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Day 2 - March 16, 2020
That day was the first day of Open Space Technology (OST) – the mean of gathering that we use throughout the time of the Village. In an Open space there are no predetermined speakers or content; all the participants have the chance to call for conversations about topics or questions that they care about. At the Village, we began by inviting people to speak out the topics they wish to call, after which everybody else chose which conversations they wanted to participate in.
I joined a conversation called by Narayan. The night before, he had posted a few pictures of the Village on Facebook. He wanted to thank a few friends who had not been able to make it here but had been great supporters of the Village. His post received a lot of love and positive comments, but also a critical view – saying that our gathering was “ill-advised and reckless with other people’s health.”
“This feels bigger than me, bigger than I can hold,” Narayan opened the conversation, “so I just want to put it in the center for all of us. Because I imagine others also have this inner conversation: Am I being reckless? Am I being irresponsible?”
At first I was angry when I heard that comment. I ruminated for so long on my decision to come to the Village, it wasn’t a reckless choice. But when sitting with a dozen people in Narayan’s conversation circle, I could step back from my prejudice and listened to different opinions.
“The night before my flight, I was like ‘Should I go? Should I not go?” Lannah shared. “At some moment I decided ‘I don’t want to live in fear, I want to be adventurous. I live my life!’” But then a realization came like “a slap in my face.” “My life is not only mine. It strongly relates to my parents and my loved ones… And what concerns me the most is: what if I come back and I bring the danger to my parents?” In the end she decided that she would try her best to take care of herself during the trip, and self-quarantine once she was home. “And that’s the best solution I can think of… If we avoid taking risks, it means we are not living. So this is my point. I am taking this risk. Because I am living. If I am not, I’d rather die.”
Just like Lannah, I was worried about carrying the disease back to my family, but I also didn’t want to freeze my life because of fear. I tried to protect myself as best as I could – never before had I been so obsessed with washing my hands as in the last few days – and I would self-isolate with my wife once we returned. For us, that was being responsible with public health; maybe the person who commented would disagree, but who’s to say which is right and which is wrong.
Narayan’s post received 18 positive comments, but only the 19th – the critical view – prompted us to be in conversation and distill learnings. “I honor that comment,” Narayan said, “I want to label (the post) not a mistake but as an action that has a consequence.” He said his post could be an incentive for other gatherings without many precautions because “other people are doing it, so let’s do it too.” That night Narayan answered the comment with respect and gratitude. He didn’t want to fuel the flame but only share compassion with the other person. This was just like the story shared in the circle by an Indian friend: India is going through a political unrest. A Gandhian was asked “What can be done in this time of increasing hatred?” The Gandhian replied: “Spread love.”
Day 3 – March 17, 2020
In this place, we were living in a bubble filled with love and laughter. But that bubble was constantly punctured by the chaotic reality outside.
That morning when I awoke, the first thing I read was the “EMERGENCY NOTICE FROM THE VIETNAM MINISTRY OF HEALTH” about the eight flights that had carried Covid-19 carriers. Hastily, I shared that notice with the Village because more than half of the flights had arrived from overseas. Luckily nobody in the Village had been on any of those flights. But that notice once again inflamed the fear in me.
Our foreign friends at the Village continuously received unsettling news. The previous night, Anne-Laure had heard that her country – France – would be going into lockdown for at least a month. Anne-Laure realized that her grandmother would have to be alone for an unknown period of time, and here she was, stuck in Vietnam and not sure how to get home. Meanwhile in Australia the government was requiring everybody who returned from outside the country to self-quarantine for 14 days. This decree forced our Australian friends to reconsider their stays at the Village.
That day, we had more Open Space sessions, but the stream of changes brought turmoil to the Village. At the end of the day we sensed the need to acknowledge and share the turmoils; and so a conversation was called with the question: “What are your thoughts and feelings now regarding the Coronavirus and your participation in the Learning Village?”
I felt so sad for David and Aiko then. At the same time I was thankful that I was in Vietnam, my home country. No matter what, my wife and I could still go home easily, while the homeward road of our foreign friends would probably be filled with obstacles. “I didn’t sleep at all last night, not for one second,” Anne-Laure said, “I’m just in a huge confusion about what to do, where to go, and what is wise.” But not for a moment did she regret her decision to be here. “It is such a privilege to be here together. So yeah, I’m full of love, joy and gratitude for the village, and the people who made it possible.”
After the conversation, we walked to the sea together. At the edge of the water, we stood shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand. From Mohit’s speaker came the song Soham (I Am The Sun):
“I am the sun, warm in your heart
I am the moon, light in the dark
I am the sea, deep in your soul
I am here wherever you go”
Listening to the song, my tears kept falling. I did not know why I was crying, just that there was a deep sadness within me. Under our feet the waves pulled the sand, so we gradually sank. Suddenly a big wave rolled in, splashing all of us. People blurted out surprised screams, and with that laughter came. The tears still fell, no longer from sadness, but rather empathy, connection, and love. The bubble was mended, and just a bit fuller.
(to be continued)