Day Two: Friday September 24, 2010
GREEN MESSAGE FABRIC
After about fifteen minutes on the gravel road driving out of Resolute Bay in Meghan’s dusty, grey van, we arrive at the ice on shore of the Arctic Ocean. Rishi jumps out of the warmth of the vehicle and into the harsh wind, video camera in hand, as Meghan, Sunanda and I step onto the rocky beach, each taking a piece of Satish’s long, green, silk fabric. Satish Sikha has traveled for the past two years and nine months all around the world collecting ecological messages from dignitaries, politicians, scientists and movie stars who signed this piece of eco-silk I now have in my hand.
Inspired by an inner call to do more for the planet and funded by his own pocketbook, Satish left his thriving fashion and restaurant businesses in Toronto’s affluent Yorkville area to help give children a better future by sharing this global eco-message on the world’s longest piece of silk. Being at the Arctic Ocean is the first major step toward the completion of his project. It is here that he has promised to first showcase this silk to the world. Following this, he will travel to schools around the globe to share the messages he collected. His final destination is Antarctica. This is a labour of love. This moment marks a significant turning point along his journey.
As Sunanda, Meghan and I struggle in the fierce, icy wind to outstretch this lengthy piece of silk so that Rishi can video tape it, I watch Satish from the corner of my eye as he walks pensively towards the water to pray. I can feel the sincerity of his heart as he quietly stands on the iceberg looking out at the vast ocean. The wind blows through his tussled, thin, black hair. He is sheltered from the elements only by his dark-grey parka and a soul full of mantras and prayers.
Showcasing the Fabric on the Arctic Ocean
After a private, contemplative few minutes, he turns around and grabs a piece of the fabric. Satish, despite the frigid temperature, looks radiantly warm. His inner light is evident. Rishi walks up and down along the length of the fabric as it pushes and pulls with the energy of the strong wind. It seems as thought the fabric is breathing. Rishi captures through his lens the flutter of the silk marked by thousands of people’s messages. The voices represented in text and through our presence unite at the Arctic Ocean that has become the dumping ground for our world’s pollution. Here our combined voices seem louder, floating across the water, carried across the land and out into the world by the uncompromising wind.
Rishi steps a few feet back to capture our group of four holding onto what now feels like a kite, silk fabric seduced by the strength of the wind and pushing us backward into the icy ocean. As I firmly lean into the fabric to push against the force, I notice that I am holding the very part of the silk that I had signed. I read my words upside down: “We are wealthy when the world is healthy.” I think of the sunny day I wrote on the fabric in my mother’s back yard in Toronto less than two months ago, soon after I first met Satish, miles from where we now stand. We have come so far. So much has happened in such a short time. I was about to go on tour to promote my current album and show Yoga In the Nightclub. Now I stand on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, 1000 km from the North Pole. I feel happy and honoured to be in Resolute Bay to support Satish’s important project, whose philanthropic vision and creative fuel are akin to my own. We are kindred spirits, each with our own unique expression of a similar Earth-conscious mission, his brought to life through fabric, mine through sound. In service together we create a stronger voice on this immense planet.
Soon Rishi gives us the sign that we have the footage we need. Even though Satish has waited for this moment for the past two and a half years, he, like us, is keen to keep this short, faced with the simple reality of this harsh, Arctic cold. We promptly fold the fabric back up, tuck it in its home, a jute bag from India, and quickly make our way back to the warmth of Meghan’s van. The fabric has now been officially showcased. Satish is quiet. It feels like he is contemplating what just happened. Perhaps too he is preparing for his next step along his journey, bringing the fabric to schools all around the world. Our next destination is Qarmartalik School in Resolute Bay, where we will showcase the fabric to schoolchildren for the very first time.
At the School
The warmth of the van is a welcome relief from the Arctic Ocean’s sharp wind and biting cold. All aboard, we move onto phase two of the day’s plan. We drive back to the inn in Resolute Bay, where we leave Meghan to prepare the next meal while Rishi, Sunanda, Satish and I walk over to Qarmartalik School, the only school in town, to showcase Satish’s fabric to the children there. Satish had spoken to a teacher at the school who is expecting us.
Like all the buildings in Resolute Bay, the school is raised on what seem like thin, metal stilts so that the building looks, from a distance, like it floats above the ground. The ground, made of shale, is not stable. This metal scaffolding base helps the building cope with the extremely cold weather here and shifting soils. Above the double glass doors, in Inuktitut geometric letters and in English I see the words “Qarmartalik School” that mark this location.
We walk along what seems like a typical Canadian school hallway, vinyl flooring under my feet and fluorescent lights on the ceiling. The walls are coloured by children’s collages, layers of text, drawings and photocopies that bring to life their Inuit heritage. At the end of the hall, we are at the classroom that awaits our visit.
In the Classroom
As we walk into the small room of perhaps ten Inuit students that range from age eight to twelve, the children are shy. I suddenly feel too tall, too big and overly aware that with my long blond hair and blue eyes I do not blend in at all. I smile at the children to make contact, to reach out. I can feel that beneath their shy exterior, there is a fascination as to why we are here. I feel received.
With no reflection of the obvious sincerity, skill and dedication of the teacher, I am immediately struck by an awkward and painful feeling of soulful despondence in the children in this multi-grade room. My eye is drawn to the unusual site of a child lying face down on the floor under his desk. What is he doing there? Another child seems to have a disability. He has a cheerful face with keen eyes that welcome us, yet he is covered in drool, which seems to incessantly run down his chin and chest. This is an unusual array of children, which seems to range in this small group, between those who are actively present and those who somehow have completely switched off. I feel I am witnessing another illustration of the pain I felt intuitively in the atmosphere when I woke up this morning. I can only wonder, would children who were fulfilled within themselves, at home and in their environment be like this? I feel I have stepped into a place where there is an obvious need. I feel ill equipped to provide much. We are here to serve in whatever way we can.
Satish and his Green Silk
With little time for Satish’s presentation, we get right into pulling the fabric from its jute resting-place. Sunanda and I each hold an end of the silk and begin to walk the piece around the perimeter of the room. As we unveil the electric-green silk, the energy in the room begins to shift. The vibrant colour of the fabric alone seems to bring the room to life, like a shiny green leaf in the dead of winter. The children are clearly touched. “Wow! That is amazing!” they cry. Rishi’s video camera in hand naturally ramps up the children’s excitement levels. Several ask, “Are we going to be on TV?” This is a perfect segue to begin to explain more about why we are in the Arctic.
I begin to talk about Satish’s project, the travels he has made and his desire to serve children by going to schools around the world with an ecological message. I share how I am on my way to the North Pole to sing there and help bring healing to the planet, how my music helps people remember and celebrate the gift of life. We enlist the children’s help to hold the world’s longest eco-message. We open a discussion about global warming, asking the students what changes they notice in their environment. We all share thoughts about what we can do to help Nature and how we are one global family. Most of the children perk up. A good discussion follows. It feels like we are able to bring a little light and warmth to this Arctic classroom.
Before we leave, I share with the class that I will be performing at the inn after I return from the North Pole and I would love any one of the students to join me either as an audience member or as a performer to sing a song, do a dance or share whatever artistry brings them joy. A couple girls share that they throat sing and would love to come. I encourage the students to tell their friends to bring their drums, voices, dances, anything they want, so we can share through music in a couple days time.
One of the girls tells me that she loves writing poetry. She asks me if I would read one of her pieces. I encourage her to read it out loud herself, but she insists that I must read it here and now. As I start into the poem, the children gather around, hanging onto every word. I enjoy the dynamic range in the spoken sounds, the interaction between the poem, the children and myself. There is an intimacy here. I immediately can see that historically, the Inuit share their culture orally. There is something in stories that brings these children to life.
As I read on, I understand that the poem is an expression of her first romantic love, but that the author, this young girl, does not feel self-love. I feel loneliness in her words. I feel her reaching out to me through this gesture to be seen, to be heard, to heal. I am present with this child for a few minutes and encourage her to speak about what this poem means to her. She reveals little, but there seems to be some freedom for her in having heard it voiced. I encourage each of the children to follow their dreams, sharing that I need to follow the joy in my heart. Joy is the light that keeps me on track in my life. It never lies. I must be willing to listen to it and honour it. Each one of us is unique. Each one of us is called to be ourselves and shine. As the children and I share, I can feel that these young students inhale my words. I do my best to be present with each one of them.
Our Future Written on the School Walls
The bell rings. It is the end of the school day. Several children disappear from the room with the speed of vapour escaping from an open jar. Some linger, hanging on to our presence like bees to honey. We thank the teacher who clearly is gifted with deep vision, patience and compassion.
Soon we find ourselves with the time and solitude to walk slowly down the halls and read in more detail the Inuit stories and culture recounted by the children on the school’s walls. I am fascinated by what I see, descriptions of unique Inuit art, healing and games, traditions for men, women and children. I feel happy that despite the new style of teaching now in schools, the Inuit living in modern houses, eating mostly flown in food rather than hunted game, the children here are learning to honour their unique and valuable cultural roots. These children must have the skills to deal with the fallout of the ecological mess we are creating today. They live in the wake of our actions.
The Inuit have lived for thousands of years in this fierce and inhospitable land. Only a very adaptable, Earth-wise people could survive here. I feel little sense that the Inuit won’t survive the change in environmental tides, other than a concern and care for the wisdom of the culture being silenced by the rubble of our self-serving, greedy culture. The Inuit have survived for millennia. It seems if any people on the planet will survive, they will. Instead I feel more aware of the other races on the planet that cannot live without running water, central heat, supermarkets, cell phones and cars. What happens when the ice completely melts?
As I look at the cultural images these Inuit children created on these school walls built by white men, I think of the future of the human race as a whole. As we face the consequences of our ignorance and its effect on Nature, it seems it is time we listened to the Inuit for guidance on how to adapt and respect Nature so that we all may survive. By honouring our unique inner voice, by listening and respecting each other and Nature, we could become a wiser, more evolved species than ever before in recorded history. We could stop living to get “now” and learn to build a balanced, lasting world. These are choices each one of us is to make not tomorrow, but today, in all our action. Each of our choices has the extraordinary power to change our world.
To be continued…