This week we transitioned from the fairly inward work of producing and performing our fundraiser, to beginning our outreach work in schools. On Monday morning we pulled up to the SOS Lumley School in Freetown, still riding on a massive high from the success of our show on the Saturday. Considering we had been planning our tour for about 5 months, we were a little concerned to see that the Headmistress clearly had no idea who we were and why we were at her school. We’re starting to get used to the Sierra Leonean fondness of last minute planning, so shouldn’t have been too surprised when she took one look at our hoops, mats, juggling clubs and African drums, clapped her hands and summoned the Primary school for an impromptu assembly. Performing for the primary and (in the afternoon) the secondary school gave us our first taste of what it would be like to show our skills to African school children.
I’d like to say that it was our beloved, respective crafts that we have spent most of our lives working on that really amazed the kids. I’d like to say that. In reality, although we got a great response in general, the roof nearly blew off when we danced an African cultural dance we had learnt for the show with our other PeWiBo members. I’ve never heard an audience react so…excited? Shocked? Amused? Well…definitely loud. They thought we were hilarious.
After being plunged headfirst into the unknown (ages, class sizes, language, ability, enjoyment, engagement) on the first day, by the second day of teaching we had found our rhythm. We had two classes running simultaneously; circus in a classroom, and dance outside under a tree, with 12 classes in total to teach per day. As the token dancer of the group I felt a bit fraudulent sneaking into the circus classroom, but as it was for five year olds, it didn’t really matter that I was only juggling with 2 balls…
The younger groups that we teach are just so cute and really easily excited. I’ve got into the habit of punching the air and shouting “Yay!!!” every time we manage to do anything- whether that’s finishing a game or just making a circle. I do it, the kids follow. I love it because we just sort of celebrate every tiny little success and I definitely don’t so that enough in real life. I’ve also discovered ‘clap for yourself’ which is equally brilliant! It’s so nice to see these tiny balls of energy using every ounce of solemn concentration they have to catch a ball with one hand, or spin a diabolo and then exploding into 5 celebratory cartwheels afterwards in pure joy.
The older groups (up to 16) also made us laugh, but for very different reasons. Katie and I swapped nervous glances as we watched about 40 surly looking 16 year olds in the full throws of stroppy puberty drag their bags reluctantly towards us. It was nice to see that it’s a pattern repeated all around the world! We managed to win them over in the end by fulfilling the request for a “European shakey dance” –cue a routine to Beyonce…
1.) Are those the feet of a lady? And
2.) Is it socks or paint?
That made us laugh. A lot. And gives you an idea of the degree of confusion that we strange, white, circus people have caused around Freetown!
Though I’m on blog duty this week, I tore a muscle in my leg and couldn’t join the others on Wednesday and Thursday. As I stayed in the Save The Children compound, getting on with blogs, flyers, videos and generally getting a touch of cabin fever, Tim, Livi and Katie cracked on with teaching. The teaching style here is very obedience centred. Teachers seem quite serious, are very quick to shout, and are not afraid to threaten with their canes. It’s quite a different culture and Livi even had to find a nice way of asking a teacher to stop telling her class off for laughing during their circus lesson. It might not be too much of a surprise then, that the big hit of the week was a version of musical statues where when the music (drumming) stops, we do everything in our power to make the kids giggle. I don’t think they have much exposure to adults being silly and just wanted to play again and again and again.
After enjoying a rare day off on Friday, on Saturday we headed to Don Bosco, an organisation in Freetown that works with street children. It is the organisation that took in Brima, our very own plate-spinning, hot footed, pasta (but not spaghetti) eating PeWiBo performer when he was young, and he still works with them today. There were hundreds of children there, some with adults, but most without. Watching and filming from the side (leg still wasn’t happy), I could see the children were completely transfixed though also slightly puzzled by seeing adults- white adults- acting so silly.
SOS Makeni 3rd-7th February
On Sunday morning we bundled our bags, circus equipment, speakers, novelty blue afros, and all other necessary equipment into a pickup truck and set off on our 4 week road trip. First stop; Makeni.
The SOS village in Makeni has 200 pupils, 115 of which live on-site in the orphanage. The orphanage is split into 11 houses and each house has its own mother and several assisting aunties. We are staying on site in their guest house and our welcome could not have been warmer. After a couple of hours of arriving and settling in, we heard children singing and clapping from outside and went to investigate. The entire orphanage were stood around a grass hut singing- faces screwed up, eyes shut, not even stopping when some strange, unknown white faces came to join them. I just had to let it all sink in. The weather was calming; the harshness of the midday heat was over and the sun was starting to set. The kids’ voices were harmonising so beautifully and were just so full of whatever it is that you lose as an adult. Afterwards the headmaster introduced us to the children and he spoke with a lot more care, love and charisma than any teacher I’ve seen here yet.
On Monday morning, we did two performances; one for Kindergarten and one for the school.
We then got into the rhythm of our new teaching timetable, starting with the 4 year-olds. They toddled into our classroom with a little apprehension that we’ve gradually come to expect and left with massive smiles on their tiny faces. We’ve held morning classes for all the children in the school, so that every child has one lesson with us, but also have been able to prioritise those staying in the orphans’ village by teaching them separately in the afternoon.
Teaching here is a fantastic whirlwind of African drums, street dance, Marco Polo (with optional dress-up afros), singing songs, cultural dancing, rubber chickens, and of course a very full circus kit bag unpacked and explored every lesson.
It feels great to be living in the SOS village. We’re so connected to the project, and every face we meet is so excited to see us. The house mothers and aunties invite us in to their houses, ask us to hold their babies (we gave them back, I promise!), give us cooking lessons and request that we ‘snap’ their picture again and again as they pose, hands on hips. I’m ambushed by excited little faces and shouts of “Aunty Emma!” wherever I go.
We performed two fire shows this week. The first was for the orphanage who were patiently, but adamantly sat on their chairs about 2 hours before we were ready to start, out of sheer anticipation. Safe to say that we met their expectations, especially when Tim and Morlai did their fantastic staff routine to the song of the moment, ‘Chop My Money’ (the Sierra Leonean equivalent of Gangnam Style). The second was a fundraiser that we did at a café operated by a charity called Street Child, who use the profits made through the café to take kids away from the streets and into schools and homes. We noticed half way through that we had a large (and growing) unofficial audience peering in from the street, over the top of the café’s wall, and I was so happy to see them enjoying it…seems we can’t avoid doing outreach work, even if it’s unintentional!
Things I’ve learnt this week.
1.) Kids like watching me dance, but not as much as they like watching me fall over
2.) You can’t get a whole orphanage to stand and wait patiently while you put them into groups and then expect only one group to follow you for a subsequent lesson. You will initiate an African child stampede.
3.) Livi is surprisingly talented at miming that she is being squashed by an elephant
4.) In an Africa V England singing competition, it will get noisy and glasses will get broken in the excitement
5.) I will be renamed as Mara, Katie as Clara, and Tim as Christopher, due to our UNCANNY resemblances to 3 main characters in a Pilipino sitcom that is one of the very few DVDs floating around SOS Makeni…
6.) Doing races with 4 year olds will result in fun, but total chaos. Nobody will understand what’s going on, but they will all be happy to be there. The kids that don’t need a wee will get too distracted by the dust on the floor to run at the right time
7.) Learn to expect a plate full of carrots and a plate full of spaghetti for breakfast as the incredibly hospitable hosts bend over backwards to try and understand weird western eating habits…as well as the total surprise that spam isn’t suitable for a vegetarian. Similarly, if you say that a plate of cakes isn’t really enough for an evening meal, expect to get 3 plates of cakes the following evening.
8.) Katie can fit a whole orange in her mouth but it will make her eyes pop out a bit
9.) Kids really, really, really love marching
10.) It’s a strange feeling to be performing a fire show in Africa, and then catch the end of the opening ceremony for the winter Olympics in Russia on TV.
Written by Emma 🙂