Friday, April 5, 2013

Daily Miracles and Things to Love

We changed our prompt for the quilt squares. We were going to have the children imagine a perfect world and paint it-- unique to them of course, their visioning. However, our time with them turned out to be shorter than we thought, in the open air or in classrooms of over 50 children. The classrooms are constructed with open bars at the top, so that the din is overwhelming. Reading a story to such a group has not worked well.

So-- to bypass our stories (ack!!!) and the art prompt that extended the literature, we asked the kids to think about things they love and paint them. Rabbi Henry talked briefly about the prayers for daily miracles. I showed the eighth graders see the quilt square I have begun, with the few kreyol phrases I've learned: (kote mango? means where's the mango? Mai mango! means there's the mango!) and flowers I have seen and loved. I told the children that they are the most beautiful thing I've seen so far in Haiti, but that I can't capture them in a painting. I told them the gorgeous, colorful, growing flowers I've seen-- the ones I've tried to paint-- represent them.

Then we spread a plastic painting tarp in the "playground" and made "pods" of ten quilt squares on clipboards, paint brushes, all kinds of fabric and glitter and trimming. We let the kids have at it. This class was a little rowdy in the ESL class over the last few days. I was prepared to bring my teacher voice out and have kids escorted away if they misbehaved. (So mean!) Ha! This simply did not happen. Once again, art is one of the universal languages. Silence, concentration, hard work. The kids took their clip boards off in far corners of the courtyard to work.

We noticed that sometimes the kids passed their clipboards to others to work on. They are working collaboratively, naturally. This is unknown to me in an American classroom. I've meted out many a scolding to kids who maliciously scribbled or marked on another child's artwork while the artist cried. Not in Haiti. The boys and the girls together focused and worked with great relish. I can't wait to share their work with you.

Here are other Daily Miracles:

The choir singing at the church, a mellow, lovely chorus for us at the guest house at all times of day.

Tranquility-- banana leaves, huge as a twin sized bed, waving in the sunny breeze. The chickens wandering happily over the dirt. The people, calm and dignified, going about their daily work. Calm. Lovely. Unrushed.

The frogs at night speak a strange language-- a call full of notes. Night birds sing. The caprice flowers-- long, white morning glories that hang upside down like a Japanese lantern-- open their snowy hearts in the evening.

Bouganvilla, wildly overtaking cracks in cement, peeping over walls, gallantly swooping down from fences in white, pink, fuschia, red, orange.

When you take a person's picture here, they don't smile. They sit up straight and lift their chin. They look stern and proud, as if to say to the world, Haiti is strong. I am strong. I carry the history of ten thousands in my spine. You have to react with a kind of awe.

The food. Today for breakfast Marie Estelle, the kitchen angel par excellence, made her creamy oatmeal with star anise. If you sprinkle it with the coarse, hard brown sugar and let the sugar melt a little--- it tastes exactly like creme brulee. I'm not kidding. Fresh pineapple and fresh squeezed orange juice. Breakfast cassarole with eggs, potatoes and ham. Homemade raisin rolls. All food is homemade here. All. I asked for a glass of juice from the morning late this afternoon. I wanted to dissolve some medicine in it. Julienne asked me to wait a moment. She gathered some oranges and soaked them in the bleach water she uses for all of our fruit. She cut the oranges in half and hand squeezed them. When she handed me the cool glass, I slunk away in shame from having put her to so much work. But I also absolutely enjoyed every last sip. Want a peanut butter and jelly? All the bread is tall, fluffy, warm from the oven and Marie Estelle's hands. I'm gaining weight like crazy.

More miracles: Shabbat in Haiti. Marie Estelle and Ann, the former guest house manager, worked together with Julienne, the current guest house manager, to make Shabbat tonight. Ann brought a lace table cloth and sacrificed her red amaryllis. She put some asparagus fern and the stately flowers in a cut crystal vase on the table. She carefully braided a challah and sprinkled it with poppy seeds. There was roasted chicken, rolls starred with rosemary from the garden, green beans, carrots, potatoes, rice and red beans, oatmeal cookies, Haitian coffee. We gathered around the table, all of us, Leon Pamphile, our benefactor and Haitian father, the house staff, the Rabbi. We breathed in the week we've had and thought. The sun slanted through the tall windows. So much has happened this week, and we are honored and gloried by all of it. We thanked God for the experience and opportunity to be here. Then we sat down and ate and laughed.

Bon nuit, mes amis. Tomorrow is a big day-- we visit the orphanage Leon has created-- 30 girls who are being cared for in Thomassin proper. Then off to Port-au-Prince to visit the Fortress Henri, the Hotel Olaffson and an art gallery owned by a woman from Israel and her husband, a Palestinian. What a land to be in! What a blessing and a gift! Love you all!

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