happy and exciting and supportive, I have a role to play in creating such a community. I have a choice about what I surround myself with, and that choice is not just whether I stay or leave. It is also about how I choose to engage with the community that I happen to be in while I am here, however long that might me.

Yes, I have traveled this year. But some of the most important journeys seem to be taking place when I stop moving so much. When I put down some roots. And when I start contributing to building the kinds of relationships with the people who surround me that inspire and energize me. When I start proactively contributing to creating a community that feels like home around me.

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