Saturday, May 25, 2013

Biting off more than I can chew???

For three mornings this week (from 8 a.m. until noon), I lead Biblical Storytelling seminar.  I have always been an overachiever, but this project seemed to take off and morphed into much more that I thought I was originally volunteering to do!
In March, along with 5 others I worked with, I attended a Biblical Storytelling Seminar in Mutengene (on the Atlantic coast of Cameroon – the English-speaking region) organized through the Biblical Storytellers Network, International.  Several biblical storytellers from the US came to lead it.  It was conducted in English.

Later, I typed up my notes and then created a document in French others could use (i.e., more details and explanation) with the plan of introducing biblical storytelling through my projects in CAR.  Well, you know that I have been evacuated – well, OK, twice – so I had some extra time on my hands.  I translated the document into Sango, too – then got some help from a university student in N’gaoundéré to make the Sango intelligible to others. 

After I taught a class to Bible School students (in Garoua Boulai) about preparing to read out loud (see the earlier blog entry), I thought a good follow up would be biblical storytelling.  It was almost the end of the semester so students were soon to be going back to their villages.  I talked to the Director of the Bible School about using three mornings right after the National Holiday on May 20.  He agreed so the dates of May 21, 22, and 23 were set. 

Initially, I offered to work with the 20 Bible School students.  The Director suggested we invite the Bible School professors (himself and two men for the students and three women for the spouses) and the local church workers: 1 pastor, 1 evangelist, and 7 catechists.  I agreed.  The day the students were helping me to prepare the written invitations, they said that they wanted their spouses to attend, too, since they will also be working with church activities in their parishes.  Why not?  The more the merrier, no?  So the number of invited was now about 55.

Beignets arriving
The next hurdle was “to feed or not to feed.”  Usually, seminars here offer participants lunch (or meals).  I had told the director that neither the Bible School nor the church nor I had a budget for this seminar; I offered to pay for coffee at the break, but no meal.  He agreed and I even wrote it into the invitation so it would be clear (and not “as usual” for a seminar).  Clear as mud, maybe.  When I talked to the women who would be helping to prepare the coffee, they said if I offered bread or peanuts (snacks) with the coffee, it would become expensive and, consequently, it would be cheaper to make a simple meal.  I was concerned about the time involved since these women were a student, and two of the professors who I wanted to attend the sessions.  We went around and around.  The chaplain of the hospital then stopped by to say that the people from town were glad to come, but, really, we need to serve food.  In the end, I stood firm (since, after all, they might be providing labor, but I was buying supplies…).  We offered coffee, tea (which means milk and sugar in profusion), and beignets – locally made doughnuts. 

I am very glad that that was the final decision.  The women asked that we heat water on my gas stove (it is easier and quicker than a wood fire…) and they would lend thermoses so it could be done before the seminar began each day.  They said they would come to help get things ready.  It ended up that I prepared the water, made coffee, and organized most of the break supplies before starting to teach.  It turned out to be a good time to review the story that I was to tell that day!  One professor came with the beignets and did help to set things up.

This entire tempest in a teacup was happening when I was feeling most stressed about preparing materials and sessions.  55 potential participants.  Who would come?  How would this work?  The spouses have been learning French and literacy in Gbaya this year, but their literacy skills and knowledge of French would not be strong enough to participate in the way the others could…
I had already planned to have the days divided into parts with me leading the session and parts in small groups so that participants could learn stories.  Since I had already worked with the students to learn to read effectively aloud, I decided that they could help lead the small groups – that process is similar to the one used to learn Bible stories by heart.  But, things were now much more complicated.  I could still ask students to help, but groups for the spouses would have to have texts in Gbaya.  And, much of the memory work would have to be led by the group leader who would read so that the others could repeat and learn. – These group leaders would have to be among the best. 

The next step, then, was to get the texts ready.  I wanted the seminar to be practical and give participants a sense that they could, indeed, tell stories this way on their own. Days 1 and 2, they learned stories for which I prepared the texts by dividing them into episodes and phrases.  Day 3, they were to do the text prep, learn the story, and consider specific ways they could use it.  So, for the first two days, I picked stories from Mark 1, 2, and 3.  Mark is a great book to use for beginning storytellers since is chocked full of stories (a tip I learned in Mutenguene).  That way, after learning the stories, we could have one participant from each group tell the stories in order and hear an entire book (Day 1, Chapter 1) or most of two books (Day 2, Chapters 2 and 3 – leaving out a few verses that aren’t really stories). 

For Day 3, I picked the Gospel lesson for the coming Sunday and another story from Mark (that could be used in Sunday School classes).  Participants then chose the story with which they wanted to work – and whether they wanted to work in Gbaya or French.  I figured then, maybe, some could actually use what they were learning that week. 

Now, which texts to use in Gbaya?  If all the spouses came, it would be 20 people – 4 groups.  I decided to use some of the same stories as groups would be learning in French.  I couldn’t prepare those texts alone, though.  I typed them into the computer (already a challenge since written Gbaya uses many letters we don’t: ɛ, ɔ, ŋ, ɗ, ƃ, ɂ, etc.).  Then, during my regularly scheduled Gbaya lessons, my teacher, a student at the Bible School, divided them.  (Yes, I keep up with my 2-hour-a-day class throughout the preparation and seminar!  I told you I bit off more than is reasonable to chew!) He was also a great help in thinking things through and listening to my stories as I learned them. 

So, in the midst of preparing texts and other materials, sessions, coffee, etc., I also learned three stories to tell – one for each day.  And, I chose the longer ones so that participants wouldn’t be overwhelmed…  I did have more than an hour to learn them, but it was still somewhat overwhelming for me! 

I decided I wanted nametags to get to know people, esp. those who weren’t students.  They don’t sell nametags in Garoua Boulai, so I bought sticky notes.  I decided to write out the names – to learn them a little and to save time since people here are not nametag-oriented.  I was glad I did prepare ahead of time because the sticky notes were so well stuck together in the packs (old, no doubt) that they wouldn’t come apart without tearing!  Plan B.  I went to the market and bought large safety pins.  Then I wrote the names on regular paper.  That worked well.

So, how did it go?  The short answer: very well.

The long answer:  About 25 -30 participants came.  The number varied on different days, but many were there for all 12 hours.  Attendees included: most of the 20 students (some had to miss a day – e.g., one’s sister broke her leg…), 6 spouses (one came late), the director (who had to miss some time because of other pressing work), and one catechist from town.  I wonder if the others (professors, pastor, evangelist, hospital chaplain, and other catechists from town)didn’t come  because there wasn’t any food… Maybe a factor, but surely not the only reason?!? 

Although the reduced number meant that I had prepared too many texts, it didn’t matter.  I was thrilled to have so many and to have those who were truly engaged and wanting to learn.  They had never done group work like this before, but did a fantastic job!  On Day 2 we were able to generate a list of characteristics of good storytellers which we then used to critique each other – good points first and then suggestions for improvement.

I learned all three of my stories and told them each at least twice.  It was a good model for them and enabled us to study story structure and characteristics of storytellers.  On Days 2 and 3 we used my small camera to make videos of the storytellers, including me.  I also took lots of pictures during the three days.  At one student’s suggestion, at the very end, each participant stood up and told what s/he got from the session and made suggestions.  (I had hoped for suggestions about the seminar itself, but, really, students here have not been asked to do such evaluations, so they mostly thanked me and said that this work would help them a lot in the future.  Several added that they want me come back to work with them more and gave a couple of possible topics.)

Friday, the day after the seminar, I took my computer to the daily meditation.  After the service, we looked at the pictures and videos.  I had also prepared one picture for each of them as a souvenir.  Thanks, again, to Robert my Gbaya teacher and Bible School student who helped me identify the people in the pictures so we wouldn’t forget anyone!

When I finish this blog entry, I want to make some notes/changes on my plans so that this seminar is ready to go on the road!  It was overwhelming and a lot to bite off at once, but I am glad to have done it the way I did – despite all the work and stress.  It was worth it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Unity Day in Cameroon

Some of you may be old enough to remember that this area in Africa used to be called “the Cameroons.  That’s because the French colonized the west and north granting independence in 1960.  The British colonized the south allowing it to become a federated state within Cameroon in 1961.  

In 1972 the two were combined into one country on May 20, so this is a national holiday known as Unity Day.  (By the way, the church in CAR recognizes this as a work holiday for the Monday of Pentecost.  Maybe the church in Cameroon does, too.  I don’t know.) 

There is, of course, a parade with school students, the Lutheran Bible School, and other organizations that get uniforms made from the same material – often with patriotic writing on it. 

Just before the parade, some people got medals for working certain numbers of years.  I couldn’t hear much of this part because I decided not to sit in the reviewing stand, but to stay “on the ground” to get better pictures (and to leave early – I still don’t like parades much!)

It was a beautiful sunny day with some clouds, but HOT!  The parade itself didn’t start until about 11:45 – going into the hottest part of the day.  I stood in the shade of a tree as much as possible.  The Cameroonian Red Cross was there to pass out water and assist as needed.  I also saw some people with Red Crescent vests.

This last picture shows one school getting ready to march – with all the road construction trucks/machines that are supposed to be in CAR finishing the road.  Another casualty of the insecurity. 

Happy Unity Day!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tu or Vous?

Vous - show respect!

How do you think of God - with the intimate "tu" or the formal “vous”?  Think about that as I explain a little about the different forms of “you.” 
In English we have “you” to indicate the second person singular and plural for all relationships, but that doesn’t mean we don’t look for ways to distinguish between them.  Think of yunz, y’all, yous, etc…

Kids - use tu
In French, Sango, Gbaya, and many other languages, the speakers use different forms for the singular (tu, mo, mɛ…) and plural (vous, ala, ɛnɛ…).  It is, however more complicated than just the question of number.  The “tu” form shows a closer, more personal, relationship and is also used for older people speaking to those younger than them, especially children.  “Vous” is a mark of respect as well as being the plural form.  Different languages define these relationships in different ways.  All languages that I know use “vous” for elders as a sign of respect.  (Of course, I am told that the young in France always use “tu” – a sign of the times?? I don’t have evidence to back this up, so we will leave it alone!)  The transition to becoming friends (more than acquaintances) may be marked by switching from “vous” to “tu.”  I sometimes have trouble knowing when to use which form, so I often error on the side of respect, using the “vous” form. 

My musings on this subject began because of Gbaya classes.  (Yes, I am still studying it and making progress with reading and some writing, but havinf GREAT difficulty understanding people when they speak and forming sentences quickly enough to actually talk to people.  That will come – hopefully sooner rather than later!) 

Family - lots of vous; some tu
I have been told that respect is very important within Gbaya culture.  Therefore, children always address their parents using the “vous” form as a mark of respect.  Wives use “vous” with their husbands although husbands address wives with “tu.”  As an extension of this respectful attitude, in the Bible and at church, God is addressed with the “vous” form.  It is respectful; but it also creates some distance as the “vous” form always does. 

In the French liturgy and Bible, the “tu” forms are used.  I think it is to emphasize the closeness of our relationship with God.  Does this cause problems for the Gbaya who read/hear the Bible in French?  Does it change the way they see relationship?  What do you think?

Then there is the question of titles!  In English, we use title and last name (Dr. Smith); title and first name (Dr. Susan or Ms. Susan), first name (Susan), or nickname (Sue, Suzie, Smitty, Shortie, or any variety of forms of the name or some characteristic of the person).  Think about when you might use these various forms.  I am sure that you also modify your language as you speak to people using different forms of address – we just don’t pay as much attention to it in English since we can “always” use “you.”  In sociolinguistics studying forms of address helps people understand power (or perceived/desired power) within the relationships.  Think of some of the new Pope Francis’ moves and what he is signaling about his view of “power.”

Currently, in Eastern Cameroonian and Central African culture (after being colonized by and interacting with the French for generations), titles are very important, more so than in the US.  They use the same forms of address: title and last name, title and first name, first name, but also sometimes use last name only.  And, often titles are used without the name.  For example, in the classroom students here say “teacher” while in the US students use the title and last name of the teacher. 

There are other ways to show respect, too.  Let’s take the example of the installation of the new Sous-Prefet that I attended Tuesday. 

Note:  The governments in CAR and Cameroon are different than in the US.  The country of Cameroon is divided into 10 regions that are subdivided into 58 governmental regions called Préfectures headed by a Préfet.  Each of these is divided into smaller governmental regions lead by a sous-préfet with a total of about 350 in the country.  Then there are mayors of towns, etc.  (I don’t understand it all…)  The former sous-préfet of Garoua Boulai died last October.  President Biya named an interim; recently he named a new sous-préfet – these are not elected positions. 

So, during the new sous-préfet’s installation, people are to arrive according to their importance.  Here’s a translation of what part of the invitation says:

10h30  Arrival and seating of invited guests: Traditional Chiefs, Municipal Counselors, leaders of local political parties, delegates and heads of public offices, clergy, economic leaders
11h00  Arrival of Mr. the Deputy, Vice-President of the National Assembly
11h15  Arrival of Madame the Mayor of the community of Garoua Boulai (yes!  It’s a woman!)
11h30  Arrival of Mr. the entering Sous-préfet
11h45  Arrival of Mr. the Préfet of the department of Lom and Djerem

I went to the installation with the Director of the Bible School.  (You notice I use his name out of respect…  I must say just using titles is easier in that you don’t have to remember people’s names, but, then, it makes it much harder to learn people’s names!)  We arrived at 10:30.  We knew we would be “early” but wanted to be sure to get a seat.  It was probably close to 12:30 when the mayor arrived…  Lateness doesn’t seem to have to do with respect (or lack thereof) but that might be the topic of some other blog entry.

I encourage you to pay attention to forms of address and ways of showing respect around you.  (Of course, there are tone of voice, use of eye contact, dress, and lots of other factors not mentioned here as well.)  But let’s go back to the original question and a couple others.

How would you address your parents – tu or vous?  How do you think of your relationship with God – tu or vous?  Would using one or the other change the way you interact with God?  And, since Jesus says, “the first shall be last, and the last first,” what does that mean about our forms of address and actions?  Would (or should) you be the last to arrive at a function like the installation???  What do we teach others through our actions?

Monday, May 13, 2013

One Woman's Road to Being Educated

Oops!  In deleting duplicates of this post, I got rid of them all!  Reposting...

Someone asked me about educating girls in Cameroon/CAR, so I went in search of some answers.  Yesterday I interviewed Marie Atta.  She is the only female among the 20 students studying to become catechists at the Bible School in Garoua Boulai so I thought her story would be interesting to hear.  What do you think?

Marie is from the town of Ndokayo on the road south to Bertoua.  She said there are three schools in her town, a public one, a pilot one, and St. Paul’s run by the Catholics.  She attended the public school through CM2 (Cours Moyens 2), the equivalent of fifth grade in the US.  After that she left school and got married. 

She told me that it is expensive to go to school because each student must pay a yearly fee of between 8,500 and 24,000 cfa ($17 - $48) depending on the town and level – high school costs more.  Students also pay for textbooks about 8,000 cfa ($16); again, high school texts cost more.  Sometimes at the primary level, students can use books the school has, but then they are taken and locked in the director’s office each night so students can’t read or study at home.  In addition, students’ families must buy them uniforms.  Each school has its own design and color. 

It is harder for girls to study than boys because many parents don’t encourage their girls.  They push the boys to stay in school, but don’t see the point in girls learning more than the basics of reading and writing (if that).  Marie says, though, that this attitude is changing slowly.  I asked her about her children.  She said that she had six children, but four, two girls and two boys, died.  (Note:  yes, infant mortality is still a huge problem here – many from malaria, unfortunately, but also many newborns deaths can be attributed to a scarcity of medical care.  I just saw this link today which explains more if you are interested:  “Africa Riskiest Place to be Born,”  The remaining girl is 18 and left school several years ago.  The boy went a little further finishing 6ieme (equivalent of 6th grade), but has left school.  She says he has agreed to go back to school soon.

Many girls leave school to get married (even at the age of 15 or younger!).  Marie says even though more parents urge their girls to study, some refuse – such as her daughter.  Of course, sometimes money is an issue as well. 

When Marie was young, she had nine living siblings.  It was hard to pay school fees for them all, so they had to help out.  When she was about ten, though, she fell gravely ill going into a coma.  She had a vision of light.  A man pulled her right hand and told her she needed to be studying and preaching the Bible.  She got better and began to sing in the church choir.  They were given Bible verses to memorize.

Still, Marie didn’t realize the importance of education until she was an adult.  She took Bible correspondence courses and she completed classes for Gbaya (reading, writing, and teaching literacy), receiving three different certificates. 

Since she could read, she was asked to help out at church, reading lessons, etc.  She married and had her first child, but still was active at church working for the Femme Pour Christ (Women for Christ) for four years.  She occasionally had visions, too.  Once she dreamed of a river.  She was with another woman; they saw her dead children.  They opened three Bibles.  She was told that that she would live for at least 30 years because she had work to do. 

Another time, she again became very ill and had another vision of a woman talking to her and encouraging her in her work for God.  (Note:  she told me that she knows why she got sick the second time; there was a woman with whom she worked who wanted her responsibilities who cursed her.  I said that sounds like witchcraft.  She agreed.  I said, but Christians don’t believe in curses and witchcraft.  She agreed to that, too.  She ended that part of the conversation by saying that God saved her and she is doing everything she can now to serve Him.)

She has worked for churches in several towns.  It is the last church (still her home church) that sponsors her to attend the two-year program at the Bible School in Garoua Boulai.  She said that her level of education (only 5th grade equivalent) is lower than is generally accepted.  (Many students have finished the equivalent of 8th grade or higher.)  Still, she sent copies of her three Gbaya certificate and made her case in her application; she was accepted.  This is near the end of her first year.  When she finishes in 2014, she will return to the church to serve as a catechist.  Because there are not yet enough pastors trained, each church has a catechist who leads the weekly worship and helps take care of the parish.  Once a month, a pastor comes.  That week there is communion, babies are baptized and/or people are confirmed.  The pastor is able to assist to some extent at other times, but has various churches that s/he serves.  (Last year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon ordained the first four women.  Several others are completing internships and may be ordained in December 2013.)

Marie says that she now see the value of school and encourages other to study.  She said if she had the money and the chance, she would return to high school and continue to study as long as she could! 

An interesting note:  Marie’s husband comes from a family of farmers who were never educated.  He never went to school, so never learned to read, write, or speak French.  The Bible School offers literacy and other classes for students’ spouses, so this man is one among 19 women.  He is determined to learn to read Gbaya, speak French, as learn whatever else they offer! 

It was a pleasure talking to Marie.  Both she and her husband can be an inspiration to us all to keep learning – whatever level of formal education we have had.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Reading Aloud

The text: John 17:20-26 - in Gbaya

Have you ever been in a church service when a lay reader stumbles through the Bible lesson(s) for the day?  S/he doesn’t know how to pronounce all the place names and/or other words, doesn’t get the phrasing correct, mumbles or reads in a monotone?  I have!
Now, imagine that the language is not your first language, you have had limited schooling available to you, and that schooling is in your second language, not your first; also, that there are few books and newspapers available.  All of these result in people have little change to read or to practice reading aloud – in any language. 

I have been thinking about these issues on and off since I have been here in CAR and Cameroon – especially when I am listening to lay readers and catechists read Bible lessons during Sunday liturgies. 

(Note: catechists are people with two years of training at a Bible School who help lead the liturgy, preach, and lead the congregation when the pastor is not available.  Before being accepted at the Bible School, most have the equivalent of a middle school education.  Pastors attend three years of training at a theological school – sometimes after attending a Bible School.  The level of education is often a little higher, but is not the same as pastors in the US who attend four years of university and then seminary.  By the way, ELCA supports the Bible Schools in both Baboua, CAR, and Garoua Boulai, Cameroon.  I know we also support the theological school in Baboua and believe we support the one in Meiganga, Cameroon, too.)
Bible School in Garoua Boulai

I think I am particularly sensitive to oral reading because I spent so many years as an elementary school teacher, many of them teaching fourth grade (9 year olds).  Part of teaching reading at that level is helping students respect punctuation and read groups of words as phrases that go together to create meaning.  These skills help the reader make sense of text but are also key to helping listeners understand.  Let me repeat that last sentence with breaks that a good oral reader is likely to use.  (One / means a slight pause; two // is a slightly longer pause.  At a period there would be a pause that is even a bit longer ///.)   These skills / help the reader // make sense of text // but are also key / to helping listeners / understand. /// 

In addition to grouping words for meaning, good oral readers naturally consider what they can say in one breath.  Pauses are also a great time for the oral reader to look up from the text and scan the listeners making eye contact and bringing them into the reading process.  Looking up also helps the reader monitor if the listeners are understanding and following the text. 

Yeah!  The teacher in me jumps out onto the page!  Well, that is what happened one morning after the daily meditation at the Bible School a couple of weeks ago.  The reading was particularly painful and the catechist-in-training read not only the Bible passage, but also his prepared remarks (short sermon).  I told to the Director that I could work with the students to help them develop oral reading skills.  He agreed and I did just that for two hours this week – one on Wednesday and one on Friday.

The students were very appreciative; they recognized the need immediately.  Here are the steps I suggested to them:

1.     Pray for understanding and patience before approaching the task.
2.     Read the text silently and be sure you understand it.
3.     Think about the way you want to divide the text into natural phrases.
4.     Write out the text in phrases so that it is larger and the phrases are on separate lines.  (I did this for them for the Gospel lesson they will be reading in churches Sunday when they lead worship and preach.  Their homework was to practice reading the French aloud and to divide the Gbaya text and practice it.  Many practiced, but no one wrote the text to divide it or even wrote on the page I gave them that had the first three verses in Gbaya.  I think they thought they didn’t need to do it because it was their first language, but believe me they needed this step!  It showed in their oral reading.)
5.     Practice!  Read the text out loud many times.  Remember that once you feel confident, you need to practice several more times.  Overlearning will make things go more smoothly once you are in front of a congregation and feeling nervous.  (Many catechists to be expressed fear or shame about reading in public.)

Those of you who went to the Biblical Storytelling Seminar with me will recognize parts of these steps.  They also overlap with the fluency training elementary teachers use in US schools. 

I also gave the learners a couple of tricks.  Keep your thumb or a finger at the beginning of a line to help you keep track of where you are and to avoid skipping a line when going from the end of one line to the next.  Look at the listeners!  For those who are afraid, practice looking at a spot just over their heads.  Readers won’t increase their fear by making eye contact, but listeners will be sure that the readers are making contact with them.  The catechists-to-be really liked these, especially the second one!

At the end of the first class, I asked for questions.  One student asked that we take time to talk about the key points of the text that they will be preaching on.  We had given a two-sentence summary at the beginning of the class, but I agreed it would be a good idea to spend more time developing key points together in the next class.  Although I prepared my list of key points (always a well-prepared teacher!), they listed points as they understood them and I wrote them on the board.  Not surprisingly, they, as a group, developed a more thorough understanding than I had on my own. 

The text in French
We heard a lot of improvement after these couple of days of practice – some more than others, of course.  I would love to be in all the congregations on Sunday to hear each of them read aloud and preach on John 17:20-26.  (It’s not an easy text for their first foray into a congregation as a catechist-in-training!)  Of course, I can’t, and many liturgies will be in Gbaya with a couple in French and a couple more in Fulfulde.  I will go to the church closest to me where I usually attend.  I hope I have a chance to help them reflect on the experience next week.  (Boy, does that sound like a teacher from the US!)  

My dream is to continue to work with oral readers here and to find ways to help train those in the US who are lay readers.  If you want to help with this dream, feel free to use these suggestions with oral readers you know!  Oral reading is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced.  Listeners everywhere will be grateful.

Note:  I have written this blog entry on Saturday, May 11, 2013.  Let’s see when I can post it.  At the guest house this morning, we are currently without electricity again (I am working off the computer battery).  There is also no running water (pump still not repaired), and a new wrinkle today – no phone service which means no Internet.  Moving backwards in time…  Good thing I am getting to know the Bible School students and teachers and some people in town since my support system at a distance is cut off. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day

Today is May Day, International Workers’ Day.  It is a holiday here in Cameroon. 
Before the event, places were cleaned up and new ‘sidewalks” were cut into the grass.  In town there was a parade of workers from different companies/organizations.  I have to admit that I didn’t go.  I walked over to where it was to be, but was too early.  I didn’t want to stand around and wait – especially since parades aren’t really my thing.  So, sorry, no pictures.  I do know that organizations get matching shirts or outfits to march in the parade.  Many shops in town, though, were open – business as usual.
Also today, the regional bishop got a medal for having worked for 10 years.  There have been many people at his house (directly across from the guest house where I am) yesterday and today.  At one point they were cheering and really celebrating!  Now there is live music which I am listening to as I write. 
I got interested in the history of the holiday since it is not such a big thing in Pittsburgh/the US.  So I did a little Wikipedia research that you can benefit from.
May Day is related to Celtic and Germanic festivals that mark the cross-quarter days (May Day and November 1).  Early (pre-Christian) celebrations were for Flora, the Roman Goddess of flowers.  Also, at that time, February 1 was the first day of spring and May 1 the first day of summer.  That is why June 25 (then, now 21), the solstice was called midsummer. 
Celebrations included crowning the May Queen and the day was later connected to the Virgin Mary.  People also dance around the may pole and leave small baskets of sweets and/or flowers anonymously on neighbors’ doorsteps. 
May 1 is now International Workers’ Day and is celebrated officially in more than 80 countries and unofficially in many more.  So how did that change happen?!?
In 1886 in Haymarket Square, Chicago police tried to disperse a group of people during a general strike for the eight-hour workday.  Someone threw a bomb.  Police reacted by firing on workers, killing dozens.  In 1889 in Paris there was a call for international demonstrations in 1890 to commemorate the Haymarket Affair.  It became an annual event.
In 1894 there were also May Day Riots in Cleveland, Ohio.  Unemployed workers rioted because they believed city officials hadn’t done enough after the Panic of 1893.  The Riots of 1894, along with the Haymarket Affair, brought about a series of discussions about the workforce in America and the depression.  In 1904 the International Socialist Conference encouraged all workers who could to stop work on May 1. 
for those who speak Arabic...
So, in my own celebration, I bought some cookies – which it turns out are from Tunisia.  They were great (although

a little sweeter than I prefer). I am, however, doing some work so that I can post this on May 1…
Happy International Workers’ Day!  (The US equivalent is Labor Day in September.)