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all here

21 Aug

I’ve been home for a little less than a week.

My life has switched from teaching in the bateyes and painting murals in mountain villages to picking my niece up from school and picking Legos up from my nephew’s toy room.

In another week I’ll be back in New York and preparing for another school year.

A mentor from high school used to tell me, “wherever you are, be all there.”

Ive kept that close to my heart for years. But it means more to me now than ever before.

I was in DR for one month. I was all there.

I was in Colombia for two weeks. I was all there.

I will be in Indiana for two weeks. I’m all here.

I will be in New York for life. I’ll be all there.

It took me years to learn to be content in my given situation. To not wish for home, or travel, or routine, or variety, or whatever I don’t currently have.

I practiced contentment this summer.

There were moments of angst. Moments of discomfort. Moments of frustration. Moments of homesickness.

But I embraced those moments, leaning into them, and learning from them.

I realized that whatever I was experiencing was temporary. I realized that my home would be there, waiting for me, and I would be there soon enough. I realized that I might not ever have the opportunity that is in front of me again.

That helped me to be all there.

And yet, while I was all there, and while I am all here, those kids are still where they are.

They are still hungry.
They are still thirsty.
They are still without clothes, shoes, and basic necessities.

I am all here, in order to be fully present in my life.
But they are all there, without the option to go elsewhere.
I’m not sure what to do about that.

There is need everywhere. And you can’t be everywhere.

I feel like I’m living where I was called to live, doing what I was called to do, loving where I was called to love.

I have to think that that’s enough. That being fully present in everyday life is what my world needs. And that by moving towards wholeness in my own spirit will bring wholeness to wherever I am.

So that’s it. That’s the end of my blogging life.

I hope that we can be fully present. Together. Hopefully face-to-face, over a strong cup of coffee.

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Being gringo

14 Aug

I will be home(ish) at this time tomorrow. Closer to home than I’ve been in six weeks, at least.

I’ll be on my way to my sister’s house after 43 days of Latin America. After 43 days of new lands, new people, new culture, new plants, new everything.

I will return to the familiar, to what I’ve known my whole life, to hot showers, brightly lit signs, a land of commercialized products, advertisements, and the other amenities (for good or bad) that coincide with life in a country of abundance.

It’s difficult to fully process the trip while I am still gone. I think several weeks, perhaps months, of life at home will help me understand the impact of being here, of being away.

I do, however, have some partially cooked thoughts that have been bouncing around my mind.

I think that I will miss living in a world where the culture is not my own. I love being the foreigner, the minority.

New York, specifically Washington Heights, has its own culture and I am not the majority in my neighborhood, but we are still in the states and that changes the dynamic.

The combination of not fluently speaking the language, not fully understanding the culture, not being the same color, having lighter hair, and generally being different has given me an odd freedom that I had never known.

I can get away with infinitely more than I can at home.

I am a bit of a square peg and don’t always fit into the conventions of the society around me. But when I speak the language I am forced to explain myself.

In Latin America, however, I can simply shrug my shoulders and give a confused look.

The “damas” single stall is occupied and I just drank three bottles of water so I use the “hombres” stall.

Sorry. No hablo español.

I go to the beach and sleep on the sand. No blanket. No sunscreen.

Just the weird white (but a much darker shade of white) girl.

I draw all of the time. Everywhere I go.

Weird white artist girl.

I love it.

There is no expectation of explanation for not fitting into the mold.

I will miss that freedom. I don’t like having to explain myself.

Conversely, it’s been so frustrating to not be able to communicate when I actually want to. Very few people will slow down, use their hands, and be patient enough to understand a confused non-native.

That was difficult for me. That was stretching.

You can only say, “mas despacio. Deeeeeessssspppppaaaaaaciooo” so many times in one day.

That’s when my face starts to tell the story and I can’t hide my frustration.

Paciencia, Kelly, pacencia.

I think that seeing both sides of this coin helped me to see my students in a new light. I have several students that do not communicate well in english. I have students, at times, that do not speak any English.

I realized that there are situations when theses students know exactly what they are doing, but it’s easier to shrug it off and play the language card. I did plenty of that.

I realized that there are times when these students desperately need to be understood and simply cannot communicate. I felt this way often.

If nothing else, seeing, feeling, and experiencing both sides of the coin will make me a better teacher to my second language students.

I think it will also make me a better New Yorker. I think I’ll notice the drifter much more quickly and have a chance to speak slowly, in patience and love, to a wandering soul.

Much more is bound to come from my time here. More lessons. More applications.

More time to process.

Patience, gentleness, and discernment seem like decent places to start.

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collecting moments

11 Aug

We ended our week long art camp in Bogota today. We celebrated our projects with the community. We shared our work. We sang and laughed and danced.

My class painted a mural in a lot that had been used for trash. It was a reclaiming of space. It was transformational.

My kids stood in front of their neighbors, tall and proud, to share their dream world, the subject of the mural, with their real world.

I stood back and watched through tear-filled eyes as they explained the process and told what they learned.

Adults from the community came to the stage, in an impromptu mic share, to express their gratitude for the newly renovated space.

We took a group photo.

It was a monumental day. I will never forget it.

All week long, though, nothing that we were doing felt significant. We drew pictures of our worlds as they are and then of our dream worlds. We picked up trash. We scraped chipping paint off of a dirty wall. We sanded it. We primed it. We drew on it. We painted it.

None of those tasks felt deserving of recognition. None of them felt noteworthy.  I wondered if I had wasted my time, wasted the kids’ time. I wondered if they would have rather been riding bikes or playing video games.

I wondered if the finished project would mean anything to anyone but me.

All of those not-noteworthy tasks ended up being noteworthy.

All of the pieces came together to make a new picture. I couldn’t see it in the moment. I could only see the pieces.

I do that sometimes. I get lost in the middle.

I forget that the details matter, the days in January when it’s difficult to get out of bed. Those days are actually the substance of the school year. They are what we stand on when we get to the days in June.

I forget that the middle is the rich part, the part that holds the flavor.

They matter. They mean something.

They make it possible to have the final projects that are so easy to recognize as mattering.

Today, my kids were proud of their work, the community was proud of their work, and I was proud of them.

We marveled at the finished piece. And I remembered that it was merely a compilation of tiny little pieces that don’t always make sense in the moment. I remembered the value of the moments we are constantly collecting as we move into the future.

I remembered the need to be fully present in every situation, to live in the now.

I remembered to not get lost.

We took a picture. Maybe I can look at it in January and remember again.

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Kontswi Pon! Yeah! A Haiti Arts Camp

21 Dec
Kontswi Pon! Yeah!
Konstwi Pon! Yeah
Mwen Rele Magi!
Mwen Sorti Philly!
Mwen gen yon dans,
Ki Fet Konsa!
Boom Chang Chang Boom Chang!
Hey BuildaBridge! Yeah!
Hey BuildaBridge! Yeah!
My name is Magi!
I come from Philly!
I got this dance I love,
And it goes like this!
Boom Chang Chang Boom Chang!
Dance ClassPure joy richocheted from the concrete walls and sent the rhythms of “Ayiti” and Philly coursing through the sable bodies of every Haitian child and adult in the room. We danced to celebrate our common humanity, we, from a land of plenty…they from a country torn by poverty and fear wrought by the devastating earthquake of January 2010. We rejoiced to have spent a week understanding and admiring each other’s gifts. We danced to celebrate our success at having bridged gaps in language, culture and opportunity to find ourselves in a moment of shared commonality. We sorted through English, French and Haitian Kreyole like letters on a scrabble board. Through the days we found the right words to bring light to the BuildaBridge mission of bringing hope and healing to a community that understood its importance and received it with open hearts. Continue reading