Monday, March 28, 2011

Serving as a Dorm Mother

“You’re so mean; other dorm mothers don’t do this.”
Deep breath.
“You know the rules of quiet time, sweep the common room and stop disturbing others. Others are trying to study.”
“You take everything too far. You’re too strict.”
Deep breath, don’t say something sarcastic.
“Rules are rules, stop arguing or you can sweep tomorrow too.”
More girls piping up with their opinion.
“The other dorm moms are lenient.”
“Know they aren’t, they are enforcing the same rules.”

Such is an average night in Dorm B. Why must they argue everything? Quiet time is an hour and thirty minutes out of their whole day when they are asked to study, not visit in the hall or mingle in the common room. In the midst of such frustration, it can be easy to loose sight of why I'm here.

I appreciate mothers a billion times more because of these experiences. Dorm mothers at Banani are expected to be spiritual mothers responsible for the moral and spiritual upliftment of the girls at the school. That’s not easy! It takes patience, diligence, and flexibility. Oh, and I am finding that it also takes a lot of creativity….

What’s it like to be a dorm mother? Simply put, it’s like having a little sister….only 18 little sisters. If you are sucking a lollipop, they are going to want one too. If you tell them what to do, they are going to kick and scream. Of course, the girls’ perception of you changes with time as they get to know you and you get to know them. Certain dorm activities have also boosted the overall feeling of respect, courtesy, and unity within the dorm, including dorm discussions and arts and crafts night.

That said, I’d like to begin the New Year with a few dorm goals:

1. To foster feelings of unity and respect between the girls and I, and in the dorm as a whole.

2. To address issues that have repeatedly come up, including backbiting and courtesy. Especially for the girls to understand the effects of backbiting on their own souls and the hearts of others.

3. To create a safe and calm environment within the dorm so that students can trust each other and focus on their studies.

4. To empower the girls to seek higher goals in life and to think about the type of adult they want to become, in both their spiritual and professional lives. To convince them that life’s not about being famous and just having fun.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Monkeying Around

She wanted me to make earrings out of the seeds, but as I stared at the cut fruit I couldn’t imagine wearing those almond-shaped monkey fruit seeds. Anushka, an 8th grader at Banani, was now staring expectantly at the opened fruit. We had come to the kitchen of the senior dorms after a brief bird walk. I had been teaching Anushka the names of a few of the birds: Blue Waxbills and indigobirds, wagtails and whydahs. She had picked this fruit off the ground, trying to convince me that we should open it and see what’s inside. Her curiosity reminded me of me. Secretly, I wanted to know what was inside too.

I didn’t know how to make earrings anyways, much less have the tools for it. But as I held the two halves of rotten smelling fruit in my hand, it dawned on me that I could scrape out the fruit, leaving the hard shell like a bowl which could then be painted. I had been keeping my eye out for some sort of arts and crafts project to do with my dorm, and this was a place to start.

Let me tell you about monkey fruit. They are smooth and circular and green, and very hard to pick off trees. It takes them a long time to ripen and fall on the ground, and even then they can break or rot or are taken by the monkeys, who have long sharp teeth capable of breaking the thick woody shell which protects the fruit. Once the shell is opened, you will find fleshy yellow to brown fruit with an outer layer of meaty skin and almond-like seeds. You can’t open it with a kitchen knife. You could open it by smashing it on the ground, but that would break the shell, which was the only part I really wanted. So Anushka and I had taken the fruit to the workshop where a staff member ran the fruit through a table saw, cutting it neatly in half (fruit juice flying everywhere).

I took my idea to some of the other service youth and we decided to invent a contraption for picking more monkey fruit. Using a broken broomstick handle, we cut a notch around the top and secured a noose-shaped wire to it. Using our invention, we could loop the noose around the highest of monkey fruits and with a mighty tug, bring them down to the ground. After a morning of monkeying around, we returned with 19 fruits, which will become bowls and maracas/shakers for arts and crafts projects. I’ll let you know how they turn out….

Two of the youth with our monkey fruit picker


“Praised be Thou, O my God, that Thou hast ordained Naw-Ruz as a festival unto those who have observed the fast for love of Thee and abstained from all that is abhorrent unto Thee. Grant, O my Lord, that the fire of Thy love and the heat produced by the fast enjoined by Thee may inflame them in Thy Cause, and make them to be occupied with Thy praise and with remembrance of Thee.”
Baha’u’llah, first paragraph from a prayer for Naw-Ruz

I am fast finding out that the youth year of service volunteers arrange most of the Holy Day programs at Banani. Once again with only a few days noticed we put together a program of readings and music for Naw-Ruz, a celebration of the Baha’i New Year at the end of the fast. We even arranged time for a rehearsal of the program to ensure things went smoothly. After the program, the school hosted a buffet of pork, beef, fish, rice, and potatoes,…and ice cream (a rare treat here). The students then danced the night away in celebration of the New Year…actually, they had to be in bed by 22.15.

The following Monday the girls were excused from class and prep (which is a free study period). The service youth walked down to the institute around 13.30 for feast and a community brai. You all probably know what a brai is but I didn’t…it’s a barbecue.

The Banani girls sing and dance as part of the Naw-Ruz program

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lofty is the Station of Man

“Lofty is the station of man, were he to hold fast to righteousness and truth and to remain firm and steadfast in the Cause. In the eyes of the All-Merciful a true man appeareth even as a firmament; its sun and moon are his sight and hearing, and his shining and resplendent character its stars. His is the loftiest station, and his influence educateth the world of being.”
Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah

This watercolor painting was inspired by the above quote (look close and you can see the words in the rays of the sun)

And also a poem (any criticism is welcome, on the painting or the poem)


I forget how wide the world is,
Confined to narrow pathways,
Trapped in buildings I see everyday
Brick fences with corners at
Ninety-degree angles

Inner frustration which sits,
Stagnant water,
Distilled of hope

Or like an orange rotting,
Molding all over my heart

Until I feel a warm breeze,
Remember it blowing across
African savannahs and woods
That lay beyond the fence

Watching clouds backlit by a
Tawny moon
And illuminated by lightning

Thunder, distant and gentle,
Like the murmuring of lions

Feel the excited electrons before the storm,
I sit to paint
Putting colors back into my life
As I remember the texture of skin,
The reflections in eyes,
Or the patterns made by a hundred feathers
On a bird’s raised wing.

I reconnect
Negativity disintegrates,
Falling to the past
See it spiraling down the sink
As I dump the water
Spoiled by watercolor pigments

Ayyam-i-Ha at Banani

“Baha’u’llah enjoined upon His followers to devote these days to feasting, rejoicing and charity. In a letter written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf it is explained that ‘the intercalary days are specially set aside for hospitality, the giving of gifts, etc.” (from the Notes section of The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 180)

“The Baha’i year…consists of nineteen months of nineteen days each, with the addition of certain intercalary days (four in an ordinary year and five in a leap year) between the eighteenth and nineteenth months in order to adjust the calendar to the solar year. The Bab named the months after certain attributes of God. The Baha’i New Year, Naw-Ruz, is astronomically fixed, coinciding with the March equinox.” (from the Notes section of The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 227)

The above photo is of all the service youth and the dorm matron, Mrs. Mukendi

The evening of February 26 the service youth at Banani put the finishing touches to the devotional program and decorations for the Ayyam-i-Ha celebration to be held at the William Masetlha Institute. We blew up balloons and cut out quotes, decorating them with cut out flowers and colourful paper. Lollipops, chips, and chocolate were added to goody bags to be gifted to the children. Working in unity, we had delivered invitations and made a poster advertising the date.

Chisha, who works at the institute, began arranging plates of cookies and brownies. The youth took the plates to the Insitute Hall as people began arriving.

Then the power went out and we were left in darkness. There was only a moment of surprised silence before children broke out into chaos. A few clever individuals brought their torches and shared with others. Four candles were brought out and stuck to the tables and floors. The show must go on….we held our program in the dark, beginning with four prayers from children, and the prayer for the Intercalary Days with Native American flute played softly in the background. After a few readings on the topic of joy and happiness, a group of Baha’is from Kitwe sang three songs inspired by Baha’i quotes. And just as they finished their last song…the lights flipped on. Just in time for the social portion and brownies. Possibly the most joyful and uplifting Ayyam-i-Ha celebration I have ever attended or been a part of.