Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Remembering and New Beginnings

Time is flying by here...believe it or not I’ve been here for five months now!  Some days it feels like I have been living here for a very long time and other days (usually moments when Creole makes no sense to me) I feel like I just got here.  And every time I think my life could not get any busier, God finds another way to put me to use. 

The semester began with a special service on January 12 for the anniversary of the earthquake.  As a member of the Holy Trinity Music School choir, I contributed to the service musically.  The cathedral was filled with people and it was quite beautiful to see everyone come together in memory of those who were lost, but also to see the strength among those who are still here. 

It was also my first time seeing our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.  She delivered the sermon during the service (unfortunately I do not speak French and therefore I'm not exactly sure what was said).  Regardless of my lack of French, I could feel a strong sense of community and camaraderie among the people there.  I felt blessed to be a part of the service and to share in the communion with my fellow Episcopalians.

A highlight of these weeks was a performance I attended of Haitian and Dominican classical musicians.  The musicians attended a week long intensive music festival in Santo Domingo and gave a concert in both the Dominican Republic and in Haiti.  Not only was the music fantastic, but it was wonderful to see the friendships that were made among the musicians through their experience.     

Another cool thing about these past few weeks are the new opportunities that I have found to extend my ministry here in Haiti.  One such opportunity is that I have been a substitute English teacher at the Episcopal seminary in Haiti.  Once a week I meet with first and second year seminarians to teach them English (the white building in the picture is where I teach the first year seminarians).  I have really enjoyed working with the seminarians and getting to know another side of the Episcopal church here in Haiti.  I also got a kick out of being mistakenly called “Sister Ashley” by the students (their regular teacher is a sister with the Society of Saint Margaret).  

In my work with the school they are finding all sorts of new ways to use my skills.  I am now helping create a development office for the school and teaching pedagogy to the wind teachers.  The other skill they have tapped into is my knowledge of marching band.  I am in the process of training the teachers to march because we are starting the very first marching band of Holy Trinity Music School!  The premier of the marching band will be this spring, so more to come on that in the future.

One last highlight of this past week was getting to attend one of the concerts of the International Jazz Festival.  Jazz groups from all over the world came into Port-au-Prince for a week long festival of concerts and workshops.  One of my favorites was Melanie Charles, a Haitian-American jazz singer who is pictured above.  The festival was another example of one of the many wonderful events that happen here in Haiti.  

So as you can see there's been a lot going on and my Haitian life keeps me quite busy.  This week is no different, as my parish already knows I am preparing for a visit from my priest, Webster Gibson!  And no worries, I will make sure he gets the full Haitian experience as Bridget did in December.  A thank you to all of my wonderful sponsors from these past few weeks including  Jeremy, Katy, Allison & Katherine Schain, Tom & Lori Ellington, and Michael & Janie Mohn.  Finally, a thank you to my sponsors this week John & Janet Waller.   

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rock, Paper, Scissors...Ministry!

Normally I wait till at least a week has gone by to post, but there are two missionary moments that I've had this week that I couldn't wait to share.  Read on zanmi mwen (my friends)! 

Living here in Haiti you meet the most interesting variety of people: those that live here and then those who make short trips to visit.  On Monday evening I had the pleasure of meeting another one of the visiting groups.  It consisted of five people from the Episcopal church, three of which were Episcopal priests.  Now being a complete Episco-nerd, I was really excited to chat with my fellow Episcopalians.  Through our conversations an interesting question was posed to me, "How do you feel about the term missionary, do you like being called a missionary?"  I responded, "I have no problem with it because that's what I am."  The others in the group responded with saying they like to shy away from this term because it's too often associated with converting people.  They stated how what they really were there to do on missions was to be among the people and be present with them.  Of course with my awesome training from Mission Personnel, I piped up saying, "Yes absolutely, the ministry of presence!" (Thanks David!)  I continued by telling them that that's part of the reason I like being called a missionary, I enjoy trying to help redefine this term.  

And really that's what this is all about, helping to show Christ's love through our presence here among the people.  When we allow for those opportunities to let God step in and be present among our work, you never know what beautiful moments may occur.  This leads me to what happened during my teaching at the primary school on Tuesday.

When I arrived at Holy Trinity that day, I was sent to go work with my group of flute students.  I had no idea where our flute books were, so I made an impromptu lesson by using half of a chalk board I had found tucked away in a room.  My students were having a great time learning the first five notes of the B-flat major scale.  Then to spice things up, I decided to test them individually on those notes.  The first two students were all-stars and played beautifully.  Now it was down to the last two and we were trying to decide who should go next.  I jokingly said, "Rock, paper, scissors!"  To which I got some strange looks, seeing as that was English and my little friends speak Creole.  But I was now committed to finding a way to teach them how to play rock, paper, scissors.  On the fly I found a piece of paper, which they translated to papaye.  I could motion scissors for them to understand that, but rock was still not translating.  So I looked at my students and said, "Tann (wait)!" and ran outside to get a rock.  I quickly learned that this was a wòch and proceeded to teach them how to play.  By the end of the class my flute students now knew their first five notes of the scale and how to play rock, paper, scissors.  

It was in those moments of teaching them to play such a simple game that we connected in a new way.  I wasn't just the American who comes in to teach them flute a few times a week, I was now a friend with whom they could play games and laugh.  I watched them run away giggling and knew that God was with us.  It was a great day to be a teacher, and an even better day to be a missionary!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy Birthday Jesus! Happy New Year World! And Happy Independence Day Haiti!

Dear friends, a lot has happened during this holiday season, and I offer my apologies for not telling you about sooner!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's!  Celebrating the holidays in Haiti was a ton of fun, but I had no doubt that would be the case.  In a lot of ways it felt like a normal Advent season - tons of concerts, lots of tasty food and holiday cheer!  But of course there were a lot of differences too!

Photo by John Cahill

As I said we had a lot of performances in these past few weeks which included the two students ensemble concerts, a special performance at one of the local high schools, the OPST Christmas concert, many church service performances and a special treat of playing for my first wedding in Haiti!  All of the performances were filled with Christmas songs that we sing at home (minus the wedding of course - that was just standard wedding marches and good ol' Pachelbel's Canon).  I particularly enjoyed the OPST concert because not only was I able to play with the orchestra, I also sang with the choir.  It was wonderful having the season filled with music! 

Now to tell you about my Christmas day...it began with a lovely service at St. Jacques followed by coffee and breakfast with my congregation.  I was particularly excited to have french toast (not very Haitian, but it was as close as I could get to my traditional Christmas morning cinnamon rolls - cinnamon was still involved!).  In the late afternoon, I was invited to one of my orchestra friend's house for a Haitian Christmas dinner.  After dinner my friends took me to Parc de la Canne à Sucre, which is a park dedicated to telling the story of sugar cane production in Haiti.  It was a fascinating place to visit, and my Christmas day was topped off with rum raisin ice cream (a Haitian favorite).  

My weekend following Christmas I traveled to Port Salut, in the south western part of Haiti.  Myself and four other musicians from Holy Trinity visited there for the wedding between two of the OPST members.  The wedding was beautiful, and the location was a perfect place for the event!  I've been told that Port Salut has some of the best beaches in Haiti, and as you can see they are rather beautiful!

Upon our return from Port Salut, myself and five musicians from Holy Trinity went to the final tapping of a Haitian TV show.  The show was kind of like the Haitian version of America's Got Talent, and the five musicians from the school were the judges for the show.  It was so much fun to watch, and seeing the Haitian version of the Backstreet Boys was probably the highlight of my evening.  Also because of my "in" with the judges, I was able to get a great shot of the winner from the competition (he's the guy in the middle holding the trophy)!

This now brings me to New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.  My eve was spent bringing it in with friends; a simple, quiet evening (which is hard to believe because the area I live in was kind of crazy with all the people out and about).  On New Year's Day (also the Independence Day of Haiti), I spent my time enjoying friends and food!  One of the traditions on this day is to eat pumpkin soup.  This is because the French forbade the Haitians to eat this particular dish so when they gained their freedom they celebrated by eating it (I had mine a few days early while I was in Port Salut).  

The rest of my week was spent resting and getting ready for the next semester to begin.  School starts back up this week, and we are also preparing for a special service on January 12.  Thank you to everyone back home for the Christmas love; I definitely missed spending the holidays with you.  Also a thank you to the sponsors from the past few weeks Kay Keely, Rachel Shows, Bill and Sue Jarvis, Jerry Casey, and Marty and Nancy Tabaka.  Check back in next week to hear about the service on the 12th!