“I know where you live” is never a statement you want to hear while sitting in a stranger’s car, but we get it semi-regularly. In a flat country subject to the brisk Baltic blast where cab fare is more than affordable, taxis are a lovely alternative on cold Polish days. Not being on any tourist maps, people in Włocławek are unaccustomed to foreigners being here (let alone living here). So it’s happened many times where we’ll jump into a cab, greet a new driver who will hear our accents and say “are you the Canadians? I know exactly where you live”. It started out as creepy, but now it’s a real conversation starter. In fact, the very first person Matthew told that we were pregnant was a taxi driver (Matthew was overcome with excitement in the moment).
Being from larger urban areas we’re accustomed to our anonymity while out and about, but now life in a smaller community is forcing a renegotiation of our sense of privacy and personal boundaries (in some ways we’re confronted with our sense of entitlement). What does it take to really live somewhere? We mean to really live somewhere. Being here to create positive change requires a shift in our mindset. Living in community isn’t new (pick-up an anthropology book, read the bible, travel to a non-westernized culture), but it seems to be resurgent in cultures that have forgotten that there is strength in numbers.
One of Matthew’s best friends growing-up moved into a small community in northern Ontario and fell off the radar for about 5 years. Sitting in a Denny’s a few months ago Matthew was able to ask him why. His response was simple: it was necessary. In an insular community he had to focus his energy there. To really live there rather than be an outsider among them. It took years, but now he’s connected. More than that, he is rooted and he’s not alone in his thinking. We sat down with someone we know on the West Coast who uses their home as a B&B, a community garden, and a venue for community events and dinners. Everything they do is oriented towards the benefit of their community. It’s an open home and it truly is welcoming. Friends of ours live not too far from there and they have an ongoing debate over leaving the blinds open or closed. The pro-open blind friend insists that it makes everything feel more open. It’s admittedly less private, but infinitely more welcoming.
Gut reaction: it’s unappealing and it feels like a loss. In an individualistic culture, the softening of walls which keep people out or maintain our personal comfort seems illogical and unnecessary. But what if it is necessary? Living connected to people, to a community, is risky business. It may not be convenient but it enriches our lives in other ways. The best way to create positive change is to be in relationship with others. It’s a journey for us because right now it feels like sacrifice. It involves shedding some cultural conditioning that we’re probably unaware of and living with a purposefully open posture towards others. We know it comes with increased risk, but we believe it is the only way that we’ll succeed here in Włocławek.