The Shared Life

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Time and time again, country after country, I am confronted with the concept of communal—communal kitchens, bathrooms, living spaces, and food dishes. At first pass, I would prefer to have my own and for you to have yours but because my travel money is not quite as long as my penchant for finer things, i.e., things expressly owned by me or reserved purely for my individual use during travel, I have no choice but to partake in the communal offerings of my budget. My trip to Bali was no exception and further cements my forced submission into the shared life.

Let me give you a bit of background for analysis sake. I am American and hail from the suburbs of Atlanta, the land of one person cars commuting on eight-laned parking lots. Where the commuter train was designed to encircle the city instead of move people in and out of it.

I have one brother. Growing up, I had my girl things and he had his boy things. My room; his room. My cabbage patch doll; his racing car set. My pink bike with the tassels; his blue bike with the silver streak. Yes, we shared the Atari and the Sega Genesis but even still—I had Tetris and he had…I don’t know, something dumb.

My point is, I do not have much experience when it comes to things that belong to everybody. In fact, I have unknowingly subscribed to a principle that says, “have your own so you never ever ever need to use/borrow/ask for other people’s stuff” but traveling has changed me.

I’m sure you have heard someone remark in the face of another person’s lack, “God bless the child that has his own.” This well meaning jab is supposed to encourage resourcefulness and ambition but subliminally sends the message that people who “use/borrow/ask for” the things of others are lesser than, not blessed and are nothing to aspire to. This is simply not true.

While in transit on my way to a glorious getaway to a yoga retreat in Bali, I was told my connecting flight from Singapore to Bali was cancelled due to volcanic ash in Indonesia. I was crushed. And not to mention, low on funds because I had resolved to pay for 100% of my trip to Bali in advance. I needed a place to stay fast and an easy-to-execute Vacation Plan B.

For months, I tried to wrap my brain around Airbnb where you forgo traditional hotel stays and instead rent a private room, studio or home from willing people on the internet. To me, this idea ranked right up there with hitchhiking and dumpster diving–probably not for me. That is, until I found myself sitting at a closed airport gate in Singapore, one of the most expensive countries on the planet, with no where to go.

Since I had previously downloaded the Airbnb app on my phone (just to see what kind of “weirdos” do such a thing), it was inevitable—I was about to become one of those weirdos. In minutes, I found a great place for only US$89/night. Tap…Tap…Tap…Send…Confirm…and I was on my way to meet my new host for what turned out to be a wonderful stay.

This growing trend of shared gardens, shared files, shared homes and shared rides has opened up a whole new world of access, community and understanding for me. By sharing more elements of life with others, I’ve saved lots of money, met amazing people, and gleaned hard to find info on everything from local eateries to career advancing professional insights.

The process of sitting down with a group of strangers for a meal—sometimes with utensils and sometimes without—or entering a strangers home to sleep in their guest bedroom for the weekend was not easy for me and pushed me far beyond my comfort zone. But how else do you learn to eat peel n’ eat shrimp with a fork, learn to play worship music on a guitar/ukulele combo and taste durian or belut for the first time? You have to jump feet first in to the human experience and rub shoulders, quite literally, with other humans.

The unexpected byproduct of reducing my personal space requirements has been a deep seated sense of belonging. I’ve rediscovered the magic of Creation in both people and places. And better still, I’ve reimagined how naturally and beautifully I, in my black body, can relate and engage with the world around me.

Let me know in the comments if and how the “Shared Life” is working (or not working) for you. Whether it’s Uber, AirBnb, crowdsourcing or hostel hopping, I want to hear all about it.

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