A short distance by plane from my home away from home in Macedonia, Prali is a really small town comparable to a village located one hour north of Turin, the closest metropolis. In fact, it is not far from the border of France tucked away in the breathtaking Alps Mountains with clean air, serene ambiance and friendly locals. I had the unique chance to travel there in August for a global political camp at the Agape Ecumenical Center, a place where people from all walks of life can live, learn and work together in community for a week, several weeks or even months to years at a time.
Volunteerism lies at the heart of the Agape philosophy, and I noticed this fact firsthand within my first 24 hours on the campus. And what’s more impressive is that the volunteer spirit exhibited by Agape visitors and inhabitants alike is one of cheerfulness and not bitterness. Everyone is glad to be there, and it shows. Isn’t that how real community service ought to function? You volunteer because you want to do it. Because you embrace the fulfillment gained from giving of yourself. As the Good Book (Holy Writ) says, “it is much better to give than to receive.”
Although this brief trip technically wasn’t a vacation for me (not your typical lay on the beach all day basking in the sun while sipping on margaritas scenario), it was a treasured escape from my mundane village life in Macedonia and my longest time out of the country since I arrived last fall. So in a peculiar kind of way it was a break (mentally, physically and geographically). Hiking in the ginormous Alps with new friends, fixing our attention at the grandeur of nature put me in a euphoric frame of mind that left me ever grateful for this remarkable opportunity to evolve.
Evolution in understanding what it means to listen intently to the gripping stories of others, how they came to be where they are and who they are. What it means to walk in their shoes, to climb into their skin. Evolution in cherishing the undeniable diversity of our planet culturally, linguistically, intellectually and spiritually. Evolution in being and expressing me, all of me, and giving others the fair chance of appreciating me as I did likewise toward them. We were all growing collectively and individually, each person enriching the other through honest dialogue, skill transfer, and the strong bond of humanity dwelling side by side in harmony.
Prali is/was beautiful. I felt like I was experiencing an Alaskan summer, though I’ve never been there, with its chilly, crisp nights that compelled me to wear a jacket. A random bluegrass concert drew a crowd in the town one night as children eagerly frolicked in the circular venue where the band grooved, accepting modest donations from anyone willing to support. The pizza bread I tried from the local bakery tickled my palate, something I hadn’t eaten in years. I spent one amazing week in Prali and about three hours in Turin prior to my departure thanks to a kind friend from camp who offered to show me around her hometown. We enjoyed lunch at an Egyptian restaurant, checked out some African hair salons, and did a quick walking tour of the city center all while I managed to snap photos and to take in the wonderful sights of the cosmopolitan northern Italian city. Italy was everything I hoped it to be and more than that. Grazie mille Italia!