Last day – March 20, 2020
“What is a community?”
That question came to me on the final day of the Village. Does the alley where I live count as a community? Considering that I don’t even know the faces of the family living opposite my house. But at the Village, I felt it was a true community. One reason might be the way we supported each other, with money, for example.
The night before the last day, I dreamed that I had to make money. I forgot the dream as soon as I woke, only the urge remained. A few days ago, I received news that I lost my job. The magazine I had been working for had financial problem, they couldn’t hire me anymore. I was sad, but then ignored that feeling because my situation seemed insignificant comparing to the challenges my foreign friends were facing.
During breakfast, I heard that the first activity of the day would be sharing the abundance fund – the left over after taking total income misused total expenses. At first, I thought the fund would be distributed among the calling team and organizers. They had worked so hard for so long, their effort deserved recognition.
But it was not so. The fund belonged to all Villagers, and each of us would have the chance to decide how to distribute the fund. Everybody would gather and call out the names of people and organizations who they thought could receive from the fund. Those names would become portions where the fund may go.
I had hoped that my name would be called out so that some of the money could come to me. But then I thought that was so selfish, I hadn’t contributed anything to the Village. One of my purpose of coming here was to write stories about Village. But as a novice writer, I wasn’t sure if I had the capacity to do so. I dared not call out my name.
The accounting and fund sharing process were held by Mel, Steve, Arvind, Trang Hippo, and Peter. They explained there were around 3,500$ in the fund, and invited people to practice generosity and gratitude. The fund could be used to help someone change flight tickets, or room fees if people need to stay a few extra day. Money could also be a way to say thanks, to share recognition. Also whoever needed help from the fund would have the chance to share with the Village.
I realized that recognizing others was so much easier than admitting I needed help. Names after names were called out: the people who helped find the Village’s venue, Art of Hosting communities in different countries, the family and staff at the resort, even the dogs here were recognized. I called out Mohit’s name for the “sick tunes he brings as our DJ.” Not long after my name was called. “Even though it hasn’t happened yet,” Anne-Laure said, “but I’d like to recognize Linh for the articles about the Village that he will write.”
There were almost 20 names voiced already, but nobody had admitted that they needed help yet. Until Mel’s turn. She said it was so hard to share her needs, but she wanted “to model for others.” She shared she had been living on borrowed money for a while now. There would be several pieces of work coming right after the Village – work that meant income for the next few months. But with the pandemic, there was a chance that the opportunities would be cancelled. She believed money would come to her one way or another, and she wanted to call for help in the Village.
After hearing Mel sharing her needs, I found courage to speak mine. Although my name was already on the list, I realized that if I wanted to live with writing, I needed to learn to ask for help from my readers. And this was the chance to practice asking. I told people that I had just lost my job at the magazine, I only had my blog to share my articles. But the blog didn’t have ads or paywall, the only source of income is donation. “So if you want to help me keep writing, please donate to me.”
After all the names were called and needed spoken, each villagers was given 50 beans, each beans worth around 2.7$. Also each names from the list had an empty bowl. Everybody was free to put their beans in the bowls they wanted. I don’t remember where my beans went, only the feeling that I had so much to give. I also received as well, each time I looked over my bowl, it got a bit fuller. I gave myself one bean. “Just for luck,” I whispered.
Once the beans were all given, a group of volunteers counted the beans in each bowls and converted it to dollars. The amounts under each name were shared in the circle, and everybody had one last chance to give if desired. More money flowed to me, and I had more yet to give. My wallet got a bit thicker thanks to people’s generosity, while my heart was overflowed with gratitude and trust.
The abundance fund sharing process took the whole morning. In the afternoon there was a super short Open Space and then the last check out circle. If on the first day, we had a check in to open the Village, now we checked out to close it. Sonika and Anne-Laure hosted the check out. They invited us to go to the beach and reflect on our experience at the Village, then find a shell to represent that experience. When we returned to the circle, the check out question was: after a few days living here, “What has been lit up in you?”
From the check out, I heard more reasons why the community at the Village was so special. Trang Daisy brought back a shell that shaped like a heart. “I know for many people this is the symbol of love. But after spending time with you guys, this is the symbol of kindness. I was very impressed by the moment we shared together on the beach. We hugged each other, shoulder to shoulder, and there was a beautiful piece of music playing by our DJ. And we cried together, laughed together, shouted together, and played with water. And I asked myself: ‘What made that moment so beautiful? Was it love?’ But then I thought: ‘no, it was kindness.’ The way we live together in harmony, the way we accept each other, we can be whoever we want to be, is kindness. And this kindness comes from love – the love that we have for humanity, for our human fellows… I will carry this in my heart.”
The acceptance and kindness that Trang Daisy mentioned created the condition for a beautiful thing to happen: people can be their true self. “I find this shell, it’s not outstanding, just normal,” Lannah shared. “I feel connected to it. It is not too big, not too small, normal size, so me! I am normal size, not too small. And it’s broken, just like me. I have many parts that are broken, which I don’t hide. And when I look at the shell, I see the core is so firm… The Learning Village show me how to be, just be, regardless if I am round, perfect, imperfect, or broken. I sense it is not only me, but also other as well, that we can reveal the broken parts and stay firm to the core. I feel so strongly here that I am accepted. I am me, with all the beauty and ugly parts.”
When people get to be themselves, get to see each other as they are, then the bonds are deepened as well. “What is a community?” Narayan asked in his check out. “For me it is about the relationships we have with each other, like the threads. From those threads, we started weaving something. But it is not fully formed, not sure if it will become a bed sheet or a hammock, we don’t know yet. But we are weaving something here, we are weaving possibilities. Maybe we need this experience so the local communities can see themselves. Because we are parts of the wider one.”
It has been nearly four months since that check out circle, but Narayan’s question is still alive in me. The friends in the Village community have all come home. Some traveled with ease, others weren’t so lucky. Anne-Laure had to stay in Vietnam for an extra week before she could find opportunity to go back to France. David and Aiko had to say good bye at the airport, David couldn’t board the plane to Japan. Fortunately, they were reunited two months ago when Aiko went to Austria. The Learning Village community has become a treasured memory, and the possibilities that Narayan mentioned are being explored.
A few weeks ago Trang Hippo invited me and a few friends in the Art of Hosting Vietnam community to a conversation called “From community of practice to community of living.” Just like at the Village, where practioners of the Art of Hosting lived together, what if we can have a community like that here in Hanoi? From that conversation an idea emerged: One of the way to keep connection is to eat together. If we can’t live together yet, maybe we can still eat together. This weekend we will have the first meal together at my house. We are not sure where this idea will go, but it is ok. The important thing is to try and welcome whatever may be. Just like the song in the Village, when after the last check out, we walked to the beach, hands in hands and sang:
I step into the flow,
And then I let it go.
I open my mind,
My heart, and my soul.
And I surrender.
I open mind,
My heart and my soul