The (Mawr)velous Adventures of Esteniolla

"...we got so caught up in school being a tradition that we stopped using it as a learning tool..." --Tupac

November 4, 2012
by Esty Maitre
2 Comments

...been awhile!:D Back and 1/5 of a century old!

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind--at times it literally was thanks to Sandy! There were multiple exciting moments (i.e. me finding out that I am going back to GHANA!!!!...stay tuned) that I could have written about; but, none were worthy in comparison to the wonderful Friday (11/2/12) I had.

Friday, I turned twenty years old. Although that is a rather daunting age (1/5 of a century!-.-), I couldn't have asked for a better transition from the teens into adulthood (ugh). All day, I just felt really pleased with myself and loved by everyone around me.

As part of my 360: Women in Walled Communities I take a visual arts course at a cannery, a low-security risk institution for incarcerated women, every Friday. While prison isn’t an ideal place to spend a birthday, my visit on Friday was the greatest gift I have received in a while. We, as in my 360 and the cannery women, were asked to create self-portraits of ourselves in pairs using transparency paper, sharpies, pastels and ink. Like many of the women around me, especially my art partner from the cannery, I was nervous. Yes, I knew what I looked like, but how could I draw myself, better yet, how was my partner going to draw me?  I was nervous because, artistic skills aside, I did not know what truth about my face (me!) would be revealed once my partner traced the contours of my face and I filled it in. Would I see what other have described of me (serious and mean-looking), would I see what I wanted others to see (pleasant, bright-eyed and friendly) or a combination of both?

 What do you see when you take a look for yourself?

Esty's Self-Portrait at the Cannery

Although this self-portrait is quite comical and disproportionate, I am incredibly drawn to it. Is this what a 20 year old looks like? What am I seeing in my facial expressions? My features?  Is that my every day face or what I was hoping she would capture?

 

I thought this self-portrait was the best gift I could have given myself—me! It has called me to question, and not in an insecure way, what makes me so special. As I reflect back on the remainder of my birthday and all that happened (like my friends and Posse making me cry—ya happy Chandrea?—by surprising me with a card and a cookie cake), I realize how grateful I am to have a lot of people in my life who truly love and care about me. When I look at my self-portrait (literally I am looking at it now), I see everything I feared people would see and everything I hope people would see and I don’t care. I wouldn’t have had such a wonderful birthday full of loved ones, laughter, tears and hugs if those I surrounded myself with cared, too.  Happy Birthday to ME!<3

October 6, 2012
by Esty Maitre
11 Comments

Still Coming to Terms with my Haitian Identity...

 

I wrote a blog post that would capture how heavy I have been feeling this past week about being an English speaking Haitian-American woman who grew up in a bilingual house. Then, I deleted it all. As I re-read what I wrote, I realized that my sentiments were no different from the ones I expressed in the college essay that got me into this great institution. Therefore, it bothered me a lot to know that I am still grappling with the same identity-related questions from two years ago. This realization does not speak to my inability to grow and to own my Haitian identity because I have in ways that I am not able to articulate—I simply feel it. But it does speak to the amount of personal-growth that still needs to be done—i.e. no more feeling like I am not 100% Haitian, no more feeling like I have to be fluent in the  language to be a part of the culture, and no more feeling like I have to prove to anyone but myself that I can claim the culture.

So, in sharing my college essay from two years ago, I am making myself vulnerable to my deepest embarrassment and greatest pride: being Haitian. It is my hope that others will read, relate and realize their own battle with cultural identity no matter their cultural background.  

 

Esteniolla Maitre

Personal Essay for Bryn Mawr College

November 11, 2010

 “Again.”

“Bon-di . . . e deee. Se poo lime fet- . . .”

“Esteniolla you are saying it wrong. Again.”

“I'm trying! Bon-die dee. Se poo lime- . . .”

“Wrong.”

I looked down as my mother’s weathered bible shook in my hands. My eyes filled with tears and the Haitian phonetics blurred from sight.

“We can try again t-t-t-tomorrow Mommy. I'm done,” I choked.

“Ou mèt ale.”

I fled up the stairs to my room, slamming the door with force: BANG! The sound reverberated through the wooden floor, my body, and my heart. I was embarrassed. I hated being forced to learn Kreyòl . Numerous times, I sat before my mother, clutching the book of God, failing to stress syllables, tripping over my tongue, ending each session with the scriptures splotched with tears. My mother did not understand why her language did not run through my blood and spill fluently from my mouth in its musical French phrases.

I did not expect her to understand for I had told no one about the brutal bullying I received from kids at school. To them, Haitians, Haitian-Americans, recent Haitian immigrants were all social pariahs and targets of ridicule. Even when my skin blended with the dark shades of my peers — my school community was about 80 percent African American, Cape Verdean, and Latinos —  a bully would always single me out on the playground with  “Hey, I found a Haitian!” I soon learned that we Haitians were spotted by what we wore (Sunday best clothing even if it was not Sunday), smelled like (supposedly like the fisheries boarding Haiti’s peninsula), and our coarse, thick hair (which the bullies said, “broke mad combs!! Hahahaha!!!”). Negative remarks about my culture struck me like lashes on my back. I was scarred. I got their message: being Haitian was dirty, despicable, and shameful. So, I dropped the culture like a bad habit and conformed to please my bullies. I dressed in the latest fashions, followed the latest fads, sprayed on extra perfume, relaxed my hair, even adopted the Hispanic culture as my own — anything to rid myself from being Haitian.

Years later, these experiences led me to protect myself but also taught me to sympathize with other kids who have  been much less fortunate than I — Phoebe Prince from North Hampton, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover from Springfield, and Tyler Clementi, whose roommate “outed” him with a live video  —  a humiliation that led him to jump off of the George Washington Bridge. I wondered if, in hiding my identity back then, I was being courageous. . . or cowardly.

Only when alone in my room, either after a grueling Kreyòl lesson or a horrible day at school, I allowed myself to feel the guilt and shame that came with hiding. I knew that erasing my culture was hurting my mother and eroding my identity, but I was not yet strong enough to own that part of me. Instead, I spent countless nights masking my hurt by reading books. I devoured Mildred D. Taylor, Tupac Shakuar, and Maya Angelou, all of whom wrote about characters of color struggling to come to terms with themselves. I empathized with Paul-Edward from The Land, as he dealt with feelings of alienation growing up as a bi-racial teenager in post-slavery Mississippi.  In “The Rose Who Grew from Concrete,” by Tupac Shakuar, I was the beautiful rose who was fragrant, not malodorous, when sniffed, who broke from the concrete layers of guilt, shame, and embarrassment to immerse herself in the sun rays of self- and social acceptance. When my imagination ran empty, I delved into the life of poet, Maya Angelou. As “a caged bird,” I longed to free myself from my own fears of rejection, to free my bullies from their ignorance, and to fly to a place where they do more than give lip service to diversity

As I read more books, the stories were no longer words on paper, they were me. I grew braver with each character I met, knowing that I, too, would not tolerate discrimination and would declare my identity to my bullies without fear. To this day, my journey toward self-acceptance is ongoing, but I am comfortable with being a young woman of Haitian descent. Freed from shame, I have immersed myself in Haitian literature by the Haitian author, Edwidge Danticat, a woman who has also faced adversity for being Haitian, and writes beautifully about Haiti’s courage and strength despite years of federal corruption and poverty. In Krik? Krak!, a collection of stories, Danticat writes about the courage of Haitian women, in particular, and how, despite the government’s collapse, they hold family and life together. In one story in particular, a girl named Grace, whose family is living in America, has to negotiate between her mother’s traditional values and her own American identity. This captured my dilemma exactly and gave me a model that showed me that I’d be forever centered in the middle of two identities — part Haitian and part American.

I had this epiphany about identity while a student on a thirty-day scholarship trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, where I explored the arts and the culture. While there, I also discovered a world filled with cultural festivities, delicious food, welcoming families, generous individuals, and a life of contentment. I was there and had learned Spanish, thinking it would replace the culture I tried to erase for years. Of course, I was absolutely wrong. Sitting in the green garden of the Arte Institute del Oaxaca, I thought about Krik? Krak! and the fact that I was not Hispanic — that as beautiful as this culture and language was, it was not my culture. For me to experience a similar feeling of contentment, I had to have the courage to accept myself as Haitian.

Now, I want to read, write, speak, and learn to love the language of my mother. I want to share the knowledge I’ve gained: that “hiding from bullies” is a form of self protection, which can keep you safe for a while — but that ultimately; you have to find the courage to accept who you are. If I were to meet my bullies today, I’d say, “Yes, I am Haitian!” And with my education, I plan to find ways to bring my self-acceptance to the people of Haiti, to witness their courage in the face of recent calamities, to help them rebuild their bodies, lives, and enjoy their beautiful culture. I have always been called a leader and I plan to devote my energies to do something useful in the world — and I can think of no better place for my work than Haiti.

Until I find myself an institution that understands women of courage, and will help me accomplish my goals — and I feel that Bryn Mawr is that institution above all others —  I am comfortable with the company of my books, with the memories of Oaxaca, with learning everything I can about Haiti from the news, and with reciting the bible in Kreyòl to my mother.

“Bondye di, 'se pou limyè fèt.' Epi limyè te fèt!”  I declared.

My mother smiled and translated: “God said, ‘Let There Be Light,’ and then there was light.”

 

 

September 30, 2012
by Esty Maitre
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One of Many Firsts at Bryn Mawr!!! Miguel's Concert!!

Thursday night (09/27) I went to my first concert EVER (bummer that it was a school night)! And what a success it was! I am still on cloud nine! Have YOU ever met the artist on the same night? I didn't think so... :P   Check out my favorite song from him! So glad that I got to share this experience with some of my good friends and to have this experience as a Mawrter! Looking forward to another 1st at Bryn Mawr:)

ESP Art Piece I

September 30, 2012
by Esty Maitre
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Visuals of My Saturday with the 360: Women in Walled Communities (Part II)

Here are the photos from the Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) from that same Saturday trip. This was my second time visiting, but, unlike my first visit, this one seemed more real and much heavier emotionally. I used to think that hosting a haunted house here dishonored and mocked the history of this penitentiary but now I see that perhaps some light  fun is needed in this space so that people don't always leave feeling heavier than when they came in. Take a look at some photos I captured:

September 26, 2012
by Esty Maitre
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Visuals of My Saturday with the 360: Women in Walled Communities (Part I)

On Saturday, my 360 and I went on a mural arts tour of Philly and, later, toured the Eastern State Penitentiary. It was a tangible experience that definitely gave more life to conversations we had about the prison history and the interconnections between inmates, education and community impact.  However, in this post, I don't want to say much because I'd like the images to speak for themselves--as they should.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mural Arts Tour (some pics, like the graffiti, were not part of the tour):

 

 

September 18, 2012
by Esty Maitre
0 comments

Reflection on My Stormy Day

It’s funny how the weather can set the precedent for an entire day. From inside my dorm looking out, the sky is a heavy gray, tree branches are bending from the wind and raindrops are violently pelting my window pane. And yet, when I’ve taken the opportunity to be outside, I find that the weather is not so menacing and is, in fact, warm and inviting. As I walk between classes the wind brushes my face while the rain cools me down as I sweat in an attempt to not be late for class. Little did I know that a today’s seemingly harsh weather would complement the mood of my class discussion in The Rhetorics of Silence of the Women in Walled 360.

In this particular class, my peers and I either squirmed about or loved the idea of using silence as a means to evaluate the actual silencing of incarcerated women. In doing so, immediately after our silent “Do Nows,” we ironically engaged in a lot of discussion—“excessive noise”—as if to compensate for the 10-15 minutes we spent quiet at the start of each class.  In the need to share our voices, we often silenced each other by unknowingly tuning each other out as we prepared to contribute and share soon after a comment was said. Aside from the irony of being in a class focused on women being silenced, in our haste to be heard, the only people hearing ourselves…was ourselves. I began to wonder: What about silence did we fear? Why the urgency to speak? Why the need to sound academic and prep ourselves formally for informal discussions? How could we talk “deeply” about the heavy and charged concepts of silence in the context of incarceration and education if we rarely brought our own experiences to the table? This pretense, similar to the “harshness” of the today’s weather, was scary to me and I often felt like there would never be an opportunity for me to be real and bank on my personal experiences, and that of others, as a learning experience.

All of this changed today in class when my peers and I were given the space to voice concerns over our own “Silenced Dialogue” (a reading written by Lisa Delpit) in a fish bowl activity. A fish bowl activity is similar to a Socratic seminar, but less formal. One group at a time sits in the center of a circle while their peers look on and listen to them discuss and share their thoughts. If an observer is moved by what is being said and wishes to join the conversation, he or she taps a person out to replace him or her in the conversation.  I do not wish to divulge what was discussed because that would invade the privacy of my peers but I got what I had been yearning for and more. I was moved by how my peers and I took a reading about the lack of explicitness for low-income, young people of color in education and gave life to the words through our own lives. I left class feeling like my 360 had seized an opportunity to become closer, more personal, and had used silence, an awkward medium at times, to do so. Like the “horrible” weather outside, my 360 and I had addressed a “gloom” that hung over our interactions in the class. In the midst of our “gloom,” similar to the change of my original perception of today’s weather, I saw that my 360 could also be inviting to one another and feel safe doing it. I now see that the issues we struggle with and have, somewhat, overcome does not symbolize the passing of a storm. Instead, I now like to think that when the storm comes, we seek comfort in its grayness.

September 16, 2012
by Esty Maitre
2 Comments

My Friday Night: Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble

Friday, I had the pleasure of seeing the Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble as part of the Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series. Getting in was pretty stressful. Tickets to see the show had run out and my entire fun for Friday night with friends depended on a wait-list ticket (#705…seems high but really, I was the 20th person in line). At the moment when anticipation and anxiety over getting in couldn’t be any higher (the show was going to start in TWO min!), a Mawrter saved the day by offering me and my friends tickets that her and her friends decided not to use at the last minute (shout out to that Mawrter! I will personally thank you in Spanish Class!). My friends and I had gotten in. Although it was a bummer that we could not all sit together, I reclined in the first available seat I saw and prepared myself to be amazed by the Ukrainian dancers.

Thirty seconds into the opening dance, I soon realized that “amazed” was an understatement for what I was seeing before my eyes—I was immediately mesmerized. The female dancers were lavishly dressed in beautiful, shiny, multicolored traditional wear with pristine hair and make-up. The males complimented the females with matching colors and took me aback with their forceful, rhythmic steps and high kicks. Although the females were very pretty to look at, the athleticism of the males always caught my attention in each dance performance. Watching them fly across the stage with assorted flips, hearing them stomp out complicated cadences as if they were on a Morehouse step crew and trying to keep up with the blur of their feet was both exhilarating and exhausting (my neck was tired from trying to keep up).

However nothing—not the beautiful attire, high kicks or the charm between the male and female performers—could compare to how much I enjoyed hearing and watching the live band onstage. Between dance performances, the small band (consisting of a few strings, a clarinetist, flautist, and a percussionist) would have their moment to shine by entertaining the crowd with upbeat, folkloric songs. As a former clarinetist who majored in music and music performance in high school, I absolutely LOVED watching the interaction between members in the band. It was clear that music was their voice as they challenged each other, teased one another, and laughed with one another through their instruments. I especially loved the clarinetist (of course, I am bias!) because his animated, almost goofy, tone was so entertaining as it mocked the frantic sounds of the strings.

As a viewer, not a musician, I could not speak the language of the band but I appreciated feeling like I was a part of the conversation in the way that they interacted with each other and the crowd. Overall, this how I felt about the entire show. When the performers spoke their native language, or when Ukrainians in the audience (who knew when to yell out or clap rhythmically with the flying feet) would participate and I wouldn’t, I felt comfortable knowing that I did not have to understand the culture to appreciate it. I made meaning out of what I could understand—for instance, my music background allowed me to match what I was hearing with music terms while the stomping of the men reminded me of traditional dance in parts of Africa— so I enjoyed making personal and cross-cultural connections as I watched. Thus, I am thankful to Bryn Mawr (and, of course, my Spanish classmate!) for exposing me to, and making me feel part of, a culture I had never known before.

September 12, 2012
by Esty Maitre
2 Comments

You Better Brecon-ize!

Over the past few days, I have had quite a few inside laughs because every time I tell someone I am living in Brecon for a second year by choice, the person I am speaking with at the time goes, "O.O!" There really are no words to describe the priceless expression that crosses each person's face. So, I chose an emoticon that sums up the feelings and thoughts of disbelief, pity and my favorite, "Thank God it isn't me." Each conversation about my choice to live in Brecon is comical because I know that Mawrters who would never EVER consider living in Brecon are missing out on an unwanted gem on campus.

For those who do not know, Brecon is one of the farthest dorms on campus. Although other dorms like, Rhoads and Perry house, are also not as close to central campus, what makes Brecon supposedly dreadful is the walk to and from Brecon. Named the Valley of Death, which a rather steep pit that precedes the uphill climb to and from Brecon, the walking distance between Brecon and central campus scares students into avoiding it like the plague. Yes, the walk is tiresome (I must walk downhill, down a flight of stairs, through the valley, up a flight of stairs, cross the street, enter Brecon, walk upstairs 3 floors--Not too bad right?). Yes, the valley can be slippery and chilly when winter arrives. Yes, "Bryn Mawr time" does not exist for Breconites. And yes--okay, I can agree this sucks--meals becomes less important and far in between when you have to make the trek. However, in describing why I personally enjoy living at Brecon, I hope to make the case that Brecon is worth living in and to lessen the stigma associated with it on campus.

I first fell in love with Brecon during an overnight at Bryn Mawr College prior to the start of my fresh(wo)man year. My interest was piqued when, on my first night, my hostess and friend, Amanda Beardall (check her blog out!) excitedly gushed about living in Brecon and how much fun it was going to be. I was confused. While I had never stepped foot on Bryn Mawr's campus before, even I had heard, wayyyy back in Boston, that Brecon was a dorm that was not usually picked by choice. For the rest of my stay, I kept returning to the first night with Amanda and would fight to hold on to that memory despite the constant comments of "No one wants to live there" from current and prospective students. And so, because I wanted to be uninfluenced by others and challenge the misconceptions about Brecon, I decided to live at Brecon against the "O.O!?!" of my friends.  Sorry...not.

I love the walk to and from Brecon because, although it gets my heart racing, the walk gives me countless opportunities to slow down my thoughts and reflect on my day. When I am having a bad day, the rainbow of flowers, the rolling hills of green grass and the occasional yells of encouragement from a game in the sports field remind me to remain optimistic--a bad day couldn't possibly exist in the face of great beauty. When I am having a great day, I can't wait to reward myself by sitting on my favorite wooden bench overlooking the edges of Bryn Mawr's campus and the start of Bryn Mawr's town. During exam week, Brecon is a great and quiet escape. While the high levels of stress, panic and frustration can be felt on central campus, especially in Canaday library, I am nestled in my room not feeling the added stress from others.

Best of all, Brecon is its own community filled with Mawrters who empathize with one another because we all know how it feels to make the trek to and from the dorm every day. In Brecon, there is always someone to chat and walk with to meals because we know the journey across campus is always better together than alone. In Brecon, we are quirky and get a kick out making catchphrases for the dorm (my favorite: "Don't go Brecon my heart!").  In Brecon, we are welcome of anyone and everyone because we do not wish to impose on others the isolation we face on campus.

I absolutely love Brecon (I even convinced two of my closest friends to live there with me!) and I hope all Mawrters, both incoming and current students, will take the opportunity to Brecon-ize that it is worth the trip!

 

A visual of my lovely dorm! It isn't the best quality so take the trip to see it for yourself!:)

 

 

 

 

 

September 4, 2012
by Esty Maitre
1 Comment

Inquiries about Silence

Today was the start of the 360 course cluster I am taking this semester! For those who do not know, the 360 program is a relatively new program that allows Bryn Mawr and Haverford students to take 3 interdisciplinary courses that engage 15 selected students on a relevant issue in today's society. As a freshman, I was given the opportunity to take a 360 entitled, Learning and Narrating Childhoods, that explored culture, literacies and the effects of colonialism in childhood and education. Along with my 360 peers, I went on a educational trip to Northern Ghana where I observed early childhood schools and immersed myself in the Ghanian culture.

As a sophomore, I have the opportunity to take a second 360, Women in Walled Communities: Silence, Voice, Vision, that will explore the agency of women in confined spaces. Most exciting, and a bit nerve-wracking, is the field component to the 360 where my peers and I will visit, interact with and learn with incarcerated women at a correctional facility every week.

Although, all of the classes are mind-blowing and rich with conversation, I am particularly interested in the class that says very little. I am talking specifically about the course, The Rhetorics of Silence, which is one of the three 360 cluster courses focused on how silence can be used as a tool of empowerment. Today in class, we were asked to go outside, take ten minutes of silence and reflect on the silent experience for five minutes.

Although the task was quite unusual for the start of any class, I really enjoyed the activity. I wanted to share my thoughts from my 10 minutes of silence:

In silence...

I notice my body and how sore and exhausted it is from the stress of starting classes and perhaps life in general.

I notice beauty right before my eyes as a bright orange leaf gracefully flutters and twirls to the ground.

I notice  the soundtrack to my thoughts--unfortunately it is "Baby" by Justin Beiber

I notice that in silence, there will be noise: my thoughts, the rough singing of insects, the rustling of creatures unknown.

In silence...

can one grow with only thoughts for company?

From my reflection, I realize that silence is never void of noise (i.e. I can still hear things even though I am silent) and that silence heightens one's senses (i.e. I am more observant..do you take the time to notice leaves falling?). However, in the context of walled communities, like prisons, I am eager to explore how silence plays out in these spaces. In confined spaces, is silence deafening or comforting? What is the impact of silence when it is enforced versus when it is chosen? In prisons where both men and women are shunned from society, how is silence used to limit and degrade inmates and what ways can it be used to empower them? Is silence feared? How do we define silence? Does it exist?

These are just a few of many questions to come.I am so excited at the opportunity to explore them in my 360! Until next time...

 

 

 

 

September 2, 2012
by Esty Maitre
2 Comments

Thoughts on Loving Bryn Mawr

Person asking at least one of these questions:

"Do you like Bryn Mawr?  You must love Bryn Mawr, right? Are you excited to go back?"

Me:

O.O Awkward silence. "Yeah..."

As a 19 year old, first generation college student, I am incredibly fortunate to have a circle of friends, family and mentors who are truly invested in my education and, ultimately, my success. Therefore it was not a surprise that, during the summer, questions about my first year at Bryn Mawr were a hot topic for conversation among my loved ones. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, I would communicate about my shockingly successful first year--one word: GHANA--but with regards to liking Bryn Mawr, even loving Bryn Mawr, I always remained silent.

A recent graduate and dear friend of mine once told me that it took four years for her to love Bryn Mawr and it seems that my relationship with Bryn Mawr is on that same path. I appreciate BMC for its scenic and luscious campus, admire its proud and loving women, and  respect the friendships professors have built with me. However, to say that I love Bryn Mawr as a current sophomore would be lying.

There is not a day that goes by at Bryn Mawr where I am not conscience and, in some instances, self-conscience, about my most prominent identity on campus as a a black female from a working class family. In very subtle and obvious ways--did I mention that I live next to a mansion?--Bryn Mawr and all its glory is a constant reminder of who I am, where I come from, and the very harsh reality of the world we live in. Thus, it is hard to love a place where only in small pockets my image and background are reflected.

Ironically, I do not love Bryn Mawr but it does have a special place in my heart. A special place that holds every sentiment of frustration, struggle, joy, annoyance and laughter I have had at Bryn Mawr thus far. Whether it is two years from now or ten, know that I am waiting for the moment when every Mawrter experience is reflected on with love and not....awkward silence.