Parting is such sweet sorrow

Monday I said “goodbye” to my sister at the airport. She and my parents came to visit me for les vacances de Carnaval. Lo pasamos re bien, creo. It was really interesting because it really affected me when I said “bye” to Hannah. I got really emotional and even cried, which I never do when despidiéndome de la gente. Then I started thinking about it and I talked to Francelise when I got home. She noticed right away that my voice was wavering and that I had a hard time speaking without tearing up. She gave me a hug and suggested that it may be harder because I am in a different country. It’s true, this is the first time my family has visited me in a foreign place, I thought. At the same time, when I was telling Francelise this, she was telling me how difficult it was for her when Maé went off to college. Francelise only has one child and this August she went away to university in Lille, in northern France. Francelise concluded that it was good luck that we had found each other, that way I can have an authentic experience in Guadeloupe and at the same time I could keep her company. That made me feel better.

Even now, as I start thinking about my next move (no idea where that will be yet), I can’t help but think how nice it would be to pick a place and just call it home, but that has been an issue for me for a while. It’s hard to just stay in one place when there is a whole world out there to get to know. I feel drawn to different places, but at the same time I feel the comforts of the many places I have called “home,” calling me back. It’s difficult to know whether or not I should keep blazing new trails or if I should go back to something familiar, something comfortable, something less unknown.

This week I was swimming my regular route (see previous post to learn more about that) and I decided I wanted to go further than what I normally swim. I noticed that as I swam just past the point where I typically turn around, the current shifted, the water grew darker, and the fish grew more numerous. It was remarkable. Just a few meters away from where I normally swim was a completely new experience. As I kept swimming further things started becoming less fascinating and they became “normal” again, but I was really captivated by how this scenario translates naturally in my own life at the moment. Sometimes a new world lies just around the corner of where we are now and we haven’t even discovered it. This makes my wanderlust spirit want to go a little further and a little further each opportunity I get. It definitely isn’t easy, but my need for discovery makes me want to keep moving.

It certainly comes with a cost. Like saying “goodbye” to my sister ‘til who knows when, when I started my swim back to shore I realized that I was a bit sea-sick. This never happens to me either. I’m sure I can attribute the sickness to being overly excited about swimming again after two weeks of only exercising on land, and the fact that I went farther than normal, and that I had to battle two different currents. But nonetheless, I didn’t feel good, and the whole way back I was trying to keep my mind off the nausea and on the wonderful act of swimming in a sea full of beautiful fish and clear waters. I staggered out of the water and went to where my friend was waiting for me on a nearby picnic table. I laid supine with a towel over my face until I felt normal again.

Le saute d'eau de Matouba
Le saute d’eau de Matouba
 Pointe des Châteaux
Pointe des Châteaux
lounging at La plage de La Perle
lounging at La plage de La Perle
Les Saintes
Les Saintes
Le saute d'eau de Matouba
Le saute d’eau de Matouba

Going it alone

La plage de Rivière Sens

Almost since I got to Guadeloupe I have been thinking about the theme of “aloneness” which I know is not a word, but in this case I would like to use a made up word and not a noun like loneliness or solitariness or isolation, or any number of other words that deal with being alone that have negative associations. Aloneness, has been a problem for me, because I lack the confidence to make things happen individually. I could use many examples to illustrate this, but since I’m on an island, I’ll use the metaphor of swimming in the deep.

The woman I live with, her name is Francelise, goes swimming every Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. I started going with her to the beach every time my schedule allows, which has become quite a fulfilling routine. I had never really swam (for exercise) in open water before, and it turns out that it is quite relaxing, freeing, and really enjoyable. The first day I swam, I swam with a group of people; it was Francelise, her coach (tall, skinny, exercise-addict, who is always talking with an English accent in French just to be funny), and a few other assistants. The coach (G.P. which is pronounced “GEE pay”), suggested we swim to “La Barre,” a random metal bar that juts out from the ocean about twenty meters from the shore. It looked kind of far away to me, but I was down for whatever. We stopped one time before getting there to catch our breaths and make sure the whole group had not drowned or given up. When we reached the bar I looked back at the beach and felt a great since of accomplishment.

Ever since I have progressively gotten more bold in the water. After this first pilgrimage to the bar I went along with another friend. This was a bit scary because I drifted out to very deep water, I saw a giant sea turtle, and then I couldn’t locate the friend that I was swimming with. I swear if anyone was looking on during this particular swim they would have thought I had Turrets because every time I touched a piece of seaweed or I saw a fish that might have been a little bit bigger than I had expected I jumped or twitched or did an-about turn that startled me even more. I got to the bar with heart pounding and really hoping that no sharks roamed in this part of the ocean. En fin, the water world was foreign to me and I was lost at sea (figuratively and literally).

Since these first trips to the bar, a distance that is not that far, mind you. It’s only about 2,5 km or so, I have become more comfortable with the water world around me. The first couple times I went to the bar alone I wore my flippers. “For protection!” I told Francelise whimsically. “Next time I will go without flippers, but this time I need to feel safe. In case of attack or something weird,” I added. My training wheel tactic worked and now I can go to La Barre sans problème. On the way, instead of jumping at every little foreign object I can enjoy the fish swimming alongside me, feeding at the bottom of the ocean, and I can feel the water on my skin as I swish through it with precision and purpose. I am by no means an expert, I still ask Francelise’s coach about the currents, different strokes, the usefulness and the dependency on flippers, etc. It’s always a learning process, but I have become comfortable with the activity and environment and no longer feel so intimidated.

I suspect this is how I approach most new challenges and new things in my life. I jump right in, thinking that there is an adventure ahead and I would love to participate—to stretch my limits, to realize the scope of the possibilities presented to me, but then there is a period of adaptation that is scary and that is quite unnerving. Getting past this point is key in continuing the path to realization. I am currently on this challenging path in other areas of my life, and it’s hard to keep a goal in mind when it seems so far away. Additionally, I feel as though this period of adaptation is ridiculously long for me and I become frustrated with myself for being cowardly and too precocious. This is an area that I need to work on, so if anyone has tips on being more confident in areas where you are not an expert, send them my way!

Going back to the word aloneness. I think that many great things we do in our life are in the company of others, but the older I get the more I realize that the things we do for ourselves, all by our lonesome, are the ways in which we actually integrate what we have learned and make it actually happen. In this way, I want to use another word to describe “going it alone”: oneness. Oneness is a word with positive connotations that can mean harmony, unity, integrity, wholeness, etc, etc. A word that I always hear in my yoga classes and have come to really appreciate, because oneness also implies a link to solidarity (something that I have valued more than oneness, maybe because of my Mennonite upbringings, but we’ll save that for another post). As I embark on the next periods of going it alone I want to keep in mind the positive way in which we can become one with our surroundings by getting out of our comfort zones (albeit in a zone of proximal development) in order to then, eventually, tackle things on our own to become more comfortable, confident, and courageous with what was before an absolute unknown.

The sounds of “home”

Last weekend I watched and later led a discussion about the film Invictus with some students and parents of the international section of the middle school here in Saint Claude, where I live. The international section is normally composed of students that have a higher level of English than other students. It is exciting to work with this level because you can practice critical thinking and analyzing skills, whereas with other groups these opportunities are few and far between and I have to exercise great restraint when planning lessons. With students that are just beginning their studies or whose English is limited I need to plan precise vocabulary lists and have a very focused objective in mind. Cosa que me re cuesta, but it’s good to have this kind of focus because I think it translates into real life as well.

It so happens that, as I was watching the film, I found that I was really moved by it, even though I had already seen it before, and even though I don’t like to give out too many accolades for films, directors, and actors who are already well-known (i.e. Invictus is a major production, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon). Nevertheless, I was moved by the music, of Nelson’s Mandela’s optimism; of his vision for peace through forgiveness and compassion of the people that had so violently oppressed his country and him personally, since he was incarcerated for nearly three decades.

In particular, I really enjoyed the music because it made me feel at home. It gave me goose bumps all over and made the hair on my arms stand up, even in this hot, dry climate I currently live in. African music in general makes me sentimental. Some of the songs on the movie soundtrack reminded me of the tapes my parents sometimes used to play when we were kids, and then later as an adolescent and as an adult I played them, always when I was feeling nostalgic and I wanted to remember things that were no longer. One tape in particular, with songs of Freedom from South Africa came to mind when watching the film today with the students. You can feel the spirit and the heart of the people shining through the words and rhythms that depict their struggles and their desire for freedom. The songs have the clicking characteristic of Bantu languages, a cappella rhythms, themes of non-violence, and lyrics that describe a firm faith in God. This melange brought me back to what times might have felt like when I was just a baby.

For the most part, being born in an African country as little known as Botswana and having an incomprehensible, at least in English lexical terms, middle name, normally just gets you some “really?’s” and some “what?’s”, but for me, this connection to Africa is something that is in the depths of my being and it’s really hard for me to understand it personally, let alone try to communicate it to others.

What might help to best describe the feeling was really made more concrete to me one day this past summer (Californian summer, in case anyone is ever confused to my whereabouts), when I was talking to a friend of mine about these very facts of my life and she was excited to tell me about a hypothesis she had and really wanted to eventually test out. I was once a scholar in some capacity and I know the risks of letting others know about your big ideas for fear that someone will steal your ingenious concept and you will not get the credit you deserve. However, I am going to rely on the fact that no one really reads this blog and that if they do and they like the idea, they will contact me and we can work something out.

En todo caso, her hypothesis was that the diets that expectant mothers’ eat are closely intertwined with what your palate later has a taste for, enjoys, and craves. In short, your tastes in food now can always be traced back to what you ate in the womb, or what your mother consumed during the nine months of her pregnancy. I told my friend, who had studied genetics in undergrad, that she had a fascinating idea that she should definitely test out in some way. I’m going to generalize her concept to our sense of hearing. I’m curious to know if there is a connection to the sounds that we like now and the sounds that were a part of our daily lives inside the womb. Who knows? Maybe this is the case.

As I am now in Guadeloupe, a country that has it’s roots in Africa as well, I’ve found myself really touched by many of the different sounds I have encountered here. Specifically, this weekend I had the opportunity to attend a concert of a Haitian Vodou singer and dancer. His stage presence was remarkable. He sang with a voice that used the depths of his diaphragm to articulate his message in such a way that you had to listen, you wanted to listen, you were captivated (almost put into a trance), and you wanted more. Even though most of the lyrics he sang were in Haitian Creole, I was still moved by the words that surely depicted the Haitian’s own struggle of slavery and eventual freedom and independence.

I wish I had the gift of music to share, but I really don’t. In fact, it’s hard to know what gift I can give the people around me that will really stir up their feelings like music does. Ever since Martin Luther King Jr. Day I have been focusing most of my lessons on African American history and have been reading a lot about the Civil Rights Movement in order to refresh my own memory. Right now, in my room I have a quote of MLK Jr. up on my white board that says,

The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

I put that quote up because I feel that having a challenge in front of us is a way of always moving forward. I have a yearning to stand in the midst of challenge and I want my voice to be heard. My voice may not be a moving rendition of “Freedom is Coming” but at the very least I can help to teach the history of the struggle of the many peoples in this world as well as the message of peace and a need to love more. Right now, focusing on my love of music as a way to promote what I feel, inwardly and outwardly has been very liberating. Specifically, my challenge to myself is to love more, my challenge to you all is to love more, in the best ways we know how, but also in new and different ways in which we may not have loved before.

Later, I will write more about the different music experiences that I have experienced here, but for now, what kind of music moves you? And, what kinds of music make you feel at home?