Some of the volunteers were sweet, chatty master gardeners with the University of Minnesota’s extension service, so they could reel off suggestions about root balls and mulch like it ain’t no thing. Present and future Habitat homeowners pitched in and tiny neighborhood kids helped by transporting one little trowel of mulch across the yard at a time.
Our group was a mix of ages, races, genders, and backgrounds which made me realize how rarely I interact with people who are significantly different from me. When was the last time I talked, at length, with an teenage Ethiopian boy? Probably never. Or a middle-aged woman from Kerala, India? Well, probably when I was there – and not since. One of the things I miss most about teaching ESL is how it forced me outside my bubble. On a daily basis, it was a reality check, a heart and mind opener.
Our work day wrapped up early – because we’d been so enthusiastic with our digging and mulching – and the homeowner sweetily presented us with cinnamon tea and lentil samosas, refusing to let us eat any fewer than three. We nibbled the snacks and chatted about our weekend plans and made weather-prediction small talk.
More than almost any other new thing I’ve tried, I’d like to make this a regular part of my life. I’ll happily sign up for that wonderful exhaustion that comes from doing hard work outside, new friends, expanded perspectives.
Have you ever volunteered with Habitat for Humanity? Do you find yourself spending time with people who are just like you?