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Archive for September, 2010

Saturday, September 25th:

It is the morning of Vern’s 18th birthday, and we are making a fruitcake. One of us (can you guess who?) is covered in flour. In a last minute run to the shop for extra ingredients (we decided to triple the batch), the plastic bag of flour must have snagged on the low hanging pomsité branches by the front porch, leaving a trail of white dust through the living room, into the kitchen, and all over my arms.

Vern is in charge, as she is not only the birthday girl, but a far more adept baker than I (she took Food and Nutrition courses in high school), and I happily assume the role of apprentice. I have never made a fruitcake before, and—frankly—always sort of wrinkled my nose at the idea. I mean, aren’t fruitcakes the butt of countless jokes? Are they not synonymous with tastelessness and tacky Christmas sweaters? Yet, as the apprentice, it’s my duty to adopt a humble posture of learning, so I strive mightily to push my prejuidices about fruitcakes aside.

One week ago:

Remembering that Vern’s birthday is just around the corner, I tell her I’d like to bake her a cake, any kind her heart desires. I’m sure she’ll say chocolate-caramel, or strawberry, or maybe even carrot (my personal favorite). The last thing I expect her to ask for is fruitcake. Fruitcake?! “Yeah!” she enthuses. “It’s so nice.” I think about rescinding my offer, but Vern is already bubbling over with excitement. “I’ll come over as soon as I can get a bus from town,” she affirms. “And we’ll make plenty, so we can bring some to my junior youth group, and to Rhea’s devotional, and to Emelda, and to my Granny…” I sigh, but with a smile. “Okay,” I tell her, grabbing a notebook and pen, “gimme the list of ingredients.”

The following Thursday:

I am miraculously (‘cause the grocery store inventory varies from week to week) able to find everything on the list, including the cherries. They cost a pretty penny, as they’re “imported from Italy,” but this special occasion merits the extra expense.

Here are the ingredients, assembled on the kitchen counter:

Let’s do a close-up of the cherries, ‘cause they are just so pretty.

Vern, like me, doesn’t really bother with precise measurements (“approximation is a lot more fun,” we both agree), but here is a general outline of the fruitcake recipe:

Ingredients:

1.5 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
1 cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
1 cup cherries
1 cup raisins
some grated lime peel

Instructions:

Simmer the cherries and raisins together in a bit of water for about five minutes. This has the same effect as soaking in alcohol, which is what most fruitcake recipes call for. What we’re making, however, is a Bahá’í fruitcake. J Mix the dry ingredients together, then stir in the eggs, melted butter, vanilla, and milk (we used a can of evaporated milk, since that’s all that was available in the roadside shop).

Grate in some lime peel—according to how citrusy you want the cake to be—and then stir in the cherry/raisin mixture, including the liquid. This cake will be very moist and chocolaty. Grease the pan(s) with butter, and bake for…well, for however long your particular oven takes. Just keep checking. For this recipe, I think it’s best to slightly undercook the cake, ‘cause it’s absolutely delicious when it’s a little bit gooey.

A bit of background info:

“Is it bigger than a breadbox?” That was the first question we’d ask during those innumerable childhood games of “Twenty Questions” (in the absence of a television, we played this game a lot). This question always seemed like a remnant from another era. Even in the 1980’s, I don’t think I ever saw an actual breadbox in use (in our home, we kept the bread in a wooden salad bowl on top of the fridge). Yet, we never managed to come up with an adequate subsitiution for the question, as no other object with comparable dimensions seemed quite so simple and straightforward. Besides, “bigger than a breadbox” has nice alliteration.

I’m sad to say that I haven’t played “Twenty Questions” in quite sometime (I wonder if the Junior Youth would indulge me in a couple rounds of it this weekend?)…but, all these years later, I have finally beheld a breadbox: our oven. I think I laughed out loud when I was first acquainted with it. “You think we can actually bake anything in this pipsqueak of a contraption?” Roushy and I asked each other increduously. As it turned out, bake we could, and bake we did—in batches of exactly one regular-sized loaf of bread, four miniature loaves, six cookies on a slightly tilted cookie sheet, or—as we discovered during Caity Bolton’s visit in May—twelve mini cupcakes or muffins.  This means that, if you’re baking for a large numbers (as we tend to do), the process becomes an morning/afternoon-long event. And, though tedious at times, this makes the end result all the more gratifying.

I have enjoyed baking for quite some time, but never have I derived such satisfaction from it as I do here. This is due in part to the challenge of trying to negotiate with a breadbox sized oven. But mainly, cuz it gives us a chance to reciprocate a little bit. As I’ve mentioned in many postings, the generosity of our neighbors in the Carib Territory is knows no bounds. This is—in part—due to the generosity of Mother Earth, who provides our neighbors with a continuous supply of yams, dasheens, figs, avocadoes, cucumbers (etc), many of which are placed into our hands and on our front porch. To say that this community keeps us wellfed would be an understatement akin to “our oven is rather small.”

We want to shower our neighbors with gifts in return. Yes, of course, the best gifts are time, and love, and a listening ear, but it also feels really good to be able to offer something as tangible as a yam. Even though we live among twelve kinds of fruit trees and a field of pepper plants, we aren’t really at liberty to give these things away, as they provide the livelihood for the family on whose land we live. Early on in our stay here, in attempts to offer a unique gift to the one of the grannies who’d just handed me a bushel of sweet potatoes, I gave her a box of tea (with individually wrapped bags of Yogi “Mayan Cocoa Spice”). She took it from me and studied it, question marks in her eyes. “It’s tea!” I said, a little too encouragingly. I explained that it’s just like Bush tea, except it’s divided up into little parcels, and you don’t have to use a strainer. The granny tilted her head, unconvinved. “Just try it,” I urged. “It’s delicious.” Several months later, when visiting this dear granny’s home, I spotted the box of tea, still unopened, resting on a top shelf. I had to laugh, acknowledging the absurdity of giving packaged tea to a woman who’s grown up with a jungle full of natural tea right in her backyard.

Happily, we were soon to discover that our wee little oven could serve not only as a dogfood holder (notice the plastic bag in the oven photograph above—we are waging war against our household mice), but as a gift producing factory! You see, there is only one other oven that I know of in all of Mahaut River, Gaulette River, and St. Cyr, which means that a gift of homemade cupcakes is gonna be a whole lot more appreciated than a box of tea. J So we bake for birthdays. We bake for Bahá’í Holy Days, and Feasts. We invite the Jr Youth over for baking afternoons. We bake to commemorate the completion of a Ruhi Book. And we bake for every granny who has ever given us a bag of sweet potatoes. Below is a photographic sampling of our baking exploits.

A baking-in-a-breadbox review, November 2009-September 2010:

December: Decorating cookies at the neighborhood Christmas party


February: Junior Youth peanut-butter cookie baking extravaganza


March: Francillia’s birthday cake (ok, this one wasn’t actually baked in the breadbox, but its initial attempt was…read about it in an earlier posting “Sounds of Francillia’s Laughter”)

May: Caity brings a cupcake tin, thus revolutionizing our baking life!


July: Colorful baking with our neighbors


September: Vern’s fruitcakes, in the miniature loaf pans


Back to last Saturday:

We have been in the kitchen, which smells of chocolate and cherries, the better parto f the day. The sun is sinking low in the sky, and I am still covered in flour. Our three and a half batches of fruitcake are finished, and it’s time for the moment of truth: the tasting. I admit, I’m a little nervous. I want to like Vern’s birthday creation, but it’s a fruitcake, for heaven’s sake. I feel a bit like the unnamed character from “Green Eggs and Ham”—I do not like fruitcake, Sam-I-Am! But we all know what happens at the end of that classic Dr. Suess tale, don’t we? Grouchy Mr. No-name finally tries the green eggs and ham…and he likes them. So much so, in fact, that he’ll even eat them with a fox, in a box, in the rain, on the train, here, there, and anywhere. Who knew? So I did it. I took a bite. And guess what—not only did I like Vern’s fruitcake, I deemed it one of the tastiest concotions ever to come out of that breadbox.

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Note from Denali: no posting on “Sounds of Laugher” has so beautifully conveyed the ecstasy and tears of our experience in Dominica as this one has. Thank you, dear Roushy. I love you so very much.

***

I usually just read or rather skim (but thoroughly skim) this blog every week (sorry Den…only two hours of internet!), but this week due to an unfortunate amount of spare time on my hands, I’ve been inspired to write something, mainly to keep myself feeling productive, but also to be of some service to my partner (who has been oh so patient and loving).

“If I write a blog for Den, then she doesn’t have to rush to write one Wednesday night. Who knows if Adia, Naki, and Shin Tuck will come over (our little friends next door), or if Darling, Boofy, Foofy, and Shaloop (but of course not our puppy Accompany) will cry and whine to be let in thus disturbing Den’s peace.” So, Denali, this is for you and extra time on the internet Thursday.

***

“How is Dominica? How is pioneering?”

Well…

…the desire to be understood is common to us all. And yet no one understands us. We do not understand ourselves. We all know what we mean by being ‘understood’ but the term is hard to define...-Marzieh Gail

Lately, I’ve been really wanting to be ‘understood’ about this–about pioneering. I’m sure my fellow pioneers understand, but do others? How do you explain pioneering to someone who has never pioneered?

Pioneering is ecstasy and tears. -Dorothy Baker

Yes, but do you really know what that means? Do you know what that feels like? I want you to know.

I think Dorothy Baker put it simply because to try to actually explain it would be difficult. Of course the word ‘pioneering’ could be substituted for ‘walking a path of service.’ Anyone who walks a path of service surely feels ecstasy and tears, but I still think pioneering is a little different. Why? I don’t know. I think that my China people would agree that it is hard to understand China unless you have actually lived there, and I feel the same way about pioneering. It is hard to get it unless you’ve done it. I don’t know if that is fair to say. Maybe you can understand some of it or maybe I just do an awful job of explaining it, but I’m going to try. I was inspired by fellow pioneer Cara’s blog “Repeat these words slowly, breathe in and out…” (http://surprisebananas.blogspot.com/) and thought this would be the best way I can explain or attempt to begin to explain some of the ecstasy and tears of pioneering.

So here it is: a glimpse into my (our) lives…

Read Ridvan Message. Done. Read October 20th Message. Done. I love the House. Reread Ridvan Message + highlights and notes. Done. Lets go way back, way back to 2005—December 27th Message. Done. This Faith is amazing. Have a conversation with Corrine True: “Please walk with me today.” Dr Muhajir please let Denali get her visa. Praise God! How many tutors/animators am I going to have to raise up to pay back the Fund? Lets pray for the ITC. So and so is now talking to so and so. Praise God! We’re on the road back to unity. 7 months later and finished a Book 1. Oops. A little too long. My little part of the September report—done.

A JY is teaching children’s classes on her own. Praise God! “I dream about ‘Abdu’l-Baha” (our 5 year-old neighbor). Really? “Yes. I love Him. He’s a nice man.” And I love you. You want to have devotionals every week?! We think that would be okay (Praise God!). Thank you Concourse for not giving us mice and centipedes in the same week. Marion Jack how on earth did you get through it? Morning Deepenings + Prayers + Coffee + view of the Atlantic=beautiful paradise. Den…I don’t have a copy of Dawnbreakers here. Lets finish when I get back. Prayer of the week: “O thou whose tests are a healing medicine to such as are nigh unto thee…” So and so didn’t show up for Ruhi…again. Bamford said pioneering is spiritual growth on speed—now I understand. A JY: “No matter how tired I am at night, I always say the ‘O Lord! Pitiful are we, grant us Thy favor…’ prayer.” The future of the cluster is in your (the JY) hands. Can I be here with you when you turn 15? You taught the Faith on your own?! Praise God!

There are 9 critters currently living in our house; at least it is a Baha’i number. How are we going to find more animators? The running sickness is going around again? Sigh. Someone actually called to let you know they couldn’t do Ruhi today? Ownership and responsibility–thank you. Siila is coming–Yes! Thank you CT. So and so got arrested? Praise God. Gaulette River is safer now! Book 1 participant: “Maybe one day I can go preaching like you do.” Lets go together. We have a new JYG & animator! Obedience? Okay. Obedience with joy? A little harder. Let’s buy cheese every week and yogurt and apples! A study circle…we actually have a circle! And now all the participants are going back to school? So…do we still have a circle? 9-year old: “I know 7 prayers by heart.” You’ve prepared devotions for Feast on your own? Yes! There are how many more months until the end of the Plan? Oh God, there is so much to do! If I hear “psssst” one more time I think the Atlanta in me will come out.

New believers and all in the institute process—thank you! Capacity (our pup) is dead? New souls are arising! I’m tired of being sick and out of commission. Is there any privacy? I want a hug from Dorothy Baker. We finally have a Fund! The Chief came to Feast—thank you! Are the priests still denouncing the Faith from the pulpit? You’re greeting us with “Allah’u’Abha!”—oh how we love hearing it! “I have fallen, though I never faltered”—Keith Ransom Kehler–“The smoke and din of battle are today too dense for me to ascertain whether I moved forward or was slain in my tracks”—amen, sister. You still remember the unity prayer from when you used to attend children’s classes? You want to teach children’s classes?!—thank God we’re only accompanying now.

Bk 1 participant: “My father keeps calling to say he is studying Baha’i again. It is good.”–God is good. Whose turn is it to write to Uncle Bobby to ask for more money? Do we still have to do a monthly budget? We remembered to have Feast on time this month. We’re getting better. Wonderful consultations with ABm. Thank you Baha’u’llah for these shining stars in our cluster. Is it Thursday yet? Texts & emails–a little love and encouragment goes a long way. I love Holly and the Coordinating Team so much. Thank you for Denali.

“Hypothetically speaking…”–should I or should I not? It’s Saturday night and they’re not playing music, thank God! Did we meet our goals from the last cycle? How can we get more Book 1s? We need more people arising to serve. We’re living in paradise. What beautiful souls! What a bounty to be here. Praise God, people are taking individual initiative. Our favorite café is closed? Your internet is down? But we can only use internet once a week! Radiant acquiescence and not dull resignation—this is hard.

Ruhiyyih Khanum didn’t like the word “culture shock,” but coming back to the states is a culture shock. Did you know that we’ve been calling on Enoch Olinga the week of his passing? Are we going to have enough energy to sustain ourselves at the pace and intensity we’re going? Have you heard from the other pioneers? I love expansion phases. The mice did not wake me up last night—Praise God! We got coffee in the mail! They opened up an American grocery store?! We can’t go to the river because there is a convict on the loose? A ‘shop’ just opened in front of our house! Now we’re surrounded by 3 rum shops & an aspiring DJ next door?  We’ve got mail? A letter from Haifa. I love you Lydia. I love teaching. New people are going out teaching! The institute process has slowed down. Crises & victories. Expansion phase, singing, new souls, advancement, energy—ecstasy. “Pioneering is ecstasy…” Am I doing enough? Time is going fast. Are we doing right by the Cluster? When can we have our dinner and listening to talks nights again?  “…and tears.

Pioneering is ecstasy and tears; bad food, cold rooms, dark pensions, and periods of fruitless waiting; yearning souls, sudden illumination…and new conviction of the “power that is far beyond the ken of angels and men.” Dorothy Baker

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I was awoken early and twice the first morning. First, harshly, by the heavens launching themselves at us. A tremendous rain doin’ its full thing, a stampede of sky. then gently by three little girls from next door toting an armful of flowers for me. “Denali’s Seestah! for Denali’s Seestah!” Oooooooouch!! i think i have stretch marks on my heart.

*

It’s hard to write about this place. There is so much to say and it’s all so worthy of being told. beauty is hyperbolized in everything. it’s like God saying, “Dudes, you’re dense but i love you, so i made this island where i have spelled myself onto everything, really, really, obviously, and it is BRIGHT! Behold, life is good! life is Great! life is Amazing! Celebrate already, damnit!” I’ve been such a happy dope for most of this trip. This experience has been rare sunset spectacular—like being so sloshingly full of awe that you don’t realize you look O.D.’d on Novocain and that there’s a large drool strand dripping onto your shoulder. and even if you were aware of your slobbering stupor you wouldn’t give a damn because who cares about looking really, really delayed when there’s such extravagance to focus on!? This island makes me receptive to the world.

*

(what is it that makes an experience a memory? is it noticing subtleties, smiles, textures? details? nose crinkles, lantern glows, firefly composition? when the sunset is a gut wrenching red? sanguine as a scalped fairy? when the sky is so deep you don’t know whether to regard it as bruised or beautiful…)

*

Quick descriptions-~~~~

My sister’s house is the size of my grandparent’s bathroom–generously. I love it because it’s so unimposing. She has five adopted dogs–Darling, Chaloop, Accompany, Foofy, Boofy and Great Grandmother–the wise old dog with the really saggy tits! There’s not a lot of money rollin’ around here, but wealth is edible, and food is abundant. The road (there’s only one) is skinny as a Scandinavian super model and pocked as a penitentiary lunch lady. There is no lane division. The is, however, much precipice. These drivers must have some intuitive capacity for sensing when other crazy vans that move wildly and cumbersomely like bison with firecrackers in their asses are approaching the same blind, break neck curve. Well whatever the trick, my bones are still beneath my skin, so I’m grateful.

*

(…when each morning the sun, with its pursed, omnipresent lips bends its kiss to color the world awake? and it when wakens and arises, green, red, orange, purple, yellow, and with such stature? and goes about catering its magic to your eyes? is it alignment of new sensations so peculiar and sensational that the  folds and lines and layers of world become poetry? is it when poetry is visceral and sends rivers through you that pool in your finger tips and make everything you touch giddy and electric?…)

*

The locals call my sister, very endearingly, DooDoo, which means Sweet Thing in Creole. It’s funny to hear someone be called DooDoo with such tenderness…like being called “Shit Head” in a singsongy little coo. They call me Papa Doll. A title that could definitely plant a weird complex…but Papa is used as an exclamatory word, so i’m hoping they think me really dolly, rather than….er…like a plastic Papa.

*

The day is expansive and undivided as the sea with no tight schedules cutting the full fruit of the day into bight sized pieces. Though Dominican life is definitely hard work, it is addressed fluidly, without expectation of comfort and ease.  Life isn’t treated as a thing to be protected, fixed or prettied. Things are as they are. Things are patient. Things are natural.

*

(is it when things are simple? or spectacular? or both? or when you’re able to see both in the other? when beauty is so big it makes your eyes and heart supple enough to notice the god in tiny things? is it when moonlight slips into you and over it all like a resin making your relationship with the world probeable, pliable enough for understanding? Is it when conversation is made of mooonlight and winds you effortlessly into new patterns with its luminous threads…)

*

Beauty here is selfless. Even the most beautiful beauties don’t hold themselves like trophies to be pedestaled and distantly admired. They seem to understand the truth of Mary Oliver’s words, that each person is both “common as a field daisy, and as singular.” And so kindness is general, competition scarce, and in many, many ways, things feel much less complicated.

*

(Is it the temperature of cool ocean breeze and warm stars? or when the grime and sweat of your day leads you to a new found appreciation for the river? is it hugs when you know how big they are? or when your eyes are freshened with the ablution of newness and look upon everything as a prayer?)

*

Nighttime has been the richest. the sun looks over us from 6-6,  so nighttime happens early. Gentle music is on my sister makes cupcakes for the youth she’ll be working with the following day and i make hummus and then we both make tea and sit on the warm porch with the ocean to our left and our words easy, conversation taking the scenic route to get to a point,  bestrewn by stars, fireflies and cricket song. this is gratitude.

I’ve been on this computer for too long! Quick Miscellany Incoherenced—old women with machetes, learning to make baskets, passion fruit, bananas, mangos, papayas, sugar cane, growing right outside the house! Trucks and vans all have really goofy names plastered on the front —Positive Times, Python #2, Mickey Blessed, Wayne. Coconuts like fallen heads. We walk on their deterioration, the crushcrunching of softening skulls. Big, black, winged cockroaches, millipedes, centipedes. such huge and unabashedly wild leaves strewn like chaotic freedom. i am looking from the window, equally apart and a part wondering my role in this masterpiece and when beauty is too big for adjectives, I start to wonder beyond words into a gentle crumbling of knowing where beauty breaks your knees and bends the mountains and is too big to maintain structure! Poetry is everything! Growing, flapping, chirping, being spectacular, being eccentric as hell! And I, we, am, are a part of the metaphor.

*

My sister described this island beautifully. She said, “it’s like a garden with little colorful houses poking up like flowers between the beds.”

A Garden it is. Adam and Eve don’t got sheeit on this place. This experience is a memory.

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To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…
~Ecclesiastes 3

The secret is that every day a new world is born.
Dorothy Baker

It is the first week of September, and a new season is upon us.

I must confess that, when living in the tropical regions of our planet, one of the things I miss the most is the changing of the seasons. I was blessed to “raise up” in a land of snow-covered winters, wildflower-laden springs, hot, golden summers, and crunchy, delicious autumns (I can’t tell you how intensely I’m craving a Hood River apple right now!). And there’s something about the changing of the seasons, the passing of the baton from one to another that evokes a sense of nostalgia and wonder. Of time and place and purpose…of connectedness with the cycles and rhythms of the earth.

Of course, it is also a blessing to be here, on this green island. And it’s not that we don’t have seasons in Dominica—we do. But we don’t exactly refer to them as winter, spring, summer and fall. Rather, they’re known as “Rainy Season,” “Really Rainy Season,” and “Hurricane Season.” Or they’re identified by the fruits they bear—April and May are Mango Season, June and July are Pineapple Season, etc. Presently, we are in Guava Season.

In these September mornings, as I walk down the Carib Territory Road, breathing in, breathing out, and beholding the world around me, I can’t perceive any of the usual indicators I associate with the arrival of fall: the briskness in the air, the taste of apple cider on my tongue, the crunch of flame-colored leaves beneath my feet. Here, regardless of the Earth’s position as it circumambulates the sun, the leaves and vines and grasses remain a robust and brilliant green. I wake every morning to the thudding of coconuts and the crowing of roosters, and sleep to the chirping of crickets. And whether it is breadfruit season, grapefruit season, or sour sop season, the tropical air is either heavy with rain, or heavy with the promise of rain.

But the calendar says September. And this week, the children of the Carib Territory will grease and braid their hair, iron their pleated skirts or navy blue trousers, fill their backpacks with sharpened pencils, crisp new notebooks, and jars of guava juice, and go Back to School. Fall in the Caribbean may have a different flavor, but it is still a new season. And I welcome it with open arms.

This summer was hard.

I don’t know if I’ve conveyed much of the heaviness of these past three months on “Sounds of Laughter.” This is partly because, if I dwelt too much in the dark side, I’d have to change the blog’s title… and “Sounds of Wailing” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? 😉 But I’ve focused more on the positive mainly because there have been many, many joys, and I feel that when I’m able to recount them here, it deepens their beauty and significance for me. Sharing laughter and light and victories uplifts us all. Yet, sometimes, sharing our struggles can uplift us too. “For this reason,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes, “must all human beings powerfully sustain one another.” “Love thou the children of men,” He exhorts us, “and share in their sorrows.” Our loads are so much lighter when we carry them together. Now, I have a feeling that when I put them in writing, the “sorrows” of this summer won’t seem so onerous. This tends to happen when take a step back from something and stare at it in the face. The more distance between you and it, the smaller it becomes. Small, and even laughable. But initially, it’s a goliath.

As Hand of the Cause of God Dorothy Baker so wisely articulated, “Pioneering is ecstasy and tears.” As I acknowledged, these weekly postings have focused mostly on the ecstasy, which has been in ample supply here…but let me tell you, we shed a lot of tears this summer (I can almost hear the Junior Youths’ voices as I type, “Oh Den-Den, stop being so emotional”). Our morning cry-sessions have become almost a daily ritual. We trundle out of our home with prayer books in hand, and situate ourselves on the green plastic chairs we’ve placed in our backyard prayer spot (well, first we tip the chairs to dump off the puddles of accumulated rainwater, then re-situate them so as not to sink into the mud…but they sink anyway). One of us starts with a prayer, or a meek little song, and—inevitably—something in it will trigger the waterworks. So we sniffle our way through our prayers, and by the time we’ve read a page or two from The Dawnbreakers (our morning reading of the summer), the sniffles have become blubbering sobs.

Why has this been happening to us? I can’t say for sure. But I think that when we commune with our Maker, we’re reduced to our rawest, most vulnerable state of being (I’m calling to mind phrases contained in Bahá’í prayers such as “Thou seest my lowliness, weakness, and humility…”, “O Lord, I am single, alone, and lowly…”, “Lowly and tearful I raise my suppliant hands to Thee…” and so many others, most involving some form of the word “lowly”).  I’ve gotta say, never before have I felt so acutely my own lowliness as I have this season. Part of it is that, with the passing of the days and months, as both the tests and the joys intensify, I am made continuously more aware of the preciousness of this work, of this Cause…and what a bounty it is to be here. A bounty whose sacredness I will probably never—at least not in this world—fully comprehend. And a bounty of which I feel entirely undeserving. It’s amazing how, when you venture onto the path of service, all your imperfections boil up to the surface and force you to acknowledge them…not unlike the scratchy heat rash that has covered my skin the past three months.

So when we sit on those green plastic chairs in the morning, turning our faces eastward to the crashing Atlantic and—just beyond the horizon—the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, begging desperately for spiritual strength, for the progress of this blessed community, for worthiness, the irony of the chairs sinking deeper and deeper into the mud is not lost on us. 😉 They can be paralyzing, these feelings of inadequacy, and there were days this summer where we couldn’t even muster the will to leave our house. But this is all par for this course, isn’t it? Shoghi Effendi writes, in a passage that brings tranquility to my agitated heart:

Your sense of inadequacy, your realisation of your own unworthiness is not unique at all. Many, from the Highest to the humblest have had it. Now the wisdom of it is this: it is such seemingly weak instruments that demonstrate that God is the Power achieving the victories and not men. Rest assured, dear sister, you will ever-increasingly be sustained, and you will find joy and strength given to you…

Lately, one of the sources of joy and strength for me has been through immersing myself in books. In earlier seasons, Roushy and I had an evening ritual of cooking dinner together and listening to an inspiring talk (here’s a link that has some wonderful ones, from Hands of the Cause and members of the Universal House of Justice. Ted.com, which I’m sure most are familiar with, is another favorite. We would download these on Thursdays, and listen to them throughout the week). But this summer, bouts of sickness forced Roushy to go to bed early (and made it hard to eat a full meal), so in the absence of our evening ritual, I did a lot of nighttime reading. I began the summer with Be Here Now, followed by The Sergeant, the General, and Armageddon; Meditations on the Eve of November Fourth; The Te of Piglet; The Crying Tree; The Omnivore’s Dilemma; The Shadow of the Wind; The Art of Racing in the Rain; The Faith Club; Getting Stoned with Savages (please don’t judge it by its title! It’s surprisingly witty and educational); In a Sunburned Country; and this week I started Dr. Muhajir: Hand of the Cause of God, Knight of Bahá’u’lláh, which, I believe, began to alter the course of my life by paragraph two of the introduction. I dare you to read it. 😉

As I think I’ve mentioned in an earlier posting, I rarely remember details of books, no matter how deeply they impact me. But a certain thought from Be Here Now (which was a gift from dear friend and fellow member of the Caribbean Initiative Christine Kurzius-Krug), has remained at the surface of my mind:

Either you do it like it’s a big weight on you
Or you do it as part of the dance.

I love this. And I’ve been trying to carry it with me throughout the ecstasy and tears of this summer. We can choose to trudge, or dance.  This beautiful truth is reinforced in one of those Ted.talks I referred to (“The Opportunity of Adversity”), which concludes with a poem from Hafiz:

Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does
Anything weird,
But the God who knows only 4 words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come Dance with Me.”
Come Dance.

This poem makes me really happy. But here’s the thing about our dance. Not only has it been clunkety, unrhythmic and utterly devoid of elegance, but it insists on following the most frustrating of choreography: one step forward, two steps back.

Yes, there were some encouraging steps forward this summer.  One of the greatest gifts the season proffered was the renewing, soul-nourishing visits of loved ones from overseas. And, of course, there was the arrival of Accompany, Darling, Boofy, Foofy/Pip and Butterscotch into our lives (Butterscotch has since been adopted by an uncle down the road, but it appears the other four pups are going to permanently reside on our front porch). There was growth in the community, the establishment of three wonderful new children’s classes, the formation of a new junior youth group, and the deepening of bonds of friendship all around. There were Feasts, Service Projects, a Holy Day, a Teaching Campaign, long walks on the road and trips to the sea.

But the steps back have been disheartening. One of our most active Bahá’ís has been bed-ridden for the past three months. Amongst some of the community members, hurt feelings and misunderstandings have given rise to an estrangement felt by all. The Local Spiritual Assembly has only once been able to reach a quorum of five members—and at the last meeting only two members showed up, even though we’d planned to do an afternoon of home-visits together (the two members were Roushy and Den-Den). The denunciation of the Faith from church pulpits has persisted. And the Carib Territory’s sole Junior Youth Animator left for college last week.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! (that’s the sound of me wailing).

Yet, in the midst of my sobs, I am reminded of Kibomi, the protagonist of Glimmerings of Hope, one of the texts studied by the Junior Youth. He decides, in the face of adversities far greater than mine, to choose hope. He chooses to shake off the mud and dance, placing his affairs in God’s hands—even if it means taking two steps back sometimes. He reminds us that optimism is ever an option…and it’s a far more graceful dancer than despair.

Thus, although it may not feel like fall, and though that promising era of sharpened pencils and crisp new notebooks is over for me, I am going to make a Back-to-School Resolution: to be like Kibomi. To cling to hope, and let it lead me. After all, if—as Dorothy Baker avows—a new world is born every day, how much more so with every new season.

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A posting by Special Guest Contributor Tamara Ayulo, who filled the Carib Territory with her light and warmth last month. The mice, bats, centipedes, roaches, and Reese’s-Cup-sized spiders really miss her ;). So does everyone else.

  • A Taxi driver calling his sister asking her to send a text to America requesting a return call to find the address of the residence I am supposed to be residing at Dominica.
  • A man who drives back & forth through the towns allowing the residents to hop on & off in the back of his truck at no charge
  • A walk through town in which you are not allowed to pass any house in which you know a resident, who then in turns feeds you & provides you with a beverage or genuinely apologizes for not having the capability to do so at the moment (never mind you are the one who showed up unannounced).
  • A spider the size of a Reese’s Cup chillin on the book shelf in my living room ~ after my shock of the size of the creature & bringing it to my host Denali’s attention, I am asked with all seriousness if I want her to remove it… Hmmm, why is she looking at me like I am crazy?
  • A bat flying into the kitchen– and the loudness of my screams are the shock, not the bat chilling on the floor while I am trying to cook dinner.  Apparently, he is “quite cute.” Yes, yes he is – on Sesame Street.
  • A Hot Pink Hibiscus Flower called ugly with all seriousness… (Francillia felt it was wiltier than it ought to be)
  • It’s One AM, and a big spider is on the wall in front of my bed. I rub my eyes, check the corners of the mosquito net as the spider hauls arse around my room to place himself behind my bed, lay my head back down closer to the spider than 30 seconds before and pass back out. Mosquito net was in – check, goodnight (the things we can get accustomed to).
  • A mouse and a roach roadtrippin’ through my house simultaneously, passing each other with no qualms like they were two vehicles on opposite sides of the freeway trying to get from point A to point B.
  • Frogs the size of my thumb who appear out of thin air.
  • Frogs who decide they are going to just spend the day chillin in my bathroom sink, and who hope I have somewhere else to wash my hands or I am going to be an uncomfortable gal for the next 12 – 24 hours.
  • A nightly lizard show, in which moths & flies flirt with the lizards until their luck runs out.
  • The Carib Territory, the only place I’ve ever seen where it is safe to stick your kid on a stranger’s lap, and the stranger will take it on as if he has some blood relation to the child
  • “After dinner”–the arrangement the mouse and I have pertaining his hours of operation in the kitchen
  • “As long as I don’t see you or you evade my first attempt to kill you”–the arrangement the roach and I have.  If you make a fool of me once, you have your life for the next 24 hours
  • “None” – the arrangement that centipedes and I have.  They under no circumstance are allowed anywhere near me, and that also goes for the Harry Potter size Arachnid that dwelled in the house nine months ago.  As long as they remain myths we are cool, other than that, I will learn to use a machete really quick.
  • Machete – an item carried around like an American would carry around his car keys.  It can be purchased in pretty much any store.
  • A truck called a Van, a Van called a Bus, a Bus called a Coaster
  • 21 – the number of people shoved into a Van aka Bus as no man gets left behind on the last bus from town to the Carib Territory
  • Intruder – what I am to any room in my house past 9:30 pm (when the critters take over)
  • Mosquito net – a gal’s best friend
  • River – a place you go if you want any clean clothes for the next week
  • Climb – what you do if you are hungry or thirsty
  • Walk… or should I say hike – what you do if you want to get anywhere other than where you are
  • Hitchhiking – An acceptable means of transportation, faster than walking
  • Provisions – foods that your environment provides at no charge

Just a small taste that Dominica left in my mouth… different, yet oh so delicious!

Picture Captions: Top–Francillia gives Tamara and me a basket-weaving lesson. Bottom–Tamara and Lydia, skipping down the Carib Territory Road after Feast.

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