Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dreams Deferred, Caged Birds, and Freedom

The lines of poetry from Maya Angelou's poem "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" keep running through my head after a long conversation with my Haitian friend Peter last night about educational opportunities in our respective countries.  His life long passion and dream has been to be a doctor.  He is in school right now (in an institute not a university) studying communication and French because the necessity to work and the schedule of classes coupled with the higher cost of the medical program does not allow him to chase his dream at this time, but because education is so important to him, he is still studying and learning even if it is not in his field of choice.  As we talked through all his possibilities for the upcoming school year, Maya and Langston's words were playing in my brain.  "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes was on constant repeat for most of the conversation.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

He has dreams.  He has hopes for his future.  He wants to see and impact change in his country.  He, like so many of my friends here and so many of my students in my English classes, wants to make a difference, but it seems like reality just keeps slapping them in the face.  I come from a country where people who didn't have a voice fought for a chance to have one--taxation without representation from an oppressive and distant monarchy that led to revolution, abolition of slavery, women's rights, The Civil Rights Movement, gender equality, marriage equality, immigrants, the poor and marginalized.  I have to work hard to remember times when I looked at a situation and thought, "I can't do this.  It won't work."  There were times when the work was hard and incredibly challenging, but I was never taught to live in a realm of impossibility because opportunity was always around the next corner.  The most heart breaking aspect of the whole conversation for me as I just sat and listened to him talk through his dreams paralleled with his responsibilities was the fact my life truly looks like a charmed fairytale in comparison, and my heart aches because of this.  My favorite quote from the whole conversation was when he said, "I know this will be difficult, but I will not say it is impossible."  In that moment I saw hope.  I know that nothing is impossible because I have a greater hope given to me by God that through Him all things are possible.  Peter has that same hope and sees that possibility lies within himself because God is in him as well.

The conversation continued.  We talked through possibilities and ideas.  The biggest difference was in perspective.  In my life I was taught to fight through obstacles to make things happen in my life.  Americans by nature (okay not all, but most) have that Puritan work ethic and spirit rooted deep in us.  We are taught not to back down from a challenge, to look for opportunity, to chase hard after our dreams.  We live by the American Dream.  We are called the land of opportunity.  We are like the free bird Maya Angelou talks about.  

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wings

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped
 his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with fearful trill

of the things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune
is heard 
on the distant hill
for the caged bird

sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn

and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom

So there we sat last night, a free bird and a caged bird, and the conversation continued.  We tried to see through each other's lenses of perspective.  I think that is the biggest challenge for me here in Haiti.  Although we both come from histories of revolutionary actions and thoughts, 1776 and 1804 respectively, we don't think the same, and we are constantly trying to look at the world through each other's eyes to gain a better understanding.  I feel like the revolutionary spirit has not been quenched in America, but in Haiti it has been buried so deep in oppressive dictatorships, lack of education, handouts, and poverty.  It is still here.  I know it is!  The spirit of what made Haiti Haiti, the revolution of the slaves, the first and only free black republic, that spirit is still here somewhere! 

Before I continue, I'll be the first to admit that I have not even come close to wrapping my brain around the educational and higher educational systems here in Haiti.  There are similarities, but the organization and the differences of the whole system are so immense that it is going to take some serious research time to figure it all out.  I want to try though.  I see in the eyes of the children and the young people (even the older generation) here the desire to learn, to expand their knowledge base, to have opportunities through education to make a difference in their country.  I have had the world at my fingertips my whole entire life.  I have had access to just about any book, poem, play, story, movie, documentary, etc. I have ever wanted to watch or read.  I wake up each morning and pray for guidance and strength to carry out the awesome responsibility God has given me here to educate.  I know that responsibility carries along with it the responsibility to be an example of Jesus lived out for them too. Guidance spiritually is of just a great import as guidance educationally, if not more!  I sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all, but then I walk into my classroom and see the smiles of my students and the eager looks on their faces.  I know then that we will walk through this together, and we are each walking through all of this with God by our side as well.  I don't want their dreams to be deferred, and I pray that they have opportunities to find their voices through education and His guiding spirit and then go on to educate others!  Right now I see in their eyes the eyes of caged birds, but my prayer is they will one day know what it is like to soar!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely, my friend. Hopefully you can find peace in knowing you are not alone in your prayers, hopes, and aches. I think you expressed here what so many of us that fall in love with Hait feel and the angst that results. You are one of the many miracles God is working in Neply. I'm so grateful for you and the love and care you are providing our friends there. Love and miss you dearly.