Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Travelling Teaching, part 4

I loved being in Martinique. The people were awesome, and the land was so different from the flat prairies of Winnipeg, where I had lived for many years at that point.

When we were down there some of the local kids had asked me what it was like in Winnipeg. "Well," I said, "it's flat."

"What do you mean?"

I explained that there were no mountains, and not even any real hills, but they couldn't understand what I meant.

"All right. Look. Imagine the ocean, You know what that looks like. Right?"

"Yes," they all nodded.

"Now imagine that it is made of grass, waving grass as far as you can see."

Nope. It was beyond them. They just couldn't imagine it. I can't really blame them. Just compare the two pictures below, and you'll see what I mean.

There is a slight difference between them. Winnipeg, the one on the left, looks like an ironed out version of Martinique. I told the kids down there that, in Winnipeg, you can watch your dog run away for a week.

Then they asked me about the weather. "In the winter", I explained, "it's very cold."

"How cold?"

"It can get down to -30 or -40."

And once again I was met with a wall of blank stares. This was just so far out of their understanding that all I could do was say, "Imagine standing stark naked in your freezer. That would be a warm day in Winnipeg in the wintertime."

Nope. Just couldn't get it.

One thing I remember very clearly was driving around Martinique. Well, actually I wasn't driving. Marielle did the driving. I told her that her understanding of French made it more sensible for her to drive than me. Why? I had no clue. I just made that up, but she believed me. (Please keep that a secret between us. Thanks.) Truth be told, I didn't want to drive there. Those folks obviously didn't understand physics, and I couldn't quite figure out how to drive in that terrain. Something about two cars careening towards each other at 90k, with a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other, and somehow they manage to pass each other, even though the road isn't wide enough for two cars to park next to each other, let alone drive next to each other. Nope. I knew better. I figured we were safer with her driving, and me praying. And pray I did.

Why did I pray? It's not that I don't trust my wife's driving, for I do. But when we were driving along one of those backcountry roads (the sort where you give a light toot on the horn as you're approaching a curve in order to alert anyone coming towards you that you're on the road, because God knows you sure can't see them), and I was just staring at the little bushes off the side when I suddenly had an epiphany.

"Marielle," I began, "you know those beautiful little bushes we've been passing?"

"Yeah", she replied. "What about them?"

"Those are banana trees."

I probably shouldn't have mentioned that while she was driving, but we survived.

Oh, we didn't crash, but I'm sure we came close. I mean, telling the driver that those little shrubs that you've been passing are actually 30 foot tall trees is not a good way to keep someone's attention on the road.

But where, you may wonder, were we going? We were driving to the home of the family of a new Baha'i. The husband had recently declared, the wife had not, and the two children were awesome. I think the kids were about 5 and 8. Something like that.

One of my favorite memories of this family is that whenever I would see the little guy, Teddy, he would walk up to me and ask "You speek Eengleesh?" I would smile at him and reply, "Oui. Tu parle Francais?" "Oui."

And that was all we knew how to say to each other.

This was the family we probably spent the most amount of time with. It was those two kids that we seemed to work with every day. Most mornings we would have a children's class with them, and they loved it because we would take them down to the beach for the class. After all, where better to learn about the spirit than in nature? Besides, this gave them a chance to teach us about the area, and we were able to ask them questions and share stories related to what they saw.

But we didn't just do children's classes. We also did study circles. Now please remember that this was back in 2002. We were all just beginning to learn that the core activities meant that we could go anywhere on the planet and know what everyone else was doing.

This was so cool.

Here we were, in a completely new environment and, in my case, I didn't speak the language, and we could take part in their activities as seamlessly as anything. This was completely new to us. It also turned out to be a great learning for me as I learned to follow along with a group who spoke a different language.

But let me get back to a gathering we hosted for a moment. I realize that these articles are all over the place, but hey, that's what you get when you write about a trip nearly 10 years earlier.

At this gathering, which may have been a Feast, but probably not, we did a drumming session. The seats were built of wood, so you could bang on the side of them to make beautiful music. This was so unusual for the community that most of the friends didn't know what to do. But then their Caribbean heritage took over and they really got into it.

This gathering was in the Baha'i Centre, and the windows were wide open. As we were singing and drumming, a number of people looked in to see what we were doing. A few even stopped and asked questions. This completely shocked most of the Baha'is who had never seen anything like that before.

And this, dear Reader, leads to my last learning for this post. It's a bit complicated, and may not be entirely accurate, but it is my own opinion on the matter, and you can take it or leave it. When we arrived in Martinique, the Baha'i community had been struggling for a while, trying to learn how to grow. I won't say we left them with any answers, but we felt that we came away with a better understanding of the situation. It seems that those stalwart souls who opened up the community, and did a marvelous and highly commendable job doing that, were very reserved in their own personal style. Now there is nothing wrong with that, and I truly have nothing but praise for these friends. The problem, I think, which eventually led to the difficulties they had in growing, is that we tend to teach in the way in which we were taught. This is why so many study circles I have seen do not incorporate the arts all that well. The tutors are told, "incorporate the arts", and then, rather than incorporating them, proceed to tell the participants "incorporate the arts". To do it, we need to see it.

Martinique, like most of the Caribbean, is a very exuberant culture. I think that is one of its greatest strengths. And so, seeing a very reserved style of prayer did not appeal to a significant section of the population. There is nothing wrong with this reserved style (hey, I'm fairly reserved myself), but it's appeal is limited. By the same token, if there were only exuberant prayers, that, too, would only appeal to some. No. What we need at all times is a diversity of styles. And this is especially true when we are travelling teaching.
You see, when Marielle walked around, we heard a lot of music, saw a lot of dancing, found people generally laughing and having a great time. We also saw many signs of voodoo culture, from drawings on the wall, to the remains of birds on the side of the street that had, to the trained eye, been obviously sacrificed for some reason. And then, when we saw the Baha'is, it was quite different. Naturally we tried to incorporate the strengths and good things we had found, especially since Marielle is also a musician, and that is a strength of hers.

When I get around to writing part 5, I'll you about our friend, Gandhi, and our adventures as we left the island.

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