Friday, December 4, 2009

Travel Teaching

I was talking with my wife the other day (a fairly common occurance which makes my life ever so much more joyous), and I asked her what I should write about this week.  "Travel teaching" was her reply.

"Travel teaching?" I asked.  You see, I can be very intelligent and witty at times, surprising even myself with my repartee.

"Yes."  Her patience with me was awe-inspiring, as she carefully explained to me what would have been obvious to someone without a horizontal learning curve.  "You should write about our time in Martinique."

Ahh.  Martinique.  How could I have forgotten?

You see, travel teaching and pioneering hold such a dear place in my heart, that somehow I had missed the obvious.  They are so dear to me that I should, of course, write about them.

A number of years ago I had the wonderful bounty of working for the US Baha'i National Centre, and during my last year there I was working in the teaching office.  As there were only a few of us there at the time, I had many different job titles:  National Travelling Teacher Coordinator, National Homefront Pioneer Coordinator, National this, National that.  I think I counted something like 14 titles, any one of which I could use whenever appropriate.  What it really meant was that I received a lot of letters from all over the nation and tried my best to respond to them.  While others in the office dealt with specific localities, I was more general in my work.

I spoke with many people about the bounties and benefits of pioneering and travel teaching, often partaking of those bounties myself, as I was a pioneer at the time.

Aside number 1: I remember one time while serving in my pioneer post, my friends and I had a problem, so I told them to phone the Homefront Pioneer Coordinator.  They thought I was joking, as I was serving in that capacity at the time.  "Seriously," I said, "leave a message and I'll get back to you."  The reason I said that was that I did not have any clue what to do about our problem at that moment, but I just knew that when I was serving in that capacity in the office, the answer would come.  And it did.  I got our message the next morning, saw the solution and phoned back.

Aside number 2:  There was a campaign going on at the time in which the National Teaching Committee identified a number of places that needed pioneers in order to form Assemblies.  This wonderful couple were just leaving the military and they wanted to serve as homefront pioneers, but could only do so if they both had jobs as nurses nearby.  Every few days they would phone and give me the list of cities in which they were offered jobs.  None of them were near pioneer posts, so they turned these offers down.  For over six months they kept at it, demonstrating a devotion that has impressed me to this day.  Finally, they found two jobs near a pioneer post and moved shortly thereafter.  A week or so later, they called again, this time in tears.  "We've just formed our Assembly."  When I asked how, they replied, "David and Margaret Ruhe moved into the city."  David, in case you are unaware, had just retired from his service on the Universal House of Justice.  These two stalwart souls, through their patience and perseverence, had the unbelievable bounty of being able to serve on an Assembly with a former member of the Universal House of Justice.

End of asides for now.

Where was I?  Oh yes, Martinique.

Marielle and I were about to get married when we went to hear a Counsellor speak.  He talked of the need for short-term travelling teachers, and said that if someone had the time, but not the money, not to worry.  He would ensure that they would be able to go.

Naturally, I went to up to him afterwards and said I had the time, but not the money.

With all seriousness, he asked, "Would Marielle go with you?"

"I think so," I said, before I learned the necessity of asking your spouse first before saying anything like that.

"Go to Martinique."  He knew Marielle was French-speaking, from Quebec, and that Martinique needed French-speaking people to go and assist them.  It didn't matter that I couldn't speak the language, she was going to carry the bulk of the work.  I was just there for moral support and prayers.

Well, a few months later we got married, and a few months after that we landed in Martinique.  It was sort of a second honeymoon.

Inevitable aside number 3:  I must have done something wrong in my life, because every time I asked this particular Counsellor where I should go to help teach the Faith, he would send me somewhere with awful weather.  If it was winter, he would send me to the North, by the Arctic.  Summer?  The Caribbean.  Couldn't he have done it the other way around?  Sheesh (he says, joking the entire time).

We began this wonderful trip by flying down to Florida and seeing my Mom.  Then we continued by flying to St Lucia.  This was our first taste of the islands, and wow, was it beautiful.  We walked around the airport, outside in the little market, and had one of the most disgusting juices we had ever had the misfortune of tasting.  Please, if I ever visit you, do not serve me mauby.  I would rather drink muddy water.  Now I know many people absolutely love it, and I will gladly give them all that is served to me, thank you very much.  It's not that I have anything against it, per se, it's just that it gets in my mouth.   Bleah.

We then flew to another island, where we tranferred immediately to a small plane.  As we sprinted from one plane to the next, across the tarmac, we breathed a sigh of relief at having made our tenuous connection.  We sat back in our chairs and were preparing for take off when someone came running across the tarmac after us, waving at the plane.  He was carrying Marielle's sleeping bag.  That being safely delivered, we breathed another sigh of relief.

Until we saw another man running across the tarmac, waving his arms frantically at our plane.  In his hands, it seems, were the flight plans.  Those being safely delivered, we were ready for takeoff.  Again.

There is not much I can say about the flight itself, but when we landed, a miracle occurred.   They opened the door.

I had read a bit about Martinique, and all the guidebooks spoke of the overwhelming scent of the flowers, but nothing prepared me for the reality when that door opened.  It was like being hit in the face with a wall of flowers.  We practically had to swim through the scent the entire length of the cabin.  It was wonderful.

Customs was customs, and about as interesting as passing through customs ever is.  While we were standing in line, the opaque door past us would swiftly open to reveal those people awaiting passengers: mostly family members or friends.  And then it would close as quickly as it had opened.

As the line moved forward, one man on the other side of the doors caught my eye.  He was standing there with the smile of an angel.  I knew, from his very presence, that he was a Baha'i.  He felt like a brother I had not seen in years.  I was eventually able to point him out to Marielle, and she had the same immediate reaction to his presence.  We found out later that he had the same reaction seeing us.

As we passed through the doors, we moved towards each other like magnets, never doubting for a moment that we were supposed to meet each other.

He was the Auxiliary Board member sent to greet us and take us to the Fort de France Baha'i Centre.

It was a pleasant drive, and we were warmly greeted by the caretaker, and some members of the community, and shown our room.

(to be continued)

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