June 17, 2012 Yesterday was the longest day of my life. There are moments in each day where I feel like it is too hard- the heat, the language barrier, and just the crazy disparity between the life I am used to living and the life I live here. And then there are moments where I just feel so taken by the gravity of this experience, and I feel so content and blessed to be here and to have come in contact withal these amazing people in my life.
I began my day at 8 am, teaching voice lessons. The first two lessons of the day were extremely taxing, mostly because we could not understand each other at all. Moreover, the streets are blaring with noise and mostly all lessons are taught in the same room essentially, so it was very tough to rise above all the noise when teaching. It was so difficult on so many levels, under the umbrella of the heat as well, and I just felt Iike crying.
My third lesson of the day was this charming, beautiful sweet girl named Linia. She spoke English. It was immediately so much easier. We did some vocal technique, and then we listened to several jazz standards...as she mentioned that she would like to learn and sing more jazz. We decided on 'Georgia on my Mind,' a tune she was familiar with from listening to Ray Charles' version.
Linia is so gifted, I got goosebumps when she sang. She took direction so well, internalized everything so quickly, and just had an innate knack for it all. For phrasing, emotion...everything. I wanted to put her in my back pocket and take her back to America with me. She was just beautiful in every way. You just realize how much talent is in this community, and how much you just want to give them the world, and these opportunities. As much is it made me happy, it made me sad as well to not be able to give such a talented girl everything she deserved.
The rest of the day was filled with more back to back lessons. 8 hours of teaching in the heat with language differences was a mental test of endurance for me. But some how I managed to bring energy to each lesson, and seeing the students so happily singing made it so worth it.
Towards the evening, Fritz, the man who's vision became the Jean Baptisse Dessaix Music School, invited us to a dinner of soup and wine to thank us for our time. He is an inspiring, generous, and humble man. Heidi, one of the colleagues that went with us, served as translator between us and Fritz. Listening to Fritz talk about his challenges, and his dreams and vision for the school brought tears to my eyes. He first thanked us profusely for giving our time, taking an airplane to come here, not necessarily always sleeping well, but nevertheless giving our time so generously. He then talked about so many of the problems they face at this school. They wanted to have a large orchestra but there is too much turnover to achieve this. Because there are no universities in Jacmel, most of the really talented and brilliant students of the school end up leaving to Port Au Prince, or the states to pursue opportunities.
The same plight exists with teachers- not much can keep them in Jacmel, so the school has a very hard time finding teachers that can consistently stay on. His dream is to be able to open a arts performance school that would host visual artists, musicians, and actors. He envisions a place with a theater,a huge rehearsal room, smaller classrooms, and a place of sound accommodations to host the professors of music. He estimates that he needs about 3 million US dollars to build this, which is actually not too much money to build an entire school, but naturally it is very difficult to get this money. Fritz has said that so many people come through, promising to help, but the majority of them do not stick to their promises. Still , he is hopeful. His work is so amazing and inspiring that he was invited to the white house in 2010 to accept an award by Michelle Obama, supporting all of his efforts at this school.
After Fritz finished speaking, he invited us to go up and get food. The food they prepared for us was a very delicious and tasty soup filled with spinach, plantains, doughy rolls of flour, spinach, potatoes and beef. It was so tasty, although it was a little rough eating something so hot, while it was so hot!
JD, whom I mentioned in an earlier post, is an American actor from LA, staying at the dorm of the school. He has such an incredible story and is such an inspiring individual. He has been traveling around the world for the last year with his two young sons doing various types of aide work in various countries all over the world. He created this organization called twelve and twelve with the vision being that he would choose to work for 12 different organizations doing relief work in 12 different countries, spending a month in each place. The types of work him and his sons have done is absolutely incredible. His sons are amazing and generous, so mature for their age, and it's amazing to me that they have traveled all around the world with their dad doing such incredible work.
JD had heard about the Jean Baptisse Dessaix music school and its mission through a friend of a friend, and came here to volunteer his time to shoot hours and hours of video, to create a documentary serving to generate awareness of the school and their needs. Both he and his children are incredible, dynamic and inspiring people, and I encourage you all to check out more about their organization at twelveandtwelve.org.
As I was leaving dinner and walking back to my dorm, I was just soaking it all in. The Haitian streets at night are quite dark and quiet, but there is ton of energy and vivacity emanating all over. A group of older men we playing poker out in the streets under dim lighting, while a family across the way was blasting tradition Haitian dance music, and a pair of young lovers across the way were walking arm in arm. It made me smile.