Saturday, August 11, 2007

Look Closer

By: Tyla Fowler

Here in Muhuru Bay, one of the most important things that we have from home is our music. Almost anytime we are in our house, there is music playing. It is a small bit of familiarity that we are able to hold onto in a place that is still so strange and new to us. However, music is not only something that reminds me of home; my iPod also finds subtle ways to remind me of truths that are important, no matter where I am in the world.

Ani Difranco tells me: “squint your eyes and look closer…”

Squint my eyes and look closer? This statement seems so simple, but I find that sometimes, it is exceedingly difficult to do. It is easy to get wrapped up in my own little world and forget that everyone around me has a story and a life that I do not see or know about.

When asking a student if they want to participate in intercession for the next two weeks, I do not immediately consider whether or not they have a family at home waiting for them. I do not ask myself if it is possible that they have someone they are responsible for taking care of. I assume that as a high school student, their experience is similar to mine: school is a priority and their family sees their education as a high priority as well. Instead, I find myself staring at a beautiful young girl who (to my great surprise) has three children at home and a husband that she must plead with to get permission to attend an intercession program. This is the first time I am shocked and humbled by my own lack of insight and knowledge about the lives of the students that I am interacting with on a daily basis. This is when I realize that there are so many things I do not know and that in my time here there are so many things that I will not be able to learn or fully understand.

While this is the first time I recognize that I do not really have any idea what life here is like, it is not the only instance that humbles me and reminds me of this fact. After a tiring day working with girls from area primary schools, the intercession students presented us with the poetry they wrote during the day. When I heard that Patrick was planning to do a poetry workshop with them, I was highly skeptical. I did not believe that they would grasp the concepts or that they would enjoy that kind of creative expression. I was wrong. As the students climbed the steps in the meeting hall to present their poetry one at a time, I was shocked by their confidence and performance skills. Students that do not speak above a whisper in the classroom appeared to be seasoned performers with amazing projection and feeling in the delivery of their work. More than being amazed by their performance, I was blown away by the depth and insight in their poetry. They bared their souls about subjects I believe many high school students would be unwilling to share: life, death, disease, family, god, and the burdens of daily life. Once again, I was shocked and humbled by accounts of parents and friends dying of AIDS, stories of pregnancies that ended relationships and left girls alone and helpless, and poems that showed the pride that many of the students take in their heritage and the traditions of their culture.

It is difficult to remember that everyday, people around you are living lives that you know nothing about. I know that this is true no matter where you are and that even when I am in America, the lives of many people that I know would amaze me. However, the contrast here is so sharp that it still manages to catch me off guard and remind me that it does not matter how much I think I know, I can never know what is going on under the surface until I take the time to find out. I find that once I have taken the time to ask the delicate questions and get to know someone on a deeper level, all of my interactions with them become more meaningful because I know the context of our relationship. Being here and getting to know these students has taught me that many of them will value their interactions with us so much more because of the more difficult parts of their lives that they deal with on a daily basis. On the other hand, I have learned to treasure the time that I have with those around me because I understand what a huge thing it is that they are giving this time to us and that they are taking time from their hectic and demanding lives to learn what we have to teach.

Knowing about the lives of the students we are teaching is such a gift – I am so thankful for their willingness to forget their lives for a few hours a day and interact with us.

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