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The Village of Love
A hush fell across our camp as our dying fire dwindled into glowing embers. Smoke filled the otherwise clear air, burning our eyes to the point where we couldn’t see through the tears. We knew that burning hay would only make more smoke but we needed the fire more than anything else. We knew that without fire, our water wouldn’t boil and we wouldn’t have any way to cook our dinner. Sure, this was only a simulation, and we would have a hearty breakfast in the morning. But that didn’t change the fact that we were hungry now.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” our pretend toddler complained. I looked up and saw Greg, a full-grown man, looking at me with an evil smile. Working at our church’s RE program had taught him how needy toddlers were.
“Alright, I’ll take you,” I replied, glad to have an excuse to leave our site. I looked first at our home, if you could call it that. We were assigned to the Urban Slums in our Global Village, and our shelter was almost non-existent. Chicken wire marked where our house stood, and the walls were made of the occasional piece of wood or tarp. I then looked at my other two children, Ashley and Ben. “Do any of you need to go?” I asked sweetly. Since they were only children, a teen was required to accompany them anywhere they went.
“Yes, I do,” Ashley answered in a perfect four year-old voice.
“Alright. Nichole,” I continued as I faced my pretend husband, “there are a few twigs by the Mexico house. Maybe you can use those in our fire.”
“Already tried,” she said and continued to tend our smoldering embers. I sighed in disappointment as I took Ashley and Ben down the long road to the bathrooms. When we arrived, I sat outside and shivered in the brisk air of late October. Before I knew it, my “children” were back outside with me. I looked down at my large stomach. A water balloon had been placed under my shirt to represent my baby that was on the way. Slowly, we walked back, in no rush to return to our home. Near the end of our trip, a new aroma drifted my way. I looked up and saw Ethan and Riley with their “child”, Apple. They laughed at an unheard joke as the feasted on rice, squash, carrots and potatoes. Maybe our dinner’s ready too, I thought as I rounded the corner to our Slums. Immediately the smoke rushed into my lungs but the reassuring glow of a fire was nonexistent.
“Dang it,” sounded the voice of Nichole. No dinner yet, I concluded. We probably won’t get anything. I walked towards the compost pile and grabbed a handful of hay to throw on the fire. It caught immediately, but it quickly died into a dim glow, nothing hot enough to cook dinner with. Dinner. Our small bowl was about halfway filled with rice, topped with a carrot, potato and onion, all uncooked and unprepared. Maybe I’ll just chop up the carrot, I decided.
“I’m going over to Mexico to borrow a plate,” I announced as I got up off my tree stump. The delicious aroma of dinner again wafted through my body. I plastered on a smile and walked up to Riley. “Could we borrow this plate?” I asked.
“Sure,” he replied, uninterested.
“Thanks,” I sincerely replied as I headed back to our smoky campsite. I found our miniature knife and began to chop our carrot. Soon after I finished I heard a voice at our site.
“Wow.” Riley had arrived at our pathetic camp, probably to just get his plate back. Instead, he headed over to Nichole with a pile of wood in his hand. Firewood. I jumped up and rushed to our barely surviving fire. He threw the logs on slowly and our fire roared to life. He then continued to put the grate cover on and start up our rice and vegetables. Before we knew it, a full dinner was ready. Ethan and Apple came over to join in pleasant conversation. We feasted on our meal, sharing a single plate. It was delicious and all because of Riley.
Afterwards, Nichole and I set up our sleeping bags on the dirt floor. But we had no intention of staying in our depressing camp. We headed over to the Cambodian house, which was made of bamboo on a raised platform. Riley and Ethan soon joined me, Nichole, and the two Cambodians, Katlin and Louise. As we sat on the simple wood porch, all of our differences were forgotten. Our mission of stopping hunger globally was set aside as we focused on simpler matters. We forgot our groups, our tribes. No longer the Mexicans, Cambodians, and “Slummies”, we were just UU kids, a group of teens looking for a quiet way to finish off the evening. With a trust unheard of in a group of near-strangers, conversation began. Our worries were forgotten as we listened and didn’t judge. And for a while, we were just a group of teens. Just us.