CU Winds Members:  Please pick one prompt and respond in a comment.

Reflection 1: Ethics

When we talk about actions being right and wrong we are making judgements about personal ethical frameworks without defining them. Ethical frameworks vary from person to person and vary even more between cultures. When entering new communities, individuals are often confronted with these differences in ethical principles, forcing them to be introspective and critical of their own views.
– What ethical framework or background did you bring to this experience? What are your guiding principles and where do you think they come from?
– Describe an observation or experience from Haiti or the DR which has challenged or reinforced your ethical framework. What relevant ethical principles did you have before the observation or experience and did they change?
– How did your beliefs and ethical principles affect your actions during this experience?

Reflection 2: A Single Story

Chimamanda Ngozi, a Nigerian novelist and nonfiction writer, has spoken publicly about “the dangers of a single story,” that is, the unintended consequences that can arise when stories about people and cultures are told through the single lens of an ‘outsider.’ To avoid these unintended consequences—and to more fully and authentically relay the story of people and cultures to which we do not belong—Ngozi encourages those who engage with communities to document experiences “in their words too.”
– Describe a time in which you recognized the “danger of a single story” on the trip. What were some of the unintended consequences of the single story? Why did those consequences unfold in the ways they had?
– What steps can you take to ensure that the experiences you participate in authentically relay the stories of the people and culture with which you are engaging? Moving forward, how will you incorporate perspectives that are ‘in their words’ too’?

Reflection 3: Identity

We often talk about identities as categories in which people fall into. Although we all understand how identity is a highly complex and shifting component of individuals, we rarely examine how our experiences shape how we perceive our own identities.
– How do you think your identity affected your relationship with our community partners and organizations? How might have privilege played a role in this?
– Has your experience altered any aspects of your identity? Is this due to a change in yourself or in how you understand this identity?

Reflection 4: Music

– How has the tour impacted you own playing?
– What about your understanding of music as a vehicle for cultural exhange and/or social impact?

15 Thoughts to “Haiti/DR Tour Reflection”

  1. Reflection on Music

    I’ve never had a private teacher in clarinet until I arrived at Cornell, but I have been playing clarinet since the fourth grade. That left me with a lot of time to develop bad habits. Because I was primarily self taught, I always struggled with clarinet technique: flattening my chin, relaxing my throat, light fingers etc. However, what I have failed to focus on is my ability to feel and experience music. It had been very long since I had “moved” with the music and let it take over my expression. It had been a long time since I had actually enjoyed music. Being at numerous all-state and all-county bands back at home never helped my plight because just like me, those musicians were focused on perfection rather than enjoying music.
    Arriving at Haiti, I believed that it would be up to me to teach the Haitians how to play clarinet and improve their technique. I was completely terrified: what if I was unable to help them? What if I only made their technique worse? These concerns went out the window when we first played together as an ensemble. I was mesmerized by not their technique, but by their ability to express themselves and enjoy the music that they were playing. I quickly realized the point of this tour: because we were all musicians, we could connect through our love and appreciation for music. I was able to learn how to love music again. Music undoubtedly let me connect with the Haitians, not only by talking about what type of music we like, but also enjoying and feeling the same emotions towards the music we played. I cried when they played the march of the soldier and rosymedre and I was overjoyed when we played the other Haitian pieces that got the crowd up on their feet. Maybe for the first time in a long while, I enjoyed the music, and I am forever grateful to the Haitians for helping me with that.

    -Matthew Fu

  2. Identity

    From the moment we left the airport, it was immediately obvious that our collective identity as a group stood out among the Haitian population. We were all pretty flustered and confused, trying to stay together, not knowing where we were going or understanding the French and Creole that was being shouted all around us. I didn’t even realize it until later but the Haitians even closed the entrance to the airport so that our group could exit more quickly. As we walked out of the airport, traffic stopped to let us through and people went out of their way to try to carry our bags in hopes of earning a tip. As soon as we were riding down the street in the bus, we noticed that we were catching the eyes of many people on the street. We weren’t getting glares or negative looks, just inquisitive looks, as a large bus full of light-skinned people drove by. Eventually we got to our relatively touristy hotel, and the whole trip we never spent more than a few seconds at a time on the street. Our American identity and privilege couldn’t have been more evident.

    Once we started meeting and playing with the Haitian band though, the experience was completely different. Music can be a unifying force between people of different cultures and languages, and that force was clearly at play. The Haitians were welcoming, friendly, and for a moment you could even forget that we were two bands from very different cultures. The languages and backgrounds were different, but the enjoyment of music and technical aspects of playing in a band were the same. I had the opportunity to work with a Haitian who had been playing saxophone for two years, and it was amazing how much we were able to accomplish, even with my very basic level of French. Music really can be a language of its own.

    The experience in the Dominican was quite different. Even outside of the wealthy area of the city we stayed in, we didn’t attract the same kind of attention that we did in Haiti. In Santo Domingo, we stayed with families in areas that were basically the same as a city in the US. Almost everybody in the school spoke English flawlessly. It was quite a stark contrast to Haiti and in the DR I felt that our identity as Americans almost made us even more welcome. It was surprising that ironically, we never had the same kind of personal connection with many of the DR students as we did with the Haitians. A contributing factor was probably that many of the students were quite young, but admittedly the dedication to Music among the Haitians was greater. That really gets you wondering whether Music can be an even more-powerful tool of communication than English.

    I wouldn’t say my identity changed drastically over the trip, other than an increased awareness about a lot of the very basic infrastructure and aspects of life that we take for granted in the US. Things you generally don’t even think about like street lights, trash collection, safe water, air quality, and availability of roads are all in short supply in Haiti. Some of the people we talked to in Haiti and many in the DR also mentioned that they either traveled to the US often, or planned to go there for college – something that reminds you of your privilege as an American.

  3. On Music

    At the beginning of the semester, James asked us to go around and introduce ourselves, and explain the major reason why we’re in the wind ensemble. For the vast majority of the group (mostly STEM majors), we said that we used music as a way to get our minds off of our work. That has really been my major motivation for continuing to play. It’s a very engaging task, and for the rehearsal period I am thoroughly removed from the stresses of academics. I think that it’s pretty sad though, that my main connection with the music I was playing was coming as a result of what music isn’t, rather than what it is. It isn’t a problem set, it doesn’t require the same kind of thought that I devote most of my time to.

    This attitude doesn’t lend itself to a view of music as a vehicle for social change. So when I first got to Haiti, I didn’t feel that I had much to contribute. I predicted our contribution would be improving their level of playing. But we didn’t really have that, most of their trumpets were better than I was. As we sat on the stage during the earthquake commemoration playing a song like “Rhosymedre”, I really felt that our mission was unfulfilled and was not going to be fulfilled. And I think that is mainly because I didn’t feel any sort of connection with the music. My reasons for playing at school didn’t apply on this trip, and it really affected my attitude. However, within an hour, we started playing the Haitian pieces. And yes, I have written in plenty of essays that people express themselves through music, and connect through music, but I have never felt that first-hand: music has always been an interest or a side activity. Now it’s certainly not my place to say what music means to the Haitian musicians we performed with, or to the audience, but it’s more than what it ever meant to me. I’ve never felt so much energy in a performance as I did when we were there.

    Coming back, this has absolutely changed my view of music. I will be looking to connect like that with every piece of music we play, and if I don’t find the connection I’ll try to figure out why not. I definitely see music as a vehicle for social change. When you have a true connection with the music you’re playing, sharing that music with others forms a connection as well, especially since (as someone else said) we are all peers when it comes to performance. The idea of making Haiti a tourist destination through music is an excellent one, and it really says something that people would travel to bear witness to the making of that kind of “real” music.

    – Josh Popp

  4. Identity:

    My mother is from Haiti. She came to the United States shortly after marrying my father, a native to the Bronx. I was born in California, in Thousand Oaks, but I was baptized in Haiti, lived roughly the first four years of my life in Haiti, started school in Haiti. My earliest memories are of Port-au-Prince, walking the streets with my mother and aunt.

    Going back to live in Maryland as Dad wanted was quite a shock. The first thing I noticed was the difference in architecture. Buildings seemed to sprawl out and take up much more space than they had in Port-Au-Prince. The second thing I noticed was the lack of people that looked like me. I had no idea what to think of it; being as young as I was I didn’t know why there was such a difference, I didn’t care as much since everyone seemed nice, but they certainly focused on my differences. I didn’t know I was different until they told me (in English of course, at thhe time I really did expect them to speak kreyol to me). You can imagine my confusion from dealing with language as well. I had many difficulties in kindergarten as a result.I learned a lot of my English from watching Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy.

    It wasn’t long before Dad demanded more English in the house to help me keep progressing in school. I still held on to those memories of Haiti as my ability to speak Kreyol faded. As it faded, the memories seemed strange, as If I couldn’t remember what I enjoyed in those days or why I enjoyed them. I had become detached from Haiti, yet, those memories kept me from being fully American. I never really felt American; I felt and acted too different, I even sounded different. My accent and speech patterns were much more like my mother’s before I turned 11, even though by then I had no French or Kreyol to show for it. As a result, all my life, I’ve felt as though I exist in a state of cultural limbo, only partially belonging to the two countries. This trip finally changed that feeling.

    All of those memories started rushing back to me as we touched down in Port-au-Prince. The population of the city has doubled in the past five years; the squalor of overpopulation and the effects of the earthquake were apparent, but took nothing from the beauty I remembered. I had no idea where we were, yet it felt so familiar.

    Then the time came to rehearse with the students at Sainte Trinite. I introduced myself and had conversations with the other trombone players with the French I learned at Cornell. They were very warm and welcoming. As time passed, French gave way to Kreyol, and I found myself speaking a language I thought I had long since forgotten. It came so naturally; I had always heard my mother speak it, and I suppose I absorbed more than I thought from hearing her. I began communicating so naturally that at times I would truly forget that I came from a sea away. One trombonist, Max, took me through the roadmap of a piece in Kreyol. After the piece, I realized what an incredible thing just happened. I did something so familiar to me in a language I thought I had lost. I finally felt like I was reclaiming Kreyol that evening, and with it, the sense of belonging that I’ve lacked in my life for a long time. I was never really sure of my cultural identity before this trip, but now, I feel so much more Haitian than I ever have in my life. Hopefully one day, it could be my home.

    – Hendryck Gellineau

  5. Reflection on Identity:

    In addressing my identity on this tour, it seems cliche to say that I am so much more appreciative for what I have, but also a slightly inaccurate picture of my experience. As a white American, I definitely felt like I stood out among the Haitian students, yet they never made me feel unwelcome. The Haitians saw a different identity in us: they viewed us as fellow students and musicians who loved to play music – and we viewed them just the same. This trip was never intended to be a humanitarian effort to “help” the Haitians. Our experiences with them were always in collaboration and, with their surprisingly positive outlook, it seems that the Haitians were the ones “helping” us.

    Riding through the streets of Port au Prince, high above the people in our clunky school bus, we saw how many Haitians lived. Based on what we witnessed from a distance, you would expect the people to be depressed by the conditions around them. The smells of old car exhaust and dusty roads irritated me within a few days – add on the strange side effects of the malarone medication and I was feeling pretty lousy on the inside. Over time, the entire band was overcome with exhaustion and various digestive ailments, so I thought I could justifiably complain. But did I have any right to complain? No. Do you know who had a every right to complain? The Haitians. These people who – by American standards – had so little, were incredibly hopeful.

    I remember eating dinner the night before the Earthquake Commemoration Concert; we asked one of the Haitian students, Winton, if a lot of people would be at the concert. He told us that usually, yes, a lot of people would be there, but maybe not on that day. It was January 12th – the day a horrible earthquake left their country in ruins 7 years ago. Winton said that the Haitians always go to church on that day; they go to church to thank God they are alive. That’s what amazed me about the Haitians: they are so thankful for what they have and have so much joy in being alive. Have we lost that in our privileged American lives?

    The Haitian students were passionate about music and found immense joy in playing and singing. Their happiness wasn’t artificial – they were genuinely excited about life. I look at the place I call home, the university I attend, the clean water I take for granted – I have so much to be thankful for. Stressful prelims, sleep deprivation – not to mention the side effects of a pill that protects us from disease – are no excuse to lose hope. The Haitians don’t have half the luxuries we do, yet their joy is at least double mine because they appreciate everything they have.

    After this trip, I hope and pray that my identity has somewhat shifted. I hope will take the lessons I learned from the Haitians and truly treasure each day of life I’m given. As a Cornellian, I have so much to be thankful for. Later this semester, when I’m bogged down with lab reports, prelims, and papers, I will remember the Haitians. I will remember their joy in the face of far worse trials than I can imagine. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be the same privileged, white American who flew to Haiti to play concerts. I want to be grateful for what I have and, as Winton said, thank God every day I’m alive.

    – Emma Cijka

  6. On Identity:
    As our time began in Haiti, one ambiguity presented itself to me: when addressing our Haitian friends in French, would it be proper to use formal you, “vous,” or would “tu” be appropriate? I know that this may seem arbitrary, but each time in the fall semester when we went over our “bonjours” and “comment t’appelles tu?s” I couldn’t help but recall my high school French class in which I was taught that when meeting someone for the first time (and of course other occasions) “vous” should be used instead of “tu.” This principle guided my decision to inquire “comment vous’appellez vous?” rather than “comment t’appelles tu?” at the first Floye dinner. Ricardo, a member of the choir, to whom the question was put, had an interesting response. His body language indicated that I was behaving in a manner too formal for the present circumstances. It was as if “vous” was pretentious and snobbish, and thankfully he was bemused and not offended by this (as I had earlier indicated to him that je parle très mal en français). Thus I used “tu,” for the remainder of the evening.
    I researched the situations in which “tu” and “vous” are used; “tu” is spoken between two people with a close and amiable relationship, such as between family members, friends, and classmates. “Vous” (also plural “you” en français) is spoken between people in professional relationships, and in the context of hierarchical structures, such as between a boss and employee. Using each inappropriately may cause offense, as an incorrectly spoken “tu” may give an impression of disrespectfulness, while an awkwardly placed “vous,” may be perceived as unwelcoming and artificial.
    I used “tu” from then on. Every time I meet a new person I am never quite sure how to act: how should I address someone, what should be the topic of discussion, how do I present my willingness to establish friendship without seeming overbearing and excessively insistent? I suppose that this was exacerbated by my lack of sense in spoken French. Using “tu” helps achieve unity and friendship between the Cornell community and that of the Holy Trinity Music School, which is why my use of “vous” was not so great. Here’s to “tu.”

    – Rudy Peterson

  7. Our time in Haiti was full of inspiring and beautiful moments, but there were undoubtedly some difficulties as well. Take for example our Earthquake Commemoration Concert in downtown Port-Au-Price: about midway through the ceremony, the crowd began to heckle/accost the president. I (lacking any knowledge of French) had no idea what was going on, and was admittedly scared. People were clearly angry and looked as if they may act aggressively. However, our Haitian friends on stage assured us that this type of demonstration was commonplace and not at all dangerous. What began in my mind as a threat to our safety quickly became an understandable and benign situation. My lack of knowledge, on top of cultural differences and language barriers allowed me to draw conclusions about the incident that simply weren’t accurate. The “story” told from my initial perspective would have lead one to believe that the Haitians acted wildly and dangerously- that we American students were put in harms way. In reality, none of this was true.

    It’s so easy to make assumptions about unfamiliar cultures, especially when a “single story” is our only vantage point. I think it’s our attempt at connecting with and making sense of what we don’t understand. Oh wasn’t it sad to see those poor people??” “I can’t believe you went to that place! It’s so dangerous!” and “How could you handle seeing so those naked, sick, dying, (___ insert adjective) people everywhere?” Phrases like these came up repeatedly in my post-tour conversations with family and friends, and I made an active attempt to squash them. These preconceptions didn’t appear out of thin air. We see pictures and read stories of situations like these on a regular basis. And it’s not to say they are entirely false, just that there is more to the story. From my brief time in Haiti, I was able to dispel many of the typical preconceptions about the culture with curiosity and an open mind.

    ~Lily McGovern

  8. I’ve always had the attitude that even though life sucks for me, life sucks a lot more for others, and that I should appreciate what I have. Both of my parents grew up dirt poor, and even though I grew up under a decent (and, admittedly, privileged) upbringing, it’s always been instilled in me that I shouldn’t take things for granted, and that even though I can complain about a whole slew of things, there are a whole lot of people that have it way worse than I do. Even so, it’s hard to really internalize how much other people have to go through without actually going through it myself. I’ve been many places: China, Kenya, the Dominican Republic (before our trip, obviously), and even though in all of those places I’ve seen people live in poverty, none of it really ever “struck” me. Sure, I could see the environment, and even interact with it, but I could never truly grasp what it was like to live in the environment without actually being a part of it for a significant amount of time.

    And to be honest, this trip hasn’t made me fully understand, either. But it has gotten me closer to fully understanding–far closer than got China, or Kenya, or my previous visit to the Dominican Republic ever have. Being in an environment where I don’t have the comfort of my (biological) family significantly changed the dynamic for me–significantly more so than I had anticipated. After all, it wasn’t like I was going alone. I had a whole band family. But, even so, a band family doesn’t bring the same comforts a biological family would inherently bring, so this trip was very different indeed. On top of that, college has changed my perspective of privilege, and I had not made any international trips before coming to college, so if lack of family didn’t make this trip much different from before, college certainly did. One final thing that made this trip drastically different was our reason for traveling. Before, I had always traveled for pleasure. Even if there was some sense of “look at the environment” because my parents would always press me about that, it was never at the forefront of my mind. And our trips were always built around the pleasure aspect, so it definitely wasn’t entirely conducive to observing the environment from the inside.

    Our recent trip had an entirely different purpose, and it was with a group of students instead of my family. Seeing people impoverished in the streets didn’t particularly stir anything in me. Sympathy, perhaps, but it was not an unfamiliar feeling. What really made my perspective shift, however, was actually being a part of the environment. Actually going to the Holy Saint Trinity Music School and participating in a rehearsal, and then eating dinner with members of their orchestra, was an experience like no other. Suddenly I was a part of the environment, and not observing from a safe bubble. I was no longer being told what it was like not to be privileged, but shown.

    The most eye-opening moment for me on the trip was when we went to the Citadel. After having been in Haiti for a couple days, I was finally casting away the last bits of naïveté I brought with me. Well, probably not all of it, but a significant enough portion that I think it brought me to an important threshold in observing and understanding the world around me. Anyway, we took motorcycles up to the Citadel, which was fun. Not much going on in my head, honestly. I sort of just enjoyed the ride, maybe squirmed a bit in discomfort. When we got to the top, I met a man who introduced himself to me and quickly made himself out to be a friendly worker. As we walked up the mountain, he told me facts about the Citadel and asked me other questions here and there. Nothing too noteworthy, I suppose. In fact, probably the most interesting thing walking up the mountain for me was the way the Haitians treated the horses. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying to the horses, it was clear that the horses weren’t being treated well. It bothered me somewhat, but I didn’t make much of it. At the top of the Citadel, things began getting sketchy. My new Haitian friend continued to tell me facts about the Citadel, and at some point he began talking about doing him a favor and giving him money for being a guide. Growing up in New York, and having been alone in some weirder areas of China, I coldly brushed off anything he said with half-hearted mumbles. This continued, with one particularly weird instance where he essentially walked me to the bathroom and was practically begging for a monetary favor while we were alone and nobody could see us. Well, this continued all the way back down to where the motorcycles were, and by the time we got there, he had essentially resorted to pitying money out of me. It was awkward, because as I was telling him, I literally had only one dollar to spare. He was telling me that while I get to go back inside where it’s warm, he had to keep walking up and down the mountain. And it was cold out there. And his pitying tactic work. But using the term “pitying tactic” is probably harsh, because everything he was saying was essentially true. He didn’t have much money to spare, and the only thing available for him to do was to walk up and down the mountain up to five times a day to try to get money out of people for giving them tours. That all hit me pretty hard all at once. I knew it before, too. Like I said, it’s not like I was new to the feeling. But having actually been in Haiti for a bit and, again, being on this trip in a different context, this man essentially begging me for money became so much more real to me than anything similar before. And then, the motorcycle ride down made me more thoughtful. I noticed the state of the motorcycles, I noticed the kids on the side asking us for money (I thought they were just saying hi on the way up), and I noticed that people live on that mountain literally every single day, while we just drove by. The man who gave me the tour on the Citadel, like he himself said, was going up and down the second half of that mountain trying to scrap money together, and at the end of the day he was still on that mountain. Suddenly the fact that the locals beat the horses on the way up was understandable, almost even expected, because they probably get fed up sending privileged tourists up and down the mountain every day, one day after the other, while the tourists see them not quite so much as people, but as a means to get to just make their trip more fun. When we got to the bottom and were paying the motorcycle driver, the motorcycle driver didn’t seem nearly as cheery as he did while we were actually on the motorcycle, probably because there was no longer any time to put on a face and try to squeeze more money out of us. And, again, this sort of thing isn’t unfamiliar to me–I’ve had people beg to me in China, and Kenya, and New York City, but this experience, for whatever reason, just found its way a lot deeper into me. Once we were back in the bus, I was really cold, but in my head, I was just yelling at myself to suck it up. Being in a nice coach bus with a bunch of Ive League college student and having qualms about the temperature almost felt wrong after what I had just experienced.

    As Katie mentioned, going to the Dominican Republic worsened that negative sentiment. We went from above to suddenly living with incredibly affluent families whose kids had practically everything. I felt guilty taking a hot shower and eating a decent dinner. My host family saying prayers before dinner almost made me audibly scoff after hearing similar prayers being said in a much different setting in the Dominican Republic. Just how grateful are you for this meal, was my thought as the son begrudgingly finished thanking the Lord for his meal at his mother’s urging. Then, going to the school itself, so many kids seemed to lack any sense of drive. Music meant nothing to many of the students we played with. I was one-on-one tutoring a boy, and out of the blue he asked me if I play League of Legends. Like, really? It seemed to me that music was something his parents just tossed him at, and something that he did to satisfy them, but he harbored no interest whatsoever. Compare that to Haiti, where music was practically people’s entire lives. They had nothing else, and music was central to their identity, instead of just something that Mom wanted them to do because it might be fun. Even more flustering was the fact that I acted similar to many of the Carol Morgan School kids when I was in high school. I grew up in Westchester, played the flute, had private lessons, played tennis, had private lessons, went to a good public school, got tutoring for the SATs and ACTS, played League of Legends, and Call of Duty, and Pokemon, slept on a Tempurpedic mattress, under a warm blanket, ate three healthy meals a day and then some, had AC and heating. I had it all. And in that moment where the boy asked me if I played League of Legends, I felt so much frustration because I couldn’t believe how he could possibly ask such a substanceless question, how he could roll his eyes when I tried to get him to do as little play something on the page, and how he was so much like me when I was his age. How the hell can I even start complaining about anything when I have everything? College has changed my perspective significantly from high school, but I practically tore my hair out seeing this privileged young boy who was, as far as I could tell, practically a copy of me four years ago.

    Like I said, I don’t think any sentiment inside of me has really changed. I’ve always known that I have it way easier compared to a lot of other people. But I’ve never fully understood, and I don’t know if I ever will. This trip has definitely brought me much closer to understanding–understanding what Haitians go through, understanding what my parents went through, and understanding the frustrations my parents have felt watching me grow up with privilege.

  9. (A single story)

    Before the trip, I knew the earthquake had been devastating, but I also wondered why Haiti still hadn’t fully recovered seven years later, especially since it seemed that the country had received lots of money and volunteer aid. I remembered that there had been an earthquake of an even larger magnitude in Chile about a month after the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and that I had never heard of devastation there on the scale of the Haitian earthquake. I must admit I never followed the news closely, but the media coverage I did see (my ‘single story’) portrayed Haiti as a nation that couldn’t get back on its feet. My feelings about the disaster were distant, even somewhat cynical. What I didn’t know was that the Haitian earthquake had hit the most populated part of the country, and resulted in at least 100,000 deaths, whereas the Chilean earthquake caused 525 deaths. The sheer difference in the number of people affected by the earthquake must have presented much more difficulty for Haiti, which would’ve been exacerbated by the problems in the government that I am now more aware of.

    The moments I realized the dangers of a single story on this trip came with regards to the Haitians’ experience with the earthquake. The day before the earthquake commemoration ceremony, I talked to Wenson, one of the choir members, who told us about what he went through that day. He said he was watching tv with his parents when the earthquake started. His family couldn’t contact his sister for an entire day because she was at school at the time. It turns out that she had slept at a friend’s house overnight, but I can’t imagine the terror of being unable to contact a loved one during a crisis. And the next day, at dinner after the ceremony, Father Daved Cesar spoke, telling us about the members of the Holy Trinity school who had been lost in the earthquake. That night, as I was trying to fall asleep, I shed tears for the lives lost, for the people left in the aftermath, and for my ignorance. I felt devastated and guilty that I could have ever looked at Haiti and wondered why they couldn’t just fix their country already. I was ashamed that I could have forgotten that behind every large-scale disaster are thousands, sometimes millions, of casualties and affected people with their own stories and grief. The consequence of my single story was complacency and pity rather than compassion and empathy, because I had received all my information from American reporters instead of the Haitian people themselves.

    The best way to make sure that my experiences on trips like these authentically portray the new culture and people seems to be having conversations with people and listening to what they have to say. Listening is so important, especially in cases when more powerful groups or institutions (e.g. the USA) like to project their own versions of a story and speak over the people who are most affected by a natural disaster or other crisis. This is where the single stories come from. So, moving forward, I will be careful to first talk about the words of the people themselves before providing my own perspective. No amount of understanding that I possess can ever match the experiences of those who have lived through certain experiences themselves.

  10. Identity:

    Before visiting Haiti, I will admit that I had an understanding of what privilege was only in the most abstract sense. I did not have a tangible sense of my own privilege until I was in Haiti, worrying about whether the water in the hotel was safe to drink and realizing that this was a question I had the luxury to ask. Small yet meaningful realizations like this abounded during my time in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Although I felt as if I approached the tour with unbiased expectations, I know now that that was not the case. At every point, how I carried myself and how I expected other people to act was based in part on the negative photojournalism of Haiti publicized by Western media. I had entered into this trip more than a little afraid of malaria, zika, contaminated water, and other similar health concerns without even thinking that many people in Haiti live their lives without knowing where they will get their next meal.
    However, because of these preconceived expectations, I feel that I learned even more than I expected to. I learned how important music was to people of other cultures and I re-evaluated how valuable it was in my own life. I learned that, even with perfect strangers, music provides a springboard from which you can discuss your similarities and differences with people around the world. Though our living situations might be different, I learned that I was not so different from the musicians of the Holy Trinity School. The people I spoke to shared with me a love of music, of foreign languages and travel, and even of social media. Before this experience, I was very comfortable in my existence as a citizen of the United States. Now, I feel as though I am a member of a much larger global community that is united through music as well as through the cross-cultural qualities we all share unknowingly.
    My experience in the DR only served to heighten my awareness of my own privilege as well as the ubiquity of music. Our homestays in the Santo Domingo were the epitome of luxury and yet, after coming from Haiti, I felt almost guilty for enjoying this return to a standard of life with which I was more familiar. In my own life, I feel as though I have since become more appreciative of the amenities I enjoy in the US. Nevertheless, as soon as we visited the school and began making music with the students there, I saw the connection between the Carol Morgan School and the Holy Trinity School. Despite discrepancies in wealth and (in some cases) dedication between the students in the different schools, at the end of the day we had joined together for one purpose: to connect culturally and make music together. And after seeing the effect this tour had on myself and my peers, I feel as though I better understand the power of music to bring people closer together.

  11. The following was sent to us by The Rev. Stephen Davenport:

    You were hit with just about everything that could have been – and came through with flying colors. Your ensemble handled adversity with grace and acted like pros. I had tears in my eyes as I saw them after four or so hours on the bus take the stage and perform undeterred by any circumstance…As I was walking to find the bus in Milot, it began to rain. David and the Holy Trinity Orchestra just kept playing and people were calling out not to stop as they could see stars in the sky which meant that it would be but a shower. And then I walked and walked and walked to finally find the bus and we could begin the procession up to the stage…And then of course the postlude was magnificent with all musicians celebrating without ceasing. My compliments and thanks to you and to your people.

    – The Rev. Stephen Davenport

  12. (Identity)

    Service-learning tour. I felt that I had only fulfilled the learning part of the trip, and not the service part. I tried to make conversations with students at the Holy Trinity Music School, and tried to play my best at both the concerts in Port-Au-Prince and at Palais Sans Sousi. I also taught beginner flautists at the Carol Morgan School how to play pop tunes, to show that playing the flute could be fun at any level, in hope that they would continue to make music in the long run.

    However, I gained so much from the experience. In Haiti, I felt how fortunate I have been and am to be given valuable opportunities on a daily basis. In the Dominican Republic, I felt how humble and genuine people could be, no matter their socioeconomic status. Though our experience in these countries portrayed a strong sense of dichotomy, both countries made me look back at myself; I felt guilty for not appreciating enough, and I felt guilty for judging others by their appearance or status.

    Looking back, I felt that my contributions were so minimal compared to how much I have learned from this last week. I can only hope that my words and laughs made the days of the few individuals I connected with and that I will make lasting connections with them – that I will keep this mindset until later when I can make a bigger impact on the world, as more than a band student.

    – Annie Lee

  13. Identity:

    My Google calendar is scary. It is not filled with little reminders of what each day will bring, but a detailed itinerary for almost every hour of the day. Because of my very structured day, I absolutely hate it when someone or something interferes last minute. I always thought my need for structure and order was a strong component of my identity; I feel relieved knowing everything I need to do will be completed in a timely and orderly fashion. I like knowing that I have three hours set aside for each hour of class time to study and complete assignments. By the end of this trip, I learned my ability to have a detailed schedule wasn’t a need; it is a privilege that comes with living in a society where life is very predictable. I would love to brag that I was able to “go with the flow” for a large part of the trip, but the truth is, there were many times where I had to fight the urge to become frustrated and discouraged.

    The pinnacle of my frustration occurred during the earthquake memorial concert in Port-au-Prince. As I sat on stage with the hot sun beating down on me, I was alone with my thoughts as countless speakers were invited on stage to speak in a language I passively understood. I thought about the hours yesterday where we sat in empty classrooms waiting to teach students who would never come due to a holiday, which led me to further reflect on many missed rehearsals. In that moment, I felt utterly useless. As I slipped further, I asked myself, “Are we really making any impact? Does anyone really want us here? What made you think you could make any difference?” Pathetically, I fought back the tears and tried to smile with my peers around me. I finally felt better after ending the concert with a collaborated song that caused the crowd to go wild. The audience members would not have reacted so strongly if they felt our contribution wasn’t great enough.

    When I later reflected on this moment, I thought about why I had such a strong reaction to missing various events on the itinerary. I realized I feel accomplished after I check something off a list or complete a task. While many of my peers were fine with not completing a rehearsal or class, I felt the loss of those moments as something I still needed to complete. I was mourning the impossibility of completing these tasks. After meeting and learning about our Haitian friends, I was able to stop questioning the effectiveness of the trip. They were more than thrilled to have us there! While I still enjoy having a schedule, I feel timeliness is due to culture, rather than identity. I want to work on my view of accomplishment as it pertains to completion.

    – Hannah Krall

  14. Reflection on Ethics:
    Until we reached the Citadel, I had not personally been confronted by the poverty of Haiti. We had seen it up close as we drove through Port Au Prince and Cap Haitien, and we had heard about some of it from our conductor and our new friends we had made at the Holy Trinity Music School, but I nonetheless felt unprepared when we arrived on the backs of motorbikes at the foot of the winding path that leads to the Citadel and found a large crowd of locals waiting for us. The atmosphere was loud and confusing as our nervous group tried to work out with the guides that we would be walking to the Citadel and we did not want to take the ponies that we were being offered. I passed many salesmen, and some young boys who did not speak any English at all followed me all the way up to the top of the path. Once we arrived, one of them stuck out their hand and I assumed he was asking for a tip. Even though he had not provided any real service, or said more than two words to me, this moment was one of the hardest dilemmas I have faced in a long time. In New York City, it might not have been so difficult. But it appeared to me that the people here lived in worse conditions and had far fewer resources than even the beggars of New York City. There were no sewers, no homeless shelters or community kitchens, not even clean water. Who was I to walk through that place with a wallet full of money, take a picture of the citadel, and then leave without giving anything back? At the same time, a more selfish and protective part of me reasoned that all my money would not be enough to make a difference here, and that giving generously to someone who did not earn it might even work backwards by take away the incentive of the recipient to learn how to earn money. I come from an extended family where both extremes of the modern American political spectrum are represented, and the values of either side clashed violently in my mind on that rainy day. Reflecting on this experience, I am forcibly reminded of a scene from Good Will Hunting, when Robin Williams finally manages to trump Matt Damon’s book smarts by arguing that simply reading about a part of the world can never compare to going there and experiencing it. Going to Haiti and experiencing this poverty, which exists in such abundance so close to the United States, has imparted a motivation in me to return to Haiti that I could never have gotten from a book or article. In the meantime, I continue to prepare for medical school and reconcile some of my conflicting ethics so that I may be better prepared for future travels.

    -Avi Pinals

  15. The day after we got home from this amazing trip, I experienced what can only be described as a travel hangover. I was lethargic, headachy, a bit queasy and didn’t want to get out of bed. I’ve never experienced anything like that before – usually travel rejuvenates me and I return home refreshed by what I’ve seen and done. But give this trip some credit – it threw a lot at me, a lot at us, and I think my body was telling me “you need to take a moment and let it sink in.”

    In processing the trip and my return home, I am reminded of the work of my colleague, Richard Kiely, who speaks of the chameleon complex.* He describes the adjustment period it takes to align what we see and do while on a service-learning tour with our authentic selves back at home. It’s normal – and maybe even necessary – to go through a “supermarket breakdown” when what we have access to here in our privileged lives seems overwhelming. It’s normal – and maybe even necessary – to “change our colors” when talking with others who didn’t go through the experience and have that feel unauthentic. They way through the chameleon complex is to sit with and deeply feel these emotions and then to use reflection to determine “So what? What’s next?”

    What is next for me as I re-align my experience with my life at home? I’m looking up flights for the Ghetto Biennale, a bi-annual art festival in Port-au-Prince that should happen in December. I’m reaching out to organizations and people at Cornell who can help us stay connected to issues important to Haitian people (eg. Centre D’Education Inclusif and the Weill Program in Haiti). I’m helping ensure that the word is spread about this fantastic learning opportunity. And I’m being patient with my body as it helps me slow down, readjust, and work through the travel hangover in its own way.

    -Dr. Amanda Wittman, Office of Engagement Initiatives

    *for more on the chameleon complex, read

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