On our last night in Georgia, my co-coordinator Daniela and I compiled a list of things that went wrong: the car accident, insanely high gas prices draining our budget, getting lost more times than we could count, and a friendly Atlanta police officer gave us a (just-barely-deserved) parking ticket. As we discussed these misfortunes, one volunteer, Anthony, turned to us and asked: “But did you make a list of all the things that went right?”
So for Anthony and all my other volunteers, this is my (abridged) list of things that went right:
1. Service. ASB is designed to provide service to communities outside of Boston. We worked with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which allowed us to serve not only the Decatur community, but also a variety of international groups. We learned new phrases, traditions, and important global issues. More than that, we connected with individuals. We worked with an elderly Nepali man, Tula, who wore the same knitted hat and greeted us with the same affectionate enthusiasm each morning. One volunteer practiced her Chinese with the only Chinese refugee at the IRC and he insisted on giving her contact information for a friend of his in Nanjing should she ever visit. Daniela laughed with a Somali woman as they taught each other how to count to ten in their respective languages. I met Leela, a Bhutan-born Nepali refugee, who, when asked if he would ever return home, broke my heart by responding: “Yes, but maybe only in my imagination.”
2. Sweet tea, ya’ll. This is a short one, but Georgia culture is awesome. From titles like “Miss” and “Ma’am” to the adorable twang of “ya’ll,” the accent continually caused excitement during our trip. We visited Stone Mountain, where Confederate generals are carved into the side of the largest granite deposit in the U.S. We ate bacon chocolate ice cream. Did I mention we slept on the floor of a Baptist church? Southern hospitality at its finest.
3. Struggle Bus. The van is an essential element for any ASB driving trip. We nicknamed ours “the Struggle Bus,” a tribute to the fact that nothing ever went as planned in the van. At some point, though, the struggles we faced became laughable. The sheer ridiculousness of getting lost again, or seeing that parking ticket on the windshield, or slamming my foot in the door, represented in my mind the extraordinary quality of our trip. Our service was emotional and difficult, but extremely rewarding. In the karmic balance of the universe, it was a give and take.
My group’s ability to laugh off the trials of the Struggle Bus just proved it’s ability to work through any situation. I’m still proud of our little Struggle Bus, which managed to make it back to Boston all in one piece, playing S&M by Rihanna practically on repeat. Classic.
4. Volunteers. My group was not at all what I had expected. Generally, the Community Service Center (CSC) attracts loud, outgoing, and enthusiastic people. Based on other ASB stories, I expected the car ride to be filled with raunchy jokes, fun games and loud stories.
Wrong. Everyone slept. For 25 hours. If they weren’t sleeping, they read, stared out the window in deep thought, or listened to their iPods.
We took a while to warm up to each other.
Once we did, I realized that we had a beautifully unique, open-minded and passionate group of volunteers. Our trip was not a “standard” ASB trip by any means, but I cannot imagine a better group of people to learn, grow, and struggle with through the week. As much as we helped the refugees and Decatur community, we also helped each other. We learned to depend on each other, make each other laugh, and see the world through a different set of eyes. I saw a transition in every single volunteer. Our growth astounded me, helping me realize that no matter where we end up, we can always find opportunities to change the world.
5. Stone Mountain. When we showed up to the office on Friday, we found out that we were not, in fact, needed for service that morning. We’d been hearing about Stone Mountain all week and were itching to make our way to the famous Georgia site, so we piled into the van, chipped in a dollar for parking, rode the funicular to the top, and explored. The vast mountaintop that overlooks Atlanta took my breath away. We ran around, jumped about, frolicked across the rocks and puddles. This was the culmination of everything we’d been working on.
We stood on top of the world.
With the sun beating down on us and everyone in high spirits, I could only think: yes. Working with the refugees had touched each of us, and suddenly the freedom to roam this mountain was something I could not take for granted. I began to see the way the world could change, and it started with the way my group abandoned preconceived notions to work toward a common goal.
That night, our volunteers presented us each with a mug from Stone Mountain. Our chaperone Kate got a pretty, baby blue mug, in my mind representative of her self-assurance and leadership. Daniela received a gigantic Georgia mug, showing the insane amount of caffeine she’ll need to change the world, and, in some way, the size of her heart. Daniela’s passion and determination know no bounds, just like a bottomless cup of coffee.
My tye-dye mug was emblazoned with a peace sign. I know that my volunteers picked out the mug to make fun of my hippie-ness, but I felt the mug was perfect for our little group. Free-spirited, unique, and vibrant, wrapped up in a little package looking for one thing, on a global and individual level: peace.