“Pass me the screwdriver,” says Carolinne, the marketing assistant. She is talking to me the communications person. I leave aside the instructions book and look at the screws scattered on the ground. “Here it is.” I give it to her. We are on our second metal Ikea wardrobe. It may look easy to assemble but, if you put two small pieces in the wrong place you have to take it apart and redo it from the beginning. “If Carolinne can help you with the wardrobes”, says Maria, the Ecologist newsletter editor, “I can ask Jaka to help me with the desks.” Left alone, Maria has been struggling to put together two pieces of wood.
Thursday 21st February was not an ordinary working day for us at JESC. Quite the opposite. Normally our accountant Donnel deals with invoices and contracts, not with building single beds. He’s not a handyman; neither is Ricardo, the video maker, nor Botond, our lawyer, Anders, IT co-ordinator or Jaka, the project manager of the European Leadership Program (ELP). It is precisely this program that has led us to work together on a special day like last Thursday. The ELP is a Brussels-based project where emerging leaders develop skills through theory and practice by living together with colleagues for six months. Their activities are in five interrelated areas: politics, learning, immersion, coaching and community.
While waiting for the Fellows to arrive next week, we have been doing everything possible to welcome them. Instead of coming to Brussels and finding a room to rent in an anonymous building, in an unknown neighbourhood, the fellows will enjoy a more sociable experience. The Jesuit community of La Viale is the base for a compound of houses called the Beguinage. It’s an island of peace and greenery only a 10-minute walk from the European Parliament. Here the fellows will live in single rooms, inside two three-storey houses where the kitchen and the living room are shared spaces. They will enjoy a communal lifestyle where televisions are redundant.
Arranging all the items in the kitchen is hungry work. “But where’s the lunch?” everybody asks. Around midday, this question passes from room to room, and from house to house. Sadly, it’s too early to eat – there’s more work to be done. Eleonora, the assistant to the director, Peter Rožič, who this day, unfortunately, can’t be with us, has just arrived with a truck full of furniture donated by a lovely elderly lady. “She’s very generous and very precise!” Eleonora says after having chatted with her about the logistics of the move.
Table, chairs, crockery, a sofa and an armchair are unloaded in the middle of the common garden that divides the two rows of houses. Perfect timing, we think, as now we know where to sit to eat. Donnel offers to go and get the Mexican burritos that we ordered.
Anders, with careful planning, sent us an email the day before to ask us to choose our sandwich from the menu. An email to which we all responded with great speed!
We are finally eating, all in a circle, from Edmond, Secretary for Justice and Ecology, the most senior, to Ines, a volunteer, the youngest. Between us, our ages range from 25 to 65. Amongst us are Italians, Slovenes, Danes, Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish, Irish, Hungarian. We all speak English – and with accents that do not prevent us from laughing and joking.
After eating we all go back to work. Edmond, with his speed in assembling the furniture, gives us a great example of work ethic, without losing his sense of humour. “Ora et labora” – pray and work – the monks of the past used to say, believing in combining contemplation with action. In other words: don’t waste time.
At the end of the day, we have finished all of our work. Before leaving, I help Eleonora to wash the dishes and glasses. Benoit, a member of La Viale community, feels challenged by a desk that seems broken – but he thinks that he can mend it, and after a fifteen-minute long fight with the furniture, he wins. I close the gate of the Beguinage with a great sense of satisfaction and a desire to return. If I could, I would live there too. These fellows are really lucky.
by Susan Dabbous