Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Travelling Teaching, Part 3

I've told you a bit about the condition we were in when we went down there, and a little bit about our accommodations. But I haven't really said much about Martinique itself.

First of all, it is a beautiful island amidst an ocean of beautiful islands. I already mentioned a bit about the nearly overwhelming scent of the flowers, and you can just kind of multiply that with the scenery. Lots of mountains, volcanic landscape, rain foresty type flora, gorgeous beaches, and so on and so forth. If you are looking for a picture perfect place for a vacation, you can't do much better than Martinique. If post cards hadn't been invented, they would have made them for Martinique.

But Martinique is a dependency of France, and I'm sure this has its own benefits and problems. I'm not really sure about the political aspect of things, but with some of the people I met, it seemed to have an interesting side effect. I'm used to people coming up to me and asking for money. This is nothing new. But when people ask me, it is usually in a manner that makes me feel as if I am doing them a favor. (I won't go into the whole thing about begging and social behaviour. Suffice to say that it is usually seen as a favor for them.) But in Martinique, I felt that it was seen as my obligation as a white guy. Once I got to know some of the street folk, I asked them about this, and this is what they said: They are given a monthly stipend from the government of France, which is their due as native Martiniquers. I don't know how true this is, but they said that they were raised to think of this money as their right, for allowing the French to be there. As I'm a white guy, they would just presume that I owed them money, too.

This, in a few instances, led to some concerns with teaching amongst them. I could point out the dynamics of poverty and how to teach people within that situation, but I'm sure you are already familiar with that. And really, we need to be aware that people are people and we should not distinguish. The Word of God is for all.

But poverty does make some people uncomfortable, and I'm not just talking about those who are impoverished. There was a dear friend in Winnipeg who lived in poverty. But what made her really amazing was that she was tenacious. A lack of money was never anything to stop her from doing service to her neighbourhood, and taking advantage of every opportunity that came her way. At various Baha'i gatherings she would often ask people for rides, or ask if she could take some of the leftover food home, and this made a few people uncomfortable. What they didn't seem to understand was that most of this food went to the hungry children in her area who would come over to her house for lunch most days. It was very sad to me when a few of the friends confided in me that her "begging" was inappropriate and would I please do something about it. (I never understood why they thought I was the one to approach, instead of the Assembly.) When I explained what the food was for, they realized how judgemental they were being and then went out of their way to help her. I was happy to see that change, at least.

There is another aspect of poverty that is worth mentioning, and that is the closeness it has to addictions. In a recent gathering someone said that teaching those with addictions is easy, but we don't have the resources to deal with their problems. This should make us ask many questions about ourselves. And yes it may be true that we can't focus on them right now because we don't have the resources, but then who are we to deny anyone the healing message of Baha'u'llah. The standard here should be the guidance about not giving money. Help people help themselves. Be loving but firm.

But all that is just an aside. Getting back to Martinique, and the fact that some of the street people thought that Marielle and I owed them money, that would have been the end of it, except that it seemed to seep into other aspects of life down there. Marielle and I used to go to the fruit and vegetable market almost every morning to get our daily foods. Well, that was incredible. The fruits were tastier than anything I'd ever had before. Some of the vegetables were a culinary education. I learned so much about different foods, and how to prepare them. It was awesome.

Oh, that's another lesson learned. When in a new area, ask the local people in the market how they prepare the foods. Once again, you won't be disappointed. You may occasionally be a bit repulsed, but you won't be disappointed.

And that, dear Reader, reminds me of two stories.

First is the story of the mango climber. I'm sure he had a name, but I have no idea what it was. (Marielle thinks it may have been Desi, but she has to check.) This was a gentleman, in a true sense of the word, whom we met in the market one day. He had seen us a few times and knew that we were visitors. I think he had also seen us with some of the local kids and decided that we were alright. Anyways, he came up to us one day and asked us why we were buying mangoes. We sort of looked at each other and said, "Because we like them?"

During this conversation, we were walking towards the ocean and passing through one of the parks. In the middle of the field was a giant, huge, enormous tree. I am at a loss to describe just how big it was. But he showed us all the mangoes that had fallen off the tree and asked us if we wanted any. Naturally we said no, because we didn't want any of the rotten ones that were on the ground. But he understood what we meant. And without further ado, he slipped off his shoes and scampered up the tree. I'm not sure how he did it, for there were no branches anywhere near the ground, but scamper up it he did.

The next thing I knew I was catching fresh mangoes.

We had more mangoes than we could have possibly eaten that week, much less that day.

This man showed us so much about the old island life, and we learned a lot about fish and fishing from him. It became something of a regular thing for us to meet him in the fish market most mornings and he would tell us all about the people there, and the fish, and what they were doing. It was delightful as well as educative.

Towards the end of our stay, he showed us some seashells he was collecting to try and make a necklace. They were very beautiful, and we could see why he wanted to do this project. And so when we went down to the beach, we began looking for those shells so that we could give them to him for his project. I like to think that he did eventually finish it, and that he found a lovely lady to whom he could present it.

The other thing we noticed was a simple thing in relation to an observation that I had made many years earlier. I had said that the two things Baha'is do best are eat and laugh.

And you know, I still maintain that this is true.

But in Martinique I was able to make a corollary to that statement. I think the two are in inverse proportion to each other.

In Martinique at the time, I had never in my life seen a Baha'i community that laughed so little. And this despite how incredibly friendly and loving they were.

But at the same time, I had never seen a Baha'i community with so many 5-star chefs in it. As you can imagine, the social portion at Feast was really something to behold. In the restaurants, one of the truly delightful foods was their crab cakes, or fish cakes. I happen to love fish, and fish cakes happen to be one of my favorite ways to prepare them. But these cakes in Martinique took my breath away (especially if they added the full compliment of spices to them).

And we had them at just about every gathering.

These guys who did the cooking were unbelievable. If nothing else, that alone should have sufficed to get people to the various Baha'i functions. (You know, I just realized that I haven't made them since I've been out here in Victoria. What's wrong with me?)

Yeah. One of my favorite memories is a Feast at one of the guys' houses. He had a relatively small apartment that seemed like it had no electricity. But his hospitality was golden. And the food he served, well, that was like platinum! I have never had so incredible a feast as at this man's home.

Well, that's enough for now. I'll tell you more about this trip later. For now, it just makes me long to be back there. And reminds me that I have to read more about teaching amongst those who are in poverty.

Oh, and make fish cakes for lunch. Can't forget that.

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