A new year often makes me think about people who have taught me important things but who are no longer part of my daily life. I've been thinking today about a boy named Omar, whom I worked with as a Peace Corps volunteer. I wrote this poem about him while I worked with him, and I am wondering what his life is like today. Have there been people in your life and your travels who remind you of Omar?
They call you thief, problem, delinquent, nuisance, liar, threat.
These people in the echoing courtroom, in the shabby police station,
in the narrow aisles of the grocery store.
And me, in my house at night, when you steal my old blue bicycle.
We discuss you in cramped offices filled with computers and telephones, study files inches thick, and make angry gestures in the air.
You have become synonymous with sighs.
Your name is the sound of someone walking out of a room.
We say we want to help you but we are not patient teachers.
How to save you from your own destructive hands, we ask one another.
We worry about society. We wonder when to leave you alone.
You are fourteen years old and you know
too much about guns, and so little about love.
Maybe you learned this life from your father,
with his own habits of stealth and liquor, with his withering fists.
Maybe it was your mother who taught you defiance.
She wanted so badly to forget you that she bled into another country.
Or maybe you act as you do simply because your own, fine name
is hardly ever said with a smile. It has become a coat
we’d like to hang in the winter closet.
But Omar, this name you lost,
you could still take it up, live it fully.
You could stun us, thrill us,
silence our unkind chattering.
You could become to yourself everything you wish,
and to us, a hopeful story we tell.
Once there was a difficult, uncertain boy, we would say,
but one day he remembered who he was.
So Omar, let’s thread together all the meanings of your name
until they form a blanket. We’ll throw that blanket over
the wary delinquent, the crying thief, the hungry liar.
We’ll let him sleep.
Then you, Omar, you can ride far on my bicycle.
Ride to a place beyond your reputation.
You can find new parents with their gladness intact.
You will become their first son and they will teach you how to plant
and how to harvest.
In that other place, Omar, you will learn, you will grow,
you will become elevated.
People will fill rooms to hear you speak wisely;
you will be profound in your eloquence.
Sometimes you will have strange dreams of a different sort of life.
In these dreams you will know how to wield a knife
and make strangers do your bidding,
and you will find money in your pockets that is not your own.
But in your real life you will follow the prophet
who is your own insightful self.
You will look people in the eye
and they will feel blessed by your presence.
They will ask, and you will be so happy to tell them
your own, fine name.
Originally published in Double Lives, Reinvention, and Those We Leave Behind.
Ed. Heather Tosteson, Charles D. Brockett. Decatur, GA: Wising Up Press.
Recently some friends and I visited the Mariposa Museum and World Culture Center in Peterborough, New Hampshire. With our kids in tow, we were enchanted by the museum’s lively, hands-on exhibits and comfortable setting. The museum’s collection includes modern and ancient art and instruments from Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond. While the museum is for all ages, we found it to be wonderfully accessible for young people. Through February 15th, the museum has an exhibit on the multicultural history of chocolate, which it delightfully combines with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Having each lived in diverse communities, taught in formal and non-formal settings, and aimed to promote intercultural understanding using wide-ranging methods including environmental education, poetry, and dance, my friends and I each feel strongly about the importance of teaching kids about the world. After our visit to the museum, we got to thinking about just what it is that helps kids maintain a healthy sense of curiosity and the willingness to reach toward other cultures, rather than withdrawing when they encounter something unfamiliar. Here are some of the things we came up with, and how the Mariposa Museum does them well:
Have a good time. When kids adore something, they keep going back for more. In how many museums can you lounge around on vibrant, cozy pillows while playing games and trying out instruments for hours? And that’s just for starters. Throughout the museum, there are many lovely things to look at, read about, and hear, along with great books, puppets, and places to sit and think.
Jenny appreciated that, while the museum is delightful, it’s not overly stimulating. Kids can move at their own pace, and peek into drawers or explore nooks and crannies without feeling sensory overload. I loved that when we left, everyone was uplifted and smiling, rather than tired and overwhelmed.
Develop empathy. When kids relate to something, they feel comfortable with it. While there were distinct differences among items in the museum, there was also unity in what we saw. An exhibit about global holidays during winter months shows how each holiday includes an element of light. The room filled with instruments shows that percussion exists all around the world. Marcela, who is originally from Nicaragua, was excited to learn that there are instruments in Africa that are similar to Nicaraguan marimbas.
Judith noted that the story of chocolate is an important one, and she was glad to see that the kids could learn, not only delightful things about the history of chocolate, but also something about the unfairness of the chocolate trade. The exhibit offered young people a window into how complex many of our life experiences are.
Explore an idea from a variety of angles. Puzzles help kids learn. We loved that each floor told us something of the history of chocolate, but also that the telling was threaded throughout other exhibits. This set the stage for helping our kids think about the value of paying attention to even small details. It also gave them a chance to look at ways things that seem unrelated might actually be connected.
Create and honor beauty. Kids thrive when they are nurtured by the world around them. The museum offers a feast for the senses—you’ll find everything from opera masks from the ancient Silk Road to a bottlecap rattlesnake from the American Southwest. And there is also ample opportunity for visitors to create beauty by making music, paintings, and other hands-on art forms. The Mariposa offers many reasons to smile.
We asked the kids what they enjoyed and learned at the museum. Their answers show that the Mariposa is fulfilling its intention to help people explore the world through all their senses:
Marcela, 18: “There was a beautiful Asian doll, and I loved the puppets.”
Mateo, 9: “I like that we created a band and made music together.”
Fiona, 10: “I was interested in the holidays around the world, and how they are all celebrated so differently.”
Lucas, 5: “Every place everywhere should have a room of chocolate.”
Hi, I'm Deidra
To me, transformative travel means traveling in a way that connects you to places and people in a profound way., being real and present with what is happening while you travel and recognizing the impact travel has on your life beyond your journeys.