The Ecology, Histories, and Literature Departments have collaborated on a series ongoing personal reflective essays called Eleutheros. Each week students are asked to write a reflective essay that demonstrates their understanding of the themes from their coursework and effectively links these themes to their unique thoughts and experiences. For each essay, students are asked to answer a new interdisciplinary prompt which inspires an integrated reflection on class learning. Our final essay asked students look at their academic semesters holistically and consider the value of their learning. In the coming weeks, look forward to some articulate examples of how our students have deeply and personally engage with these essential questions. This week’s prompt: What does it mean to be oriented to a place? How does your orientation week at The Island School relate to the mission of the school?
Listen to the sounds you cannot hear. The ones your eyes can transform into vibrating echoes of music.
Clank Clank Clank! A tiny metal stick bounces violently against the walls inside a rusted yellow cowbell, and makes a clanking sound that creates a beautiful harmony with the bass of the goatskin drums. You would never expect two distinct sounds, clanking and booming bass to harmonize so well together, but they just do. Whistles and horns are played along with the clanking and booming, and still the sound is perfect. Your ears are too small to hold the sound. The vibrations escape your ear canals and start to send electric shocks all over your skin until the booming from the drum turns to the booming of your heart and that booming becomes the same rhythm which your body receives blood. That collection of vibrating clanks, booming, horns and whistles is the sound of Junkanoo, the sound that is echoed throughout the history of the Bahamas. The sound I heard when I was oriented to my culture.
In the Bahamas, Junkanoo is a celebration that was started many years ago. It is a celebration that was originally an expression of freedom. In the Bahamas, and possibly other parts of the world, slaves were given a day off from labor, the day after Christmas. We call this Boxing Day. On this day off slaves would take cowbells and shake them all throughout the day to commemorate their temporary liberation. With the cowbell shaking came dance, and with dancing and cowbell shaking eventually came drums and costumes, and if you skip a few decades ahead you can come to where we are now, into this massive celebration of what is now our Bahamian culture.
On Boxing Day at six o’clock in the morning anywhere besides Bay Street,New Providence becomes a ghost town. The people of New Providence and visitors from other places flock to downtown to see this beautiful festival of music and dance. The drum players, the cowbell shakers, the horn blowers, everyone wears a brightly colored costume that has been paper-mâchéd from months in advance. Any color that you can name has been pasted onto a costume in the Junkanoo parade. There is no limit to the type of costumes that Junkanoo performers wear or carry. It is truly amazing to admire the handy work of the crafters that take their time to design and create these amazing costumes. If an old English knight’s armor were made from an interior of cardboard with an exterior of organized paper-mâché clippings, he would fit perfectly into Junkanoo. When I went to my first Junkanoo parade I felt oriented. I remember being right on the side of my Dad jumping up and down dancing with the bass of the drums and shaking with the clanking of the cowbells along with thousands of other proud Bahamians.
When we first arrived to downtown Nassau that Boxing Day morning it was quiet and felt strange, people were everywhere, but if you closed your eyes you couldn’t tell that other people were there. The bleachers were full. Everyone was squished, right next to one another. It felt awkward to be so close to strangers, I felt very out of place and questioned my father for bring me to such an event. It was cold and I was miserable, I slumped into my seat, sure that this event was stupid and pointless. Little did I realize how fast my mind could change. Once the crowd in the side bleachers saw the first Junkanoo marcher enter the street it set the people wild. Never in my life had I heard or seen so much action and at first this made me feel more out of place. The loudness was overwhelming. People were roaring but a roar of pride. They were moving but only because the music sent shocks up and down their spines causing them to dance like they had no control over their muscles. Once the music jammed into my own ears, I felt oriented. I felt at home, I felt the culture run through my body like it was always there to begin with. I felt the passion from the lungs of the horn blowers slap me in the face in the form of melodies. I watched the performers in the street send the dancers in the bleachers wild, like a match setting gasoline a blaze. I blended into the dancing crowd and we all became a moving unit, slaves only to the clanking and booming of the Junkanoo music.
My first Junkanoo experience truly oriented me to my culture. At first I felt so out of place, but now I cannot help but feel completely at home when I hear or see Junkanoo. I realized that I belong to this culture, and it belongs to me. Every year since that day I celebrate Junkanoo like I was the first slave to commemorate freedom through music and dance. That is my definition of what it means to be oriented to a place. Whether it is through the introduction culture or experiences in nature or some other way of connection, to find your sense of belonging is to be oriented to a place. During my first two weeks at The Island School, I have been swallowing and digesting things that I have put in my mouth before, such as kayaking, scuba diving, camping, running, snorkeling, swimming and many other awesome activities.
During the first week in this familiar place, all the Island School students gathered as three groups to socialize and hold interviews with ‘people with a past’ here in Eleuthera, Bahamas. I felt at home, because we had the amazing opportunity to sit down and speak with two very interesting Bahamians and a man that came to this country to find a better way of life. Listening to these people speak made me feel like I was listening to my family speak, or people from my community back in Nassau. I feel like this part of my orientation here at The Island School related to the mission of the school that talks about the creation of an intentional community. Being completely immersed in conversation with these people made me feel a greater sense of community. Another way I saw this part of the mission statement being demonstrated throughout my orientation was during my advisory time, when I had the chance to hear more personal stories, about my now mini family here at the Island School.
At this school sustainability is very important. It was one of the first things that I noticed, because you can see the wind turbine spinning from miles down queen’s highway. We also use rainwater, and solar panels as natural resources. Those are some of the big ways the Island School has taught me about sustainability but I have also learned other steps in sustainability, like taking navy showers to lessen the amount of water I use. I have also noticed that the great teachers here help to provide the students with entertainment in our free time, like how Emma, Christie and Brady played games with the girls in the dorms on our first few nights here. I feel like in away that modeled sustainability because it showed us that we don’t have to being using our laptops or other electronics for fun.
After Scuba week and our three day kayak, I feel like not just myself but everyone here has already developed a more intimate sense of place, just like the mission statement of this school says. Gliding on the crystal clear shallow waters of Eleuthera, in my kayak I couldn’t help but to feel the same emotion I felt the moment I heard Junkanoo, but this time it wasn’t a very shocking orientation, due to the fact that I have been kayaking in the Bahamas before the three day kayak. I also felt a great sense of place when I was thirty-eight feet below the surface of the ocean, near Tunnel rock. I have been scuba diving before as well, but that still does not lessen the beautiful feeling orienting feeling I felt under the water.
To be oriented is to be brave enough to try something new. It is the process of transitioning from your old ways into a newer experience. My orientation to The Island School has been the definition of the school mission, and now I understand the mission in a deeper sense. One that I feel more comfortable with and I doubt that will ever change.
Orientation is defined as the adjustment or alignment of oneself or one’s ideas to surroundings or circumstances. While this dictionary definition is useful to gain a basic understanding of this concept, orientation is an extremely personal process that is different for every person. The Island School orientation week forced me to step both in and out of my comfort zone by having me participate in activities that I felt comfortable in, as well as those that I never had tried before. Learning to SCUBA dive was completely unlike anything I had ever done before and was not always a comfortable process. Contrarily, the camping we did while on our kayak trips is extremely familiar to me and I have spent a lot of time in the backcountry. The orientation week at the Island School connected to the school’s mission by allowing me to create a sense of place in the community, as well as making me conscious of my limitations and abilities as an individual.
The Island School’s orientation week accomplished its mission to create a community that is “cognizant of its abilities and limitations” by pushing me away from a feeling of comfort. My first experience with SCUBA diving required me to step well out of my comfort zone into the completely foreign, underwater world. The journey to certification literally took my feet out from under me, and required me to practice skills that made me very uneasy at first. For example, I struggled with clearing a flooded mask because I had not only lost my ability to stand and breathe normally, but I had lost my sense of sight. My instructor, Jason, encouraged me to stay calm, and before long, I was a master at this particular skill. The dive profile exercises required me to understand that the oxygen tank is not unlimited, and with the fun of SCUBA there is also serious danger. By participating in new activities I was provoked to not only understand my limitations, but also discover abilities I possessed that I was unaware of. As expressed by the concept of the Johari window, a strong community is made up of individuals who are fully self-aware and that know their place within the group. As each member of the community learns more about his or her self and those around them, their circle of trust expands and the intentional community is strengthened. By having everyone participate in SCUBA certification, our experiences overlap, and our knowledge of each other begins to grow. Each member of the community becomes more comfortable with their surroundings because of the struggle we share, and each member is allowed to further discover how they fit into the school community. My experience learning to SCUBA dive allowed me to become cognizant of my limits and abilities and as a result helped me to find my place in the Island School community.
Kayaking in Southern Eleuthera allowed me to establish a comfortable position within the community because camping is something I enjoy. This section of our orientation week connected to the school’s mission of creating a sense of place because we were physically immersed in our surrounding environment. Additionally, I felt this section of the school’s intention in a very personal manner because the three-day kayak trip was well within my comfort zone. While on our trip, I volunteered for the task of building a fire to cook our meal for that night. Although the physical process of making a fire is simple, the experience allowed me to showcase a skill I had learned outside of Eleuthera, and as a result I further strengthened my place in the community. The kayak trip contrasted my somewhat anxious experience in SCUBA because I always feel at home in the backcountry. No matter how far I am from my physical home, the backcountry is my querencia; or the place I feel most comfortable. Although I had always felt this coziness while camping, my introduction to the concept of querencia allowed me to further my understanding of my love of nature. In this way the school’s orientation week allowed me to enjoy one of my favorite activities even more. The relaxed attitude I assume while in the back country allowed me to reflect on my experience in SCUBA, and come to understand my place as a student with a unique experience in the school community. The school’s orientation week not only provided me with the opportunity to do something I love to do, but introduced me to the concept of querencia and how being at home is not physically being in a specific place.
The process of orientation week as well as writing this essay further strengthened my belief that orientation is unique to an individual. Although all 48 students participated in similar activities, no one person’s experience was identical. Each student brings a set of beliefs and experiences that is completely different from anyone else. While the school can set up various activities that encourage orientation, orientation is hardly a structure, formulaic process. Everyone’s journey to orientation involves a combination of trying new things and sharing their personal experience with the rest of the group. Our school’s mission is realized by the intentional unity we create during orientation week.