Going with the Flow (1/11/17)

“Go with the flow.” 

We’ve heard this phrase over and over again, first from Engaged Cornell’s Amanda Wittman, and then from ourselves. I think today we learned what it really means.

We had been informed multiple times before arriving in Haiti that the Haitians have a different approach to schedules from us. Americans, and the Northeasterners in particular, are almost obsessed with logistics and schedules and getting where we need to be. If something goes wrong, we become anxious, waiting for the moment we can fix the situation. In fact, it seems like we are always waiting: waiting for our next class, for the next Facebook message, for the next big milestone. The Haitians are much more laid back with regards to schedules; it seems as if they trust that everything will eventually fall into place, whether or not everything that was planned actually happens. 

For the past few days, we have experienced delays with travel and scheduled activities as well as last-minute additions to the itinerary. At breakfast this morning, James informed us of a meeting with Amanda at 9 that we hadn’t known about. At the start of the meeting, he told us that what was supposed to be a meeting with himself and Yale band director Thomas Duffy had become a press conference, and that he needed students from both schools to be there. Members volunteered promptly; they were going with the flow. Our day continued to exemplify the phrase as we headed to our activities before lunch.

We were supposed to go to the Holy Trinity Music School, rehearse with the musicians there, and give lessons to some of their younger students. Instead, we waited over half an hour for one of our buses to arrive, waited in the school’s practice building without any indication of what we were supposed to do, and eventually left for lunch after a short rehearsal with only the brass players and percussionists. But instead of lamenting our time lost, we filled it with mingling, watching chickens, and making music. At the practice room building, people were exploring, jamming, and having impromptu sectionals. I myself spent a lot of time with Sophia, our pianist. We played back and forth on one of the pianos there, sharing Chopin, Debussy, and more modern music. We even played a duet based on “Heart and Soul” and music from Grease. In this moment, I realized that while I previously knew who Sophia was, I didn’t know her very well. I was reminded of what one of our Yale colleagues apparently noticed: that CU Winds has friend groups, but not everyone is friendly with everyone else. But during the “go with the flow” moments, I have observed more mingling than usual; as we waited for the bus, unlikely groups of people formed to observe the sculptures on the hotel grounds or take pictures of chickens. At meals, the usual friend groups become slightly mixed. The loss of scheduled rehearsal time was replaced with time for us to learn more about each other because we chose engage in our unexpected moments instead of worry about the schedule. 

Dinner this evening was just as exciting as it was yesterday. Sitting at my table was Winston, a member of the Petits Chanteurs who could speak French and English and was learning Spanish, Italian, and German. We did not converse as strangers, but as humans with a shared passion for music. We learned about Winston’s studies, his travels in the United States, his earthquake experience, and his opera training. He told us he learned multiple languages because he was very interested in other cultures and wanted to travel as much as he could to experience them. He has traveled all over the US, but has never been to the Dominican Republic. As dinner progressed, I realized that his interests were mostly based on a core value of sharing: sharing music through performance, sharing languages with people from other nations, and sharing his dreams with people he just met. I was reminded of what James said in a rehearsal last semester: “you will receive much more than you give.”

Which brings me back to going with the flow. Before the trip, James gave us a speech by Ivan Illich (which I am sure that at least some people did) on the “dangers of paternalism inherent in any voluntary service.” One quote that stood out to me from Illich’s speech was when he said, “the only thing you can legitimately volunteer for in Latin America might be voluntary powerlessness.” Going with the flow requires us to accept that we are a large group and many of our schedule changes are beyond our control. We must rely on the Haitian people helping us, from the bus drivers to the members of the music school, to help us get where we need to be; that is, we must become helpless and accept what comes. So, as we prepare for our first performance tomorrow and near the halfway point of our trip, I urge everyone to make the most of the moment instead of simply waiting for the next item on the schedule.

-Vineeta Muthuraj, flute