This morning during breakfast we were picking through the rest of our supplies, trying to avoid bringing any perishable items back after our camping trip. Our Comcaác guides had run out of their short supply of food, and didn’t really have enough for their breakfast.
“What can we give them? What do we have left?”
“Two rice cakes, three— wait, no—two hard boiled eggs, and a couple of jars of peanut butter and jelly.”
“Give it all to them.”
At that moment, Maddie says simply, “It’s not about how much you give, it’s about how much of what you have that you give.” (A quick comeback from someone else, “Thanks, Mother Teresa.”) What Maddie said made me start thinking about how much of our trip has been about sharing, and about exchange.
I’m the youngest child. And the only girl. So, you can pretty much assume I’ve never had to share anything in my life. Now that I’m an adult(ish) I understand the virtues of kindness, compassion and how nice it is to share with others. Nevertheless, I still find myself hesitating not to take the bigger half, or an extra scoop of food; and when someone asks to borrow any of my possessions, I have to bite my tongue before I tell them, ‘No way! Are you crazy?! This stuff is mine, capital M-I-N-E.’ This selfishness is an awful trait to have, and I know it. I’m trying to get better, but you’d think a desert camping trip with barely enough food wouldn’t be the easiest place to practice. You (and me) would be wrong.
First, it probably begins with the act of camping itself. Bring one bag, only the essentials, strip away all other possessions. It seems to me like the less stuff you have, the more you’re willing to share it. This is a good start. Next, place all the two-person tents close together. Get very cozy. This is important so that at night everyone can talk and giggle for the last fifteen minutes before bed; eventually you’ll even be trying to share dreams, and in these fifteen minutes you’ll plan out what everyone will try to dream about.
In the morning, everyone will eat breakfast together and share a sleepy quiet while drinking coffee and listening to the birds excitedly chirping down the beach. It’s not just breakfast that we’ll share together. Quite the contrary, it’s actually every meal. Different teams cook dinner every night, and we all gather around the cooler at noon to make PB&J sandwiches. We eat sitting in a circle on the sand, sharing stories about the day and reflecting on all we saw.
But it’s not just our group of Duke students exchanging ideas and meals. You’ll also cook for our hosts, the eight Comcaác whose job it is to guide us through the desert and share with us about their past and present. The Comcaác come camping with us not only to teach but also to learn; both from us and their elders. Whether it’s about the migratory patterns of sea turtles, or an explanation of how they used to make pottery, both the younger Comcaác and younger visitors will sit enthralled.
Each night after a day full of exploring, learning, and sharing, both you and the Comcaác will sit down around the campfire and gaze up at the stars, or down at the pill-bugs throwing themselves into the fire. Bonfire time is for exchanging stories and songs; it will start with Vilma sharing a Comcaác legend of how the stars on Orion’s Belt represent the animals found in the Sonoran Desert, and finish with Lara sharing a story of fighting bears over vegan chili on a camping trip.
The last night is a birthday party for Julianna, the second youngest Comcaác member to join us on our trip. Around the fire, Julianna and Vilma sing a song about Ospreys, and the next thing you know the students have broken into an acapella version of American Pie. We pass around s’mores and without saying a word we share marshmallow roasting techniques, magic tricks, and a sense that each person had definitely learned something new over the past four days.
Much of sharing and cultural exchange is often considered to be shared through language. Lessons and stories passed from one to another. Our time with the Comcaác showed us that sharing doesn’t need words. We certainly did learn lessons through stories and advice given between the Comcaác and the students, but I’ve learned that sharing extends far beyond exchanging stories. We shared s’mores, games, meals, and an interest in understanding each other more fully. While I still might not have Mother Teresa-like sharing skills, this trip helped me gain a better understanding of what sharing is all about. We never ran out of food, none of my shared possessions got ruined or lost, and sharing my experiences and thoughts was met with understanding and appreciation. When I think over the four-day trip and Maddie’s comment this morning, I consider the real possibility that the more you share—whether it’s stories, rice cakes, books, lighters, or a curiosity for others—the more you feel like you have.