My trip to Norya

I was blessed to spend time in Norya both in the winter of 2002 and the spring of 2003. I fell in love with the village on my first trip, and wanted to go back so badly that I missed my high school graduation to return my senior year.  It was such a great experience on so many levels. I learned so much about diversity, the use of language, the blessings of modern conveniences, and probably the best lesson at the time - that life was so much bigger than myself - a hard lesson to teach to teenagers! :)

During my time there, I was so awe-struck with the idea of a life like theirs. To me, it was magical. As if it were straight out of a movie.  So simple. Maybe boring to them, but to us, it was refreshing. The village has one paved road - some of the homes had just  recieved a gas line for heating. I vividily remember curling up next to the pipe that ran along the wall next to my bed in my russian home.  The village was so beautiful to me, and holds so many warm memories of families and children eager to entertain and feed the American Students who had come to visit them.

Their homes had only indoor plumbing to create a faucet. There were no closets tucked in every available area to store possessions that weren't needed. The students had come to stay with us in the states first, and they were in awe of our walk-in closets with 40 plus shirts hanging there.  It was humbling to see their 2 or 3 shirts hanging in the joined family closets when we arrived to their homes. While some might think they had little in way of possessions, I was impressed that they were not drowning in junk! Now that I have a household of my own, I find myself reflecting on this memory, thinking about how much more time I would have for my life if it wasn't spent washing loads of clothes we don't really need....

  They had courtyards and small barns for their animals - the animals they used to get milk, butter, etc! One of the sweetest things that happened was when the family I was living with had bought a special treat for us, since they heard we liked it - Cereal. What a memorable breakfast - as they poured that fresh warm milk on! Of course, I graciously smiled and ate it. They were so happy with their efforts! :)

The idea of not only using outhouses, but having one of your chores be to clean one left me with a new sense of just how graceful humility is.  I grew to respect these people and their way of life more and more each day. It was so real.  So full of things that my generation never even thought about. Suddenly, my life seemed so unnatural! :) I didn't even know how to milk a cow! I felt so lazy and like I didn't control 90% of my life, because I didn't even know how that much of it worked.  

And then there was the School - I think this is probably the only place that I noticed right away just how much they were living without. I am not talking about their educational care at the school, because they had teachers who were inspiring and cared about them, and there was a positive feeling in the air. But at times I wonder if that feeling was only temporary. After all, this exchange was a big deal. For these kids to have such an opportunity to travel free to the United States was unattainable otherwise. I noticed how little opportunity these people had. There are no jobs in the village - no way to bring in money for further education, Even if these students were smart enough to get a scholarship, they could never afford housing near or on the campus, or travel from the village everyday.

The fresh paint on the walls was nice, but it couldn't cover up the differences. I was used to three different computer labs - with Internet access on all of them. A library. A large cafeteria with numerous selections everyday.  There was a lone computer with no Internet access hooked up in a closet (I think I remember that it was sent there because of our exchange, because there had to be a way for email notifications sent out). If there was a library, I never saw it.  It was just SO different from where I went to school everyday.

I was realizing more and more just how much I never noticed - how much people before me had built for my benefit. How many blessings I was living in unaware.
We spent a lot of time our second year there painting a mural on their auditorium wall. With one side having images from Norya, and the other of  Utah, with our state emblems between - Hoping I guess to leave a reminder to these people that we were here - that we had loved them, and that we would not forget this. 

My second year there, the mother of the family I lived with was a teacher at the school. She talked to me a lot one evening about how hard it is to survive there.  She was very curious about my life - how much money my parents brought home. We talked about how much money she brings home a month - which was less than $100.  She talked about how lucky they were that she had a job, because most people didn't. There was a community farm where her husband went most days, but not because he received anything from going there, but for something to do. I have since learned the farm is closed.  It was eye-opening to have her talk to me so frankly.

There was a moment while we were walking through the village and a few us were inspired to jump into the lake. We joke about this being a baptism, cleansing us from all the craziness and clutter of the world, and leaving us with a pureness that we received from our time in Norya.
That moment was supposed to effect me for the rest of my life. I was supposed to remember what I had learned, and what I had loved there. I do remember. And I wish others could see it too - could feel all that I felt.
I am so grateful that I had this opportunity at such a young age.
I think the village is beautiful. But I think it's broken. The same as many other places in the world.

My inspiration isn't just to help one of these students -
but to help many people have the opportunity to learn what I learned.
That life is bigger than myself -
 and what a blessing it is to take part in the positive building of it.