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Archive for December, 2010

Today’s posting is from special guest contributor Christine Kurzius-Krug, my new service partner in Domincia, and a most inspiring teacher and friend. I am learning a great deal from her every day. I’ve been trying to get her to write something for this blog, but we have been so busy in the past few weeks that it’s been challening for either of us to carve out a moment for creative production…so I’m gonna post (with her permission, of course), something she wrote for her own blog a few days after she arrived here. I’ll follow that up with a few recent pictures she’s taken of our beautiful community. Enjoy!

*

Every now and again you get outside of your comfortable world and open a new window.  My now and again happened a few days ago when I landed in Dominica in the Carib Territory to serve in the community with a dear friend, Denali.  It is not easy to write about a new place that takes your breath away with every step and that gives away smiles and hugs a plenty.  It is a place the heart skips rope, a lovely green world. Cool, invigorating, mysterious, alive – the color of growth – following everywhere! Green is in the gifts of food brought daily by one or another of our neighbors, the budding friendships along the one road that connects everyone, the flowering acts of service in teaching the tender hearts and minds of children, in working with the junior youth, planting the seeds of a devotional life, and in training resources for a path of service, green is in the giggles and bounce of the children.  Green. Emeralds. A place of glistening gems!

Denali and Roushy have woven an awesome tapestry of love and friendship along this winding road!  Imagine strolling down this road adorned with every shade of green, polka-dotted with family homes and hummingbirds sipping nectar from the rainbow colored profusion of flowers found in the cared for gardens of all the houses. With the blue sapphire of the sea around every bend, the turquoise sky above. Now as you are walking in the coffered jungle, children jump out with hugs and greetings, friends open up jellies (young coconuts – juice and soft white jelly), another might refresh you a juice or a banana, or even a delicious lunch after a busy morning washing clothes at the river – intermingling of the hearts.  You might stay to say prayers for those who are ill or soon to have a child.  You might be stopping to consult with a friend about a path of service one can undertake, or assist with a children’s class. Or just comment on the beautiful work of the many basket weavers here.  Even those who are repairing the roads will stop to give a friendly greeting.  Everyone here gives.  It is a land of generous living.  Green and thriving!

Of course no matter where you are when you open that window into a new world, the light always casts its shadows. There are things that eat at the peace and tranquility both from within and without – the usual assortment of crimes and debased behavior, stinging centepides – naaasty creatures that enjoy visiting the home – and other more insidious things.  But oh this light pulls one out of that darkness every time. Love’s path leads up to the light, places suffused with green!

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A note


The Gaulette River Junior Youth Group baking cupcakes for their fundraiser

Dear friends, it is Wednesday night and my eyelids are so heavy. I am drinking a cup of Chai Tea with two teabags for extra strength, but the caffeine doesn’t appear to be kicking in.  Some weeks it’s really hard to write a blog entry. But I hate missing a week (I mean, I committed to posting every Thursday, so I have to pull something together, don’t I?). I considered sharing with you a wonderful passage from Thich Nhat Hanh about meditating while washing dishes…but—though I do think it would inspire you, I also feel that there is so much going on in the Carib Territory right now, that it’d be a shame not to recount some of it.

Ohhh, if only I had an iota of creative motivation right now…

OK, here’s what I’ll do. Instead of a full-fledged entry, I will just write a little note—a few commentary-free bullet points of some recent developments in our community. Quantitatively, they may not seem like much, but they are significant steps forward for us (and we believe in celebrating small victories!).

Oh, but one quick word of commentary: I attribute these advances largely to Roushy’s prayers (she stayed up a whole night on Tuesday, praying for the Carib Territory), and to Christine, who is Making Things Happen (Thanksandpraises! It looks like she will be able to extend her service here ‘til Spring!).

So, here’s a review of the developments of the past couple of weeks:

  • Three new youth have arisen to begin the training (Ruhi Book 7: Walking together on a Path of Service) to become tutors—an urgent need in the Carib Territory.
  • Two children’s class teachers, both of them youth, completed their training in Ruhi Book 3: Teaching Children’s Classes, Grade 1, equipping themselves with the vision and skills to carry out their classes with a greater degree of excellence.
  • At Christine’s encouragement, we shared the Faith with a neighboring family who I’d deemed as “uninterested” in the work we’re doing… but it turs out that not only are they very, very interested, they want to begin studying Reflections on the Life of the Spirit as a family, and to host regular devotional gatherings in their home.
  • Another neighboring couple—who, I’m ashamed to say, I’d neglected to reach out to this past year—also began studying Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, and want to host a children’s class in their yard.
  • We learned that pretty much everybody listens to the Bahá’í Radio Program on DBS Radio, Sunday mornings at 7am. We only realized this when, on a round of visits this week, nearly everyone we spoke with said they’d heard me and Francillia on the radio last week. One family said they listen to it every Sunday as they’re getting ready for church, and it’s their most favorite program. Who knew??? So now we’ve embarked on a really fun project (also initiated by Christine): walking around with the recorder in hand, interviewing as many folks in the community as we can: children, junior youth, parents of children and junior youth, community members who have observed the impact of the activities the Bahá’ís are carrying out…etc. Very exciting.
  • One of the young men from our first Junior Youth Group, who hadn’t participated in over six months (despite our repeated attempts to reach out to him), returned to the group yesterday. What joy! He was full of wonderful service project ideas, and helped the group formulate a plan for the week after Christmas: honoring the service of all the community bus drivers by inviting them to a free car-wash (bus, wash). While their vehicle is being cleaned, the group will serve the drivers homemade cookies, and talk with them about the importance of their service.
  • One of the newer Junior Youth Groups (animated by Laurelle, the community pre-school teacher and basket-maker extraordinaire), began planning a group outing during the school holiday, but realized they didn’t have the funds to be able to pay a driver. They consulted together and—entirely of their own initiative—decided to bake mini cupcakes, wrap them in colorful paper, and walk from house to house selling them for 50 cents each. In the searing afternoon sun, these 11 and 12 year olds knocked on every door in Mahaut River and Gaulette River… and sold every last cupcake, earning enough to pay a driver, plus a little extra for snacks.
  • Haha, I thought I could do this without any commentary, but I see that these “bullet-points” are getting longer and longer (maybe the caffeine is finally starting to kick in). Okay, just a couple more, and then I really am going to sleep. Last week, we held our first reflection gathering for the Children’s Class Teachers of the Carib Territory. These classes have been going on for nearly six months now, but we hadn’t yet gathered the teachers together to share experiences and learn from one another. How much more empowering for these teachers to be able to consult and reflect with each other, rather than with me and Christine and Francillia. Their discussions were honest and insightful, and they shared wonderful activity ideas, memorization techniques, and strategies for establishing more order and structure in the classes. May this be the first of many such gatherings to come.
  • Our two junior youth animators, Vern and Laurelle, have seemingly irreconilable schedules, but since it’s holiday time, we were finally able to get them together for an Animators Gathering/Book 5 training. I played balloon volleyball and watched “Cars” with Laurelle’s two young sons, while Christine facilitated the training, which—the animators reflected afterwards—was inspiring and thought-provoking. We have two more weeks before everyone goes back to school, so if anyone out there would like to offer a prayer for our ability to utilize this time to the fullest (focusing especially on intensive trainings for the youth), it’d be greatly, greatly appreciated.
  • Finally, I have to report that we have been blessed with an early crop of mangoes. They aren’t supposed to ripen until March, but lo and behold, they are here in late December. And Christine knows how to make a mean chutney. God is Good.

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My Neighbors’ Playground

My Neighbors’ Playground

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach.
~Henry David Thoreau

Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, The Maker, The Creator.
~Bahá’u’lláh

My neighbors have the world’s greatest playground.

These neighbors are Adia, Nakia, Indio, Akima (known as Shin Tuk “‘cause she looks Chinese”), and Kanara. Their ages are six, five, four, three, and two, respectively, and last week they took me on a tour of their playground. This playground is not a traditional one… or perhaps it’s the most traditional one. It has no slides or swingsets or monkey bars. It doesn’t have a see-saw, a sandbox or a jungle gym. But it has trees. It has plants. It has mud and dirt and golden apples and the most fascinating sticks. It has rocks and insects and leaves that feel like velvet and leaves that stick to your fingers. It has innumerable textures and noises and smells and shades of green.

You can only swing on the monkey bars, or slide down a slide so many times before getting bored, or dizzy. After sitting in a sandbox for a while, you start to feel cramped and confined. But in my neighbors’ playground, your fascination never wanes.

Last Friday afternoon, my neighbors’ parents began studying Reflections on the Life of the Spirit with Christine. I’d planned on doing an informal children’s class with the five kids during that time, and arrived at their home with my ukulele and a box of crayons. But the children had no intention of sitting down to color. Instead, they took my hand and led me through their playground. I realized, as we took the first steps into the natural wonderland that is their backyard, that today they would be the teachers, and I would be the student. I was reminded again of a quote, by a very wise person called Zeno, that I’d been meditating on this week:

“We have two ears, but only one mouth in order that we may listen more and talk less.”

I decided I ought to try this, as I followed my neighbors along the jungle pathways of their playground—to listen to these children, and to let them lead me.  I belive that if we listen more and talk less, children can be our best teachers…children, and nature.

Our first destination was a special pile of sticks. It was clearly a sacred place for the children, and we paused there a good long while, admiring the sticks, running our hands over the contours of the smooth, curvy ones…standing on the larger, wobbly ones and trying to keep our balance…etching pictures in the soft earth with the thin, pointy ones…hitting the clackety ones together for some glorious percussion. Indio—shirtless, with a golden-brown braid down his back—showed us how he could lift a stick twice his size and hold it high above his head.

As we continued through the playground, my neighbors pointed out an important tree, the leaves of which can be burned to keep mosquitoes away. Nakia—firey eyed and determined—broke off a branch and instructed that I take it home and burn the leaves in a large tin can before going to sleep. Beyond the mosquito-leaf tree was a muddy slope, slippery from last night’s rain fall. Nakia took Kanara (age three, but nearly the size of her five-year-old cousin) from my arms, and held her on her back. “You will fall if you carry her,” she explained to me. Silky-haired Shin Tuk did fall, right on her belly, covering herself with mud and leaves. I was about to react, when I realized that she wasn’t reacting. Instead, she pulled herself off, scraped the mud off her tummy with a wide banana leaf, and resumed her trek.

At the bottom of the slippery hill was the grove of mango trees, under which Whitey the dog met her maker. We stood there in reverence, remembering Whitey, and how much she loved to eat rice. We all agreed that she’d picked a lovely resting place.

Past the mango grove were the golden apple trees and pepper plants. The children picked armfuls of golden apples—still not quite ripe—and gnawed contentedly. Shin Tuk asked me to please bite open three of them for her, as the hard rind hurt her teeth. Kanara, uninterested in the golden apples, toddled over to the pepper plants—brilliant red ornaments nestled amid turquoise leaves—and picked a small handful of them for me. “You’ll put those in your soup,” the older children instructed.

When we reached a patch of earth strewn with brightly colored flowers, my neighbors decided we ought to stop and sing.

So we sang songs about gardens and moonlight and God, sitting there amid the yellow and orange flowers, ‘til the sky and sea turned a dusty purple, and the children’s mothers began calling them in for their evening tea. Adia took the lead, followed by Shin Tuk, Indio, Nakia, and Kanara, who held my hand. Twilight softened our path as we retraced our steps through the pepper patch, past the golden apple trees, and the grove where Whitey died, up the slippery-slidy slope, around the mosquito-leaf tree, and through the special pile of sticks. My neighbors were mud-kissed, bare-footed, and radiant…and as I watched their tiny forms navigate through the darkening jungle, I called to mind a book I’d read in graduate school, Richard Louv’s The Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In this beautiful and very important book, Louv argues that interacting with the natural world is as vital a human need as sleeping and eating. And that many of today’s children diagnosed with ADD are simply suffering from nature deprivation. Louv affirms,

A growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to association with nature…Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, and turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion.

I am grateful that my beloved friends and teachers—Adia, Nakia, Shin Tuk, Indio, and Kanara—will never (at least not in their childhood) have to suffer from nature deficit disorder…for theirs is the bounty of growing up with the world’s greatest playground, right in their backyard.

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A few days after returning from the States, I was blessed—doubly blessed—with a visit from two of my Caribbean Initiative sisters, Christine from Barbados, and Becky from St. Lucia. They could not have come at a better time. Christine will be here for at least a month, and will be featured in subsequent blog entries (hopefully we can convince her to be a special guest writer), but as Becky was only here for six short days, I want to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to this pizza-making, centipede-slaying, redheaded warrior.

There are many qualities about Becky that I came to know and appreciate during the week she spent in Dominica—she is a gifted artist (the pencil drawing above is hers—look at that incredible detail on the hearts!), a skilled an innovative chef (she managed to make gourmet pizza from scratch in our breadbox oven), a captivating storyteller (we delighted in her tales of studying in Ghana, backpacking in the Southwest, working as a security guard at a campus bookstore, and community building in St. Lucia), and basically an all-around wonderful person. What most impacted me about Becky, though, is her stellar ability to roll with the punches, and to respond to adversity with serenity and humor. For example:

A few nights ago, Becky was bitten by a centipede. What transpired after the bite must’ve looked like a slapstick comedy sketch. I was in the shower and Christine was on the phone with her husband when it happened. Becky let out a yelp: “Centipede!” and upon hearing my least favorite word in the English language, I grabbed a towel, tore into the bedroom (the scene of the attack), and proceeded to hop up and down and scream my head off. This is pathetic, I know. After a year of co-habitating with centipedes, I ought to be a bit more cool, calm, and collected in my response to them. Yet somehow my panic only increases with each sighting—it’s gotten to the point now where I need to holler and do a little fear-dance for a solid two minutes before I can collect my wits enough to try to kill the thing (and, of course, by this point it has usually absconded). Anyhow. There I am, screaming and hopping about, while Christine is trying to explain to Brian on the other end of the phone why it sounds like the apocalypse over here (finally she just shouts: “Honey, I have to go!”, drops the phone, and grabs a frying pan), and Becky’s hand is starting to swell. Becky conveys to me that the centipede is in my bed (see photo below), so I make a mad dash for the bug spray and start drenching my mattress with it. By the time I’ve dispensed half the can of toxic spray (managing to douse everything but the centipede), Becky (injured hand and all), takes over. She removes the bugspray from my grasp before we all asphyxiate, raises the fryingpan high in the air, and SMASHES it on the target. Well. Thank the Lord that some people know how to handle emergency situations.

Justice has been served, but we are all still reeling (and dizzy from inhaling all that bugspray). So we open the windows, drink some cold water, and decide that watching a nice cartoon will calm our nerves. We select “Cars,” which is on file in Becky’s i-Tunes, and settle onto the couch as it loads. I reach over for my water…and knock the full glass over ONTO BECKY’S COMPUTER. Once again, I start screaming. Becky, however, laughs. She laughs. Moving quickly, she unplugs the computer, removes the battery, and turns it upside down to dry. I’m still screaming, and she is still chuckling. “OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH!!!” I wail. “I’MSOSORRYI’MSOSORRY!!!” Becky pats my shoulder with her swollen hand. “It’s okay,” she tells me. “These things happen. Please don’t worry.” She smiles reassuringly, “Maybe it’s not even ruined.” I feel sick to my stomach, and am sure that the computer is ruined (I’ve learned the hard way what even a little bit of water can do to a MacBook), but mingled with my horror at what I’ve done is a feeling of awe. I stare at Becky in wonder, and think to myself “This. This is radiant acquiescence. Oh, Lord, please help me to one day reach this degree of detachment.” I am so inspired that I almost forget that there is a centipede nest under my bed.

When we wake up the next morning, the pain and swelling are gone from Becky’s hand. We re-assemble her computer, and it starts up without a hitch. Becky laughs again. “See? We had nothing to worry about.”

 

 

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I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.
~ Abraham Lincoln

A few quick newsflashes from the animal kingdom:

I have never been a “cat person.” But when rats started to take over our kitchen (they really crossed the line when they broke into our stash of Yogi tea), I began to warm up to the idea of getting a kitten. When the community got wind of this, one of the Junior Youth brought over an orange kitten wrapped in a purple bandana.  We named him Juan Francisco, and he lived with us for exactly three days before getting eaten by a hawk. Around that same time, Francillia’s cat gave birth to three little kittens. “You can have one of them, once it’s old enough” Francillia and her family promised me, “But keep it away from the hawks!” Also at that time, Siila and Fetaui were visiting from Barbados.

Fetaui, a great animal-lover, suggested that we name the kitten “Hope.” She explained her reasoning to me: “Every time you call its name, you will feel hopeful.” It was a lovely idea, I told Fetaui, except that the kitten was a male. “That’s okay,” she replied. “We’ll just have to call him Hope Man, then.” Thus, dear readers, I would like to formally introduce you to the newest member of the brood: Hope Man. We brought him home last night, and he spent the evening becoming acquainted with Accompany, and with his new surroundings. He slept, purring, beside me…and I have to admit that the fuzzy little creature is actually starting to win me over. Gaby, Sarah, Pecas, Cat Stevens, and any other cat or cat lover I’ve ridiculed: I apologize for giving you so much grief. I may just have it in me to become a cat person after all.

In other news: On the afternoon of December 7th, Adia and Nakia from next door appeared at my window shouting, “Den-Den! Den-Den! Come quick! Shaloop made another baby!” Oh my heavens, another puppy? The little girls took my hands and hurried me over to the large bramble of sticks and brush where Shaloop had made her little nest. Indeed, she had given birth to a little black pup…and even though Boofy, Foofy, and Darling (not sweet Accompany, of course) have been driving me bonkers with all of their yelping and muddying of my pants and floor, I couldn’t help but fall in love with their new sibling. Dear, gentle Shaloop let me pick up the little thing, which hasn’t even opened his eyes yet, and his fur was silky soft. Adia says that, since the puppy is black, which just so happens to be her most favorite color, she will do the honors of naming the puppy. Most likely, it will be something that rhymes with –oofy. I’ll keep you posted.

This brings the total number of canines living in our yard to 8—well, 7, actually. Grandma “Whitey,” who was quite advanced in age, died peacefully under the mango tree this week. Distressingly, my beloved Accompany was hit by a car while I was away in the States…but, unlike most other dogs in the Carib Territory who meet this fate, she survived the ordeal (albeit with an injured left eye, a scar on her neck, and dulled senses…but she seems as happy and energetic as ever. Thank God!).

Finally, I should report that our household cockroaches, bats, mosquitoes, and centipedes are all flourishing, thank you very much. But I am delighted to note that since we brought Hope Man home, I have not seen a single mouse.

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Roushy

They became candles. And the winds blew against them mercilessly, violent winds toothed and clawed with war, yet their fragile flames, lit with vision and love, still burn.
~ A Love Which Does Not Wait

When you part from your friend, you grieve not; For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
~ Kahlil Gibran

At the present moment, the above quote from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, is only partly true for me. In Roushanac’s absence, that which I love most in her is, indeed, becoming clearer than ever before. But I cannot pretend that I’m not grieving.

I miss my friend very much.

So as not to raise alarm: Roushy is not dead, she is not lost…and, in the true sense, she’s not even gone. But she has been released from her services in Dominica in order to focus on getting well. All these months later, Roushy has still not healed from the sickness she was struck with last summer. If it were up to her, she would have come back long ago–despite the physical exhaustion, despite the intense stomach pain, despite the inablity to eat a full meal. She would have endured it all, because of her love for this community. But our bodies cannot always endure what our spirits can…and the final decision to stay or to return was out of Roushy’s hands.

*

Of these past 364+ days I’ve spent in Dominica, the most painful was last Tuesday. It was the day I spent cleaning out Roushy’s room. I peeled off the tape from her pictures on the wall, folded up her blue silk bathrobe from China, removed her Ruhi Books from the shelf…and each item that I packed away brought forth a flood of memories.

There was the bag of art supplies she’d use to make beautiful birthday cards, prayer cards, and invitations to Holy Days and study circles. Roushy was (IS! I mustn’t speak of her in past tense!) a wellspring of creativity. The prayer magnets she made with her Ruhi Book 1 participants adorn many a refrigerator (or other metal surface) in the Carib Territory, and her handmade invitations are hung in livingroom walls as artwork. This gets me thinking…maybe if I give her enough advance notice, she’ll still be able to make birthday cards and Holy Day cards and send them to Dominica. I can’t imagine any sort of celebration here without Roushy’s artistic touch.

There was the corner of the bed where we sat, sobbing in each other’s arms, when we learned that our puppy, Capacity, had been hit by a car.

There was the water-warped section of plastic carpeting where a flood had bubbled up through Roushy’s floor on Christmas Eve. We’d spent a good portion of the night mopping and laughing, as flying cockraches swarmed in the air around us. Afterwards, I think we baked cookies. Roushy was always able to find humor in absurd circumstances.

There was the soft leather prayer journal we’d read from every morning, seated in our green plastic chairs overlooking the sea. I loved praying and deepening with Roushy; I loved the way she’d pause for a good long while between each prayer, as if allowing time for the prayer to ascend, as if listening for a response. It felt like true communion when Roushy prayed.

There was plastic bag of leftover strands  of raffia from one of our first art projects with the Junior Youth Group, a group that has been one of the brightest spots of light in our time here. On Wednesday, I met with these junior youth for the first time since finding out that Roushy will not be coming back. This time, they didn’t ask to play music on my computer, they didn’t doodle on the prayer books, they didn’t crack jokes. All they wanted to do was pray for Roushy. After a long round of prayers, the youths’ laughter mingled with their tears, as we all shared favorite memories of Roushy (“Remember how she always used to say ‘Papa!’? I will miss her every time I hear someone say that.” “Remember when she fell in that hole on the way to Concord?” “Remember our first service project to the old lady’s house?” “Remember Roushy’s nice, soft hair?”).

I placed these precious, memory-laden belongings in a large black suitcase, and cried, and cried. They were tears of sadness, yes…but also of remembrance, and of gratitude for the time I spent in the company of such a beautiful person.

*

While ascending the steep hill to Fracillia’s home the other evening, nine-year old Briana and I saw a shooting star. “Those stars are for wishing,” Briana explained. So we paused, and closed our eyes. “My wish,” Bri whispered, “Is for Roushy to come back.” I hugged the child close to me and told her, “That’s my wish too.” And I know, deep within my soul, that Roushy will come back…she will always come back. The Carib Territory has become one of her homes, and will hold an enduring place in her heart. Maybe she won’t be able to return as soon as we would like, for she is called to tend other gardens now. But I can see a vision of her in the future, bringing her own children to this green island, introducing them to the now-grown Briana and Dillon and Kira and Pim-Pim, and all the others. And, when that time comes, Roushy’s sons and daughters will behold the glorious blossoms that have sprung from the seeds their mother planted long before, when she offered up a year of her life to till the soil of this community with sacrifice, courage, and love.

*

While packing up Roushy’s room, I came across her copy of “A Love Which Does Not Wait,” one of her most beloved books. It is a compilation of stories about heroines and heroes of the Cause who—not unlike Rouhsanac herself—devoted their lives to bringing peace and unity to the world. They were as the candle, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains, that weeps away its life drop by drop to give forth its flame of light. Roushy has dog-eared nearly every page of “A Love Which Does Not Wait,” but there is a special marker between the last two pages, which contain a verse from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Now let forever the phlox and rose be tended
Here where the rain has darkened and the sun has dried
So many times the terrace, yet is love unended,
Love has not died.

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