A magical day in Bankondji

The photo above shows the view from the Aumazo school site. Such incredible beauty!

Sunday, August 21 9:44 pm

I woke up today not feeling very good—I was at that tired and cranky point in a trip where you just want to go home and want everything to feel normal again. I’m grateful to have traveled enough in my life to know that the homesickness always strikes, and that I usually struggle right before the halfway point. I shed my first real tears this morning about the fact that my Beatrice will be gone when I get home—and also that I’m going to miss the family orientation at her college. I found a quiet space and cried and centered myself in centering prayer, and then I walked the hill to my room and did about 45 minutes of yoga. After that, I was ready for the day, and it was a truly magical one.

We drove to Bankondji and parked the car at Jacqueline’s brother’s house so that we could walk  from there to the Aumazo school site. The weather was gorgeous today until the very end of our time in Bankondji, allowing us to spend several hours hiking—which is just what I’ve been wanting, and I had had no idea how incredibly gorgeous the area around Bankondji is. It is truly magical—mountains all around, an incredible variety of vegetation, from banana, avocado, orange, and guava trees to macabo, bean, and cassava plants (and of course much, much more), an absolutely stunning waterfall (you can see a picture of it on the Aumazo Facebook page), and a sense of deep, sweet peace.

I was really excited to come to the sign marking the beginning of the road which was completed last January thanks in great part to the money my AP students and I raised at our 2015 gala fundraiser at Barrie.

The road is just wonderful. You step from the almost pure clay road that leads to it, and suddenly you’re on a wide road that’s not at all slippery, with beautiful stone drainage ditches along the sides. It’s a pleasure to walk on. And by taking that road, we found our way to the Aumazo school site. I had goose bumps as we approached the actual site of the school—this place that I have been thinking about for the past three year—because I suddenly could see what it will be like with the majestic, healing natural beauty all around. A modern school in the midst of the stunning beauty of this area—a beautiful integration of the best of both worlds. I could hear in the wind the voices that will be calling to each other before and after school, and the voices were young, joyful, confident, and right at home. It was a true spiritual experience. 

Friends, this is not just a school. It’s a retreat center, a place of meditation and inspiration. Walking into the building that Jacqueline has built, I was struck by its simple beauty. When we get back to the States, Jacqueline has a meeting with representatives of an architecture firm who are interested in donating their services to design and build the school, and they would also raise the money needed for the construction. Jacqueline has invited me to attend the meeting, and I will go so that I can help convey the beauty of the spot, and also so that, as an educator, I can have a voice in how the spaces are designed.

After we visited the school site, we continued our hike, and found our way to Jacqueline’s father’s house, where she was born, and the smaller house of her mother, just up a small hill, where Jacqueline and her mother lived. After spending some time there and hearing stories about the spaces we were visiting, we made our way back to her brother’s house, very tired and hungry. As we prepared to eat, neighbors came to join us, and we ended up encircled in the warmth and good humor of community, eating, drinking, and laughing together.

Our last act of the day in Bankondji, as the rain finally began to fall, was to drop off supplies for the week ahead: the white board/ easel I’ve been using, a box filled with notebooks for the students’ class journals, a suitcase filled with books that I brought from the US. We left them in the rectory, and then walked through the rain to take a look at the school building where we will be working this week. There are three or four classrooms in the building, one of which is the one Lydie teaches in throughout the year.

Tomorrow is the big day when we begin work with the students. Day one will be a day for community building, just as it was for our first day of the teacher training, so we will be doing InterPlay. I am eager to experience who these young women are. In just one week Patric, Durand, Thierry, and Lydie have become for me dear people whom I can’t imagine not knowing. Soon, the same will be true with this group of girls. Finally, Aumazo is becoming truly real.


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