If you grew up with a dad who is a major cinephile, chances are you will constantly feel the need to organize your life in such a way that it resembles a Hollywood movie, and chances are you will get to be really disappointed when things do not go according to your script. God knows I had had a lot of disappointments because of this ridiculous, unrealistic habit. But you get to a point where you get sick of unrealized dreams and you drop it all, and I truly believe this is the mature moment that enables one to see life as truly and unmistakably wonderful. That moment when you no longer expect to constantly be given something, but the moment you start giving.
Being a European volunteer pulls you out of ordinary life, takes you out of your previous routine only to immerse you in another one though slightly more exciting. Now, of course, when you get to move to a different country, all your expectations are high, not necessarily on account of charming things never encountered before, but by virtue of newness. And I may add – the subtle but profound kindred spirit that unites young people from all over continental Europe (and not only).
Whatever the challenges of our missions may be and however difficult, half-planned weekends come to rescue. Such an experience was the second weekend of November 2019 – 13 people who haven’t known each other for more than two weeks decided to go visit Normandy on the spur of the moment. Speaking English with the occasional French word lost in a sentence, we managed to put together a plan d’attaque and so we were on the road (by Jack Kerouac).
Each European volunteer whose mission is for more than six months is offered two trainings – one on his/her arrival and one au milieu. That’s where these enthusiastic volunteers met – during their first training in Narbonne (though each of them spread on the map of France — Le Mans, Paris, Vienne, Nevers, Sedan, and Quimper).
Personally, I am a true supporter of and believer in chemistry in relationships. I believe something clicked for these volunteers, I believe something suddenly started making sense when spending time together. I believe chemistry and faulty planning is how this trip came into being.
Volunteers from Germany, Greece, Catalonia, Austria, Italy, Russia, Egypt, and Romania shared experiences, dreams and stories (and I’m not trying to be vague) and so they contributed to the game of familiarization with the best of their tranditions, customs and faith.
The most touching moment of this particular trip was visiting the military cemetary together. We discovered that among us we had a passionate die-hard history dilettante and consequently had a substitute tour guide. We were reminded of how we take for granted the age of peace we live in.
I am not a big fan of chitchat. All the tiring questions – where are you from? when were you born? what are your hobbies? seem unending — all that — I despise. Now, isn’t it beautiful when you find out that the person next to you lived in Newcastle for a few years, not because you asked them, but because it just came into the conversation you were having. By chance. Par hasard. While talking about something else. Let me give my readers an example. While having a conversation about philosophy with someone, you find out that they have a sister, but not because they randomly mentioned ‘I have a sister’ but because while talking about the 19th century, that person told you ‘ah yes, my sister is a big fan of Kierkegaard. Me? Not so much’. And so, your initiation in their genealogy tree started.
This is how this weekend went. Finding out particular things about each other, while talking about totally different topics.
And while visiting Normandy.
Whether it was a conversation about Dante and Boccaccio outside a crowded Irish pub, whether it was silence shared in honour of 15 year-old soldiers that died in the 1940s in France in a war that wasn’t theirs, whether it was a hurried walk to the next brasserie in sight, whether it was collective admiration shown for French wine, whether it was improvised group dancing in a smoky bar, whether it was humbling reflection on the difficulties of some of our fellow volunteers, whether it was a second cake bought in a boulangerie and eaten on its freezing terrasse, whether it was German music that sent us into rapture while driving, whether it was Camembert and baguettes hesitantly shared in the car, on the highway, in a very unfrenchlike manner — all of it and much more carved a little place in our hearts and minds that will cast us into melancholy when we’ll be walking down memory lane years from now.
Finalement, the movie script came into existence. Without expecting it. And only better. Without clichés (I hope), without drama, without the one-hour-and-a-half limit.
––photos – courtesy of volunteers