Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Privilege to Tour

For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives-most natives in the world-cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go—so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.
Jamaica Kincaid

Kincaid’s words remind me of my own privilege to tour, to be a tourist, to leave the routine of my every day and dive into the many opportunities that traveling offers. I am also reminded of friends and family who also travel easily to various parts of the world and either relax and escape their homelands, their jobs, their everyday or those who travel to learn and transform through seeing and experiencing other cultures, religions, ways of life that are not familiar. Travelling is an opportunity to experience the world as a classroom, as a means of expanding consciousness and transforming perspective. For the past 10 years I have coordinated and facilitated one of these world classrooms through the service learning program at St. Francis Xavier University. Students come to Grenada for their reading week and embark on a personal journey of leaning and unlearning new and old ways of seeing the world. One of the topics that surfaces each year is privilege; how privilege works and what are the factors that contribute to the various privileges that we hold. The opportunity to travel, to be a tourist, to tour, to learn, to escape one’s own life is examined in the context of this privilege.

Last year with the help of many friends and family we raised funds needed to sponsor one of the village youths, Alison Harris to take part in a privilege many of us take for granted. We raised enough money so Alison could take a tour to Canada, to Nova Scotia, to Antigonish, Halifax, and Tatamagouche and take part in various educational and leadership programs. Another funding initiative is on its way, this time to raise funds for Kayla George, a Grenadian youth who is also interested in travelling to Canada and taking part in various youth empowerment and leadership programs such as the Tatamagouche Social Justice Youth Camp and Peaceful Schools International Camp. Kayla has been a big part of my life for the past 16years. I was not only honoured to welcome her into the world the day she was born 16 years ago but I was also honoured with the role of god mother. Kayla’s story is a complicated one, one that deserves a story all to itself and not just a paragraph in this blog. Her story reflects the difficulties many young Grenadian women who come from a cyclical environment of violence poverty and oppression go through. Her story now has a potential chapter in travel, a chapter in finding new paths, a chapter in dealing with old story lines with new tools, a chapter in simply taking a rest from a hard life for a few weeks, a chapter in self-perseverance.

We need to raise a total of $2000 cnd which will cover camp fees and flight expenses for Kayla. Kayla is also working on a fund raising plan and hopes to approach the Grenada Rotary Club and her church for donations. She is also going to make and sell damsel stew and tamarind balls at the Village Community Centre.

Any amount you would like to donate is a blessing! Feel free to ask your family and friends for small contribution as well! Colleen Cameron is Kayla’s’s official Nova Scotian Host and Donations Coordinator. If you are in Canada or outside of Canada you can send check or money order to Colleen Cameron 61 Brookland Street, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, B2G 1V8. Please make check payable to Maureen Ryan-St. Clair or Maureen St. Clair. And if you are in Grenada please send check or monetary donations to Maureen St.Clair Harford Village, St. Andrew’s, Grenada, West Indies or give me a call 473 442 8296.( i will be on the island until july 3rd,2011)

Any means of spreading this blog posting would be appreciated. I am not very up on social networking scene but I am told face book is a reliable way of spreading messages. Please post on your facebook!

I would like to give a big shout out to past St. FX service learning participants who rallied together and raised majority of funds for Alison’s trip! Also not forgetting friends and family who also contributed their time, money and overall love to support this endeavour!

Deep gratitude and appreciation to all of you! I am honored to once again witness the crossing of bridges, the meeting and sharing of one people, one family, one love!!!


Friday, May 27, 2011

Finding Paths to Community

As someone from the outside, someone from European descent, someone who wears similar skin color to a white stereotype that often says here in the Village, “We need white people like Maureen to start village programs” or “If Maureen not here my child not going in to no program organized by village people,” I find it challenging to be an active participant in the planning, coordinating and facilitating village community programs. Internalized attitudes from generations of colonialism, oppression and slavery continue to enslave many minds and attitudes; attitudes that reinforce internalized and externalized racism and create distrust and hate amongst people making it difficult to see the wealth of expertise and resources that come from one’s neighbors, family and community.

This year I take to the sidelines and become a supportive role so people in the village can see their colonial way of thinking is faulty and inconsistent. I search for ways I can use my passion for community peace education and writing in a more supportive role. I decide to write articles for local newspapers highlighting the strengths, assets, natural and human resources the Village possesses and that are now unfolding into various community activities, events and programs today. This I share with you:

Human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
Zinn, 2004

Inspired by the passage above I reflect and write about the community of Harford Village, St. Andrew’s; a community I have lived for the past 17 years. I am inspired to write about the positive attitudes and actions that have transformed into community events, programs, and activities over the past couple years; proving once again that we are a community with many strengths, assets and resources.

Harford Village has a history of community togetherness that is sometimes lost in the confusion of negativity and chaos. I believe that once a community is able to focus on positive examples of community spirit and action, the negative will take less precedence. Writing this article is an opportunity to share with the rest of the nation the positive activities that make our Village strong and unique.

For the past few years the community has hosted a series of “Peace Through Art” programs for the youth and children of the Village. These programs focus on providing safe and youth-friendly environments for kids to learn and practice various peace building skills. The kids focus on finding peace within themselves, families, schools and community. They use a variety of creative expressions such as poetry, dance, drama, and visual arts to explore, identify, and exercise peace. The most recent program was a one week Easter Program coordinated and facilitated by Alice Noel and Stephanie George. For the past two summers Harford Village has also hosted a July Peace Camp led by various youth leaders like Alison Harris, Alice Noel, Sheldon Mitchel and Appalonia Whiteman.

Recently the youth leaders, inspired by Loyd Bartholomew, started an African dance and drum group. The group meets every Monday and Thursday to practice various dances to the beat of African drum. The group is called the Harford Village Youth Achievers and they have already performed for a visiting group of Canadian students and for a community information session with the Grenada Fire and Police Department. Presently the Village Youth Group is exploring various ways to raise funds in order to purchase dance uniforms and visit other parts of the island to perform. Some of the fund raising initiatives include making and selling popcorn on Sunday evenings, organizing community movie nights and planning a community night of sharing talents.

For Mother’s Day this year a group of Village men led by Mr. Leslie Felix organized, with the help of many Village mothers, a Mother’s Day breakfast and evening fete. Mothers were treated to a breakfast of fried breadfruit, coconut bakes, salt fish, calalloo bakes, coffee and coco tea. In the evening a DJ played vintage reggae while a pot of fish broth stewed on the fire. The community was alive for the whole day and evening celebrating and honoring the Mothers of the Village and the Nation!

Mr. Joseph Pierre recently shared his passion for hiking by taking village youths to various natural sights on the island like the Boiling Spring in St. Andrew, Mt. St. Catherine and Mt. Qua Qua.

The Harford Village Community Centre was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan and Emily and was re built by Community members. The Centre stands today as a vital asset to the community; this is evident by the many activities the Centre has housed over the past few years, activities such as church events, youth programs, blockos, bingos, and cultural celebrations.

Working within the field of community development over the past ten years, I continue to realize how essential it is for communities to highlight the strengths, assets, and resources they possess first and foremost. By doing so people are inspired, encouraged, and empowered to move forward; mobilizing and creating more opportunities for community development and success.

Friday, May 20, 2011

a year, a month, a day to live

How Would you Live Your Life Differently?

When Theo was a young boy he arrived home from school one afternoon to find his mom in her usual afternoon spot, lying underneath the house catching a few moments of cool shade and rest. For some reason, maybe by the heaviness of her body or the expression on her face, Theo filled with a deep fear and for a fraction of a moment he thought his mother was dead.
He shouted, “Mommy mommy mommy!”
Ms. Mado jumped up and flung open her eyes, “So What happen to you!!”
“Mommy I thought you was dead!”
“Well if I dead I dead! Leave me dead. You trying to frighten me back to life?”
This is the story that floats most vividly in my head from the many childhood memories Theo has shared over the years. Ms. Mado’s words struck me like an unexpected slap on the back from behind and within her words I heard the inevitable, we are all going to die eventually, “so if I dead I dead!”

For the past few weeks I have moved in and out of these thoughts of dying, feeling waves of fear wash over me. Thinking daily about two dear friends in Antigonish and Toronto; trying to feel what they must be feeling as they presently experience sudden tragedy in their lives. One friend losing her mom and grandmother in a car accident last month and another friend sitting by her mother’s side in palliative care at the Toronto General Hospital.

I sink eyes wide open into memories of death of friends and family both here in Grenada and Canada; those who died suddenly way too young, others who died slowly of unidentified illnesses, those who took their own lives and others who died natural deaths in their ripe old age. My thoughts weave in and out of recent memories of almost losing Maya in a car crash four years ago when she was pitched from the back of the jeep and pinned down by the weight of a fallen door. I reflect on my own childhood memories when my dad was almost killed twice in two different car accidents and spending my 15th year in the back and neck ward at the Ottawa General Hospital.

It was after the death of my friend Oken, who was also killed instantly in a car crash one early morning while he was hitching a ride to school in St. George’s, that I came across the book “One year to Live” by Stephen Levine. Today the book is a prominent figure on my writing desk, leaning against the window sill, inviting me to its pages, inviting me to breathe in and reflect on my own life, reflect on whether I am living here and now to the fullest as though this year, this month, this day were my last. Most of us go through great lengths to ignore, deny, laugh away the fact that we are going to die, but as Levine shares, “preparing for death is one of the most rational and rewarding acts of a lifetime. It is an exercise that gives us the opportunity to deal with unfinished business and enter into a new and vibrant relationship with life.”

As I write this blog I wonder if I am denying my two friends, myself, and all of us who have lost someone or are losing someone to death; am I denying the inevitable emotions of grief, pain, suffering. Perhaps two separate blogs should be written; one embracing our lives here and now knowing death sits on all our shoulders and another embracing the inevitable feelings of fear, impenetrable sadness, loss of will to live, soul crushing pain that also sits heavy on all our shoulders over the loss of loved ones. Or is the embrace the same embrace; learning to wrap our arms around hope and despair and breathing deep. My friend Natalie who is living presently by her mother’s side began a blog recently called a very un-fun waiting game ( www. nattythinks.blogspot.com ). Nat shares her raw, vulnerable open heart and her writing is a testimony to embracing fear fearlessly.

I recall the wise words of a close friend who told me once that her fear wasn’t so much about dying but about whether she was living her life to the fullest.

If you had one more year, month, or day to live how would You live your life differently?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sharing the Vibe

Sharing the Vibe

Recently the Village Dance Group began experiencing small waves of conflict. The waves soon turned into larger waves, waves that threatened to wash up the group into fragments and possibly break up the beautiful rhythms the girls worked so hard to manifest. At first it looked quite simple two girls fighting because one said something mean about the other but soon this seemingly simple conflict began to unfold its complicated pedals.

Being in the middle of community and being an outsider has its ups and downs. One of the ups is the ability to listen without being entangled in the history of families intimately connected through generations back. I can be in the middle of various conversations and practice active listening without getting entangled in the history of the community and the habitual stories that can hinder one’s ability to suspend judgement and listen without putting up walls of self-preservation and protection.

When I first heard of the conflict between the two girls I must admit, my first thought was, “aha an opportunity to practice my Dialogue for Peace Skills (DPC) skills!” I took the next few days in community listening actively and hearing the different conversations related to the conflict. I began to hear the intricate layers reaching deep into stories of obeah, (obeah is one of the terms used in Grenada and in the Village to refer to witchcraft), racial discrimination amongst cousins, leaders unconsciously favouring some kids while harshly judging others, and old grievances between families of the kids. Once again I realized that conflict is rarely simple and the layers can spread like a candle flame creeping up the side of weather worn curtains.

DPC is about creating safe spaces so that peaceful dialogue can take place. The session began with creative team building exercises. We drew a collage of our hands and names and then partnered up to share and discuss the different names the kids were known by. The kids then lined themselves up according to birthdates without speaking, and we played the game “all my neighbours” that helped the group focus on similarities we all share. Afterwards we created community guidelines. The kids were active agents in creating a positive, playful, and safe environment.

Once a safe space was created we began identifying various emotions that people experience daily. The activity was challenging for both the kids and leaders. I heard some of the kids proclaim, “nah man! Me, I don’t get angry.” “Ah sad, nah man, I never feel sad”. I realized that expressing emotions and feelings is a foreign language to many of us. The kids were also fearful of becoming vulnerable through sharing what made them sad or angry. Many of the Village kids can’t afford to be soft and vulnerable due to the hard lives that surround them and the survival mode that engulfs them. I learned more clearly that identifying and expressing emotions is a privilege that many of these kids do not have.

In the last part of the evening we looked at anger specifically. The kids broke up into small groups and discussed what made people angry and how people reacted to anger. The Community Centre was buzzing with dialogue. While settling back into the circle, one of the kids talked about hunger and how being hungry can make someone angry. We talked about kids going to school hungry and I asked whether this could cause fights to break out in the school yard. A connection was made immediately and one of the kids said “ya I can get real angry and want to fight when my belly grumbling!” One of the older kids talked about physical and emotional abuse at home and the violence witnessed often in the community and at schools as reasons why many kids are angry. The discussion then moved to how kids react to anger. A lively discussion on gossip and talking negatively about friends and family sparked. The kids were able to make the connection between negative reactions to anger and how this can create conflict between family, friends, and neighbours. Through role playing, kids witnessed and acted out the many different directions conflict can move, effecting not only friendships and family relations but also community groups and programs.

When I first expressed interest in facilitating a conflict resolution session the youth leaders were excited. However, they admitted, their expectations and hope was for a court scene where the two parties in conflict would get a chance to either win or lose their case. They did not expect the session to be on conflict in general and surprised to hear and understand how conflict is a natural part of everyone’s lives. They also expressed surprise at their own capacity to create conflict and deal with conflict both within and outside themselves.

At the beginning of the session, some of the girls walked into the Community Centre stone faced and angry, ready to do battle defending their positions. They did not expect that by the end of the session everyone would come out a winner and the hardened faces and attitudes worn at the beginning of the session would soften into peace signs and smiles, arms draped around one another, and laughter freely flowing. (check out the picture above for proof!)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Two Worlds Straddling

Two Worlds Straddling
I am walking down to the beach to run lengths along the seashore. I am swimming in my head with music in my ears. I am listening to the beats of Jah Cure and Jimmy Cliff while thinking, planning Canadian journey. I am in Canada thinking about house sitting for a friend while he is in Spain, thinking how much a flight from Canada to Italy would cost, thinking about commissions to be sketched and then stretched, thinking and then sending the warmth of the sun to two friends; one whose mother was recently killed in a car accident and another whose mother is in palliative care. I am in my head thinking about new friends in PEI and Cape Breton and planning future visits, thinking about Eryka Badu and swaying to her sensual soul rhythms at the Ottawa Blues Festival in July.

From a hazy distance I hear in a loud cheery voice “What’s up Cuz?” and there stooped over in a tattered skirt gathering sea moss along the sea shore is Theo’s elderly cousin. A toothless smile smothers her face as she unbends her crooked body. I walk over and click off my ipod.
So where’s my girl?” She asks.
“Oh Maya is home”, I say, “still sleeping.”

I am no longer in Canada. I am no longer in my head, in my thoughts. I am now firmly planted on the beach sharing space with my elderly Grenadian Cuz.

“So I hear Theo’s brother lose his foot. I hear he lose his foot to sugar (diabetes)”

“Yes”, I say, “the foot was infected bad.”

“I battling with sugar too. But you don’t need sugar to lose your foot do you?. Infection easy to catch here. Did you hear about the other cousin whose daughter die the other day?”

“Yes I hear that too.”

Cuz continues, “And I also hear about Uncle. I hear he chop his friend in the shop. I hear the man want a big price to settle out of court. Is it true he almost split his head with the cutlass and two hands broken?”

“Yes all that is true”

“And did you hear of my other relative down on the dump. She the only one who won’t leave. I hear they go bring the bull dozer in and bull doze her house. All the others have been relocated. She say she not moving!”

“Now that I didn’t hear.” I say

We chat for a while longer and I am oceans away from Canada. My thoughts, my meandering thoughts of the future are swatted away like a noisy house fly determined to land. My two feet are firmly planted to White Sand Beach in Grenville, St. Andrew’s, Grenada. However white sand beach is not white sand this morning it is covered with an array of garbage from the May Day fete the night before and what the tide brought in early morning; old bottles and wrappers, rotting fishing nets and kentucy fried chicken boxes, plastic busta bottles and black bags. I am firmly planted back onto Grenada soil exactly where I am supposed to be on a heated early Sunday morning listening to my Cuz speak of relatives and hardships while searching with the glance of her eyes for sea moss hiding amongst the roughage. I am planted in the present listening to Cuz laugh while reporting the news she knows I know already. I am planted to the present for now until the next wave gathers and washes over me and I am back in Canada thinking, planning, wondering, reflecting; straddling two worlds vastly different from one another. I am in my head walking back up the hill trying to make sense but then letting go of making sense to this life I am straddling, to this life that I choose to straddle, to this life I am grateful and honoured to be balancing.