In the summer of 2009, I decided to volunteer in Clermont-Ferrand, France through Volunteers for Peace. Our group had people from all over the world: France, Russia, North Korea, England, Germany, Finland, Turkey, and then there was me, from America.
While driving to the campsite, everyone was silent. All that could be heard was the gypsy music coming from a burnt CD titled “SMILE”, and our counselor, Xavier loudly whistling the tunes. Then Xavier said in his thick French accent, “don’t vorry, by the end of these two weeks, you von’t be able to be quiet.” This ideal seemed highly unlikely.
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The next day, Xavier woke us up to the sound of banging pans and said, “ve need to get to know each other. Tonight, ve sleep on volcano!” We all looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking; this guy is crazy!
On the ride over there, he played the same “SMILE” CD, and whistled loudly, but this time, those were not the only sounds heard. The car was full of questions. “How long is it going to take?” “Am I going to get killed by the lava?” “Imagine if the volcano erupted and killed all of us!” “We don’t even have a tent!” Then Xavier said, “hey! Don’t vorry, the volcano has no fire, and everything is taken care of. See, you guys are all talking already.”
We headed our way up the inactive volcano. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. It looked like a mountain at first glance, but once you put your feet on the ground, you realize how different the soil is, how different the plants and the bugs are. It was like a mountain in a slightly altered universe.
We finally got near the top and found flat land where we could stay. Xavier laid out a tarp and started a fire. In an instant the sky turned grey. We heard thunder and everyone just looked at each other, wide-eyed. Xavier said, “OK, now, ve need to prepare for this rain.” We used the tarp and sticks to create a tent we could all fit under. Lightning started. The group fell into a silence. All we could hear was the thunder.
Then Xavier started whistling songs from “SMILE”. Slowly, everyone joined. While humming these songs, the rain came pouring. It was one of the harshest rains I have ever been in, but our shelter was sturdy and kept us dry. As the rain got stronger, we took our spoons and started banging them along to our hums and whistles. We were all laughing and singing louder than I have ever heard.
Our songs and energy died down, but the rain was still as strong. Even with all the rain, and the bugs sharing our shelter, I had one of the most peaceful sleeps I have ever had. I woke up to all my friends near me, and the tarp on all of our heads. Our shelter fell down, but still no one was wet after the violent rain. The morning was sunny and beautiful, and after that day the group was never silent.
On that day, I got to see another side of the world that I have never seen before. I connected so deeply to people from all over the world in such a short time. By the end of the trip we were all laughing, screaming, and crying. I now have friends all over the world, and Xavier gave us all a “SMILE” CD so I can always bring myself back to this trip.
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