A letter from Baraka, Dec. 2020 

Family and Friends,

 

Merry Christmas and season’s greetings from all of us in Baraka! We are three and a half months into our year-long commitment, and between COVID-19 and all the bustle that goes along with a typical school year, it has been a doozy. It’s hard to believe that time has gone by so quickly or that it’s already December and we will take our first extended break from one another over Christmas.

 

Last you heard from us, we were undergoing COVID-19 tests for all members of the group. Everyone since has tested negative, and we participated in a round of national testing where we again tested negative. Recognising the intensity of the situation, we reevaluated our commitment to the group, and one member decided to move back home with their family. The rest of us continue with our days together, maintaining a limited contact with the outside world and strict hygiene inside Baraka – all of which is reevaluated every two weeks by our “Coronavirus Task Force” and discussed by the group during some of our evenings together. 

Despite this, COVID hasn’t slowed us down too much. In November, we spent a lovely weekend in a village called Studienka. There, we spent time walking, talking, playing with the local wildlife (a cat we named Svetopluk), identifying mushrooms, cooking dinner, and reading. This year has been a strange mix of being homebound yet, needing quite a lot of self-discipline when it comes to work and studies. Getting out of Bratislava and basking in some fresh air raised everyone’s spirits and gave us a space to reflect on the year so far.

Outside of our breakfasts (Monday – Friday)  and dinners (every Tuesday and Thursday), one can always find clusters of people chatting, cooking, or studying in the public spaces.

 

When asked what they thought they would miss most about Baraka over the winter break, Hanka (pictured here, looking chilly on our early morning hike up to a castle ruin) said, “I am going to miss contact with people and being forced to wake up at 6:55.” 

Klara (Also pictured here to the left, looking thoughtful on the same hike) said, “I won’t miss much because I am taking part of Baraka home with me for Christmas.” And she’s right, 2 of the members will be spending some of their Christmas break with her family.

 

Patrik (Shown demonstrating his aptitude for lego engineering) says that he will miss the “infinite possibilities of engagement with people.” Many of the Baraka members have noted that they feel the high-contact they have with people in Baraka has drastically shaped their experience of both the lockdown and the school year. 

Part of the Baraka project is to help members grow as individuals and a collective; another aspect of the Baraka experience is to help members recognise and respond to community needs. This year, we are again partnering with Nota Bene – a local charity that serves the homeless population in Bratislava. We help to manage and to organise volunteers for collecting food donations for Nota Bene (whose van is parked in front of the school). Working with Nota Bene is one of the ways Baraka is aiming to be a “blessing” by linking together the school and the city.

There are dozens of other moments to note, but the final thing I (Randi) want to showcase from the last few months together, is a photo from one of our Great Works Academy evenings. Every month, Baraka dedicates one of its evening programs to the study of a masterpiece. We look at short stories, music, paintings, and other forms of art. The night pictured below, we were discussing and reenacting Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. What started as an evening laughing awkwardly about “becoming the painting” led to a spirited discussion about the nature of forgiveness.

 

Life keeps ticking along; many of us are looking forward to resting from school and work. We, here in Baraka, wish you a warm Christmas; that you might find joy in the long night of this pandemic and remember hope in this Advent season. 

With all our love, we will see you next year!