What My World's Like

#notetoself: be considerate. build community.


how to build community written by the Syracuse Cultural Workers Collective

This is the seventh #notetoself letter, originally sent on March 19, 2012.

Five weeks ago, I arrived at Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua specifically to work on a permaculture farm. Nearly everything I read about this island was that it was magical. That magic wasn’t fully expounded upon, so I hoped I’d figure out for myself what it was about. As I prepare to leave tomorrow, I realize I understand the gravitational pull this island has on one’s heart and mind from my experience in Balgue. I was actually supposed to leave a few days ago, but it didn’t feel right; I didn’t see it and I didn’t feel it. So I stayed.

During what was to be my final week here, I realized how embedded others had become in this community and how much I felt like I stood on the periphery, here and in it, yet removed at the same time. I wanted to be more of a part of it. There are some incredibly dynamic people here, funny, generous, cooperative… I didn’t want to leave feeling as disconnected as I did and wanted to forge a deeper bond, despite my imminent departure.

This same week, one of the long-term volunteers discovered that she had lice. That realization led to a sort of impromptu communal lice check. One of the women who found out she also had lice never had it before, so she was a bit freaked out. Her behavior after that discovery really impacted me.

We form a gratitude circle, holding hands before we eat while introducing the meal and, if feeling compelled to, mention anything we’re grateful for in the moment. Standing next to me before this ritual, she asked if it was alright for her to hold my hand. I responded with a mocking “no!” Of course, she could hold my hand. Another time after dinner was served, she asked if she could sit next to me. I issued a similar response. Not only do I wear my head wrapped up, proving some degree of protection, but I also wasn’t scared of getting lice by holding hands or sitting next to her. One evening, as a couple who’d been staying at the farm for two weeks said their goodbyes and hugged everybody, she stood back, holding out her hand and said something to the effect of, “I don’t know if you want to hug me, so I’ll just shake your hand.” He dismissively waved his hand and embraced her.

She was so incredibly considerate, aware that others might not feel comfortable and completely respectful of whatever decision they made about wanting her near them. Her behavior made me realize how essential consideration is. Not only is it necessary for and an indicator of a healthy interpersonal relationship, but it works for any scale of relationship: family, personal/professional network, local community, or global community. When people feel as though they aren’t being considered, problems arise. I personally lose it a little bit when I feel ignored, dismissed or not taken into account when I’m in any relationship or community.

Balgue is an incredibly friendly town. Perfect strangers will supply you with a genuine smile and greeting. It’s tranquilo, as they say here. I take showers while looking at a beautiful volcano in the distance, and it’s always stunning. More than that, though, there’s community. There’s a sense of belonging and interconnectedness. Even geographically, this is apparent. While there are individual plots of land, there are paths connecting them, and no one gives you a crazy look for being on their property.

My time on this island has taught me the importance of community and how intentional it always has to be. In order for it to function, we must be considerate. We must be open to sharing ourselves and open to accepting others, not just as how they can be, but how they are. The more we embrace ourselves and others, the better off we’ll all be.

My time on this island has taught me how much I want to be in community and what steps I’m ready and willing to take in order to build it. I’m reminded to be considerate and inclusive.

What’s your relationship to community? Are you a part of one, or do you need to take further action to create it? If you’re in the process of building community, or have built one before, what tips can you share?


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