One of the best parts of living in a transitory volunteer community is the people you meet. Over the course of this year I’ve met close to 1,000 people from all over the world with whom I share similar values and interests. When I posted on FaceBook that I was going to Belgium and Spain I received an outpouring of offers from ex-volunteers who wanted to take me around, introduce me to their friends, show me the local spots, and have their mom’s cook for me. It was an overwhelming feeling of love, and a great reminder that the world is not so big after all.
Months ago I met a volunteer at Sadhana Forest whom I connected with immediately. He was around 40, a restauranteur, a traveler, an adventurer, a curious guy who takes a trip every year with his best friend. This best friend had been to Sadhana, called him up, and said something like, “This is great; you gotta come.” So he booked a flight, parted with his wife and kids in Belgium for 2 weeks, and ventured to India. He was interesting, charismatic, spoke many languages, and was always wiling to help out. He had the perspective of someone who’s lived and experienced life and always wants to learn more. I related to his sense of adventure, his go-with-the-flow attitude, and that he was not on the first journey of his life like many of the other 20-something Sadhana volunteers.
After 2 weeks of volunteering his heart out, he invited me to come to Belgium, meet his family, and crash with him: an open invitation. I FaceBook messaged him a week before I left India to travel in Europe and he said, “Come! We’ll pick you up!” They all met me at the train station: his bubbly, artsy, Argentinian wife, and their 2 multi-lingual daughters (who played together like best friends the entire week I stayed with them). They gave me a whirlwind tour, stopping to show me his restaurants and taste the vegan items. We even went to their favorite chocolatier. I couldn’t have asked for more.
I spent the week with them, seamlessly integrating with their family. I zipped coats, looked for Easter eggs in the backyard, made dinner, and went out with them and their couple-friends who all got babysitters so they could go to a “posh” bar for a night out. I was so pleased to find that 9 out of the 10 of us ordered virgin Mojitos! I’d never been out with adults who didn’t want to get drunk (just like me!). It was so exhilarating and yet so normal. And quite delicious! We discussed different art scenes, the goings on in Belgium, my life at Sadhana, new films, and places we’ve been to or want to explore. I never thought I’d enjoy being in a bar so much, and a trendy, posh bar, at that!
He has this habit when introducing people to each other (and it may not just be his) of saying “May I present to you…. ?” or “May I present you to….?” This creates such a lovely gift in meeting new people. I felt so special being presented to his friends and having him present his friends to me. It made me reflect on the act of “meeting” and how we always want people to “meet”. But when you “present” someone you are implying that there is intention, that something about this person is special.
This volunteer who I knew in India for a few weeks opened up his heart and home to me. It was magical and I’ll always be grateful, especially when I’m presenting my friends to each other.