Thursday, April 14, 2011

Words of Advice (Part 2)

What are some of the tests I might face?

You are the biggest test you will face. What?! That’s right, you are your own biggest test!

Other youth might tell you that “other people” or “other youth” are the biggest test, but remember that when we feel hurt or offended by others, it is often because our ego is in the way. If you come to Banani, you will grapple with that ego. Be humble and never give up on seeing the beauty in others. So they have faults or annoying habits, well so do you! I don’t claim to have mastered my own advice. I grapple with my nasty ego everyday.

One youth here told me if she found herself disliking someone or having feelings of enmity, she would make a list of ten things she admired about that person.

Banani is also very isolated and trips to town are few and far between. The school is surrounded by bush and wildlife, and bursting the seams with insects. If you love wildlife, you will be at home. If you are a city girl you might experience some frustration. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come. Service is all about being willing to undergo the pain of transformation.

Above: a giant moth found outside the ablutions. After I picked it up of the floor, the girls told me it would make my skin itch. Later one of the girls told me it wasn't true, they were just telling me that.

Can I serve for less than a year?

As I understand it, you can serve for 6 months. However, the longer you stay the more service you can offer as a long term dorm mother. The girls develop relationships with the dorm mother which are hard to establish if you are here short term. In my opinion, you will make more of a difference in the lives of these girls if you can stay for at least a year.

Some youth stay for 10 or 11 months because they have just graduated high school and are entering college. You might have orientations to attend or school might start early for you. Just depends on the individual. Do what you can, your service is between you and God and if your intentions are pure and the will is there, then you shouldn’t think twice about coming.

You can even serve for more than a year. Past dorm mothers have served for 2-3 years.

What are some cultural differences (if I am coming from the US)?
In general, there is more courtesy and formality here. You should always shake hands and smile and greet, even people who are just passing by deserve a wave and a smile. The boundary between what’s rude and what’s not is sometimes fuzzy. For example, one youth told me her girls think she’s rude when she says “what?” Alternatively, you might say “can you repeat that?” or “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear.” There will be somewhat of a language barrier between you and adults. The girls speak good English for the most part, while some of the adults have thick accents or English is their second language. Whatever you do, don’t become frustrated with others. They are undoubtedly equally frustrated with you. Speak clearly and don’t speak fast or mumble (as so many of us are wont to do!) You might repeat instructions adults have given you in order to make sure you understand completely.

You will be a minority if you are Caucasian and you will get called “muzungu”, which means a rich white person. Even if you’re not rich, people will assume your rich. Just stand up for yourself, politely of course. Be patient and remember all the trials of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the people who treated him poorly or with hate and to whom he showed nothing but kindness. Overtime he transformed the hearts of others through his unrelenting kindness. Sounds hard, I know, and we can never be ‘Abdu’l-Baha. But we can strive to follow his example. There are many prejudices against white skin color here, especially if you are from America, so just work to change their minds through your actions. In time they will see.

What better way to end a post then with a picture of monkeys!

Words of Advice (Part 1)

This post is for youth considering service at Banani.

When I was making a decision about my year of service, the considerable lack of information on any of the places I wanted to serve was nerve-wrecking. That’s part of your year of service and the patience you use in making the initial decision will be needed throughout your year of service. However, maybe I can make that process a little easier for future youth and provide you with a few answers and tidbits of advice on serving at Banani International School.

How will I be serving?

Many people will advise you not to come with any expectations. This piece of advice is ridiculous. It’s impossible not to come without any expectations because there is already a process you have gone through in order to arrive at the decision of coming to serve at Banani, which involves other people telling you what you can expect. So naturally there are some expectations. The point is don’t get your hopes up about certain aspects. Pray and strive to be detached.

You might work in the library. Currently youth are reorganizing the library according to the Dewey decimal system. Once the library is complete you may be asked to spend time behind the desk checking books in and out and keeping the library in order.

You might sit behind the reception desk while the secretary is away for lunch break. This involves and hour and a half of sitting, copying handouts and worksheets for teachers, answering the landline and/or school cell phone, and ringing the bell when it’s time for students to change periods.

Your main duty will be as a dorm mother. Think of this role as playing the big sister. When the girls are unhappy or in tears, you might comfort them or give them words of advice, or just be a good listener. At 20:30 you are in charge of enforcing quiet time and at 22:00 you make sure all lights are out and everyone is in bed. You might serve food at mealtimes.

You might organize Baha’i Holy Days both for the community and the school.

You might act as a chaperone on school trips and for Saturday entertainment nights (which is basically a dance party).

You might organize activities and outings (like games or arts and crafts) for your dorm. You are responsible for the spiritual upliftment of the girls while they are in the dorm, so you might organize a devotional or prayer gathering for them.

Above: Girls in Dorm B doing arts and crafts

You might teach children’s classes, facilitate a study circle, and/or animate a junior youth group in the community.

You might do a lot of things. There are many ways you can serve at Banani, but some of these outlets you will have to seek yourself. Be diligent and don’t give up, there is a need for service even if the adults here haven’t yet learned how to organize the youth.

Reality check: Banani is still a developing school in many ways. Do not expect organization or communication. Many things will have to sprout from your individual initiative and diligence. You might have opportunities to start a club or tutor students in subjects which you specialize in, but you will have to open those doors yourself by communicating with teachers.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Sounds Outside My Window

A great deal of bird watching gets done via ear and through my bedroom window. After three months, I finally feel like I have some kind of grasp on the more common birds of the area. Just the other day I satisfied a hunch I had about a particular call I'd been hearing since the day of my arrival…the gremlin like chatter of the Green Wood-hoopoe. The maniacal laughter of this bird is, I now realize, unmistakable.

As I stood ironing my clothes, I heard the gremlin laughter coming from the tree just outside my window. This tree is a bird magnet. At night I often hear the loud and rhythmic hooting of the African Wood-owl from this tree and during the day I often see Black-collared Barbets and Fork-tailed Drongos, which perch on the lower dead branches. I rushed outside with my binoculars and in no time found the long-tailed hoopoes, glittery green and blue with a neon orange beak. Wood-hoopoes forage for insects underneath tree bark, using their long probing beaks, which this flock of three or so birds was now doing.

On a different morning, as I lay in bed, I heard what sounded like a distant crying baby. My first impulse was to blame the monkeys, for they make a range of sounds and their mischievousness makes them easy to blame for anything from loud noise to missing clothing. (When in doubt, blame the monkeys!) As I pulled aside my curtain I saw perched on a far tree three large, black Trumpeter Hornbills.

I ran outside with my binoculars and watched as the small flock flew in to some nearby trees. You can imagine how strange I must look to the maid who is usually sweeping the dorm area in the mornings. Always running around excitedly with bincoulars....

Quick Story: Every night at 20:30 the girls in the junior dorms (grade 8-10) have quiet time, when they are suppose to study or reflect in a journal. Quiet time is actually a time of intense chaos. One night the clock struck 20:30 and I walked outside to inform the girls it was now quiet time (because of course they are in the front area screaming and chasing each other and being loud). Just remember, it’s like having 18 little sisters.

As I walked outside I saw a large pale owl fly overhead and in my excitement I pointed and called out “Owl! Look!” (as if other people might actually be interested, usually they aren’t). All the girls started screaming and several of them ran inside the dorm. One girl comes up to me authoritatively and says “where is the owl?”, as if it is a problem to be solved.

One of the girls later explained to me that there is a fear of owls as an omen of death. Some believe that if you see an owl hooting on a branch, that is a sure sign someone will die that night. I guess the girls don’t hear the owls hooting outside their window every night. Does that mean someone is going to die every night? Well, people do die every night all around the world! That explains so much, it must be the owls…. ;)

Poem: Let This Rain Wash Away

Let This Rain Wash Away

Let this rain wash away disunity, leaving the people cleansed
Help us to jump the hurdles of each other’s faults
And leave them fallen behind us as we run forth
To better places
Guide us into the crevices of one another’s hearts
So that we can begin to truly know each other
So that when there is anger and frustration,
We will blind our eyes to the blackness
And see only the rainbow in each other’s souls
Loving one another for our colors